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.

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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.

 

The Festival of Insignificance

It was the month of June, the morning sun was emerging from the clouds, and Alain was walking slowly down a Paris street. He observed the young girls, who – everyone of them – showed her naked navel between trousers belted very low and a T-shirt cut very short. He was captivated; captivated and even disturbed: It was as if their seductive power no longer resided in their thighs, their buttocks, or their breasts, but in that small round hole located in the center of the body.

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I had decided to forgo reading the reviews of the most recent Milan Kundra book before I went head on and read it intermittently on Saturday. Intermittently because partaking of a Kundera book in one sitting is akin to engorging the entire buffet.

So slowly I went on enjoying, savoring each sentence that are resonant of his style (if there is such a). His meanderings, the philosophical digressions (they call them) can be jarring for most, the narrator too loquacious, but I have come to expect them.

I must admit, shamefully, that I do not anymore remember how I first came across his work, and I admit (shamefully again) that it was The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I fell in love with it that I imagined myself as Tomas cleaning windows in Prague in the 1960s, sampling the endless permutations of women, my hair smelling like it were doused in vaginal discharge after my many trysts, and being told by Tereza afterwards to wash my hair.

Reviewing my old posts on this blog, I found none of those I tagged under the author’s name and that title could help me recall how I got hold of my copy of Lightness. My copy is badly mangled, scandalously highlighted, overly-annotated. I do not anymore remember how many times I have lent it and prayed that my precious copy be returned. After that, I, little by little, unconsciously at first, ravenously next, bought all his titles, including his books of essays.

I fell too madly, deeply in love with his works. The Joke, The Farewell Waltz, Life Is Elsewhere, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Testament Betrayed, Immortality, Slowness, Identity, Ignorance, and most recentlyThe Festival of Insignificance. I came close to donning a black turtleneck all the time. But of course, I won’t, as wearing a black turtleneck can be a challenge to justify.

If I had books that would most closely mark my twenties, they’re Kundera’s.

One thing stays persistently, paraphrasing Sabina, nothing matters in the long run.

I read Kundera for the meanderings and how these departures emphasize his incisive observations on the absurd, the banal, the insignificant. And by writing about them, he artistically made them all reasonable, original, consequential. Yes even the navel.

Such is the power of Milan Kundera.

Brand managers on TV

“You need to come to our store and experience our product,” says a Bose brand manager.

“We are in the cutting edge of sound technology, and we give our clients the chance to customize their music experience,” he enthusiastically adds as he holds his company’s latest product in front of the camera, touching what seems to be an application icon but which he refers to as a “product” (among the many products in a singular device he is holding).

He drops the word ‘experience’ once every two sentences.

“Here at Magnum, we give our customers the pleasure to indulge,” says the brand manager.

Looking straight at the camera without any sign of flinching, he adds, “We have 250,000 possible combinations of our Magnum bar with eighteen different toppings that will blow your mind away.”

His plaid shirt is framed by his khaki coat and unusually subdued pink tie. The young brand manager is almost my age.

Without any hint of irony in his voice, says, “My personal favorite is Magnum with potato chips and chili flakes. It’s so different.”

Then his spiel fades out with, “We also have an intense offering of comfort food,” as the background house music cross fades.

“From September 1 to 30, we will be online 24/7. And aside from being online we will be available in fiiiiiiive malls all over the country,” an autoloan bank manager says.

“It’s so easy; it’s crazy. Avail of our ridiculous price.”

Brand managers being interviewed on television are intense. After the salesman of encyclopedia so common before Wikipedia gobbled whole their market, brand managers spewing their spiels on TV are the third most irritating people one will meet in his lifetime.

They come almost too close to those who audition for artista searches on TV.

These brand managers are a bunch of driven and ambitious young men and women who’ve completely convinced themselves of the superiority, durability, benefits, and the seeming indispensability of goods they’re describing in glowing terms. A sense of the ridiculous has altogether abandoned them. It is, after all, like any forms of employment. Job requirements often force us in doing things we would otherwise not do if only we were given a better option. And for that I am sympathetic.

Perhaps they only need to learn some lessons on irony.

Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' Sponsored by Internet Sales Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

The taste

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You know the feeling. That instance of impact of slightly reheated slimy coffee that has gone untouched for three days (or you don’t know how long it has been standing there, really, breeding colonies of bacteria and fungi), on your unsuspecting tongue, well not exactly unsuspecting as you are still able to keep a semblance of a well-kept apartment, so you have an idea what you will get yourself into and probably how long it has been since the last time you brewed coffee; still you go on as it doesn’t matter now.

You have an interesting idea in mind, something unique, life-altering if only it were given an existence that can be grasped by the senses, your computer is on, Michael Buble is filling the place with his velvety singing.  You just need your cup of coffee to complete the feel, so you can finally see in writing that idea gestating in your mind for the past thirteen minutes and is now ready to be C sectioned or be given birth naturally (This metaphor bothers me, but I think it sounds nice. I’ll wait, fifteen minutes, perhaps. If it still sounds interesting to me after reading my final draft, then the metaphor will stay).

But your cup. It is giving you that gnawing awareness, warning you, of a forthcoming melee. Between your stupid self and the radioactive content of your mug.

But you had it before, back when a 3-in-1 would do, back when you didn’t know the difference in taste between a five-peso-per-sachet mixture of sugar and artificially flavored coffee declaring itself “Italian taste perfected” and the overpriced but definitely more decent tasting signature coffee sold in a nearby coffee shop chain which high school students from an exclusive Catholic school located across, wanting to look cool, sip affectedly with a stick of cigarette in between fingers during breaks from their dull afternoon classes.

You know how it tasted. How evil it tasted. That mixture of 3-in-1 dissolved in tap water heated below boiling point gushing from your dorm’s rusty 1950s lead pipes. You know how it tasted after having stood on your study table for two days undisturbed, ants free diving in it, vacationing while their queen lay waiting for her loyal worker ants to bring back the loot.

But like then, you choose to ignore because there are many things in life that simply can’t wait. A great idea is one of them, unfortunately this time. And so, you sit in front of your ailing computer, ready to tackle the mocking-as-it-has-always-been blank, white space. And you begin typing on. It runs smoothly, your mind, that is; writing never felt this good before. The idea comes out as if it is unencumbered by the circuitous organelle-dotted canal that connects it and the bright and brave world outside.

Then you think, “where’s my mug of coffee?” You extend your arm; take hold of the handle of your favorite mug without looking, your rapt attention on the screen. You bring the mug close to your slightly parted lips. The stench gives you some warning, but you opted not to take heed. Your idea is approaching its most crucial leg, you can almost see the head. Then you take a sip. No, a gulp.

Then you know how stupidity tastes.