The f-ing phone alarms

We woke up at 11:20 today, cuddled for a few minutes, drank our coffee together, and had peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. I suffered from a poking headache; my temple was twitching, but it was bearable as I still had enough energy to carry my babe’s bag that contained a week’s worth of laundry across EDSA and to run back to my condo.

I did a shoddy math–if we slept, based on my estimate, at 3am after watching the deeply disturbing movie, Black Swan, then we did have our well-deserved rest of eight hours minus the time I had to stand up countless of times to silence the alarms of the phones in the room.

My sleep was sporadic.

I hated the fact the these phones were equipped with snoozes, and since I was too intoxicated with the decadently pleasurable feeling brought by sleep, I did not have the practical acumen to deactivate the snoozes the first time I turned off the alarms, which forced me to leave the bed three more times. I hated the fact that we both forgot to deactivate the alarms of our phone the night before. Today’s supposed to be a weekend, the only time we can be thankful to the deity of sleep for having finally granted us eight hours of sleep. But the pesky alarms, indispensable on a regular weekday, haunted and distressed us this weekend, disturbing what should have been otherwise a nice and quiet Saturday morning.

Our lives circle around phone alarms and their diaphanous but inextricably painful melody and senseless tones meant to provoke in us misanthropy and hatred for life in general. Not one of us can claim absolute freedom unless you or I allow phone alarms to take control of our lives. Human liberty is  a sham unless we continue forgoing things of more import such as a nice morning embrace or a restful sleep because we have to turn off phone alarms that are blasting off annoying strain of repetitious notes that rival that of a Harpy’s shriek.

Phone alarms are remnants of the previous century’s barbarism, of man’s wanting to inflict harm upon himself (and the people around him) while enjoying it at the same time, of our lack of urbanity, of the triumph of the matrix. All we need to is to become reactionaries and demand for what used to be truly ours–control of our time and personal relations.

However, I need to stop writing now because I have to stand up and respond to reminder in my phone that I am supposed to be heading for gym now, or how that after two hours and thirty minutes from now I should already be on a bus traveling to Makati to get some documents for a consultancy work I’m doing this month.

I should make it explicitly clear, nonetheless, that I hate myself for letting my life be ruled by these endless alarms, reminders, and notes, telling me that I should be doing this or that, at this or that hour, and should be finished doing this or that at this or that time.

On work

Tonight, although I feel flustered and lethargic because of the great task ahead of me tomorrow, I chose to prepare my lectures and presentations instead of indulging in my usual self-defeating thoughts and routine procrastination. If this is a mark that I am crossing the fence to maturity, I am definitely not liking it.

Tomorrow, I’ll start working on another job. Currently, I hold three jobs, this one I am preparing for right now is going to be my fourth. By any standards, this is suicide. At the end of this month, I’d be more than happy to conclude my weekend classes, which will give me a two-day breather to smell the flower. Still, I have three jobs until October which is tantamount to slashing my throat with a rusty knife. If I do not die of hemorrhage, I will of tetanus or infection. If not from any or both, I’ll die of exhaustion from attempting to slit my windpipe with a dull knife. I should just hang myself then, but even finding time to hang myself is a luxury.

Is it about the money? Partly. I have to pay for food, transportation, laundry, rent (good thing this has been waived, but definitely is retroactive in nature), and stuff that give me an illusion that I am living a balanced life (movie tickets, books, play tickets, coffee, etc.).

Is it about the advancement of my career? Laughable. My resume will not leave a Makati CEO running for his cash. Besides, I have no intention of becoming a corporate slave. I can be any kind of slave, save a corporate boot licker, and never in Makati.

Is it about experience and seeing the kaleidoscopic world using the spectacle of an un-bespectacled over-worked-underpaid, cash-strapped, twenty-something worker? Melodramatically no. If I want to experience life, it’s not going to be through these means.

It’s hard to give a definitive response to the question why I am working or why I am working this hard.

We romanticize work and make it appear like a moral imperative, that it makes us more confident of ourselves and that we deserve to live because after all work is the foundation of civilizations, and because we work, ergo, it is on us that the whole concept of humanity rests, we are made to believe.

However, upon scrutiny and thorough philosophizing, we come to a grim conclusion that our reason for working is as mundane as escaping boredom or as banal as finding something ‘meaningful’ to do while we pass time. When our fleetingness finally comes to a halt and stop being fleeting, then finally we have truly freed ourselves from the thought that working ourselves to death is working to live.

