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"Olug House"

by Ralph C. Martin



Vol. 1, No. 3, 1959

     "Man, did you ever have to prove you were a virgin?"
     My God, I thought, the guy's serious. I caught my pants just before they fell down and drew in a new supply of air. That was one question I'd never been asked, unless you count the time my wife, only kiddingly mind you, inquired if I'd ever been one. But Joe Glannon was in earnest.
     No matter how I tell this, you won't believe it. It did happen just the same, right here in the Philippines. I was bending the elbow a bit and breathing the refrigerated air in the Manila Hotel's bar. This American engineer barges in and after a fast viewing of the wearied, wetted occupants, plops at my table.
     I knew him slightly. Joe Glannon hadn't been anything more than a drinking acquaintance mostly, but even so I knew him well enough to notice something was quelling his usual wit. And it wasn't that damnish wet air of Manila, although his barong tagalog was ready for drip-drying. A big guy like him really sweats in that damn tropical country.
     He dropped his immense frame into the scanty rattan chair and growled, "San Miguel and quick," to the scurrying barboy. I motioned for another bourbon for me too.
     "How the hell are you, Joe?" I grinned. "What's with the mining crowd these days?" He glared at me.
     "You're damn lucky you're in chemicals...And I don't want any of your snide remarks." His huge head swiveled, "Boy!" Tossing off a second bottle, he sighed and relaxed a bit. Then he threw it at me.
     "Ralph, did you ever have to prove you were a virgin? Hey, don't choke." The look on my face must have warned him, for this was the first time bourbon ever burnt me. It went straight down my windpipe.
     "Whaddya mean?" I coughed.
     "Wel-l, not exactly virgin maybe, but try and prove the girl wasn't in trouble because of you." He grimaced as he poured down a straight one. The barboy sidled over, evidently thinking the look was meant for him. Quickly and silently he brought more bourbon and beer.
     "Yeah, Ralph," Joe continued, "Every time I think of that old headman up there, I get the pink shakes. I mean it! I see that wizened, sad face with those damn penetrating eyes, everywhere. Boy I gotta shake this Island before I go nuts." That big ham of a hand shook when he reached for another San Miguel.
     Joe had just come down from Baguio up in the Igorot country, he went on to tell me. That's the mountain area in northern Luzon. Rough country even now. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there were some Japs still holed up there. Those Igorots probably gave the Japs a rough time, for they're headhunters though supposedly they've given the sport up.
     I've made out Glannon as a sort of bumpkin, but don't get me wrong. He's a pretty sharp operator in more ways than one. What with the metals stock piling program and the recession lifting, the Filipinos are making a comeback into the world ore game. And Joe was sharp--it wasn't just his brawn or prowess with women that had sent him up to Baguio as consultant for the Robles Enterprises. Glannon really knew his marbles.
     Now Baguio has its share of attractions, just as Manila does, some that nature made to be shared and some otherwise. Besides it's a helluva lot cooler there, being a mile high. So I figured Joe had gone and relaxed a bit too much. But it seemed that it wasn't so, at least not in Baguio.
     Seems he ran across an agriculturist friend of his or I should say a fellow Alumnus from Penn State. Bob Parsons was his name and it was fitting, too. For this Parsons character had a touch of the evangelistic spirit in him. Or maybe even more than a touch, say a blotch. Bob Parsons, Joe said flatly, in his book, was a damn sniveling hypocrite.
    When he wasn't showing the aborigines the Margate system of rice planting, Brother Parsons was spreading the word. Guess he figured that was me way of keeping his head. And he had some head, Joe agreed. Of hair that is. Joe had to polish off another boilermaker before he could tell me more about the ole boy and that hair. He thought about him for a while and finally sighed.
     "Damn, if that guy's hair didn't stand put like a shower tree in full blossom," Joe grinned. "Curly red, you understand, like a Hollywood showgirl's. Made me think of Flaming Mamie back in Honolulu."
     Well, I'd never seen Flaming Mamie, but I'd heard of her, as what GI hadn't? I pushed a fresh bottle of fuel over to Joe  to keep him going.
     Joe had been curious about those ex-headhunters and had kidded Parsons about tagging along with him once. So Parsons had upped and asked him along on one of his trips. Joe was surprised a this for he had figured him for a loner.
     "You know what that son'gun was after," Joe growled, waving his bottle. I shook my head. Joe made a face like he'd swallowed quinine.
     "Well, he'd said it would give me a change of pace to see how the other 'experts' operated and when we got to this damn hill village, it turned out I was to help the Chief operate his illicit gold mine. I tell you boy, all these guys have the angles. And Preacher Parsons as right in there. But I wasn't about to get messed up in a gold deal. You know how touchy the government is about gold." I nodded, getting the picture. Redheaded Parsons was trying to make points with the Chief for some reasons.
