Activities

After the Life Altering Break-Up (henceforth dubbed LABU). I went through the mandatory soul-searching Activities.

I drank a lot of bad craft beer and a few good ones, a lot of whiskey, oodles of Black Label, and Double Black. I ran a 10k, tried a few new hobbies, and gave up some others.

Once, in an effort to acquire [redacted], I met up with  L –, a good friend from Baguio at a nearby mall. L — played guitar very well, but also sold [redacted] on the side for extra cash.  As I waited by the tiny Ferris Wheel, listened to the inane loop of children’s songs (these places always seem to have children nursery rhymes sung in little irritating voices). I thought. Hurrah! This is my life. My friend showed up next to me the way spies do in movies, materializing from the nether.

“Uy.” Followed by a friendly shove. L — was gaunt, but carried a beer belly around like a favorite kid.

“Beer tayo?” My treat, since I was buying.

“Go.”

Sometimes when I look back at periods in my life they come back like snapshots.

There was this one sad/happy day when I went to eat with A — at this cute little restaurant in Taft. It was raining, I think, but I don’t really remember. I don’t remember the food because I spent most of the meal with my head on the table, crying. I don’t remember why  (we usually have a purpose, like a gig or an inuman) we met up, but that wasn’t really important.

A lot of the snapshots involve cab drivers. Mostly because I wasn’t driving in the city yet and Manila has snarly, horrid traffic that gets exponentially worse as the weather worsens.

I once sat through a terrific lecture from this old cab driver who happened to be probably the most devoted member of Iglesia ni Kristo. First, he tried to invite me to service. When I demurred, he said. “Iha, sa simbahan mo mahahanap true love mo.*” He proceeded to tell me about his first wife, who passed away and how he met his second wife, and how lucky he was in love.

I was really sad when I got home that day, let me tell you that.

The next week or so, I was stuck in three hour traffic with an utterly insane cab driver who told me how he caught his wife cheating.

He had been deeply suspicious of an affair between wifey and neighbor, who was also one of his closest friends. It was his birthday. They had a little celebration, which became a drinking session for the adults. In time, the number dwindled as various party goers said goodbye until only the three of them remained.

Kuya Driver feigned extreme drunkenness and told them that he was tired and needed to sleep, but that they could keep drinking if they wanted. His wife even tucked him into bed and gave him a good night kiss.

Imaginin mo yun!”**

An hour later, he caught them in-flagrante delicto, on the sofa in the living room. The neighbor ran for his life, disappearing so fast he left his pants and shirt behind.

He then proceeded to drag his wife out of the house to beat her senseless in front of all their neighbors. So badly he knocked out most of her teeth! The guy was also their neighbor, and it turned out everybody knew about the affair except him.

During this cab ride, I was mostly quiet, except the horrified gasps that kept coming out of my mouth. I kept wishing that I hadn’t forgotten my headphones at the office or engaged this particular driver in conversation at all.

I think he noticed, because he tried to console me with: “I had her teeth fixed, don’t worry.”

Translation:

* You will find your true love in a church. or more colloquially, I was mostly evil and wouldn’t find a good man in a bar, so I better like save myself by hanging around in a church. 

**Imagine that! 

Manila, Cataloged (Part One)

Bars

There are so many of them. In your hometown, you only ever went to six and that was when you were flush. You rotated them depending on your mood, the day of the week, how much gasoline you had or what kind of cheeseburger you were craving. Manila bars are flavored with the different cities and the different people who inhabit them. It’s a smorgasbord that pleases the alcoholic in you.

Here you travel hours to sit outside a bar in a corner alley, observing the boarded pawnshop front and thinking vaguely of stealing the books for sale on the shelves in the wall. Inside the walls are lined with disco balls, the beer is cheap and people dance in front of this impeccable, tiny DJ booth. This week a friend tells you that “The disco ball fell off and shattered. I think some drunk bastard pulled it down.”

Here, on a hot night your friend tells you, “I know a secret whiskey bar. You need a password to get in. Let’s get a few hotdogs.” You have no idea why she says hotdogs, and then later, dining on one covered in pickles you feel like your life is so good, so delicious. They keep the whiskey in a recessed, temperature controlled shelf. The odd pleasure you feel when you see it is new. So you find yourself in a corner booth with genuine leather seats your thighs keep sticking to, and you run up enormous tabs.

Your favorites are the converted houses that keep cheap booze stocked — just beer, an effort to look a bit more festive, an aloof and distant waiter. You like these bars because they feel like someone’s house. They feel like your old house, and that all your friends might just come over, if you asked.