We begin to live.

500th post

Last night, after a tiring strings of travels using a combination all imaginable modes of land transportation in a modern metropolis — tricycle, MRT, LRT, jeepney, bus, and several hundred meters by foot from Shaw in Mandaluyong to Katipunan in Quezon City for my class in Ateneo to my part time teaching job in Makati — I arrived home nearly exhausting all my reserved energy, using up all my arsenal of reserved hope that I thought to be inexhaustible.

After an endless litany that went to nowhere, a monologue that lacked clarity and coherence, whose absence of a thesis statement boggled even me, and which despite it being endless, it ended because I got no energy to continue. And I was at a lost for the right words to describe what I felt. My brain came to a sudden halt, ceased to work, and surrendered everything to the comforts of a deep sleep.

This morning while attempting to put my thoughts to writing, I was surprised to learn that this one I am writing now is my 500th post. I’ve posted in this blog 500 articles! Some articles that made sense, some that didn’t, some that reflected nothing but my narcissistic tendencies as a writer and a person, some that shamelessly exposed my darkest insecurities, and some that defy rational categorization.

And some more to come.

And it just felt good posting this 500th one.

Plying Pasig River

These photos taken using my phone would have remained untouched on my desktop had I not fortuitously ran into them this morning while I was attempting to clean my computer and rid it of unnecessary and incriminating files.

Two weeks ago, a friend and I went to Manila for lunch and finally proceeded with our long-stalled plan of riding a passenger ferry that plies Pasig River from Manila to Taguig City.

I must say that the idea of the project–using the navigable portion of the river as a passenger route to ease the traffic in the metro–is an excellent one, only that the government arm who is tasked to do this has been missing on a lot of details.

The ferries are not properly maintained, the air-conditioning units not working, and the security is, to say the least, very lax. The stench of the river seeps through the interior of the ferry. Despite the commendable effort of both local and national government to rehabilitate Pasig River, undeniably, the river still gives off noxious odor. If they intend to use the river for the purpose of making it a commuters’ highway, and if they want the people to patronize this alternative, then something has to be done regarding the minor discomfort the system brings to the riding public.

In spite of this, the experience had a tourist-y feel in it similar to riding a Ferris wheel or walking through a House of Horror for the first time, we ignored the inconvenience because of the novelty of the experience; it’s not as if we ride the ferries in Pasig River every day.

From Escolta, several meters from Chinatown, is the second station south of the route. I imagined Elias (was it he?) throwing the improvised bomb to Pasig River thwarting Simon’s plan to seek vengeance against the corrupt friars in Jose Rizal’s novel El Filibusterismo.

The trip, which took more than 40 minutes, had lull moments. So to let time pass, I folded my ticket into a paper boat.

One will notice that people keep on moving from one side of the ferry to another to avoid the sun. With this, one can see the narrow line that separates death (that is, dying from ingesting murky water that has in it God-knows-what species of bacteria and viruses million times more potent than HIV or Ebola virus)  and life, all because of the vanity subliminally imposed on the Filipino psyche by ads for skin-whitening lotions.

The back of the Post Office building that faces the Escolta station and the building being reflected in the nearly black water. If there is something beautiful about the waters of Pasig it’s the fact that their reflections of buildings and objects along banks of the river are comparatively clearer and definitely more beautiful than in the waters of cleaner and more pristine rivers.

For unknown reasons, probably security, it is forbidden to take photos of the Malacanang palace. The moment it dawn on us that the magnificent white building to our right is the center of power in the country, we passengers started snapping pictures of the president’s palace. The uniformed men in the ferry hurriedly ordered us to delete the pictures in our phones which we promptly did, and these men made sure we did. But out of sheer luck, I was able to keep this one. This, I believe, will hardly pose any security concern to the incumbent president, Gloria Arroyo.

(But if somebody has the audacity enough to go past her legion of security personnel and, say, put poison in her cup of coffee, plant a bomb in her bathroom, or simply bludgeon her to death, it’s an act some of us would gladly welcome.)

And after the long trip, we saw this imposing silhouette of Guadalupe Bridge right in front of the breathtaking Pasig sunset. Relishing the unforgettable sight before us but more concerned with the stench that got stuck to our clothes, we caught a bus home to Makati.

