Sunday, November 21

Summer 2007

 

the memory of you

is still swimming in my head

like a sublime goldfish

in the universe that is my pond

ever present in my mind

the vision of you

coming toward my presence

with a quiet confidence

that I could almost taste in my mouth

rolls in my tongue

like bitter sweet coffee

you shake my hand

and greet me

with your mild humor

like it was the last

but for me

it was a first

...

Tuesday, November 2

All Souls, Saints and Sinners…

 

photo credit: badongski

The streets are quiet tonight.  I can even hear the quiet under the music playing in my digital player.  I’ve been running for over 30 minutes and I don’t feel like stopping, but I know that I have to stop in a while.  Just a few more meters, I tell myself.  Forget the rain, forget the strain in my legs.  I just need to stretch it out a little for just a few more meters and then I’m good. 

The light drizzle, softly touches my skin and blends with my salty perspiration.  I quicken my pace a little as the rain begins to build momentum. I am practically running in the middle of the street.  Not a lot of cars tonight. only a lonesome sedan or taxi and  a desolate jeepney  every twenty paces.  

I stop for a quick breath in a street corner, in front of a closed restaurant.  I bend a little just to so that I would not lose balance.  My tank top is drenched with the salt of my fluids and the rain.  I lick my lips to rid of the accumulated sweat.  They are very salty.

I need to sit down so I sit by the curb to rest a little.  I turn off my digital player and just sat by the curb watching some people and cars pass by.  There were people passing by, mostly hobos and the occasional hooker and hustler.  The hobos stare at me as they push their cart pass me, while the hookers and hustlers give me the sideward glance.  Nobody bothered me though.  They probably thought I just another crazy person running in an ungodly hour like tonight. I try to read each of their minds when they look at me as they pass me by.  I don’t have the powers to do it but I try all the same.   I wonder what they were thinking.   They prolly thought I was some pervert looking for a trick, or some killer looking for a kill, or some runner practicing for an upcoming marathon,  or probably just a nobody trying to get noticed.   Who knows…

As I take the night’s silence, I notice something different tonight. The lit candles outside the doorsteps.  In fact there was one a few meters away right beside where I was sitting.   I remember now.  I though IU have forgotten because I slept most of the day.  It’s the First of November – the Feast of All Saints.  Tomorrow would be the the Feast of All Souls.  

In the Christian Tradition, November first is for the commemoration of all the holy men and women who have dedicated themselves in the service of Christianity, The Feast of All Saints.  The rest of the departed are remembered the day after.   In this country, people forego the commemoration of the saints and go right to remembering their dearly departed. I think that it  is just fitting. Why would one bother remembering someone he does not know, who has no relevance or significance in his life?  I am not one for holidays.  I enjoy them because I get to not work.  I slept most of the day because I figured that this was the only day that I get to sleep in.   Fuck’em saints and let me sleep a little.   I’m pretty sure they’d understand.  

Today is a national holiday.  People go in throngs to the cemeteries and columbaries and ossuaries of this country to clean their departed’s tombs and light candles and pray and even sing karaoke (they do, and this is how we roll in the Islands). 

The irony of the matter is, I never went to the cemetery today.  Reason is, I didn’t want to.  Not just because I slept most of the day, but mostly because I didn’t see the point of going just because it was a day to commemorate dead people, albeit it’s actually the day to commemorate holy Christian people. 

I’m prolly making excuses to myself, being the asshole and cynic that I am.   I look at the candles burning bright and I could smell the wax and burning wicks.  Another hobo passes by and gives me an odd glance.  He’s prolly wondering why I’m looking at the candles with such diligence of a schoolboy.  He prolly thinks that I was going to steal them. He prolly went to the cemetery today.   He prolly bought his own candles and matches.  Or maybe he just borrowed some matches from another hobo. 

I don’t get it sometimes.   Why do we have to light candles in front of our doorsteps when we’ve already lit the candles in the cemetery.  Would it make any difference if we place lit candles in both our dearly departed’s tomb and our doorsteps? In the the greater scheme of things, it probably serves a purpose.  It probably gives us a certain level of comfort or security.   That they may have passed but us left behind who bear the bittersweet yoke of remembering must assure ourselves more than the departed that we will never forget.   This is probably the reason why nobody remembers the Feast of All Saints.  Because in the microcosm of our own universes, they never mattered. They mattered to those that knew them.  But then again, they are all dead. In the end, it’s all about the souls and not the saints.  We are all sinners in our last breath. 

I snap out of my reverie and stand up and start my run again. 

……………..

I continue southwards.  I go to the park where I usually run in the mornings.  I haven’t ran in a long time.  I have been mostly busy with work and trying to stay afloat.  I’m sweating again and I like the feel of it.  I try to quicken my pacing but gravity humbles me. The rain is building up a little and  I do not mind. I cross the elliptical road, not bothering to use the pedestrian underpass since there are not a lot of vehicles tonight.  Once on the other side I circle the park three or four times till my legs begin to give in.  

There aren’t a lot of people in the park tonight.  Most probably because of the holiday or more likely because it’s a Monday.  There are couples in benches, kids playing frisbee in the grass, hookers and hustlers roaming around looking for their Johns and Johns looking for their tricks and security personnel trying on the look for the unsuspecting John caught in the act.   The amusement park is closed.   Some kiosks are open (prolly trying to break even or something).  Nobody’s buying though. I only saw a couple of people running like me. It’s a bit of a relief to see that I am not the only one running at this time of night. 

In the middle of the park is a monument, three obelisk like structures, with an angel holding a wreath sitting on each structure while appearing to be gazing downwards.  The obelisks are connected by three horizontal beams that forms into a triangle if you stand at the center of the structure and look up.  Below are three powerful headlights that change color every 3 minutes or so,  each positioned on each obelisk which kind of gives the viewer an ominous and foreboding feeling when one actually gives time to look at it from below. It does look eerie if you sit on one the benches and try to look at one of the angels.  I once did that in one of my morning runs and I could faintly see that the angels have their eyes closed or seem to be asleep.  Sometimes I wonder if they ever open their eyes when people are not looking.  

The monument is actually a mausoleum that houses the remains of a dead president.  It is rather ironic to think that I did not want to go to the cemetery today and light candles and shit because I wanted to sleep in, only to end up running around a supersized tomb.

I stop at the foot of the monument, sweat and rain and all.  I head for home as I take that realization as a sign. I maybe a cynic but I am a cynic that believes in palpable signs.    A cynic still, albeit a superstitious one.

…………..

I took the jeepney going back.  There were only a handful of us inside the jeepney.  Most of them probably went to the cemetery as some were carrying a bag of candles and flowers and all.  As I was going back to my apartment, I began thinking of the people I’ve lost that actually mattered to me in one way or another. They are not many, but there are some.  And they mattered to me. 

I came into my box apartment and took out some candles and incense which I “borrowed” from my upstairs neighbor.  I lit them.  I placed some candles in my room.  I placed one outside my door by the stairwell.  I placed the incense outside.  Should I say a prayer?  I don’t know.  But instinct or something inside me told me to light the candles and burn incense.  I do not know if it was guilt for not having gone to the cemetery or because this was a selfish act of self preservation or because of some divine or cosmic mandate that I should revere this day.

But “something” told me to light and burn tonight.  I have never forgotten them, truth be told.  They remain in my thoughts.  They remain in certain places, in certain books, in certain food, in certain things, in certain films and songs, in similar situations, in other people.  They remain.  And I bear the bittersweet yoke of their memory not because I of tradition, but because they mattered. And to this sinner,  they continue to be significant. 

