Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Throbbing Night at Torres Street





photo courtesy of wn.com
Time is progressing rapidly towards midnight but to the four guys over two rounds of SanMig Lites, time, like previous nights of their lives, lingers forever. Today is Friday, and as usual, the night clubs at Torres Street is alive with colored lights and throbbing music. The four guys sit on the small square table over the edge of “kasagingan” coffee shop, drinking their cold beers without saying a word. This coffee shop, with its low green and blue luminous lights has been their “balwarte” for several years now. The guys all work as call-center agents at Cyber Traffic.

Padi, the oldest of the four feels tired and worn out. At 45, he feels he’s already more than half spent. Several white hair strands show up on the side of his head. His nursing degree failed him. Four years ago, the PRC officially shut down most of the nursing schools in the country because of the declining demand of Filipino nurses abroad. All the promises of the unknown is now gone. The routine of Cyber Traffic and the weekends at this coffee shop are all that’s left for him.

A couple of years ago Padi was hopeful. He sent several résumé’s to the big hospitals in the city. Several months passed, a year, his emails still consisted of Facebook notifications “Jokoy commented on a photo”. Doubts crept in, slowly at first, then an outburst, and he was drowning. Then he decided on small clinics and health centers. But luck was nowhere near him. The last straw was the small, dingy, remote maternity lying-in somewhere in Panabo. He personally sent his résumé there. The fat owner, wearing a pink floral “duster” came out and flatly said no vacancy. Padi wimped away like a dog with its tail behind its legs.

Then he chanced upon Cyber Traffic on a local paper. It was a call center wanting ten applicants. He sent his résumé and got accepted. The long, agonizing years of studying nursing finally ends to a job in a tight cubicle, taking calls, listening to angry voices over the other end of the line, boring his butt on a computer chair.

Padi breaks the silence, “Often, I wonder, why are we here?”

Jay-pee looks at him, “Are you delirious? It’s Friday, you forget that?”

Padi lifts his beer to his lips. Jay-pee is about his age, with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Libera Arts is really nothing Padi muses. It’s a degree for the undecided. But he likes Japy-pee. His quick wit and brutal sarcasm can turn a boring discussion to a boiling argument.

“No, I’m not talking about us, here, now. I’m talking about life. Why are we here in this world?”

“Yeah. Adding to that, what is space? And Time? What is before all that?” says Noli.

Noli was a seminarian. Eight years ago he was on his way to the long narrow road of priesthood at Xavier Seminary. One afternoon, his Rector saw him drooling over a Victoria Secret magazine he’d tucked inside his backpack. His Rector decided to give him a furlough of one year. Noli was devastated. He loved his life in the seminary. But he had weakness - one that goes straight at the heart of a priesthood core vows – celibacy. The furlough turned permanent and Noli found himself at Cyber Traffic. He however, maintained his love for science, religion, and Philosopy.

 “If space is finite, with a definite end, then what makes the end after all? Is there something beyond space, a wall, or just nothing, and if it is just nothing at the end of space, isn’t that something after all?” Noli adds. He doesn’t really expects an answer. He drinks the last content of his beer.

Sammy was until this time, poring over a new Crichton novel,

“I haven’t given much thought about why we’re here. In fact, I don’t really care why we’re here. I’m here and that’s all that matters”

Sammy often brags reading all the “Jason Bourn” novels and watched all the movies of it. He has this weird ability of maintaining a discussion with a novel at hand.

Padi takes another sip and brings the bottle on the table,

“Well, these types of questions always put God in the picture. You know, the bible says, in the beginning God…”

“Oh, common, you don’t really need to begin with God. Science has progressed and is progressing. There’s a scientific reason why we’re here”. Noli protests. The invocation of God pricks his memory of the seminary, his Rector, and that afternoon with a Victoria Secret magazine.

“Yeah? How about the big-bang? What is the scientific theory why the ball exploded? What made it explode?” says Jay-pee, smiling.

“What ball?” asks Sammy with a bewildered look on his face.
“Your balls, they’re exploding!” Jaypee exclaims. A wide grin appears in his face as he gulps his last bottle of beer.

“Seriously you guys. Don’t you ever think about the meaning of life? I mean, are we gonna grow old and die as call center agents?” Padi says. He looks at Noli and Sammy.

