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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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Birdie of Jesus

[Salvaged from my early, now-dead blog]

“Don’t hurt it because it’s Jesus’ bird.”

So says my niece, her face pressing on the wire cage. She comes to our house with her father with that eager look that reminds you of a puppy. The niece, barely six, goes straight to my birdcage and begins admiring the bird. The bird is a dull gray sparrow that people with a more fabulous, impeccable taste would not care about. But the niece is so happy she’s making babytalk and dishing out to my little sister one clever hypothetical question: “What if it’s my birthday today and I ask for this bird as a gift?”

My little sister is speechless and looks at me.

The birdcage had been empty for months after its first occupant, a talking bird called martines, died of pneumonia and boredom. Well, okay, I admit, it died because I thought it had bronchitis and with my flawless wisdom and logic, I shoved a capsule meant for humans down its throat. The capsule cured the “bronchitis” but killed the bird by staying happily dislodged in the bird’s throat. I blame the capsule.

Besides, the martines was supposed to be able to talk but it couldn’t; I had been trying to make it speak human words like “conflagration,” “sadomasochism,” or “motherfucker.” But the bird would just stare back at me with those dumb, little eyes.

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So after the martines died, I bought the sparrow from a street peddler who also sold colored/painted ducklings and quails and frayed-on-the-edges GI Joe action figures.

I asked for a sparrow with neon green feathers because why in hell was he selling pink ducklings and blue quails while the sparrows were left alone with their boring gray-brown coat?

The peddler said, Buy my pink ducklings.

I said, I want sparrows.

The peddler said, Buy my blue quails.

I said, I want the goddamn sparrows.

I don’t have neon green sparrows, the peddler said, but you can do the painting yourself, it’s easy and I can teach you.

I said never mind and bought the bird.

Now, this little niece who would rarely visit us declares her unspeakable intention to have my little birdie.

My sister is shocked with my niece’s impudence that she runs to me and whispers, “She’s asking for the bird.”

It wakes up my snarkiness. So I swagger to the niece by the birdcage and say, “You can’t have this. I’ve sentenced it to die.” And to further annoy her, I poke the cage with my pen and scream, in the way all those maniacs in Hollywood B-movies scream, “Die! Die! Die!”

My little niece screams and proceeds to Jesusify the bird: “It’s Jesus’ bird and now you’re dead because you’re trying to hurt Jesus’ bird. A lightning will strike you.” She tells me I’m a bad, bad, bad person and I won’t go to heaven for trying to kill, kill, kill Jesus’ little birdie.

I’m stunned with her for easily handing me eternal damnation that I gape and say, “Actually, there is no God.”

She looks at me and says, “You’re Lucifer.”

“There is no Lucifer, too,” I say. And to drive home the point, I begin laughing with a mad gleam in my eyes.

She backs off a few steps; now she’s convinced if I’m not Lucifer, I must be something worse, something with a heart so dark it makes you easily lose your faith in all humanity.

My little sister, so used to my antics, just giggles and tells the niece it’s all right, that I’m just kidding. But the niece is now so frightened she clings to her father’s shirt and tries to hide and repeatedly says and points at me, “He’s Lucifer! He’s Lucifer!”

After they left, I solemnly tell my little sister, “There’s no God.” She just laughs. I say, “No, seriously, there is no God.”

She laughs and says, “Who cares?”

I’m surprised. She’s eleven years old and already she’s a budding humanist.

As for the bird, it dies three days later of what I presume to be bronchitis. But something tells me I should blame the capsule, too.

For similar posts, see the growing line-up in the right side-bar section Sacred Cows 2.0.