Thursday, March 30, 2006

Judas the Armadillo

I think this is how “the betrayal” actually happened.

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[Judas to Jesus: I’m forming a heavy metal band. I’ll let you do drums. Come on, what do you say? I’m not really gay, but I’m so sincere I’m kissing you.]

When evening came, and when Saturday Night Live was over, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. They talked about why Scarlett Johansson was simply the sexiest girl on Earth, and how George Bush sometimes reminded James of a nasty baboon he once saw on National Geographic.

And while they were eating, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me."

They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?"

Jesus replied, "The one who will dip his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.”

At that time, Judas was not listening; he was so busy prying off his dentures that got stuck in the ham that he was startled when he dipped his hand into the bowl and felt that somebody’s hand was also there.

It was Jesus’ hand.

Jesus and Judas looked at each other.

And Judas said, “Is it I, my Lord?”

“Is it I my Lord?” Jesus said, mimicking Judas. “Is it I, my Lord?”

“But that was an accident,” Judas stammered. “I didn’t hear you.”

All the disciples stared at Judas.

“So now I am the villain, eh?” Judas said. “So what if my opinion has always been different from yours? Look, guys, if we’re gonna say the same thing, why in hell do we have to speak at all? Why don’t we just stare at one another and admire one another’s butts?”

James said, “Dude, you can’t do that to the Son of Man.”

“Yeah,” John seconded. “I thought only Dinky Soliman could do that. And now, we have you. Now, God will punish you and transform you into a Chinese spotted swine.”

But Judas didn’t become a Chinese spotted swine; in an instant, he transformed into an armadillo.

The other disciples were so astonished.

Bartholomew said, “Cool.”

James said, “I’m sick and tired of eating bread my whole life. Don’t you guys think this thing will taste good when roasted?”

“Yeah,” James said, “let’s stick it up on a spit and roast it over the coals. Like what folks do in the Philippines.”

“Do they have armadillos in the Philippines?” Bartholomew asked.

“No, but they have Franklin Drilon and Joe de Venecia. I think that’s worse.”

But as they spoke, Judas the armadillo rolled up into a ball and went crashing out the door. He rolled and rolled until he found himself in the temple. Once in the temple, he became a dude again.

Judas ran to the first priest he saw and screamed like a girl.

And the priest asked, “And who did you say tried to eat you?”

“Jesus Christ!”

“Aw, come on. Try another one.”

“No, I’m serious. Jesus and my friends tried to eat me. They thought I was an armadillo.”

The priest laughed. “Yeah, I watched this Monty Python film once. They had this Roman general named Biggus Dickus. That was funny, too.”

“No, no, no!” Judas panicked. “I’m telling the truth. Look, if you don’t believe me, I’ll lead you to them. They’re going to a beer garden called Gethsemane.”


“And I’ll kiss the one who tried to eat me.”

“And why would you do that?”

Judas was stumped. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s written somewhere that I should kiss him.”

“Okay. I have this feeling this information is not free, is it?”

Judas stared at the priest, his eyes gleaming. He said with a Dr Evil gleam in his eyes, “You have to pay me thirty. Billion. Fifillion. Zizillion. Silver. Pieces.”

The priest laughed. “Are you crazy? Guards, get this piece of shit out of here before I have him guillotined.”

“But, Sir,” Judas said, “the guillotine hasn’t yet been invented.”

“Okay. What’s your point?”

“Well, you can’t guillotine me if nobody yet knows what a guillotine is.”

The priest pondered it and said, “Tell me about the electric chair.”

“Sure, sure,” Judas said impatiently. “But pay me first.”

Again, the priest laughed.

“Five billion,” Judas said.

The priest shook his head.

“One billion?” Judas said.

The priest was rolling on the floor in laughter. One of the guards said, “This guy’s so hilarious. He’s even funnier than Teddy Casino and his friends hiding inside the Batasan Complex.”

“Yeah,” another guard said. “or that bunch of buffoons who call themselves the Black Friday Movement. Really funny.”

When the laughter dissipated, the priest said, “Dude, we won’t give you any. Not one, not ten billion silver. But….”

“But what?”

“But if you can really kiss this guy like you say you would, I’ll give you something. Maybe a bag of peanuts.”

Judas thought it over, realized it was fair enough, and whispered, “I have a little problem. I’m willing to accept the peanuts, but can we keep it secret? Like don’t tell anybody?”

“Sure,” the priest said.

“And can you mention in your Jewish newsletter that what you gave me were silver coins?”

The priest thought about it, nodded, and said, “You know what, I like you.”

Judas grinned. “I like you, too.”

“I’m not really a full-time priest. I sing and do guitars at a local pub. Maybe we should form a band.”

Judas became excited. “Cool. Let’s call it Judas and Priest.”

The priest said, “Why not Judas Priest?”


And so Judas left the temple with his bag of peanuts. After the Gethsemane incident, the duo formed a heavy metal band in 1970, and went on to become what junkies call “The Metal Gods.”

Now, that’s funny.