     "Anyhow," Joe said, "Parsons gave me a snow job and finally got me calmed down. And that evening, along came the Chief and his brothers inviting me to share the joys of the Olug House."
     "Olug House" I said and looked stupid. Joe rolled his bottle on the table and stared right back at me.
     "You mean you've lived in these damn Islands for two years and haven't heard of the Olug?" He demanded incredulously.
     "That's right," I said, feeling silly. "Guess I'm as bad as these tourists who go through here and never see anything. What the hell is it?"
     "Brother! Just don't try it out unless you feel like becoming part of the permanent setup." Joe wiped the sweat off his face. "It's one of these try-em-outand-see-before-the-sign-and-seal deals. It's almost a damn legal fancy house. It's always located way off by itself, I guess so the rest of the village isn't disturbed. And let me tell you it's sure one busy place every night in the year. That's from my own experience and from old holyroller Parsons, and come to think of it he sure didn't seem to object to the place.
     "Well, as I was saying, if the men and women don't come to a mutual satisfaction, they can both go their merry way," Joe went on, "This thing has its points, don't get me wrong. But there's a rub. You're not supposed to use this service just to fool around. If a girl gets in the family way and you renege; you've had it. Off comes the head. On the other hand, if you and the girl decide to stick it out and she doesn't give out with the children, you can get rid of her quicklike. Just have to fork over a hectare of land. That's all.
     "Of course with a native this can be rough, for a hectare up there is hard to come by and a guys' head isn't. Usually the poor guy is just saddled with the gal 'til the bitter end." Joe yelled for more brew and then went on.
     "Now at the time, mind you, I didn't know about this 'no fooling around' stuff, so naturally they didn't have to do much persuading. Anything to get off the gold subject.
     "I'll bet you were quite the stud, eh boy," I chimed in. "I've seen pictures of those bare-breasted babes."
     "It wasn't so bad," he agreed, beaming. "In fact, that first night was made strictly in the Philippines expressly for Filipino lovemaking. And after that one night indoctrination, I came to the conclusion that these people weren't called aborigines for nothing. Everything about Rosita was original. At the time it wouldn't have taken much for me to become a member of that operation in full standing.
     "And good old Parsons was right in there pitching. During the day he worked the fields and in the evenings he worked the minds. And at night he was just working. Broth-er! For someone spreading the word. It only took a couple nights with the dusky, yet enticing Rosita to bring me over to the Chief's side. After all my conscience was clear, I just made a few suggestions and I wasn't in on any of the gold
     "Well, all good things always come to an end, so Parsons and I bid our farewells. And I would've sworn that Rosita was the saddest of all, but for some reason she kept her soulful eyes glued to Parsons. Redhead and all.
     "On the way back to Baguio I asked him about the girl, but he just shrugged it off. He did say she was one of the girls he was working on to show the right path. I'll have to admit she was quite a gal to work on.
     "About three months later I'd finished my work in Baguio and was spending a few days just relaxing and sightseeing. I hadn't seen Parsons since our little trip and had actually forgotten him without any effort. On one of my strolls one day, I was stopped by a delegation of what I thought was Filipinos. I didn't recognize them at first, for they had pants on. It was old beady eyes, the Chief himself, and a couple of his strongest cohorts.
     "There wasn't anything really threatening in their manner to suggest that things weren't as they should be. So when I was invited to their village for a looksee at their smooth-running gold deal, I didn't give it a second thought. Of course visions of Rosita didn't hold me back too much.
     "After I got there I saw the holiday was over for the real reason of the invitation was very apparent. At least if the size of Rosita was any indication. And it was. So when with the natives, one plays ball and I was given to understand that if I didn't, then someone would be playing ball with my own cute, dark curly locks.
     "The point was, that if I couldn't give good cause why I shouldn't be joined in holy or unholy wedlock with the budding Rosita, then I was stuck. The alternatives were to marry her there and then, or else. They did weaken a little when I pointed out, real indignant, that it might have been someone else, like Parsons for instance.
     "It was their turn to be indignant. Of course it couldn't be Parsons, not a holy Joe like him. All I could wangle out of them was a stay of execution. I could stick around to the end of the incubation period and see, or I could wed right then. Or die right then, if I preferred.
     "Being a bloody optimist I grinned and decided to sweat it out. Which I did, too, in the gold mine. And this time I wasn't treated as a visiting 'expert' either. That was the damnest six months I have ever spent. I must have lost sixty pounds and it wasn't all from work. I was worried. I wasn't about to get married to this native gal, no matter how luscious a piece she was. But shortly after I got there I became convinced they had meant what they'd said.
     "One night there was a rousing celebration. They had one of those Tchungas--a victory dance--and after an all night session of tuba and passionate relaxing. I figured this was it. It wasn't though. I had no sooner snuck out of sight of the last but when a tremendous squealing took place. Several of the girls, evidently too young for the carousing, had seen my careful departure.
