Friday, 29 September 2017

A Pinoy @ The Movies: American Assassin

Since the cinemas are about an hour's ride from where I live, I just had to make sure I was efficient with my time in the mall. I studied the screening hours of the movies that day, and watched two: American Made and American Assassin. (The ticketing ladies already recognize me; I'm their patron who watches more than one movie in a day.)

American Assassin is like the kindergarten's version of SALT. It had vengeance, a nuclear threat, and rigorous hand-to-hand combat training, but without the Angelina Jolie's killer action scenes. 



In the movie SALT, there's an endearment to Angelina Jolie's character. She was both a victim and a 'good guy'. Of course, more than anything, she was very gorgeous! (I have seen her in person, by the way. And my jaw dropped, too!)

Here in American Assassin, Dylan O'Brien's character was just a heartbroken guy, who joined the CIA because he wanted revenge for his girlfriend's death. 

Although I like the movie's multiple European locations, such as Ibiza, Istanbul, and Rome, because I felt like a tourist watching it, the film looked like it was just a walk-through on how bad guys organize a terror plot and how good guys respond to it. 

Dylan O'Brien looked like all aspiring actors in Los Angeles, and Michael Keaton's character as his trainer could have been played by a dozen other guys, too. But what surprised me though was Taylor Kitsch showing up as Ghost, a rogue agent who peddled weapons-grade uranium and double-crossed them in the end.

If you haven't seen Taylor in John Carter, he was the earthling who teleported between Earth and Mars half-naked. Here, in American Assassin, I initially didn't recognize them until he spoke in that husky "ock ohem ocktei wies Barsoom" voice. That movie, John Carter, had one amazing theme song, by the way.

Perhaps, I shouldn't be asking too much from this film. After all, I watched two films that day with one being worth the sitting. Okay, two were worth the sitting. But I only recommend Tom Cruise's American Made. Ha-ha-ha!

Now, when is the next movie day? Or rather, movies day? :-)

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Pinoy @ The Movies: American Made

Although I am somewhat hesitant to spend two hours these days watching a Tom Cruise movie, I was thankful this one was worth the sitting.

The last time I saw a Tom Cruise movie, it was a comedy, The Mummy. Yes, it was supposed to be fantasy thingy, but it turned out to be a comedy of sorts.

I have seen Tom Cruise in person. It was sometime in 2009 when he went to Seoul to promote his movie, Valkyrie, a movie where his character died. 

He was having the Valkyrie premiere in the mall where I was getting some goodies to bring home to the Philippines as my flight was a day away. I never intended to squeeze myself with the thousands of his screaming Korean fans that night. But since I knew the mall's floor plan very well, I just positioned myself at the cinema floor next to an elevator. I figured, he would be going up the cinema level using the lift because it was freezing outside. I only sat on a bench nearby and observed the security personnel's movements. I guess I should have been a spy myself. Ha-ha-ha! Because when I noticed them looking jumpy, I stood up and stayed near the barricade. And I was right! 

A few moments later, Tom Cruise got out of the elevator along with his not-so-friendly-looking bodyguards, and he started shaking hands and having selfies with his fans. A Hollywood superstar was just an arm's length from where I stood and I could have shaken his right hand, but I did not. I didn't want to share the millions of viruses and bacteria in his hands after touching other people's. Ha-ha-ha! So I just took his photo, and left the chaos to get my grocery downstairs. I knew my priorities.

Another movie where he died was Collateral.

We can add another one, American Made.

American Made is a true story of Barry Seal, who was a commercial pilot before he got bored flying the usual routes. The story on how he ended up working for both the CIA and the Medellin Cartel is even more fascinating because it is a true story. 

I didn't know he was involved in that Iran-Contra affair that shook the White House! And I was even amazed he personally knew the legendary Pablo Escobar! And Tom Cruise spoke Spanish!


You'll like this film, too, not because Tom Cruise was sort of Jerry Maguire-ish smiling character, but because it was well made and very informative, especially on how CIA, the Medellin Cartel, and the rebels made this man very rich, so rich that he had to bury suitcases of cash in his backyard!