“I mean, look at you. You’re in your forties, un-married, and still living in your parents. Aren’t you bothered by that?”

They all fall silent. The loud chorus behind them goes “I will survive, I will survive”. The mockery of the song pierces through their ears. The subjugating feeling pins them down on their seats.

“Who cares?” says Sammy.
“What?” Padi asks.
“I said who cares about what’s the meaning of life. Whether it has meaning or none at all, does it make any difference?”

“I guess, Sammy’s right” Noli says.
“Whether you know the meaning of life or not, you’re still doing the same thing you’re doing, in the very same spot on earth where you’re born! You’ll still be a call center agent on Monday”

“Unless you change career, like, um, becoming a call boy!” Jay-pee says, laughing.

Sammy quickly puts down his Crichton book, looks at Jaypee and says, “Well, what’s wrong with call center agent?”

“Nothing, really. It’s just that, it feels like, it’s an unwanted pregnancy. You did not plan anything and it just burst out. And your life is kind of stuck” Padi quickly explains.

“Yeah. It’s like one of those times you say, ‘this is temporary’, and before you know it, ten years passed and the thing becomes, well, forever” Nilo adds.

Padi thinks about “trisikad” drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers, sales clerks, and the majority of Filipinos. Most have college degrees he reflects, a nation of square pegs and round holes. We’re all just a piece of the big pie, a microcosm of a skewed nation. Padi looks at his watch and reads “12:56”.

“Yeah. Nothing really matters” he says. He signals to the waiter and asks for the bill. They all chip in and pay the amount and stagger as they stand up.

“Well guys, see you at Cyber Traffic on Monday” Jay-pee says and mockingly executes a hand salute.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cut and Paste


I wish I could “cut” all the books in my shelf and “paste” them on my brain so I wouldn’t have to go through the tedious task of book reading. My habit of collecting second hand books from Booksale makes my solitary shelf the Alexandria of our garaged-turned bedroom. My wife is no longer amused by the clutter of “The Great Deluge”, “The Coming Plague”, “Problematic”, I mean “Systematic Theology”, “The Destiny of Man”, “Then Shall Come the End”, etc.

“Why am I being punished like this?” the wife said.
“What?”
“You know what!”
“I don’t know what.”
“Could you please look at your book shelf. What is it telling you?”
“Oh, that.”
“Yes, that”
“That, my dear wife, is the very evidence of our existence. A neat and tidy bedroom means no one is living in it” I lectured while peering through the pages of “My Other Life” by Paul Theroux.
“Are you kidding me? You see the meaning of existence out of this clutter?” the wife beamed.

There’s a certain degree of knowing between husband and wife in marriage. It goes with the number of years being together. I know exactly when not to pursue an argument or else I would have to make my own cup of coffee. Deep within I agree with her. My books are a mess. Which brings me back to my first statement here – I wish I could cut and paste them all in my head.

Why couldn’t I? Of course there’s the barrier between human and non-human, but really, I wish some nerd out there could finally invent the technology for this. That would make my life easy and my wife happy. Imagine I can just Ironman-gaze at these books and “KAZZZUUMMM!” everything is downloaded in my memory. Everything would be there like,

“All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1993 by Jerry Seinfeld
Cover photos copyright © 1993 by Annie Leibovitz.
Library of Congress Catalog Card No: 93-14467
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including, photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher”

Or this.

“ISBN 0-553-57313-6
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”

I won't mind if my left eye flutters uncontrollably everytime I scan these data’s, or that my tongue slithers in and out my lips each time I read an item there. I won't mind looking stupid at all just so I could have the luxury of cutting and pasting these books in my head.

I know the whole idea would make me a lazy slob but I won't mind the bargain. Isn’t that what is happening in modern life? I mean look at all things. We use to embark on a long journey to a nearby river just so we could have water to cook our food and wash our clothes. Now, all we have to do is turn the faucet on.

We have fantastic toilet bowls that either flushes or vacuum out the dirt from our asses. And for that, I wish too, they could add an electronic hand that, you know, could slide through the bottom to wipe it clean. And while you’re on the throne, how about two electronic elbows from both sides, popping out, complete with hands and fingers, putting on toothpaste and brushing your teeth?

