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Sundays in Pasay

February 1, 2015

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My favorite place of worship when I was young was Don Bosco Church in Makati. It had an unimposing aura about it as it is a school and church, and most importantly, it was directly in front of Makati Cinema Square which didn’t use to be a pirated DVD and cellphone repair stalls haven. It used to be, from what I recall, a decent enough mall where Catholic families such as ours could go after the extremely nourishing Sunday homily. I can’t honestly say that I cared for homilies when I was in grade school age, but Don Bosco was truly like heaven with its perfectly mowed lawns and playground-like courtyard, making it easier for young Catholics like me to suffer the burden of hearing English-speaking priests speak allegedly virtuous aphorisms. Sundays spent hearing about Christ our Lord was worth it as long as there was a promise of mall entry immediately after. If only Christopher Hitchens had some sort of reward for being inundated with religion early on in his life, he may have been slightly less vile towards religion and/or just Catholicism.

Santa Clara Church in Pasay, on the other hand, just wasn’t the right place to be taking your kids for Sunday mass if you’re a parent who wishes to have a religion or god-conscious children. I wish my parents knew this then. The best it could offer were cheese curls and popcorn stands which were hardly capable of making mass-averse children okay with going to church. In the mind of a young person, those precious 1.5 hours pouting and salivating (for cheese curls) at church could have been spent playing Rockman 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Santa Clara in Libertad held no wonders for children wanting to spend their Sundays more productively. Masagana had treats for the adults (the sleaze-infested cinemas, the cheap grocery) and teenagers (arcade games) but none for little children finding their place in the world, specifically, in Pasay City. Since I was not a special child, I behaved predictably and never had fond feelings for church-going as a Sunday activity.

Going to other churches within the Pasay-Makati vicinity was just too depressing to even contemplate, not to mention very unnecessary, and so, I believe that as child, I exercised what very little conviction I had, when I refused to go to church if the church were neither Don Bosco nor Santa Clara. I would have rather spent the remaining hours of that Sunday entertaining thoughts of befriending Satan, than go to a church that is unfamiliar and even bleaker than Santa Clara. I don’t know that this is what really went through my mind as a church-negating child, but I recall quite vividly that hearing the Apostles’ Creed is one of Sunday mass’s greatest providers of relief as it signifies the end of the homily, a 30-minute gabfest that I never once remember appreciating the existence of. Looking back now, I think priests had much more freedom to talk smack about reproductive health and similar bills and things that are supposed to be the causes of inflammatory language in most opinionated Facebook persons’ posts. Back then, there was just no way anyone could badmouth any priest who deigned to preach antiquated lessons, moral or not, in a free medium for all to see. It can be supposed that people are a lot more caring now and more enlightened.

I grew up and that meant one thing: I have become a Masagana target market. As a ten, eleven-year old boy in Pasay, I finally recognized that there are sources of joy where one dares to find them even in a place as delectably grimy as Pasay. Interest in video games transitions into a mild addiction for arcade games and Masagana had arcades, ugly though their joysticks may be. Also, ten and eleven is when I started being fascinated with cassette tapes. It could be an interest in hearing music and nice songs first before the cassette fascination, but it was great either way. I bought my first album, 4 Non-Blondes, in Masagana department store and it was great. What’s Up was such a big hit in the early 90s and Spaceman, the second single, is also wonderful.

Tapes were truly great, I soon discovered. One of the best incentives of growing up is having a genuine interest in a thing and mine seems to have been throwing away money at record store cashiers. Yes, throwing. After 4 Non-Blondes, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Cranberries, lots of Eraserheads, Alamid, Rivermaya and even Orient Pearl and plenty others. I liked my taste.

Then, I started reading. In the topmost floor of the Masagana super store, there was a stack of very randomly arranged books that were sold for 5, 10, 15 pesos. That’s when I first realized that shoplifting can be done if one puts enough thought and effort into doing it and doing it well. 1993 was a good year in literature and life education for me.

