September 17 To 23

Fiction: Baywalk
Videos: Miss Universe 2011, Ikaw Ang Miss Universe Ng Buhay Ko
Artists of The Week: Angeline Quinto, Miguel Vera, Color Me Badd


This story originally appeared August 7 and 14 in The Sunday Times

February 28. A friend of mine said I look like Geoff Eigenmann. I fully agreed. I’m a call center agent. I love my work, but I don’t do it for love. My career is important, but it is not my whole world. Perhaps that explains why, the last time I got laid last week, I was with an accountant.

March 1. Hi, I’m Johnny Gibbs and I’ve worked in Jollibee and a gay bar. That’s what I told the class in our first day at the call center. Everybody goes up front and introduce, tell something interesting, about themselves. The ham actor in me wants audience impact, but really, we’re only being graded for English proficiency. “I’ve worked in Jollibee and a gay bar,” I said, and they were, like, titillated or something. “I earned a lot of tips, “ I added, then paused for effect, “as a waiter,” then the gratifying laughter erupted.
           Someone asked me, of course someone would, if I was also a macho dancer. I replied that I asked the star dancer, who looked like Lawrence David, who’s like a big brother to me, to teach me. “You’re too young,” he told me. That was a summer job, I explained to the class. I went back to school, and after the semester, I came back and asked him again to teach me. By then he was already the floor manager. “Sorry,” he said. “You’re too old.” Everybody was laughing. I’m happy the joke sold, and I’m equally happy that they actually believed it was just a joke.

March 2.I think I’m burning out. My journal entry yesterday happened a year ago. If my dreams lay beyond these, why do I worry about promotion? I know what I want; I want to be a full time musician. What I don’t know is just what am I trying to prove to myself.

Life is about choices. I’m in an existentialist mode, not really depressed,  but deeply, abysmally, introspective. I like to think I’m too young for a midlife crisis, like Jay Ilagan in Soltero, but may this is it. Does that mean I don’t have long to live? Don’t I have to have an affair with someone half my age? See, I’m becoming conventional? I think I lost touch with my inner self, the real me; well, I still use clich├ęs, so maybe there’s still hope.

            I need some serious, heavy duty soul searching, but I’ve got to wait for my next salary. What the H? I really have grown up! Some good will come out of this, they always do, and the blues shall pass, as appliance warranties pass. That’s a load of my chest, but wait, there’s more! I’ve always been a non-conformist. I value and rejoice in my individuality and self-worth. I don’t understand why society is obligating me to prove myself in the things that have nothing to do with who I really am and what I really want to do with my life.

          When I was a teenager, what I’m feeling now is a signal that it’s time to make a change. But now I have to worry about rent and daily stuff I normally took for granted. Am I wiser, or just older and more cynical? Is this what they call the Real World?

March 4. I see dead people when I was a kid. Wow, what a killer sound bite! Pardon the pun. Ah, the age of innocence, the prequel to Eve’s – or for that matter, Adam’s – apple or guyabano or singkamasor whatever that is. I grew up in an old mansion in Antipolo. That’s why when I’m in Overlooking or Tikling, I sing “Country roads, take me home…”

Our laundry woman, AlingYolly, an immortal if she’s still alive today, told me that the former owner of the house, because of his hatred for the church, buried her daughter in his garden rather than have her blessed. Unhallowed ground, and I know exactly where that is.

Hex marks the spot, I say.

Part of my happy childhood memories with my grandmother are the nightmares from her bedtime stories. My grandmother, who speaks Latin and Spanish, once lived in Siquijor, that fabled land of witches. She told me a secret years before Rhonda Byrne: Like attracts like. Never curse anyone, she forcefully admonished me.But hey, I was eight, what do you expect?

When I was in my 20s, I saw an extremely vicious woman berating a friend of mine. My friend was told by his mother to get payment from the debt owed by the woman but she transformed into a dragon. I pulled my friend away, telling it’s not worth it, assuring him that the dragon lady will lose more than what she owed because of her greed. I was joking of course, trying to lighten the traumatic scene.

The next day, I remembered my grandmother – because the woman’s house burned to the ground when twilight fell.

