Joseph Lorusso - Lovers & Lautrec
We forgot our anniversary. To most people this would mean a lot (looming problems; financial disputes; the overworked-and-underpaid combo; work-and-life imbalance), and maybe to my wife as well, though she didn't say. If not for a Facebook friend who sent her private message that night, wishing us this and that, my wife and I wouldn't be aware of it, of how things can happen fast, just like waiting for the rice cooker to do this snapping sound, where COOK switches to WARM. I didn't wake up to feel special the entire day. There was no sense of entitlement, or achievement. In fact, the two of us were just switching channels, from Fashion TV back to TLC, drooling over the lavish lifestyles of food writers like Anthony Bourdain as he tours Chicago in what must have been a month-long of sampling this dish and that beer. (The show lasted for thirty minutes.) It was eleven in the evening, and we decided, after much grumbling of our stomach, that I do a ham and cheese sandwich from the contents of those nifty little baskets companies give to their employees. For ten minutes, everything was done: pressing the bread against the warm skillet, toasting it with the cheese on top, setting it aside, frying the ham for a couple of minutes on each side. "The ham is good," Bourdain would say. Then: "The quezo de bola, melted with the sliced bread on the skillet, tastes quite... wonderful." Three ingredients; I didn't put mayonnaise. I expected the sandwich to taste bare, without anything to gel the ham with the cheese, but it didn't. In front of those cooking shows, on the bed with our son asleep, it tasted heavenly: it was homey and hearty. It was probably what our marriage should be: served neat on a plate without any artifice, made by someone without any expertise from the French, with only three ingredients. For ten minutes it was fast, fun, spontaneous, and just as unplanned as we used to be a year ago.
- I stumbled upon pictures from the summer of 2009, thanks to my former Flickr Pro account, which I logged in as I was searching for a picture of a friend years back. I knew I was going to cringe at some pictures: there's an old friend I had to cut my ties with, G, for many reasons. Some three years later after these pictures were taken we did drugs together, then some months after she was kicked out of college, found a job in Manila, and then we parted ways.
- Skimming through the pictures at work I had this sensation that somebody was looking at the screen--maybe I was guilty, or shameful at these pictures taken long ago. G and I had these silly pictures together, and some candid ones, but thankfully most of it wasn't stored at my Flickr account. What struck me was this picture of her butterscotch bars on a disposable tray: she first baked this for me when I fell ill during our first year in college. Staring at the picture reminds me of its taste: a bit sweet and chewy, with the texture of nuts and dough. Then a scene unfolds, my first apartment was getting clearer...
- The last three pictures are taken at UPLB, with the ceiba (kapok) tree in full bloom, its white fluff falling across the swath of green. The rest are shot at U.N. Ave in Manila, during a visit to Instituto Cervantes with G.
- These pictures have been shot back when I still wanted to travel and take pictures. This was me before life changed. This was me before shifting courses: I was taking up Agricultural Economics, a four-year course I was barely passionate with; dealing with numbers I couldn't figure out, playing with numbers for a living.
- To be fair, I sort of liked and understood economics and its graphs: it's clear-headed, rational, relevant. That year was when the U.S. stock market collapsed, and for a couple of days it was my fascination.
- I remembered reading an e-book of Kafka on the Shore (or was it The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles?) during those days in my second apartment, when I used to live alone. If life were a work of fiction, that year's recurring theme is alienation, displacement. Just like one of those characters in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, sitting at the bottom of an empty well. Being seventeen, I remembered now, was very difficult. There was a lot of soul-searching, of finding my place in the world; there was a lot of talking to people at the balcony, or just smoking, waiting for calls.
- At Instituto Cervantes G and I met for this book sale they were having. I could barely remember the book I bought. Being a Spanish institution, they were giving away a rose with every purchase; the rose I planned to give her as a remembrance of some sort, but forgot to. This I realized at home: the rose was left in my backpack, part of its long stem zipped inside as its head bobbed, its neck craned for air.
Such disappointment to have discovered Saul Leiter's work after his death. His photos are one-of-a-kind: they exploit mirrors and reflections, and it's nice to think of his lens taking a picture of a reflection of a reflection. Sometimes the pictures happen to catch Leiter. At most they are imperfect, but his photos have this certain beauty no landscape can ever achieve. Maybe it's the beauty of living in a city--with so many things happening at the same time, all the blurs and the haze and the staccato of images, click, click, click, so much going on that the world becomes different with every combination, with every angle.
