Doing grocery in the time of Covid-19

Depending on one’s level of optimism there are many reasons one can be thankful about for having to go through the newly established daily rituals everyone is forced to have because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today, my younger sister messaged me at 8 in the morning to remind me of our planned trip to the grocery. Gulping half a box of milk, washing my face, brushing my teeth, and putting on an ill-fitting surgical mask I dragged myself to a nearby SM Hypermart only to discover that the path leading to it from my condominium was closed, so my sister and I had to go to the direction of EDSA to get to the grocery. Upon arriving, I half-expected but still couldn’t help myself but be amazed by the sight of a line of people waiting for the grocery to open slithering several meters from the main entrance to the back facing Main Ave.

Meanwhile, the sun has begun its relentless ascent, unmindful of whether its prickly rays hit someone who wants to get a nice tan in the city or a woman who has just survived her first chemotherapy session for skin melanoma. Nobody appeared visibly bothered, not even the woman I suspected to be suffering from a kind of cancer.

It’s equality in the flesh, but equality is a myth. Some brought with them foldable chairs, others a plastic chair that when folded a certain way functions as an umbrella, still others have plastic carts sturdy enough to be sat on. I quietly sat on the floor with my shopping bag as the only thing that separated my buttock from the concrete floor that for all I know harbored Covid-19-laden particles.

Various iterations of face masks spat at the face of the myth of equality most of us delude ourselves into believing. There were those made from small pieces of cloth that on a regular days may be used as rags, most wear the run-of-the-mill bought-from-pharmacy variety, still others reinforced their masks by placing a roof-like structure made from clear, semi-hard transparent plastic just below their eyes for the purpose of keeping droplets that may contain the viruses from getting straight into their medical-grade face mask.

The author and his younger sister at 8:43 in the morning waiting outside SM Hypermart in Cubao.

We arrived at 8:10, two hours later we’re already inside the building that looks like a giant warehouse but not yet on the actual floor of the grocery. This I refer to as the pandemic retail purgatory whose length of one’s stay will depend on how much anxiety those on the actual grocery floor feel and the level of leisure in the way they approach shopping for basic needs. My sister, I, and those lucky enough to arrive early were seated on plastic chairs whose ghastly green color added to the cheeriness SM wants to see among its captive customers. We remained seated for another hour and a half.

People resisted this state-sanctioned, industry-supported enforced cheeriness by keeping that glum face the entire time or make the boredom the subject of the spectacle they want everyone to be an audience of, or as in the case of the woman standing behind the cash registry of Goldilocks, closed the registry with so much force that 10-peso coins are mixed up with the 25-cents. Some played their favorite music, unaware of the fact that their taste in music is not something many shared.

I never felt a proximity this close with people before. Whereas before the pandemic I could choose to maintain my distance from anyone whose presence I have this unexplained aversion for, this time, whether I like it or not I have to be with them, though maintaining a radius purportedly enough to keep the virus from spreading, hence my pithy contribution in flattening the curve. I never felt this isolated yet this close to them. We felt an almost grotesque same level of anxiety, and it’s now more than ever do I feel more human, more connected, yet more separated from everyone else, except of course my cat.

Copies

I’m no painter. I’m a pretentious prick who hopes to understand a painting and the method of the painter by copying his work down to its minutest of details. I’ve done two so far: The Kiss and Femme au Béret et à la Robe Quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) both Picasso’s.

On a weekend, interspersed with eating and arguing about anything that catches our fancy, I take hold of paint brushes and a palette of cheap acrylics then dab the canvas in a tentative fashion, always tentative, hesitating.

Art thrives in mimesis. I do not aim to be original, only great ones are truly original. Most of us are merely attempting to be at least a good copy of something.

I study the lines, scrutinise each brush stroke, each idiosyncratic curve, imagined humps of random shades, odd color mixtures, and areas covered with thicker acrylic paint. I painstakingly copy each line as if every one of these lines was intentionally painted by the painter. It’s hard to imagine that they’re arbitrary and never deliberate.

Great art, I suppose, takes time to ferment. It should take him a long time to mentally deliberate whether that extra strand of hair on the left eyebrow will render his subject more masculine than he intended it to be.