     "Some of those young bloods really sobered up quick, for I hadn't run a quarter of a kilometer before they had me in tow. This had been about my tenth try at escaping and turned out to be my last. Sweat streaming down my panting body, I was prodded by bolos where it hurt and forced up the steep slope to the village. In the fresh dawn the reason for the celebration made the new morning look awfully gloomy.
     "The head that was sticking on top of the high stake in front of the Chief's hut was so fresh, so real, and so bodiless, that I threw up everything inside of me except my kidneys. They sure meant business.
     "'Till then I had naturally assumed this was all one big joke. But now Rosita, her stomach and the fresh head, made the point all too vivid. I'll admit that they were sporting about it, allowing me the benefit of the doubt by waiting for nature to take its course. Since they figured all the harm was done, they even let Rosita take care of my domestic needs and desire as far as she was able to. Which I have to admit, was pretty damn able."
     "Now wait just one damn minute, Joe," I cut in, stuffing my cold pipe in my pocket. "This is quite the tale but there's one catch. Just how in the hell was the new arrival going to prove you guilty or innocent. They don't have blood tests up in that godforsaken court
     That's what you think," Joe nodded grimly. "They've got tests. Damn bloody
ones. And they're not godforsaken, either, Parsons took care of that. But you're right. That was my problem and I couldn't tell them otherwise. I finally got it through my thick head that they expected me to go ahead and take care of the girl no matter what. You know all this crap about all Americans are rich and besides they had me by the neck.
     "Like I said though, they had the sporting blood in them. Well, even up there the time finally went by. And it stretched out enough to make me swear I'd never touch any female again. Unless of course it's in the form of some American blonde or something. No more of these natives. NO sir!
     "Well, Rosita brought forth the fruit of her endeavor one day while I was in the mines. All I heard was the yelling. Old Sad Face even had a trace of a grin on that wrinkled puss of his when he brought me the glad tidings. I picked up enough to know I was off the hook for some reason.
     "When I saw the new dynasty I understood. There was a female baby and normally they would have thrown it in the bushes, but in this case there were two kids. Boy and girl. And twins up there are so rare that Rosita was already a sort of damn celebrity. Okay, Ralph, okay keep your shirt on. I know what you're thinking. Twins weren't enough.
     "But the color of their hair was. I only saw flaming red hair like those kids had, on one other person. Good old Brother Parsons. I'd been sure there was something special about that guy. For some damn reason though, right at that moment I felt sorry for the old boy. I could just see the delegation going after him, sort of, as you might say heading him off.
     "The Chief escorted me back to civilization. I made a beeline for Baguio looking for Parsons. I sure owed him something for that six months of hell. I wasn't quite sure whether I was going to kill him or warn him. As it turned out, it didn't matter. I couldn't find the damn guy, hair nor hide. He was cute, that fellow. He'd just plain took off and I doubt if even an ICBM could reach him.
     "Well, he was gone and since I still had my head I said to hell with it and came on down here. I'd learned my lesson and I'm sure as hell going to find out the local customs the next time I'm offered the local fruit." Joe leaned back and almost broke the chair with his big sigh. He looked for all the world like a contented caraboa. Getting it off his chest sort of sobered him up. I bought him another San Miguel and left him sleeping peaceful.
     That was about six months ago and I haven't run into him since. But I did find out he hadn't been pulling my leg. Not at all.
     Before I left the Philippines I made a trip to Baguio, the best resort area in the whole Islands. Renting a jeep I drove around seeing the famous Banaue rice terraces and all that stuff. Why I drove to the villages I don't know. I guess Joe's tale was still riding with me, for one day I found myself at the bottom of a steep incline leading up to a remote Igorot village. The jeep wouldn't make it up the path, but I did, at least most of the way. I had a hunch even as I started up that hill. And, yes you guessed it. This was Joe's village. I didn't see old Chief beady eyes, nor did I see the dusky belle of the Olug House. I did see two cute redheaded kids playing in the mud with some mountain pigs. But there was something else there which lifted my hair and made my skin prickle even in that tropical sun.
     Up there on the hill was the pole Joe had mentioned and on it was what was left of a head and floating gently in the light breeze was some hair that made my eyes bulge. Because I recognized it. It wasn't as brilliant now as the shower tree or Flaming Mamie, but I could see the resemblance. And there was something odd about the grisly trophy. There was something in it, like a big spike sticking straight up.
     Old Parsons had made just one mistake. He'd slipped back evidently for a quick one and his little brown brothers had accommodated him. I stared at the big black thing sticking up out of the skull. Then it dawned on me what it was and I almost burst out laughing in spite of my chills. It was a big wooden screw, at least a good foot long.

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