I was wondering how I can still manage to read an article at two in the morning, and traced back the culprit: I sipped my wife's coffee a few times. Black, without sugar or cream, and a bite of glazed doughnut, also hers. I truly enjoy the sudden rush of energy caffeine does, that badge worn with pride by coffee drinkers: more productivity. I envy people who can actually stay up late to work or read, who can actually say they drink four cups of coffee a day, and that it keeps them awake, energetic. Is this their secret to having accomplished more?
I don't drink coffee that much. When I was younger I enjoy coffee in minute amounts, as my discovery of its "use" had only been incidental after having dunked pan de sal, slathered with butter and sugar, to a mug of coffee my Mom prepares for herself every morning.
Most of the time I sleep for eight hours. Drinking coffee means reviewing for a difficult exam, or going through the herculean task of writing the first few sentences of a short story. I never craved for coffee just because. I'm a water person: no juice, no iced tea, no Coke or Pepsi. Sometimes tea, as I consider it closest to coffee, but just as bland as water.
Sometimes it comes to mind that maybe I have to drink coffee to give myself extra time to read, or write. But the opposite happens most of the time: it seems to me that what I drink is almost always too strong for me, that I always palpitate, or get too excited, or jittery, until I exhaust my energy and sleep soundly a couple of minutes after.
My wife had suggested before that I drink my coffee in the afternoon, hours before sleeping. Maybe that time of the day can reverse the effect.
But I like dreaming. The morning after the Christmas party we had in this bar specializing in Czech beer, where I had downed too many a shot glass of Patron, Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker, I dreamt of the officemate I was with at the taxi the night before, also drunk. We were in this house with a hole in the wall, and fire was about to come in. That was the only thing I remembered, and it woke me up at 8AM. Without headaches.
With coffee I don't dream much, and I wake up feeling like I've spent so many hours jogging, or staring blankly at a white wall as part of a social experiment. I'd like to think that my inability to appreciate coffee must have been a good thing after all: good sleep quality, a never-wonky body clock. But what if coffee is part of growing up?
Maybe I have never grown up at all. Maybe I have wasted precious time sleeping, when I could have drank coffee hours before bedtime and read two, three articles and even have the time to blog about the humdrum of life, about the drone of the fridge, or the light sound of a finger pressing a switch.
I have received a Starbucks tumbler from the gift-giving ritual Christmas parties have. Dad was joyful: he knew I wouldn't use it, and although he inquired about my wife's being interested in it, I knew deep inside he wanted it. So I said sure, you can have it.
A foreigner, Spanish, by the looks of it, around 24 years-old, standing nearby the cheese stand holding an almost empty cart at a grocery store not far from work wearing a prussian blue shirt of Explosions in the Sky. His Filipino friend, in his mid-fifties, married man wearing shorts, had to explain to him the concept of munchies after throwing in a bag of chips.
Revenge of the Goldfish by Sandy Skoglund
I once wrote a story for my thesis about this boy and his mother hand-in-hand at a field trip. At the zoo they stumbled upon this life-size aquarium with all the fishes. That's the only scene I can remember, but back when I was writing the story, the scenes were vivid to me.
Saturday night is apple pie and curry pasta. Around 11PM with friends and wife watched two films: Wall-E and Project Nim. By "watched" we meant we stumbled upon the film while flipping channels on our secondhand television. It's a kind of interstitial viewing, just like the reason why my Dad leaves the radio on while taking a bath: just for the noise. In our case we were just plain viewing the film, hurling some comments here and there, but not really absorbing it.
I'll be honest about this: I was hesitant to watch Wall-E, simply because I've dismissed enough animation films as something trivial, for kids. That the single animation film I genuinely liked was Monster's Inc. says a lot about my taste in film: sappy, thrilling only at certain times. (However, I'm not interested in watching Monster's University.)
Though I haven't watched it for the purpose of reviewing it, Wall-E seems promising. It's just like Elysium or Children of God in its premise: a dystopian take on Earth and the human race. What even haunted us more--after the feel-good ending of Wall-E and its spirited animation--is Project Nim, a documentary branded by Star Movies as their Happy Hour movie. Whatever that means clearly states quite the opposite, for the opening credits look sober enough to feature the British Film Council.
It's not a Happy Hour movie. Maybe they thought it was funny to some point, or maybe, as my wife puts it, the dry British humor suggested this to be branded as a Happy Hour movie.
