• meet the queen
  • meet the queen
  • meet the queen
  • meet the queen

meet the queen

A royal reception in a tiny domain

We sat at the bar in Subic Bay, Philippines. Toby, the silver-haired owner of the bar and decorated veteran of the battle of Leyte Gulf, set a pair of frothy drinks in front of my shipmate Mike and me. Mike was a golden-haired private-school dropout from New England. He was very fussy about his drinks. “O.K.,” Toby said, “this is what I always served to Francis Ford Coppola whenever he came in. Makin’ that Apocalypse movie took him so much time, he was in here so much drinkin’ these, I decided to name it after him. I call it the Francis.”

“The  Francis?” Mike winced. “Couldn’t you think up something a little more prosaic? Like Coppola Cup, or a Double Apocalypse?”

“No, I like callin’ it the Francis. It sounds dignified that way.” Toby never used nicknames. Even my buddy Fred the Peace Corps guy was Frederick to Toby, with all three syllables pronounced.

Our drinks had the aroma of mango, the tang of pineapple, and a strong undercurrent of rum. As I sipped I looked out through the dining room to the waters of Subic Bay. The sun was setting amid the great splashes and swashes and mottles of candy colors that are unique to the Philippine Islands sky. I once counted fourteen separate hues in the crazy quilt of a Philippine sunset. Purple, green, orange, six shades of blue, pink, and some colors I had no name for. They made the sky look like something delicious and fun to eat.

Toby’s Beach Club Bar and Restaurant, and his thatched and terraced bungalows, sat square on the beach of the eastern shore of the bay, about five miles out of Olongapo City. He was one of those American GIs who regularly fall in love with the East and stay around when their enlistments expire, or upon retirement. They marry a local woman, or at least set up housekeeping with one, and go into business as salvage divers, exporters, or innkeepers. Toby and his wife had had the Beach Club for many years. Actually, his wife had it all, as foreigners couldn’t own real estate or a majority share of an enterprise in the Philippines. Legally, Toby was her employee. I was staying in one of the bungalows for a pittance a night.

“Hey, Toby,” Mike said as he downed his Francis. “You’ve been here forever, you know everything.”

“Sure,” he said, running his fingers through his white muttonchop sideburns. “Waddaya wanna know?”

“Mike looked at me. We both looked around the room to see if anyone might overhear. Then we both leaned inward over the bar, conspiratorially. Toby leaned outward over the bar, toward us.

“Toby,” Mike said in a hush. “Have you ever heard of a place called Marilyn’s?”

Toby gave us each a blank stare.

“You know,” Mike insisted, “the knobber shop, gobbler’s gulch.”

Toby still looked blank, so I said, “C’mon. You’ve heard the Fellatio Alger story. The whorehouse where only oral sex is available but it’s, like, world class. They say the women even have to go through some kind of special training program!”

“I heard they even have a fellow working there, too!” Mike said. “They say he does more business than any of the girls! Hot damn!”

“Spill it, Toby! Is it in Olongopo City?”

“C’mon! What the story?”

“O.K., look,” he said, holding his hands up as if to stop us. “You guys been hearin’ too many crazy sea stories. People tell you that just to pull your chain. That’s stuff’s only fantasy. Besides, hey, if it were true, I’d be there spendin’ all my money! Ha ha! O.K.? Here, let me get you two turkeys a couple more Francises. And if you ever do find a place like that, you be sure and tell me, O.K.? Just don’t tell the wife, you know?” He smiled at the thought as he peeled another mango.

Mike looked glumly at the setting sun and said, “Well, maybe it isn’t true, but it ought to be.”


Toby brought us two more Francises and reminded us that the martial law curfew was still in effect every night at mid-night. Then-President Ferdinand Marcos didn’t want his enemies skulking about after the witching hour. Toby warned us, “The last thing you want to do is get arrested around here. Could be bad for your health. And it’s gettin’ hard to bribe your way through after midnight because all the cops are gettin’ in on the act. It’s gettin’ downright expensive. That reminds me, Richard, your girlfriend was here, that cute one with the stand-up bazooms. What’s her name?”


“Yeah, O.K. She said to make sure you meet her in the bungalow by curfew or she’s gonna get jealous. And she says not to be a butterfly while you’re out drinkin’.”

In the Philippines a butterfly is a man who goes from flower to flower. It’s even a verb: “to butterfly.” Many of the women carry a switchblade-type weapon known as a butterfly knife. When pressed beyond endurance, they are known to clip the wings of the butterflies in their lives.