Friday, October 15

Thursday

I don’t know if I honestly could keep this up.  I need something.  LIKE ANYTHING TO INSPIRE ME.  Maybe I’m ill fated.  Should I just accept it? Never in my imagination would I thought that I would be reduced to this.  Good lord I need to write something.  This isn’t writing.  

Thursday, October 14

Wednesday

I woke up with a very weird feeling.   I was feeling my belly and my sides if I had any stab wounds.  I had this dream.  Well I woke up from a dream.  The dream was very vivid.  I could still smell the colors of it.  It wasn’t in sepia or black and white or blurry like most dreams in movies are.  It was in Technicolor.   My dream was like an indie movie with a hint of porn on the side.   I stabbed a lot of people in that dream. 

Wednesday, October 13

Tuesday

0801 hours

Greek breakfast.  Coffee and cigarettes.  That what I always have whenever I wake up.  I sit on my toilet doing what I usually do while I type these words.  (It’s overshare but I can’t think of anything to write). A part of me is telling myself that this is a futile exercise, but a huge part is hopeful. Now I can’t think of anything to write.  I think it’s because I’m doing a zillion thing at the same time – doing my morning toilet absolutions, while thinking if the SMS message I sent to my work group would arrive while thinking of something to write.

Sunday, July 25

looking for Omar…





















I think I may have lost myself. It’s been over a year and I, for the most part of my life here in the Coconut Republic,  have been silent.  I haven’t written anything in more than six months.  For whatever reasons, I haven’t written anything in a very long time.  I blame myself.  My only passion and I let it go because I needed a  “career”.   It’s not as if i didn’t try writing.  Honest to God I did many times.  But I couldn’t seem to “force” it.  It’s not as if I ran out of ideas, in fact I had many.  I just couldn’t.  Like a fish out of water, I was out of my element…  I have lost myself.  I guess I’m doomed. 
I feel as if there is a need for me to regain myself.  At least pick up the bits and pieces and try to make myself somewhat of a whole again.  I need to write.  Anything.  Anything worthwhile, stupid or mundane.  Anything.  I don’t have the liberty to choose now.  I must write. 

So I have decided that for the next seven days I will write anything that comes out of my skin, my bowels, my loins, my pores. Anything.  May the cosmos help this sinner.
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Thursday, May 20

For St. James...










Know that life is in front of you - smiling and embracing and waiting...

Know that someone is proud of you - of your endeavors, of your hopes and of your dreams…

Know that you are always in someone’s thoughts - always hoping the goodness to come out in you and flourish…
Know that you are good. 

That no matter how you may always think you are not, you are a wellspring of what is good and true and pure. 

The universe declares so, my friend. 

And the universe is never wrong.
Know that you are strong. 

Violent forces may touch you, defile you, harm you, cripple you until it all may seem blur, greyish-black, biting the thing you call your soul, summoning forth the darkest edge of reason beckoning unreason… 

But still you stand panting, bleeding and wounded yet undefeated. 

You are david in the desert. 

Your heart is your sling. 

Your soul, your pebble.

Your will is a trebuchet…
Know that you are loved. 

That there are people who care for you and think and hope the best of you. distance does not exist…
Know that you are embraced. 

Know that your past is absolved, forgiven, consecrated…
Know that now is what matters. 

Now you are here… 

Now you are strong… 

Now you are loved…
Know that you are becoming. 

That what you were and what you are now are together, embraced, post-coital. 

That tomorrow will be another you and the day after tomorrow will rise forth another you… 

And the day after that and the day after that… 

You are a lovechild of tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow. 

Therefore, 

Be-come.
The universe loves you, my friend. 

I love you…
Know that time is a patient lover. 

Ever constant and ever faithful…
Know that it doesn't matter how long it takes 

Or how many pit stops you make or which road you take. 

Or even if you actually get there… 

What really matters is that you are taking the journey…
Tomorrow patiently waits for you, my friend .
Seize it.




February 23, 2006
A Letter to St. James

Tuesday, March 30

Geek Time. Hadron Collider makes a breakthrough



The Large Hardon Hadron Collider makes a breakthrough. Like, whoa. For closet geeks out there who want real time info on the Hardon (*slap, mind outta the gutter) Hadron Collider, go to this link. It's riveting I tell ya.  I'm this close to jizzing in me trousers.  

Friday, March 26

Nanay and Tatay and Fried Chicken





Showering with My Parents

I had Sunday lunch with my parents today to celebrate their wedding anniversary on Monday. Since I have work on Monday, I told them I'd take them out to lunch on Sunday. They happily obliged. Nanay and Tatay (Filipino for 'mother' and 'father') came in early and they arrived in my box apartment when I was about to take a shower. As usual, they were both arguing about something trifle – this time it was about my father's shoes. My mother is waving her arms in her usual fashion while she tries to wake up the neighbors, and my father wincing at my mother's every gesture. When I reached my twenty second threshold, I told both of them that I needed to take a shower and the three of us should be leaving in a few minutes. That seemed to settle the two of them. I was about to step into the bathroom (which was like three paces from my doorstep and one pace from bed) when I suddenly realized that I do not have a bathroom door. Tatay was already settled in my bed and Nanay was fiddling with my computer and asking me how to open You Tube (or "yu choob”).

I felt really weird all of a sudden. I realized that I am gonna be showering naked in my capsule of a bathroom with both of my parents just a fart's smell away. It's like back when I was nine or ten or two when I caught both of them doing the nasty. I was playing hide and seek with my nephew and I decided to hide under my parents' bed where I know he wouldn't find me. True enough, my nephew didn't find me, but I was stuck under the bed for almost an hour because my parents came in from the bathroom (yes, back when gravity still had a slight effect on them, my parents used to shower together). Now I couldn't get outta the bed you see because their room was off limits and both of them would have a cow if they see me under their bed. So I bidded my time. Well, they did too. I was hoping that they would just get dressed but no, they decided to do the quick nasty. To say that I was terrified and scarred for life would be overstating it. I already knew about sex. I didn't know much back then but I knew enough. 

Ugh.

The picture of my mother and my father doing the deed brought me back from my childhood reminiscing to my bathroom. I needed a shower badly and I was really sweaty and rank from running. So what I did was to just to switch off the bathroom lights so there would be some decency left in me after this ordeal. I realized that the only way to survive this ordeal was to be casual about it. I got my towel and my change of clothes and put it beside my kitchen sink cum pharmacy (which was a half pace away from my bed ¼ pace away from my bathroom door). I stripped off my running gear and put it in the sink (I live in a prison cell, but a nicely painted one) and got the water running. I started showering while talking to both of them about this and that, mostly about Manny Pacquiao's latest bout with Clottey. “Do you think he'd win (Pacquiao)?”, I shouted at them while in mid lather, just to make everything sort of casual. “Does the pope shit in the woods”, my father quips in English in a very staccato fashion then laughs at his own joke. Then I hear my mother saying something about bears and the pope and about my father at laughing at his own jokes.

Waiting for the Taxi

I decided that we should take the taxi since it was gonna be a long walk to the restaurant if we were to take the jeepney. Besides, both of them already have weak knees. We were walking towards the taxi stand and I noticed that Tatay was lagging behind. I told Nanay that we oughta wait for Tatay but all she said was, 

“Hayaan mo yan, makakasunod din yan sa atin."
Naaaah, don't worry about it, he'll catch up.

