Friday, November 24, 2006

A Heartbreaking Blogpost Of Staggering Genius

When you come home from a far-away place, everything hits you in thick, choking impressions. The smells are strangely familiar, yet they’re new. The faces harder, the shadows darker. People try to strike a conversation, but subtly -- nobody notices it -- I recoil -- their voices are like coming from an answering machine that got recorded a long time ago, and only now you’re hitting that Play button. What I mean is, you see new things, not necessarily good things, or not necessarily bad. Just same old, but different.

It always happens this way. Given a long-enough time, everybody you’ve known in your life becomes strangers – old drinking buddies, former sweethearts, even your parents. People you knew become people you don’t know, or wouldn’t like to.

I’ll tell you about jamais vu. It’s dejavu’s opposite.

Some years ago, when I was still in the thick of a long-term relationship, I woke up one night – I remember I saw 2 AM on the bedside clock – and I was disconcerted to find a woman in my bed. I remember the feeling of genuine shock. Who is she? And why is she not wearing anything? And where am I?

Another time, I was in a shopping mall with the same ex girlfriend. And because it takes her ten fifillion years to buy a pair of shoes, I let her try on one pair after another while I browsed CDs in the record bar. 30 minutes later, somebody taps me on the shoulder, smiles at me, and says, “Look, aren’t these shoes so cute?”

For a good five seconds, I didn’t know who she was. But as swift as the nonrecognition were things falling back in the same places. Oh, it’s her, alright.

Four years ago, when one of my childhood buddies suddenly died of leptospirosis, I was at his wake, I was staring down at his dead face. I remember feeling nothing. There was nothing. I was empty. This was a person I had so many fights with when we were kids. I used to “assassinate” him with a handful of dried dog turd on his way home from school. He used to lay siege on our house, howling by our gate with a baseball bat, calling me names that were both annoying and funny at the same time. But he was a good friend when we were both on our good side. But he was dead, and I felt nothing. And I realize it was because I don’t remember him.

This non-remembrance cuts both ways.

I often speak with friends or with my brother or my sister, about something that happened a long time ago, and they wouldn’t have any recollection of it. More and more I realize if I’m the only person who remembers something, and nobody else remembers it, did those things really happen? Did they take place? Didn’t I just imagine them? Is there really more fiction and less fact floating in the space between people?

My ex girlfriend calls me up one day. We chat. I don’t talk about the past. People move on, I say. We all should. But when things are not going well on her side of the world, she calls me up and drags me with her to the past. It’s all silly. The sad thing is, the things I remember, she doesn’t. While the things she remembers – all of them – are things I perfectly remember, too.

This continues to disconcert and hurt me. I’m a walking sack full of memories, and I resent having to own them all. I didn’t invent them. I confabulate a lot, but I have stuff that are sacred, that I want everybody else to recall. I tell somebody, “Remember that one time, I was trying to peep at your sister taking a bath …?” And when they don’t remember it, I’d drown in some ardent urge to slug them with a lead pipe, and beg them to remember the goddamn thing, dredge their own memory, bring it back and admit that they, too, remember. Because it’s not fair, isn’t it? I feel so unbearably lonely. Am I the only one who’s supposed to “cherish” memories I’ve shared with other people? Even if you console me with some nice patronizing explanation, such as other people have less-than-perfect mental faculties, I’m still taking it badly. I still find it disturbing.

But recently, I’m learning. I’m beginning to grow my own zen-like wisdom. I’m finding myself saying, “What’s that again? Did I call you shitbag? DID I CALL YOU SHITBAG?” Or, “Funny, but I don’t think I remember I screwed you. But I do remember sniffing that dog's butt.”

I’m finding myself becoming like everybody else, or worse.

But then the thought hits me: what if we’re all just pretending to forget? Pretending to not, well, remember? That we say the things we say, do the things we do, not because they’re real, but because it’s some sad form of self-protection. Like some exoskeleton we use to deflect the daggers thrown our way.

And if it is, isn’t this world so beautiful – full of people who are empty and dead, long before they actually die.

Cheers. It’s fucking nice to be back.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Manny Pacquiao's New Killer Combo Moves

Manny Pacquiao personally emailed me the killer combo moves he's going to use this weekend to put an end to Erik Morales's silly affectations.

The killer combo moves Freddy Roach "invented" for Manny are:

1. "Magic Sing" Fatality Strike: Down, Up, 4
2. "No Fear" Torso Punch: Forward, Forward, 4.
3. "Darlington Socks" Torso Explosion: Forward, Back, 3
4. The "Ronald McDonald" Decapitation: Forward, Forward, 1
5: Ripping Out Erik's Spine Using the "Magnolia" Combo: Up, Up, 4
6. Impale Erik With The New "Alaxan-Datu Puti" Arm-as-sharp-stake Combo: Up, Down, Up, 4

Fuss Over Laos

The womenfolk in my AOH (area of habitat) were squabbling. The cute daughter of one of them was joining in some United Nations parade, and the kid in question was assigned to represent the country Laos. That won’t happen, the mother was saying, because what would people say if they’d see on the kid’s sash the humiliating words, “Miss Laos.”

It turned out, nobody had no idea what kind of country Laos was, and they thought the teacher was making fun of the kid. In the local language, “laos” in English means something like “washed up” or “has been.” It’s the word you use when you're describing Nora Aunor or one-year-old cell phones. “Miss Laos,” therefore, was very bad for the kid’s self-esteem.

So I came out and pretended I was just walking by. Then casually, I just blurted, “You know what, ladies, Laos is a very rich, highly advanced country.”

All eyes turned to me.

“Laos is so rich and advanced, they have colonies on the moon,” I said. “Laos donates billions of dollars to Japan every month, and Japan is already rich!”

“But Laos sounds… funny,” said the mother.

“No, Laos is not funny. Laos is in fact much better than the Philippines. Half of all the satellites orbiting the Earth have been launched by Laos.”

“Not only that,,” I said, “Laos invented the elephant.”

The ladies chuckled.

“Yeah,” I said. “A bunch of scientists from Laos gathered one day and decided the world could not live on horse alone. They needed something bigger. So they invented the elephant. Which makes “elephant” an original word from Laos. Check the encyclopedia and you'll see.”

Nobody said anything; they just looked at one another and maybe pretended thinking. This is what happens when you’ve somehow earned a reputation as the resident, self-proclaimed know-it-all; people begin to take your words seriously. They see me pounding on my shiny computer, solemnly shaking my head at a wilting plant, mouthing Latin-sounding names that are at least five syllables long, seeing that I actually subscribe to fancy science magazines, and they begin thinking you couldn’t possibly be wrong, ever. Several months of serving them scrumptious megadoses of truths and half-truths that now I can dance on the wide open space of the Bullshit Highway. Now, it would be difficult for somebody else to convince them that Bullshitum ad infinitum is not exactly the scientific name of the Philippine president (or any politician, for that matter).

For example, I told somebody a while ago that the original title of Nick Joaquin's The Woman Who Had Two Navels was The Woman Who Had Two Navels...Yeah, Baby, Yeah! And she believed it. I told another that the first English translation of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere was Don’t Touch Me Here, But Touch Me There. That those groundbreaking titles were unfortunately scrapped by uninspired editors in favor of banal, conventional ones we now know today.

“Laos,” I said, “is a very cool country. So if there’s somebody who makes fun of Miss Laos, tell them, ‘You ignorant baboon, Laos is where all rich Americans go to retire and enjoy the good life.'”

I have no idea what happened after that. I just realized later nobody was talking about Laos, anymore. I gather that the kid was very happy about the parade. I would ask the kid about how parading around as Miss Laos felt, but she’s smarter than everybody else; she’d know it was I. And who wants that to happen?

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Filipina Named "Nyah"

Last week's typhoon made me do things I wouldn't have done under normal circumstances. My usual arrogance had made me think that if things would go bad in my den, I'd just "escape" and continue working in another cave. I've been pretty much hit-and-run, SOT (sit, operate, transfer) in the past several months, anyway, so I thought, Let's see how Milenyo could actually "damage" me.

But the goddamn typhoon made sure escape wouldn't be possible; at least, not within the large island of Luzon. And with all the almost incredible destruction anywhere I'd turn, I was just too petrified right on my little spot.

So there I was, pickled, sore, and angsty in all the boredom a massive blackout could lavish me with. I read books, schemed, slept, ate, and schemed some more -- activities that are not very different from what trapped small animals do all the time.