So, if you have time this week, you better catch Tom before the Medellin Cartel does. :-)

PS. Watch out for the last scene where his wife ends up working at KFC but wearing a thick diamond bracelet.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Eigasai Japanese Film Festival: Sweet Bean (An)

Fortunately for me, the local news carried a clip of its opening day at a local cinema. That got me interested. With a boring Hollywood film showing that week alongside some Filipino films I found corny, these very fine Japanese films courtesy of the EIGASAI, the annual Japanese film festival in the Philippines organized by the Japan Foundation in Manila, provided me my best cinema experience that week.

As I scrolled down the list of Japanese movies on their list, I zeroed in on the Saturday time slot, and was curious about the 4PM movie: Sweet Bean (An).

'An' is the Japanese word for sweet beans, and sweet beans are the ingredients of my favorite snacks in Seoul: patpingsu (red beans in shaved iced) and patpang (red bean bread). So what better way to enjoy the weekend than watching a Japanese film that features my favorite snack!

When I got to the SM Cinema in Bacolod City, the queue was already long, and they only had 300 seats available. My fellow Bacolodnons only waited for about 30 minutes before we were allowed in.

     (My pasta lunch in the mall before the movie)

(The long line for the Sweet Bean movie screening)

Sweet Bean is a story of how a middle-aged man struggling in his sweet bean bread business as well as in his miserable life learned both about life and a few culinary lessons from an old woman, who was discriminated by neighbors and society because she had leprosy.

Although the plot seemed simple, it was the dialogue that made me love this film. And with the help of the English translation of the Japanese actors' words, I sensed the soul of the film. Bravo to the translators!

Bravo, too, to the main actors, Kirin Kiki, playing the old woman, and Masatoshe Nagase, playing the middle-aged man. This is what I love about Japanese actors. Just like their minimalist homes, their acting is about 'less is more'

And if you like cherry blossoms, you will love the scenes where the trees are abloom with the dainty petals decorating the streets and alleys of their neighborhood in Japan. It made me wonder where in Japan was the setting of the movie. 

Sweet Bean is both a culinary lesson and an existential reminder for me. 

The process on how sweet bean paste as shown by Kirin's character made me appreciate the effort put into making the paste made of beans that have seen the four seasons, and before they are turned into one of my favorite snacks (in Korea).

And the lines, especially those spoken by Kirin's character, reminded me that we all should live in the moment and appreciate the good things, however small.


And in case you have the chance to watch Sweet Bean, make sure you read the English subtitles carefully. Those words will not only make you appreciate the movie; they'll also make you appreciate your life.

Again, thank you to Eigasai!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Lucio and Merlita (A Short Story)

Introduction: As I watched the full moon rose tonight, I was inspired to write this piece about the interesting Philippine aswang. 

I hope you'll enjoy this, too. - ALD


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Lucio, squatting on the ground, is continuously caressing the dark feathers of his prized rooster. Man and bird are reunited at a backyard surrounded by santol and marang trees. As dusk has passed, their reunion is lit only by the burning cigarette pinched between Lucio’s chapped, dark lips, creating a silhouette of the two farm creatures. Their relationship only involves monologues from the human, although it is difficult to tell if the bird agrees with everything he says.

Lucio thinks his feathered warrior should be ready in two weeks to battle other roosters at the bulangan, or cockpit. Feeling the bird’s muscled legs and sharp claws, Lucio already imagines the bloody fight scenes amidst shouts from the bettors. His imaginings of blood only make him drool. The sight of it somehow always creates a craving, whether it’s daytime or night fall. His interest in the bird suddenly ceases. He stands and leaves his rooster under his hut where it lodges. He is not worried about the bird getting away, nor is he worried about it being stolen.

Lucio and his wife, Merlita, work at the hacienda fields planting and harvesting sugarcane. That morning, they woke up just as the rooster crowed.  They had a restful sleep; last night was quiet and uneventful. They did not leave their kubo in the middle of the night.

But tonight is different. In the next hour, a full moon will rise over Mount Silay to the east and hover over the hacienda fields. Lucio and Merlita have been looking forward to this natural phenomenon. Natural to many, but to the couple, it will be more than just a moon.

Soon, the moon will illuminate the sugarcane fields, bathing all nocturnal creatures worshipping its ascent across the Visayan skies with its lunar light, Lucio and Merlita will join the others of their kind in celebrating their malevolent existence while covering themselves in unholy oil that they prepared in a mystical ceremony of diabolical incantations carried out in total darkness during the cuaresma.