She didn't say it with contempt or anything but just in a matter of fact manner. My father is growing old. He will be 73 coming June. I looked at my mother and I saw the same thing. She is more resilient though. Her knees may be weak but she still has that youthful vigor in her that I cannot not see in my father these days.

They used to be young, my parents. They used to have that vigor that boasted of their youth and boldness. They used to fight like Stanley and Stella. I remember how they'd wake up the whole neighborhood with all their insults and their mockery of each other's parents, siblings and uncles and aunts and past lovers (my father's side only since Tatay was Nanay's first and last). My siblings and I would hear the crashing noise of broken plates, glasses and windows. My sisters would be crying a little and my brother would be in his room and I'd sit by the stairs and wait for the shouting match and the throwing to end so I could count the broken plates and glasses later. One of my sisters would be cleaning up the the mess they made in two hours or so. The house will be quiet after the fight, like it was just bombed by the Japanese or something. Stanley would be out somewhere with his drinking buddies and Stella would be packing an overnighter to stay with her sister (whom my father had an affair 15 years later). We all know that she would not go to her sister's and that my father would be back just after midnight, pissed drunk lying on the floor sleeping on his own vomit. Mother, the dutiful wife that she is would be cleaning him up and bringing him to their bedroom. We'd all wake up to a nice Filipino breakfast the next day – tapas and tocinos and fried rice and sunny side ups and all. Of course the whole spread is served on plastic plates and cups. Thank God for Tupperware. Living with my parents is like living in a soft core Prince of Tides alternate universe.

I have never realized how long that I've been gone till I saw Nanay and Tatay in their old age. I worry about them. I don't tell them that I do because they'll worry about me because I am worrying about them. I asked Nanay for us to slow down a bit to wait for Tatay who seemed to be taking his sweet time in walking. He doesn't look frail when he's walking and all, he's just slow. His walk reminds me of Yoda sorta – slow but sure and with such fortitude and resoluteness. He doesn't seem to mind that we went ahead and we were waiting for him at the taxi stand. He finally arrives and the crowd goes wild. I hail the next taxi so we could go to the Quezon Memorial Circle or the “Circle” as it is more popularly called. It was the place where I just took my run this morning. My mother used to tell me that they used to go out on dates at the Circle when they were younger, that's why I decided to take them there for their anniversary lunch.

We got into the cab and I told the driver to take us to the Circle but to first make a stop at the nearest ATM so I could withdraw some money. The AM radio was abuzz with Paquiao's latest bout with Clottey and it was no wonder why the streets were almost deserted in a Sunday morning like today. Filipinos are besotted by Manny Paquiao and so are my parents. I hear my father talking to the taxi driver about how Paquiao will win against Clottey and how he's going to be the next Flash Elorde. Flash Elorde has been dead for years and Manny Paquiao has broken every Filipino boxer's record. Yet even this fact is common knowledge to all of us except my father, the driver promptly agreed and told my father that Paquiao was going to win this game even with his hands tied.

Eating Fried Chicken

I decided to bring them to Max's. It was actually my mother's idea since they are both fond of that restaurant. Last week when I was asking her where they wanted to eat, she just told me anywhere except fast food, Chinese food or some weird food. Like me, she didn't want to go to some restaurant in a mall since she hates going there unless she wants to buy something quick, so Max's at the Circle was the restaurant that came to my mind. I remember taking her to a Max's restaurant some years back and she liked the food.

The restaurant was quite empty on a Sunday. I surmised it was because of Manny. Everybody was waiting for that fight, my parents included. I was probably the only one who wasn't. It's not that I don't like Manny Paquiao, I admire the dude's methodical boxing, but I'm not that really interested in boxing or the glory of the Filipino people and all that jazz. And besides, I kinda had the feeling that he'd win anyways. Now, if I knew that Paquiao would lose, then I'd prolly watch it. Not that I want him to lose or anything, because Filipinos are die hard Paquiao fanatics and I could be put to death by stoning if they get as much of a hint that I want to see Manny lose. I'm just saying that it would be an interesting and noteworthy scene to see Manny Paquiao lose a game, not because of his personal title as the Pound for Pound King or any of that crap, but because of the millions and I mean millions of people rallying for him. I mean, imagine the grief of the Filipino people if Paquiao loses. People will cry. People would grieve. My parents would have a bad day. It would be like the day when the Marcoses fled to Hawaii back in 1986. The masses would have lost their hero, their Jake Sully that will free them from the grips of oppression, poverty and hopelessness. Manny Paquiao is not just a Filipino for the Philippines, he's THE Filipino. He's bound to lose a fight, that's a fact as the laws of the universe would suggest. I just hope by the time that he does lose a bout with somebody, the whole country is sure of itself already and does not need a Messiah-Jake-Sully figure to look up to. Fat chance.

The place looked semi deserted with just a couple of tables occupied by couples eating away their fried chicken (Max's is known for it's fried chicken). The waiter seated us to a bigger table since we were three. When we got hold of our seats, I saw that Tatay was a bit giddy all of a sudden telling Nanay that's it's his first time to eat at Max's. I just smiled at my father's statement because true enough, my mother started telling my father that it's just his Alzheimer's acting up because they have eaten at Max's so many times and the fried chicken here was his favorite.

Ah ganun ba?"
Is it?,  
says my father.
Oo nga, ang kulit mo talaga!"
Yes, how many times do I have to tell it to you?!
says my mother.

I kept smiling at the two of them knowing that this is a normal interaction between my parents ever since my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's years back. I tell both of them that we should start ordering and signaled the waiter to bring in the menus. A nice looking waiter approaches us, he's probably mid twenties, a bit on the chubby side and with an affable smile on his face. I tell my mother to order anything they like, but she tells me to do the ordering. I know this routine, she knows what she wants from the get go but I play along by telling her that I know what I want (which was their all day Filipino breakfast) and she should order what they want since it's their day.

Sigurado ka ba?"
Are you sure? 
she asks me. I nod.
OK”, 
she says then flips through the menu.

I ordered the breakfast plate and they ordered the whole fried chicken, pansit (fried noodles), spring rolls, chop suey, 2 cups of rice, soup and halo-halo for dessert. As the waiter was taking note of our orders, my father couldn't help but tell him,

Anniversary namin ng asawa ko ngayon kaya dinala kami ng panganay kong anak dito para mag celebrate" 
It's me and my wife's anniversary today and my eldest son took us here to celebrate.

Jusko Bibing! Bunso natin si Omar!"
Jesus Bibing! Omar's our youngest! 
tells my mother, with fork gesticulating and all. Then she adds to the waiter in mock whisper, “Pasensya ka na, matanda na kasi eh."
I'm sorry, old age.

My father, still possessing the faculties of hearing, was quick to tell the smiling waiter, 
Ay ganun ba? Ay sorry, may Alzheimer na kasi ako. Bunso naming anak si Omar." 
Is it? It's my Alzheimer's acting up again, I'm sorry, Omar is our youngest. 

I was slightly embarrassed to be honest, because the whole restaurant prolly heard the whole thing. I tell the waiter that we were good and he got our menus and went to the kitchen.

While we were waiting for the food to arrive, I asked them if they wanted to do something else after lunch, like walk a little around the Circle or watch a movie somewhere or something. They both said lunch was okay and they wanted to get back home quick so they could catch the Paquiao fight. My parents, on their 52nd year of being married wanted to watch Paquiao on tv.