Worst, sheer boredom forced me to actually read a Paulo Coelho book.

The book in question was Eleven Minutes. It was insufferable, as usual, save for one little funny detail: there's a cameo of a Filipina prostitute in Geneva, who Mr. Coelho, in his wonderful wisdom, gave the heart-stopping name of "Nyah."

Nyah. Genius. That just made me stop and think and kick the neighbor’s dog. I’ve never met anybody with a name like that. My little theory is that Coelho probably was browsing around and found Nyoy Volante’s website. He probably thought “Nyoy” would be a cool Filipino name, except that he needed something for a woman. No problem, he thought, just feminize it. Make “Nyoy” into “Nya.”

But wait. Nya lacked something. Coelho researched some more, until very reliable online sources enlightened him on the Filipino habit of putting “H” into their pet names, in which “Roger” magically becomes “Rhogher”, “Pitoy” becomes “Phithoy”, and “Joe Bert” becomes “Jhoe Bhert.”

In the end, Paulo Coelho decides to name the very minor Eleven Minutes character, “Nyah.”

But that was just me and my “theory.” I was still rankled with a deep, almost desperate craving to squeeze some answer from the author himself. So on that sweaty blackout afternoon, already like a dog in heat and stir-crazy from my lack of online access, I did what Lex Luthor would have done: I paid people to buy me several meters of copper cable and hook me up with some power source, insisting that I didn’t care if they had to step on somebody’s toes or make a government official cry.

And you know what, talk to the right kind of thief, like Oskar Schindler used to do, and you’ll remain on top of the brutal food chain.

There’s probably a God somewhere clucking His ethereal tongue disapprovingly of the filthy things I have at my command, but I’m ready to send people to kick the living daylights out of the Almighty Himself for sending something dirty and very inconvenient like that typhoon.

When I finally had power (I had electricity while the rest of the darned town groped in the dark), the first thing I did was fire off the following email direct to Mr Paulo “I Have The Hots For Filipinas Named Nyah” Coelho.

Dear Mr. Paulo Coelho:

I just finished reading your exceedingly fascinating 2003 novel, Eleven Minutes. I just have one minor question, though, that I hope you won’t ignore. I’ve been a Filipino in the past 30 years and I personally know about 50 million Filipinas, and none of them has this strange, outlandish name, Nyah. I’m wondering, why not Ginalyn? Or Edmilyn? Or Inday Badiday?

Therefore, I’d just like to ask:

Were you shitting all of us?

Sincerely, your number one Filipino fan,


Two days later, I received this response:

Dear Nyoh,

Thank you for your opinion about Eleven Minutes.

I value your opinion a great deal.

It is very gratifying to know that you understand my book as it was
meant to be understood.

Always follow your dreams and fight for them with faith.


Paulo Coelho

When I read it, the thought in my head was, “Shit. He bought Scott Adams’s Automatic Bullshit Generator and he’s using it to answer all fan queries!”

I knew then that in order to reach the man, I had to resort to my old tricks. I called up my friend in Brazil, some thug I met in Rome more than a decade ago, and asked him, Do you know where Paulo Coelho lives?

The person on the other end grunted. “He’s in Rio de Janeiro.”

“I’m just wondering,” I said, “Can you kindly please beat the shit out of him?”

My Brazilian thug gasped. “You mean, all his shit? And out of him?”

“Not really,” I said, “just keep him alive enough to answer my email in the nicest, most helpful way possible. This is very, very important.”

My Brazilian thug grunted once more before the line went dead.

I’m pretty sure Paulo Coelho’s happily personally answering my email right now, as my good Brazilian thug lounges on a couch nearby, persuading Mr Coelho with the oft-repeated tale of how, a long time ago, he “accidentally” dropped a famous, impossible-to-bother writer out of a seventh-story window.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Big Deal, or No Big Deal

A special edition of Kris Aquino’s show features some of the country’s finest pond scum.

Kris Aquino: Growing body count of dead kiddie activists, big deal, or no big deal?

Jovito Palparan: No big deal!

Kris Aquino: Naked Oblation runners, big deal, or no big deal?

Raul Gonzales: No big deal!

Kris Aquino: Samson Macariola slipping bombs through Davao airport, big deal, or no big deal?

Rodrigo Duterte: No big deal!

Kris Aquino: Guimaras oil spill, big deal, or no big deal?

GMA: No big deal!

Petron: No big deal!

Guimaras resident: What, now you want my opinion?

Petron’s oil tanker hull insurer: Big deal!... And screw you!

Kris Aquino: 60-day suspension, big deal, or no big deal?

Peewee Trinidad: No big deal!... And screw you!

Kris Aquino: Juan Ponce Enrile supplying my imprisoned dad, Ninoy, with hookers at Fort Bonifacio, big deal or no big deal?

Cory Aquino: [sarcastic] Big deal!.. And scre—er, let’s all just pray.

And the winner is…


Saturday, August 26, 2006

How and Why I Won a Philippines Free Press Lit Award

…Is a goddamn mystery.

Last Wednesday, my story, “Blind Spot,” landed on second place [which I’ve uploaded on the Skirmisher for the uninhibited reading pleasure of the morbidly curious] in this year’s Philippines Free Press Literary Awards held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Makati. I wasn’t there, but my sister was.

It’s one of those genuine surprises that only rarely come. It’s like those times you’re facing a horde of Eastern Europeans with a silver MAC-10 Elite ready and loaded in your hand, only to be instantly shotgunned to death by somebody who had sneaked up behind you [Black]. Or running across no-man’s land and storming a bunker, grenades ready in your teeth, and suddenly you kick the bunker door open and Lo! There’s the smoking muzzle of a machine gun with a sniggering Nazi behind it, who proceeds in blasting you to a thousand little yucky pieces [Call of Duty: Finest Hour] [I’ll try to come up with pleasant similies next time once I get to play pleasant games].

The surprise of winning felt more or less like those things, only in this real-world instance, it felt good. Really good.

I never took “Blind Spot” seriously. I realize maybe all writers who win something always say they didn’t take their winning works seriously, but I’m stepping out of the shadows to say I really didn’t take it seriously. But so what? Big deal. It won. It probably has something that I’m just too blind to see, which is bad for me: this means I can never be trusted when it came to judging literary worth. Which means I’m a chronic hitter and misser, mostly misser. Which means this is one gaping, bleeding tsamba.

The first surprise was when Paolo Manalo emailed me several months ago that “Blind Spot” was in the short list. I didn’t even know it was accepted and published. I had emailed it I think in February 2005 without even bothering to tighten it in places. When I received no reply from the Philippines Free Press (which usually is either the bad “Oh no, please, no” or the good “We’re publishing this something, something, something”), I just shrugged it off and moved on. Last week, Paolo emailed me again and this time, it was a shotgun blast to the face: he said something like, You won, dude.

Usually, I’d gush. What Paolo didn’t see was that I was laughing my head off in genuine disbelief.

I have two reasons why I’m so happy winning in the Free Press. One, it’s the shit when you’re a guy with nothing to do but write down some daydream that hit you while doing some non-amazing household chore. Oh, did I say “chore?” Replace that with “mission.” That’s better.

Second is, aside from being one of this country’s most respected, most desired, oldest annual literary competitions, it also pays pretty good prize money – 40 grand for “Blind Spot.” Forty thousand bucks for some daydream you wrote one boring afternoon is like shit hitting the fan and discovering yeah, you can eat that shit and even like it. Ask anybody around and they’ll tell you forty grand is forty grand is forty grand. And there’s the trophy, made of glass, which my sister says is so cool it’s almost “sacred.” Like you could kneel before it and pray ten Hail Marys and feel guilty about the profanity. What makes it cool is that it says something about me having made a “great contribution to Philippine literature.” Say something like that to Gina my Guinea Pig here, and she’ll bite your testicles to make you swallow back whatever nice things you say about me. That is, if Gina were human and allowed to have some scrap of an opinion. I’m saying this because I know my pet detests me so much; whenever she sees me, she suddenly stops chewing her food and glares at me. I also stop chewing my food and glare back at her; we’re like Newman and Seinfeld greeting each other in mutual disgust. But we both know I’m boss, so I tell her things just to rub that fact in like, “One day I’m gonna sacrifice you in the name of science,” or “You know, in Peru, they fry their guinea pigs alive.”