“Why is it,” I asked, “that when I’m in port, and for as long as I’m in port, I’m the one who supports here, but she’s the one who gets jealous. Something’s amiss here.”

“Don’t you like here?” Toby asked.

“Well, yeah. She’s the best girlfriend I’ve ever had here in the P.I. And the best dressed, too. A woman of style. But I just don’t like having the butterfly knife of Damocles hanging over my head.

“Well that’s what happens when you stay with ’em more than once or twice,” the old sage counseled. “Suddenly you’re their rice bowl and that’s that.  Besides, the women here just get attached easy, O.K.? Hey, maybe you like this girl more than you say. Maybe you think she might be something permanent?”

“It could happen. I’m not saying it will. But maybe, you know.”

“If you don’t piss her off too much. But I know; it’s hard when you’re a sailor, bein’ gone all the time. During the war I was gone so much, my first wife got tired of it. She left me. So, O.K.’ Nuff said. You gotta get it when you can.”

Mike broke in and said, “Well, the night is young, Richard. Let’s go barhop our way along the bay shore. I’m not spoken for and I can butterfly all I like. You can watch.”

We began a gradual progress east and north along the bay. At each noisy, colorful stop there were women who would approach our table and politely say, “Hello. May I sit beside you for a while?” Others were more aggressive and yelled from across the room or the road, “Hey, Joe. Let’s go overnight!” In the Philippines all Americans are called Joe. “Hey, Joe. What do you want? I got it!” Through several miles of shoreline we traverse the sexual carnival that was Subic Bay. Whenever I seemed to be interested in a woman Mike reminded me of my “knife-wielding darling-true-love.”

That’s not to say that Erlinda was a hard or a violent woman. She wasn’t. She was sophisticated and cultured beyond the norm, having come from a well-educated Manila family. She was warm and charming and carried herself with dignity. An inner strength came through in her every word and movement, and yet at the same time she was vulnerable and bruised. I was quite fond of her. My complaint was that she had little control of her passions. I had seen her vent her rage before, in public even, and I didn’t care to again. I felt sure that if she went unchecked she would do some serious injury to herself or me or to whomever might get caught in the middle.

About ten miles from Olongopo we came upon a relatively quiet collection of a dozen or so buildings. Half of them were brothels and the others were bars and restaurants. A few sported colorful signs with splashy names like the Galaxy, the Stardust, and Stumpy & Gimpy’s Muffidivers Inn. On the shore side, three buildings were wedged tightly together so as to all be near a small boat dock. The building in the middle looked particularly scrunched and the front was recessed, giving it an even more crowded look. A wooden walk descended from the road level down a few feet to a little porch. An unpretentious sign over the door read “Marilyn’s.” Mike and I saw it at the same time. We stopped, very quietly, and simply gazed, smilingly, upon the sign.

“Do you think it’s really?…”

“Sshhh. We’re in the presence. I feel it. Sshhh.”

Through the open door a light the color of candle glow shone warmly. A low hum of conversation enriched the air. Wordlessly, mike and I took a single, tentative step forward. Mike reached with his right foot to the wooden walk and tested it. Nodding, he said, “I think it’s safe. We won’t be walking on illusion.” Shoulder to shoulder we approached, slowly quietly, indeed reverentially, till we came to the door and peered in. Small, round tables with matching chairs occupied the floor and a bar took up the far wall. Candles in hurricane globes burned on all the tables. To the left a stairway led up to the next floor and to the right was a little alcove for a band. Patrons collected in knots around the small tables. A larger group sat at three tables pushed together in a corner, drinking beer and punch.

Two waiters were working behind the bar perfectly dressed in starched white shirts, black bow ties, and cummerbunds. When one of them saw us he immediately put down his work and came forward to greet us. “Welcome, gentlemen. Welcome to Marilyn’s. Please sit down and have something to drink. Do you want beer? Or we have a special drink, a punch. We call it mojo.”

“Uh…beer, yeah, beer. Two beers,” one of us muttered as we took it all in.

“Is this, uh…is this…Marilyn’s?”

“Of course. Did you not see our sign outside?” The waiter took as much care in enunciating his words as he did in his fastidious appearance.

“I mean, is this, like, the real Marilyn’s? You know, the one people talk about?”