For similar posts, see Sacred Cows 2.0.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Traipsing in the Dark

Cyberspace is full of dead people; it’s crawling with traces of people’s last thoughts, last sentiments, last human impressions.

In a sense, mankind has unwittingly created an electronic version of immortality.

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Simon Ng was a college freshman in New York. In May 2005, somebody tied him up and repeatedly stabbed him in the chest with a butcher knife—but that was minutes after Simon made his very last blog entry.

That blog entry later helped the police trace the murderer.

There’s a quirky side story why I signed up on Friendster in the first place. For some years, I ignored it because I considered it merely a fad for teenagers. But one day in the summer of 2004, a girl was murdered in her own condo unit. The girl was a Metrobank employee, and days after her death, an email circulated that directed people to her Friendster account. I couldn’t resist it; I was on Friendster faster than you can say “Bienvenido Jesus Torres.”

Since then, while I struck “friendships” with total strangers, I realized the heartrending side of Web-based services like blogs and social networks. People remain “alive” on the Web even years after their passing. And often, so few realize it.

Friendster, for example, doesn’t delete an account even if it remains inactive for many, many months. In October 2004, amateur mountaineer Prana Escalante died on Mt. Halcon. Anybody who is curious enough may still see her account and learn how much she loved life and Samurai X.

Sometimes, things are fresh as today’s headlines. There was a woman who was manager of that McDonald’s branch on Taft Avenue beside DLSU, and the last time she accessed her account was hours before her bitter officemate shot her in the head.

Folks with “normal” sensibilities are usually “shocked” when I’d tell them I dredge the Web for traces of people’s lives. But I can’t help it; I’m consumed with the desire to know these people as human beings, not as some goddamn statistic.

Like Johnny Smith in Stephen King’s novel, The Dead Zone, or that kid in M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense, I see dead people as I caress and romance the dark underbelly of cyberspace. There are times I’d be staring at my monitor for long moments, placing myself under their skin, retracing the last seconds their fingers tapped on those keyboards,

And I wonder and wonder about the meaning of it all.

Technology gives our human presence some sort of “permalink” to the wired and wireless masses in such a way that persists as long as the foundations remain in place. In Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the “evil” genius Totenkopf fools the world for two decades into believing that he’s still alive, when it’s merely his machines that have been continuing his work down to the last details of the man’s disdain of humanity.

And it’s not only about dead people, but also about dead websites. A month ago, I rediscovered the Internet Wayback Machine, and saw again the homepage of a literary site I used to maintain.

I called it The Inkblot, for lack of any better name. And years after it “died,” I discovered for the first time how it was full of crap, and how much somebody like me could change in the past five years.

I often wonder how things run these days. How everybody can have access to somebody else’s most treasured feelings and thoughts that would have mortified the living daylights out of somebody like Beethoven, JD Salinger, or Thomas Pynchon.

And more to the point, how practically anybody can leave persistent vestiges of their lives in cyberspace.

Maybe, in a universe where lives are short and people know they are doomed, and where things end without any sense of resolution, we find ourselves consumed with this desire to leave our mark on things that we touch. We find ourselves in situations that somebody like Kazuo Ishiguro loves fleshing out.

And maybe, like Bjork in Dancer in the Dark, it’s our lot to find ourselves so jaded for having seen it all, but still having the heart to cling on, hold on to the brightness of some little spark—whenever, however, wherever we find it.

Simon Ng’s last blog entry on May 12, 2005.

New York Daily News article about the arrest of his murderer.

Latest Dead MySpace members.

For similar posts, see Random Acts of Strangeness.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Trouble with the Debutante

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We’ve been deciding on how to create a new invite for a girl’s 18th birthday. The mother of the girl wants something different. While the usual invites say something like, “I’m 18 now, you’re invited” and all that shit, the mother wants it done in as unique a way as possible.

And we’re wracking our brains because all our brilliant ideas are being turned down.

What’s wrong with these title suggestions?

  1. I’m 18... I’m legal now.

  2. I’ve just turned 18, so come and pop my cherry!

  3. I’m 18 and ready for some action. Come join the fun!

The girl’s mother is no fun at all. I don’t see anything wrong with these suggestions, but there she is, angrily stomping around the room like one of those lead characters in Jurassic Park (I’m not talking about the humans).

For example, she’s raising hell about the “cherry” part. What’s wrong with the cherry? It’s going to be a great bash, so it’s fair to assume there would be lots of cakes and fruits, so what’s wrong if I’d assume there would be cherry in a salad somewhere? Sure, it would be okay to replace the fruit with, say, mango or banana, but anything else wouldn’t sound “girlie” enough, would it?

“I’m 18. Come and pop my mango” doesn’t sound so right, does it? Would you go to a party of a girl that says, “Come and pop my mango?” Come on.

Maybe there’s something wrong about it that I just couldn’t put a finger on.

But for the meantime, the mother wants us to suggest something unique about the humongous cake. That gets me so excited, because I’m thinking about suggesting we sedate and bury a dozen small guinea pigs inside the cake. And then at a signal, maybe we’d use something like an electrode, we’d wake up the guinea pigs, and they’d all be crawling out of the cake at the right moment. Their faces would be covered with icing, and they’d be sniffing their way on the table. I’m sure they’d be so cute they would delight the guests.

