Saturday, July 26, 2008

Life is a comedy

And vice versa.

When I was very little, I almost always got teased for having "rabbit ears." My ears face forward, instead of lying neatly flat against the side of my head, like most people. The joke I remembered the most was being compared to a taxi cab. My friends teased me--and they were supposed to be my friends--that I looked like a taxi cab with the doors open. It hurt a little bit (the jokes I mean, not my ears) but I figured there's not much I could do about it, so just live with it. To fight back, I used self-deprecating humor. If I couldn't lick them, I'd join them. I also remembered one day before I went to grade school, when I took the small wooden shoes I had, hung them on my ears, and showed it to my mother. She really got a big laugh out of it. And so did I.

That must have been the beginning of my comedic tendencies. I started making other people laugh at my stories, gestures and antics. I listened to jokes and tried to tell them my way. I learned how to wait for the right moment to deliver the punch lines, and back it up with gestures or facial expressions or lack of it. In my own little world, I was the house comedian.

I like all kinds of jokes. I like puns, too. Actually, I can be categorized as having a sort of dry humor. I see funny jokes that other people may not. I see humor in everyday happenings or simply what people say. Most of the time, my jokes consist of telling what is obvious. Like saying the prices of goods are lower when they are on sale. Or you can eat all you want at a buffet restaurant. Or the traffic is only bad when there are lots of cars and drivers on the freeways. You know, things like that.

I was thinking about this the other morning, when I asked my "first wife" what made her decide to marry me. I knew I was maybe cute but not good looking, and I didn't have a hunk of a body. "Was it my sense of humor?" I inquired.

She replied, with a straight face, "I thought you had lots of money. It turned out I had more money than you."

And all this time, I thought I was the only comedian in the house.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bert's Trip to the Philippines, Part 4

March 20, Metro Manila

A night at Serendra

First, a little background. Back in 1967, a bunch of us college juniors who could not line up a summer job, signed up for a month and a half of summer camp held in Angat, Bulacan, sponsored by Junior Operations Brotherhood and Presidential Economic Staff. None of us at the time knew the bonding we had then would last a lifetime. The project was named "University on Wheels." We were supposed to work in the barrios, to do research, conduct surveys, and other good things to help the production of agricultural products.

From my college, the group consisted of young, energetic, fun-loving yahoos who didn't have a clue of the difference between "miracle rice" and malagkit rice. The other campers or "wheelers" as we called each other were students from other universities and colleges. (We also had a professor from my college with us, who later on became one of our buddies on campus.) Other than the students from the same schools, we all lost touch with each other when we graduated in 1968.

Fast forward to 1997, when the Internet was at its heyday and email was becoming more common. We got a hold of one Wheeler, who knew the whereabouts of others, who knew more Wheelers, and before we knew it, we were about a dozen strong. We exchanged emails and had mini-reunions and carried on as if we never were separated. Of course, in the span of 40 years, we had our own separate lives, careers, families, and other sets of friends, but this did not discourage us from seeking the others and visiting with them whenever we could. Some were able to keep some records of the camp, and we had a grand time reminiscing about the "good old days'"in pictures and prints and letters and whatever anecdotes we remembered and shared with others. Of course, some Wheelers'remembered some things happened a different way, and this even added fuel to the fun and excitement.

We planned and planned a grand reunion for years and years, but somehow, this did not materialize. All we could do was visit each other when someone is coming to town. You see, the Wheelers now span the globe in terms of residences, from Spain to the Philippines, from Canada to the United States. It is not an easy task to bring everybody together under one roof.

Fast forward again to Tuesday night, March 20. Serendra, Market-Market, Bonifacio High Street... I don't know exactly where we were, but the guys and gals from Manila managed to scoop up nine of us Wheelers--including one from Canada and one from Iligan City--to spend an evening together over steak, fish and old fashioned San Miguel PP.

We have seen most of each other in pictures, but being there, shaking hands, exchanging hugs, beso-beso in flesh was something else. Some have changed quite a bit in appearance, some were able to hide it well (like my hair color) and some even managed to look the same. We were so noisy it was a good idea we were given a long table back in one corner, where we did not bother other patrons of the restaurant.

Yes, I have changed over the years. No longer the shy teenager who wanted to sit in one corner and observe, but now the annoying son-of-a gun, the pompous ass who thinks everything is a joke. Or turns everything into a joke for the sake of laughter. Or maybe I was like that before, and was just hiding it, who knows? I hope I did not embarrass anybody, and if I did, who cares? Hehehe.

Anyway, the dinner was superb, the ice cold San Mig washing down every bit and morsel of the restaurant's specialties was great, but the company was even better. Each of the four or five people I hadn't seen in 40 years summed up their lives from the time we separated at the camp, with me interrupting their stories with my questions a la Barbara Walters ("Are you happy?"). When we finished dinner, I kinda gave my observation of the state of some of the nation's small towns, making sure that I was not criticizing them, just trying to give some suggestions, a project of some sort. But that was another story. I still want to pursue it though. Later.

The night was still young (10 o'clock) so we decided to move the "party" to the nearby coffee shops at Bonifacio High Street's outdoor mall. We ordered coffee and cake and sat and ate some of the peanuts Iligan City was famous for at the sidewalk section of the shop. We continued our endless jokes and anecdotes, and clarified the nagging questions and rumors as to "who had a crush on whom" at the camp. Of course, for my part, I confessed. I named them all but I ran out of names, so they did not take my answers seriously. If they only knew.