Lucio and Merlita are aswang, creatures of the night whose kind has been talked about and feared in the countryside for generations. An aswang is notorious for feeding on human flesh, hunting its victim in the dead of the night while everyone is sleeping. The couple live a secret life among plantation workers in a hacienda of clustered huts, carabaos, and gossipy neighbors.

The moment is near. The couple can no longer contain their excitement. They hasten to finish their cold dinner of fish and rice. As their hut, lit only by a lone, oil-lamp light, stands far from a crowded cluster of other homes, no neighbor will see them welcome the red moon. They will squat on a sturdy santol branch drenched in oil and recite their Hiligaynon incantations without any worry of any neighbor seeing or hearing them.

And it is time.

The childless couple gets up from their small table leaving the dirty plastic plates behind. She quickly splashes her hands with water stored in a banga and goes to get their special oil, the lana secretly hidden in her small aparador. In a bottle that used to contain liquor, the lana starts to produce bubbles, a sign that an aswang is in the midst.

Lucio is still wearing his work clothes of brown camisa and dirtied pants, and Merlita is in her sleeveless daster, which made them look underdressed for the special occasion.

Lucio heads out to their backyard followed by his wife who now starts to rub herself with the oil, which she then shares with Lucio, and both start to drool and scratch. The moment of total darkness before the moonrise creates the itchy sensation in an aswang.

In the dark, the two skillfully climb the santol tree like lizards and settled on a big branch high up the tree facing east. As they squat on the branch, the two continue to deliriously scratch with their finger nails grazing through oil and pungent body odor. Scratching their heads and back, and even their genitalia, they rub against the branch and slowly lose their humanity.

The moon’s tip now peeps through the mountain, and minute by minute, its size slow grows revealing a pale red light. The eerie silence in the hacienda is now ruined by dogs howling with Lucio and Merlita joining the chorus growling like rabid dogs.

Their appearance changes. Their eyes turn red and their disheveled hair stands like the wavering sugarcane leaves before a harvest. Staring at the moon, they produce inhuman sounds and gape as their odorous saliva drips from their mouth drenching their clothes already wet from oil and smelly sweat.

The huge red moon climbs above the mountain. It is now the brightest spectacle in the night sky, imposing its presence over humans and other beings, including the two squatting creatures whose silhouette on the tree is a sight as rare as the moon.

Lucio and Merlita, fully bathed in light and oil, are now stronger with all their senses heightened. They can smell the fragrance of all the plants around them as well as the stench of a neighbor’s pigsty far away. This enables them to tell which hut shelters a newborn baby or a pregnant woman. The flesh of a young human is always another reason to hunt.

Suddenly, they smell smoke. Although their lone lamp at home is lit, this smell is strong and is mixed with the smell they hate the most, garlic!

And instead of reciting the incantations, Lucio screams in pain. A wet, sharp object pierces through his dirty shirt and slicing his side. It was a spear made from sharpened bamboo wet with water boiled with salt and garlic, and blessed with an oracíon. He loses his balance and grabs Merlita with him. Both fall down to the ground and unto the thick roots of the santol. 

The two realize they have unexpected company: a group of male humans carrying fire torches and determined to spoil their romantic moonlighting. Under the torches’ flickering lights, Lucio tries to get up from the ground still grimacing in pain. He fends off a second spear, while his wife gets her first. Their growling has turned into screams of pain as salty water drenches them on the ground.

Merlita crawls forward with her oily hands clawing the leafy ground screaming at the attackers, but before she is able to jump from her feet towards them, she is silenced by another sharpened bamboo that skewers her through her foul mouth and down her throat like a fattened pig being roasted. Her growling and salivating stop but her body still writhes and squirms on the dirt like a headless snake.

With blood streaming from his side, Lucio tries to get up, but instead gets a hack from an espading, the same type of cane knife he uses in the sugarcane fields. The weakened male aswang tries to protect himself from the blade with his crossed arms, but the burning pain from the aswang antidote of salt and garlic was too much, making him lose his strength, and as he rises to his feet, he gets bayonetted on the stomach by another wet bamboo spear.

The couple in the middle of a bloody retribution is no longer bathed in the red full moon’s light, but in blood.

