Lumps and tumors

L
  1. I do have blogger friends way back 2006, and it's no surprise that I've been in contact with most of them online. Things have turned out to be a bit bleak since Thursday: a friend, L, died in his hometown in Cebu. Together with fellow bloggers who turned out to be workmates, I was able to visit him twice in the span of two months at the Makati Medical Center.
  2. MMC was like no other with the hospitals I've gone to in the past: it has fastfood chains, electronic hand sanitizers which operates just like those bar code scanners in the supermarket. L's room had served food during his birthday last November, packed with relatives and friends, the noise of the TV perched on a corner. There's a fridge, a working bathroom, and not enough seats to accommodate us. I sat with my workmates and asked how L felt, but with the situation, we couldn't squeeze out much about his condition: there's a surgery scheduled within the month, and that's it. Maybe it's a tumor, we didn't know. The word tumor was carefully omitted: just more check-ups, check-ups, check-ups in the middle of people eating barbecue, spaghetti, the usual fare. He said a friend gave him a book for his bedside table, something to make him feel optimistic. I forgot to note the author or the title. We rarely meet during blogger events as we belonged to different crowds (and age groups), but what I know about him is his being good-natured and very optimistic. An obligatory selfie with him tucked in bed, all smiles, around us white and sanitary. Then I went home to Bulacan, wondering. L didn't have any vice to speak of: no liquor, no cigarettes of some sort. At the elevator, my workmate knew it was work-related stress.
  3. Mid-December, one of my workmates was crying after learning about the cancer. The phone call declared it was, after all, cancer. Some rare form of it, he said when we met him, already transferred to a bigger room. The room didn't have as much visitors, and the TV wasn't as noisy as it should be, given the news. He is leaving for his hometown in Cebu after two days. Chemotherapy was an option, he said, but there's too much side effects. Maybe acupuncture will work. Until now I regret that I didn't have the courage to suggest him to resort to videoblogging his stay in the hospital--just like the old days. After all, videoblogging made him legendary in 2008. Maybe its effect would be therapeutic, even inspirational, as us bloggers love to say. I didn't have the courage as it might be taken negatively.
  4. Come Thursday last week, we learned about the news. It horrified me. On the way home to Laguna I couldn't sleep in the bus; I stared past the bus windows to the nightscape: empty fields, gas stations. Life is a fragile, fragile thing.
M
  1. Out of nowhere, M added me on Facebook. His wall post commemorated L, also his friend in the early days of blogging. M and I were close years ago: this was when I was sixteen, when drinking beer before playing DotA on the topmost floor of a computer shop in Anonas at 4AM felt really, really thrilling. I still have fond memories of those days, of having someone to talk to about college, which was then a subject of my curiosity.
  2. M disappeared in 2008. He never went online. He wasn't kidnapped, but he vanished nonetheless. To my surprise, it affected me at some point. There were very scarce information from him, and rumors had it that he was detained for a day for jaywalking; other rumors, which turned out to be true, located him in Mindoro, working for a mining magnate or a dam. 
  3. He came back with a lump on his throat. The general practitioner, he said, didn't rule out the possibility of a tumor. After seven years, he's online on Facebook (he added me days after L died), rekindling some old blogger friends. It's evident that we have aged, that we have a lot of things to catch up about each other: I married last year, already had a one-year old in tow. I let him know my disappointment from long ago. Maybe he's a fair-weather friend, and that this was just one of his phases; pretty soon he'll be somewhere else, caught for jaywalking, or working on another project in some far-away province.
  4. After a day or so the specialist clarified that it wasn't a lump on his throat. Is this all about that lump? Is this just fear of losing contact with everyone: a last goodbye, a last click to Add Friend on Facebook? I am not so sure, but I can forgive him. We are thinking about meeting up in Makati, but what for?
N
  1. N is another dear friend from blogging. We have known each other since 2007, and had a meet up with him over falafel and shakshuka at Hummus Place in New York. In High School, there was this one night when depression hit me to the point that I blurted out a lot of things on Yahoo! Messenger, typing things away. It was a good release. It showed how comfortable I was with my online friends, that they were a chat away from everybody else.
  2. We met at Greenbelt last Friday with a couple of blogger friends over Jack Daniel's. (I also ordered a lychee martini.) He is spending two weeks in Manila and its neighboring regions, probably to get more tanned or pay homage to churches and Filipino food. Later on we went outside the restaurant and he confided his situation to me. It was a long story stifled by his ever shy disposition: back in September he had sexual intercourse without protection. Although he was very skeptic about the act, his partner, he said, insisted. Coughs and colds followed, and by November he tested positive in HIV, and is waiting for results in STD.
  3. We tried meeting up in Ayala Triangle but he stood up on me.