Sometime during this session, the Ayala Company turned off the lights outside from the tall posts. It was midnight. Time to say goodbye. We walked over to the parking garages and managed to spend another half hour saying more goodbyes and promises to see each other again and to not wait another 40 years. Light bulbs flashed from every angle of the digital cameras. I think there was even one shot of me where one of the women was touching my tummy, as if I were pregnant and waiting for "the day." Can't wait to see that one.

Husband and wife Mandy and Angie who picked me up, also gave me and another Wheeler a ride home. The parting was bittersweet.

Back at my brother's house where I was staying in Quezon City, I could not sleep right away. I made some notes. At my age, you can't rely mainly on memory. One of them said: go on a diet when you get back to Los Angeles.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Trisha's take: Laws of Nature

First off, I don't have a boyfriend anymore. And I'm losing a friend at the same time. But that's not what I want to write about in response to my dad's most recent entry.

What I do want to write about is how I spent my day after work was over that day, about a week ago. I can't remember why, but they decided to have a party at work with catered frou-frou sandwiches, beer, and wine. Yes, beer and wine. At 1pm. Was this a good idea? Two large paper cups of white zinfandel said it was, and then I actually went back to work for a little bit.

I left the office around 3 pm ('cause they let us leave early) and decided that today was going to be my day to celebrate the solstice. I got $60 dollars out of the bank ('cause we also got paid today) and took a bus up 8th Avenue along Central Park. Now, I have to tell you that even though I've lived in one of the five boroughs for three years, I've never really hung out in Central Park. I walked through it once, but along the bottom edge, and I didn't get to really explore it before I rushed off to meet... the new ex downtown. Today I was going to explore. But I was going to drink first. And I was going to do it in the most gaudy way possible.

One of my favorite books as a kid was Remember Me to Harold Square by Paula Danziger. The protagonist is a girl who loves to eat at the Tavern on the Green because it's so shiny and sparkly and glitzy inside. The cynical New Yorkers that I patrol as a moderator for a high-traffic list every day say that it's schmaltzy, overpriced, and a tourist trap. Nonetheless, drinking at the Tavern on the Green's outdoor patio was just what I needed, along with a cigarette. I didn't buy them at the gift shop because they were charging $9.75 for a pack. Instead I walked over to Columbus Ave. where they were only charging $8 a pack. I walked back, and right through to the bar, where you actually couldn't smoke at the bar, but at the tables waaaaay in a corner where the waiters wouldn't even come over to serve you. Whatever...

The merlot cost $10 plus tax and tip, and it was pretty good. What wasn't good was having to watch out for tree debris as the wind ruffled through the branches. I like a strong bodied merlot, but I don't like the tree debris additives. I sat and chain-smoked, and fielded phone calls and text messages from concerned friends, letting out a torrent of curse words within hearing distance of some ladies who were having an early dinner with a kid in tow. Boy did I feel embarrassed. When I was done with my second glass, I even went over to their table to apologize and the ladies were nice enough to say that they didn't even notice me cursing. I also applauded when this bride came in to celebrate the wedding she just had. She looked lovely.

From the Tavern on the Green, I walked past the Sheep Meadow to an area where there was a wide street and guys skateboarding. That would have been fun to watch for a while, but on the other side of the street were some guys playing street hockey. That threw me back into the wayback machine and back to when my very first boyfriend and I were dating and he got me into roller hockey a little. I asked the guys if I could sit down and watch for a while, and it felt really good to be able to follow the puck and cheer the guys on. When I'd had my fill, I walked up from there towards the Bandshell, and watched this inspirational speaker guy film a video for the teaching guide he's selling with his book that's coming out in the fall. From there, I walked towards the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace and had my second Thoth sighting, and tossed a dollar to this two banjo/one soprano saxophone band that was noodling away in a corner. The Lake beckoned, and I followed the path around to the Loeb Boathouse where alack! they were no longer renting bikes for the day. Must go back to the Park to rent a bike for a while. I lost myself in the Ramble for a bit (and firmed up my plans to hang with my friend Hilary later on), eventually coming out on the other side of the Lake near the Bow Bridge. I crossed it, taking the time to appreciate the views on either side and wondering exactly how many movies had been filmed with that bridge in them. Too many, I think.

From there, it was back to Cherry Hill and back towards the Sheep Meadow area, even though I didn't know at the time I was heading back that way. My hips had started to hurt after all the Ramble-ing, and I just wanted to get back on the bus to go to Penn Station. I did know, however, that I didn't want to leave by the same route, so instead of going towards the Tavern again, I walked a bit north of there, through a grassy lawn area where a lady's German Shepherd didn't want to be petted by me. No big deal, I thought, and had to walk a bit south again towards a break in the fence. I'm glad I went south again, because I ended up stumbling upon an open-air performance of All's Well That Ends Well, at a part where a kilted ruffian was trying to get a woman to promise to either stay away from the king or be his mistress. I couldn't tell because he was projecting so much better than she was. And then some Lord came around the corner, in a Napoleonic era type uniform. From a distance, he looked like Patrick Stewart, and kinda declaimed like him as well. I swooned, but not for too long because I had to meet with Hilary in Flushing, and it was past 7:30 pm. So I eventually made my way out of the park and wound up around 79th St., I think.

