A surprise call from Nene sent shivers down my spine. Good thing my day's tasks in the office are almost done. Otherwise I'd be too sullen to have done anything sensible. The news from Toronto about what happened in Banacud two days (or nights) ago, was not at all pleasant.
It's one of the things I'd rather not hear about. But sooner or later, I have to face the prospect of losing a father, probably to asthma. The attack was so bad that, according to Nene, Papa was virtually pleading God to take him into his arms right there and then. But Mama called the saints she knew and the souls of our departed dear ones -- including Lolo who died just last April 15 -- not to take Papa along to St Peter's arms too soon.
Last year, his heart condition had been taken care of via a triple CABG (also known as "cabbage", or coronary artery bypass graft). That cost him almost all of his retirement pay and the other savings of the family. Papa never had asthma during his drinking and the one-pack-a-day years.
A few days ago, I attended an informal presentation by a Manila-based insurance man who said that expenses rise proportionately with age while income goes downward. My father is penniless right now. He's basically living off our generosity. It won't be until four years later before he gets his first monthly pension.
Papa asked for the Lord's forgiveness for the excesses of his old life, Nene recalled Mama as saying. The man had probably 10 times more than his rightful share of alcohol during this prime years. A chain smoker for 30 years, too. How could he have stopped nicotine from clobbering all the useful air sacs in his lungs? I just pray that God will give him more time so he could see the next Dubai Shopping Festival, even if he has to take a portable nebulizer with him.
And here I am, so far away, trying to make sense of all these. There's nothing I could do but pray for him and our family. Especially Mama, who also has her own heart condition. She should be retiring soon. I should be praying more. God, forgive me too. And please change my heart, make it ever new.
Will someone who heard mass starting from the offering part (too late to even give his own offering), just get half the grace that comes with it? Maybe nothing at all? But that's not for any mortal to decide, I think. A massive clean-up of the house (I appointed myself in charge of the kitchen and bathroom) shortly after a sumptous Friday lunch got me so beat. Slept again and woke up 15 minutes to 6.00pm. Little wonder that I arrived more than 20 minutes into Fr Daniel's mass.
The massive parking problem around St Mary's wasn't any help either. I gave the wheels to Nep, my roommate, just to see if the Dubai traffic police examiner was right in giving him a new driving license (after six or seven attempts that cost him more than Dh4,000, Nep claimed). He drove just fine. We found a parking space in a sand patch more than 200 meters away from the entrance.
But I felt good; at least we got in time for the priest's blessing. After the mass, I went up to one of the parish halls where my choirmates were brushing up songs for the mass wedding ceremony. It's a big day for Catholic couples who want cheap blessing.
Though that's still three months away, it's no joke to have four disparate voices blend in a way that won't jeopardize the affair. Last year, 21 couples met what it took to exchange their vows (out of the 40 or so who showed intent). How many will turn up before the December 3 affair this year? Depends on how many people value a priest's blessing before copulating.
The choir, it seems, is gaga over the singing more than the couples themselves are agog over the kissing (to seal their I do's, in case you don't know that yet). Last year, some of the couples have long gone past their honeymoon stage (many towed their own kids as flower girls or ring bearers, or both) before their bonds were sprinkled with holy water.
But the prospect of playing for a praise and worship band, a group of Indian youngsters headed by Edwin on the bass and Vivek, the keyboardist, made my heart jump. I've heard this group play next to where me and my choirmates do our practice rounds on Fridays at the parish hall. They played "Celebrate" quite nicely for me, who walked in as an "observer". But where did they get that cool Roland drum pad, complete with a kick? Really cool. I wanna buy one for myself. It's one of the things I love about Dubai: freedom of worship. Ah, music. It's food for the soul.
My pages, three in all, are nearly out of the way. But my day's fortunes could still spin into a seething disaster. Between now and printing time, around 8 pm, my whole work could very well go back to square one. That's thanks in no small part to having a string of smart bosses checking what we, the paper's workhorses, do. They, the bosses, just crack the whip. No, the back-to-square-one analogy is misleading. It's more like a station of the cross each day. Just that the stripes are unseen.
And it doesn't help that they've been at it longer than we, the work horses, have been. So they're quite familiar with the shortcuts and compromises, commissions and omissions that their underlings are capable of doing which, in turn, can also jeopardize their necks.
But the prospect of going home early on a Thursday makes my cells feel a bit more relaxed. A little consolation after a rather long day. Fridays and Eid are to the Gulf what Sundays and Christmas are to (some of the East and) most of the West. Becha know dat awredy. I showed up for work pretty early coz I knew I'd be stuck with one of the three or so pages, my day's tasks. Lazing my ass in bed for as long as I like --- or want, or need -- tomorrow is an idea that makes my eyes droop right now in great expectation of a horizontal rendezvous. With my two soft pillows, that is.