Yes, I’m asking too much here. Humanity still values physical exertion of some kind. At least you’ll flip your thumb repeatedly when the light switch is broken, and pound it with your fist when the Christmas-light-bulb flips you out completely. Or that toilet bowls require you to actually sit on it, and that the 900 channels in your remote control will surely beat the lame muscles in your forearm.

There’s a pampering effect about modern technology. The easy life it breeds makes us less patient and less forgiving. The Claudine Baretto showdown may be a case in point. She expected the efficient modern airline system to place her baggages on the expected spot. When a glitch occurred, Baretto reacted and Pandora’s Box flipped wide open to the consternation of all involved but to the glee of scoop-hungry media.

Now, about my books. Well, it would do me enormous good to just clean up the mess.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Happiness


The last that I can remember feeling truly happy was when I passed the 2007 Philippine bar exams. I can only describe the feeling as intense, prolonged, and incomparable. I felt so fulfilled, hopeful, and proud. This good feeling lasted longer than the fleeting moments of joy we normally experience. It started the moment I learned I passed the exam, to the taking of the oath as a member of the Integrated Bar, and thereafter when I signed the roll of attorneys in the Philippine Supreme Court. The good feeling lasts even a few months after I embarked on my law practice.

Attorney’s oath taking is an elaborate ceremony in this country. It is usually held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, attended by all the Justices of the Philippine Supreme Court. I remember sitting on the third row of CCP, wearing a clean white long sleeves shirt, neatly tucked in a pinstriped, dark executive pants, with a light blue necktie. All of us wore togas. Sitting there, I was allowing the entire experience sinking in. The signing of the Rolls of Attorneys is also another ceremony that breeds happy feeling. This Roll, a thick and big log book with red hard bound cover, contains the names of the first who passed the bar in the 1900’s. It felt so unreal, writing and signing my name on that thick book.

Now, three years after, I could only recall those events and describe the feeling that goes with them. I cannot reproduce that good feeling no matter how hard I try. That, I believe, is the nature of happiness. Happiness is a passing traveler, stopping only for a cup of water, or a meal, or a night’s stay. It sets on its journey again the next day. Yet we hold on to happiness with a tight embrace. We frantically search for it, work for it, and pay for it with all we got. We make it our life’s goal. Happiness even dictates our major decisions in life. We change career, let go or create new relationships, permanently move to another place on the planet, all in pursuit of happiness.

Jon Joaquin this morning at All Nations Christian Fellowship talked about the concept of the “dark night of the soul”. He said something that got me to write this piece - “God’s purpose for you is not to make you happy but to conform you to His Son, Jesus Christ”. This statement, I think, is daring and in some sense contentious, yet contains a tone of truth in it. I, too often, assume on God’s purpose for me – to make me happy. This is obvious in the contents of my prayers. All too often, I set my eyes on my own personal satisfaction as against that of others. In fact, I am tempted to demand happiness as a right.

With happiness as our life’s aim, we tend to shun hardships, difficulties, and trials as evils. We tend to view them as sign of lack of faith or a failing spirituality. In the bible, there’s Job, the man who lost everything in one day - his children, his wealth and his health. Lying on the ground with filthy sores covering his body, Job could only regret the day of his birth. At this point Job’s wife glared at him saying “why hold on to your integrity? Curse God and die”. To which Job replied “you speak as one of the foolish women. Shall we only accept good things from God and shall we not accept bad things from God?”

We need to temper happiness into its proper place – it is merely a by-product, a result of pursuing something more fundamental. It is a by-product of a life lived in God and for God. It is the result of good and godly relationships such as family, friends, or church community. It is also a by-product of godly artistic endeavors or meaningful and creative works that augments a person’s worth and value. It is a by-product of a live lived for others. Happiness is a follower never the leader.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Double Fiction


Mojito flips through his planner to ascertain the exact time of his courtroom hearing.  It’s 7:00 a.m. and the hearing starts at 8:30. This case, frustrated homicide, is slowly leaving a sour taste on his palate. The witnesses for the prosecution seem successful in tailoring untruthful facts in their testimonies and Mojito’s job as a defense lawyer is to unstitch these lies to snatch his client from certain wrongful conviction.

Today, Mojito will cross-examine the prosecution’s second witness. His eyes scan the police blotter report. Blotter reports are crude, cryptic, and grammatically unforgivable. You could easily imagine the environment from which they are prepared – noisy, humid Police stations with loud mouth cops re-telling the lastest x-rated dvd they watched. Mojito points at a figure in the blotter. “There, the complainant is only 1 year old” Mojito chuckles.