That ramble through the Park was very, very fun. I'm so very glad I did it. It reminded me of how beautiful life is, how mysterious, how serene, how painful. It reminded me of why I love New York City, and why I'm not going to let anyone push me around anymore.

Bert's take: Laws of Nature

It was one of those perfect days in a California paradise--weather wise, that is. The day started in the mid-70s, then to mid-80s, and by the time I got home, the temperature was back in the 70s again, as the sun started to hide beyond the Pacific Ocean.

I got home early, that is, earlier than my better half. Too early to cook dinner. Time to relax.

I had a half bottle of red wine from Spain, Denominacio d'Origen, 2004 Mas de Caralt, leftover from a couple of days earlier. I got it from Beverage and More, during one of their "buy one bottle, get the next one for a nickle" sales. Excellent wine for the price. On the label it said it was made from Penedes grapes: Tempranillo, Genache and Monastrel, and aged in oak. I like wine aged in oak barrels, as opposed to those giant tanks made of stainless steel. I really can't tell the difference, especially after the second or third glasses, but deep in my subconscious mind, oak aged wines feel more romantic, and this moment was one of those.

I also just got back from a quick shopping from Costco, were I bought a loaf of demi-baguettes from La Brea Bakery. They were baked fresh that day, and I could still see the moisture from the steam inside the bag. This is a sourdough-type of bread, and best eaten with olive oil and soy sauce and lemon; this time, I was contented enough with just a hint of butter, after warming it in the convection oven.

Let's see. I had wine and bread. What else is missing? Cheese? How about music?

There have been plenty of write-ups about the year and summer of 1967, and the 40 years anniversary of "Flower Power" and the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band album release, so I thought I would play the CD given to us by good friends Allan and Tina. It was a collection of the music of the 60's.

It started with the song "Whenever You're Around" by The Dave Clark 5.

As I looked around my small patio, equally reminiscing about my teen years in college, thinking of what my next article would be, I focused my attention on my three variety tomato plants, which are about four-feet tall, and have fruits in several stages of ripening. Maybe I could tell a story about this, and the reason I wanted to plant tomatoes. (Something about a scene from the Godfather movie, where Marlon Brando was playing with his granddaughter in his backyard when he had that fatal heart attack.) Or I could tell a story about the ficus (spelling correct?) [Ed note: Yes, Dad.] tree I have in a big pot which showed evidence of drying out. Is it dead? Is there any hope? How about if I feed it with plant food and just water it everyday?

This is still June, the graduation ceremonies are just about over, and the CD just played the song "Graduation Day" by The Lettermen. Oh how I remembered that song 40 years ago.

Next was the song by Peter and Gordon, "A World without Love." I love the lyrics of the songs in my youth, or those before me. Nowadays, I don't appreciate the rap songs, especially those injected with lots of f-words. Call it the generation gap, because the younger guys I know love them. Must have been the same issues when rock and roll music started back in the 50's. The elders didn't like them, but the generation that would be known as the Baby Boomers loved them.

Anyway, as I was feeling the buzz of the wine, I noticed a wasp trying to enter our garage door, which is at one end of the patio. I know enough about wasps that when provoked, its sting will give you a lot of pain, if not death. I didn't want it to make a nest in our garage. So instinctively, I shut the door closed.

The wasp circled the area looking for another entrance. Back and forth, it flew from my guava tree on the left, to the other side of the garage then back to the door. It must have done this a hundred times, but who was counting? The way it flew showed like it was in a panic mood. Trying desperately to get in. I am not sure about the life cycle of wasps, or who build the nest-- the father or the mother--but this one clearly had a mission.

My mind circled too. My imagination started to roll. Is this wasp a single mother trying to find or build a home for her young ones? When is the delivery date? How much time does she have? Or is this the father of the clan trying to build a nest for the mother and child or children? I know they are products of nature, and although we as human beings invented insecticides to get rid of them, don't they have the same right to be on this earth? Should I let him or her build a nest in my garage?

Chad and Jeremy played a couple of songs, "Before and After" and "Distant Shores."

More wine and bread. More music. Different artists.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys. "Everybody Loves a Clown." Gerry and the Pacemakers. "I'll be There" and "Don't let the Sun Catch You Crying." (I remembered Eric Hernandez. This was his favorite song to sing.) The Spiral Staircase. "More Today than Yesterday."

In the meantime, the wasp's circle of flight was getting wider. He or she was now getting closer to me, probably thinking I had something to do with his or her dilemma: continue to build where it was started to start a new one. I swear I thought I saw it stop in mid-flight and look directly at me. Or it could be just the wine talking.

Jose Mari Chan (where is he now?) sang "After Glow." Followed by The Hollies with their "Bus Stop."

I felt like dancing. This wine was really helping. Perfect attitude enhancer. I started to dance in place. Nobody could see me anyway, right? Bill Cosby would have been proud of me as I imitated his dancing moves.

The Beatles followed with their "Till There was You" and "In my Life" and "I Wanna Hold your Hand." I sat down from dancing and I imitated Ringo and was drumming invisibly to my heart content. I was even tossing my invisible drumsticks up in the air, catching them in downward flight and continue drumming without losing a beat, so to speak. I was really on the roll now. Nothing could stop me.

The Cascades followed with "Lucky Guys" and "Rhythm of the Rain." I love the lyrics of these songs of the 60's. You would think they came out of greeting cards. Very romantic.

