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.

A stray dog

We humans think in symbols (albeit unconsciously, and most of the time use symbols that are a part of the general repertoire of symbols so unoriginal and fully embedded in the language we fail to realize that they are in fact symbolic).

And we impose gravity on these objects that so happen to be there in the most opportune of moments and associate with them meanings both frivolous and profound. Often, we begin by using them as a metaphor, an all-purpose cliche to simplify thoughts, but which also has this very insidious effect of rendering our thoughts banal, even dead, if chosen haphazardly and in a way that is uninterrogated. (Which is almost always the case. As who has the time to examine one’s choice of metaphors in speech?)

But in some very rare instances, we strike at something novel, pure, original, and powerful that we get dumbstruck at how metaphors, if chosen correctly achieve the status of a true symbol, recurring and with multiple layers of meanings. And dangerous because they function as a frame by which look at the world.

This afternoon, on my way home, I saw this black Labrador. I used to see him last year with an older-looking Labrador who by the looks of it was in the twilight of his dog life. They were inseparable. Then this year, this guy has been seen plying Alvero Street every afternoon alone.

Cats fascinate me more than dogs. Cats seldom show emotions and feign independence. Dogs are rather predictable, unashamed of dependency. Dogs are sad creatures programmed to suffer from a tragic old-age. Cats expire in privacy that is of their own choosing, untheatrically. They don’t experience abandonment because they are no one’s pet to begin with. One doesn’t feel nostalgic towards things he doesn’t experience or believe to have experienced.

For dogs, it’s different. It’s heart rending to see an ageing canine walking on a street alone and abandoned. It’s sad because they had a taste of love and warmth but are deprived of it at a time in their lives when they need these the most. To be conditioned to feel love for one’s entire existence then to be divested of it is painful, and to witness one creature experience it is as painful to the observer.

When I was told that he’s called by someone in his past a stray dog I had nothing but pity and guilty empathy. I wanted to run my hand on his hair, look at him in the eyes, and tell him I will not abandon him, but I have nothing to prove that I will stay true to this promise. I barely know him. I don’t know his fear, his dreams, or the extent of evil he’s capable of doing. I only see what is good because that is what is allowed by our young relationship.

To declare that I will be loyal to him, to be with him, forever, will not make me any different from that person who promised the solitary Labrador that he will be with the dog until his dying days.

I, like any human being, am capable of leaving behind the things, pets, and people I care so much about.

And this is the folly of the human being. But it doesn’t mean that we stop making this promise, that we give up on attempting to stay true to this promise, that we don’t articulate this promise.

Because after all, everything begins with that promise. To have it is better than nothing at all. To experience love no matter how short is better than to not have experienced it at all. To hope that forever exists is a choice I shall make than to forever doubt its probability.

Delusional, sure.

But so what? This is what our brief existence allows–forever.

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. 

Getting a second place

After a Sunday breakfast at Kanto in Mandaluyong, I thought of taking a mid-morning stroll (I’m gaining weight these days. The last time I measured I was 200lbs), so from Kapitolyo I walked down Sheridan and finally found myself on Pines street in front of the newly constructed Cityland building at the back of Flair Condominiums. I was there to check out the place and kill time. I asked to see their model unit to get some inspiration on how I will do the interior design of my unit in Cubao that is due for turnover in August. The studio looked okay. After asking some perfunctory questions and making the broker compute for my monthly amortization in the event I get that unit, I decided right there and then to get a unit on the 15th floor and give her my 10 per cent down payment this Wednesday after work. This is my second condominium investment. It is going to be financially heavy for me in the next five years or so, but I think that this is worth the risk.

For a man in his late twenties, I think it is but proper to prepare for retirement. I got a health insurance that will be good for the next ten years, purchased a mutual fund policy, got one condominium unit (now two), saved some money in the bank, and I make sure that I still am able to maintain a fairly comfortable and healthy life.

I am earning enough every month (It would be very difficult if I had my own family). I know that at some point ten years down the road, I will need to slowdown and take things at an easier stride because I cannot work my butt off until forever.

So while I know that it is cute to ruminate upon what the real essence of life is and ask questions like where did I come from, why am I here, where do all these lead to, I have to be a wise man in the latter part of his twenties. I am about to get past that sweet point in my life when my age gives me all the excuses to fuck things up.