Darn. I’m so good I can kiss my own ass. I bet the mother will just love it.

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[Guinea pigs make for a delightful cake.]

For similar posts, see Essential Cruelties.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Kubrick's Apes

The further integration of blogging into the lives of individuals is fast taking us back four million years ago, right at the heart of Stanley Kubrick’s greatest tale.

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I have always believed the whole idea behind blogging is simple: placing anybody in a role that allows them to make sense of something as faceless as the Internet on a purely personal level.

I’m seduced to imagine a swarm of humans approaching this giant called the “Interweb,” poking its underbelly with their little stick/schtick, and seeing how it reacts.

If it wakes up, if you get its attention, you have options. You either ride on it and let it take you to places, or you scoot back to your cave.

The Internet in its present incarnation has become a truly Grand Monolith, which reminds me of the same block of gray in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey. In the film, a mysterious monolith appears amid a sleeping group of apes. The apes, when they wake up, react with the three great things that would later propel their own evolution:

fear, curiosity, and courage.

The monolith becomes a point of contention: they stare at it endlessly, they fight over it, they try so much to make sense of it. It baffles and annoys them. But it also inspires them. The apes make those excited grunts that you could only hear these days from somebody like Elizabeth Ramsey.

And because they cannot deny its existence and they can do nothing about it, the monolith somehow arouses them to develop what could be life’s next best creation since the human cerebral cortex: the human tool.

This part of the film where one of the apes makes a little tool out of animal bone is one I could not forget: because the tool, uncannily, is also the world’s first weapon.

It drives home one of the important points of the film: that the first product of human ingenuity was not the wheel, not religion, but something fashioned to defend and destroy.

Which, when you think about it, is also very much like religion.

The tribe of that ape that invents it, the tribe that had been driven away from their precious water pond, makes a comeback with the weapon to slay the fuckers that had driven them out. And there, in a classic “war over natural resource,” the “advanced” tribe makes its first kill.

Us bloggers are like Kubrick’s apes; we were all sleeping when it hit us in the 1990s. Some of us merely touch it and some rearrange their lives around it. And there are those who spend most of their waking life trying to make it fit into the grand scheme of things, and somehow, make it into a really good thing.

How blogging is fast emerging as a powerful form of media works the same as Kubrick’s prehistoric monolith: we are forced to grapple its possibilities with the things that make us human. Blogging, and the Internet at large, has aroused our fear, our curiosity, and our courage. It has filled us with a certain longing for something that engulfs and devastates—and also empowers.

These days, we blog about the cute puppy or the cat, the daughter’s first smile, the drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. We blog about how we could enlarge our dicks and complain why John Holmes or that guy on Bang Bros had it so good. We blog about how this girl’s boobs are so stunningly gorgeous and so large that they have their own political system. We blog about the cute classmate who never knew our name. We blog about our little triumphs and our little questions.

We wage our wars here, we say our “fuck yous” here. And the good thing, whenever a gaggle of us hit critical mass, the targets of our yearnings eventually listen.

But blogging isn’t only about the things that excite your mother; it has also become a balance of sorts. It has become, to use this blog’s theme, a skirmish of dark and light. Because for every molecular biologist documenting their find, there’s a pondscum somewhere preying on the unwary. For every tech-savvy CEO who reaches out to his company’s direct consumers, there’s an idiot who uses a frightened blindfolded man as his header image (why does this sound so familiar?).

Xanga alone currently hosts fifty million bloggers, and most of them are articulate enough to define both the gaudy, terrific excess of a meaningless life and the unbearable lightness of being. And for better or worse, bloggers are driving decision-making and commerce across the planet.

This emerging monolith has allowed the individual to give face to an otherwise formless giant. And like the apes in that 1968 film, we are sinking deeper and deeper in trying to make sense of it. It has been changing us so quickly. It has been pushing us out of that door.

Until maybe one day, we’ll find ourselves finally out there, in a place we could no longer return from.

For similar posts, see Random Acts of Strangeness.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Smallest of Things

You can’t really believe most things you see on the surface. Take her, for example. One look at her, and something tells you what you see is just bull; that if you drill a hole through her walls, you’ll find a little girl just dying to be understood.

And usually, her beef is all about the smallest things.

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Something strange is happening to me. And me talking like this is “strange” in itself; people who know me would eagerly attest that you haven’t heard and seen weird things in your life if you haven’t met me; and that’s not a “self-compliment”; I’m not trying to be cute like Woody Allen. To be even brutally honest about it, people with whom I’ve closely worked long enough eventually discover how disagreeable I am.

But the thing is, these recent days, certain discoveries bubble up on the surface of your life, discoveries that tell you that somehow, fuck-ups as large as Mt. Everest began life as a pocket lint.

And when these small things get bigger, you’re left wondering like Tony Leung in Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love, asking dear Maggie to help him imagine how their spouses’ betrayal began: When did it start? And how it must have felt?