"Dream, Dream, Dream." Who sang this one? [Ed note: It's The Everley Brothers. You're the one who introduced them to me.] The words are "I can make you mine, taste your lips of wine / Every time, night or day." What did I tell you? Those words are taken out of Hallmark greeting cards.

As The Fleetwoods sang "Goodnight My Love," the wasp came very close to me, and I swear again it was in the attack mode. Instinctively, I grabbed the rag on the patio table, the one I just used to dust off the table and chairs, and with one swing hit the air in the direction of the wasp. I must have hit it harder than I thought, for I caught the wasp in flight, hard enough for it to bounce against the wall, probably head first, because it landed on the ground without moving. I broke the wasp's neck.

I was horrified. I didn't mean to kill it. I just wanted it away from me. Was it the wine talking? Was it the wine directing the act? Was it the wine manipulating my mind? I was not sure at this point. May be I was looking for a way out. A cop out.

For a few seconds, I stood there motionless. And so was the wasp. Was it dead? Was it an instant death? Did it suffer? Or just didn't know what hit it? I wanted to get near but I was afraid that if it was not dead, it might recover at any moment and attack me, this time with success.

I did what a normal guy would do at this incident: I drank more wine. But with an eye keeping close tabs on the wasp. After several minutes, I made a decision that the wasp was dead. Oh I felt so much shame and guilt. The family lineage of this wasp would end with this one. No more baby wasps flying in a couple of weeks to enjoy the California paradise this summer. And if there ever was a newly built nest, or one in the process of being built, will never be lived in. One family died with one fell swoop of a dirty rag. Shame.

Still feeling guilty, I had to think fast. Did I violate the laws of nature? What is next?

My wine glass was empty. The bottle was empty. The plate of sourdough bread was empty except for a few crumbs. My wife will be home in any minute now. The sun was under the sea in the Pacific Ocean. The blue skies were turning red and dark red. It will be night pretty soon.

The laws of nature. We all have the right to be on this planet. Right? From the tiniest insects or microscopic bacteria to the big animals with wings and fins and paws and tall trees. The laws of existence. The food chain. The prey and the predator. Discovery Channel.

I walk over to the wasp and gingerly picked it up. It was dead alright. There wasn't much light in our patio so I could not see if the wasp was pregnant. All I could think of was that this incident was pregnant with meaning. I walk over to the base of the guava tree, where there were plenty of ants doing their business and dropped off the wasp. The ants will have a good meal tonight.

End of the story.

What else did you expect?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kulang sa Patis

From time to time, I think about death. Now at this stage of my life, I think about it even more. Or more often. I like to call this stage "the September of my life"--the fall time when it comes to the four seasons. The beginning of the end.

There was a time when I was new in the States, I attended a seminar at work. I think it was a meeting actually of managers in the big cities of Southern California. Sometime during one of the symposiums, there was a question raised, asking "Where do you think you will be 25 years from now?" It caught me by surprise, because at the time, I was not thinking 25 years into the future. I was not even thinking five years, much more 25 years. Yes, I was young and restless. More like young and stupid. Somehow, I was not thinking I would live that long.

Well, that was 37 years ago. And I am still alive. And of course, a lot of things happened in those 37 years.

Last week, one of our long-time friends died. Actually, she was the mother of my siblings' friends, but since she was closer to our age than my younger brothers and sisters, we were friends with her and her husband.

The news was sudden, and we tried to squeeze some time to attend either the novena or the rosary in her honor. My work schedule did not allow me to attend the interment, and I was a little bummed about it too.

So the first chance I got, I went to the cemetery a couple of days after she was buried, and with the help of the cemetery personnel, I was able to visit her
plot and paid my respects. Said a little prayer.

The interesting thing about it was that she was buried at the cemetery that I pass by twice a day to and from work. There was a time when I showed interest in that cemetery, one of the places we considered in case of our death, my wife and I. And to make it more interesting, we found out that it is a Catholic cemetery.

So while I was there, I went ahead and picked up some brochures, and I even asked the Family Service Counselor (that is his title) about some prices and "accommodations," if that is what they call it. He showed me the new phase that they just opened, because the other 37 acres are mostly sold out. I found out that I could talk about this with no emotional reservations, just being practical. The counselor gave me a tour of the cemetery.

During the tour, there were even moments when I almost started laughing out loud, because he was asking me questions if I had preferences of where we would like our plot. "Do you like one that is under a tree?" was one of those questions. "Would you like it on higher grounds?" "How about what type of lapida?". Wow, he even knows about lapida, although I suspected maybe it is the same word they have in Spanish, this gentleman being a Latino.

There were big signs all over the cemetery saying what is and is not allowed in the cemetery, like only fresh flowers and plants, no artificial flowers, no balloons, no whirligigs, etc., and yet on the way out, I found a lot of balloons and even whirligigs everywhere. And since this was close to Memorial Day, there were American flags all over. Another sign at the door said all decorations are taken down every Thursday, no exceptions. And that the place closes at 6:00 pm at this time of the year. I guess they will stay open later during summer.

Here is what it is in financial terms. The plot for two would cost around $8,900, including all basic arrangements at today's prices. If we are serious about it, we could put down ten percent, and the balance is payable in 60 monthly installments of $149 each. I forgot to ask about cremation.