Eventually, I realized, aging and the accompanying responsibilities seep in. True, I want to make my life a celebration of that youthful self who was not afraid to speak my mind and to “waste” time daydreaming about a perfect world where everyone does not have to worry about the future; on the side hidden, I am one very practical guy who knows too well what makes up this world. I need to secure the future regardless of how uncertain it will be. The sacrifices I am making now, I hope, will render it less unsure.

Someday, when I am fed up with all these, I will buy a farm in the province, settle there, plant vegetables and fruit trees, then finally begin writing a book.

Or I don’t know. Perhaps go to law school.

 

Friends from a long time ago

We all are a member of some sort of groups on Facebook whose members are people we have not seen for ten years or more. Aside from the occasional informally organized reunions that take place once every two years during the Christmas season, we ‘ve never truly caught up with most of these people because we’ve already moved and treaded on with our own individual journeys. Holding on to the past will simply slow down our ply forward.

I’ve recently received notification on Facebook about a photo taken more than eleven years ago of the Delta platoon of my high school CAT program. It was a very old photo taken by our high school’s official photographer scanned for the sole purpose of being uploaded on Facebook. For throwback Thursday said one of the hash tags.

delta

I was not in the picture but was tagged by one of the private cadets on the photo who’s a classmate. He is now working in the Middle East. He’s a family man. His profile picture on Facebook is that of his beautiful daughter, smiling innocently at the camera. Had I taken a similar path as this classmate, I would’ve already had a child of my own, and my Facebook page would be less a celebration of  the self than about my child.

I was my high school CAT corps commander. The conversation about the photo revolved on an incident that happened one Friday afternoon more than eleven years ago. It’s a funny banter about a control freak corps commander who found them hiding in one of the classrooms of first year students, foiling their effort to evade the unforgiving 4pm brigade formation under the still scathing afternoon sun. Of course they never forgot to mention the number of push-up they had to perform as punishment for their act.

I joined the happy exchange. My tone was that of a nostalgic old man looking back with a satisfied smile at a past long gone.

Versions of the story varied a little; some people I couldn’t recall to be there had sworn they were. Our memories being less stable than the ground we tread on shake uncontrollably most of the time. Every time we retrieve data stored in the mildewy recesses of our minds we struggle to recall. But we always allow for so much leeway, for some inconsistencies in details, for contradictions because this is how memory works. We invent, recreate, imagine. However, we seldom care. The past is for all of us to define.

But what bothers me more than the many versions of that incident is the apparent feeling of distance. My participation in the conversation on the page felt forced. My fakeness was so palpable I was ashamed of myself. The language they used, the slang from eleven years ago which they still pepper their sentences with sounded dated. Nothing changed it seemed to most of us.

That classmate who posted the photo said I was furiously shouting at them that afternoon. I was very mad, he wrote.

I laughed. How could I be so passionate about something that my memory has failed to store?

This is what eleven years does to all of us.

28 things I learned now that I’m in my late twenties

Everyone seems to be making lists these days, and because lists are admittedly fun to read (and that they organize our thoughts so well they’re anathema to the world made too disorganized by everyone’s random rants about everything), I thought why not jump onto the bandwagon (perhaps I’ll have something to laugh at rereading this ten years from now). So here is the list of things I learned after having lived long enough:

1. Sleep is too necessary the promise of a fun Saturday night pales in comparison to the promise of a fun Sunday morning after a long, restful sleep.

2. I’ve gotten too old to party, too disillusioned by supposed excitement of night-outs gone awry, painful headache from hangover the next day, and the utter meaninglessness of it all. And the crowd, arrgh, the crowd of young people wanting acceptance so desperately from people who barely matter.

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I’d rather have my mug of hot coffee and a book of essays on nationalism in Southeast Asia than aimlessly gyrating on a crowded dance floor while downing an overpriced drink to the tune of a trashy mix done by an overpaid DJ (I’m not even sure of they still call them DJ; the word sounds too dated to me). Seriously.

3. Which brings me to my third point – Reading. I need to read. And I should read indiscriminately, while making sure at the same time that I have a healthy mix of esoteric and challenging ones, of fiction that takes me to other planes of realities, and of those that are mind-deadening because doing so will allow me to participate in this communal conversation.

4. When one reaches his late twenties, he’ll realize that getting those rock-hard abs is not anymore as easy to have as it used to be. There was a time not so long ago when one can eat five cups of rice and completely burn them in three hours. Those days are, of course, over.

However, more than having those chiseled abs, exercising regularly is the easiest way to be high on endorphin and all those happy hormones without getting dangerously dependent on them. Exercising, aside from making one feel and look better, also functions like a milepost and aids in establishing healthy routine. I can go on an on talking about it, but I know you get what I mean.

