Monday, February 28, 2005

the perfect workplace

I wrote this piece when I was so bored and irritated with my office. It was the height of that wonderful Kris and Joey marital brouhaha that suddenly became a national concern (I was actually surprised that our most honorable and idiotic legislators didn’t jump at the opportunity to conduct one of their lame senate investigations). Everyone at the office was talking about it, which really made me sick. Actually, even ordinary office gossip makes me sick. I mean, I don’t see the point! Why do they need to talk about who’s fucking who? What the hell do they care about other people’s lives? Why can’t they just live and let live?

Anyway, this piece arose out of sheer boredom and irritation. And it includes some of the things i hate about this office. Jaybee, this is for you!

8 October 2003
3:45 p. m.

For most part of the afternoon, the cubicles buzz with the dry clicking of computer keyboards. The drab, white light filtering through an equally drab aluminum diffuser glorifies my particle-board desk into an exquisite piece of furniture worthy of exhibition in the august halls of a hospital’s billing office.

I stare at my computer screen with rapture. How responsive are the keys to my bony fingers, how fast do words flow from the tips of my hands to the screen! What wonders have human beings achieved, indeed. Just imagine, I could lend form to my thoughts simply by keying them in through an ergonomically incorrect keyboard. And this is the same technology the powers-that-be use. The shit that our esteemed politicians churn out in congress pass through the same highly-advanced process of…uh…Word Processing. Wow, it’s just, wow.

Imagine the infinite possibilities—I could make my crap look like professional documents. Oh my god, the whole concept excites me so much I could cum in my pants right now!

Employees incessantly walk around as if they were actually loaded with work. With focused eyes, bent bodies, and hurried gait, they briskly stride with determination, thinking perhaps about significant implications on the world economy of the Kris and Joey split-up, and the former’s decision to withdraw formal charges. Their brows are knitted in consternation and their immense foreheads more wrinkled and convoluted than their brains. They have such laudable insights and never-before-heard ideas that would boggle Sartre and baffle Kant. You can see in their eyes the urgency of focused thought, you can read on their lips the unspoken realities of the universe, to which they will decline to give utterance at the moment. All they can manage to reveal about the secrets of our existence are golden, cryptic snippets that would keep you thinking for days on end: “Don’t judge my brother; he’s not a book!”

An empty cubicle has been transformed into a massage parlor cum chismis hub, where a wearied clerk, tired from half a day’s worth of faxing and answering calls, is being given a Swedish, shiatsu, zen-style, body massage by a wandering manang who is as regular as any permanent employee here. The heavenly scent of Vicks Vapor Rub tinges the air with nostalgia as it wafts reminiscences of those times you spent in bed with the flu—complete with headache, backache, assache, or what have you. It reminds you of the time when your mother lovingly massaged your arched back while bawling curses and expletives at you for having played in the rain naked. Oh yes, you still remember that soothing day. You can still taste the puke in your mouth. You can still feel your insides gurgling. You can still remember how your ass went “to shit or not to shit” as your elusive crap decided to play hide-and-seek in your intestines. And it’s all because of Manang the Masseuse’s Vicks Vapor Rub.

Oh yes, this office can be a haven of memories, a bastion of intellectual thought, and a sauna parlor. I feel inspired to push the limits of my intellect here. I dive into the unknown every time I come here. I plunge into important labor policy issues with the constant reminder of my childhood courtesy of hollering babies brought by colleagues who think that this office is an asylum for kids with vocal chord diarrhea.

I observe first-hand the interplay of free trade, tariff reduction, and globalization on the world market here whenever the manongs and the manangs arrive shouting “Merienda!” or “Lunch!” to which everyone scuttles, and the place is instantly transformed into a flea market that can rival even the night markets of Mongkok and Changmai.

Working here does not alienate me from my artistic inclinations. Here, I hone my acting skills by trying to look interested in what I do. I sit upright and look at the computer screen earnestly as I hurriedly switch from one internet window to the other. Here, I pretend that I’m working on a very important article for our News Digest when all I’m doing is write this stupid piece.