I remember Edwin, our insurance agent, told me at one time that it is not a good investment to buy a plot. Things happen. Changes happen. Couples end up getting a divorce. Or moving out of town or even out of state. Children--whom you are considering in the location of the cemetery--might move out, too. To buy a certain plot now may not be the same one you would like to use later. On the other hand, of course, like anything else, in 60 months or five years from now, the basic cost of the plot would have gone up from $8,900.

The another way could be to save money for it. Set aside some savings for this purpose. I think this is what we ought to do. And include it in our Living Will where we want to be buried just in case.

While I was driving to work one morning this week, I thought of the business of dying again. It just dawned on me why human beings--the only animals in the kingdom--bury their dead. (Some cultures burn their dead.) Even way back in the beginning of human history, it is not because of religious reasons, although religion plays a role on how, but human beings bury their dead, because, you and I know it, decomposing bodies stink. We cannot just push it aside and endure the smell for months. Or we cannot just pick up and move residences. Or throw the body in the dump. Although, I would assume, some have done it.

As grim, or ghastly, or simply unpleasant as it may sound, death and dying produce some element of jokes themselves. And sometimes, it comes from the person who is facing it.

Several years ago, some distant relative told us about the conversation they had with their father who had a terminal illness. When they, together with the mother and other children, were discussing where he wanted to rest permanently, the son brought up a place he knew. The father said, "O, ang layo naman!" ("Hey, that place is far from here!"). To which the son replied: "Huwag na kayong mag reklamo, 'Tay. Hindi naman kayo ang mag da drive." ("Don't complain anymore, Dad, you are not going to do the driving.") They all had a good laugh about it. See what I mean?

Another friend told this story. When he and his divorced father were talking about cemetery plot, his father commented: "Pag nauna akong namatay, huwag nyong isasama sa aking pantion 'yung nanay mo. Kaya nga kami naghiwalay, mara malayo ako." ("I want a plot all to myself. If I die first, make sure your Mom gets her own when it is her turn. I didn't stay away from her for nothing.") Of course, he was just kidding, and years later, the mom--sure enough--was buried next to him.

Because I like writing, I even wrote my own eulogy. It may not have been done before. I call it AutoBiEulogy. Of course I did not praise myself or listed any of my accomplishments (because I could not think of any at the time). It is more of a poem, actually. I plan to pass it around at my wake, something my friends can remember me by. I also told my family which picture I want on top of my casket. It is the one taken when I was a teenager, in black and white, with me showing a sexy pose lying on the sand at the beach. I chose this because it provokes laughter all the time when visitors see it at our house.

And that is exactly what I want on my wake. My last party. I don't want people to cry at my funeral, with the exceptions of those I might owe money from. I want to celebrate my life not my death, with my families, relatives, and friends.

And if I survive them all? I guess I will just have to see them all later, and like a celebrity, make a grand entrance. In heaven or that other place.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Blogging Rights

First, a short history...

Men, and obviously women, have always wanted to keep a record of their written expression. At first, they did this mostly by drawing pictures on the walls of caves. Mostly pictures of animals. Mostly buffaloes. Mostly, male buffaloes. They were doing all kinds of things. The buffaloes in the drawings, I mean. The first or oldest ones were discovered in a French cave. At the time of discovery, which was almost a million years after the pictures were painted but not quite, the French people did not have a name for it, so they called on their neighbors, the Italians. When the first Italian, who studied Latin, saw it, he exclaimed "Muy graffito!", and the name stuck. Then they named the collection "graffiti."

Somewhere back in time, at another part of the world where they did not have many caves, people became more sophisticated. They got together and used symbols to standardize the pictures, so that they can write more articles and statements per space. This is known in today's lingo as "the fine print," which is popular with lawyers. Anyway, the Egyptians used this system. They did not have a name for it yet at the time because they had not invented written words. Later on they asked their Greek neighbors what to call the system. They said hieroglyphic, from the words hieros (sacred) plus glyphein (carve). The Egyptians--although did not have plenty of caves--had plenty of walls, so they filled them up with writings. They used sharp and pointed instruments to write on stone walls. Only adults were allowed to write, because children could not have sharp instruments, even way back then. Some of the adults even used tablets of stones to write on, but it was not very practical because they were both heavy and cumbersome, and could not take them easily from place to place.

To solve this problem, someone invented the use of the bark of trees for their writing implements. This was better. The word paper was not yet in the Webster dictionary at the time, so they called it papyrus. When the ink dried in those writings, they were able to roll up the bark. They called them scrolls, short for "spiral coiled rolls." And they could take them from place to place. The most famous ones were found--guess where, of all places--in a cave! What irony. Some enterprising individuals tried to write on the dried skins of animals, but it did not catch on because the skins were smelly. Instead, they used the hide to make shoes, and that is how smelly feet were created.

Even though the new symbols were smaller and easier to write and understand, the new system was still outdated. Thus they invented the letters and words. This was practical because now you could use the same letters again and again in the same word. It was okay until someone, for lack of a better reason, used the same word to give it a different meaning. A Chinese philosopher, whose name I cannot remember, called this "confusion." This confusion was helpful to women, so it caught on with women fast. The women also found out that giving the word a different pronunciation, they could alter its meaning. Take the word "fine" for example. It means, well, fine. Until a lady says it with heavy emphasis, storms out the room, and slams the door behind her. Then the adjective word "fine" became a noun, which now means "a levy a man has to pay." Or so it seems... but I am digressing now.