“Entry               no:        4568
Date                       :      23 Oct. 2010
Time                      :      10:00 AM
Compalint               :      For record
Recorded by           :      P01 LUCIO S. SEMPLANG

            ICOW Entry No. 4568 dated Oct. 23, 2011. Victim one LEOPOLDO T. QUOLATADO, Born on December 7, 2010, single, Farmer, Native of Brgy. Tuldok, Island Garden City of Samal, and a resident of Sitio Kawa, Brgy. Paquibato, Davao City, appeared before this office. Initial investigation conducted disclosed that on Sept. 3, 2010 about 5:00 PM at Sitio Kawa, Brgy. Paquibato, Davao City, Particular in the more or less 1Klm from the house of the victim, … Allegedly hurl a hollow block hitting the right side of the victim, resulting to the injury thereon.”

Mojito’s mind drifts. He sees P01 Semplang takes the witness stand. He looks intently at him. The Police Officer is in his late 40’s, typically fat, with a bloated belly. No one is immune in the witness stand, not even Police Officers. They appear anxious, timid, and unsure, like a caged animal cowering in the unfamiliar territory. Mojito sees P01 Semplang making circular motions with his thumbs.

“Mister witness, you’ve been a Police Officer for 25 years, correct?”
“Yes, your Honor”
“And for the last 15 years, your job consist of making blotter reports, is that correct?”
“Yes, your Honor”

Mojito looks down on his notes. He firmly holds the copy of the blotter report that P01 Semplang had made.

“You prepared a blotter report in this case, Mr. witness?”
“Yes, your Honor”
“I’m showing you this document. Could you please identify this.”

P01 Semplang studied the document, holds it with his right hand and after a second, returns it to Mojito and says, “That is a copy of the blotter report I made in this case your Honor”. Mojito takes a few steps backward. His voice is firmer and louder now.

“The contents of this blotter report are true and correct, Mr. witness?”
“Yes, your honor”
“And according to this blotter report the complainant victim is a farmer is that correct?”
“Yes, your Honor, that is correct”

Mojito slaps hard the worn out mahogany table in front of him with his right palm. The sound ricochets through the tiny courtroom. Judge Roberta, who looks like Miriam Defensor Santiago’s biological twin, blurts out a startled gurgle “aybilatsangina!” Mojito himself is taken aback by what he just did. He looks up and sees Judge Miriam holding and pointing the courtroom mallet at him and hollers,

“Don’t you dare do that again Atty. Mojito!”
“Sorry, your Honor”
“May I proceed your honor?” Mojito sheepishly says.
“Proceed. Absolutely no banging this time!”
“Yes your honor”

Mojito glances at P01 Semplang who obviously suppresses a smirk. Mojito showed him the blotter report again and asks,

“How can a 1 year old infant be a farmer, Mr. witness?”
“Huh?” P01 Semplang shows a baffled face.
“Look at this blotter again and read this line aloud”

P01 looks at the sentence pointed by Mojito and begins reading aloud. ICOW Entry No. 4568 dated Oct. 23, 2011. Victim one LEOPOLDO T. QUOLATADO, Born on December 7, 2010, single, Farmer, Native of Brgy. Tuldok, Island Garden City of Samal, he says.

“Could you please read again the complainant’s date of birth” Mojito demands.
“Born on December 7, 2010” P01 Semplang says.
“Why, the complainant was just born last year, isn’t that correct Mr. witness?”
“Objection your honor!” The prosecutor who remains silent up to this point angrily shouts. “Your honor, this is simply a typo mistake”

He looks old and wrinkled with a squealing, high pitch, mono-syllabic voice like that of Justice Cuevas. His crumpled hair displays the aura of a seasoned prosecutor, like a combat general standing defiantly in the battle field shouting orders to his cowering soldiers amidst the explosions and flying bullets.

“Your honor, this witness had just told this court that this blotter report which he made was accurate and true” counters Mojito.

Just then, a damp hand touches Mojito’s shoulder. He turns to see his wife standing in front of him, with an oil dripping spatula in hand and alarmedly says, “It’s already 8:00 a.m. You’ll be late for your hearing!”

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