I become a whole person here. I reach the summit of my being in this sanctuary. Now, I can proceed to attend to more pressing matters of national importance, and ask ontological questions to decipher the meaning of life. Why is the merienda vendor called Daddy even by employees older than he is? Why can’t senior officials make their own freaking speeches? Why do we always eat the same boring pancit every birthday celebration? And most especially, why can’t that damned baby keep his blasted mouth shut?

Wow, I didn’t know that I was capable of asking such profound questions. I know I may never find the answers to my queries. So I’ll just continue on living, nurturing my existentialist angst and nourishing my Nietzschean ego while listening to the sweet crescendo of a baby’s wailings from a nearby cubicle. I’ll stay in front of this computer and ponder on life’s complexities as I sniff and go high on the scent of Manang the Masseuse’s Vick’s Vapor Rub that still clings on the air long after she’s gone. Ahh, life is so beautiful. I couldn’t ask for a better workplace.

Now where the hell did that manang go? I think I need a massage.


Friday, February 25, 2005

silence of an elevator girl

I forgot to buy chocolate for that elevator girl again.

I’ve been wanting to buy her Choclet, a tiny, one-peso chocolate bar that Tonette sells at the office. It might cheer her up. I know how it feels to be bored out of your wits. I can only imagine how it would be like to be bored out of your wits inside an ancient, rickety, ghost-infested elevator from the Paleolithic Age. For that, she deserves a tiny piece of chocolate.

But hey, she sure does take her job seriously. She knows exactly which floor every employee will go. You don’t need to tell her where you’re going. You just have to show your face and she could read it like a bar code scanner. There are times when I would catch her reading The Daily Bread or some Christian book (or was it the Bible? Hell, I don’t remember. It’s been so long since I last held a bible—take note, I said ‘held’ not ‘read’). Sometimes she would be singing her favorite Christian song (oh yes, once upon a time, all I sang were Christian songs, no, I breathed Christian songs; all else, I considered rubbish or devilish. That’s what too much church does to you, it kinda warps your mind a bit).

Our only interaction came when, I—late as ever—came sprinting into her little antique elevator with the original London cast recording of The Phantom of the Opera playing in my walkman (I was excited over the prospect of watching the movie version that night only to realize that my excitement was not worth it; but that’s another story) I didn’t realize that I was actually singing along Michael Crawford’s “Point of No Return” a wee bit too loud.

“Nice voice,” she commented when the elevator doors creaked opened on the fifth floor. I just smiled and walked off.

Too bad I was in a hurry. If I wasn’t facing the threat of suspension due to too much tardiness, I would’ve stayed and chatted a bit.

That conversation could’ve been the start of something profound. I could’ve drawn much from her. Like, what goes on in her mind when the elevator starts its rusty grind up and down the chute. What psychological warfare does she undergo to keep her sanity while silly office gossip wafts her way through loud-mouthed employees who ride the elevator? How does she fight boredom? How many sheep can she count in one day? How does she shoo away mindless chatter about the weather? What does she think about life? About being in a cell? About life in a cell? What kind of maddening silence does she have to endure when no one enters the elevator? Or what kind of silence does she need to maintain to be non-obtrusive?

When I was under Prof. Randy David in his master’s class (for which I got a whopping INCOMPLETE; I did not submit the final paper, I think), he told us that he was working on a book about silence. He was going around town interviewing all sorts of people on their views on silence. A loner’s silence can be different from the silence of a criminal being led to the lethal injection chamber. We all have our own versions of silence. And more often than not, it is this silence that speaks volumes about who we are. The unspoken reveals much of what the soul tries to hide. (Reminder: check if Randy actually finished the book, if he did, go buy it).

My silence is the silence of an observer. I may not speak that much, but I do see. I try to see beyond what other people say. I’m more focused on what they would rather not say. There’s always something there that is held back, no matter how frank and brutally honest a person claims to be. And sometimes, this silence gives me the creator-watching-over-his-creation kind of feeling. I’m there and yet I’m not. I’m very much part of the scene but I am not within the scene. I simply observe. And take down notes in my head.