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Some months ago, a nursing student committed suicide in her room because her mother didn’t give her P500 to buy a medical book. The mother was devastated—everybody was—when they discovered her body, but even more so when they read her suicide note. Suicide. Because of five hundred pesos.

Oh, the humanity.

Somehow, I blame soap operas.

In Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, Celie’s a black woman who has never had anybody care for her as a human being. She grows up and gets married to a man who treats her like livestock.

Celie’s not so smart, but she knows enough that to survive, you need "therapy", even if it's self-administered: so she ends each night of her life whispering the line, “Dear God,” to the empty space. Each night, she tells the shit of her day to the darkness.

One day, however, someone comes along to buy her a new set of clothes.

A new set of clothes, Celie asks in disbelief, just for her? And she chokes on to stifle her tears.

Sometimes, things like that hit closer to right where I stand. There was one afternoon I’m working at home when this old lady came knocking and asking for food. I was annoyed; I thought she was one of those slackers who’d suck the fruits of somebody else’s industriousness. I’ve never been a “good” person, and that afternoon, I was up to my neck with work. So you can imagine how deep I probably was in my vicious Marilyn Manson mood.

And to get rid of her fast, I fished some money in my pocket and gave her the first bill I found—only to realize too late that I was handing her something bigger than I had intended, something like fifty pesos.

Yeah, fifty pesos, when I only meant five. But suddenly, she gazed at the money on her palm, and she wept. Right there, she wept and almost kneeled before me in gratitude. I tried telling her that it was nothing; I even laughed to prove it meant nothing to me. But the truth was, I laughed because it shamed me, if a monster could be shamed. I felt cheap.

After she was gone, when nobody was around, I was tearful, too; there was something about the way she broke down that I couldn’t forget it. It felt so real and so staggering, like somebody bashed me in the face.

And Jesus, I thought, I’m so nice. All those kids whose asses I kicked would never believe this. All those people who hate me, they’d come to my house now and shoot me right in my moment of vulnerability.

Before Celie, before the old lady, I never realized that the things I don’t even count could become powerful enough to make somebody break down and weep. Before films like Zhang Yimou’s Not One Less, I lived with a very limited set of beliefs when it came to the question of what mattered.

I had been so fascinated with things that had nothing to do with people’s desperation that for a long time, the stories I attempted writing belonged to that great hated category I’d call, “The Pretensions.”

Well, I’m not there, yet. I still tell friends I’m a bleeding work in progress, and maybe I won’t ever be complete. But being fully aware of the crap I do is probably a nice start. As nice as seeing the small things for what they are, but having the liver to wait there at the end of the road, knowing and accepting how these small things might grow up and devour me in the end.

But I don’t really mind. Like I said to that girl with ten thousand issues I met months ago, I’ll just enjoy, dread, even long for the small things that make up my crappy little life. I’ll enjoy them before they’re gone and leave holes in my heart.

And maybe like what Galileo asked the Vatican about its angst over heliocentricity, I’ll start identifying these small things by asking myself the same brilliant question:

What exactly is your beef?

For similar posts, see Random Acts of Strangeness.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Riddle for Kübler-Ross

There’s something so sad about a dead man with shiny shoes and a lunch bag.

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I got this email today, about somebody who got hit by a bus crossing Ayala Avenue in Makati.

And the first thing in my head was, “What shiny shoes.”

How neatly the shoelaces were tied. And the lunch bag. These little things, how strongly they remind you that this headless corpse used to be a person; that people cared about him enough to shine his shoes or wash his socks or prepare his lunch.

It makes you remember all those times you’re going out for a new day at work and tying those shoelaces and thinking of that old Stephen King line, SSDD (same shit, different day), and hating everything.

I’m probably just being silly and hopelessly melodramatic; maybe this is what I get out of “unintentionally” watching Gulong ng Palad on most nights. These days, when things like Rotten or Philippine politics have killed an enough number of brain and heart cells to leave us so jaded, there are still some things that make you stop and wonder, in a Milan Kundera sense.

Of course, all of us die a little, every single day, if you believe people like Sylvia Plath or Courtney Love.

If you’d ask biologists, they’d say things like you replace your entire skin every some months or so, or each of your cells is gone and replaced every seven years. It’s one way of saying that the person you were seven years ago, that’s dead now, and the only thing that creates the illusion, the semblance, of continuance is memory. And stem cells. But let’s not even go there.

Maybe, yes, we all die a little every day, but at least, those little deaths are nothing dramatic; just a bad hair day, a broken tooth, a night of heavy drinking that decimated thousands of your neurons.

But if you end up lying on the pavement and staring at your own squashed brain, right there, on the same metropolitan road so many of us beat everyday, it just makes you stop.

Or maybe I’m not as hardened as I think I am, after all; at least, not as dead-hardened as any regular faceless, nameless Iraqi. Not as neuron-fried or fed-up as those vendors in Quiapo.