Odyssey soon appeared. With its twice as many albums and CDs, life was never the same. I was already in my teens which meant that TLC has penetrated my consciousness. Beyond the greatness of Waterfalls, I was slowly appreciating the significance of this group to a music-appreciating life. They have talked about very worthy topics such as having confidence in yourself, taking care of yourself (by not having unprotected sex), the value of creeping, dealing with unrequited love and lust, and a host of other subjects involving self-empowerment.

I wanted so much to buy the hologram version of Fanmail but that would have meant pawning one of my mommy’s jewelry, back when I still had one of her jewleries. If I were more audacious, I would have pawned the gold charmbracelet she gave me (through my daddy) and bought the Fanmail special edition which, according to rumors, had the rap version of No Scrubs featuring Left-eye. It would be so much later in life when I would learn the value of audacity, and also patience. As for patience, I thank God for providing me it early in life because having that virtue meant waiting for albums to get cheap. Sometime in the last decade, I found a Japanese edition of Fanmail with a bonus track, a track which you can never ever find in any other version of the album.

Why Did You Move Here?

January 24, 2015

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Is a question I should have prepared for but didn’t. I’ve always had an idea of a typical Thai as aloof to the idea of a foreigner. I’ve always thought of them as unlike most Pinoys whose hearts melt when asking foreigners about their estimation of the Philippines and upon hearing something that vaguely sounds like affection for the country, pass out from a wave of tremendous patriotic pride. I think that when a Thai asks me that, it is really just out of plain, unobtrusive curiosity. But then of course, Thais would be unlike most Pinoys in that regard because in the first place, there really is no one in the world quite like Pinoys.

There is nothing wrong with Pinoy Pride, I know it, but I’ve always been unable to relate to this raging nationalistic fervor. It’s fine, though, because I can just feel that the Philippines also doesn’t care about my lack of love for it, and maybe my indifference towards it may not be intense enough as to seriously wound the quite fragile Filipino Pride.

Maybe I never bothered to think about the answer to that because the question ought to be Why did you leave the Philippines? because that is really what I did. Maybe I would have had better responses to that question had it been phrased differently, say, ‘Why did you decide to get away from all the horrendousness brought about by a Manila existence?’ or ‘Why did you think it was smart to leave Metro Manila, shitty Metropolis?’

But Thais are not like that. They’re so great and kind and so they would only ever ask about moving and not about the leaving.

Had the questions been phrased differently, I would have had to prepare a pageanty answer because as much as I would love to point out the positives first (ie, ‘Because I simply love Thailand!’ etc.) I wouldn’t want to be perceived as a shit-talker of his own country and of shitty things, in general. Talking behind the Philippines’s back, even though it sometimes deserves it, does not feel good, knowing that not all people who migrate feel the same way as I do. Also, it would feel very silly and embarrassing if I talk ill of a country I know I would have to go back to sooner or later. If it’s any consolation I have Palawan Pride. I think Palawan makes all other beaches look like swamps.

That is maybe why I never bothered to devote an hour or so of my life to list the plentiful reasons why I decided to move to Bangkok, Thailand — because the question needs to be rephrased. But every time I get asked that, I am tempted to give the following stock answers:

1. Because there’s nothing in this world I would rather be than here.

2. Because the trains here are so great. So great that I would never shut up about their greatness, ever.

3. Because I love spicy food and it feels so great to be eating them here instead of some ‘Authentic Thai Food’ restaurant in Rockwell, Makati.

4. Because you can mall-hop abandonedly thanks to the wonderful, great trains.

5. Because I’ve read in some tourist brochure or magazine that Bangkok is a city where ‘culture meets commerce’ or something and I wanted to soak up that culture-commerce atmosphere aura.

6. Because I hate our trains and 80% of our roads.

In short, I moved here because it’s so great being here, which I know tells the interrogator nothing. Noticeably, however, hate will have a major role behind the reasons.