The couple has been notorious in the hacienda and in the neighboring villages. They have been known all these years as aswang, and are blamed for the mysterious deaths of children and pregnant women. On a few times, they have been recognized when they hunted at the neighboring village. Word got around, and without the notorious couple knowing, the hacienda people and their watchmen planned to finally catch the two. And this was the perfect time, the time when their attention was all on the rare red full moon.

No longer in command of their will and senses, the two helplessly accept the relentless hacking from the watchmen like chicken being chopped in preparation for tinola.

By now, the moon has finally reached the pinnacle of the night sky and is shining its light on the lifeless Lucio and Merlita through the thick santol leaves. Other than the moonlight and oil, the two are surrounded by their murderers and are covered with dirt, blood, and disdain.

The two never expected their end to be as brutal and quick as this. The whole hacienda will be talking about them even before the sun rises the next morning, and the fear of the aswang will hopefully disappear.  


And under their hut, Lucio’s rooster is no more. At dawn, it will crow to awaken a new master.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

"Marya-pe" (A Short Story)

Introduction: Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by aswang (Philippine witches) stories. So, I decided to write one of my own (and definitely a few more in the future). At night, during the past weeks, when everyone else is asleep, I wrote, on installment, this short story about life in the Philippine countryside, throwing in some aswang angle and a few other things.

I hope you'll enjoy reading this. - ALD

                                                   *   *   *   *   *   *


“Maar-yaaa-peh! Maar-yaaa-peh!”

Marya-pe could almost hear her mother scream her name. She was expected at home hours ago. By now, she imagined, instead of cold rice and tinóla waiting for her, a plateful of Hiligaynon curses was.  Marya-pe had defied her mother many times before, and these occasions helped her memorize the litany of angry words that flowed from her mother’s mouth, words that flowed faster than the water from the pump shared by the neighborhood in Hacienda Lagrimas during the dry season.

Marya-pe would have wanted a pair of wings so she could fly and get home faster. But having wings was unlikely, unless she was an aswang, a mythical creature that could transform itself into any animal, and she thought the one with big bat-like wings would be a practical choice considering her current predicament.

From her childhood stories, the aswang could be anything it wanted to be, especially during a full moon, but sadly, Marya-pe knew she could not transmogrify, so she simply accepted her present physical form: a passenger squeezed between two others in a passenger jeepney that was slowly navigating the dark highway between Malihaw and Palmana, a highway that cut through haciendas whose sugarcane plantations were now perfect for a sweet harvest. Her small sling bag cut across her purple blouse still had smudges of flour and her ma-ong jeans had blotches of cheap margarine, and on her lap was a white plastic bag containing a half-dozen monay bread, her mother’s favorite, which was the offering she prepared to appease the inevitable maternal wrath.

While she could no longer smell the cheap scent she sprayed on earlier, the male passenger in a grey shirt to her right, who was grasping the cold overhead railing of their transport with both hands, was sharing an obnoxious smell emanating from somewhere in his anatomy. Marya-pe, the immediate recipient of his stinky largesse, was already being punished even before she arrived home. She would sometimes cover her nose with her red handkerchief refusing to surrender her olfactory sense to her neighbor’s intrusive body odor.

The passenger to her left, however, seemed overdressed for a public transport passenger. An older woman in her 50’s was dressed like she came from a wedding, wearing flat, shiny black shoes, dark-blue trousers and a collar-less, red blouse with extended sleeves accented with gold buttons that still glittered under the dim jeepney lights. Her big hair swayed with the wind, but her face was bereft of any expression redeemed only by her bright-red lipstick which came to life every time the lights of an incoming vehicle flooded the faces of the weary passengers. And basing on the space occupied by her overdressed neighbor’s wide behind, Marya-pe thought she might as well have paid for one-and-a-half passengers.

The eldest in her family, Marya-pe worked at the small bakery along Rizal Street in Malihaw, a small city in the northern part of the Negros Island whose economy revolved around sugar, usurious financing, and small-town gambling. All day long, her company at the bakery, other than her fellow daily-waged workers, were the showbiz gossip and smuggled Chinese flour, and an occasional flirtation from the boys working at the carínderia next door. As her work usually finished at six in the evening, her mother, and not the father, was the one always watching the clock, and when she missed arriving home within an hour, her mother would spew upon Marya-pe her diabolical sermon even the Devil himself would be embarrassed to deliver. Her father, tired from working in the sugarcane field all day, was the tolerant one. He believed that, so long as he was able to provide for the family’s meals every week, his wife could take over the disciplinary functions of parenthood for both of them.