The feel-good is double because for many Filipino writers, or maybe this is me speaking for myself, writing fiction is like fishing – you do it in your spare time. You do it when you’re through with the bathroom, when you’re done with the girlfriend, after all the day’s crap and real work. You do it when that very rare moment actually arrives where there’s only you and a blinking cursor, a tumbler of iced tea/mug of coffee/beer and old Brazilian jazz. And that’s rare. Which even makes the feel-good triple.

After I was told I won in the Free Press, my head grew so enormous you could see it from outer space. I realized it got very large and swollen when I tried walking out the door moments after reading the wonderful emails from Sarge Lacuesta (Free Press incumbent literary editor) and Paolo Manalo (Free Press former literary editor); I couldn’t go out because the sides of my head wouldn’t fit through the door. When I managed to somehow slip through by using many jars of KY Jelly and a handy chainsaw, some girl at the fastfood was so shocked at the size of my goddamn head she ran out screaming.

The old lady in the line with me tipped her eyeglasses and looked me over. She asked, How’d your head get so swollen like that?

How big you think this is, I asked, because I had no idea how grotesque my head had become.

She said, I think that’s even bigger than the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

I shrugged, in that awkward, tottering way anybody with an enormous head could be able to shrug. I told her I’m a chauvinist male pig and that when my ego gets inflated, it’s literal. I told her I just won in the Free Press.

Free what?

I said never mind.

I later tried the time-honored cure of getting my ass kicked in Fight Night by the likes of Erik Morales and Muhammad Ali. I haven’t discovered the strategy with this game yet. So I always end up a bleeding pulp on the canvass, the world spinning all around me, Mr. Padilla the referee counting, “8…9…10… You’re out!”

I took a long, cold shower. I paid Gina my Guinea Pig a visit to annoy her by scratching her nipples. She hates it. Touch her nipples and she flies up in the air, squeaking and grumbling like an old lady.

I then checked the blog, and checked the progress of my other two “top-secret” web projects whose content will be “magically” supplied purely by algorithm, just like Techmeme.

Then I asked my sister “remotely” for pictures of the event.

She said she forgot to bring the necessary gadgets. She told me there was Up Dharma Down’s female vocalist, who’s very pretty in person, but who would believe her without at least some pictures that she could email me?

My sister’s the type who impulsively gets off the bus on Roxas Boulevard to take snapshots of dead fish and ugly birds on Baywalk. On ordinary days, she takes pictures of her friends straddling some lamp post in Luneta and pretending to be hookers. You send her to an important event at some swanky hotel, you tell her it’s some fucking big deal for me to vicariously see it, and she doesn’t even bring at least a camera phone. She should’ve at least sketched the whole thing on a napkin. She should have stolen some ashtray, or one of those gold-plated metal things you always see on tables of respectable places (my office drawer in my former job was half full of Eastwood City silverware from those years of doing PR work--slash--stealing shiny things on tables—slash--convincing my female officemates to do the same—slash--assembling pirate ship made of stolen silverware inside a bottle). But no, nothing.

So I asked her, Did Cristina Hidalgo bring with her that niece or daughter or whoever that was with her at Jorge Bocobo Museum some years ago, some girl who oozed with so much hotness she gave off her own sunstorms? A girl who looked so good she probably sometimes fainted whenever she saw herself in the mirror?

She said, Who’s Cristina Hidalgo?

I said never mind. Then I either went back to Gina to snap a rubberband on her nipple, or tried reading Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I just don’t remember which. My head was fast deflating back to normal size, and I felt dizzy and depressed and acutely caffeine-starved.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Philippines Should Go Web 2.0

If Iran’s president could blog, why not Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?

He’s boiling nukes in his backyard, Bush (who everybody knows is such a terrifying badass) lovingly thinks specifically about him as the American rancher so carefully reads Albert Camus’s tale about “killing an arab,” he’s unloved by Western governments for his exciting views on the Holocaust and Israel — Mahmood Ahmadinejad must be a terribly busy man.

Yet he can blog. Not only that, his blog is also using icons by the same designer as Styleboost, with some AJAX bling thrown in. Cool.

So I believe this is a fairly legitimate question: Why not the Philippines’ president go the web 2.0-ish way?

Eliminate the middle man. Chuck the press secretary. All the kids in the Philippines — yes, those “pesky activists” — will be able to read her innermost thoughts and undying hope just moments after accomplishing one non-achievement after another, and maybe eventually, there’s a morning when all these non-admirers begin seeing her way. The blindly blazing, sugar-crusted, over-self-edited, web 2.0-ish way.

If she’d blog about her diarrhea and alcoholism in lurid, juicy details, I’m subscribing to that feed.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Email Conundrum

I’m a guy with a short fuse. There are many things that could suddenly piss me off, and my reactions to these things have become sort of “legendary.” So when I began using email six years ago, I discovered to my disappointment that email plus my temper could be a bad mix.

Very bad, indeed.

There have been countless times when I’d check email in the morning, I’d see something that gets my goat, then I’d mindlessly fire off with whatever garbage that comes to mind. It’s so easy—you just make some mouse-clicks and there you go. The problem is, I’d usually end up regretting the stupid things I’d send.

Renowned primatologist Jane Goodall said in an interview several months ago that emails are the most dangerous form of communication because of its peculiar character: email “compels” the recipient to send an answer immediately, and with usually a huge number of emails waiting in our inbox, we usually end up saying things we wouldn’t say in person or on the phone.

“I remember when I worked for Lewis Leakey,” Jane said. “He was very impulsive. He’d get a letter in the mail, and he would open it, and it would be perhaps something from a scientist he thought was quite ridiculous. You could hear him muttering ‘Bosh! Rubbish!’ The poor bit of paper would be scored with his marks, and he’d turn to me and say ‘Get so and so on the phone!’ I got very wise to his moods, so I would pretend the number was engaged, or the man wasn’t there, and then an hour or two later, he was rational again.”

That kind of distance, that sort of emotional buffer, is banished in the form of communication email provides. Everything is instant. That’s the ugly thing. The first human reaction is usually the honest one. But the human brain has built-in prejudice. Compound that with the so-called Reptilian Complex, add some temper into the mix, and you get a fair picture of how ugly impulsive human reactions could be.

Unfortunately, the technology around us panders to such impulses. There is probably profit to be earned in keeping people from digesting things and allowing them to think first, before swiping that credit card or clicking that Send button to fire off some angry missive. If Joseph Dobbie didn’t use email to confess his love for Kate, for example, he wouldn’t have found himself in deep shit (on second thought, maybe he didn’t really mind).

In a way, email and all these new ways to “communicate” have even made it harder, more confusing to reach out to the Other. We’re all engaged in a daily balancing act of sending thought from one place to another. And while the “tight rope” seems to have gotten easier and faster, it has also become much more fragile that it can snap at any moment—leaving us tottering in an insecure place where we might just find ourselves destroying bridges in a zap, instead of building them.

There’s a Close-up TV ad that drove home the point of technology having made us more connected, but not necessarily closer. Although we usually enjoy it and we don’t mind, technology probably is smothering us more than we care to think.

But it’s also utterly foolish to pine for the good old “innocent” days. Personally, I’d still choose technology over throwing the proverbial sabot. But maybe, what’s required of us is to face these new, increasingly ubiquitous things with a sense of control and a greater presence of mind. Like avoiding checking your email every 10 minutes, or sticking to a schedule. Or remembering that not because “it’s there” that you can access it as often as your impulses demand.

These days, whenever I’m checking my mail, I make sure there’s something posted near my desk that reminds me to take things easy and never react as swift as lightning to “provocative” emails. Something like a Post-it note that says, “Back off” or “Take it easy,” or “Count 100 electric sheep” or “Stupid mails can get you fucked”—and I realize these small things can make a whole world of difference. These small reminders buy me enough time to think it over first. And they help me make sure I won’t be burning the things that are increasingly becoming more and more fragile.

Like the few bridges I haven’t destroyed yet.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Reverse Superheroism

I think the happiest people on earth are the “bad” guys, the super villains. You see them on TV, in movies, in comic books. You know that they’re fine specimens of persistent optimism because they always laugh, even when they’re plotting against superheroes who they know, in the pit of their guts, they’ll never ever defeat.

I can’t think of any villain that doesn’t have that peculiar laugh. My head is full of memories of villains chortling on screen. There’s the Joker, the Riddler, Lex Luthor, Dr Evil, my old professor in advertising. I don’t have a long list with me, I don’t remember every name, but I recall faces and always that laughter. Always that unsinkable optimism.