Silence would never be maddening for me. It is a very welcome companion. I could work as a security guard in an abandoned building and enjoy its creepy silence while reading books or writing my own book.

But for now, I might break my silence inside the elevator and try to talk to that girl. She needs a bar of chocolate.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

la vie boheme

'Reading Charles Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness, which I borrowed from Louis Thévenin, my erstwhile French teacher. Now here’s a maverick in his own time. His language burns with vulgarity. It’s sexually explicit and shockingly violent (sucking cocks, licking cunts, steamy asses, rape, physical abuse, child molestation, genital mutilation here and there). No regard for political correctness at all. 'Trashed formal structure altogether. His aliterary style had, no doubt, shocked the conservative American literary circle. You would either love him or hate him. I chose the former.

I like the way he blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction (which reminds me of Truman Capote; I need to buy one of his books). I like how he strips the language of its literary pretensions and lays it bare and raw, almost mutilated on the chopping block. Like, this is the language ordinary New York bummers and junkies would speak. This is real life. No glossed over, sugarcoated shit that gets stuck in your throat. No preachy, quasi-philosophical babble that you won’t understand in a million years. Just plain, street slang.

The Left even claimed that they have a natural affinity to his stories, a claim which Bukowski vehemently denied. He maintained that he had no political connections with any organization whatsoever.

At first, his work totally took me aback. And I thought nothing could shock me anymore! But upon closer reading, I figured this writer was not putting lurid details of sex and violence just to shock his readers. It was more of an indictment of our hypocritical society. It was an unabashedly bold take on how high we thought we have become after garbing ourselves with social graces. A visceral, carnal, id-based literary point of view is always welcome in my staple literary reading list. At times, though, I find him too self-absorbed or even self-indulgent, but then again, that is always a writer’s prerogative.

Somehow Bukowski reminds me of my New Voice workshop days; don’t ask me why, he just does. He brings me back to that trance-like part of my life when all I cared about was art and being an artist (even though I lacked the talent to be one); when working for a capitalist system was, for me, tantamount to prostitution; when my anthem was Jonathan Larsen’s La Vie Bohème (from Rent); when my main goal was to be different from everyone else, and just be myself.

“To days of inspiration, playing hookey
Making something out of nothing
The need to express, to communicate
To going against the grain, going insane, going mad.
To loving tension, no pension
To more than one dimension
To starving for attention, hating convention, hating pretension
Not to mention, of course, hating dear old mom and dad”

We would sing our hearts out to celebrate our quasi-bohemian existence inside Marga’s car, on our way to Starbucks, from acting workshop. Our nights were always suffused with crazy discussions on philosophy, sex, art, and Erica’s depression. Over bottles of beer and cigarette smoke as thick as a winter blanket, we would laugh and cry together (well, ok, it was just Erica who did all the crying).

Marga used to get over-excited whenever I would talk about agnosticism or whenever I would encourage her to go date other girls so she won’t die a virgin. Go bask in lesbian love, and love it, I used to say.

“To being an ‘us’ for once instead of a ‘them’
Bisexuals, transexuals, homo sapiens,
Carcinogen, hallucinogen, men
Peewee Herman, German wine, turpentine,
Gertrudestein, Atonioni Bertulluci,
Kurosawa, Carmina Burana
To apathy, to atropy, to entropy, ecstasy
Vaclav Havel, the Sex Pistols, 8BC…
To marijuana!
To sodomy, it’s between god and me,
To S & M
La vie bohème”

Erica would swing from sexually suggestive language to highly poetic, philosophical discourse in one breath. And then she would just hug you and cry. I don’t know how she does that. And, while waiting at the Steps Studio, she would sit on the floor even if there were empty comfy couches around. Sitting on the ground humbles you down, she reasoned out, it reminds you of your roots. Or something to that effect.

“To handcrafted beers made in local breweries
To yoga, to yogurt, to rice and beans and cheese
To leather, to dildos….huevos rancheros,
To Maya Angelou
Emotion, devotion,
To causing a commotion,
Creation, vacation,
Mucho masturbation”

I had no direction, no career to speak of, no dream to make huge bucks. But I was satisfied. I didn’t give a damn if the world ended right before my eyes. I would probably just get a beer and watch the free spectacle.