An innumerable river

"Your life will then be an innumerable river to be called pedro, juan, ana, maria, bird, lung, the air, my shirt, violin, sunset, stone, that handkerchief, old waltz, wooden horse."

- from "End", by Juan Gelman

Pale Blue Dot



















I've been meaning to take pictures of these: a Bunwich, one of the classic sandwiches I've had in my younger years; my Dad fiddling with the ATM; and life in general.

Talking fish



Truth be told, I was expecting a lot of Keret from this collection (this is his second) after reading his short story, Creative Writing, in New Yorker--about a husband's insecurity towards his wife's creative writing workshops. That story is warm, poignant and mature. A part of its allure is the simplicity of Keret's language (or its translation from Hebrew): direct and devoid of any elaborations and theatrical effects.

The closest story to Creative Writing I've read was his two-page story, Dirt, which is about this man contemplating on two separate strings of possibilities: either he would be dead now, or he opens a self-service laundromat chain which will do well, even in the suburbs. The charm of his writing works for me: in two pages he was able to make up worlds from these possibilities: how his father can only feel revulsion thinking about how his son stuck up a gun in his head; how, in another world of laundromat success, his father would meet a friend in their laundromat, probably just another lonely person who goes to such places.

In the middle of his collection, one of his short stories, Glittery Eyes, had me realize that I had hit the gist of this varied collection. It is about our child-like tendencies fleshed out and contrasted with adult inflections and with precisely written behavior that borders on the awkward and the surreal. The whole confusing combo is written in the voice of a fable, where animals talk (the cover of the copy I bought at Booksale features a generic Jewish face in a rabbit suit, holding a shotgun); or a parable, where towards the end of each story you find yourself thinking about its moral, but oftentimes there isn't, even if sometimes, as in Halibut, it can be blatantly stated.

His quirky introductions paved way to his treatment of the story at hand, as he is wont to put unexpected twists in the story. In Glittery Eyes, it started with "This is a story about a little girl who loved glittery things...". In More Life, it starts with "This is one story you've got to hear!" In Actually, I've Had Some Phenomenal Hard-Ons Lately, the scene opens with a dog, Darko, "licking [the character's] morning erection." It's this confrontation of a simple, fable language masking an otherwise sexual smirk that's just adorable.

But there's more to that: from wives cheating on their husbands, the whims go on. His stories are told as if his readers are spending the night in a Boy Scout campfire, encircling him, the Scoutmaster, demanding to be entertained. In all fairness, he's doing a fine job of entertaining me: his stories are funny and witty. His collection is energetic, restless, and playful. It seemed to me that the book is an anthology of scenarios children would have thought of at dinner. It's that kind of a scenario that adults have treated with condescension, have frowned at for years, yet (and we hate to admit) it also gets much more interesting if not a little later, then at least before they hit the bed. It's silly, but it's not so silly.

I think most--if not all--of his stories work because of the length. The nearest simile I can think of with his writing is that it feels like masturbating--and then stopping it halfway to the climax. The climax, Keret implies, is yours to figure out: he puts the porn in front of you--the bed, the sultry lighting--but it's up to you to dream up things.

Of all the stories in the collection, Halibut never fails to send shivers down my spine. It's about two long-time friends: the narrator and this successful man. The meeting was a first after a couple of years, and in that restaurant at the seaside his friend is about to declare that he is marrying his long-time fiancee, which the narrator despises. His friend ordered the halibut, while he chose the talking fish, which the waitress described as a "talking fish served raw. It's lightly salted, but not spiced--."

Apparently, the fish didn't do the talking. "The fish... it doesn't talk," the narrator said, evidently pissed. The narrator went on for minutes, talking about the talking fish. Eventually, his friend lost his appetite, cursed at him while dashing out of the restaurant, leaving him with the talking fish sitting on his plate.

"Take off," it said, before the scene closes. "Grab a cab to the airport and hop on the first plane out. It doesn't matter where to."

It took me about three months to finish this review, simply because I can talk about it for hours.

Dinner, waiting

Some two days ago I was very tempted to link this blog on my Facebook account, since my wife was able to link hers. Later on, I changed my mind. I know my tendencies in blogging, and I just don't want things to happen again. That's probably one of my problems: I really overshare. I tend to go out of my way just to write about things that are just too personal. So I didn't. I balked at the idea.