The food finally came and we started eating. Nanay called the waiter to ask where was the bottle of Mang Tomas liver sauce but the waiter told her that they only have Jufran Banana Ketchup at Max's. Mother just shrugged and continued putting food on my father's plate.
Truth be told, I like watching my parents eat. I dunno why, but I can see this intimacy whenever they eat together. Ever since I was a kid, I have never seen them eat by themselves. They've always eaten together except when they are fighting. Sometimes they even eat on the same plate. Nanay would always eat Tatay's left overs, which is a rarity nowadays (to think that my father is pushing mid seventies!). I honestly think that a sure sign of true and enduring love between two people is when one eats the other's left overs. I watch my mother as she puts chicken and chop suey and noodles on my father's plate. She may not admit it, but she loves the bastard. I try to be the dutiful son by setting the dinner conversation and talking about anything that I could think of – Manny Paquiao, my siblings, neighborhood gossip, my job, the coming elections, the Marcoses and more neighborhood gossip. At one point during the meal, I asked them about being together for fifty-two years and how it felt like going this far and my father, seeing an opportunity to exercise his ever infinite wisdom told me,

Anak, ang sikreto sa isang pagsasamahan ay ang pagiging committed sa isa't isa at ang pag amin ng kani-kanilang pagkukulang, pagpapatawad at pagsusumikap na punan ang bawat mga pagkukulang.”
Son, the secret to a lasting relationship is to be committed to each other and by admitting one's shortcomings and by forgiving the other for these shortcomings and by working together to fill these shortcomings.

My mother snarled in mid-chew and with a bone in her left hand she said,

Hay naku Bibing...”, in which the closest translation would either be “Jesus, Bibing” or “Yeah, right.” or “Shortcomings my ass.”

Tatay didn't seem to mind Nanay's last comment and continued,

Inaamin ko, marami akong pagkakamali, pero nanghingi na ako ng tawad sa Nanay niyo.”
I admit that I did a lot of shitty things in the past but I already asked for forgiveness from your mother.

Nanay just grunted and put more food on Tatay's plate.

Forty minutes later, they were full. I am drinking my coffee and Nanay is eating her halo-halo. Tatay is patting his stomach telling us that the meal was great and he was sure that this was his first time to eat in a restaurant like this. We had the leftovers doggie bagged (it wouldn't be a Filipino lunch out if there wasn't any doggie bag). My mother was hoping to score a free bottle of ketchup from the waiter, but the waiter wouldn't budge and gave her six sachets of ketchup instead.

They wanted to go home and watch the fight but I told them to drop by at my box apartment first so that they could freshen up before they go back to Caloocan. Reluctantly, they agreed. I just really wanted to spend more time with them is all. I rarely spend time with my parents and to be honest, I don't want to spend a lot of time with them. But today's a different day I guess, probably their anniversary or it's probably the balmy weather that's making me act funny. Times like these I wish I had my own tv so I could let them stay in my box to watch the fight but the thing is I didn't bother to buy a television since I don't really watch TV.
We took a cab and went straight back to my apartment. I looked at the back seat and true enough, the two of them were near dozing off.

Billie Holiday

Watching my parents take a nap on my airbed made me feel fuzzy inside all of a sudden. Fifty-two years is not a walk in the park, it's more like climbing Mt. Everest. It came upon me that as much as my mother hates my father's idiosyncrasies and as much as my father hates my mother's loud mouth, they still sleep (and probably sometimes do the nasty) in the same bed every night. I don't believe in perfect relationships and have never been fond of such. I believe in good relationships but not perfect ones. Seeing them laying in my bed while a Billie Holiday song plays in the background makes me hold to my belief more. They have a good thing going. Gravity may have taken away a lot from their body and their minds, but this one, this one stayed. And as I look at these two ancient figures in my bed, I could not help but imagine if ever I'm going to have something like this. As cynical as I am (I wanted Paquiao to lose just for the sociological value of him losing), I want to have something like this – nothing perfect or rosy but something real good. I am sorta teary eyed by the scene before me (it's prolly the Billie Holiday song). My parents are two lucky bastards. I secretly envy my father, who was already waking up and fanning himself with his hat, from this vantage point. I wanted to tell him that he was one lucky motherfucker to have something like this still going in the so called twilight of his years. I didn't have to, because even though he has Alzheimer's, Tatay already knows that. I guess I finally found the reason for his odd smiles.



Friday, March 12

On running

I do my runs now whenever time permits.  Unlike before, I do not have the luxury to just Forrest Gump my ass everyday at anytime of the day.  I have a job now, it's nothing glamorous but it's a job, it pays the bills and the taxes are shitty.  I miss running, to be honest.  I miss   I'm not an expert and all but I don't do badly either.  I run fast whenever I feel like it.  I run slow whenever I feel like it too (but it's mostly because I need to catch my breath). It's like stroking my Pedro.  I stroke fast because it gets the blood running down there, but when my left (or right) arm gets tired, I slow down.  When I feel I have already regained enough strength, I go blue streak again.  Running and masturbating have a lot of parallels.  Stroke fast, stroke slow.  run fast, run slow.  Holding your breaths. Timing your breaths.  Catching some air. Being in tune with the music playing in your iPod or just being in tune with the music playing in your head.  Then you reach that natural high.  It's self fulfilling.  When I run, it's like I'm masturbating.  I start slow, then I speed up, then I catch my breath a little, then I pick up some speed, then I release my inner Billy Sive. I reach my climax.  After which I feel so spent that I feel like a tweaking two dollar crack whore.  Sweaty and salty, I stretch beside some anonymous tree and pant like there is no tomorrow.  My body jizzes of sweat.  And when I think no one's looking, I lick off the sweat from my shoulders to taste the fruits of my labor. The road is my porn.  Truly.

Wednesday, March 3

March 8, 2005, a few lines dedicated to Starfish

I am rain
I am fire
I am blood
I am water
I am contradiction
understood.

Monday, March 1

Me and Iago and Manila After Daylight (Part III)






An hour passes and still no sign of Iago. A part of me feels that I would be but another one of the names he crosses off of his list – another statistic for him. He does have the tendency to do that. In many ways we are so much alike.

I look around and see no sign of Iago. I am thinking now, maybe he forgot. Or maybe it was a dream. Maybe I was dreaming that he texted me. I checked my cellphone to read his supposed message and I find out that it's still there. Then I wasn't dreaming. He forgot. I should head back home. What am I doing here? I'm thirty years old for crying out loud. I chuck my phone back in my left pocket and started walking to the direction where the jeep dropped me off a few hours ago. I am somewhat disappointed. No, I am disappointed. I felt cheated. God damn you Iago, I hope you're not bleeding in some alley. Or is he? I worry.

I walk on a straight line. My whole body is on alert because I am in the not so nice part of town. I could get mugged in some alley here or get beaten up or get knifed so I need to look tough, to look seasoned. One false move then I am done for. The cops on patrol wouldn't care less, because I am just one less problem off their long list of problems. I walk on a straight line with a tepid cigarette between my lips. I walk with an unyielding gait as if nobody, not even the cops, could touch me. I am confident about this. This facade has always proven to be effective in a place like this. Like a black street cat I walk on a straight line. Touch me if you can.