Later, they invented a printer which made possible to write on both sides of the paper. The environmentalists lauded this discovery because now they did not have to cut down a lot of trees to make paper. Then they bound the papers and called them books. Some books are so small that they fit inside their pockets and called them "pocketbooks." Ladies used these books sometimes to put their money in-between the pages when they forgot to bring their purses, so these also became known as pocketbooks. I'm not sure if it was the men or the women who coined this term.

At home, people wrote in longhand. This was very tiring, and it felt like your hands were stretched, thus the term "longhand." At first they used quill pens, then pencils were invented, then the fountain pens, and then ball pens. People in Asia way, way back used brush and paint or ink to write. They still do it today.

Elsewhere, the later generations of men used a new invention, called spray paint. They used this mostly in painting crude inscriptions or messages on somebody else's walls or public surfaces. Why they didn't use their own walls to do this baffled mankind in the beginning, but now the real reason surfaced: their mothers would kick their asses if they did this on their own premises. They learned this when they were young--no writing on the walls at home.

From longhand to typewriters, from typewriters to computer printers, and from computer printers to websites, the history of men's and women's attempts to preserve their written record of expression has come a long way. Now, we can just log on to any website, and read someone's blogs, blogs, blogs.

And now, the blogging rights...

I am almost convinced that writing is a calling. It may be a gift, a talent that is inherent in some people, and with little coaching, could blossom into a wonderful work of art.

People write for different reasons, but the underlying purpose is to tell a story. Whether he or she is a journalist, a playwright, a book author, or a comic writing his or her own materials, the desire to convey an idea is the motivating factor.

It used to be that the avenues for such endeavors were limited. You had to send in your manuscript to the publishers, producers, editors and executives and if you are both good and lucky, your articles could be produced and printed for millions of people to read and enjoy. It would show up in books, newspapers, and magazines. Thank goodness for the Internet--now you can have your own studio where everything can be produced and processed and distributed to your captive audience.

Why do people blog?

Before website blogs, there were diaries. Teenagers mostly used them all the time to capture their emotions while they were still fresh on their mind. They wrote their feelings, their aspirations, their hopes and dreams, and even their anxieties on paper on small notebooks--usually with a lock and key--and aside from them, nobody else had access to their writings. Speaking of diary entries, one teenager wrote a series of them and it became a best-selling book later, and also was turned into a movie. But most diaries are kept in their rooms by the writers, and nothing much happens to them. Until sometime later, when because of a simple mistake, their diaries are included in the list of items sold at a garage sale. And when this happens, usually one of three things occurs: if the writer is nobody, the diary ends up in the trash; if the writer happens to be somebody, and the writings are juicy, the lawyers get involved; or it may just end up on eBay before anybody can do anything about it.

I would suspect there might still be a smidgen of people who still write in their diaries to keep a log of personal records they want to keep for themselves, but lately, the process of people writing about themselves and telling the world about it has become more and more popular. There was a time when people wanted to have their space and away from anybody. Nowadays, people have their MySpace and wanted to be with everybody.

People just want to tell a story. They are the producers of their shows. They are the directors of their own movies. They are the editors of their own manuscripts. And they are the critics of their own writings.

Speaking of criticism, it was only recently that a comprehensive study was made of the old drawings and paintings on those cave walls mentioned earlier. It seems like there were other drawings in an around the buffaloes that were undetected before and that now just came to light. The paintings unmistakably depicted animal excrements under the buffaloes. Under the male buffaloes. And this, the scholars decided were the first recorded message of the phrase, "bull sh*t."

Those cave men and women, they were funny, weren't they?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Trisha's Take: What "basaang gilagid" means to me

The first time I heard the phrase basaang gilagid was from my dad, right after I went to the Philippines for the very first time. This was in the year 1992, when I was a freshman in high school and my older sister was a senior. We were going back for my grandparents' 50th anniversary, and I was going to meet my numerous Filipino cousins for the very first time.

When I was growing up, I was raised to be American first and Filipino after. My parents didn't teach me Tagalog because they wanted me to be proficient in English so I could do well in school. Their plan worked, because I was in all the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) classes in elementary school, all the honors classes in middle school (and I think I even got to skip a lot of 8th grade English class), and I had tested into all of the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes in high school, the same as my sister. I was even already in my second year of French class, and one of the top students. With Tagalog, though, I was at a loss.

Imagine, then, a young girl getting out of a plane in a sweltering airport. She has just come from Seoul, South Korea, where she and her family were put up in a 5-star hotel because a baggage handler's strike forced Northwest Airlines to cancel the previous day's flight. She is nervous, she is excited. This is the end destination of the very first plane trip she has ever undertaken.

She exits the customs area where the balikbayan boxes her family has stuffed full of T-shirts and shorts purchased from the Kmart where her father works were opened in search of possible contraband. She leaves the safety of the airport, and is greeted by her oldest male cousin, perhaps an uncle or two. Her mother and father are talking with them excitedly.

She doesn't understand a single word they're saying.

The entire trip was filled with a lot of silence and hard listening on my end because while my parents were busy chattering away with first his relatives, then hers, my sister and I were lost until someone spoke to us in English. Luckily, many of my cousins wanted to teach me Tagalog, so many long car trips were turned into impromptu Tagalog lessons. (However, the only sentence I seem to have retained other than "Mahal kita" is "Ako ay kenegut ng lamok." Make of that what you will.)