Today, in bullets:
  1. Missed the last bus to Laguna, which means taking the longer route to Calamba instead of SLEX. One hour lost in looking at baranggay names, at sari-sari stores, at people crossing the National Highway at midnight.
  2. Was really pissed off for missing the last bus.
  3. I always forget that I'm not twenty-three years old.
  4. Come to think of it: if I were in New York today, I'd sell myself by doing the no-pants subway ride as well. No one would ever recognize me anyway! But just to be sure, I'd take the trains to The Bronx, to Morningside Park, or to Coney Island.
  5. Since last week I've made three Powerpoint presentations with some twenty- to forty-something slides. This isn't what I've been expecting to do, but when life gives you Excel spreadsheets, might as well make a damn report about it.

Two films

For two nights I chanced upon two good films at CinemaOne: Isda and Manila. Isda's plot might sound like a Murakami short story, but it wasn't as surreal as it first seemed: Lina (Cherry Pie Picache), an expectant mother in her early forties, gave birth to a mudfish. This disappointed her husband, Miguel (Bembol Roco), as this was supposed to be their first child. It has been the butt of the jokes for Miguel's drinking buddies; it even sparked the media by conducting interviews with Lina. However, Lina and her kumares thinks of it as a sign of prosperity to come.

The film achieved what it should: it blurred the lines between fantasy and reality, to the extent that Lina actually went to the hospital first to call for help for his son bitten by Miguel's pet cat. (The hospital staff responded with incredulity: this is a hospital, we only treat humans. To which Lina retorted: but he's my son!) At the back of my mind I know Lina and her friends must have been delusional, but there it is in a fishbowl: Miguelito. Lina wanted him baptized, only to be turned down by the parochial priest: to him and to the community, Miguelito is a monster, a freak of nature, asking to be baptized.

I can't shake off the feeling when the film ended when Lina found her son in her husband's hands, trying to save him from the fire which perennially plagued the shanties. Overcome by emotion, Lina hugged her son and wrapped him on her chest. It's only a fish, but why is this scene endearing? I half-laughed, half-cried at this moment, thinking that this could be the ending which suits the story well. It's heartwarming without any feeling of being cheated or tricked by the film. There were not much dialogue, not much noise or conflict: it was as silent and as plangent as an open sea.

Meanwhile, Manila happened to be two short films shanghai-rolled into a twinbill production with an intermission in between. Aside from the fact that the story was taking place in Manila and Piolo Pascual starred in both short films connected the entire stretch of it, I was at a loss (he had two different roles--William and Philip--and the films had different contexts and plots).

To make sense of it I had to Google it: the film is supposed to be a homage to the masters (Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal). I have to admit I liked the first part better: William (Piolo Pascual), a drug addict, wanted to come to terms with himself, only to give in to his urges. The scene where William asked help from a blind masseuse to get him drugs was spine-chilling: he pleaded for drugs, and later on gave the wristwatch he was wearing. I couldn't believe that before my very eyes, Piolo actually convinced me in his acting.

The whole film felt like an adventure with soul-searching as a primary motive. The different characters are a sturdy backbone to the plot, a good accompaniment to the noise of the jeepneys and the stench of dumpsites, the stark contrasts of the shanties at night. The black-and-white motif appealed to me, revealing so much about Manila's temperature, texture, and grit. It's not so much about poverty as about restlessness, the self wounded and lost in an unapologetic city.