For one, I'm wary of monkeys. Not as infuriated as my Dad is towards them (and towards elephants, which I find adorable and wise). I am scared that monkeys look just like us, only a little bit off-center, wild, brutish. Started in the 1970s, Project Nim is about a failed experiment wherein they tried to teach a monkey how to communicate with sentences. It turns out that though they can make sentences, what lacks is the grammar behind it (as in "me me eat orange me monkey eat"). In the process, the monkey, Nim, was immersed into so many people's lives, living in houses and driven to places and flown into cages and wards. They wanted him to be just like a human, and they didn't succeed.
Last night in the dark, our son sleeping in between us, my wife and I talked aimlessly until I stumbled upon a childhood memory I had relayed to her before, back when we still have the Volkswagen, the red kotseng kuba parked on our garage. There was this night when an owl happened to live in our backyard for two nights--or maybe one. The owl smelled bad, its big eyes golden in the dark. I'm not sure if it had croaked back then. I was interested with the owl simply because it was my first time to look at it closely, and to have it in our backyard was such a distinct feature of any childhood spent in the tropics. Maybe this was just an afterthought, but something tells me that the owl was tired that night, that it couldn't flutter its wings properly, and that it needed sufficient rest. My wife said that maybe, just maybe it was one of those owls at Hogwarts sending me an invitation. I mused that maybe my father was behind all this, no? He hid the invitation somewhere.
On bus windows I think of things. How I would like to own a condo unit with a swimming pool where I could sweat in after two bone-breaking laps, or where I would get my Master's, or what about making a food blog (I even came up with a domain name) or how gradually I've come up to conclude that the teaching profession is probably not for me. It's the kind of stuff that drives you crazy every night, before dozing off. Last night a young man still in college was doing missionary work for his church, and was panhandling with a microphone, handing out envelopes with colored prints, all these he brought himself. Surprisingly, people are taking him seriously. How can you ask people to take you seriously? I think my sole purpose in life is to be taken seriously, to quit having fun around people and decide on whether this or that matters, like debate. If there should be a fifteen minute of fame in the entire world, each presentation should be taken seriously. Then I heard someone's remark on the missionary's voice, she said the missionary is eloquent he could easily get hired in a call center. Do missionaries masturbate? Can this guy be taken seriously? Two nights ago I was sitting beside this man in those modern barong tagalog, the kind of uniform bank employees wear, and in his iPhone he was flirting with not one, but two women, interchanging them with unheard-of ease with the flick of his fingers. Or this man who talked to me for the entire ride about social media, management, and leadership: how can he take me seriously? Maybe there are two types of people: the one you can't take seriously and the one you can. It's as simple as that.
- My former professor lent me, through a common friend, a book by Frederick Barthelme: Two Against One. Throughout my wife's pregnancy I've read Barthelme's collection, The Law of Averages, and find it bristling with subtle tensions and truths--a mature take on life. It made most of the books I've read look immature, from Salinger to Hemingway. I'm very excited to read this book, since I have always thought that brevity makes his short stories work--and that each story in The Law of Averages would seem less condensed, less packed with the right cadence of silences, of poignant moments.
- My playlist is reverting back to what I used to listen to, from The xx to Explosions in the Sky. It's embarrassing.
- I've said this already to a number of my friends, how reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is unusually gripping, unlike Love in the Time of Cholera. I think I was on speed last week, very gripped by the book, that I'm about to reach the 200-page mark just by reading it during commutes. (I hate reading during commutes, but this book is such a staggering exception.) Now I'm on a slump--I couldn't finish even a chapter of it.
- I have to admit I oftentimes forget my age. I think I'm 22, and very grateful to have reached this age. When I was younger, I was wishing to skip a few blocks and land right at this age, as in the board of Snakes and Ladders. These days I was trying hard to remember what I was before this age. Playing Need for Speed, or Civilization III, or Crash Bandicoot: Warped? Hotdog omelettes at 2AM? (Fuck this, I miss making that omelette.) Recently I've been seeing people which remind me of my younger years, like this woman at the Secretary's Office of my former degree, whose face had drastically aged, and whose younger face calmly advised me not to shift to Communication Arts. Some other faces I've seen: some from High School; some from my former degree--former classmates in Crop Science; or a blocmate standing nearby this computer shop at Grove, to which I told my wife an anecdote about her, that she used to be really pretty (the truth: she still is); or this guy whom I've seen in a party some two weeks ago, sharing with me his bottle of brandy as if we have been friends for years, and whose girlfriend I had helped to install her Internet connection some five years ago, when I used to live by myself in this expensive college apartment; or this lady who looked just like someone from the past, sitting at the bus at 9AM, only to go down at Chino Roces, her black blouse with prints of tiny handwritten hearts; or thoughts of another blocmate who died in a car crash some six years ago--of how surreal it is until now.