Somehow, the first image that flashed in my head was that scene in Fallen, where the serial murderer is being gassed to death and he’s singing that Rolling Stones song,

“Time is on my side, yes it is…
Time is on my side, yes it is…”

Says a character in that Nicholas Kazan film, death is probably what you get when you finally figure out the answer to the Big Why.

That when finally, in that small moment you figure out why there are six billion of us here on this blob of mud and nothing seems to make sense, death strikes you to shut you up. So that the secret remains a secret forever.

So that the answer to the Big Question remains heartbreakingly inaccessible.

Sometimes, I imagine Death as something formless that leaps from person to person, unseen, flying above your head as you walk the roads of your days; it brushes past you, breathes down your neck even during your happiest of moments. And then one sunny day, it finds you and smiles at you. It finds you to shut you up.

When the Roman town of Pompeii was unearthed in the mid-1700s after almost two thousand years of being entombed under volcanic debris, one of the graffiti on the walls the excavators found said something like, “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow, we’ll die…”

You can’t stop it; nobody can. And because we know it’s a losing game, we sing our songs and drink our beer and fornicate whenever we can.

Like that murderer being gassed to death, the Pompeiians would have also probably sung that Rolling Stones song in the last moments before Vesuvius came raining down on them—just to mock and spit in the face of the inevitable. That is, had they known the Rolling Stones.

That dead guy on Ayala, why is it so easy for me to see him in those last critical seconds as he crossed that road, humming that same song because finally, on his way to the office that morning, the Big Answer to the Big Why struck him. Like Archimedes’s eureka. Like Tony Kushner’s “blue streak of recognition.”

And as swift as the Big Answer came, death arrived to shut him up. Just like that.

So that the secret remains a secret, the Big Answer remains, forever, so heartbreakingly out of reach.

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“People walk during the rush hour mindless, automatic, vapid, safe. I am walking past lives I will never know and faces I will never fall in love with.”
– from an old Eric Gamalinda piece of fiction.

For similar posts, see Random Acts of Strangeness.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Friday Evening Kitsch

Look at yourself. Aren't you just all dolled up? How cool you’re standing there like that toothpaste TV ad. Sucking air through your teeth. Staring into the glass and wondering what you’re doing here, anyway. You’re thinking, This is how Elvis did it.

You gaze across the maddening hyperspace and still, she’s on the bar stool. She’s laughing like a schoolgirl with a honeybee up her underwear. She’s laughing like a horny Madonna of the Rocks. Because, indeed, she might be horny. And everybody knows it.

And in the back of your mind, you’re asking, What the fuck am I doing here?

At the far end of the room,

Staring into my empty glass?

In your head, you say it’s because of the music. Kruder and Dorfmeister are so 1990s, that tiny boy in your head says, but who cares?

You’ll get laid tonight, the tiny boy in your head says.


You look across the space. There’re all the lasers, the neons criss-crossing like deathrays. There are all the zombie-teenagers flopping their arms around like scarecrows in a nasty twister. Their eyes staring at nothing. Their faces all sweat and emptiness.

You gaze across the space and for a millisecond, she looks in your direction. And your heart bursts.

And you tell yourself, It’s time.

Yeah, it’s time.

It’s time to name your testicles.

How about, Little Boy and Fat Man?

Alright. Little Boy and Fat Man.

Go ahead. Glide over there and tell her exactly that. Serve her the best pick-up line a guy on this side of town could ever invent.

Say to her exactly what's in your heart. Say to her, “I call my balls ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man.’”

Then show her the hole on your socks. And your tangerine boxers. Give her a whiff of your minty fresh breath. Because with all things being equal, you're just a cut above the rest, aren't you, cowboy?

Circa 2006. Remember this year. The year you’re kissing the Darwin Awards.

For similar posts, see Bullshit Meister.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

The State of the Art

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[OldBoy: Daesu eats a live octopus before an awestruck Mido [left], and later screws the girl [right], only to discover something so devastating about her that he’d ask the first asshole who comes along to “shoot him in the head.”]

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

I first saw that line in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather; some decades later, Quentin Tarantino’s marketers would use it as slogan for Kill Bill.

And some years after Kill Bill, I would slather those same words on my own birthday cake.

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[November 14, 2005]

“That is such a strange cake,” said somebody who saw it.

I thought I was being funny. What was funny was that I paid for it, I chose it, simply because I could. I felt good because it proved I could comfortably choose to be a real idiot, as opposed to being naturally idiotic most of the time. That cake was some sort of “controlled” idiocy; something I could separate from myself and stare and marvel at and chuckle over.

It was something over which I could chide myself, “Darn. You’re so bad you’re good!”

But right then, when she said how strange it was, it made me stop.

Because, after all, it was self-mockery. It was me telling myself all my bubbles of self-delusion can be popped with a needle. It was me showing to myself I can do anything on my birthday, even the weirdest, most exceedingly outlandish piece of shit.

But her disgust made me ask: Why is vengeance bad, and justice good? Isn’t it the same burning animal?

Vengeance is a very profitable commodity itself; you see, read, watch it everywhere. There’s something about people that drives them to always want to get even.