Take Penguin. The guy would scheme an elaborate plan to blow up Gotham City, and when I say elaborate, I’m talking about Rube-Goldberg-machine elaborate. Of course, we all know he fucks up each of his attempts. But that’s okay; he has his birds, his monocle, money, liver. When the shit hits the fan, he just laughs and escapes and vows to return…again and again and again.

Something tells me a guy like Penguin should instead be emulated by kids as some sort of “idol.” He’s the champion of the fat and short, the patron saint of the ugly and miserable but happy, the de facto hero of people who never win but who never cave in. Penguin should be mentioned by authors of self-help books. Oprah should guest him. Bush and Blair should have photo-ops with him as some sort of reinforcing hope in hopeless situations like Iraq and Michael Jackson’s face. Somebody should whisper to Fidel Castro’s ear as he’s lying on his deathbed (assuming that he did come close to lying on a death bed, and that somebody actually wants him to remain alive), “Remember the Penguin.” Celine Dion and Charlotte Church should mention the Penguin in one of their saccharine songs.

Penguin and Joker and the Riddler—that’s some holy trinity, if you’d ask me—should be the poster boys of shrinks so that shrinks could talk about them with patients. “Look at them fabulous wankers,” the shrink would tell some manic-depressive during rare lulls in a session. “They always fuck up. Is Gotham City destroyed? No. But are they giving up? No, no, and no. They’re still at it in all these years. Shining examples of positive-thinking, never-say-die individuals. And here you are, all you think and talk about is your aches and pains, your Xanax, your Prozac, your ‘they don’t understand me’ bullshit.”

Maybe the shrink would never say “pain” to a patient’s face, but you get the picture.

The funny thing is, these villains are mortals: they go about their honest business of trying to destroy the world by the sheer power of their wit, cunning, and humor. I remember jumping up and down at home chanting “Lionel Luthor! Lionel Luthor!” after the guy survived for the umpteenth time in a Smallville episode, then realizing a piece of wisdom I’ll pass on to my great grandkids: Lionel Luthor is very die-able, yet he survives. Superman is invincible by default, and of course, he will always survive. Between the two of them, who do you think I’ll give my candy?

Which brings us to the subject of Lex Luthor, who is also awesome. Does anybody have any idea how tough it is to travel all the way to the Fortress of Solitude in Antarctica, in the middle of fucking nowhere, just to snoop in on Superman? If there’s anything we know, it’s that going to Antarctica when you’re bald and a weakling is a fucking superhuman feat.

Shoot a bullet through Luthor’s head and he’ll die; do that to Superman, and he’ll just flash a Colgate-y, American Dental Association smile. Which reminds me of a line in the film Angus. Angus’s grandfather tells him one night why Superman is the biggest coward in the world. So Angus asks, How is that so?

The grandpop says something like, It’s because Superman does not know fear; he’s immortal, indestructible, kryptonite notwithstanding. He has no capacity to be brave. Courage is the territory of guys who can feel physical pain, who can be hurt, who can and will in fact die; courage is doing something you know will kill you but you do it anyway for the sake of something you believe in. Not Superman. He’s forever out of the whole bravery business.

Grandpoppy words of wisdom you’ll always love to live by. But here’s my question:

Who’s the dumb motherfucker responsible for Superman’s outfit?

And why?

The best answer gets candy, too.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Julius Babao Demonstrates How to be a Real Jerk Without Anybody Noticing It

Cheryl Sarate, a 16-year-old girl from Davao, Philippines joined Lord and Lady of Utopia beauty pageant, but her fairytale-inspired costume caught fire from a candle on the catwalk. She burned as everybody in the hall stared in shock. Three days later, the girl died at the hospital.

And today, on early morning TV, I’d find Julius Babao asking the girl’s mother very “emphatic” questions.

Julius: Cheryl seemed a young girl with high ambition. What were her dreams before this accident happened?

Mother: [some standard lines like Cheryl wanted to finish college to go abroad, etc, etc.]

Julius: And now, what do you think will happen to those dreams?

Let’s all pause to ponder the wisdom behind these questions; this is the part where you have to scratch your head.

Time for some flash back.

[Flashback; music: “Maalaala mo kaya”]

July 16, 1990 earthquake: a reporter shoves a microphone to somebody pinned down by a huge rubble from a destroyed hotel in Baguio. The reporter asks awesome questions like, “What do you feel? Is it painful?”

The interviewee couldn’t even answer; there’s a huge boulder on his back and he’s gasping. It’s clear as daylight that he’s “fine and well and happy” in his situation. His face surely says, More Questions Please.

He’s dead many hours later, still trapped under the boulder. Oh, the reporter wove that into a touching narrative, too.

March 1996, Ozone disco fire: a smooth-skined reporter asks one of the burn victims, whose face looks like a horribly melted candle that sort of reminds you of Audrey, Jr. from the Little Shop of Horrors: one look at him and you know his life will never be the same again.

The reporter asks, “How do you feel now that you’ve been burned [implied: “and you look disgusting”] and your life will never be the same again?”

The interviewee tries to speak, but nobody could understand him. It’s tough to mouth out words when your lips have melted and you have no mouth to speak of (and to speak with). So the reporter interprets the burn-victim-with-no-lips language for the benefit of the audience eating dinner in their homes.

[end of sentimental flashback and music]

Julius asks the mother: Now that she’s gone, what do you think will happen to her dreams?

It’s a “very important” question; one that Julius had to ask. A question that instantly made me dance around the room, yapping: yeah, rub it in, baby, rub it in. Until it’s raw and there’s no blood left. Drive it home for her the fucking magnitude of her loss. Make her actually say it, you shitbag.

Julius Babao’s “innocent, malice-free” questions make me sorely miss the vocation I’ve chosen not to take. All those good old days of “journalism.” I say, Bravo! I say, continue doing all that shit in the name of “uncovering” truth and justice and inserting fingers in somebody else’s deepest wounds. I say, more of these in-your-face MTV-like interviews with the dying and grieving for the benefit of us millions of insulated, safely-distanced voyeurs. We absolutely love that. We crave for that kind of stimulation every now and then.

If there’s a day in the future I might choose to be a “journalist” again, just to see for myself how far I could go with my own stunts, there’s nothing more reassuring than the likes of Julius Babao to keep me inspired and full of faith and hope for humanity. And yeah, throw in some of the Tulfos, too.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


I woke up the other day and saw how Internet Explorer fucks up what's otherwise a beautiful thing called the Skirmisher. It was morning, and I had planned many other things: I was supposedly gunning down nasty Eastern Europeans on the PS2 game Black, retesting if my old coffee brewer would still work so that I could enjoy a rare treat of genuine caffeine, doing profound things like standing in a corner and gazing at the wall and writing down what strange things I was seeing on the same wall. And scratching what itched.

But I saw how the Skirmisher was exploding so I had no choice but to sit down and press the kind of red button I only press on certain doomsdays: the button labelled, "Fuck Abstrakt; load Tarski."

"Abstrakt" was the blog template I had been using for the past two months. I was smitten by its charms the first time I saw it. And like what one would do with one’s great love, I looked the other way whenever I’d see something I didn’t like; things like Php files that looked like patchwork, and the weird things its three columns sometimes did whenever I tried to implement what I thought would have been a cool idea. But the other day, I saw how ugly it was, and how patchy it had become. So I said to it in a who-gives-a-shit voice, “Frankly, my damn, I don’t dear a give.”

If you’d look at the Skirmisher now, it’s dressed up in the Emperor’s new clothes, whose creators say was inspired by 20th century logician Alfred Tarski (the Skirmish of Dark and Light’s theme was called Kubrick; fancy names, I admit, but who wouldn’t like dropping them?)

I had been keeping the Tarski template files in the bowels of my hard drive exactly for such an event. And I was just too eager to use it when the time came. Although it was relatively a breeze to install and customize, doing the whole shebang snatched two days of my very important life away from the empty things I love. And now, it’s sitting there like it never ever required some blood sacrifice. If it were a person, I would at least snap a rubber band on its nose to appease myself.