It’s not an easy question to answer. If I say something about ‘loving the culture’ and be asked to be specific, I wouldn’t be able to articulate the *culture love* because my idea of culture is hazy and will always involve thoughts of the DVDs being sold at Lido Theater. Great variety of DVD titles would always mean, for me, an act of culture fortification, because making available to the masses these wide variety of movies, not anymore accessible in the Philippines, could only mean that the ministry of culture, specifically the DVD-importing and printing department, cares to have its people have access to these cinematic (and musical) treasures. The DVD and CD selection in a lot of Bangkok stores are truly remarkable and, like the rest of Thai culture, so great.

But I know that that is not what makes a city so highly cultural.

In some faint way, I could say that this is a city that wouldn’t make you feel as if you’re only doing these cultural things as a duty but because there’s actually so much culture to take. And because the trains, those great, great trains, and the boats, let you hop from one place to another without feeling contemptuous of the sickness that is the modern day transportation.

You go to museums because they’re pretty, they’re very accessible, and the restrooms are gleaming works of architectural marvel. You don’t go to Bangkok Art & Cultural Centre because you feel like your Instagram needs to have its periodic culturification because in the last few days all you’ve had are pictures of your photogenic meals and you feel like the commerce-culture balance must be achieved.

I could say that I love the people, but which people exactly? I could support the *people love* claim by saying that the people who make this city so thoroughly livable deserve all the love it can get and so I am professing and freely giving my love to those people.

I could tell them that I love not being impelled to treat the whole office to lunch when it is my birthday, resignation day or baptismal day which is what sometimes happens back home. But deep down I would know that that’s not really it.

Maybe, Why did you move here is a question asked by anyone who has encountered a Pinoy anywhere in the world and it is in fact one of the most common questions ever asked. Maybe there is an idea of a Philippines, especially from those who have never been in it, that is filled with images of fun if over-crowded, party beaches and bountiful coconut trees, and smiling, charming locals, that the idea of someone moving away from all that could only mean insanity. I go to work every day not having poisonous feelings about life, ie, with a song in my heart, but when I dig deeper, I find ‘great trains’ as not being a very compelling reason for loving where I’m now living.

Next time I get asked that, maybe I’ll just say, Because the internet is fast, which I think could perfectly capture the essence of my real answer which is ‘I’m not sure’.

Books 2014

December 2, 2014

Don’t be fooled by the lack of book posts in here. I’ve read really good books this year and at some point in this tumultuous year in this Tumultuous Life I thought I would never read a book I wouldn’t love. This year was marked by ‘best book ever’ feelings and proclamations which usually last for a week. That is until I came to book #8 which was Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game and book #12 which was Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. It wasn’t really their fault. In Patricia’s case, I may have started on the wrong Ripley book which left my insides unstirred (which rarely happens with her!), while for Virgie, it was the fault of the faulty, mis-scanned e-book, and myself, for not having the foresight to switch to a better version of the e-book rather than slogging through a shitty e-copy obtained from a source of disrepute, which, I realize now, I have no right to complain about. But as the great (young) Heather Mooney would say about the cigarettes she never gets to finish, what a waste!

This is How

Not that it matters but, should I die the next day, I would like the world to know that the last book I read and loved was This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. Of course I’m not going to die tomorrow because all my enemies are nowhere near me, and like Yunior, I’m not the killing-self type of guy, maybe.

I can barely remember what Drown was about, all I can remember is that it’s also structured like TIHYLH, with Yunior as the narrator/star. This is why it is very important to write down exactly what you love about a Junot Diaz because someday you might find yourself reading him again, very certain of your enjoyment of his work and not know exactly why and feeling like a true fool and an unreliable professor of love.