Rainy afternoon, an anorexic cat, and the 33rd Urian Awards

Since I was scheduled to work half-day last Thursday, from Laguna, I went back to Makati for a quick, late lunch, it was about three in the afternoon, then proceeded to Katipunan with my friend to submit an application to Ateneo. From Ateneo, we then decided to take a jeepney to UP Diliman as we thought there were going to be plenty of jeepneys plying Katipunan. We were mistaken.

Drivers of public transportation these days prove to be more tenacious, recalcitrant is more apt, than their predecessors. This driver who parked his old, rickety, stainless but rusty made-to-order jeepney made us wait for more than what was comfortable; it was almost a quarter to five that time, and good sense told us that government offices in the Philippines close on the dot (closing time is the only time they are never late at).  So we demanded he return the 14 pesos we paid, and we took a cab to UP.

We first went to the College of Arts and Letters then to Mass Communications after we almost got lost in the circuitous mini-avenues of the Diliman campus. The guys wearing those painfully neon yellow vests, who seemed to replicate themselves by the hundreds, were really courteous and adept at giving directions. But I swear they all look the same. I suspect they’re the pilot project of the biotechnology department or else nuclear physics center of UP.

At the College of Mass Communications, my friend had a brief chat with the college secretary who’s a friend of his. They haven’t seen each other for more than four years, so I expected a long and crisp catching up. Crisp it was, but long not at all. After less than 10 minutes of chat and the customary exchange of business cards, we bade goodbye but not before she handed us two white envelopes that contained the invitation for the Gawad Urian that was to be held several blocks away in Adarna Hall, formerly UP Film Center, that night.

But before that, the cunning weather got the better of both us. We were running out of cash so we had to scurry and searched the campus for ATMs. My memory told me that there’s supposed to be one right across the block adjacent UP shopping center, but my machine was nowhere to be found.

Lo and behold, there’s the guy in painful neon yellow vest again, but he seemed to have gained a lot of weight and doubled his previous body mass index from 20 forty-five minutes ago to forty-five. It did not bother us much though because he was in his usual courteous self and again gave us a very easy-to-follow direction.

When we reached the place, just somewhere at the back of the university shopping center outside the university accounting office, and after I withdrew my meager salary for the summer, I sighted this pretty but anorexic pussy cat (I even suspected she’s bulimic):

I went near her to take a picture of her, but this one was her only clear picture that my old phone was able to capture because she was simply gyrating, like a cat in heat, well she is a cat. In heat, that is. She circled my right leg, gave me that pleading look as if she wanted me to take her home.

“Gusto niya lang bigyan mo siya ng pagkain,” the guard at the accounting office said. He must be the anorexic pussy cat’s master.

So scheming of her.

Post script: We fell in line outside the Film Center amid the drizzle. According to the invitation, the program should start at six. But diva as all the stars in Philippine showbiz are, the program did not start till 7:15 because the nominees were not done donning their do and their dresses. (I abhor artless alliterations, but not as much as abhorrent artistas). Despite the heavy downpour outside, we hailed a cab to Quezon Ave MRT station and had a nice, warm dinner in the food court of Glorietta.

I enjoyed that evening.

For results of the 33rd Gawad Urian, follow this.

How to travel with dried anchovies

I’ve been keeping myself from complaining about the stench of our neighbor’s superb cookery. I live with a friend (my lover, actually) in a unit on the 10th floor of a condominium in Makati. This kind of set-up, living in a high rise, poses unique set of concerns — acrophobia; the different scary people one meets in the elevator, probably xenophobia; and because of the big city’s inhospitable atmosphere, most windows are perpetually closed for the rest of the year resulting in virtual lack of ventilation.

I’ll also mention, cases of brownouts, and they’ve hit fairly frequently this last week, meant walking up and down the building from the 10th floor. Imagine if one stays on the 33rd floor and the ordeal one has to go through just to buy soda from a convenience store downstairs: 660 steps, multiply that by two, and take into consideration the force of gravity so you’ll understand what I am trying to say.

Going back to the problem with ventilation, this family of seven living four doors away from us has this penchant for showcasing the daily culinary experiment of the mother of the house. I have nothing against them taking pride in their daily bread, a sign of their being thankful to whomever they consider their Almighty, but what irks me is the odor that gets stuck on my clothing and oily hair every time I wait for the elevator. And I always notice they do not close their door. Although I think open doors mean ‘welcome’, theirs is nothing close. I never felt I am welcome because the odor of fried anchovies shoos me away.

