Everyone assumed we were a couple. I guess that’s to be expected – a stud like myself traveling around the Philippines with a beautiful gal like TTD. It would be like going to a Halloween party and seeing a guy dressed as Batman and a guy dressed as Robin and later finding out they didn’t know each other. Logically, one would assume they’re fighting crime together. Similarly, whenever we would meet someone new, TTD and I had to explain that we, surprise surprise, were not in fact having sex.
“So,” people would ask us, “how did you two meet?”
“Um,” one of us would say, “we met in Korea…we’re actually not a couple.”
“You’re not a couple? Oh, I thought you were a couple!”
“No, we’re just friends.” Thankfully it stopped there. Once I was traveling with a female friend and someone asked us why we weren’t a couple. That was an awkward one. I’m not sure what the appropriate answer to that is: “We get along great as friends, but the thing is, on a physical level, we repulse each other!”
Of all the colorful characters we met in the Philippines, a sailor named Ben had to be one of the most memorable. Ben approached us while we were waiting for the Starcraft ferry to take us from Cebu to Bohol. We were sitting at the dock and he came over and plopped himself down in the chair in front of us. He was young and handsome…but something was clearly off in his head. After asking us the standard questions (where are you from?/where are you going?/why is he so white?/etc., etc.), Ben launched into a much more interesting topic of discussion.
“Sir,” he said, looking at me, “your girlfriend has very beautiful feet.”
“Oh,” I said. “She’s not my girlfriend. You can compliment her feet…don’t worry about it.”
TTD had sandals on, and Ben stared down at her toes. “You have beautiful feet…Where I’m from, the foot is considered the most beautiful part of a woman’s body.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from north of Manila – Bulacan. In Bulacan, a man doesn’t ask for a woman’s hand in marriage, he asks for her foot in marriage.”
“That’s clever how you flipped it.”
We had about an hour until the boat departed, and the feeling that Ben was not going to leave us was beginning to settle in. Both TTD and I were exhausted from sleeping in the airport and flying to Cebu in the morning. We wanted to flee the conversation but didn’t have the energy.
“Are you a Christian, sir?” he asked.
“Um, yeah. I was raised Christian anyways.”
“I’ve given myself to Jesus Christ. I’ve taken a vow of celibacy.”
I couldn’t help looking down at TTD’s feet. I supposed they were kind of cute.
“Would you like to see my wife?” Ben asked. He pointed off into the distance and we both turned to look. There were a bunch of women around. “Which one is she?” TTD asked.
“I’m pointing at the boat,” Ben said. “I’m a sailor on that ferry boat. A Marshal. That’s the beautiful woman I’m married to.” He went on to talk a bit about the boat, telling us how fast it goes and how, as a Sea Marshal or whatever he was, he had the ability to arrest people on land, and how Sea Marshals in the USA can’t do that. It didn’t take long, though, until he returned to the subject of feet.
“Sir,” he said, motioning me towards him, “I want to give you some advice. Tonight, when you’re with your girlfriend…”
“She’s not really my girlfriend.”
“Yeah, ok, well, instead of kissing your girlfriend on the lips, go straight for the feet.”
“She might not like that.”
He straightened up, smiling, talking to both of us now. “In Bulacan, there are many foot fetish bars. You go and sit at the bar, and if a woman is interested in you, she will offer you her feet.” Ben got on a roll then and went on and on about feet. He talked about looking at pictures of feet on the Internet and kissing feet and all kinds of stuff.
“In that case,” he said, “you lick the odor away. Sir, do you have any children?”
“Yes,” he said. “I have many.”
“I thought you were celibate?”
“Every day I have new children,” he said. “I look at the list of passengers on the boat. One day I have ten children, the next day I have twenty-eight children.”
There was no need to flee at this point. TTD and I had settled in. Yes, we were stuck in this conversation, but mentally we had moved far past denial and into acceptance.
“Sir, have you ever been to Missouri?”
“No, have you?”
There was a long pause. Ben looked off into the water. “Is that it, Ben? About Missouri?”
“Oh!” he said, snapping back into attention. “I saw on a TV program that someone was arrested in Missouri for impersonating a police officer.”
I wondered if that interested Ben because he was impersonating a Sea Marshal. He had to have been. Who was this guy, and what exactly did he do on that boat? For some reason, I started writing a personal ad for him in my head, something he could put on Craigslist: “Hi. I’m Ben. I have 28 kids and I like feet. I’m celibate and married to a boat and I’ve never been to Missouri.”
Just as, to those we didn’t know, TTD and I were a couple, anyone who would’ve walked by us that moment would probably have thought that the three of us – me, TTD, and Ben – were great friends. Lifelong pals. In a way, it’s nice how strangers seem to assume that people are closer to one another than they really are. That’s kind of fun to think about – that for one moment at the dock, while Ben rambled on about feet, someone could look at me and believe that I was sitting happily, chatting with my best friend, my sweetheart by my side.