In This, hogging the spotlight is his brother Rafa who uses cancer to his great advantage. I can’t get through cancer stories without getting really very emotional which is why I decided that after season 1 of Breaking Bad, I’m done, why even though I have some sardonic feelings for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars I still found it in my heart to appreciate its highly self-aware, ultra-witty teens who are all almost unbearably witty and articulate, for acting like Seth Cohen and think no one will notice, and getting back to the sardonic feelings and thinking that the feelings were not incorrect. In here, the becancered Rafa knocks Yunior out and it is a cause for hilarity. Best cancer story ever.

It may sometimes feel as if Yunior spends a lot of time navigating the legs of his girlfriends and side-bitches, but all of that are essential to the stories; all that sexing and side-bitching are sure to put an end to even the most hardcore relationships and Yunior is one horny, passionate motherfucker. This is a book about losing through the inescapable necessities and peculiarities of life. Stories about loses are, or should be, rife with sadness and drama, but Junot Diaz is not that kind of guy.

Even though I generally find his humor sublime despite not really getting all the pop culture, comics references and not understanding the Spanish slang (which he never bothers to translate, and why should he), I can’t help but think that if this were my first time to read him, I’d find characters who say things like ‘Bitch made Iggy Pop look chub’ a very poor attempt at either coolness or funniness. A line like that is in itself not funny, but the funniness here necessitates presence aka you have to be there. And so, Junot Diaz, is still for me a very funny person.

In George Orwell’s lengthy scrutiny of Charles Dickens, he says something about putting/imagining a writer’s face:

‘When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer… What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have… Well in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens’s photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity.’

If I were to give a face to Junot Diaz, it would have to be a sexy, mischievous face. It is a face attached to a desirable head, perched atop a towering, impressively built body with hills for chest and buns for days. Having heard about the author’s bad back, I know this imagining to be inaccurate, but that is the author I choose to have imprinted on my mind forever and I am not willing to entertain retaliations. When you feel like putting a face on an author you love, know that you’re entitled to it, the emblazoning of a face, in the same way that Michiko Kakutani is entitled to calling certain voices in fiction ‘limber, streetwise, CAFFEINATED, and wonderfully eclectic’.

This is How You Lose Her is my year’s second highest point because #1 is George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. Congrats, This is How You Lose Her.

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Gone Girl

What does it say about me that I care so much for Amy more than anyone in this film/book, that even while she was gutting Desi in the house he furnished to her exacting standards, I didn’t care, because I was just impressed about Amy’s mad skills (which I won’t deny is probably the wrong feeling to feel)? She sets her mind to do outrageous things (for vaguely sympathetic, slightly understandable motives) and does them with efficiency. Do I identify with strong female figures because I identify easily with females and I can’t help it or because I really just happen to really irrationally like SFFs? It could be that in relationships I tend to be the Amy which should explain the fondness, but actually, I do not have the mad skills or the intellect to fabricate life experiences in my diaries. I have a heart and I would rather write the truth all the time, always and forever. Ultimately, I can’t ever really know why characters such as Amy fascinate me, but all I know and feel is that Amy is an icon of feminine strength and strength in general. Slightly troubling, I guess, is that it didn’t immediately occur to me that what she orchestrated is psychotic. It’s not right to cheer for characters who perform heinous things to themselves and to their husbands, but when evil geniuses pull off feats that the average cheated-on, wronged wife can’t do, it’s just so hard not to be amazed.

 

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Blue Valentine

I knew from watching movies and from living this life that some marriages, no matter how cute and organic they started, could not be spared the inevitable decline. But I wasn’t prepared for Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean’s (Ryan Gosling) breakdown in this infuriating/fascinating marriage dissolution drama. It was not a good idea to watch this just after reading Gone Girl. Gone Girl and Blue Valentine are not the best things to consume when matrimony is your favorite sacrament.