More than the joy, however, of imagining what Picasso was thinking when he was making these works of art, I enjoy the quietude brought about by the making of these copies. They’re dowdy, sure. I’d give a condescending smile at anyone who pastes reproductions of Picasso’s works on the wall of his studio. I find them cheap, those reproductions, but I take exceptions this time; it is after all my place and I can do whatever I like with that blank space directly above the kitchen sink.

Why have we become like this?

A friend of mine, a young woman of 26, asked me if she could leave before three today to join a protest rally on Katipunan, which if a critical mass is reached, will head to EDSA this evening. I indifferently said yes and told her to just make up for the lost hours next week. I on the other hand had to stay until 6 at the school to work on the evaluation of the French class students. I have papers to check this weekend, a class to prepare for, and cats to take care of. I also have to catch up on my workout as I haven’t gone to the gym for a week now because of work.

The people I see on the street, those my age, show that similar look of resignation, save for some undergraduates in their PE shirts or long tees who seem poised to change history tonight.

For all the rest, this protest on EDSA against the clandestine burying of the remains of Marcos is an annoyance, a cause of this monster traffic. The reason they’re stuck on buses on their way home to Fairview or Bacoor.

This is what has become of us. Work has made us unresponsive to events and happenings that would otherwise scandalize us had we been not rendered docile and satisfied but unthinking by work. I hate this feeling. This is what it means to be an adult; I hate that I am one.

I told myself a long time ago when I was much, much younger, that I would be part of history unfolding. That I will not stay home and let pass that rare opportunity to make a difference in this country. But look at me now. I’m scurrying to go home, cursing the traffic on EDSA just to catch some sleep.

And the saddest thing is that, passing by EDSA shrine, I saw a small crowd, hardly a critical mass enough to send the message that the people are indignant. There were several groups taking selfies while a member is holding a placard.

Everyone is tired. Everyone has gone tired. What with the unfulfilled promises of the past two People Power? The world goes on turning, with Marcos’s body finally subject to the actions of worms and vermins, after years of keeping it almost lifelike inside a tomb his family built for him.

But even rats and roaches won’t touch him. Who would want to gnaw on a dessicated body preserved in formaldehyde for almost three decades?

Life goes on.

And that is the tragedy of the Filipino, myself included, this general quiet and seeming indifference, this lack of rage at the direction this country is heading.

And my train goes to the direction of home, and I’m dying for sleep.

At the gym 

I was doing chest this evening at Gold’s Twin Oaks, doing the usual flat and incline bench presses, flyes, triceps dips, and some other routines whose names escape me now, when a trainer approached me and asked why I haven’t joined a competition yet, perhaps referring to a bodybuilding competition. I replied that I got “no time.” Really I don’t have, but I am more daunted by the fact of appearing in front of a crowd in thongs or board shorts with a body that is less than perfect. 

Haha. I’m kidding about the last sentence, but seriously who wouldn’t be? I’m an aging man whose present concerns do not include joining a bodybuilding contest.

I’m lifting heavy these days. The heaviest I can lift lying down is 230lbs. I can deadlift 300 but can only squat 140. I’m currently weighing 200 with a BMI of 22. My weight hovers between 198 to 202lbs. The heaviest I’ve gotten is 208lbs. That’s during the summer of this year when I did not have to stay up late to prepare for my classes and other work.  I’m doing cardio only when I remember, which means I don’t. My abs appear in the morning, but retract after lunch then reappear before I sleep at night, but they are not as defined as when I was in my early 20s. I know they’re there, only that they’re surrounded by a rather thick layer of adipose tissues that some lovingly call love handles. But I am working on this part, too. 

I’ve reached a point when I workout out of routine and nothing more, not even to look good, because I’m way past the point when I’d still care about what people think of how I look. I’m out of the dating scene for more than six years now. I’ve stopped hooking up, going out on a Saturday night, and checking myself out in mirrors. 

I go to gym in the same way a bald man runs his fingers on that space that used to be occupied by his now gone hair. 

Working out is the closest I can get to that really physical activity that has shaped the male’s anatomy for millennia. I’m sedentary most of the day except at night when I sweat it out, doing routines that do not serve any practical significance except exhaust the body so it can be as exhausted as the mind. 