“Ha ha,” the waiter laughed. “There is only one famous Marilyn in all of Subic, and this is her place.”

“You mean there really is a woman named Marilyn? An actual woman? It’s not the name of the place? It’s all true? Everything we’ve heard is true!?”

“Well,” he said, “I can’t tell all that you have heard. But I’m sure pretty much everything is true. I have been working for her for many years. I know what I’m talking about. I hope you will like it here and come often.”

A middle-aged American man, a civilian by his haircut, came wearily down the stairs, a smile on his flushed face. He lumbered across the room and sat down heavily with the patrons at the corner tables. Then a girl in a ponytail, short skirt, and blouse tied fetchingly beneath the breasts came bouncing down the stairs. As she passed our table she flashed us a white, toothy smile and waved hello. She went out through a door by the bar and called to the civilian, “Goodbye, Doug. See you again.” Doug gave her a tired little wave and sighed the sigh of the content of heart.

When the waiter brought our drinks we told him how we had heard so often about this place but never knew anybody who had actually seen it. We went on to say that it was a real thrill to be sitting in a living legend, or something like that.

“And you look so elegant in your cummerbunds,” I said.

“Everything about this place is just marvelous.”

The waiter seemed immensely pleased with our compliments and enthusiasm. Then I asked, “Is Marilyn still alive? Does she live in town, or in Manila maybe?”

“Oh, she lives very near,” he said. “Would you like to meet her?”

“Pinch me, Mike. I’m dreaming.”

Our waiter, whose name was Mando, conferred briefly with his partner, then led us outside where we began walking along the shore. “Marilyn likes to meet new guys very much. But first we have to stop at the Sari Sari store. If you are going to meet Marilyn, you have to bring her a present.”

A Sari Sari store is a Philippine kiosk, or a tiny convenience store. In the towns every street corner has one. On the highways and byways there’s one every mile or so. We stopped at one of two that serviced the collection of a dozen or so buildings and bought Marilyn the finest article available: a bottle of cologne. It was men’s cologne, but it was all the Sari Sari store had. And Mando said it would be the thought that counted with his mistress.

We continued down the beach till we came to a well-lighted walled compound. We stopped at a wrought-iron grill gate where Mando pressed a button and jabbered into a speaker.

“It’s a villa!” Mike whispered with admiration. “A demi-palace! A palace for the queen of fellatio!”

The gate buzzed open and Mando led us down a curvy, tiled walkway lined with ferns and flowers. An ornate birdbath stood four high in the middle of a well-trimmed lawn. Laughter and party voices floated toward us from the main building as we approached it.

“What do you think is going on there?” Mike murmured.

“Whatever it is, I hope we’re not too late.”

“By the way, don’t forget to get home on time tonight. Otherwise, you might turn into a butterflied pumpkin.”

“Mike, did I ever tell you you’re an asshole?”


“Just checking.”

The front door of the main building opened and happy noises, color and light spilled out. The walls and ceiling of the large room were painted a pale coral. Majestic ferns and elegant potted palms made it lush with jade green. Rattan and wicker furniture with colorful cushions dotted the room and capiz shell lamps bathed it in velvety yellow light. I don’t know what I had expected for occupants, but they were certainly not what I expected.

They were society folk. Local politicians, high-ranking U.S. naval officers and civilian bigwigs from the nearby U.S. Navy base; businessmen, both Philippine and American; some people I took to be artists of some kind; musicians I had seen in nightclubs. Most of them were accompanied by their wives! One of the naval officers, a full commander (with his wife), was in a crisp, dress white uniform and I recognized him from a brief encounter in the past. The Mrs. wore blue chiffon and affected an ivory fan with little feathers hanging from it. The civilians schmoozed and the politicians conspired and the businessmen talked business. A man in a corner softly strummed a twelve-string guitar. Servants served drinks and tidbits. Dominating the whole scene was Marilyn.

She sat in an enormous rattan empress chair, or peacock chair, furnished with gaily colored floral cushions. A girl of about sixteen, dressed casually in faded jeans and a billowy t-shirt, stood leaning lazily against one side of Marilyn’s throne. Now and then they whispered. Marilyn was smartly dressed in a finely woven cotton pants suit, expensive looking sandals and pearls. She looked to be about thirty-five to forty. It is an unfortunate fact that women in the Philippines tend to go to fat very early in life, and very quickly, too. I’ve seen women on the eve of their fortieth birthday go to bed thin and wake up twenty pounds heavier. Or so it seems. I don’t know if it’s diet, climate, or heredity; I only know that it’s so. But Marilyn had beaten the odds. I don’t know if she had been slimmer in her youth, but at the time I looked upon her she was the size and shape of Marilyn Monroe. The luminous Monroe rendered in sepia.