Blue Valentine shows a husband who does exactly what husbands with low self-esteem and low ambition do – they storm off to the wife’s workplace and create a great, grand scene. Witnessing Cindy and Dean’s big fight scene evokes a feeling similar to when you’re 12 years old and you have just witnessed a rape or mutilation or whatever grotesque scene in a movie for the very first time. The movie also shows the kind of faces women in bad marriages make when they’re trying to please their actually still bangable husband. Michelle Williams may not have won the Oscar but maybe, just maybe, she deserves the Nobel Prize for Disgusted Wife Portrayal.

 

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Rabbit Hole

Becka’s (Nicole Kidman) neighbour invites her to dinner and she declines (for no good reason other than she doesn’t want to). She eavesdrops at her sister’s phone conversation and expresses her disapproval of her aura every chance she gets. She causes a scene at said sister’s bowling alley birthday party which she attends begrudgingly, and she avoids small talk with seemingly well-meaning people. She is an unhappy, childless wife living in a nice house with a fit husband (Aaron Eckhart) and it’s becoming very clear that this movie is about how the relationship of this couple is going to disintegrate further, the more they try to cope with their dead child.

Her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart), grimaces and pouts a lot because she’s acting kinda shady – she deflects his advances (‘I’m not ready yet!’, ‘What do you want from me?!’, ‘Al Green is not an invitation?!’, etc.), gets rid of their son’s things, rolls her eyes at the testimonies of the Grieving Parents Anonymous sharing session, etc. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before he confronts her in an electrically charged dinner scene (ECDS) and tells her he wants a divorce.

Howie wises up and attends the support group alone because Becka’s eyes would fall off their sockets if she hears another Jesus freak couple refer to their lost child as an angel in heaven. Luckily for him, Sandra Oh, also a grieving parent, shows up in a parking lot to smoke weed. She also has had enough of baby corpses being referred to as angels and she’s miserable because her husband left her. Together, Sandra and Howie find solace in smokes and so the inevitable ‘I want a divorce’ proclamation gets real. Except it doesn’t because Howie loves Becka very much.

I wait for the ECDS to happen, but the movie held my hand and told me everything’s going to be alright with these two. They are probably going to make it through this rough time/life, maybe make another baby as soon as Becka thaws out. She ought to because she has read a comic book created by the boy who bulldozed her son, and the comic is about parallel universes for a family where the boy protagonist witnesses his family in alternate universes something.

Rabbit Hole is almost the saving grace in this Marriage is Ugly trifecta, but GG and BV already scarred me although hopefully not forever. I’m not sure I believe that Becka and Howie could restore their normal life because Blue Valentine already convinced me that when a couple can’t go back to their special romantic space, they really can’t anymore. But then again, Becka and Howie are rich. And if Gone Girl has taught me anything, it is that money can buy happiness, specifically, happiness derived from revenge, and if money can buy that kind of luxury, what can’t it buy? Almost nothing. Books and movies deign to teach me a lot of things.

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Oct 4, Tokyo

Mariah is now in Asia and my excitement is impossible to contain. Tokyo is the first stop of the Elusive Chanteuse Show and all I could think of is how lucky the Japanese are in this moment and in life, in general.

But as it turns out, the opening night audience wasn’t very lucky. She didn’t sound very, very good based on several clips that surfaced. I have to be honest about how I feel upon hearing the botched Vision of Love and We Belong Together because where would I be if I don’t display honesty always? Those 15-second clips, posted by a ‘fan’, were difficult to watch.

Because Mariah has always been the object of sharp critical analysis mostly aimed at the legitimacy of her talent and sometimes, boobs, certain avenues of expression such as Twitter were set ablaze with fiery and foolish commentaries. Even people who don’t care about divas or concerts, or music felt compelled to comment on the imperfection in her vocals. But actually, these people are sort of blameless because really, criticizing great artists has always been fun and it’s extra-fun when certain admirers of these artists look visibly upset. Ours is a world where it’s fun to make fun of people who falter. It is maybe not human beings’s fault that they find hilarity, unexplainable glee when a popular, multimillionaire woman is battered and beaten and called a has-been, hag or ho. It’s a heart-stopping sport for most especially where divas and their fans are concerned. It’s the kind of sport that unites people of all race and religion.