But now that the blog’s complete and running once again, Black beckons. How happily and childishly I answer the call.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Beginnings and Endings

There are books that for me are so terrific I just couldn’t find the courage to finish reading them. I don’t know, maybe it’s out of some absurd respect for what I think are great things. Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, for example. Or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. You can quiz me about how it began, how the characters faced their individual extinctions, how they rubbed the little happiness they had with their little fingers. But I won’t be able to tell you how it all ends. I have no idea. I have suspicions, and mostly I make it up, sometimes to avoid embarrassment.

Some years ago, when I was in the first few chapters of reading Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis, I immediately knew this would be one of those books. I’d guard how many remaining pages I was left to read, and then I’d tack a sort of mental Post-It note in my head. When I chat with somebody about one of these no-ending books, I invent the endings. I make it wild enough to be exciting, but believable enough not to arouse suspicion.

I walk the earth with a head full of books that have no endings. At the end of the day, I console myself with an absurd pride; it’s not easy, after all, to have the self-discipline to divorce oneself from a page-turner. It takes immense will, like the kind of focus you need to bend spoons and forks and the Philippine Constitution.

Sometimes, I find myself wondering: what if one day or morning, at a café or somewhere on EDSA, I meet somebody who knows all the endings, but no beginnings? Somebody whose head is full of last chapters?

I’m pretty sure such a meeting would be like the hotdog meeting a donut. Or John meeting Yoko. The Red Sea parting in half. Or a story that finally finds its own reason to be read completely.

I have no idea if this makes sense. But one thing is for sure.

If I meet this amazing person one day in the far future, I will tell her:

Don’t you, oh don’t you goddamn tell me the motherfucking ending.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"White Light"

My short story, "White Light," appears live on Amazon Shorts for 14 days. If you're somewhat of a writer and have been looking for a good, growing online writing community, join Gather. And while you're at it, why not visit the "White Light" page and rate it. If you do, I'll send you Bogart, my carrier pigeon, strapped with a Thank You note and a strand of the Manny Pacquiao armpit hair I've been trying to sell (quite unsuccessully) on eBay.

Seriously, don't listen to my blather and please just rate it.

I wrote it one warm, brownout evening while we all sat in the shadows. I was trying to read Stephen King's On Writing on my PDA and when I gazed up to look at the candlelight, the seed for the story struck me: What if story ideas were specks of light fluttering like fireflies in the darkness, that any writer could pluck and, instantly, there's a powerful story in his head and all he needed to do is write it down without having to think it up. Easy.

I admit what motivated me to write it was laziness. I'm more of a slacker than a writer; the truth is, although I love telling stories, I hate writing them down in a coherent, disciplined, consistent manner. In the same way I hate classrooms and studying under a professor (see Exhibit A of my chronic folly in "Out of Place") in a coherent, scheduled, consistent manner. Maybe I haven't found my voice, yet, and maybe I won't. So you can imagine how seductive it would be for me to just go into a room filled with white specks of light/story ideas, "pluck" them out of thin air, and exclaim Voila! like what those fake Italian chefs do in tomato sauce commercials.

So visit my story's page on Gather and please rate it. I'm feeling saucy today I think I'll even give you my sister's puppy.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Dead Things and Empty Spaces

I was speaking with a girl some weeks ago, and the conversation made a turn toward teenage angst and suicide. The girl was young and had many personal issues; she’s one of those who had the habit of being sad and hopeless all the time, which was crazy because she had much going for her and she was pretty.

After a while, the girl asked me, “If you don’t believe in God and life is absurd and meaningless, why go on living? Doesn’t it depress you?”

This was a line of questioning that was always tricky. So I did what Jesus Christ would do: I told her a “parable.”

Two things, I said.

First, read my old blog post called, “Existential Song.” It’s basically a mishmash of all things Albert Camus and his jolly philosopher friends, but I made some of my points there.

Second, listen to this quite long drivel.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Manny Pacquiao Show

I’m not really a faithful follower of boxing, but I think Manny Pacquiao is the only boxer I’ve seen wearing a jersey so completely smothered with the logos of half a dozen sponsors.

The jersey was screaming: Motolite! McDonalds! No Fear! More exclamations!!! Now!!!

And with a shining bling, too, dangling from his neck.

Wow. If only I could wear things like that. He reminded me of Formula 1, or an old Wayne’s World joke. Or a dressed-up jeepney.

Yesterday’s match was also a marketer’s greasy wet dream: it should be included in the annals of target marketing. Where else in the world can you see this phenomenon: Manny Pacquiao is the personality in his very own show’s slew of advertisements. You have this globally famous boxing match, and in the gaps, the star boxer is also in almost all the TV ads, endorsing to death things like painkiller, canned fish, sport socks, Magic Sing, beer and liquor, a foreign fastfood, vinegar, ice cream.

That McDonalds TV ad?: Pa-pa-ra-Pacquiao, love ko ‘to!

Pure genius.

The Notebook

Image “I have to take a dump,” Jessie whispered.

“What? You mean, now?”

Jessie winced; I saw desperation in his eyes. It made me shiver. It made me mutter to myself, Oh, shit, indeed.

This was in third grade. Our teacher, who was heavy with child and terribly cranky, was introducing a new math concept that required us to work with strange symbols. I was straining to understand the whole thing when Jessie, who sat beside me, tapped me with an icy hand and winced and said he really, really had to shit.

“What did you eat?” I was trying to keep my voice down, hiding my embarrassment over this shitty conversation. “Why now? Couldn’t it wait till the next decade?”

Jessie tried to speak, but he suddenly stood up with that strange gait as if he had a small animal coming out of his butt. He went to our teacher, whispered something, then off he went. He walked out the door like a duck in pain.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Crossing the Rubicon

I’ve packed up and dragged my dripping paraphernalia across the Rubicon last week, which is just my pretentious way of saying I’ve bought a domain for the new Skirmisher blog. I got tired of Blogger acting more and more like a petulant spinster landlady throwing her weight on me when all I’d want was some more breathing space and the freedom to splatter my sidebar with dancing naked chicks. What’s wrong with that?

Before anybody arrives at the fair-enough conclusion that I’m an ungrateful bastard (which I usually am, but not entirely in this case), I’m grateful for Blogger because, after all, it’s free. But in the past month or so, I’ve had growing needs that Blogger couldn’t anymore feed. I wanted to do this and that, but Blogger kept shaking its head and saying, “No, no, no, you silly twit, you can’t eat that!” So I stopped and meditated on the wisdom of setting up my own home and tweak some Php. Which I did, but only after much bloodshed.

The Skirmisher, at its heart, is also a “thought experiment in motion,” much like the old Skirmish of Dark and Light blog. But I’ve created it because I want to spread the idea’s wings a bit wider. A small bunch of “like-minded individuals” are also helping me out in the daily posts, which also means the blog will be “buzzing” every single day with nice, filthy things to crap about. There are just so many interesting things into which I’m sinking my fangs these days that you have to open the door a bit further to let more sunshine in. There’s so much garbage you have to haul. So much blood you have to spill. So many throats you want to open with your teeth. And exactly the reasons why life, despite all its crap, is so fucking beautiful.

Our transition from a Blogger blog into a full-blown “online disease” is best summed up in the Monty Python words: “We’re no longer the knights who say, ‘Ni!’ From now on, we’re the knights who say, ‘Ecky-ecky-ecky-ecky-p'tang-zoo-boing-goodem-zu-owly-zhiv.’”

I’m still trying to figure out a way to let other people who are not my cousins and friends to register and pitch in their stories and integrate everything into the whole framework. Yes, I hear it can be “easily” done (so say the geekier among us), but I want it done in “a beautiful way.” Currently, I’m tinkering with Scoop, while Wordpress is already sitting there like a queen and taking care of the blog’s smallest concerns. The Devil inside me says Scoop is The One, but I try to ignore it and listen to the other gremlins that my own host says are “equally cool,” like Drupal.

I don’t know, I still have yet to sink my fingers into these sandy, fuzzy things.

After all, it’s already a major feat for me to be able to kick the Skirmisher out of the door and into the world; you know, it’s not my only life, thank you very much. I still have to watch House MD [many thanks to Caloy], deal with people I work with from another part of the globe, do silly things like writing what my grandmother considers “an ugly version of Madame Bovary,” shoot the shit.

For the kind folks who’ve been stumbling in the darkness of this blog for the past few months, thank you. I’m playing my flute once again. Update your feeds and bookmarks and links and follow me to the new rabbit hole—the Skirmisher.

There's a world going on.

"The Skirmish" on Bloggy Award

Bloggy Award slathered some nice words on The Skirmish of Dark and Light.