Cats

“I hate cats.” He tells you. It’s hot and you can feel his thigh pressed against yours. This is a cat city — stray dogs don’t seem to last long enough. You spot felines everywhere, slinking through stairways, licking themselves on stoops.

Earlier that month after a long dinner, M spots a stray small cat without friends, and both of you try to rescue a kitten hiding in some bushes. You’re both unwilling to keep it, but it jumps to a ledge and hisses, and you both give up and turn away.

Coffee

You miss K walking into the office and asking for coffee, and you would eat plantains and eggs that you buy from the same vendor in the street corner. You think of K hustling in Seattle, and make notes to call. You forget to call.

You want to tell her that the girl who sometimes watches the sugared banana stall gave birth, and that the baby is a boy. That the office is very empty now compared to before. That nothing much has changed in the corner of Manila that you work in. It’s still hot, the trains still don’t work. Sometimes early in the morning you can smell the coffee burning when the doors of the 7-Eleven open.

Energy Drinks

Your energy drink addiction is showing. So you always hide the evidence, but then who are you hiding it from? You buy the sugar-free Monster drink, the big blue-black one that you can drink in one sitting. You tell yourself the sugar-free thing is a good thing. For some reason, all you can think of when you drink these drinks is that terrible computer shop you used to hang out in so you could play World of Warcraft, the one next to the tattoo shop you eventually got one of your tattoos in. You think it’s probably still there, under another name. Still, there’s a plastic bag in your car full of energy drinks, and when people say your car smells sweet you tell them it’s your perfume.

Instant Coffee Mixes 

Everybody in this city drinks this terrible instant coffee mixes that you secretly love. It’s not even coffee.  It’s sugar, coffee flavoring and assorted flavors. You try not to drink them, stick to your principles. In the morning, if you’re alone and you wake up early enough, you brew yourself a cup of coffee and sit. You feel very adult, but you’ve been an adult for a long time.

Motels

A never again, in your book. Crossed out forever.

Traffic

Is inevitable — don’t waste time complaining. Leave earlier or later. Make playlists to sing along to. Keep a movie to watch, or an audiobook ready. Make sure you always have gas. Drive without fear, drive like a pro. Make sure you catch the eyes of truck drivers when they try to squeeze all of the 8-wheeler bulk into the sedan-sized space in front of you. Reserve the finger for really special occasions.

Traffic Annex A: Bathroom Breaks

When in dire need, turn off engine and leave car stranded in the middle of the lane. It has been 30 minutes since last movement. Thank God you’ve been running. “We have no women’s bathroom.” The attendant says. You think of the Isuzu truck behind you plowing your car out of the lane once the lights turn green, if they ever. You think of waterfalls.

“I don’t care.” You tell them. “I don’t care.”

Traffic Annex B: Flooding

The only person who knows that you were screaming is you, and the guy sitting in the jeep in front of you who looked vaguely like he understood, but also that he was afraid. You broke out in a cold sweat when you had to maneuver the car onto this steep slope, handbrake, manual, clutch for life. Grip on the steering wheel turning your knuckles white. No one knows why you were screaming, not even you.

Snapshots: Alleys

He meant that he was pointless. Or I was. I told him I missed trees. But not so much. I missed the horses and being able to go out and feel grass under my feet even in the middle of the day. I was lying. I usually spent days asleep and only saw grass when we drank in public parks.

One time K and I were standing in an alley and smoking. It was dimly lit and I felt almost colorless in the dark. I squinted up at the hood of the streetlight. Someone had stolen the bulb, and someone else pilfered the copper interior from the power lines to sell off. Cigarette butts and discarded bottles created a postmodern carpet of bar filth, starting at the fire exit behind the building and cutting a path to the highway.

“It’s hot.” I said, but it always was in the way of tropical countries, that kind of seething heat that kept you from sleeping and made you sweat into your sheets. We were waiting for a band, or waiting for our band to play. Those were the days where everything blurred into everything. The days were continuous loop of two hour rides on the city bus, standing on the train, drinking cheap alcohol and fits of interrupted sleep.

Even the work  I did required only a minimum use of analytical skill, so much so I sometimes dreamed of the blue glare of a computer monitor. K poked at the broken concrete with his shoes and said. “It’s pointless.” He meant the music, or the gigs, or the city. He meant the traffic and the work we did. We were 22 and already office drones. He was wearing the standard uniform of a white polo and black slacks. The only thing that gave away what he did during weekends was the long hair he kept in a ponytail and the tattoos on his shoulders.