As for myself, I surprisingly wasn’t as disturbed as some obviously were. I loved Mariah when I was 12 or 13 years old. Something I loved when I was 12 is something I love for the rest of my life, or something. I didn’t like her because in the 90s, she was liked by every living human being and I wanted to join the club. When you’re young, you don’t care very much about what you like. In fact, I’d like to have my taste in films and music back. My taste in things has been smeared with impurities and my innocence about what is enjoyable and what is shit has long been shattered. Maybe it was my copies of Entertainment Weekly that poisoned my critical sensibilities with their movie rankings and reviews and things that told me what piece of entertainment deserves an A+ or F.

More articles surfaced about the less-than-stellar performance. More social media personalities thought to bring out their inner music critic and all-around genius, in order to point out that something went wrong with the singing. It hurts to be on social media at a time like this. You can’t not take some of it personally especially when people do it stupidly which is most of the time.

When you liked Mariah at an early age, the sort of supposed devastating faltering is not something you could have prepared for. If you are now a 13 year old boy who thinks Beyonce is going to be the shit 15 years from now, you better be prepared for when she can no longer register interest in the hearts of many. That day arrived for Michael Jackson, Whitney and Madonna and it will come for her, you best believe it.

If I had known at 13 that this is what I’m setting myself up for, that this is what it means to worship Mariah, I might have thought twice. But the Butterfly era was just such a glorious period so I think there was nothing I really could have done.

For the first time, I will see her live and I don’t think I will care that much if she screws up We Belong Together or Vision of Love although I hope she does not. I think what I bought the ticket for is for the chance to be contained in a same room with her, to get the once in a lifetime opportunity to breathe the same oxygen in the same room at the same time.

Oct 6, Yokohama

The singing for the second show was still far form perfect but still none of other people’s faves could come close to Mariah Carey’s ‘imperfect voice’ and so the throne for greatest living vocalist alive still wasn’t relinquished and all is right in the world. The sport just got boring for people who played it so classily during the first show. They are waiting to retweet the first 15-second clip of Mariah singing Always Be My Baby shittily that they could get their hands on, because the second show was not going to give it to them. The moment never came and mean social media bores are still crazy.

Finally someone had the sense to record respectable clips of when she sang so gloriously. It’s so great to know some lambs are still capable of good, sensible deeds such as this because really, sometimes, it’s just so hard to fathom why some ‘fans’ would post unflattering clips. Maybe these are the lambs who are also fans of basic starlets? It can only be surmised.

Sometimes I don’t agree with some of the lambs. Sometimes, fellow fans can be stupid and needlessly shady, like as if it makes it okay for them to say nasty things about her because they’re fans, calling Me I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse (fantastic album) a flop flop flop. It’s irritating but if that’s how they deal with their grief, I’m left with no choice but to temporarily ignore their existence.

Much as I loathe some of the crazy, annoying fans, when our girl gets it right, we get to hold each others’ hands, sing praises for whatever she has done right in our own little ways, and heave a collective sigh of relief.

From now until the 30th, when she makes her last show in Asia, I will be very pre-occupied with thoughts of her. I will rhapsodize and romanticize fervidly and incessantly. I will relive the splendour of she and I because it’s not as if I have a choice.

 

My Brother Knows The Real Me

September 23, 2014

When we moved to Better Living in 1994, my brother and I made friends with the neighbourhood kids. We had to because our house was poorly furnished and the architectural lay out was ill conceived. Our bungalow was a box with two bedrooms – one small enough to fit two boys who haven’t been circumcised and one master’s bedroom which I didn’t see the masterliness of at all – and a bathroom that has drainage problems. Maybe it is a little early to be talking ill about a house that we still live in but someone has to document its history and right now I have time to do just such a thing.