As the jeepney was slowly navigating the dark and curvy national highway, Marya-pe and her fellow passengers faithfully complied with the laws of physics, obediently moving with the motions of the vehicle also forcing her right hand to tightly squeeze the cold overhead handrail while her left secured the plastic bag containing the bread whose appearance was said to have been fashioned after the female genitalia.

Hours before, the same hands handled baking pans and sugary ensaimáda leftovers that she pinched into small edible pieces during her break.  The Chinese owner of the bakery would sometimes allow them to bring home some unsold bread instead of surrendering these to fungi. He would convince his workers that the unsold inventory he was giving away was de minimis benefits of sorts, although during the lunar new year and Christmas holidays, he would allow them to bring home the more expensive pan americáno.

Marya-pe and her family lived in a cluster of huts in the middle of Hacienda Lagrimás, the inroads to which were illuminated by torch and tricycle headlights, and on a few cloudless nights during the month, by the moon as well. Since the day she found a job, her mother explicitly told her to go home right after her work every day at Chan’s Bakery, her workplace, but the idea of not joining her former high school classmates, some of whom dropped out of school for reasons that included poverty and teenage pregnancy, at a gathering on a Friday night where boys, drinking and flirting were the main attractions, made her feel left out. She thought, after a day of baking, it was time for some flirting.

Marya-pe’s mother reminded her many times why she had to be home early at night: her mother’s young sister was found lifeless with signs of physical abuse and sexual violation in a middle of a sugarcane plantation a generation ago. The night before, Maryape’s aunt told her parents she would be going to her friend’s birthday party in Sagay, a town that was an hour’s ride away, and was coming home late.  Her absence at home that night was ignored as the family thought she was spending the night at her friend’s house like she always did.  But after the tragic news descended upon Hacienda Lagrimas the next morning, the crying and wailing did not set with the sun that day.

And amidst the noise provided by the jeepney’s decade-old engine, Marya-pe’s quiet supplications had now turned into resignation.  It would be better, she thought, to beg the saints’ intercession that the pain from her mother’s pinching or curses, whichever greeted her first, would be less painful than the previous occasion.  

Her stop, a junction everyone called Cuaycong, named after the family that owned the hacienda next to it, was a few minutes away. She would be getting off and meander through the dark dirt road and into their village a kilometer away. Even on a moonless sky, she knew the turns and corners of the narrow path that accommodated cargo trucks, carabaos, and sugarcane workers during the busy days of planting and harvesting.

The driver, wearing a tired pair of baggy eyes and white hair, commandeered the vehicle like a true master of the national highway. He was alert though to slow down and stop whenever his passengers wanted to get off. His conductor, who served as his steward collecting fare and announcing the stops, stood by the exit of the jeepney clinging on the upright steel bars that made him look like a coachman in a carriage with no horse.

The transport, upon arriving at Cuaycong, slowed down and stopped, and Marya-pe got off alone. There were no more tricycles for hire at the stop as it was late.  She had to walk home, and as dim stars on the cloudless the sky could not provide illumination, she took out her small pen light from her sling bag to help her see the dirt path between two plantations of tall sugarcane plants, an uneven path decorated by pebbles, stones, and carabao dung. And she traced her path, the cool night breezes blew against sharp sugarcane leaves as they swayed to the dictates of the Amihan winds from the northeast. Her neighborhood was still far away, and other than the sound of the wind caressing the leaves, nocturnal insects, and the staccato cadence of her dusty shoes against dirt and stones, her mother’s voice was already ringing in her head.

Aside from sugarcane, the area’s uneven terrain was lined with shrubbery and a few kapok trees whose silk-cotton was turned into pillows by productive housewives of the hacienda. But doing domestic chores was farthest from Marya-pe’s mind as she marked her route by the tall kapok trees she just passed.

And just when she was nearing another tree, she thought she heard another set of footsteps behind her, steps that seemed heavier.



She turned around and loudly asked, “Sin-o ’nâ?!”