Bad things happen to people who do bad things to me, and I don’t know why. Coincidence probably. The good news is, it doesn’t affect decent people to whom I spontaneously bond. Conversely, back biters get uncomfortable around me. I won’t say I can read minds, but I can sense if somebody is sincere or not, most people are not, but I don’t have gaydar.

There was a guy who got really nasty in a birthday party I went to in Sampaloc at the start of the new millennium. He was drunk, exceedingly obnoxious, calling me names about my past and because I won’t go to bed with him. Looking back, I marvel at how I was able to control myself. But I did, and walked away. Next I heard, days later, he was mugged on that scandalous night. He was beaten deep purple, all his valuables taken away and he’s left for dead in the jagged darkness that possesses Manila by night.

The last such incidence was just recently. A friend and I took a cab to bring his dog to the vet. The taxi driver said we should just pay a certain amount because his meter’s broken. It’s hard to catch a ride and the summer heat is demonic, so we were forced to agree. In the next block, the driver was flagged by a traffic cop who appeared out of nowhere like a malignant jack-in-the-box. There was no traffic violation but the encounter left the driver scratching his head and making whining sounds.

March 5.It’s human nature to want a little bit of acceptance, but the truth is, I generally don’t give a hoot when other people point out, dissect and magnify my real and imagined flaws, feeling superior in the sidelines while shooting arrows at whoever they put in the spotlight. We all have some areas in our lives that we feel sensitive about, that we want other to overlook. So what if I was a macho dancer in Sta. Mesa and a call boy in Quezon City Circle in the 1990s, during the heyday of Eraserheads and PalibhasaLalake? I’m comfortable with that because that was me, that’s part of my history.
           But you know, I was somewhat concerned that people won’t like me anymore if they found out. Then one day, someone actually humiliated me in public for that, then an extraordinary thing happened: I suddenly felt free and serenely invulnerable to his self-righteous indignation. It is because, for me, the opinion of someone who condemns me without giving me a chance to explain is, to say it bluntly and sharply, rubbish.

March 7.I went to Baywalk. I always go there when I want to think, to sort things out in my mind, when I need to be alone, which is strange because it’s virtually a public park. There’s something in my soul that responds to the open sea, the sight of a vast expanse of water; it’s like gazing into infinity, if you away the breakwater rocks in the distance and the ships beyond, and the city’s garbage floating before your every eyes.

           I met a guy there, looks like Coco Martin. He’s a high school drop out who’s self-employed, offers reflexology to people there; when he was younger he also offered his body. He sleeps in Gwapotel if he has money, in Roxas Boulevard if he doesn’t. If it rains in the day time, he’ll watch a movie in Robinson’s Ermita, and take a nap there too, if he has money; and if he doesn’t, he’ll just browse in Powerbooks and National. Buthe says he’s at peace with himself, with the world and with God, and he obviously is, even though he’s all alone in the world.

           His only long term goal is to work in a friend’s piggery in Nueva Ecija for a couple of months, then back again. He isn’t religious but he always visits churches when there’s no Mass. Despite it all, he has own personal code of honor: he abhors alcohol and gambling; and condemns stealing, drugs, back biting and taking advantage of others. The most unforgettable advice he gave me, as he was giving me a massage, with my shirt off in front of the people of the Philippines, was to simply enjoy the moment, enjoy life, because there may come a time when I won’t be able to do either.

            He may seem the opposite version of what the world regards as successful, then it threw me down a spiral staircase of meditation: Can you be a failure if you are a decent and productive member of the society that looks down on you? Is your life less significant if you have the freedom to do whatever you gosh darn please?

March 8.Writing is an ode to posterity.From ancient philosophical discourses to intimate confessions in hidden diaries, writing symbolizes the universal yearning for a creative outlet – finding fruition with pen, paper and collected thoughts. Immortality, as taught to me by Gautama Buddha, is achieved by writing a book, planting a tree and siring a child. The third is the most agreeable but that's beside the point.