I feel somebody is following me... or watching me from behind. My senses have never betrayed me. I stopped at a lamp post and lit my tepid cigarette. I casually turned around and true enough, there was a person standing, five meters away from me, trying very hard to look nondescript and casual by looking at his watch. He steals a glance at my direction. He sort of gives me a nondescript nod and fumbles at his pockets. He is not bad looking, he is not good looking either. Plain would be the best word to describe the John. He is probably in his late thirties and most probably married. His shirt and khakis look expensive and his watch looks plain yet sturdy. I also see a wedding ring. The John before me is a married man. Why couldn't he have left the wedding ring in his home? Could it be that his wife might find out? Or perhaps he couldn't remove it even if he wanted to? Unlike the previous one, he doesn't have the Hannibal Lectern look. He sort of reminds me of Bambi.

I sort of nod in his general direction while I blow out a smoke. He hesitates. He does not know if he should come near me or away from me. He slowly tries to come near me and I could see that he is shaking. I could see him sweating as he tries to come near me and when he was near enough he asks me the age old question...

How much?”

I was a little surprised that he has a deep baritone voice. Perhaps he was faking it, but I doubt it. He probably sings in a choir {he does have that church look in him}.

He thinks I am rent boy. It is kind of flattering and if I were younger I would've said yes. I smiled at him – a genuine smile – and told him that I was waiting for somebody. He apologizes and walks towards Avenida. I could feel the relief in him. He probably didn't even want the whole thing to begin with. I probably have saved him from the guilt.

I decided to stick for a while. Maybe Iago will come in another hour. Or maybe he was tweaking somewhere. I worry about the kid. I say it a lot because I do. I just hope he was tweaking in a safer place, like in his room or in some church or something. Stay for a bit, I tell myself. Iago might need me to bring him home or something.

I kill time by standing behind a wall and by watching everything transpire before me. I feel a little warm and fuzzy inside. Probably the cigarettes. This place, as filthy as it is, was home to me once. I am not ashamed of it. Somehow, I feel that she is proud of me. Her once prodigal son, gone pious, is again prodigal for one night. The wall on my back feels warm. She embraces me.

Friday, January 29

"I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life."

One of my favorite lines in "The Catcher in the Rye".  JD Salinger died on Wednesday, January 27.  He was 91. 

Holden was my first literary love. Thirteen years ago, I was this lanky, intrepid teenager - short of becoming a man  who was hoping to make his mark in the world and without a clue as to what to do.   I fell in love with the lanky teenager who loved his little sister to bits and pieces and smoked shitloads of cigarettes and philosophized blue streak while trying to find yet another cigarette to put in his mouth.

Thank you for giving me Holden, Mr. JD Salinger.   You will forever be remembered. 

Thursday, January 28

Unang Araw by Nazareno





Ito ang unang araw na wala ka na...


Katulad kahapon, nagising na naman akong nakatulala. Pinagmamasdan ang bawat sulok ng kuwarto, lumilipad ang diwa. Maya-maya, biglang sasagi sa isipan ko na kailangan kong bumangon. Kailangan kong maligo, magsipilyo, maglagay ng deodorant, magbihis at pumasok sa trabaho. Kailangan kong umusad at sikaping tapusin ang buong maghapon. Kahit madalas, nakatitig lang sa monitor, puro facebook ang pinagkaka-abalahan at wala akong project na natatapos sa opisina. Hindi ko alam kung bakit ayaw gumalaw ng mga kamay ko para lumikha ng may katuturan, samantalang dati nama’y pakiramdam ko napaka-walang kwenta ng araw ko kapag wala akong natatapos sa maghapon. Kinagabihan naman, imbes na sa apartment ang tuloy ko, dumadaan muna ako sa kapit-bahay ko para makikain at makipag-kwentuhan. Buti na lang yung kapitbahay ko mahilig magluto. Akong taya sa kwento. Minsan inaabot kami ng hatinggabi, kwetuhang walang hanggan, pikunan at tawanan. Kapag may naghikab, ayun ang senyales namin na ayawan na.

 

Ngunit sa pagdating ng panibagong umaga, hindi na blangko ang lahat.


Bubuksan ko uli ang naiwang kuwarto. Kung anong katahimikan ang iniwan ko dito kaninang umaga’y iyon din ang sumalubong sa akin. Parang isang bisitang nahihiya sa pagtanggal ng sapatos, dahan-dahan akong pumasok at marahang isinarang muli ang pinto. Tahimik na nagsipilyo, naghilamos at pagkadaka’y inilapat na muli ang katawan upang hanaping muli ang antok. Mahigit tatlong buwan nang ganito ang araw-araw ko, ang pakiramdam ko. Blangko.

Kahapon, pinilit kong makipagkita sa kanya. Alam kong magdadahilan siya uli upang umiwas pero kailangan ko siyang makausap. Kahit limang minuto lang. At kahit na alam kong huli na ang lahat. May kailangan akong malaman. Hindi katulad ng mga naunang pag-uusap namin, pinilit kong maging kalmado. Siguro nga wala na akong pakialam na magtanong ng mga bagay-bagay sa buhay niya ngayon dahil hindi na naman kami. Nais ko lang bigyan ng hustisya ang sampung taong relasyon namin bilang mag-nobyo at respeto ang dapat sanang plano na naming pagpapakasal. Kahit sino, naghahangad ng malinaw na dahilan upang talikuran ang mga ito. Maraming dahilan ang nabanggit niya sa akin kaya siya nagdesisyong makipaghiwalay dalawang buwan na ang nakakaraan. Karamihan doon ay pagkakamali ko. Sa kabila ng mga ito, nakiusap akong ayusin muli ang aking sarili, ituwid ang mga pagkakamali. Naniniwala akong walang huli sa taong totoong naghahangad ng isang magandang relasyon. Ngunit sa bawat subok ko na makipag-usap sa kanya, lalo lang niyang inilalayo ang sarili sa akin. Dumating ang pagkakataon na nakapagbitaw ako ng hindi magandang salita, dahil sa sobrang pagkabigo. Pakiramdam ko, bigla na lang niyang iniwan sa ere ang lahat-lahat sa amin.

Kahapon, sinabi niya na binubuksan niya na muli ang sarili sa panibagong relasyon.

Pakiramdam ko, bumagsak na ang buong mundo sa likuran ko. Pakiramdam ko, tinutusok unti-unti ang puso ko. Sinabi niyang hindi ang lalaking iyon ang dahilan ng pagbitaw niya. Ngunit biglang nanumbalik sa alaala ko ang mga pagkakataon, ang pagdating ng lalaking iyon sa buhay niya. Naaalala ko ang minsang pagtawag ng lalaking iyon sa kanya habang magkasama kami at kung paano niya ipagkailang kaibigan niya lang ako. Kaibigan niya lang ako. Siya na ngayon ang taong kaya niyang paglaanan ng mahabang oras, ng panahon.

Marahil, may bahagi ang lalaking ito upang tuluyan niya ng iwan ang naghihingalong relasyon namin. Marahil, ayaw niya ng balikan at isalba ito. Ano pa nga ba ang bago? May natitira pa ba siyang lakas upang hawakan muli ito? Marahil kailangan niyang bigyan ng pagkakataon ang sarili sa panibagong relasyon, bagong kasama.