Despite their good intentions, though, I still felt out of place. Until I went over there, it had never really struck me how conservative and religious the entire country is. I wasn't used to the extreme humidity like my cousins were, so we got to sleep in the only air-conditioned room in my grandparents' old house. Also, they kept making jokes that only my sister and I kept getting eaten alive by the mosquitos because our American blood was spicier. Add those factors to the language barrier, and you get one confused girl who is trying to keep up with everyone else the best she can.

There was one night, however, where I didn't have to keep up with anyone. We had journeyed by jeepney to the parish where my dad's oldest brother works as a priest. Actually, I take that back. I tried to journey by jeepney, but I was too tired to hold on, and instead was ferried along in a car with one of my then-youngest cousins (who I think vomited on the floor). When we got there, I don't even remember what time it was, but I do remember nodding off in church during the Easter vigil and having some of my hair burnt off by a candle's flame. I passed out on a couch somewhere, and woke some time later to laughter.

Wandering outside, I found my dad and all of his siblings drinking beer on the verandah. Some of my cousins were there, too, and my dad and I proceeded to go into our "Casablanca" medley, where you start by singing "As Time Goes By" but immediately switch over to "The Christmas Song" after the second verse. Everyone cheered, and then I sang something from either Les Miserables or The Phantom of the Opera and everyone cheered again.

That night was described to me as what basaang gilagid is. It's singing songs or dancing in public with your dad. It's sneaking cigarettes from my aunts to hide them from my mom at my cousin's wedding in Canada. When my male cousins and I discussed the relative merits of various wines, whenever I see my brother-in-law who teases me about my behavior at my sister's wedding. It's whenever family or friends get together and you share your lives.

It's time to basaang gilagid, my new Internet friends.

Bert's Take: What "basaang gilagid" means to me

Basaang Gilagid, which is sometimes pronounced Basa'ng Gilagid literally means the "process of wetting your gums." How? By drinking, of course. Around a case of beer, a bottle of wine, a pot of steaming hot, strong coffee, a blender of Margaritas--the list is endless. I first heard that phrase from my friend Ming, a phrase that became popular within our small group in college.

Or it's even a code, if you may, from our gang of the '60s in Manila. It was the social connotation of a party. A small get-together--sometimes, not even planned. Just a spur of the moment gathering for social entertainment. But just the same, the outcome was mostly jovial, fulfilling, satisfactory.

After graduation, as expected, everybody went his own way. Some barkada members went away further than others. Lines of communications were lost. Stories stopped. Pictures were tucked in albums. Phone calls diminished. Then--all of a sudden, 40 years have gone by. Careers were made and lost. Families were formed and multiplied. But surprise! the world had gone smaller.

Thanks to the power of the computer and the Internet, lines of communications are again restored. Pictures travel around the world in seconds. Voices are heard from the other side of the planet as if they are from next door. Instant messages are sent and received by the millions. Letters, articles, even animated emails arrive any time of day or night.

It is time again to wet your gums, not around the table seated across from each other over a case of beer, or a bottle of wine, or a blender of Margaritas--but across each other from the computer screen, or from the lens of a webcam.

It's time to tell funny anecdotes or serious stories. Time to gather around and share your innermost feelings. Time to remind each other of occasions coming up. Time to convey congratulations or offer condolences. Or simply time to just visit.

Basaang Gilagid is the net that collects the attentive minds. It is the rope that binds the souls of true friends. It is the blanket that gives the warm feelings of knowing that each other still cares. It is the umbrella that provides safety with numbers. It is the platform from which anyone could sing and dance as if no one is watching.

As we have reached the September of our lives, we now look forward to a new beginning--new to us, that is. We are poised to embark on a life that were once not even visible in our horizon. Thanks to our predecessors, we are able to get a hint of that life. We shall be able to manage the transitions well. And hopefully, as we move to this new plateau, we leave a legacy that will define our lives.

All shall be well.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bert's Trip to the Philippines, Part 3

March 20, Bocaue, Bulacan

The Myna Bird

The night after the party, I decided to accept the invitation of a friend's family to spend the night at their big house in Bocaue. My two other sisters and I were driven to their house which was not too far from the convent. Actually it was just within walking distance, but we were tired and sleepy and looking forward to a good night's sleep in an air-conditioned room.

The biological daily alarm clock embedded in my brain makes me wake up at six o'clock in the morning no matter what time I go to bed the night before. The next day, while everybody was still asleep, I tiptoed down the veranda on the way to the kitchen which was on the other side of the big house. Then I heard this whistling sound, the sound of a guy admiring a sexy woman walking by. You know how it sounds, right? Intrigued, I searched around the corner until I found this myna bird in a cage at the hallway. To my surprise, this bird started to talk. To me, I guess, because we were the only ones in there.

"Pangit," the bird said.

Startled, I shot back, "Pangit ka rin!"

"Gago," the bird retorted.

"Gago ka rin," I said.

The bird kept quiet for a minute. When I turned around, she asked, "Kumain ka na?"

I didn't answer, but started to walk to the kitchen. The bird asked again: "Kumain ka na? Kumain ka na?"

Unbeknownst to me, we were being watched by the katulong at the kitchen. He was laughing like crazy when I saw him. Over a cup of coffee, he told me that the bird could also swear and say some other bad words, but denied training her those exact words.