The free lunch shouldn't be far behind.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Primetime Soap

It’s not hard to imagine that the people who actually reach the summit of Mt. Everest experience a brief moment of crystal-clear lucidity. It’s perversely easy for me to see them standing there in the middle of all that ice, holding their country’s flag, then that crazy question suddenly popping in their heads:

“What the fuck am I doing here?”

“Why am I standing here, holding this stupid goddamn flag, at the summit of some goddamn mountain? What’s my point? What have I achieved? What have I solved?”

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Truly frightening, bothering questions. Especially if you’d remember you’d risked life and limb just to get to that point. Especially if you’d peel off all the layers of “motherhood statements” politicians back home had been slathering on the climb. You listen to them and you’d be seduced into thinking that climbing this mountain is all worth it; after all, in a country with almost no staggering scientific or cultural achievement, we’ve always been edgy to glorify every bit of scrap that comes our way, even pedestrian ones.

I have nothing against climbing mountains per se, but I have something about people climbing a really tall mountain and not admitting they’re doing it just for the heck of it, and not for some country’s glory.

I’ve always maintained that mountain climbing in itself is patently, baldly stupid. In my personal book, I can always agree to climb something that might kill me—but only if you’d show me the point. I won’t climb that just for the heck of it. At least, give me a goal besides merely reaching the summit and skirting avalanches. You want to reach the summit, for example, because you’re contacting alien life forms from Cygni 66. Or because you’d get your grandfather’s millions only if you could prove you could bring home Jimmy Hoffa's frozen dick.

On the other hand, I think it’s equally perverse to make that climb and rationalize it to death; as if these climbers are in a panic to lend their act some semblance of a panacea, to dress it up to make it seem like a solution to some unbridgeable abyss, some impossible problem.

Why couldn’t they just do a George Mallory and admit they’re climbing it “because it’s there,” period. Why do we always feel like we owe it to some invisible majority to rationalize every stupid, personal, and selfish thing we do and embellish it with cloying lines like, “We’re doing it for the country.”

Come on. Although I’m sure there’s somebody somewhere who would be glad to buy that crap, I’d still choose the classic route: Sell that to the marines.

And why am I going ballistic on a Wednesday afternoon?

Because last week, three Filipinos reached the summit of Mt. Everest amid much fanfare. And although the whole event was not as dramatic as the TV networks would have wanted it to seem, I believe the truth is more colorful.

The first two climbers were backed by a local network called ABS-CBN; the third one, Garduce, was backed by a rival network called GMA.

I’d often find myself laughing whenever the two TV stations would report on their bets in the early days of the preparation. ABS-CBN had my favorite hobby-horse, Abner Mercado, reporting from Nepal; and GMA had Jiggy Manicad. The funny thing was, for ABS-CBN, GMA’s Garduce didn’t exist; nobody would even mention the guy. I don’t remember Abner Mercado even saying something as bland as, “And here's the latest news on the 'other' climber: Garduce was caught wearing split-crotch panties!"

On the other hand, for GMA, the group called First Philippine Expedition was a funny myth you told your campmates around a bonfire to warm things up.

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[Everest Poster Boy: "The Power of Handsome"]

Simply put, the two networks mutually denied the efforts of each other. If that’s not ugly, revolting, and cheap, I don’t know what is. In fact, they only began “acknowledging” each other’s boys when Oracion, for instance, reached the summit first.

Besides, I really don’t see the point of all the fuss. If a man without legs could climb it in a flourish, what are our three Filipinos (one of which is called “robot” because, friends say, he’s “superhumanly indefatigable”) and their backers so happy about?

If you took a knife and cut the whole thing down to size, what you’d see are the two rival networks pushing these happy people around as part of their little “ratings war.” But I have to be clear that I have no problem with Big Corp “pushing pawns”—because if I’d work for them, I’d also do the same; I have no conscience. But what I’m harping on is that they could have done it better; they could have injected a little more drama.

Here’s what I think should have happened with the Everest adventure:

Garduce reaches the summit as the third one to do so. He’s already secretly bitter about it, but it turned out to be worse because upon reaching the mountaintop, he found a small note from the two ABS-CBN boys that says, “Garduce! You’re Third! LOL!!!”

So Garduce fumes and climbs down faster than an avalanche. When he finds Oracion and Ermata at base camp laughing about “that note” and the fact that nobody really cares about third placers, Garduce totally loses his marbles. He looks around, sees the legless New Zealand guy holding his spare metal leg, grabs the metal leg, and uses it to slug ABS-CBN’s boys in the head. Abner Mercado, seeing that GMA’s Jiggy Manicad is about to join in the fray armed with his rolled-up “reporter’s notebook,” jumps on the whole bunch and uses his full weight to trap everybody under his armpits.

Everybody realizes that violence is bad when they all get a mighty whiff of Abner’s evil effluvium.

The end. They all go home to meet with Carlo Caparas for the movie rights. I leave it to Carlo’s genius to come up with an amazing movie title. Or maybe the two networks’ hacks could turn it into primetime soap, which I think is great, although it’s tough guessing where they’d fit Angel Locsin in the whole thing.



Monday, May 22, 2006


There’s this guy, let’s call him Knopf, who was running on the info superhighway Bill Gates used to call the “Interweb” back when he didn’t think something like Netscape could actually hack it. Back in those innocent years the Web was nascent and Gates treated the jerks who took the Web seriously as nothing but a bunch of geeks much geekier than El Geeko himself. And that, if anybody knew Bill Gates (which is somewhat doubtful), was the apex of hard-nosed snobbery, the Mt. Everest of spite, the Mother of All Bullshit that was ever produced by Acme Corp.

But wait, I was talking about Knopf. So let’s go back to Knopf.

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As I was saying, Knopf was running and running until one day, he stumbled on this blog and fell flat on his face. Then the next thing I knew was Knopf flashing cash in my face. Vicariously. Through instant messaging.

I went into a trance, where I seemed to see Knopf standing in a shining doorway, a cigar stuck between his fat fingers, smoke lazily curling everywhere. I seemed to see him saying, “There are few things we have to learn about this planet. The first is how to conquer it.”

Knopf was saying, “Show me the Skirmisher.”

And I just snapped. I almost burst a blood vessel. I was gulping down a tumbler of fruit sherbet and I almost choked with that question.

I was telling him there has never been any Skirmisher, that this blog has never been real. Okay, it’s real because for some strange trickery, you can read it. Heck, you’re actually reading it now. But it’s not real in the sense that I couldn’t honestly say a human being has been writing these posts.

That was the first volley of crap I served Knopf’s way: You will never find the “Skirmisher.” All the shit this blog contains is a thick fucking illusion. It’s a tangle of lies and complex deceit.

“I don’t understand,” Knopf said.

I said, “Let’s pretend for a moment the character I’ve been calling ‘Skirmisher’ is actually five different individuals, all leading their crappy little lives, contributing these stories you read once or twice a week.”

“No, let’s stretch it,” I said. “Let’s imagine ‘Skirmisher’ is the pseudonym of a secret organization whose job is to go around and do nasty little things and blog about it. Say this secret org is actually the protector of the yet-to-be-famous Holy Spit, as opposed to the fact that Audrey Tautou is the Holy Grail and Tom Hanks with that roadkill-toupee is her knight-in-a-boring-movie.”

“Let’s take it further, just to be really crazy. Let’s pretend the one who’s doing this blog is in fact somebody like Keyser Soze, the ‘usual suspect,’ the sum total of everybody’s suspicions.”

“Or he’s a web bot, a spider that crawls the world wide web to ‘understand’ the darker side of the zeitgest, then ‘composes’ useless bits into a blog post that roughly seems comprehensible. That all these things you read here, even this very post, is not a product of a person, but merely the sputterings of a very sophisticated code.”

“Can you shut up already?” Knopf said. “I know you’re intriguing, but I just realized you’re actually a first-class, high-up-in-the-clouds retard.”

“Oh, don’t put me on a pedestal.”

“I shouldn’t have contacted you.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“Jesus,” Knopf said. “A retard who loves saying ‘exactly’ to prove a non-existent point. What can be worse than that?”

“Let me try this,” I said. “Worse is a retard who says ‘Sure’?”

“&^^%^%$#*()#!!!” Knopf calmly said.

“By the way, why do you ask,” I said. “What are you, a publisher?”