Life was art; and art had to be life. I was sick and tired of conformity. I craved for individuality, at the same time, plurality of meanings. I trashed revered institutions and created my own truths. I longed for intellectual masturbations without anyone telling me what to think or how to think. I wanted to be with people who were not dim-witted enough to talk to me about jobs, making money, family, god, or any of those societal crap that we, in our presumptuous egotistical collective consciousness, wore on our bodies like strap-on dicks. I loved freedom.

“To passion, compassion,
To fashion when it’s new
To Sontag, to Sondheim,
To anything taboo.
Ginsberg, Dylan, Cunningham and Cage
Lenny Bruce, Langston Hughes
To the stage, to Utah, to Buddha,
Pablo Neruda too…
Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn,
La vie bohème”

Somewhere along the way, pragmatism crept in. The hangover stayed only for a few minutes, and then left hurriedly through the backdoor, without even saying goodbye. Benny Coffin III making offers to poor artists? Perhaps. And me, compromising. Probably.

After the cigarette smoke had dissipated, reality caught up with me, in much the same way death caught up with Jonathan Larsen months before Rent successfully opened on Broadway, leaving him eternally clueless as to how his La vie bohème stoked the hearts of thousands of artists.

He died of AIDS.

Marga, too, died about two years ago. She was shot in the leg by a holdupper in Quezon City. Her driver survived the bullets. She didn’t.

I needed to see her inside her casket to convince myself that she was really gone. And when I finally did, I felt no sadness. I was incensed, enraged at how senseless this world can be. Life would never be fair, I thought. Friends, who are hard to come by these days, can die just like that. And the murderer is still out there, probably drinking his ass off in some smoky joint.

Marga, my bro (that's what we used to call each other), was, indeed, like my older sister, or brother. It's hard to digest the fact that I actually saw her in a coffin, harder still was the fact that, gasp, she's wearing a dress and pounds of make-up! She used to joke that she wouldn't want to be caught dead wearing a pink taffeta dress. Well, at least, bro, they didn't dress you in pink. Before she died, I had been planning to gather the old gang for a get-together in a cafe or something. My greatest regret is that I didn't even get to talk to Marga before she passed away. I don't even know if she died a virgin.

God, I miss her.

With her death, my life as a wannabe artist ended. But I know, somewhere down the mud and muck, Marga’s still humming our little anthem.

Viva la vie bohème!


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

French poem

Here's a poem I wrote in French. It's not really much but i'm mighty proud of it. It borders on the schmaltzy and overly romantic side of love, which I'm not exactly a fan of. I wrote it for our graduation presentation at the FSI where i took French for two years. Neil, who is a superb composer and choral arranger, told me he's interested in setting this poem to music and arranging it for a four-part choir. The idea thrills me! But he says I've got to have it checked by a native French speaker first, just to be sure if I got all the idiomatic expressions right. I might send it to Louis one of these days and ask him to edit it.

I tailored my writing within the confines of my limited French vocab and grammatical knowledge. So, forgive me if the language sounds a bit contrived or forced. There's an English translation at the end.

La Nuit des Étoiles Rouges et des Arbres Enflammés
Par Christophe Croix
Le 6 décembre 2004

C’était la nuit des étoiles rouges et des arbres enflammés,
Ayant peur du debut d’orage, il marchait
Au bord de la Seine qui respirait la langue du chagrin,
Espérant, souhaitant qu’elle donne un reste à son cœur fatigué,

Dans la place, elle l’attendait avec des fleurs mourant.
Elle connaissait sans doute que l’homme dont la vie l’avait touché arriverait;
Dans sa main, elle tenait une vieille lettre parlant de l’espérance,
De la passion, de l’amour.

Il est arrivé et il a trouvé la consolation dans ses yeux,
Pour un moment, ils ont parlé sans mots;
Des âmes n’ont pas besoin de la langue,
Les cœurs préfèrent la paix du silence.