Personally, I’m not really a vengeful fellow; I’d usually just stand around the guy who pissed me off and scratch what itches. When it comes to physical trouble, I’m the first one to sound the retreat. But that doesn’t mean I’m all nice; show me to a cockpit with lots of buttons, with each of those buttons capable of launching a missile to any city I might fancy. It would probably take me some seconds browsing Google Earth to choose my target and I’d be a happy kid.

In other words, give me a chance, and I’ll shove this planet deep in my pocket.

But so is the guy next to me. And so is my mother. And so is this kid next door who shows up at my living room most mornings and tells me, “I’ll kick your ass when I grow up. Just you wait.”

Take Korean director Chan-wook Park. He is a man who thrives on the terrific idea of vengeance. It’s easy to imagine him in a cave, stirring together the juices from a thousand tragedies, cackling like a witch. He’s probably made billions of Korean won out of his oeuvre that includes three films I love for many mixed reasons: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

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[UK poster of the film]

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance has the weakest story of the three. It’s about a girl with an unbelievably lovely face, but behind that face is desperation that’s both so contrived and so self-consuming. The story’s one of those things that aspire to appear “cute” and “terrifying” at the same time. It’s in fact a grand Rube Goldberg contraption—for having so many things that beg for stupid questions. For example, why does the main character need a fancy, double-barreled revolver—a project that requires making friends with other characters that could fashion such a fancy, double-barreled revolver—only to see in the end that she wouldn’t even need the gun; that the gun turns out to be useful only as an afterthought. In a negative way, it somehow reminds me of Ricky Lee’s Trip to Quiapo metaphor: here’s this girl who wants to kill somebody next door, but instead of sharpening the axes, she goes to France, watches an opera, flies to Brazil to buy a kilo of weed, and comes home and... and… and still kills the bad guy with a balloon.

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[Lee Young-ae as Lady Vengeance]

But while my blather seems to point to the Exit, I’d still say this number’s the “prettiest”; anything that stars Lee Young-ae of A Jewel in the Palace becomes golden, anyway. Before the film is over, you would have already forgiven the whole thing for her sake.

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[One of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance's nuts: Seeing her come out on the screen for the first time, this was exactly how I reacted]

In Oldboy, we find somebody like Daesu, swimming in confusion and in his own piss. He finds himself imprisoned for fifteen years in a motel room, and in all those years, he’d bear the endless hours watching a mind-numbing TV show and asking himself, “Why?”

Why, indeed.

So he writes down the names of everybody he might have offended in the past. He comes up with dozens of names because, hey, this guy’s like me, he’s pissed off everybody. He goes all the way back to grade school, to former jobs, former lives, trying to pick out a name.

And for the mean time, somebody murders his wife and his daughter vanishes. He sees all these things only on the news on TV and all he could do is bang his head on the wall and cling on desperately to his hallucinations.

And when he comes out after fifteen years, all he sees is this clock ticking. All he sees is this life, and how it’s heartbreakingly short. It’s over before you notice it, before you realize the hours have some worth. And this love, even if it arrives now, it’s already doomed. Doomed for arriving too fucking late.

He gets his answers in the end, but like many things in our lives, those answers are not the things he would have wanted.

But the thing that placed Chan-wook Park in the radar screen was Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, his first critically acclaimed “vengeance” film.

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[Rep. Joel Villanueva...err, I mean, Ryu doing his "stupid gaze"]

It stars a character named Ryu, a deaf-mute who has an uncanny resemblance to Eddie Villanueva’s son. Ryu’s sister needs a new kidney, or else she’s dead—and that’s something the fellow would never want to happen. And I believe him; you take one look at her sister and you feel like going to the nearest bank and robbing it for her sake. But Ryu’s not smart enough and lucky enough to find his way out--heck, if you have any brain, why in hell would you dye your hair yellow-green?

Soon, he hits one wall after another, with people around him dying in the process.

Soon, the film’s exceedingly painful theme unravels like a festering wound.

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[Spectacle: The last murderer smokes a cigarette as he watches his victim slowly die.]

The point of these stories is simple, Chan-wook Park says on his three films. Vengeance is utterly futile, that’s why some smart aleck thousands of years ago reinvented it into something that’s easier to swallow; in ancient times, when somebody from another tribe killed one of your own, you and your cousins could slaughter the offender’s tribe—all of them. Later, some genius prick realized it was too much work, and suggested, “Let’s revise it and agree on a simpler line; something like an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

And the rest of humanity said, “Okay.”

These days, people like Katrina Legarda call it “justice.”

These days, it’s what Filipino bishops call “unbelievable shit.”

On my birthday some months ago, that was what stared at me in the face. And something else, some new question: Why is it really strange to choose something outrageously different? The baker earlier that day could not—would not—even understand what I want. When I dictated on the phone the sweet, sweet words I want written on that cake, she could not—she would not—believe it.

“Sir, are you serious?” She asked me that line five times. She was probably expecting something along the lines of, “Dear Hugh Hefner, here’s some sweet thing for the sweetest day of the year.”

Instead, she got some shit about revenge being a dish best served cold. Dang!