Alam kong kahit anong gawin ko, buo na ang desisyon niya. Masakit man, kailangan kong tanggapin. Kung ang mga pagkakamali ko man, ang pagkapagal niya, o ang lalaking iyon ang dahilan, ang katotohanan, ayaw na niya, at binibitawan na niya ang lahat-lahat sa aming dalawa. At kahit maglupasay pa ako sa harap niya, wala na akong magagawa. Sinasabi man ng puso at isipan ko na gawin ko ang lahat ng dapat gawin ng pagkakataong iyon upang huwag sumuko, mas pinili ko ang magparaya. Ganoon naman ang tunay na nagmamahal, hindi nagdadamot, hindi mapag-imbot.

Ito na ang huli naming pagkikita. Tinahak kong muli ang daan papauwi. Katulad ng dati, Bubuksan ko uli ang naiwang kuwarto. Kung anong katahimikan ang iniwan ko dito kaninang umaga’y iyon din ang sumalubong sa akin. Parang isang bisitang nahihiya sa pagtanggal ng sapatos, dahan-dahan akong pumasok at marahang isinarang muli ang pinto. Tahimik na nagsipilyo, naghilamos at pagkadaka’y inilapat na muli ang katawan.

Ngunit sa pagdating ng panibagong umaga, hindi na blangko ang lahat.

Naunawaan ko na hindi sa tagal ng panahon nasusukat ang lalim ng pinagsamahan.
Hindi porke nasa tabi mo ang isang tao ikaw ang nasa isip niya.
Na mas may puntos ang pagkakamali kesa sa mga nagawang tama.
Kahit anong gawin mo para magtugma kayo sa gitna, marami pa rin makikitang pagkakaiba kung nasa isip at puso na niya na magkaiba kayo.
May makikilala kang mas tugma ang ugali at interes gaya ng sayo.
Natatakpan ng paulit-ulit na pagkakamali ang pag-asa.
Lumalamat sa puso ang sakit.
Kaya mong magpatawad pero di ka nakakalimot.
Parating dumarating ang pagkakataong ikukumpara mo ang kasalukayang sitwasyon sa nakaraan.
Masasaktan at masasaktan ka.
Kaya mong bumalik uli sa relasyon para abangan lang ang pagkakamali.
Kahit ang pinaka-perpektong relasyon ay hindi perpekto.
May bagong tao na darating at muling darating sa buhay mo.
Kung parang damit na naluluma ang relasyon, napapalitan ito.
Darating ang pagkakataon na sasaktan ka ng taong pinakamamahal mo.
Nakakapagod magmahal.

Sa kabila nito, handa ka ulit ihandog ang sarili sa pagmamahal. Katulad ng una, magtitiwala ka na ito ang bubuo sa pagkatao mo. Katulad ng una, hindi mo alintana ang mga darating na pagsubok, dahil hindi mo iyon nakikita. Naniniwala kang mas magiging maganda na ang takbo ng pag-ibig para sa iyo. Katulad ng una.

Para sa nauna at patuloy na nagmamahal, masakit mang bitawan ang binuo ninyong pangarap, kaya niyang magparaya. Katulad mo, isang araw, muling titibok ang kanyang puso. Ngunit kailanman, sa kabila ng lahat, ang bawat butil ng tuwa, haplos at halik na ihahandog niya sa darating na kasalukuyan ay hindi mapapantayan ng ipinagkaloob niya sa iyo.

Ito ang unang araw na wala ka na.

Tuesday, January 26

Cheesiness




I haven't written in a long time and I know this post really puts my cheesy levels up one more knotch, but I just need to post this. This is for the bastard that makes my heart flutter.

nuff of the cheesiness. I need to write some serious shit here.

Monday, January 18

the grind. earthquake in Haiti. helping. thought for the day

Suprisingly, I woke up real early (6 pm on the dot).  Did the usual yoga, push ups, sit-ups, coffee and cigarettes.  Will be going to work in a bit.  I am part of the capitalist machine now - a (really) small cog in the megastructure but an important one (so I would like to believe).  Am I thrilled to be part of the whole thing? Not really.  It's a job. I'm good at what I do.  It pays the bills. I guess after six months, I need to establish a sense of "normality" in my public life.  No more sleeping in the street (though I'm really gonna miss it).  No more wearing 3 day old boxers. What I am really going to miss tho is running everyday, which used to be the highlight of my unemployed days.   I'm still gonna make it a point to run.  

On a sad note before I go and try my best to be the employee of the month, I would like to appeal to any person who would be reading this blog.   Haiti has been on my mind for the past few days now.  I am usually cynical about the world, but when it comes to natural disasters that affect the lives of millions and millions of people, my heart sorta melts and flutters or whatever.   I'm not saying you guys give money to the relief operations (it's yer call not mine).  But if you do have money to spare - please try doing it.  If yer religious or spiritual, please pray for the victims and the thousands upon thousands of families without homes.  If yer a yuppie liberal, then friggen donate something or you can tell yer rich folk friends to try helping out a little.  If yer dirt poor but have an internet connection like me, blog about it.  The more people who will know about the situation, the more they will get that much needed aid. 

A wiseass once told me that what really matters in the end is not one's convictions, but one's action to rise when the call to rise comes challenging his ass. 

Friday, January 15

8 am

Turkish Coffee, a non-existent cigarette (I badly need one now), 200 push ups and some yoga music. My first day at work and suddenly I am missing China.

Tuesday, January 12

January 9, 2010 - some thoughts

The POTUS, Edward and Bella

Many people think that Obama is the next best thing ever since sliced bread. Perhaps he is.  I mean, if I get to hear my mother say "African-American" instead of saying negro when pertaining to people of color who happened to have African origins or basically to anybody who had dark skin, then Obama must be the next best thing since sliced bread. This happened when I came back to the Philippines January of last year. I arrived in Manila the day Obama got sworn in as the 44th POTUS and the first ever person of color to be elected to the highest seat of office in any Western nation. The whole nation was tuned in to their television sets and their radios. I wasn't expecting this kind of reception towards Obama's victory. When I arrived home, my whole family was watching TV. Scratch that, the whole neighborhood was watching TV, switching between two channels to see which one had the better view. This was big, I surmised. It was like another man walked on the surface of the moon or something. Then I realized that this was definitely big when I heard my mother use the word “African-American” in a sentence. When I asked her about the sudden paradigm shift on vocabulary, she said:






"Anak hindi politically correct ang magsabi ng negro patungkol sa mga Amerikanong itim." (Son, it's not PC to say negro when pertaining to African Americans).






I almost keeled over when my mother answered that with a straight face, sash and crown and all. All she needed was to walk on stage and wave to her adoring fans.  You see, Filipinos, like any other race in this world are naturally racist. A sad fact about Filipino society is that we tend to lean more on the fairer and whiter side of the color spectrum.  As much as I hate to admit this, we have a color preference. Put it simply it all boils down to this - If your skin is white, you're beautiful, you're hot.  If your skin is dark, you're not. If you are kayumanggi (the natural color of many Filipinos), then you are common and your skin tone has to at least border on the fairer side.  If you're sorta dark or just dark but used to be white (that's the operative word there) then you have an amazing tan.  Filipinos take skin tone very seriously. So seriously that it has spawned a multi-million dollar enterprise  here in the Philippines that's being pushed aggressively by the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and advertising industries. Turn on the TV and you can't even see a naturally colored Filipino model in most of the ads.  The majority of the actors working in the film industry have fair to white to really really freaky white skin.  TV ads, movies, billboards along major roads, you name it - they are all fair, white or sorta tanned. It's like the Filipino has a big sign on his/her forehead that says, I AM WHITE. Or I need to be white.