But hold it just yet. An assignment comes in for 7.00pm -- to interview the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" host for a feature story. Wachamacallit (Wag kayo makulit!). Eish hada! Just when I thought my day's finally over...
For nearly a month now, I've been shuffled from one segment of the Tabloid (each segment represents four pages) to another. That's a sub's job for you. But quite frankly, I'm just a glorified lay-out artist now. Thinking of heads, kickers, blurbs and checking typos -- plus a little rewriting here and there -- are run-of-the-mill tasks for an otherwise tile-setting affair. No reason to think about masochist tendencies here but I'm kind of enjoying this gig. It's like a moving target all the time. But a spur-of-the-moment assignment like this game show host whatsisface?
I heard Tabloid is one of the sections that people do read. For the cats and dog ads, I should think. Can you believe it... I've become the cartoon man for nearly a week now, going through Garfield, Dilbert, Andy Capp and all their non-siquitur crap. It's a refreshing break from having to deal with Modhesh, Dubai's home-bred mascot (which turned into a merchandise industry, including stuffed toys, school supplies and a Mario-like PC game for Dh75). But I didn't know I'd end up loving the paper's comics section.
This could be my last canine day in the paper, too. Those stamp-sized pictures of lost and found pets -- with their homely descriptions and the vet's advice corner -- make my heart bleed for these animals. But wait. Am I being too Westernised faster than I imagined?
I'm reminded of Quiapo, where enterprising Chinese businessmen turn feline meat into siopao, either asado or bola-bola. Dunno how true those tales are. I like either -- or both -- just the same. Must be the rat in me that wants to get back at the poor cats. But the "K-9" section reminds me of "Asucena", a fave of Ginebra fans in my home region. I'm talking about dog meat, of course, kaldereta-style. That sleepy corner of the Philippines where I grew up in is full of alcoholics that truckloads of sugarcane-based agua de pataranta are dumped there more than once a week. It's a place where dogs are never considered man's "best friend". They are loyal, all right. But best friend? Nah. Best pulutan, yes.
Mohsin taught me how to use iTunes. It's a CD playlist management software. One of the freebies -- from the Net. But what grabbed my interest was the online access that iTunes provides to a hundred or so radio stations from different parts of the world. Neat.
So this is the future of radio and music. A web-centric experience. It's got everything. Almost. Top hits from the 70s and 80s, Hard Rockin 80s, Flashback radio, Christian music, techno, electronica, hardrock, heavey metal, international (Jap, Dutch, Italian, others soon to follow, I think).
Imagine a time in the near future when every car that rolls out of factories comes with high-speed wireless access to the Web, along with ABS and airbags. You can drive your four-wheeler, probably running on hydro or fuel cell, in a desert Safari while tuning in to your favourite FM radio station or watching TV from halfway across the world. A retractable solar panel on the roof ensures that your vehicle's electronics will work, at least to give your coordinates, just in case a freak storm burries you in a heap of sand.
The coconut macaroons I ate in the car on my way to the office this morning was not all that bad... .
Words of encouragement. A pat in the back. A simple appreciation. It helps. It works. It's simple.
Yet it's hard to come by. And when you're the object of recognition, especially by a boss, for doing things right, for wearing the kind of smile you put on your miserable face...you're simply suspended in disbelief. You start to doubt your ears. Or the intention behind those feel-good words.
"You have the right attitude at work," my boss told me just now. It's not as if I did anything really great a minute ago. So I haven't got the fogiest as to the provocation for these load of ... "Mark my words, you have what it takes to succeed in life. Attitude counts, more than talent," the boss added.
Empty compliments, for lack of nothing to say? Or an outright insult, saying that what I lack in wit, I make up for it by having my heart in the right place? Well... dunno, really. All I know is I work for a living the best way I can. Maybe it's because I don't normally complain or grumble, no matter how tough the task. No matter how challenging. No matter how boring. No matter how simple. But I do ask the authorities when I don't know what to do. It's just common sense. Not a Mensa-type display of wit.
Ah, but let it be. For lack of anything creative or off-the-cuff reply, I just retorted: "Attitude is everything in life. When talent is misplaced, it ruins the people around you."