“Sir, are you serious?” she asked me.

I said yes; she only relaxed when I said I’m sending it as a "nasty joke" to the neighbor who accidentally killed my pet duck. I guess in her universe, as well as in the universe of most ordinary folks, you can only talk about these things with a target. You can’t hate without finding first a target for that hatred. You can’t be poor without blaming the president of the Philippines. Or your father.

That night, as the folks in our house were laughing hysterically over the goddamn cake, I saw that the only slice left was that particular part with the word “revenge” on it. I sampled a dollop of the cake’s icing with my finger, and tasted it. And relished it. And discovered that all those soap operas were right, all those brutal stories were right.

“Revenge” is “sweet,” after all.

For similar posts, see Random Acts of Strangeness.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Three of the best words in the world are, “You are right.” When I find I’m the recipient of these three words, it calms me. It makes me feel good.

But sometimes, it also shames me. It gives me a strong urge to jump off a cliff and die. How can anybody enjoy feeling so right when the rest of the world seems so wrong?

These days, I’m finding comfort in being wrong. It feels good. It removes the burden of trying to keep up with all the fucking pretense. I’m wrong? That’s just beautiful. As beautiful as George Bush in power or walking out of the Kyoto Protocol, or as feel-good as this old, completely toothless 80-year-old lady who still sucks guys’ dicks somewhere on Doroteo Jose (if you don’t believe me, ask somebody like Noli de Castro. He will know).

Because that’s the rare beauty of people’s idea of wrongness—it feels superficial. It feels like cold water dribbling on your skin. You squeeze your heart to feel the real deal about the universe, and your heart tells you that what everybody’s mouth says is wrong, is what everybody does in real life.

Rightness is somehow good, but it’s fiction. It’s like this eternal PR propaganda, served by ourselves to ourselves. We have our cake, eat it too, then tell the rest of humanity we never ate the cake; in fact, we never baked any, goddammit.

In my line of work, I fix up these English documents and hunt for “wrong things.” Dangling participles, incorrect subject–verb agreement, and wrong use of dashes (there’s the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash, and each of them has different uses—and I’m sure somebody already guillotined whoever invented these three). There’s British English and American English. There are all the crazy idioms that don’t make sense.

Sometimes, when I’d look at an English composition and see the glaring mistakes, I’d find myself fighting hard to make sure it remains wrong. Because there’s a day you realize what’s so wrong with wrongness, anyway? So what if this Japanese dude said (as a warning on a mobile phone), “Warning: Be careful of bad language in this mobile phone, because a partner’s feeling is going to be bad. Let’s keep mobile manners.”

(That came from; I can’t use my own “editables” as specimen here. But let me just say my own work is equally mind boggling.)

I mostly spend my days trying so hard to be right, find the wrong things people do with their writings, and “correct” them. In my dark moments, I usually daydream it would be cool to accomplish my job with a loaded gun and a bulletproofed Bentley, so I could “correct” the authors myself and ensure they won’t contaminate the system with their mistakes ever again.

Sometimes, the urge to be wrong is so strong I unconsciously fuck up my own grammar or spelling. If you find many mistakes scattered all over this blog, it’s because I don’t really care [but I’d like to reassure the people who give me “rakets” that as long as they pay me, I can “control” these demons, thank you very much. As Bill Gates usually say about Windows, “Yes, I am on top of this. Everything will be alright”).

Here are some more wrong things I want to do:

1. Flash a crisp P500 bill to Cory and Kris Aquino’s faces, the one with Ninoy’s somber face on it, and tear up the money so slowly and dramatically while I laugh like a horse on meths.

2. Bring the entire team of young “psychics” of the TV show Nginiiig into a room and beat the living daylights out of them until they’d admit they never really saw or felt any ghost EVER—until they confess to the truth that they only had really bad childhood involving characters like a sexually repressed dirty ice cream vendor, a gay boy scout instructor, and a horny female goat.

3. Challenge Butch Francisco to a gun duel, only that his bullets would be blanks and mine would be dumdum, and he won’t be informed.

4. Bring the parish priest of Saint Michael’s Institute in Bacoor, Cavite to Pegasus and have the prettiest, most skillful bitch do a lap dance on him.

5. Teach a class of eager and impressionable kindergarten kids how to use a condom, with their young twenty-something teacher as my “demo assistant.”

I could add more, but I have to go out and take a ride on my “bulletproofed Bentley.”

I’ll see who I can “correct” tonight.

For similar posts, see Bullshit Meister.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Destroying the Beautiful

I was feeling sentimental the other night. There was Mozart’s piano sonata in the background as I worked. Then out of nowhere, a small butterfly came fluttering into the room. It circled around me as I stared. Tenderly, it landed on my shoulder.

I almost cried; there’s something about pretty small flying things that touches your heart. The Hindus say dead loved ones come back sometimes to visit you, and it’s a blessing if they’d come in nice forms, and not in ugly things like maggots or a small, crawling insect version of Bella Flores.

I remembered many things that night. I remembered that line from a writer I like, about a dream of water and hands and song.

