Friday, May 18, 2012

The Story of Sam

I had to rush to catch that 8:00 o’clock dinner with Sam.

Coming from far south of the crowded Metropolis, I was desperately  praying that traffic would be a little bit lighter at that hour, and that the gridlock, if there is one should happen on the opposite direction, stalling motorists travelling from Makati to the neighboring areas down south. But quite unfortunately for me, chaos spread both ways, where ever you are coming from, north or south of EDSA with no escape in sight.

I have a confession to make. I dread meetings with Sam because of the mixed emotions heaped upon my self-esteem by such meetings. The sooner I get there, the sooner it would be time to leave, I assured myself.

So when he stood up from the dinner table he had reserved for the two of us at one of the mall’s better diners to acknowledge my presence, I was inevitably struck by the familiar sense of anxiety. A quick glance at my wristwatch showed I was more than an hour late for the meeting. It’s almost ten. Time flies, indeed, but damn it, I’m not even having fun.

“Kumusta bro, how are you doing? Tooth-paste commercial smile radiated all over his handsome, flawless face, accentuating the rose-colored cheeks that seemed to glow under the light, as he reached out to offer the customary handshake. It felt like pillow. The palm of his hand. And for one second, I hesitated to grip it tight I might injure the immaculate, almost lady-like hand. His perfume left a slight residue in my hand that was both a distraction and a sensory pleasure.

“You looked harassed pare. It must be a really long day. How’ya doin’ bro?” He repeated.

“Just came from Sta. Rosa, Sammy Boy”. I retorted mindlessly. “My butt is already starting to burn from sitting through four hours of horrific traffic”.

Suddenly he stood up and I was instantly looking up and it felt awkward. We’re almost eye-level when he’s seated but standing up, his 6-foot frame dwarfed me by a full feet. I wanted to push him back down to his seat and tell him to stay there.

Sam is everything I am not. Someone I could only hope to be, but could never quite come close to compete with in terms of physical gifts even in my wildest dreams. In the corner of my eyes, I could see the ladies swooning, wait, it’s more like they were drooling, frothing in the mouth like mad dogs do at the sight of meat from their vantage point on the next table across the room and I really don’t blame the ladies. Sam simply oozed class, breeding, and drop dead male sensuality most men like me would die to have. I would rather be in another place than be sitting right here next to him where I think those ladies have already thought of me as Sam’s personal chauffeur.

The last time he called me up on my cellphone, Sam was in the process of finishing his latest condominium project, a joint-venture with his college buddies and their foreign financiers that would net them millions in profits and I do expect that Sam would take the lion’s share of that fortune. I had helped them go over the legal hurdles and to finalize side-contracts.  Then I overheard his friends say he will bring Dolly to yet another honeymoon in Boracay.

Speaking of Dolly, she is… well no single word can describe the kind of woman she is. But let me just say from experience that every kid who goes through the process of becoming a man had more or less his own idea of what the perfect girl is, and chances are, without even knowing Dolly, she personifies that girl. Her pure and fragile beauty is the muse of every man. I only met Sam’s wife twice, but both encounters are intoxicating, near-surreal experiences that left  me clueless about the place, time and the circumstances in which they occured. I remember taking her handshake and staring straight into the most sensuous almond eyes I've ever seen, and wondered if by the grace of God I have just died from a stroke and this angel was sent over to fetch me. That’s the kind of woman Dolly is. She and Sam indeed are meant for each other. Incidentally, it was my idea to call the two of them – Sam and Dolly – Sam-son and Do-lie-lah – and our friends who heard the monickers for the very first time, in between bursts of laughter couldn’t help but agree. I still hear them called by those names every now and then, during occasions of friendly banter, and I take credit for having made the perfect monicker that really stuck.    

“So, what’s the deal now? I’m fed up with seeing you guys get rich so quick while I starve.” I was in a playful mood, but what I said were honestly half-meant, especially the fed-up part. I do feel that my envy is completely justified.

I realized Sam had ordered a late dinner for the two of us. His favorite t-bone steak, medium rare, and I could see the blood still dripping off the meat and I felt suddenly being swept with nausea. He was methodically starting to pick the meat off the bone with the steak knife, trying to keep the conversation going without looking at me.

“Well, actually, we’re planning to bid for the North Rail Project, as soon as the French financiers give the go signal. But that’s not what I called you for. You see bro, Dolly and I…”

“Oh yeah, how’s Dolly, send her my regards will you, by the way, that North Rail Project is making such a buzz. I know a lot of investors are licking their chops as we speak, if you and your friends nail that deal, then you’re made… you don’t have to work a single day in your life after that.”     

“It really is…  by the way, Dolly had just…”

“Tell me what can I do to help.” I stopped Sam in mid-speech and steered the talk back to business, which is, as I said, the reason I came here for in the first place.