All the talk halted as we were conducted into the room. In the dignified strut of a majordomo Mando approached the throne and announced: “Marilyn, I have the pleasure to introduce these two American gentlemen. They have heard of you all the way from their home, and they would like to be your new friends.”

The whole company broke into polite applause, smiles, and remarks.

“New friends, new friends!”

“How nice.”


“Heard of Marilyn all the way from stateside.”


Marilyn smiled at us engagingly and turned her full attention to us. Mando gestured us forward. I was holding our cologne offering, so I approached and said, “Marilyn, I am Richard, and this is Mike. We’ve heard of you for such a long time. But we thought you were just a dream. Forgive us, and accept this small gift as a token from two of your admirers.”

She took it in her finely manicured hands and read from the label. “Ah, Rawhide cologne. You’re very nice to bring me this.”

Mike found his tongue and said, “Well, that’s all there was at the Sari Sari store. But we’d have brought you diamonds if we could. Diamonds!”

“This will be very good for my nephew,” she said, handing it to the t-shirted girl to take charge of. “And now come and sit by me and tell me your stories.”

“Yes, yes,” the courtiers all urged. “Tell your stories.”

Mando, his duty done, had slipped quietly away, so Marilyn gestured to another cummerbunded servant who brought out two low footstools and set them at her feet. “Sit, sit, sit,” she insisted with gestures of offering.  “And bring them something to drink, too, Vincent. Bring them a mojo.”

“Mojo, mojo,” the people chanted.

We sat at Marilyn’s feet, our heads on a level with her lap, and were soon served two icy highball glasses filled with a pinkish-orange punch that was rather the same color as the paint on the walls. It smelled of fresh pineapple and other sweet fruits, though I could not identify them. And it tasted just the same: delicious. “I don’t taste any alcohol in this,” I said. “Is it a soft drink?”

A ripple of knowing laughter shivered through the crowd.

“Soft drink!”


“It has a lot of rum in it,” Marilyn warned us. “So you have to be careful when you drink it, because it can fool you a lot. I know. I’m the one who always makes it. And now, your stories. Please?”

And so we told Marilyn and her admirers our stories: where we were from, where we were going, places we had visited and what was important in our lives. Marilyn listened with a very attentive ear, and sympathetic and pleased expressions. She asked lots of questions. Whenever I made a joke, she laughed sincerely and touched me on the shoulder. The mojo flowed. I felt that I was in the company of someone special, a generous and commanding personality. It must have been something like Othello and Desdemona: he loving her because she loved his stories. Marilyn was a person I wanted to be close to. I wanted to put my head on her lap and let her sing me a lullaby. Or feed me more mojo.

When we had exhausted our stories Marilyn’s followers gave us polite applause. Marilyn asked us, “Where are you staying now? Mike named his hotel and I said, “In a bungalow at a place called the Beach Club, down the road a few miles.”

“Oh, then you must know my friend Toby,” she said with pleased surprise.


“Yes, with white hair and big sideburns?”

“Oh yes. Toby. Yes, of course. Uh, we know Toby, don’t we, Mike?”

“He’s a friend of mine a long time,” Marilyn smiled. Then she reached down and patted and stroked me gently on the head, like a pet dog, smiling all the while. Noticing my empty glass she playfully scolded Vincent, charging him to be more attentive, and never again to let her guests hold an empty mojo glass. Leaning over to me and petting me gain she said, “Would you like to hear my story now?”

“Marilyn’s story!” one of the faithful cried out.

“Yes, yes, Marilyn’s story,” they all gushed, and yet again rendered polite applause.

“I never tire of it,” the commander’s wife said as she fanned herself coquettishly. The guitarist stopped his soulful strumming for the first time since we had arrived. Vincent topped off my glass and stood back in rapt respectful silence.

“Well, I was born a very poor girl on the island of Cebu,” she began. “And when I was still just young I came to Subic to make my fortune. I tried to be a dancer, but if you know me very well you know I’m not very good. So I worked in the bars, I worked in the clubs. I worked every day and night. And I knew what my customers wanted.” At this all the courtiers nodded and murmured their agreement. “So I practiced. And I became the best.”