“Let’s just say, yeah,” Knopf said.

“New fucking York?”

“Let’s pretend that, yeah.”

“Oh my… Gaaaaaa!!! Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

“Nah. Never mind.”

“No, no, no, let’s talk. I’ll be serious now.”

“You know what,” Knopf said. “Wait a gazillion years, grow up a little, then maybe when I’m in the mood, we’ll talk. But right now, I’m having a headache. I think I’ll go home and stupefy myself with hard liquor.”

Then the guy disappeared, signed out, kaput.

I was left staring at my computer screen, full of regret.

Regretting that I didn’t tell Knopf I also have the habit of walking down peopled roads with my hand dripping with wet, warm dog turd, then flinging the poop at weak-looking people who’d meet my gaze. Then I’d run; I learned to run fast that way.

Too bad I didn’t tell him that. It would have been fun.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Da Vinci Joke

I realize the reason why Da Vinci Code, the movie and the book, has been getting more flak than, say, The God Who Wasn’t There, is because it actually dignifies the belief that there was indeed somebody named Jesus Christ who once existed.

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It’s okay if you’d just dismiss the whole Christian thing in the same way grown-ups dismiss Santa Claus. Nobody would mind if you’d assert that Pastafarianism is “more real” than what Paul supposedly met on the road to Damascus—but you’d be opening the gates of hell if you’d bend over, pick up the core dogma of Christianity, and sink your dirty fingers into its butt and weave a novel out of it.

The faithful are furious. I can imagine people having the same fury if a Santa Claus movie fleshed out the idea that the old guy molested his daughter and the daughter grew up to become Martha Stewart. And who would forget the rage and mindless violence that inspired the burning of embassies and the boycotting of sumptuous Danish dairy goods—all because a bunch of cartoonists tried to equate Muhammad with the high-faluting, unforgiveable infidel concept of “humor.”

But it’s all so amusing. It’s fun to hear the god-folk say big words like, “crumbling,” “eruption” or “battling the onslaught of…” Those are words you hear in Star Trek or the Star Wars, usually when there’s an empire crumbling behind the lead characters, or there’s a green blob with hairy nostrils swallowing a girl. Only in this case, we’re talking about a movie that says Jesus was horny enough to have been human (or human enough to have been horny) and to have had a wife. And that, says the nice neighborhood schoolmarm, is bad.

But I think it’s exciting. To be fair, if anybody would take Dan Brown really, really seriously, who allegedly once said (I’m using “allegedly” because you can’t afford not to be paranoid, these days, can you?) that he wrote Da Vinci Code not to blaspheme but to inspire "discussion and debate" that will ultimately lead to a more solidly defended faith—all while earning millions off the little yarn—then the faithful should in fact be thankful.

After all, Brown himself is a self-proclaimed Christian.

But you might be thinking, “But you’re missing the point of the protests. Who cares about that bastard? We’re talking about Jesus Christ having kids LOL!!!”

This very well reminds me of the same public outcry over The Last Temptation of Christ about two decades ago. And the funny thing is that Last Temptation author Nikos Kazantzakis was a man more religious than the common Bible-toter—he spent years and years trying to understand what God really meant in people’s lives. He actually thought through it, rather than just accepting at face value the comforting sureties invented at the so-called First Council of Nicea.

I can understand the protesters, but theirs is a laughably losing game. I feel that they know that; that this protest is simply nominal, like those Japanese who one morning looked up the sky and saw the atomic bomb gliding down and all they could do was point at the bomb and ask, “Wasn’t that the Emperor?”

The movie opens in theaters today. Nothing cerebral, nothing earth-shaking, just one of those things you’ll forget afterwards. But it’s presumably a good hell of a ride. So stop being such a grim-faced lot and just enjoy it, okay? I’m sure your God will understand.

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[Pope: "Hmmm. That naughty Danny boy deserves a good spanking."]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Loops and Tangents

“What did he do?” the Guidance Counselor asked my teacher.

My teacher, let’s call her Miss Suni, simply said, “He stabbed his classmate with a pencil. The victim’s bleeding in the clinic.”

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The Guidance Counselor stared at me from head to foot. She stared at the strip of Bandaid on my knee, at my shabby white uniform. She searched my face for remorse. She looked away when she saw nothing there.

The truth was, I hadn’t yet realized the magnitude of my stupidity. I stood there beside an expensive-looking vase that was as tall as me, directly in the air conditioner’s blast. Things felt surreal. One moment, you were just one of those kids copying whatever shit was on the black board, the next moment, you were “special.” All thanks to that kid who sat in the row behind me.

Let’s call the kid Eli. He wasn’t even in my circle of nasty friends, I’d rarely even notice him. But earlier that afternoon, he had this bunch of rubber bands and he was using them to annoy his girl seatmate. When the fun with the girl wore thin, he gazed beyond his horizon and found my ear jutting out of my head right as I sat in the seat before him. Eli probably thought, “Nice ears.”

So what Eli did, he pulled a rubber band and snapped it on my ear.

I was usually a nice kid. Okay, I admit, I loved hanging out with the boys who did nothing but piss off the girls. I loved it when a girl crumbled in tears; it made me strangely feel as if she liked me. The little pricks who were my friends firmly believed that a girl who hated you actually liked you; it was some sort of a secret language. It was how girls communicated to the world, my friends would philosophize; girls spoke a strange, convoluted, and arcane language—exactly why we loved and hated them.

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But how I reacted to Eli’s invasion of my blissful privacy was so typical of my behavior: when he snapped a rubber band on my ear, I just turned to him and glared; I thought my “frightening” scowl was enough. Then I continued writing on my notebook. But Eli happened to be like one of those people who, like Luca Brasi, begged to be killed. So he snapped my ear again, and even laughed out loud like a hyena. The second time he did that, I whirled around and brought down my angry fist on his leg so hard the pain froze his face.

I coldly gazed at him as he began crying. He was holding his leg so delicately and with such shock on his face that you’d think the leg had been lost and he just found it again. As if he was some goddamned Romeo and the leg was his Juliet.

I felt nothing; I knew he’d stop anyway when he’d realize nobody cared about him. Then I continued to write on my pad, only to discover something that stunned me—my pencil’s sharp lead was missing.

I wheeled around. Eli’s leg was all blood, his face was all tears. It flashed in my head: I was holding my pencil when I pummeled his leg with my fist. The truth went through me as terrific as a shotgun blast:

I had indeed stabbed him.

The first thing that hit my head was: Eat the pencil!

Eat the pencil so that there’s no evidence. Then charm them with your naïve smile.

But everything went blinding white. The next thing I remember, I was with Miss Suni and we were walking past classrooms full of kids singing or reciting the alphabet. I caught a whiff of my teacher’s perfume, mentally compared it with my mother’s cologne, and instantly I decided my teacher smelled like a dog. I didn’t care then that she had great boobs and that my height allowed me the privilege of being able to stare directly at her butt; I didn’t know those things, yet.

Miss Suni dragged me to the Guidance Counselor’s office. She had always had a flair for drama, and she proved that by shoving me into the middle of the room and declaring:

This. Kid. Stabbed. His. Classmate.

That stopped everybody’s conversations. All eyes burned at me. I returned the stares. When I realized I was all alone, I melted like a candle and squirmed quietly in a corner, waiting for whatever shit was in store for me.

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Ten million years later, I’d meet Eli on some dusty road. We were then high school seniors, and I barely could remember him. But he walked to me and said, “I haven’t forgotten what you did to me.” And I don’t know, I just stood there; I was probably waiting he’d pull out a pencil and bury it in my chest. But all he did was give me his fiercest, blazing gaze. He walked away.

I was left there wondering about what just happened. I felt empty and confused, as if Eli just took something from me. I felt a powerful urge to chase him and kick the living daylights out of him, just for closure. He must have wanted closure. He couldn’t just let me get away, not like that. You don’t wait ten million years only to say some queer line like, “I haven’t forgotten you.”

I was so sad I wanted to give him the nice things Muhammad Ali gave to Frazier’s face; I wanted to beat him up until he’s angry enough to fight back. Until the dog in him wakes up and bares its fangs.

You don’t let your enemies walk the earth; you destroy them. You destroy them because that’s a favor you do for your friends. Because life teaches us to love and protect our friends and destroy our enemies. You don’t love them both, you don’t hate them both. It’s always about drawing the line somewhere.