I normally love dried anchovies and the smell is not at all that bad. Fried anchovies remind me of my province, lunchtime in my lola‘s farm after a day’s work, or my mother’s vegetable stew called laswa cooked with dilis bought from the village market. They’re good in certain context but not in an aseptic, poorly ventilated condominiums with air quality just some notches below that of a hospital’s.

I feel like going ballistic sometimes like mounting an ‘accidentally’ strewn museum exhibit of a week’s worth of garbage right in front of their unit. Mean, I am not, however.  So I’ve completely shelved this evil plot. For now.

But the urge of going to the nearest talipapa this weekend, buying a quarter of a kilo of the smelliest dried anchovies I can find, and using my friend’s (my lover, actually) rice cooker, frying the small fish until their stench overpower that of my neighbor’s is just too much to contain. If they cannot anymore take it, based on my plan, they’ll close their door. Voila! problem solved. If this flimsy plan works, that is. If not, my mini garbage exhibit can always be recovered from the shelf.

What if I cease to be relevant?

Crowded Street

When I was growing up and just starting to learn the nuances of the English language, I remember being unable to differentiate the questions “What do you do?” and “How do you do?”. Because I was too young then, I was never asked the first question, and I found the second question odd-sounding, even ungrammatical basing on my rudimentary grammar lessons. I was taught by my kindergarten teacher to ask “How are you?” and wait for the canned response of “I’m fine. Thank you. And you?” where in the only possible reply was “Fine, too.”

But as for “How do you do?” my young mind was too inexperienced to process this complicated idiomatically complex sentence. Usually my response would be whatever the task at hand. It could be “doing my homework”, “having my recess”, “or playing hide-and-seek with my classmates”. I took it to mean “What are you doing?” which was hilarious since it was obvious that the person asking knew what I was doing at the moment by simply looking at me. And it was interesting that I did not bother asking my mother who is an English teacher in a nearby public high school; it was already rather late when I realized that she is in fact one of the best English teachers in that secondary school.

Now that I am twenty-three, whenever I am asked “What do you do?” I am at a lost for words. It’s a difficult question to answer especially at my age when things are beginning to be more complicated. I’m doing a job that is of no interest to me; I’m a part of a company that I do not want to have anything to do with; and I am with people who are although nice and kind but definitely not the kind of crowd I want to be with. In fact I do not want to be a part of a crowd.

Then I gather that I am starting to become the kind of adult I used to hate and feel pity for when I was too young to know the appropriate response for a “How do you do?” question. I am drunk by the nostalgia of what has been, whining about my present condition, and abnormally worried about my future.

I was inside a bus this morning from a part-time work in Makati. I was hungry, sleepy, tired, and probably smelly as I hadn’t bothered to change to a fresh pair of jeans and shirt; I was still wearing the same set of clothes I wore the previous night. I felt like a loser. I was downtrodden, distraught. My phone rang. It was my mother, and her call reminded me how lonely and alone I have become (as if the adjective alone can be qualified, as if it is possible to be more alone or to get the title of the ‘most alone person on the face of the world’. “How do you do, anak?” I kept my tears from falling, although I knew my mother already noticed the change in my voice. “Ayos lang ko ma. Kamusta kamo ni papa?”

Anak, daw ginapasobrahan mo gid imo kayod dira haw? Wala man may galagas sa imo. Pahuway ka man bala.”

I knew she would say those words. Mothers are always like that. I told her that I barely have time for rest. I have three jobs. I write and read in between these work. And I work out in a gym everyday. Whatever little time left is spent for sleeping, and I barely have sating sleep. I deliberately misunderstood her question. I answered her as if she asked “What are you doing?” instead of “How do you do?”

Because I could not bring myself to give her a more accurate response. I did not have the courage to tell her: “Ma, I’m dying.”

At some point, I stop for brief moments and ask myself whether I am still relevant, whether the world still benefits from my existence. Sometimes this does not just happen once, but several times, until it becomes an obsessive preoccupation. And that the only way to stop thinking about these thoughts is to work myself to death, until I cease to feel anything but bitter numbness. Until I stop asking “Am I still relevant?”.