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.

 

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.

 

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.

Repair of an old book

This Saturday morning, after a long week at work, I woke up at five after going to bed at 6 the previous night thinking that I’d wake up two hours later so I could do some lifting at a nearby gym, only to be woken up by my alarm clock set at 5 this morning. After making coffee, I answered some emails, watched a Youtube debate on power between the then young Chomsky and the virtually ageless Foucault.

Then I saw sitting sadly on the corner of my table a mangled copy of Crime and Punishment. I took pity and held it like a mother holding his son’s wounded body in war. The previous sentence is an exaggeration.

Then an urge to repair took hold of me. Obsessively.

I bought this copy six years ago from a bookstore near Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. The bookstore was on the second floor of a building whose ground floor was used by an old man selling birds. Along with titles in Vietnamese as well as books translated in the Vietnamese are Wordsworth Classics. I bought this book by Dostoevsky and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary for 50,000.

Since then, the guilt-ridden Raskolnikov became one of my favorite literary characters.

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I stroked my copy like how I would stroke that cat our family had had when I was only 12, with care. I glued the spine together and scotch-taped the pages that needed scotch taping.

I do not have any emotional attachment to my books. I keep those I already read because I have hope that someday my younger brother or sister would pick them up, read them, and discover a universe that I inhabited while reading them.

Or, I keep them because someday, when I become tired of all the prerequisites of living, I shall escape from all these with my books that need repairing, a pair of scissors, a roll of scotch tape, and the ever reliable Elmer’s glue.

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