Rhinitis


  1. Over leftover spaghetti, my wife informed me of my one year-old son's recent malady: allergic rhinitis. I looked at the dinner plate and swirled the sauce around, and in between the tines I fiddled with pasta. My hunger dissipated and I grew uninterested with the prospect of having dinner. Allergic rhinitis runs in the family: my Dad, my eldest sister and I have had our sneezing sprees every morning, and it was at its peak when pollen was blown past us on summer days at Bryant Park. I even had it worse: asthma at four acquainted me with nebulizers. I know this wasn't even close to a serious disease like cancer, but for a bumbling twenty-something's first foray into fatherhood this was a revelation: my son, after all, isn't invulnerable. His first wound, I imagine, would be heartbreaking. What more of his first retort, his sudden hiss and expletive, his first offense at school, his first big lie. (I doubt it would be a fistfight: it's one of the things I have never engaged into as a child, and that which I will discourage him to do--what's the logic of a fistfight anyway?)
  2. Maybe this is one of the emotional rollercoasters parenthood has to offer. This reminds me of a professor's writerly advice on having your work critiqued in a workshop: if it were crumpled to death, or bled with corrections marked in red ballpoint pen, always remember to treat it like it were your child. "Even if on a workshop it turned out as this child with snot running down the nose, hurled by bullies at recess and arrived at your doorstep with ragged clothes," he said, never turn him away from you. To call him awful is, by relation, to call yourself one.
  3. My son has my cheeks and what my wife fondly calls as my "face shape". He even has one of my habits: driving his nails against other people's nailbeds. My wife insists it is just but a curious thing.  To my defense, as if it were something horrible, I told her that doing it feels comforting, a concrete term of endearment, touching an intimate body part (the fingers, the underside of nails) most people we encountered have never even gone to.
  4. I asked my wife about the allergic rhinitis, of how we can deal with it, of how long it will take for his meds to work. As worry creeped in, my hunger slowly came back. While my son was feeding on his mother's breasts I imagine myself rolling my son a joint in his teenage years, just like the professor did to his student in this Italian film set in the seventies. The scene is a huge leap from where we are--in the land of bib and milk bottles, of monthly trips to the pediatrician, of first words and milestones. Maybe all a parent has to do is to keep an ounce of precaution and a truckload of optimism, and being the impossibly naive person I know I always have it in my pocket. 

Siken

Richard Siken throws me inside a vat brimming with quicksilver, warm and whirling with this mechanism of a cement mixer, which brings to mind a batter of pancake mix repeatedly whisked with fork.

Honey

  1. The small plastic tub of honey spilled in my bag. Austrian brand: Darbo. (I initially thought it was Danish, or Dutch.) It's the kind Starbucks gives away for free with every tea you purchase. I had it in my bag since Friday, and was probably squeezed with the rest of our luggage during our trip back to Los Banos.
  2. At my morning commute, the woman sitting beside me is reading Alyssa Noel's Evermore. It has this Twilight-inspired colors: black and white, with a touch of red. Before that, in the provincial bus, I was reading Edouard Leve's Autoportrait. It wasn't that lackluster, but it was a little bit below my expectations. What really is evident with this kind of literature is how inventive it is, in how it wants us to think of the self as something spontaneous, as some sort of a stream without end (i.e. without paragraph breaks), and as something which contradicts itself, something flawed and betrayed. It's a good book to start the 2014, to say the least.
  3. Self-employment sounds fun, but I'll give it three more years or so.
  4. At Rada St. I waited for friends to come down from their condo. During the thirty-minute wait I went to Rada Mart, a small Korean mart of some sort, only to be dismayed by their lack of homemade kimchi (it's unspeakable when compared to the one I frequent in Ortigas). There were some other places I wanted to try and visit: an Indian restaurant, which my friend said was "expensive" for their servings; Legaspi Park, which, to my surprise, did not have much people jogging and carousing with cameras--it's the kind of park where you can enjoy the quiet; the Austrian embassy nearby with this elegant painting beside their concierge.
  5. A while ago I was about to fall asleep when, for no apparent reason, something in me convinced myself that I had already died in the past, and since then the scene in front of me (two people in bed lying at their sides, both of their backs facing me: a one year-old boy, my son, and my wife) will not unfold anymore; it will be on repeat like a GIF (a nothingness.gif) and I won't be able to do anything but look at them sleeping, their chests rising and falling, the fan humming from afar, shifting from left to right, left to right. 
  6. Tonight when I took home a set of brand new speakers given by my boss my wife wondered, why of all things would I want speakers? It was my choice and though I admit it was random (I said I want speakers as a prize for my punctuality) I was surprised that the speakers were huge, the type with a subwoofer and stuff. I said it's a guilty pleasure, and that no matter how badly I wanted one I know there's no reason to actually need one. It turned out that ny wife was the one who figured out how to turn it on (I assembled it well but plugged it in the adaptor the wrong way). So she played her White Lies, her Lily Allen, her mixtape for Stache. She loved it: she was banging her head and it felt like we were seventeen all over again.

Ernst Haeckel






Gizmodo link on Portuguese Man 'O War > Siphonophores entry on Wikipedia > Ernst Haeckel > Kunstformen der Natur. These plates look just as enchanting and as otherworldly as Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus.

Skyway

















Few pictures. Such a hectic month. Didn't have much to say.