It would be really easy to blame all of this to four hundred years of brainwashing from our foreign colonizers. The fucking Western Imperialists.  It may well be true that most of our color insecurities stem from the fact that we were colonized by two Western powers and one Asian power in our history; but it would also be way too easy if we put everything into that categorization. I think it is an important factor but its not the only one.  I don't know all the answers and I don't know all the reasons but what I do know is this - our nation is obsessed with achieving that "perfect, white glow," like that vampire guy Edward Cullen and his chick Bella. Almost everybody wants to be Edward and Bella these days. I'd prefer Jacob but he's way too young and bulky for my taste. The truth is that no matter how many soaps or creams we use, we can never be white. We can never be that vampire guy who doesn't seem to need a shower or that stalker girl perving over that unwashed vampire guy. Yet we still search for that coveted whiteness like an El Dorado.
At the risk of sounding too preachy, I would like to believe that I am writing this piece with an inspired tone of voice. Perhaps there is some sort of force out there that is telling me to be a better man and go help change the fucking world with my words and shit. Perhaps I am just intellectually masturbating. I don't know, but I think I need to write this out.






My Quiapo 
 
Two days ago, I was in Quiapo, Manila for the feast of the Black Nazarene. It was my first time to attend the yearly festivities that gathers a crowd of millions to revere and celebrate a life-sized statue of a dark skinned Jesus Christ, carrying a cross in a semi-kneeling position and clad in crimson robes. It is one of the most celebrated Catholic feasts in Manila and perhaps in the whole Philippines. The story behind the Black Nazarene, its beginnings and the miracles associated with it, is quite mythic. The statue was made by an unknown Mexican artist using a dark brown colored wood and it was brought to Manila in 1606 from Mexico on board a Spanish galleon. The ship caught fire during the voyage, which damaged the image and caused its dark color to turn black. Because of this, the image came to be known as the Black Nazarene. Through the centuries, the image of the Black Jesus Christ of Manila has become embedded in hearts of the Filipino people, perhaps partly due to its color, but moreso on the stories of miracles and of conversions and of lost men and women returning to the Catholic faith.  A little over 400 years old, the Black Nazarene has been an iconic symbol of Quiapo, it's third home. “It was initially enshrined in the first Recollect church in Bagumbayan (now part of Rizal Park). On September 10, 1606, the church was inaugurated and placed under the patronage of St. John the Baptist. In 1608, the Nazarene image was transferred to the second bigger Recollect church of San Nicolas de Tolentino built inside the fortress of Intramuros, the part of old Manila where the Spanish colonizers used to live and govern the whole country. But Fate would have it that the Black Nazarene would be moved to it's third and final home, Quiapo, a district outside Intramuros where most of the non-Spanish – the Indios, the Chinese, the Muslim, gather and exist together in not so perfect but somewhat pristine ecology of race, belief, color, economy, status and condition. If you think about it, not much has changed really. I think in some ways it has something to do with the Quiapo Church (which is less popularly called as the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, it's patron saint). More importantly, it has something to do with the Black Nazarene which has managed to survive countless troublesome times in Quiapo's and the nation's history.





I have to confess that I love Quiapo and it's surrounding districts – Sta. Cruz, Escolta, Chinatown, Divisoria, Avenida and Recto. There is something about the place that has me connected to it. It used to be the Manhattan of Manila, where all the glamorous and the famous gather and congregate. I knew the stories from my mother but I never came to know about Quiapo and her sisters in their glory days. What I know about Quiapo is that it is the working class and the mercantile section of old Manila, where all people gather to trade – legally or otherwise. Quiapo is a jungle and it's a beautiful jungle abundant with its own flora and fauna. She is vibrant with all her colors and sounds. She is magical with all her places of worship, her shamans and fortune tellers. She is a cornucopia of sights, sounds, smells, old buildings and faces. One is mesmerized by Quiapo, by it's uniqueness and by it's rough, rugged and unrefined urban landscape.








I fall in love with Quiapo every time I encounter her in my journeys. I once brought a Serbian friend to buy souvenirs in Quiapo and she fell in love with the place.  She could not compare it with the urban landscape of Makati with her majestic towers and sculpted lawns and carefully planned roads.  I tell her that Makati is another country, another realm of thought and dimension.  Makati is the dream, and Quiapo and is part of the bigger reality that is the Philippines. The Filipino dreams in the Technicolor and the Surround Sound of the sculpted modernity of Makati but wakes up in the Urbania of Quiapo's arms. Love it or hate it, it is what it is and I choose the former. Among many other things, she is about self preservation and survival. To many, Quiapo is known for its prostitutes, beggars, criminals, smugglers, quack doctors and drug dealers. To me, she is poetry. Quiapo alone celebrates the human condition. She is my Urbania, my Quiapo.






Following the Dark Skinned Jesus of Manila

Perhaps its because of these stark realities why the Black Nazarene has ended up choosing Quiapo as his permanent home. Quiapo is one suffering lady as the Black Nazarene is one suffering deity. The men and women of Quiapo, and to an extent, most Filipino Catholics, were able to see themselves in the image of the Black Nazarene. They were able to relate to a Jesus that was non-Caucasian and was working class, not to some white deity that was unfamiliar to their sense of reality and contingency. God may have created humanity in his own image, but the Filipinos have fashioned the Jesus of Quiapo Church in theirs. The Black Nazarene is their very own Son of Man of the working class – the Jesus of Manila. This was my realization as I joined the city's celebration of this Jesus of Manila last January 9 as he was paraded throughout old Manila for 2 million people to see up close.






I was never fond of religious images, especially statues. I was brought up Catholic, but I never liked the idea of kissing statues or touching them or even venerating them. Its not really because of the interpretation of the Bible or anything (I really wouldn't care); its just a personal thing. Perhaps its because of their faces; the look on their faces that exhibit so much angst, pain and suffering. I mean, why would you look at what already is obvious?






Out of curiosity, I decided to join some of my closest friends for the annual procession of the Black Nazarene through out the Quiapo district on January 9. And like with religious images, I was also never fond of joining religious processions. One of my friends has been going to the annual procession for 4 straight years. My nephew, whom I was also meeting that day, has been doing this since he was 9 years old. Compared to them, I was basically a tourist. I told myself that if I was going to be a voyeur about the whole thing, I wanted to have an open mind about it. So I did. There were times when I just took snapshots of people and observing their faces. There were even times when I went along with the flow, going where the procession is going or shouting “Viva!” and singing the first few lines of the Black Nazarene's anthem: “Nuestro Padre de Nazareno...” I even attended mass in Quiapo Church. I probably heard mass four or five times. The last one, we were fortunate enough to be inside Quiapo Church. It was around lunch time, and we were able to find an opening and were able to squeeze ourselves inside the Minor Basilica. I was being a voyeur to the truest sense of the word. I was observing every movement, every song they were singing and every prayer they were chanting. I was trying to capture every face that was within my range of vision. I was even surprised to see that my companions were praying fervently. Looking around, I felt out of place when I realized that I was the only one not praying. Trying not to let it bother me, I listened instead to the bishop's homily. He was talking about the Nazarene, of course, how this Jesus was a suffering king. Indeed he was. Suffering was operative word. Throughout the day, I've seen so many grotesque images of Jesus, crucified, carrying a cross, beaten and the like. You have got to hand it to the Catholic Church for successfully utilizing these images as forms and means of social control. For hundreds of years, Catholics saw and understood these images as a clear message that their God was to be feared because he was an angry and punishing God. And for Filipinos, he wasn't just angry and punishing, he was also foreign – a destroyer of other beliefs and practices. The Black Nazarene is perhaps the only exception as the Filipinos were able to form a special bond with the dark-skinned Jesus.