5. There are days when I hate my job, and it’s just normal. Nobody passionately loves his job all the time. One need not to. There’s life after it, and that life outside of one’s job is just as important.

6. Invest. I buy stocks, purchase mutual funds, and of course keep some hard cash in the bank just in case. I do not have much, just enough to live comfortably based on a standard I have set for myself. I’ve gone past the stage when I’d squander a month’s worth of salary buying unnecessary stuff that reach their point of diminishing marginal utility as soon as I leave the shopping mall.

7. Get insurance. It’s too painful to fish out from one’s pocket cash to pay medical bills. A stay in an emergency room of a hospital due to a simple upset stomach can easily cost 6,000 pesos. And a three-day stay in a hospital will drain all your cash in no time. It’ll feel less overwhelming to spread out the burden of one’s health bills over a period of time by getting insurance because of course you’re not anymore as invincible as you thought you were.

Yeah, I just have to admit that this feeling of security costs something, too.

8. I only need three pairs of shoes: A pair of everyday canvas shoes for work, a pair of black leather shoes for important days (say reading a paper or attending a friend’s wedding), and a pair of dependable running shoes. All the rest, as a friend said, are nothing but fluff.

9. A weekly general cleaning of one’s place is healthy. It gives me peace of mind; I become more productive, and doing domestic chores inevitably keeps me sane. Getting rid of those cobwebs on the ceiling, mopping the floor, wiping those dusts away, emptying the trash basket, defrosting the freezer contribute to one’s overall well-being.

10. There’s nothing wrong if after all this time Alanis Morissette and Savage Garden still appeal to you. No one should be given the right to dictate upon you the kind of music to listen.

11. Fast foods are overpriced. Lack of time will never be an acceptable reason for falling into the trap of these multinationals that prey on the idea of our supposed lack of time, which they manufacture along with their soggy spaghetti, fat-soaked hamburger patties, and chickens drenched in sodium solution masquerading as gravy. With practice, one can easily make a gourmet meal that will give even more horrendously overpriced restaurants a run for their money.

12. People are poor not only because they do not have access to opportunities but also because they simply do not have enough time for everything.

13. Moisturize. I am not certain, but it makes the skin look less tired. I think. The moment one introduces his sentence with ‘I think,’ it’s like raising red flags of his uncertainty over the his assertion.

14. Eat lots of fiber. You can get it from grains and cereals, fruits, and vegetables. They do wonders to bowel movement.

15. It’s nice to have several pairs of house slippers. One, they get misplaced too easily. Nothing is worse than that feeling of having no slippers waiting for you as soon as you take off your shoes. Two, they’re cheap so having many will have very little impact on the budget. Three, they’re so comfortable and they remind you that finally you’re home.

16. Call, text, or visit them, but make sure your family knows you still exist. With independence it’s so easy to lose contact with people that truly matter to one’s life. But hey, it’s never to late to reconnect and to make your parents and siblings feel how much they still affect you in one way or another. Because like any relationships, our relationship with our family thrives in constant nurturing and conversations.

17. Raise plants. Or if your space does not allow for a garden, at least a plant in a pot. But there should be an animate green thing in your place. Unlike pets that require much attention and time, plants need only regular watering and a weekly three-hour stay under the sun. Plants remind you that somehow you still have not severed your connection from nature. They’re also lovely to look at. And if work becomes unbearable, looking at them can be calming.

18. Pray. There was a time before when it was supposedly cool to brandish one’s lack of faith in anything supernatural. Eventually that time will end.

19. The world doesn’t care.

20. Neither should you.

21. But there’s nothing wrong if you do.

22. Happiness is our only goal in life.

23. Learn to let go. It would be a perfect world if we could keep forever whatever and whoever keep us happy. But it’s not the case. When it’s time to let go, hold on for a little while, but when it’s really truly time to let go, then let go. Nothing’s wrong with holding on for a while. It’s normal. Then when it’s okay, you’d know in your heart when it truly is, move on and begin living life again.

24. Being kind to yourself is a responsibility.

25. Love someone until you bleed inside. Love until it hurts. Love until you cannot give anymore. And you will realize how much more you can still give. And that’s when you truly love. I think.

26. Forgiving people who hurt you will seem impossible at first, but soon everything will be forgotten that forgiveness will be unnecessary. Still, despite its futility, forgive.

27. Do not skip breakfast.

28. Don’t let others’ lists determine how you live your life. Make your own list.