“Expect tons of paper work and legal skirmishes but don’t worry we’ll have it all figured out like we always do. The main thing is, it would be all worth that North Rail deal. We’re raking up hundreds of millions here.”

“Dolly and I had an ugly fight”…. Sam’s words seemed to get drowned over my  ranting exuberance about the prospect of another multi-million, possibly billion peso deal, and I had trouble grasping the idea at once. Still, I came here to talk business. I won’t dare drift away from that. Besides, it’s getting late.

“Oh, sorry to hear that… But hey, relax, Sam… we all do fight… Can’t live without it. You’ll be kissing and hugging in no time, I bet.”

He paused for a moment and focused on the bloody meat, slicing it carefully like a surgeon. Then he put down the steak knife and reached for an envelope. “She’s suing, bro. I want you to be my lawyer. Here, I want you to look at these photographs.”

The pictures I pulled out of the envelope unleashed a shockwave I have never ever felt my entire life. I felt numbed by the sight of so much blood, of busted lips and bloody broken nose, the dreadful aftermath of a violent rage unleashed on defenseless and vulnerable flesh, suggesting a screaming, excruciating pain. For a moment I was completely disoriented and I wanted to believe the pictures I am looking at were those of a mangled doll, or those of a crash-test dummy. But this is no illusion or make-believe. This is true flesh and blood. This is what he did to Dolly…

The ladies giggled from the table next to us. Sam was scooping the last morsels of meat off his plate while I struggled to keep myself from leaping across the table and plunging a steak knife into the throat of this monster next to me. During the next hour or so, I had to endure listening to his story, his self-serving excuses, his twisted truths and desperate lies while I stifle the voice of my own conscience not because i wanted to but because it was my job to listen. Because that is what I am getting paid for. 

That night, I went home with the weight of the whole world on my shoulders.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"The Mother of Mayhem"

Without a shred of doubt, I am now convinced that Pacquiao versus Mayweather is not the best fight to be made in our lifetime.

Why, last Sunday, the battle to end all battles, the fight that really mattered had actually already been made and you must be dumb and blind or you’ve been living in a cave to miss out on all the action. Brief as it was, fleeting even, the spectacle was unscripted, unannounced, and completely astounding!

We were treated to a fight way more profound and intense than Pacquiao and Mayweather fighting a hundred times over, could ever produce, if by any remote chance that fight could still be made.

I was gripped with suspense and glued to the teevee set, and so was the entire nation of tens of millions of rice-eating, rumor-mongering, and debt-ridden Filipinos when Mon Tulfo and the husband and wife tag team of Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barreto got down and dirty during a hilarious and highly entertaining punch fest at the NAIA 3 mezzanine floor.

Pound-for pound, I would dare say Claudine Barretto, all beefed up and with bulges her clothes could barely hold together must be tough to beat. I was worried her skimpy shorts would rip apart when she bends and expose her assets all over the cameras during the fracas.  

Having literally “outgrown” her young and wholesome image, Claudine had been typecast for mother roles of late. But following this public embarrassment, I doubt if even mother roles would come knocking at her doorsteps these days to salvage what’s left of her fast-fading celebrity.

Ironically, she would probably end up losing all the “meaty” roles for throwing her weight around, pun intended.

As for Tulfo, the poor fellow was clearly in queer streets while trying to regain his footing from all that bashing on the head that he took that perhaps in the aftermath of the confusion, he must have thought of calling for help on the program Isumbong Mo Kay Tulfo until he realized when the cobwebs cleared, that “Goddammit! I would be calling myself!”

If anything, he was lucky his toupee was not yanked off during the attack!

Imagine this, Claudine’s shorts bursting at the seams and Tulfo’s wig blowing in the wind! It should be one for the books.

Before you bash my head for being insensitive and for making fun of people’s public humiliation, I stand by my choice to take everything in stride and see the whole picture for what it is, a ridiculous case of people being people and letting off steam in a savage, if comical way. I see no point in turning this incident into a feminists rights or a freedom of the press debate. With all due respect, Claudine is not worth bearing the banner for the typecast aggrieved women of the world in the same manner that Tulfo is not deserving to wear the mantle of the crusading journalist. I don’t know about you and I respect your opinion whatever that is, but for me, we shouldn’t dignify this incident.

Let’s save the argument for the real life heroes out there.    

In the meantime, let’s sit and watch the aftermath, as the Senate with yet another investigation in aid of legislation in the offing, tries to get into the act while the Tulfo brothers grit their teeth waiting in the wings. Overall, it was wacky and wild, it was fun to watch. It was an advanced Mother’s Day bash.