I have kept some of my reflections on life, death and everything in between. These are the conceptions of a passionate youth, and the landmarks of a contemplative pilgrimage: Since the world began, sages have meditated on our true identities. I? We ask ourselves. To the philosopher, we are the earth, wind and fire: we are everything yet we are nothing. To write this piece is an act of freewill. A conscious action. A random act plucked from a number of alternatives. And to choose, by virtue of freewill, is the real essence of freedom.

          Or is it really? What is fate? The present act is a consummation of a prophecy written in the stars? Destined to be, from the moment of birth? A sigh from a silent oracle, the words of a mute prophet?

            We are told that everything happens for a reason. A falling leaf in the field has a reason. All of us have a reason for being. Our lives are intertwined, like the vines in the forest. Thus, we learn to love. Love's sting is the most excruciating pain; but Love's kiss is the sweetest pleasure, like the purest nectar from a thousand flowers.

          But to have loved and lost is to be human – and to transcend loss is to be in the realm of heroes. Courage is not the absence of fear but its conquest. It is when we set aside our frailties and rise to prove worthy of the elixir of life, that bittersweet taste of pure love and sweet freedom, that we feel blessed, and having been blessed, we find peace.

           Peace. What a feeling. A thing beauty, unseen, but felt in the inmost recesses of the soul. Like the peak of a sacred mountain, it is there – to be reached, like a shining prize, by the heart. Peace I have known; brief moments that glimmered like fireflies in the darkest night. I know the peace of the wilderness: it is not to commune with nature but to grapple with temptations. The battle of good and evil, we are told, is ultimately won – or lost – in the hearts of men.

         I know the peace of the graveyard. On hallowed ground, I am surrounded by the dead. A man may conquer kingdoms or be reviled like a leper; in the end of life, one may dwell in the Isle of the Blest or be unmourned, forgotten – to die like a dog. Death comes to us all. Ultimately, all of us are indeed created equal. To know death is to live. Our time is but a spark in the blinding light if infinity.

         And all shall cross the dark river of Styx. What's in the other side? Paradiso, Purgatorio or Inferno? Dante called it Comedia. Comedy.For is it not that God is perceived to be, among other things, a jester? Did He not make a deal between Satan for Job's soul? God – as Faust? Insufferable misery Job was thus punished. For his faith? But Job, like Paul, fought the good fight. In the end, he regained his place in the folds of so-called decent men. No longer was he defeated, but welcomed back to the flock that treated him like an Outcast. And the insecure, no doubt, resented the triumph of a just man.

        To achieve peace, wise men say, is to prepare for war. For only in eternal vigilance can peace, like freedom, be defended. For peace to grow, the soil must be nourished by the blood of the martyrs. To the altar of peace, worthy offerings are the lives of the brave. The lamentations of the orphans and widows shall pass, as all things pass, but a hero's sacrifice is forever.

          There is peace in serendipity: wonderful moments, like an early morning smile, the whispers of a shell in an empty beach, to look out the window on that rainstorm. These are moments when you really feel at peace – with yourself, with the world. They are like sparrows in the windowsill: they alight, to surprise and delight – then fly away. I've had my share of those times when the deeper meanings of life are unveiled for a single moment; when the truer layers of Truth manifest themselves. These are the moments when you go to a higher level of existence in intellect and spirit – in heart and soul.

         As I write this, somebody somewhere is laughing, or crying; hoping or suffering. At this moment, a woman is giving birth; the child may turn out to be righteous or evil, a prince or a pauper. At this moment, somebody somewhere in the world is dying, surrounded by family and friends. At this moment, somebody is achieving his loftiest ambitions; and somewhere also, somebody is nursing wounds of humiliation. At this moment somewhere in the world, a bride is giving herself to her groom on their first night. Somebody is having his picture taken, his photo to remind him of his youth; while a mother is cooking her family's meal. Somebody is gazing at the sea, communing with his soul.

        There is, finally, divine peace. For in the life beyond lives, there is majesty that transcends human understanding. It’s a kind of magic, pure as starlight. It is to touch heaven – and to achieve perfection. That, my friend, is real peace.

            And peace be with you.