He meant that he was pointless. Or I was. I told him I missed trees. But not so much. I missed the horses and being able to go out and feel grass under my feet even in the middle of the day. I was lying. I usually spent days asleep and only saw grass when we drank in public parks. We could hear the band inside fumbling through a cover of U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday.

I was thirsty and I hadn’t slept. It was the middle of a year I wouldn’t really remember, the year to forget, or the year that was easy to forget because of its routine, the sameness of things, the dirt, the endless waiting. We smoked a couple of cigarettes, shared a kiss and went back in.

This year

As always, I begin every year with the pledge to write more about things that matter to me, even if I feel that they don’t matter to others

Planner and black ink
This is what happens when you give writers planners — they just think of them as extra notebooks

I will take more photographs that are not selfies, or dogs 

My labrador Mai
But I find dogs to be the best of subjects

This year I plan to conquer mountains — in a literal sense, although the prospect sometimes terrifies me. I imagine only the cold, and not the stark black rock above the treeline or the pleasant burn in your muscles that comes from walking for hours.

I guess this is why people love the concept of the newness of the year — it’s the possibility of wiping the slate down and looking forward to being someone new. I don’t want to become new though. Just more.

 

 

Walking our Streets II

These are not my streets. But they are familiar.

Puddles glint as the streetlights dim. Cabs and cars whoosh by. We spill out of the bar, but it’s more of a gradual meander into the night. I want to close my eyes and blend into the darkness.

I want to stop and stand still.

The houses doze like small cats on the sidewalk. They stare us down. We ghost by them, laughing. The rain is fine and misty, it has not yet morphed into the full on storm. Above us 90-year old trees loom. The rain releases the smell of greenery, ripe mangoes and the deep, dark smell of acacia. Our shadows stain the pavement, flicker and disappear. Water gushes into the gutters.

It is pleasant: the long strides we take, the burn of the alcohol, the quiet city night. It is simple: new friends, old friends. Our voices falter as we speak. Our throats clog with memories of loved ones as one of us tentatively shares the grief. Later, we will toast to our dead and to the past and to time.

Later.

We shove each other and run up the streets. We are waiting for dawn, I think. Waiting for the light to burn away the memories of grief and love.

I have a sensation, and it’s an old one. I want to look over my shoulder. I am certain ghosts are following us.

There will always be ghosts following us.

Why I Hate Hipster Glasses

I have a confession.

I hate hipster glasses. I hate girls who wear fake, clunky, coke-bottle frames. I hate boys who wear fake hipster fake tortoiseshell glasses. If you don’t need your glasses or wear glasses without lenses I automatically hate you.

See? No lenses. From weheartit.com

Glasses are cool now. Yeah. Now.

In Grade 2, glasses were a death sentence. They killed your social life. Even if they were fake tortoiseshell.

My mom noticed that I was sitting a little too close to the TV and that I tended to squint. I also tended to get headaches after reading. These symptoms meant a trip to the ophthalmologist and the epic cool sight test. I think my doctor realized pretty quickly that I was pretty bad. 

My clearest memory of that trip to the doctor is of the hot air balloon. I sat down and placed my chin on a machine that vaguely resembled square telescope. I had to look into the binoculars  and tell the assistant if I could see the balloon clearly. The yellow and red hot air balloon floated above green grass, fading in and out like movie transitions. The assistant in a lab coat tweaked it for me. All of a sudden the balloon popped out — utterly defined, so colorful I remember feeling shocked. I felt a sinking sensation in my gut.

Something really was wrong with me.

The first sign of my world changing were the steampunk glasses: heavy metal glasses that ophthalmologists place on their clients to test various grades. At first the world was a bitter blur as the doctor deftly placed in lens after lens.

“Is this better?”

Hell yeah, I’m freaking Master Yi.

“How about this?” She slipped another lens in and everything was illuminated.

I now had an intimate understanding of what clarity looked like. I understood that I had been living in a blur! The floor was tilted! Why did I feel dizzy? Plus, I could choose whatever frames I wanted! How cool was that!

I think I chose Mickey Mouse frames, cause you know, Mickey Mouse is the epitome of everything awesome when you’re 8. Or Snoopy. I was really into Snoopy.

My mom was asking if I felt okay and I said yes. My mom wears glasses too, you see. And my mom, even in her pajamas, manages to look fabulous.  

At first, I was happy. I stared at our pine walls, fascinated by whorls. I saw leaves in detail. I was blind and now I could see! I could read without sticking the book in my face. 