She wondered out loud who else was there. She trained her penlight towards the darkness behind her to survey any presence, human or otherwise.  She wasn’t scared; she had passed this way a thousand times since she was a child.  Her playmates used to jump out of the sugarcane furrows to scare her. Back then, they only played during the day as they were too scared to venture out after dark because of the aswang stories.

Marya-pe continued on tightly clutching the monay bread with her left hand, increasing her pace as her right hand steadied the beam of light from her small electric torch. She reached a curve and had to turn right. The curve was marked by the tallest kapok tree said to provide the most silk-cotton and was a haunted spot for those who believe that a kapré could sometimes be seen sitting on one of its branches .

There was no time to entertain kapré or aswang stories now, Marya-pe thought, as the scariest being must now be waiting for her at their home with an inevitable outburst sharper than any aswang bite. But as she skipped through dirt and stones, she once again heard footsteps that seemed to mirror hers. The faster she went, so did the other pair.

This time, Marya-pe realized she was not alone! And not in the company of an aswang or a kapré!  She knew she could probably outwrestle an aswang as she had been on a few catfights at school before. Or even outsmart a kapré depending whether it was seen as white or black. But remembering what happened to her aunt, Marya-pe knew that humans with evil intentions were scarier than witches or ghosts.   

Believing that those steps might not be a friendly pair, she quickly upped her pace and screamed “Ta-baaaang! Ta-baaang!”.

A small creek was ahead. This was where she used to play and bathe with her friends when their innocence did not yet understand public nudity.

She hastily crossed and did not care if her shoes or the bottoms of her maong pants got wet in the ankle-deep, cold waters. And on reaching the other side, she continued sprinting over dirt and stones, and just let go of the monay bread, spilling them behind her.  She hoped the bread she kneaded and baked earlier that day would distract whoever was following her. Marya-pe only had a few pesos with her, and she thought if valuables were what her follower was after, the monay was her most precious possession at the moment.  She continued to run as fast as she could on the stony path, still holding her penlight and not looking back mindful that a stumble could easily close the distance between her and whatever danger she thought was behind her.

This time, Marya-pe’s fear was no longer about her mother’s anger, but the peril she was in. And as screamed one last time for her mother, ironically the person she feared and wanted to avoid that night, Marya-pe fell to the ground after she felt a heavy, solid object hit the back of her head. She was still panting as she lay on the dirt, face down, and was slowly losing her faculties as moments passed.  Her penlight was nowhere as she lost gripped when she fell. Both hands were now trembling as her fingers clawed the dusty ground.  Lying still, she heard dogs bark from afar, her right cheek, bruised from the fall, pressed on the dirt road.

And as she heard footsteps closing in, she lay numb from the impact, but she felt the Amihan breeze caress her face and her hair once more, just like her mother did when she was an obedient child.  

While the stars on the cloudless sky dimmed, Marya-pe lost consciousness.

                                             *   *   *   *   *

“Maar-yaaa-peh! Maar-yaa-peh!”

It was still early, just before sundown, but Marya-pe’s mother was screaming her name by their doorstep.

Her daughter was finally home, but not in purple blouse that had smudges of flour and ma-ong jeans with blotches of margarine. She was in a white dress that she wore at her high school graduation. And a tricycle did not bring her home, an auto fúnebre did.  She was no longer squeezed in between passengers; she was lying in peace in an off-white coffin.

That morning, a young vaquéro on a carabao found scattered bread covered with ants on the road, but did not bother to get off to investigate the unusualness of his sighting.  But by mid-morning, shocked sugarcane workers walking through the fields near the creek discovered her lifeless body inside the sugarcane plantation.

Once again, the crying and wailing did not set with the sun that day. And among the whispers of the mourners, the story of the tragedy that happened years ago at the hacienda repeated itself. And to the same family.

That night, the whole neighborhood gathered at Marya-pe’s home. She was placed in their small living room, and outside, under a borrowed tarpaulin serving as a makeshift roof, were relatives, neighbors, and gambling tables. Instant coffee and hot ginger ale were served with pan de sal and kinihad donated by Marya-pe’s boss.

Sadly, no monay bread. 

And by her coffin:

“Maria Fe G. Crisostomo
Born:  October 3, 1996

--> Died:  March 21, 2015”