He should destroy me; he should close this. Or at least, he should also make me bleed somehow. Just like the old days. But why must I be the one to nudge him on that?

But I swallowed it all and in a small moment, I suddenly decided I should ask for forgiveness. Maybe forgiveness. Maybe after a million years of silence, saying sorry would still work.

Maybe. But then he was already gone. We lived in a small town where you could always find who you were looking for. But on that afternoon, Eli probably made a turn somewhere and vanished. On that afternoon, I scoured the streets looking for him, trying to sense the trail of his ancient anger, but he was gone. I never saw him again.


I’m standing in the corner of the Guidance Counselor’s office, shivering from the air conditioner’s icy blast, awaiting the death sentence.

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Miss Suni’s back with Eli behind her. I see his leg has been bandaged, but he’s walking with a limp. Miss Suni says to me, “I’m letting your mother know about this.”

In my head I’m hating her, telling her “You’re stupid,” promising myself that when I’m big enough and smart enough, I’ll come back and fuck her in the mouth until she remembers everything, even the middle name of Chiquito’s pet monkey. But I actually say nothing; the secret words fester silently in my mouth.

I just ignore them. I peel off the Bandaid on my knee and discover that my old wound has healed. I run my palm on the scar; it feels dry and insignificant. And hopelessly empty.

For similar posts, see Backtracks and Fast-forwards.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Screwing the Penguin Suits

“You see that?” I’m pointing at a group of nuns ambling down the road toward us.

My buddy says, “Yeah, so what?”

We’re having coffee at this small roadside café. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, the cafe piping in Kalapana, the girl at the next table has blinding white thighs I’m gawking at. But this “idyll” has just been destroyed by the sight of the nuns.

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“I hate nuns,” I say. “They’re wasting all that sexual equipment. They make me sing that Black Eyed Peas song, ‘What you gonna do wit all that breast? All that breast inside that shirt?’”

“Then you should hate priests, too.”

“I don’t care about priests. They’re boring by default. With nuns, at least sometimes there’s a saving grace. I once ran into somebody who looked like Cheska Garcia and she broke my heart with that penguin suit. Beautiful nuns make you wish you could go back in time and slit Emperor Constantine’s throat. That is, if you could get past the nasty in hoc signo vinces crowd.”

“Why Constantine?”

“Why not Constantine?” I say. “If it wasn't because of him, our “nuns” today would have been largely pagan, complete with fertility orgies. Wouldn’t it be nice? Religion and sexual orgies. Who wants to be an atheist if you have that wonderful alternative? These days, either they bore you out of your skull with stories that never change and are as dry as dinosaur bones, or they frighten you to death with varying pictures of hell and the afterlife.”

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“I was having lunch the other day,” I say, “when this neighbor’s dog began barking. Maybe the dog was hungry. Maybe it just wanted to kick my balls and destroy my peace right at the very moment I needed it most. But I was thinking, if you’d strip religious belief down to the viscera, you’d see the simple fact that we believe in god only because we’re afraid of the fires of some hell, or we’re hoping to get the meat scrap of an ‘eternal’ reward.”

“What does it tell you about the human race? It tells you that humanity, on some fundamental level of our survival instincts, are no different from dogs. We wait at tables and tremble in fear when the master’s gonna kick us.”


“Religious fervor is just a matter of swelling the brain’s temporal lobe. Certain drugs do that. You want to ‘feel’ the presence of god, get high on hallucinogens. Remember those yanomamos? They sniff hallucinogenic mushrooms to 'see' gods and demons. Ancient shamans and priests used to do that, too. Now, since they’ve replaced the mushrooms with impotent things like incense and saccharine red wine, it’s no longer fun. The game these days is to pretend. The game these days is sing ‘jesusified’ rock and roll and lipsync fags like Jamie Rivera.”

Jamie Rivera is not a fag,” my buddy snaps. “She’s a woman.”

“Okay. What’s your point?”

My buddy stares at me angrily. “I love Jamie Rivera.”

“Uhuh.” I’m trying to digest this disturbing piece of information. “That’s okay. Some people like screwing she-goats or playing the dominatrix in bed, you love Jamie Rivera. That’s fine. That’s normal.”

“I think I’m having a headache.”

“I have a mushroom at home. The guy who gave it to me said it’s most probably a genuine hallucinogenic. Maybe you’d want a sniff. It’s safe.

“You can’t just do that. You should have it dried first.”

“Don’t they just munch it straight from the stem?”

He gazes at me. “I think I have to leave. I’m watching a DVD. The movie’s title is ‘Go and Fuck Yourself.’ So see you later.”

“Okay,” I say. I watch my good friend walk down the seething road. Something rankles me; there’s something odd about the movie’s title that I just couldn’t quite put a finger on.

And I’m thinking, I’ll dry the mushroom. But I’ll sniff it only after I’m sure it’s the right species. After I’m sure it doesn’t have deadly spores. If it’s hallucinogenic, that’ll be a blast. I could “tune in” like Timothy Leary. But if it isn’t…it could be nasty.

Hmmm… A little experiment is in order. The Shakespearean question is: Should I assume that it’s safe if my neighbor’s dog survives?

For similar posts, see Sacred Cows 2.0.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Out of Place

Six years ago, I didn’t bother attending my own college graduation. I just didn’t care. I went straight looking for a job because at the back of my mind, I was intrigued and curious about how somebody like me would fare in the “real world.” I already had a vague idea: maybe I’d last two seconds as somebody’s employee. I’ve always been a jaded kid. I’ve always hated routine; I’ve never found comfort in well-established schedules. Throughout those years, I was rarely present in my classes. But that was okay; I was lucky I worked as editor of the university’s student paper, which somehow made my professors more forgiving of me. I was friends with most of them, and some of them would even ask me what grade I'd want.

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Surreal, yeah. To be fair, I rarely abused that kind of privilege; I’d break the barrier only when I really, really had to, such as when the afternoon heat was enough to keep me holed up in the student paper’s airconditioned office, or when Blizzard’s Diablo magically made me forget the passage of hours.

But Adamson University was the proverbial small pond; I probably seemed “big” only because of the smallness of its world. So I was curious about testing my hypothesis: What would happen if you’d drop me in a barren place where nobody knew of my crazy reputation? Far from friends who understood my weirdness?

You see, I’ve always laughed at the wrong jokes. I find cruelty and violence exceedingly funny. I cry over small things that would otherwise delight other people. I have a misplaced sense of real things. So what would happen if you’d put me in a workplace where weirdness was a crime, and where everybody had to dance to the tune of small-minded politics?

One of my first prospects was this copyediting company in Paranaque. The company’s location was already hellish: it lay sprawled in hectares of what felt like the Gobi desert, and its kind of sunlight and heat made me sorely miss my old airconditioned nook in the penthouse of St. Vincent building.

The morning I arrived there, there were ten billion of us. We were herded into a room with endless rows of chairs, and were given instruction sheets and pencils.

This was already bad; I have to tell you I hate being treated like “one of the kids.” I was thinking, If this is the deal I’m getting from this company—this company that had the same level of respect for its hordes of applicants as what Nazis had for Jews—then I won’t take this seriously.

I sat through the qualifying exams simply because I wanted to see how the exams looked. But I was disappointed; the whole thing seemed so easy it felt like an insult. Near the end, I was grumbling; I was telling this girl seatmate, “I don’t see this company existing ten years in the future.”

She smiled uncomfortably.

I said, “This is crazy. This is the same exam they gave me in first grade.”

She said, “You’re the shining font of humility, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

So I finished the test, and when we were all done, the lady who had given us the exams asked us to pass all the pencils to the end. And because I sat at the farthest end of the row, all the pencils ended up with me.

Then the lady told me without even looking at me to “just put the pencils over there.” She pointed at a corner table.

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I didn’t. When nobody was looking, I shoved the more than five dozens of pencils in my bag. And as I walked out, I told myself I’d never come back to this sty of a workplace ever again.

Two days later, the company called to tell me I was hired. I politely declined. The woman on the other end of the line could not seem to comprehend that I would say no, so she sort of was making some small talk. She asked me to recommend anybody I knew who might be interested with the copyediting job. She asked me why I changed my mind.

I just told her, no, I don’t know anybody else. I told her I had to decline because I recently started some small business.

I told her I was selling some used pencils to a local school to make ends meet. Then I laughed.

She laughed, too; she thought I was kidding.

For similar posts, see Backtracks and Fast-forwards.

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