March 12. My best friend suddenly came to my mind, maybe he heard my psychic cry for help.I don’t know, and when you think about it, nobody really knows, where we go when we die. Noel died in 2007; He was murdered. Two muggers attacked him, and he fought back. They shot him in the head. He lay sprawled at the corner of Mayhaligue and Abad Santos. Some decent people rushed him to Metro Hospital. God bless their souls.

       Noel was always there, even during the most difficult times of my life, when I was broke and unemployed, when it seemed I didn’t have a friend left. Believe it or not, we weren’t jowa, we never had sex. It was pure friendship at its fines; we can drink from the same glass although we never ate at the same plate, in other words, platonic. Because of him, I never felt alone, despite the fact that my parents died when I was a baby, raised by my grandmother who quite literally meant the world to me, and living alone since I was 14, shortly after, she too, died.

            Noel was the nearest thing to a brother I ever had. His entire family virtually adopted me, and I gave my full measure of devotion. When his younger brother, Noli, in 2001, was hit by a drunken truck driver and lay comatose in Jose Reyes Hospital, I never left his side. I was in the hospital, without sleep, for four days. I was beside the bed, behind the doctor, when Noli, at the prime of his life at 16, died.

            I became the private tutor for math, science, English, Filipino and Social Studies for Noel’s youngest brother, Noe, starting when the kid was eleven. It was a bit surreal to be the object of his hero worship, and it is doubly agonizing when the boy, when he just 16 in 2009, was involved in a street gang rumble in Tondo and was stabbed to death.

March 15.We don’t live in a vacuum. “No man is an island,” says John Donne. “Every man’s death diminishes me.” Therefore, “Ask not for whom the bells toll, it tolls for thee.” I cannot ignore the cries of help from my friends, especially those who deserve it. But there are those who, consciously or not, begin to abuse, taking your help for granted, believing it to be their birthright, obligating you. I cannot go on with that set-up, cannot maintain those so-called friendships.

           On the other hand, I’m grateful beyond words for those who helped me along the way, not forgetting those I still owe, in cash or in kind. I consider it an honor that they trust me. And I’d choose death than betray that trust. It is a debt of gratitude I shall take to my grave. But I, just to be on the same page, have no plans, at present, to die just yet.

March 17.It’s four past midnight as a write this, in a farm in Balagtas, the day after I resigned. I’m claiming a new life for myself.

Beginning today, I will start all over again. They said that yesterday is a dream, today is a reality, and tomorrow is a vision. On this day, I’m letting go of the past and taking hold of the present – in order to shape and mold the future to what I want it to be.

Beginning today, I will rediscover and appreciate my uniqueness. There has never been anyone like me in all of history, and there never will be. Like in the Kenny Loggins song, For The First Time, I am looking in my eyes, for the first time, I am seeing who I am. I am getting re-acquainted with my inner self – and it’s a wonderful feeling.

          Beginning today, I will conquer my emotions. I shall be the master of my fate and captain of my soul. Through steady effort and God’s grace, I am achieving peace with myself and with the world around me.

           Some say that success is getting what you want. In a way this is true. But I believe that real happiness is wanting what you get.

          But is it possible to have it both ways? Can you be successful and happy at the same time? The more fundamental question should be: Why should happiness be separated from success? They say it is lonely at the top – but how can that be if you had been a light leading others on the way to the peak?

It’s nice to be who I am: a young man who has let go of hang-ups or insecurities. I love positive interactions, I attract the company of independent-minded people, and nobody intimidates me. I’m so bohemian there’s no malice in my life. Maybe that’s why back fighters hate me, hmmm. I don’t feel envy, which some thinks is a sign of being mental, instead I go the other way. I’m happy because I’m at peace with myself, with the world, with God – the same God whatever you conceive Him to be. I can go around the world and find countless folks who are better than me, let them choose their own standard, but there’s only one guy across the universe who’s me – and that’s me – and I’d rather be me than anybody else.Thing is, I don’t relate to my fellowmen as being inferior nor superior, I think that’s a ridiculous idea anyway.           

One of the other reasons I’m happy is because I live a simple life, and one way of living simply is to take people as they are. I don’t try to change people, not anymore, I just let them be. It’s okay if they’re not what I want them to be, and it’s even better if they take me as I am, that’s it, this is me, thank you!