I saw that bond in Quiapo that Saturday of January 9th. People, men, women, young and old came to the minor Basilica with the hope of touching his hands or his face or a tassel from his vestments or even the rope that pushes his carriage forward. I keep wondering why would people, as many as 2 million, would eagerly wait for hours and even the whole day even just to get a glimpse of their Nuestro Padre de Nazareno. It was for this reason why I came to Quiapo in the first place. I wanted to know why. The only way I could get an answer to this question was for me to follow the Black Nazarene's procession throughout the forgotten streets of Quiapo, Manila.






So follow I did. I went with my friends and followed that elusive Black Nazarene throughout the Quiapo district of Manila. The 5 kilometer procession from Luneta Park to Quiapo Church would have only taken a couple of hours or even less instead of a whole day if not for the millions that gathered for the festivities. This long, arduous and oftentimes dangerous procession is what makes the January 9 a special day to millions of ManileƱos and Filipino Catholics who gather in Manila's Quiapo district.






I have to admit that I was excited. It was my first time to participate in such an event. Although popular religiosity (or any forms of religiosity for that matter) had long since stopped having an appeal on me, I was still looking forward to everything that was going to happen. It was probably the tourist in me (I did see a lot of tourists that day). I shouted “Viva! Viva!” when the crowd was shouting “Viva! Viva!”. I walked forward when the crowd walked forward. I allowed my body to let go itself and just go with the flow of the crowd. It was one humongous moshpit. I've never experienced Mardi Gras, and I kept wondering that this what must Mardi Gras feels like – being engulfed by the crowd and getting lost in a sea of faces. It was a natural high, like drug of some sort. I didn't care that I was walking the dirty streets barefooted with a bleeding toe. I didn't give a rat's ass if I was coughing like a dying Bohemian with TB. And I sure didn't give a fuck that I smelled like a rat and needed one serious shower. All I cared about was being there. I was there and I was in some sort of trance. We were all in some sort of trance. It's no wonder why people come here every year – not just to get their prayers and petitions answered but to experience this, this joyful feeling of being gone from the world.
Back in the church I saw their faces – they were all clearly looking for answers. Answers for their prayers, as to why they were suffering and as to why they had to endure their own sufferings. If I had superpowers and I could access every person's mind in that church, I was sure as fuck that I would be hearing the same things. Help me. Save me. Cure me. Take this away from me. Don't take her away from me. Let him live. Let me live. Give me another chance. Help me get this job. Why him and not me? Why me? A part of me has always believed that selfishness is a virtue. We pray to higher power for our selfish reasons – some good, some not so good. I did pray in the church. I prayed for my own selfish reasons. I prayed like any person would pray. I prayed for all the people I loved. I prayed for my non-existent career. I prayed for peace (yes I did). I prayed for AIDS, for cancer, for hunger and death. I prayed because I was selfish. And that humbling act of selfishness through prayer made me feel proud of myself.






I lost my cellphone in the process, and so did one of my companions. Somewhere in the middle of crowd in Plaza Lacson while we were in that trance shouting “Viva! Viva!”, some unsuspecting guy in the crowd in Plaza Lacson needed more money and took our cellphones (inexpensive ones, just barely a hundred dollars' worth). This took me and my friend back to reality. We were no longer shouting “Viva! Viva!”. We were thinking about the names and the number in our cellphones. It was a good thing that I filed most of mine in some file online. In the end, in all my reflection and pseudo-intellectual ramblings, I was still a voyeur, just passing through. Fucking tourist. In a way, I was glad that I was one.






In search of a Jesus Figure 
 
Interpreters in all spectrum of the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, in one way or another speaks of a personal Jesus that lives and breathes and becomes significant in a person's own history once that person accepts Jesus as his/her personal Lord and Savior. Interpretations vary, but the message of having that personal relationship with God is the common underlying thread.






I think this is what drives people to go to Quiapo every Friday and every January 9 to encounter the dark skinned Jesus of Nazarene. The Black Nazarene is personal to many Filipinos. It may be a 400 year old piece of burnt dark wood but it is personally significant to many Filipino Catholics. Aside from the personal prayers of each person (including mine) who came to Quiapo, Filipinos are asking for something else, or rather someone else. I think there hasn't been any demigod figure in my nation's history after 1892; and the people are hungry for some sort of messiah or savior. The Black Nazarene is not an Obama who speaks of an audacious way of hoping for a better future. Nor is he a Gandhi who helped a nation realize that freedom is possible without carrying arms. He symbolizes an idea of suffering, of being contingent and limited through one's personal cross and trying to rise above and celebrate the humanity and irony of these contingencies. The image of the Black Nazarene isn't an image of a Jesus fallen, it is an image of a Jesus with his head up trying to rise with his cross. He still suffers painfully mind you, but he is focused, he is not without hope, he is resilient and strong. In my opinion, this is the something or that someone that Filipinos are looking for – some sort of demigod figure or Jesus figure that doesn't have to be like him, but needs to have the basic qualities of a Jesus figure – he suffers, he saves and he suffers more.






One obvious reason why Filipinos have this fervent devotion to the Black Nazarene is because by far, he is the only one who has been consistent from the very beginning. He suffers like his people suffers. He may be clad in royal crimson robes, but he always carries his cross like his people always carry their sufferings. Unlike the nation's past leaders (no exception), he doesn't change policies out of whim. He's not a landlord. He's poor. He is not comfortable. He doesn't complain. He is, like his people, suffering from a daily basis. Albeit wood, but he is consistent. The Filipino people look for consistency in their leaders – their word becomes their bond and if they break their word, they break the bond that ties them to their people. For non-Filipinos and for many non-Catholics, the Black Nazarene may be just a piece of 400-year old wood, but the 2 million people who went to Quiapo last Saturday, he is much, much more. He is the suffering working class. He is the disenfranchised farmer and worker. He is the single mother. He is the industrious father. He is the OFW. He is the jeepney driver. He is the gay beautician. He is the AIDS patient and the cancer patient. He is the unemployed graduate. He is the cigarette lady across the street. He is the young boy or girl in the streets of Manila who dreams of becoming important one day and changing the world. He is an idea. He is a good idea.






My Jesus of Urbania

It may sound that I do not believe in Jesus Christ. In fact I do. As fucked up as I am, I believe that Jesus moves in my own personal history. Apart from MacGyver, he was my first crush. It's ironic to think that he also used to scare the shit out of me when I was a kid (that's another story). He was my debate partner when I was in college. He was my teacher. He taught me important lessons in life, lessons that I hold dear to this day. He taught me compassion. He taught me love. He taught me hope. He taught me poetry. He taught me about my body. He taught me how my actions ripple in the pond of my own microcosm. He taught me that I was a priest, a prophet and a king. He taught me not to give a fuck to what other people would say. He taught me the benefits of consistency. He taught me that I am his reflection, a flawed reflection not striving for perfection but striving to be better, to rise with my contingencies and celebrate them and perhaps one day share them. And most importantly, he taught me that I alone could save myself and no one else. 

He is my Jesus. And he is real.