I really believe that. Some "experts" say that people tend to cling to their old ideas with time. But some truths don't change with time, do they? Let's take the dictator Ferdinand Marcos: a bar top-notcher, one of the youngest senators, one of the smartest presidents at the start of his career. One of the worst crooks too. When he married the once-beautiful Imelda, Ferdinand was already a rising star of Philippine politics (a congressman, I think). Well, Marcos turned out to be one of the worst crooks. No one can match his loot enough to unseat him from the Guinness Book of World Records. His children don't seem to care. They're back in the limelight. A few inches away from the coffers of our Mickey Mouse Republic. And what of the world "Imeldific"?
But that's another story. Back here in the office, I figured that I messed up my pages today. Not so happy with the way I edited the story (Dubai by night, about the trash collectors -- the unsung and unseen heroes). I thought the writer could have developed it further, squeezed more information, and make it not only a livelier but also an informative read. But not time to argue or get more facts. Besides the pictures are almost done by now, even if the pictures are a mess. But it's because of the way I laid them out.
But "you have what it takes to succeed in life"... A bold declaration. Let's hope the boss is right about this.
I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That's deep enough. What do you want -- an adorable pancreas?
These words keep ringing in my ears. They hit right smack in the middle of my groin. I happen to think that the reason why some men (and women) end up alone even if they want to get married is because of the fact that human beings can't see beyong the skin. Forget the what's-essential-is-invisible-to-the-eye BS of that poor dogfight pilot Antoine.
Men and -- to a greater extent -- women, too, value nothing beyond the epidermis, both in real and reel life, in social relations and, even more so, in romantic dalliances. Can it be said that society feeds off its ignorance, blind for looking only on the surface.
Prone to fall into the folly of putting disproportionate value to what's seen only on the face? For valuing -- to borrow Martin Luther Jr's words -- the color of one's skin more than the weight of his character?
You'd perhaps realise by now that this beauty-is-everything rule holds as much water as 'the-West-is-evil' mantra of Al Qaeda or 'the axis-of-evil' triumvirate defined by George W Bush.
We live with extremism in our daily lives. Or maybe it's just a simplistic understanding of the terra-firma. In the romantic realm, this extremism is like a vicious beast that preys on both the male and female species.
Most couple end up living miserable lives together because what they thought were unsavoury manifestations of inner qualities of their partner, which they initially ignored in favor of skin-deep considerations, will be resolved with time, with love. But even if time heals all wounds, or the usual love-conquers-all clichˇ, no amount of loving will tame an inner beast which Freuds thinks lies in the inner recesses of the consciousness of every "normal" person who can read up to this line.
I've always suspected that there are at least two ways of looking at things; part of the so-called thesis-antithesis equation. Call it dialectics, the unity of opposites, yin-yang, duality, positive-negative, Feng-Shui, good-evil equation, presence and absence, whatever.
Since I started pondering on this point, I was convinced that reality comes with a dual face. Otherwise, we wouldn't have any need for the millions of lawyers or judges to argue or rule in favor of one side against the other.
A dialogue or an argument can be likened to having two sides of the same coin, or rivers flowing separately. One comes from the wellsprings of wisdom, filtered by experience. The other comes from practical, University of Hard Knocks kind of logic. Either way, they end up in a murky, skin-deep mangrove before being washed away into the deep-blue sea. Salty as the taste of my armpits after a long walk on the Creekside.
No matter how long and winding their waters flow separately -- from the brooks and tributaries up in the mountains of incomprehension -- they usually end up in the same huge body of water... a giant mass of reality that embraces everything all at once.
But this reality becomes so humongous so as to be incomprehensible. A mighty creature that one becomes totally clueless of the origins of individual "truths" that together make the giant mass.
And when these snippets of reality have become intermingled in a colorless collection of liquid, only then can we see that it's just a part of an even bigger picture. Call it the interconnectedness of existence, if you will. We're all overwhelmed by our Lilliputian understanding. Who can characterise the whole body according to spare parts, quadrangles or nano-level composition? Even if that were possible, for what purpose?
But I digress.
Let's go back to the question of beauty being only skin-deep. In my book, it may well be. I tend to agree with the people who say that character counts too. A lot. That's the key to living in peace. Skin is only good for 10 or 15 years, max. After a woman goes through the ravages of child-bearing, child-rearing and building a family, beauty gives in to the years. Skin wrinkles, as old Giordano jeans do after the 1,000th spin.
But not character. It assumes more beauty with the years, honed by everyday lessons. Between the river and the deep blue see, every person's character is a reality that is both simple and mysterious. The difference between life and death, practicality and stupidity. Character goes right through the pancreas -- even if you take that phrase in a more biological than figurative sense.
I just woke up this morning realising that I will be 32 soon, in another 20 days or so. That thought scared me. Does that reflect vanity? Ah, but every human being has a share of that. Question is: should I go for the skin or the pancreas?