“The best, the best,” the hangers-on added in refrain.

“And soon they were all coming to me. I began to earn a lot of money.”

“Lots of money!”

“Ha ha!”


“I soon got to have too many customers and boyfriends. And I had money in the bank. So I opened my own place. The first was in Olongopo. And I hired the girls and I taught them myself. And I always treated them well and paid them well. And they all became experts like me. I told them the secret to success is always be the best. So I have been very successful. And now I have my other place here on the beach. I am a woman with two very successful businesses.”

Marilyn was warming to her theme, smiling in satisfaction and making pumping motions with her arm. A giggle wanted to escape from her, but she harnessed it and turned it into words, “I now have money and friends and houses and everything. And I got all this,” she said stretching out the word “all,” and making a grand sweeping gesture with her arm, “I got all this from sucking cocks.”

“Ho ho ho!” her fans laughed with delight at the joke they had doubtless laughed at many times before.

“Bravo, well said!”

“Sucking cocks, ha ha ha!”

“I never tire of it.”

“Commander,” Marilyn called over the tumult to the senior officer present. “Do you know the big sign on the navy base that says, “What have you done for the fleet today?”

“Yes, Marilyn. And what have you done for the fleet today?”

“I sucked their cocks!”

And the people went into hysterics yet again. Mike seemed bemused. I couldn’t tell how much rum was in the mojo, but by this time I had copped a mighty buzz and was laughing like a fool along with all the rest of her fans. As the hubbub died down, they all started chatting among themselves, the story over, and Vincent appeared at my side to fill my glass again. He smiled as he slipped away and I realized that I was resting one arm on Marilyn’s lap. She stroked my head like a poodle once more and looked down at me with mirthful eyes. “Did you like my story?”

“Ha, it’s a great story. Really good. But, hey. Tell me something, Marilyn. How do you know Toby?”

She considered for a moment, then decided to tell. “Well, he used to be my boyfriend.”


“Yes. But his wife was jealous. So now…he’s just…just my friend.”

“C’mon. Don’t be a tease. Tell me everything.”

Cradling my head in the crook of her arm, she leaned down low and whispered in my ear with breath warm and moist, “He helps me when I’m training my new girls. I can’t teach them everything with a banana or squash. They have to know the real thing. I pay him a little bit. His wife keeps him on a short string; she doesn’t give him very much. In more ways than one. But you need some more mojo. Vincent!”

It was now after 11 P.M. Those of Marilyn’s admirers who were not houseguests began to make ready to leave in order to beat the curfew. Nobody wanted to have to pay a badly inflated bribe to the police or, worse, confront the constabulary troops: the federales. Mike had accepted an offer of a ride from one of the businessmen and was on his way out. I remembered Erlinda. Erlinda with her perfect bosom, her refined ways, her clever conversation, her high degree of lover’s skills;  and how delicious it was to awaken in the morning to her and the sound of the lapping bay surf. I had enough time plus ten minutes to make it back to her before midnight. And as I was low on cash, I lacked sufficient funds to bribe my way out of a tight spot.

“Stay,” Marilyn said. “Stay.”


“Yes. Stay.”


She laughed prettily. “With me.”

We were standing now. She was reaching up to tug at my ear, still like her favorite pet. I looked at my watch. It read nine minutes to jail. “Stay,” she repeated, like a mantra, running her fingers through my hair. “Stay.” Eight minutes to spare. I had upset Erlinda once already this week. Sometimes when the women are angry they whip out their butterfly knives and say, “I’ll give you a Filipino Haircut,” with a slashing motion across the throat.

Seven minutes. I really liked Erlinda. I really, really did. I once fought another man over her. And she was worth it. When she was good she was very very good.

Six minutes. “Stay.”

“I’m cutting this awfully close,” I thought. “Just think of the story I’ll have if I stay. In every other night at sea, guys will say ‘Richard, tell the story of Marilyn, the queen of fellatio!’ They’ll buy me drinks all night. I’ll be famous in maritime circles. They’ll all say, ‘Oh, that’s Dickie Sterling, what a salty guy he is. Get him to tell you a story.’ On top of all that, I’ll bet Marilyn can be brutally satisfying. Furthermore, I like her, I really like her. But I like Erlinda, too. And she’s waiting for me. And so is Marilyn.”

Five minutes.