Our mother, who was responsible for the house, was about to die and so it was a sad time for everyone, although I don’t remember any of us being very, very sad. We didn’t look forward to it maybe because we weren’t sure her death was imminent.

After she died, we moved on and made friends with the kids in our new neighbourhood. Kids in the village were nice, especially the girls who maybe found me and my brother intriguing. As children, we were very cute and we advertised ourselves as half-Chinese although the truth is that we are maybe only one-fourths Chinese. Being half-half is great because you get asked about your heritage by Filipino classmates and friends who are 100% Filipino and who have no other heritage to speak of except their Filipinoness which is something me and my ‘half-Chinese’ siblings wouldn’t ever be curious about. Being young and Chinese-looking is one of the best life stages ever. It makes you feel special, unique and attractive.

Mostly, the girls found my brother cute. I know this because they told me and also some of our boy friends. My brother truly is the cute one. Aside from being good-looking, he was also good in math, algebra, English, dancing, HEKASI and architecture. He was well-loved by high school teachers who made it a point always to emphasize that I am not like him at all in terms of interpersonal skills and smiling skills and maybe also dancing skills. He can wear Spice Girl drag in a cheerleading competition and still be adored, but if I had pulled a stunt like that in high school, my sexuality would have been questioned and that would have really hurt my feelings.

I used to like basketball because there used to be a basketball court in front of the house. Despite the presence of this mini-court I never really got better at it because my heart belonged to volleyball. Volleyball is such a beautiful, graceful sport and I loved it and I think I still love it now. But anyway, my brother and I used to play basket with the annex boys even though I knew in my heart that volleyball is my sport. My brother, my kuya, got better at it, although he looked really funny, like a flying hanger about to dunk.

One summer afternoon, I overheard my brother talking to some of the girls. The girls, apparently, found me a bit effeminate because maybe I played volleyball well or I played it with apparent glee and abandon, I can’t be sure. Maybe, they found me a little girly because I’m one of the two boys in the group who never got teased with a female. The other one is an obvious gay with quite a gay name so his effeminacy surely has never piqued anyone’s interest. It is very hard to imagine that gay’s gayness ever having disturbed anyone’s peace. Also, I got along well with the girls.

If you’re a second child, being the subject of discussion induces feelings of preciousness in you because it rarely happens. I didn’t exactly delight in being talked about but of course I wanted to know just how my brother would defend my honor. He didn’t defend my honor because maybe, to begin with, no one’s honor was being besmirched.

‘So, is he gay?’ was what I remember being asked of him. I don’t recall him disproving their suspicion. Instead, he described my character in a way that, even now, will be hard to refute. He told them that while I may not actually be totally gay, I do have a tendency to mimic the behavioural patterns of the group to which I attach myself the most, which during that particular era was the group of the volleyball-playing girls. It was classy of him. He knew that I could get very sore about being accused of homosexuality. He knew how much it would have wounded me. On our worst fights, I need only to be called ‘gay’ in order to lose my shit and lose.

I’ve always believed that my personality is special, magnetic and that in time, it will shine. Coupled with my exotic half-Chineseness, I used to believe that once I get out of school, I could dazzle people and employers with what I have to offer – my Catholic education and ability to describe people and things using big, Mariah Carey words. These didn’t happen very often. Instead, I became the dead of the party in most parties and my half-Chineseness has officially ceased fascinating people.

When I was in college, I bought a lot of CDs. Random albums that I thought I might enjoy. I bought Coldplay’s X&Y, Tiesto’s Just Be, and Sarah McLachlan’s Mirrorball and many, many, many others. I read somewhere that Mirrorball was Patty Laurel’s leave-me-alone CD. But who cares about Patty Laurel’s favorite album? Thanks to my mother’s fortune, I was able to buy all the albums I desired. Mirrorball was the album I played the most because it was gorgeous and her voice, indescribable. My brother said something about how Sarah McLachlan was one of those artists who sound as gorgeous in concert as they do in the CD. I agreed and that was when I became a super Sarah McLachlan fan. Even though I haven’t found the time to care about Shine On, hew new, I hope she comes to Bangkok very soon.