Breakfast before workout

psx_20161101_094455As soon as I finished mopping the kitchen floor and the inside of the cabinet which had gotten flooded by water coming from the main pipe, I went downstairs to ask the personnel at the lobby to call a plumber to fix the leaking pipe. I thought of complimenting her for the bangs she’s sporting, but decided against it because I was not in the mood for small talks at that point. It was 7 in the morning. When the plumbers were done, advising me to buy a longer pipe, which I reckoned isn’t necessary, I had to face the ordeal of ridding the cupboard with plastic bags I have accumulated for months thinking I will have use for them to contain the poops of my cats among other things, without realizing I was becoming a hoarder.

I made myself a really heavy breakfast before I hit the gym today. It did not take much time to prepare. I sunny-side-upped two eggs, boiled two pork sausages, toasted a frozen bagel, spread on it my one-year-old guava jam which even the ants dared not touch, and completed the plate with a slice of cheese I got from a Sunday market on Pines Street. Of course, I had to make coffee, the three-in-one kind because my coffee maker broke last week, and I couldn’t find time to buy a replacement.

I guess this is where things lead for some, in being caught in the everyday and the quotidian. While everyone seems to be heading somewhere more important, doing stuff that will change the world, some choose to mop the floor, throw trash away, make breakfast, workout and be comforted by the belief that this is all there is to life.

 

On the virtue of nonparticipation

Three months back, before a friend of mine left for China, the two of us had a light talk like we always had been doing after we finished a day’s worth of work. We were walking on the cobblestones of Ateneo talking about the sorry state of the country and how the May-9 election would impact the lives of Filipinos, the poor most especially. Our sector [we’re both teaching in that university] doesn’t stand much to gain nor lose from the result of the election, I thought.

We both agreed that the vision of a Philippines under Duterte was bleak. That time, however, Grace Poe was still leading the surveys rather comfortably, and the odds of Duterte’s win weren’t that great. It was obvious there wasn’t much choice from among the five vying for the position. If I could vote, I would have voted for Mar Roxas. But I was a nonparticipant in this democratic process. And I defended so vehemently my choice of not participating. I found the whole process unnecessary and ineffectual. One vote fewer would not rock the boat.

Seeing and reading about Duterte on TV and on online news these days, I felt for the first time regret for not having cast my vote. Duterte is often seen and heard foaming with vice in the mouth. Although he hasn’t yet been sworn in, he’s already begun sowing a culture of anger.

He’s presently enjoying a high level of popularity because after many years of hypocrisy, seeing a president-elect cuss, drop putang ina instinctively, catcall a TV reporter without showing remorse is a novel experience for most of us. Most take it as a sign of sincerity and truthfulness to oneself, Duterte the polar opposite of politicians we’ve come to detest for their duplicity and avarice.

But one accepted fact of our time is that novelties tend to lose their newness rather quickly. It’s a wonder now how Duterte has continued to remain popular. Although the consuming public is beginning to show sign of fatigue seeing his face, his unrelenting braggadocio, and unapologetic tirade against anyone he feels like shaming only to declare the next day he was just kidding. Kidding my ass!

He’s a dangerous man on the cusp of sitting in the most powerful position in this land. My friend was right. There’s no virtue in nonparticipation.

 

 

A dead man

A friend sent me a message last night after I’d gone to bed about this man he saw collapsing in the middle of a street sometime before midnight. The man was declared dead upon reaching the hospital. Doctor’s findings: cardiac arrest.

Waking up with this message, I knew it would define the rest of my day, determining the lens I will use in looking at things–from a program proposal to an evaluation I am working on. The thought of a man suddenly dying on a rainy night in the middle of the street is bewildering. A column written by a young girl in today’s Inquirer talks about depression and suicide. Being reminded all the time of death and its inevitability is something that a cup of coffee in the morning (whose original aroma has all but deserted it) will never easily erase in one’s thoughts. It’ll linger the whole day constantly telling me that all these are for nothing. That in the end, the choices we make while alive will all converge to that singular last breath that is in fact a commencement of that slow but steady process of forgetting and being forgotten.

My friend told me about how that man’s wife and children “were devastated.” I cannot say for sure how this cliché can aptly describe the feelings of the family. For sure they are. But how accurately does the word ‘devastated’ capture the essence of this emotion, of this eternal feeling of loss, eternity being our very myopic and self-centered idea of forever that only lasts as long as one’s consciousness exists? Even language is at a loss in concretizing death, for only living through death can one truly feel it but still completely unable to express it in the purest sense with words.

And so thoughts on the death of that unknown man pulled me back to thinking today and to its concomitant act of writing. It doesn’t matter how futile the attempt is.