I remembered how I’d usually imagine most of Mozart’s music as they would visually appear in my head—as butterflies that suddenly flutter from out of nowhere: Mozart begins so simple, for example; there’s just the whisper of basset horns. As Salieri said in the film Amadeus, “Then suddenly—high above it—an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight.”

This butterfly was that single note. This butterfly was that oboe, hanging onto me, unwavering, even if I’d try to remove it from my shoulder. It kept coming back to land again. And again. And again.

It would not leave.

I looked at the butterfly so sweetly. God’s beautiful creation.

Then I squashed it.

Yeah. It’s dead, baby.

For similar posts, see Essential Cruelties.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Goodbye, and Thanks for all the Crap

(Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [left] before the hasty makeover, and [right] announcing the Unproclamation wearing a near-perfect emperor penguin disguise. Ignacio Bunye says the same make-up artist who worked on Shrek did this fabulous makeover; that same makeup artist is probably now “sleeping with the fishes” with Luca Brasi.)

No, I’m not specifically pro-GMA. I’m not also siding with the protesters, who I think represent the worse options, (the full explanation of where I stand deserves space in a separate post), but yesterday, just as the state of emergency was lifted, I received a faxed document, which my “mole” says was supposedly the draft of “Unproclamation 1017.” The Unproclamation was supposed to be read by GMA herself, but the administration received last-minute wisdom never to use the draft. Instead, the usual geniuses made the President sit before the camera and assigned a ventriloquist to make her “mouth out” the “official” words. Or something to that effect.

So I’m posting the said “Unproclamation” so that people like Teddy Casino would know that he and his friends holing up at the House of Representatives were probably “cute,” (in a Ninoy-Aquino-doing-the-Boston-thing sort of way), but GMA easily tops them for hilarity.

Anyway, here it is.

“Unproclamation 1017”

Whereas, I’m lifting the State of Emergency I announced last week. But not without me saying something to all those who overreacted. So to all of you, I’m expressing my dismay through the following hallowed Monty Python quotes:

“I don’t wanna talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction, you pigdogs!”

“I wave my private parts at your aunties!”

Whereas, no matter how much my cabinet wants me to say the word “fuck” in this Unproclamation, I won’t say that. No, in fact, I won’t ever say, “Fuck you all” as long as I’m in power. I won’t say silly things like, “I’ll blow my nose in this my handkerchief and eat it,” or “I’ll tie you to the bed posts and give you all a good spanking.”

Now, if I’d say those things, I’d no longer be any fun, wouldn’t I? So let me declare in this Unproclamation that I’ll continue to be nice.

Whereas, despite the fact that my vilest enemies intensified their attacks on my husband in the past week, I’m still nice enough to issue this Unproclamation. Many people have hurt Mike’s feelings, who everybody accuses of having gynecomastia. Mike’s so sad he couldn’t eat the tubs of Häagen-Dazs we bought wholesale. So it’s not fair. For your information, if he had gynecomastia, it would have been so obvious. But no, he does not have that ghastly deformity. What my husband has is simply baby fat and what you see are real male breasts. Franklin Drilon has larger breasts, and why hasn’t he been receiving any goddamn attention?

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(Exhibit A: Male patient with gynecomastia, with breasts so large he looks like a woman. Never mind the patient’s uncanny resemblance to a local bombshell.)

Whereas, the attacks have become so nasty it has affected my sex life that not even Dr. Holmes could find a cure to. I have been burning the phone lines with the good doctor, and all she could tell me is, “Well, madam, maybe you really should try a three-way with Mr. Garci. Variety, madam, is the spice of life.” I would have heeded the suggestion but after everything that happened with that stupid tape, which I swear on FPJ’s overpriced grave really meant nothing to me, I wouldn’t even want to touch Garci with a ten-foot pole.

Whereas, the attacks have recently been keeping my dear loyal friend Ignacio Bunye sleepless at night that for the past week, he'd been sleeping with me. Now, let me say this before any smart aleck gets any naughty ideas about one “Oh, Iggy, give it to me hard tape: there is no such thing. And besides, Mr. Bunye slept on the shag carpet.

Whereas we have captured the real perpetrator of these coup rumors [see photo] and we have already punished him. While some people say the suspect looks like a dead duck, I don’t believe them.

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(Photo of the primary suspect of a military-backed coup, resting on fine china after getting the fullest extent of the law.)

Whereas, the Republic is deemed safe again, hence, this Unproclamation.

Now, therefore, I, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, declare that dudes and duddetes uglier than myself may resume their partying without fear of reprisal. They may party at the Edsa Shrine. They may wipe their greasy bottoms there. Or stage a marathon game called, “Stop Amay Bisaya from Licking his Balls,” for all I care. Just please stop, stop, STOP saying I look like Nora Aunor. Jesus.

In Witness Hereof, I have hereunto set my left pinkie finger and caused the seal of the Republic of the Philippines to be affixed.

Done in the City of Manila, this 3rd day of March, in the year of Our Lord, two thousand and six.


Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
of the Philippines

For similar posts, see Bullshit Meister.