03 April 2012

The Double Life of Annie Batungbakal

The younger generations, in particular, will have absolutely no clue about who Annie Batungbakal was – and with good reason. First of all, she lived back in the seventies, at a time when the poetry of songwriting was being usurped by the relative illiteracy of disco music.

Annie Batungbakal was but one of countless and faceless Filipinas who spent their entire lives trying to eke out a living. She was a saleslady probably in one of the emerging malls of the era or one of the more ubiquitous department stores all around the metropolis.

Like many of her kind, she probably stayed on her feet for the entirety of the eight hours that she was on duty, grabbing a quick lunch or a snack whenever she could. She stood behind her glass counters staring into space whenever there were no customers; and probably broke into a forced smile whenever one ventured close and showed interest in the products inside her counters.

She was probably from some province way down south; and left the relative comforts and safety of her home to try to discover the world of bright lights in the metropolis. She eventually found a small, cramped and cockroach-infested apartment somewhere in the San Francisco del Monte district of Quezon City.

Soon enough, she realized that she was caught right smack in the middle of the rat race that is life in a big city. Alone and lonely, she had come to realize that her dream of making something of herself was not any closer than when she stood on the top deck of the ship that she had boarded watching her hometown disappear from sight down the horizon.

But Annie Batungbakal lived a double life. Rather than wallow in misery as millions in the big city did when darkness came each evening, she would rest her aching forelimbs from hours of standing, eat a hasty dinner, freshen up in the bathroom and prepare to become the somebody that she could never be in real life.

With utter care, she made herself up, slipped into one of several sexy dresses that she had saved months for, put on high-heeled shoes that she really could not afford then went outside to hail a taxi that would transform her into a Cinderella headed to a ball fit for princes.

Except that what she was really headed for was a disco joint called the Coco Banana. It was her escape. On the dance floor, she expressed all her failed ambitions, her hurts and her loneliness. There, at least, she was royalty.

She danced with so much passion; and drew admiration from all and sundry. While the disco lights blinked, she forgot the misery of her day job, the countless love affairs and break-ups, her utter failure to take herself any farther in life and the utter loneliness that she struggled to keep out each night.

The disco had become her drug; and she had become hopelessly addicted!

Like Cinderella, though, she dreaded the coming of midnight. The striking of the hour simply meant that she would once again descend into the ignominy of being a faceless nobody.

Her nightly forays into the disco were not without cost. She started arriving late for work; and when she did, she was lethargic and irritable and often got into arguments with customers. The number of times when she was called into the manager’s office was becoming alarmingly frequent.

It was a matter of time before she lost her job. Having spent whatever money she could spare for her life of pretence on the dance floor, she realized that the misery that she sought to cloak on the dance floor had not only become unavoidable – it had also become compounded.

That night, Annie Batungbakal stopped going to the disco. And nobody really knows to this day what became of her…

Now let me introduce you to Annie Batungbakal.


Postscript 2:

It is not uncommon even in the present to hear youngsters singing songs from the sixties and the seventies. The reason why songs from the era have so much lasting power is that lyricists in those days were such great poets and storytellers.

This story that I just embellished was originally told by an OPM band named Hotdog. Funny that it is only now that I am realizing what a great storyteller the band was.

I had the great privilege of watching the band when it opened for the Hues Corporation at the Araneta Coliseum in the late seventies.

As a young teenager, I was more interested in the rhythm of their songs. Growing older, though, makes people pay attention more. I am glad that I eventually did, if belatedly, because Hotdog told such rich stories about life.

Postscript 2:

In the song Annie Batungbakal, Hotdog left it to the listener to figure out what became of her. I guess, being Filipinos, none of us really needed to be told. We would instinctively know because hers was a life so many of us were living.








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