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It is with so much delight that I’m announcing David Sedaris’s Barrel Fever as my new Catcher in the Rye. This is great news for me, for you, and for my very, very few friends. Congratulations, everyone, we no longer have to suffer the Holden Caulfield affectation, a spectacular achievement in execution failure though it may have been. I’ve also just finished David Shields and Shane Salerno’s ‘Salinger’ and read with great interest the Assassination section, specifically Mark David Chapman’s, and I’m symbolically cowering in shame for being guilty of the same crime as him: overlooking the humanity behind Holden’s profanity-laden but sobering view of humankind. My misreading, though, is not as total as MDC’s. My love for Holden stemmed (yes, stemmed) from his unfamiliarity with his own person (yes, person) the loveliness of which I feel strapped itself to my very own unfamiliarity with mine. We didn’t/don’t know the world, our place in it, and that was lovely in a movie, literary setting kind of way, but in your late 20s, not knowing your place in the world is just infuriating. Yes, I’ve already proclaimed freedom from the clutches of JD Salinger’s penetrating worldview, but if Mariah Carey can proclaim emancipation three times, why shouldn’t I?

When JD Salinger died, I rushed to Fully Booked and bought a hardcover Catcher in the Rye because I’m not the kind who idolize properly and sensibly. I might be sick with a disease characterized by uncontrollable urges to spend on things as a sad gesture of undying admiration. I might be suffering from a kind of psychological disorder that does not let me rest until I physically own something of the worship-figure. The easiest, most obvious explanation would be that I am a goddamned fool.

With Barrel Fever, there can never be a misreading, a misinterpretation, not even a silly attempt to embody a persona of an esteemed literary character. Maybe one: Adolph Heck, named after history’s most vicious imposer of viciousness, in the collection’s funniest story, Barrel Fever. A mother naming her son Adolph is guaranteed a slayer of me. I love Adolph and his mother. I love that Adolph’s sisters are named Faith, Hope, Joy and Charity. I love how he mocks his friend who once was his closest ally in mocking the mockable but who now has clung to nice persons.

Barrel Fever has become essential reading, a warder of the blues, a pair of shades in a dessert storm, a pair of truly dependable earbuds for Metro Manila life, a pair of balls in your ballsless days, etc. A Barrel Fever is a best friend.

Each reading of Barrel Fever for me is fresh. Sometimes I want to live in it and lap up the freshness.

If one day you find yourself in the pages of a Barrel Fever-like publication authored by myself, and you feel like pressing charges for character defamation because you Feel like I have cruelly borrowed and repackaged one of your least attractive characteristics and turned it into a bestseller, I’m sorry but I’m not sorry. If you decide to press charges, sue me for libel, you will find me in court carrying a tattered copy of Barrel Fever, with the words, ‘This is my statement!’ scribbled beside blurbs that proclaim it as ‘breathtakingly irreverent’. ‘This is my statement!’ — the very words written in Mark David Chapman’s copy of Catcher in the Rye, a piece of woeful evidence that was brought to court for the trial of the crime of gunning down one of the world’s most famous Beatle, 1/4 of Mariah Carey’s Billboard Hot 100 nemesis, John Lennon. I do not ever wish to reach the same level of insanity but there is a need for me to make friends with things whose reason for existing is to supply me with joy.

I may have already confessed an attachment for this Sedaris book, and even though the retelling of this attachment seems to go against what Adolph Heck feels about saying the same thing twice: ‘…nothing gets on my nerves more than someone repeating the same phrase twice. I think it’s something people have picked up from television, this emotional stutter. Rather than say something interesting once, they repeat a cliche twice and hope for the same effect,’ I feel it’s a necessary retelling. This is my statement!

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