After another cup, I decided to walk back to the convent, which was near the main thoroughfare. This morning, the streets were already buzzing with pedicabs, jeepneys and motorcycles. I walked around the plaza in search of the best pan de sal in town. I found what I was looking for, a big pan de sal roll with a crusty outside, but soft bread inside, two for five pesos. This was the closest bread I could find that was similar to the ones I used to eat from Hagonoy, Bulacan where my father grew up. For some reason, a few years back, I had a craving for it. And it went on for years and years. And I promised my self I would search and taste this pan de sal again during this trip. (Another search was for the best siopao, but that is a different story.)

I didn't have any cash with me--pesos anyway--and the tindera would not accept cents or dollars. I told her who I was, and if it was possible, to charge it to the convent, but she just looked at me as if I was from another planet. So I had to go to the convent and look for relatives I could borrow money from. After I got my cash, I went back and bought a couple pan de sal. I didn't have to eat much, just to taste it again and confirm this was the same pan de sal I was dreaming of.

Heaven is different for different people. When I got back to the convent, I thought I was in heaven. Prepared and waiting for me on the breakfast table were packages of white carabao milk/cheese (kesong puti) and freshly brewed coffee from Batangas (kapeng barako). I quickly polished off both, with the help of the pan de sal, and headed back to the big house where I suspected our hosts were also preparing breakfast for us. And of course, I told the people at the convent NOT to tell the others that I already had breakfast there. Why? When you find heaven, wouldn't it be better if you find two of them? Sira ba ang ulo nila!

This was Tuesday morning. And on Wednesday, we would board a Cebu Pacific Airlines flight headed for Boracay.

More to come.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Bert's Trip to the Philippines, Part 2

Manila, here I come.

After 14 hours up in the sky, after three movies (one of them in Tagalog, with English subtitles), after two hot meals and several snacks, after numerous drinks including white and red wine, after a few hours of nap time, the plane finally landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It was the smoothest plane ride I had ever had. I don't think the captain put on the "fasten your seatbelt" sign more than half a dozen times during the entire flight. Congratulations, Captain Medina and crew. And say "Hi!" to Josephine.

The time was 10:21 a.m. Hot and humid, of course. (By the way, one big change I noticed was all the employees at the airport were courteous, helpful, dedicated, and honest and always with a smile on their faces. And they were not even asking or hinting for a tip. A huge change from what I remembered five years ago during my last travels.) Thank you, thank you very much. (My decision whether to fly or not to fly PAL again will be revealed in a subsequent part of this series.)

Another hour of waiting for the two balikbayan boxes of assorted personal items and padalas, and I was finally in an air-conditioned van plying and squeezing between jeepneys, cars, taxis and trucks, buses and pedicabs joining this controlled mayhem of misdirected direction called Manila traffic . My only regret was, I was not able to record any of this to show to my American friends. Amazing, isn't it?

Since it was almost lunch time, my sister-in-law suggested to try the eateries at Serendra. Who was I to argue? They don't take dollars, so my money was safe. We went to Conti's. (A few days later, my other group of barkada treated me to a dinner at Duo. But that's another story.)

The purpose of my travel was to attend my parents' 65th wedding anniversary celebration which was done at Bocaue, Bulacan where my oldest brother is the parish priest. He made all the preparations and executions. It was the celebration of the century for us. How many families are lucky enough to celebrate what we did? Not many. Time to count our blessings.

Instead of narrating the events by chronological order, I will just offer observations and comments, in no particular order.


The night before, I did something I have not done in my almost 60 years. I had a manicure! Wowee! The manicurista was there to do house calls and when she was done with my sisters, she asked me if I want one too. Why not? I was on my third bottle of San Miguel Pale Pilsen by then. And it was for less than a dollar! How can you beat that? Don't they charge $40 for this service in L.A.? (But you get to keep the entire bottle of nail polish, I was told. Big deal.)

Three of my college buddies, picked me up at Quezon City, and we all drove to Bocaue. Another one called in to give his regrets. These three guys are still full of fun, and I just kinda listened to their exchanges of recent crazy happenings. If other people would just listen to their conversations and not see them, they would not suspect that these are semi-senior citizens (one of them, at least is not 60 years old yet) who are serious with their jobs, careers, and lives. Puro kalokohan pa rin, sabi nga, after all these years.

Speaking of seniors, we were at my brother's convent office/parlor drinking San Mig Light (that will always be the "basaang gilagid" venue) when people were coming and going who saw us there. More than one person thought we were bishops from other dioceses invited by my brother. Can you imagine if any one of them offered to kiss our college rings? It might be the first of "many."

More than 250 guests attended. We had the proverbial fatted calf, five lechons, a dozen adobong pato and other stuff. The finale was the fireworks display; after all, isn't this Bocaue, the Philippine capital of Fireworks? As you may have guessed, 65 rockets were launched in the air. It was almost midnight when the party ended, but the "three bishops" left earlier than that. And guess what? With all the food and drinks, I was not able to eat or drink a lot. I was busy attending to relatives and friends, taking pictures, and generally visiting. And thank goodness everybody had a camera, because with all the confusion on my part, I failed to take a picture of my parents. Lagot!

My contribution to the event was a comedy skit I wrote and directed, starring all my young nieces and nephews. It was about how my parents met, the situation around the first wedding 65 years ago, and the births of all ten children. The funny part was during her "labor," you could hear my "Mom" screaming "Huli na ito" but then again, it was repeated nine more times. We didn't have time to rehearse or have a dry run so we did it with scripts in hand, but all in all, it was fun.

More to come.