And it truly was the Mother of Mayhem.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Slavemaster Society

I had just overheard from the radio of a passing jeepney that employers’ groups have offered to raise worker’s pay by a staggering twelve pesos (P12.00) a day. Bring on the brew and celebrate. This is great news! Talk about manna from heaven, a windfall from jolly old Santa at the height of summer – but wait, first things first. Hurry up. Let's all get down to work and invent the time machine ASAP because that's just about the only chance we've got in a billion years to get back to the 60’s – that time in the distant past that we can never bring back ever again, a time when a peso can buy you a hundred king-size pan de sal or treat you and your date to the movies. That time when life was a little bit easier and when it seemed only the misfits were the only ones who starve not because they could not afford food but because the ‘hippies’ of those days think it’s cool to be a walking zombie. But anyway, my message to these employers – capitalists in the socio-economic sense is whoa... wake up dudes and get real. Hello… Most of us will have no problem giving twenty bucks to the parking lot attendant. And those billionaire businessmen are dangling twelve pesos. Give me a break. Twelve pesos is a slap in the face… a bone thrown to the hungry dogs. I would even dare say the offer is inhuman. It’s bullet to the old dying horse’s head.

This is the reason I always dread the coming of May firsts. Ironically it brings floods of very joyous memories to me that only add more pain to nostalgia. May firsts were occasions to the many rites of passage that filled my life. It was I think on the first of May that I painfully transitioned from boyhood to manhood, well, I’m not so sure about the exact date actually, but what I am very sure of was the pain. Just remembering the experience still hurts to this day.

In college, the first day of May offers a perfect outlet to our angst. They make bearable my embarrassment that I am taking summer classes instead of bumming around in the beach because I flunked Algebra in the worst possible way. At the height of summer, we would protest in Mendiola, students like myself who crave for some self-affirmation would find themselves happy to spend sweaty summer days in the company of the starving masses. The unwashed, unfed and disconsolate to the core that we used to ignore when social issues take a back seat to happier times, the people who assume an unexpected significance because it’s May first. When the chips are down, we tend to gravitate towards each other, united under the banner of discontent with society’s double standards. Somehow we all find a commonality in the struggle for better working conditions and higher wages for the working man which, come to think of it, have long been going on perhaps since the beginning of time. Long before you and I were ever born.

This social inequity is as old as the air that we breathe, and the ground we walk on, feeding the greed of the privileged few with nourishment that grows from the servitude of those whose destiny is to live, to work, to die and to be forever forgotten. We would like to believe we could change that. We were young and those were the days.

There were those times when outcasts and activists transform into heroes because of their defiance of the system, the willingness to rise to the occasion at the risk of losing their lives. They were my first role-models. Ka Cris (Beltran) was much younger then but he and Ka Satur, were the firebrand that would energize rallies with their impassioned pleas. I could listen to them all day. They were not especially eloquent but they satisfy my idealism in a way that no politician or celebrity can. They have a cause and to me, it was more than enough. Afterall, I was lost and searching for meaning to my young but empty life. I needed something to lift my lowly assessment of where I stand in the system. These activists showed the way. They take their mission to heart. They have a faith that just like flame must keep burning or darkness shall claim our lives and take away everything that we work so hard to achieve. We have something worth living for, a cause, a duty, a fight to be won.

I wish I could say the same thing to Ka Cris wherever he is now that I am old and my hair gray, now that I am nearing the age that he was when we first met,  if indeed there is a way the spirits can get in touch with the living. Maybe I shall confess my lifetime of embarrassment to him, beginning with the way I had transformed from social activist into a corrupted bureaucrat who not only became part of the system but willingly sold out to the system part of his soul. I wonder if he is at peace with himself after the ignominy of his death, the circumstances in which he lost his life, not from the beating of truncheons of anti-riot police or from an overdose of tear gas, which we already accepted as the likeliest end for people like us after every close brush with death during May day upheavals. The closing chapter to his biography is so unfair to Ka Cris how I wish I could do something about it to claim for him the dignity in dying that was robbed from him by fate.

Ka Cris had achieved modest success and joined Congress as partylist representative at the turn of the millennium. But as they say, you can take the man off the street but you cannot take the street off the man. Outside the august halls of Congress, he continued to live the life, the only kind of life that he knew. Having spent most of his life on countless rallies and riots in the streets the blue collar worker in him rules his life, even in a period of relative affluence.  One day, the congressman slipped and fell off the roof of his modest house while repairing a leak and cracked his skull on the pavement. At the time of his death, he was lobbying for a one hundred twenty five peso (P125.00)across the board wage increase. Years later and after a series of oil price hikes coupled with the plummeting value of the peso, his capitalist enemies could only offer twelve pesos. They are not content with the knowledge that the man is dead. They want his cause to die with him. Our slave master society never forgives. That's why May first makes me feel sad - resigned to the misery of mourning the sheer ignominy of the passing of a good man. It is not a pleasant thing to remember.

Sometimes the thing I hate about life is life itself...