Then I went to school.

It was all pretty much downhill from there. Glasses are a sign of weakness. They were a sign that I, at age 8, would have been sabertooth food in the wild. I wouldn’t have been able to see the sabertooth, much less run from it. All the other kids knew this — and it didn’t help that in my memory, I was the only kid with glasses in the class.

Other kids automatically began to taunt me, to pull the glasses off my face, to pretend wear them.

“I’m blinnnnd.” One would say while he flailed his arms and pretended to run into walls.  Whenever they pulled the glasses off my face, I would follow, because the lanyard attached them to my neck

One charming individual placed his fingers in front of his mouth to imitate buckteeth. I don’t know where he pulled the image of a nerd from, but it was succinct and changed my social standing forever. From then on, my world shifted. It felt like the world was divided into glasses wearing people and non-glasses wearing people.

Glasses, in their small way, made me see the world clearly. It made me realize how easily your appearance can change things. I also realize that a lot of “hipster culture” is mostly about rediscovering retro or finding off-the-beaten path interests. Pabst beer, whatever, I really don’t care what you do with your clothes, your music and your life.

But I really draw the line at those glasses. I really do. Because if they’re fake, they are just fake. Hipsters (in my opinion) want the good stuff, the good memories without all the bad crap that comes with wearing glasses. They want their lovers to take off the glasses before the first kiss. They want their glasses to mist up when they cry. They want to give an impression of deep thoughts and late nights up reading thick books.

They want someone to say, “Oh, wow, you look…really different.” Because Clark Kent was right to use glasses as his only mask! People look different without them!

From
Image retrieved from http://www.superdickery.com

But they have never been teased because their glasses could be used as a magnifying glass. They have never been called four-eyes, bug-face or any variations of this term. They have never been late for appointments because they misplaced their glasses and were disabled and couldn’t see!  Couldn’t see. Essentially disabled, until they realized it was under the pillow and thank the particular deity you worship.

These coke-bottle wearing fakes have never been hit in the face with a volleyball so hard the frame cracked in two. They have never gathered shattered glass lenses in their hands, shaking and  crying in terror because mom’s going to throw a fit, the frames were so expensive.

They have never been called nerd, when it hurt to be called a nerd. They have ever walked around with the soft part of nose of the glasses missing, the tiny metal prong digging into the bridge. Never had to endure  taped  frames because they broke and well, the new pair wasn’t ready yet. This means they do not deserve the other, nicer things about wearing glasses. Like when someone who loves you takes them off because you feel asleep with them on.

Go subvert some other culture or pretend you like that really terrible indie band. Please. Just stop fake-wearing glasses. Just. Stop.

October

image

October in my hometown feels like fall, but without the crunchy potato-chip leaves. There’s a certain day in October when the wind turns, bites and starts to bring in the cold. The wind becomes moody, happily shreds your lungs on the way in. It’s menthol candy wind, the kind that slaps a person awake.

That day, I think, was today.  Today I brought my warmest jackets out of storage, shook out my scarves and rooted around my closet for my leg warmers. I also thought vaguely about cleaning my boots and stamping the mud out from the grooves of the soles.

Sometimes it rains and when twilight falls the world shrugs the eerie on, donning it like a fog cloak. The rains, I know, will stop soon, hushing quietly into the mountains. By October the cold has pretty much moved in and has been sleeping on the couch and secretly drinking all your booze because that’s what October does. October will also quietly consume all of the cookies you’ve been saving for Christmas.

image

People start to huddle up, to walk in groups and team up to smoke under awnings. Smoking is banned in town these days, but I still see people lighting up. I’ve been battling the urge to smoke. I quit four months ago, but there’s nothing like smoking when the cold is dramatic like this. There really is nothing like drawing up your hood, tucking your scarf firmly around your neck and cupping the stick in your freezing hands and flicking that lighter.

It’s cold enough now for roaring fires, hot chocolate with a generous shot of whiskey and brewed, strong coffee. The kind that I drink with an arm wrapped around my stomach, so hot I can actually feel  life drain into me as the last of the night leaves me.

It’s cold enough now to stop drinking beer and start drinking brandy to warm up. I start dreaming about soup recipes and freshly baked bread. I also start to quietly get fatter, because all that freshly baked bread has to go somewhere. Like my hips.

Some days I forget why I love my hometown and then the cold comes in and kicks down the door and snuggles up with me in bed. October also means Christmas is near — from the looks of it this Christmas is going to be freezing.

I’m already in love with it.