Le ciel a soulevé en chuchotant les désirs oubliés,
Le cœur, peut-il oublier ?
Quand le corps avait été enterré, le cœur peut-il souvient la joie d’amour ?
Peut-elle sentir encore la chaleur? Peut-il comprendre les désirs de la vie ?

À ce moment là, ils ont compris bien ce qu’ils aimaient,
Elle a souri doucement en lui donnant la lettre qu’elle avait tenu,
Il l’a pris dans ses bras
Et les oiseaux ont volé follement au-dessus de la place.

Ils ont commencé de marcher au bord de la Seine, ne pensant pas de l’avenir
Qui n’arrivera jamais. Le ciel était lourde avec des nuages noirs de l’orage ;
La Seine respirait la langue du chagrin mais ils étaient contents.
L’éternité était dans le moment

C’était la nuit des étoiles rouges et des arbres enflammés.

A night of red stars and fiery trees

By Christopher Cruz
6 December 2004

It was a night of red stars and fiery trees,
Fearing the start of a tempest, he walked
Along the Seine which breathes the language of desolation;
Hoping, wishing that she would provide respite to his weary heart,

In the park, she waited for him amid dying flowers.
She knew so well that the man whose life has touched her would arrive;
In her hand, she held an old letter that spoke of hope,
Of passion, of love.

He found consolation in her eyes when he arrived,
For a moment, they spoke without words;
Souls need no language,
Hearts prefer the depth of silence.

The sky heaved as it whispered long-forgotten desires,
Can the heart forget?
When the body has long been buried, would it still remember the joys of love?
Would it still feel the warmth? Would it still understand the yearnings of life?

At that moment, they perfectly understood what they wanted
She smiled sweetly as she handed him the old letter
He took her in his arms
As the birds flew wildly over the park.

They started walking along the Seine, not giving a thought about the future
Which will never come. The sky was heavy with black clouds of a foreboding tempest;
The Seine was murmuring the language of desolation but they were happy.
Eternity was in that moment.

It was a night of red stars and fiery trees.


this is my fish bowl

After maintaining a handwritten, private journal since I was ten years old, I’ve finally taken the step to open it all up to the world. I had signed up at Bloggers in July last year. It was partly because there’s this voice within me that urged me all the time: “hey idiot, if those stupid publishers won’t publish your work, then you might as well go publish it yourself!” So I created my blog. What better way to reach wider readership than to post your work on the web where millions of eyes—voyeurs included—can scrutinize them!

But that blog just sat there for months, gathering virtual cobwebs, yawning in its emptiness. Ok, I was scared. It’s like stripping naked and exposing yourself to the elements (not that I haven’t dreamed of doing that). It’s like being dissected like a frog and put under the gawking eyes of high school kids. It’s like…ok, enough with stupid similes.

Just recently, I got this invitation from Dionne (merci pour ton mel, mon amie, et bon courage à ton mariage!) to go check out her blog. I was like oh my god, I gotta have my own blog too! In my excitement, I created another blog, completely forgetting that, eons ago, I had already created one. So I ended up with two empty blogs.

At least, this one won’t stay empty that long.

Journal writing has, for me, been a habit ever since my sister bought me a tacky tickler notebook way back in gradeschool. But it was our maid who taught me what exactly to write in it. She said, I should always write what I felt. And since those carefree days were filled with nothing but backyard football, hide-and-seek, and tumbang patis, all my journal entries ended with the line “Today, I’m very happy.” Don’t blame me! My innocent mind then couldn’t process such complicated emotions like hate, love, guilt, jealousy, and what have you. And even if it could, I don’t believe my realm of experience allowed me to have such grand, passionate emotions running about in my little skinny heart.

Now that I can freely process all sorts of emotions, noble and ignoble alike, I believe this would be more interesting, for me at least. This blog, in a way, is my only shot at posterity—or immortality if you will. Call it self-indulgence. At least I won’t just write for mice that don’t give a hoot about my musings. This would at least be read by real people. Love it or hate it. This is who I am. This is my world. This is my fish bowl.