           My personal principle is human relationships is so simple it’s almost kindergarten: If you talk to me, I’ll talk to you, regardless of who you are. If you face me like a decent human being, I’ll be more so, even if you’re a complete stranger, even if you have hurt me in the past, or even if the whole world thinks you’re an outcast. If you need somebody to share your pain, I’ll be there, and you’ll know that I’ll never break your trust, and no one will ever know your secrets.

March 21. I have good news! Just passed the audition for the singing contest in Marketplace in Kalentong! My signature will be Narito by Gary Valenciano. It just so happens that he sang that in a LinoBrocka film where he played an aspiring singer who rose to the top, but fell because he lost focus on what matters most. But he returned, revived his career and regained his former glory, bigger and better than ever.

            Win or lose, I already know my next move: audition for TalentadongPinoy! It’s not so much as setting my sights higher, although it obviously is, duh, but doing what I really feel I’m here for; I’m not a young man in ahurry, just making up for lost time. If I do this, if it’s worth anything, I know I will not spend the rest of my life asking, “What if?”

March 22. Life is a cycle. After rehearsing my piece in one of those videoke booths in SM Manila, I bumped into an acquaintance who told me the sad news: Tiong, my affectionate nickname for the old bachelor who made me experience what’s like to have a father, died of a heart attack. Today will be the fourth day of his wake.

I met him when I was fifteen; he looked like Nestor De Villa. He took me to his Spanish-era mansion near San Sebastian which he had converted into a boardinghouse. As appearances go, I was just one of his bedspacers, and my housemates were maybe wondering why I keep and vanishing and materializing like a ghost. He was, among other things, a fish dealer. I once accompanied him to Camarines Sur, where something happened that opened my eyes and changed my life.

The sea was the livelihood of almost all of the menfolk there. Tiong had to go back to Manila but will return after  a week. Since I’ve gotten to know his business associates pretty well in such a short period, I opted to stay for that week. “Tiong,” I told him as were tasting some pili nuts while facing the sea, “I like to be a fisherman like Kuya Orlando.” I added the stories I heard about the people who got richdoing this, including one of the local municipal councilors. Worry creased his face. We cannot honestly say that our relationship is purely moral, but I know he loves me very much.

“Let’s do it this way,” he said after much thought. “I’ll give you my blessing, but only for a week. That’s enough time for you to decide if this is really the life for you. If it is, you’ll go to school in town; and if not, we’ll go home andyou’ll finish high school in Manila.”

Like most everything else about him, this was fair and makes absolute sense. I quickly agreed and thanked him, and began fantasizing about my upcoming adventures.

Being a fisherman tortured me. We were already out to sea at the break of dawn. We would spend the entire day under the merciless heat of the sun, and I thought my bones would turn to powder everytime we haul in the nets. Sometimes, nature seems to smile and bestow us a bountiful harvest; but sometimes too, she seemed deaf to our sufferings. A voice in my head told me that Tiong knew this all along but he wants me to experience it personally so I can learn it for myself.

My closest friend there was Kuya Orlando, who looked like John Arcilla. But one day, we were all shocked when his boat exploded. I admit we were using dynamite, and it never even crossed my mind that anything bad could happen. Accidents happen to other people, I insisted to myself, not to the people I’m close to! But I was wrong, regretfully, tragically wrong.

Three years after that incident, I was attending my freshman year at FEU. Tiong fetched me after school and asked me to accompany him to the bus station for another business trip. We walked slow, happy for each other’s company.

At the terminal, he turned to me and joked, “Well, son, I think you’ve had enough of adventures, don’t you think?” His eyes twinkled.

“Tiong,” I said “If I knew then what I know now, maybe Kuya Orlando would still be alive.”

I could tell he was struggling with emotions. “Whatever happens,” he almost whispered, “I’ll always be proud of you.”

I didn’t leave until the bus did. It was already disappearing in the distance when I turned and began walking home.

Huggybear’s LSS

Who’s on my mind is Shamcey Supsup, Miss Universe 2011 Third Runner-Up and magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines. Beauty , brains, talent, personal convictions – a true winner! This song’s for you: Ikaw Ang Miss Universe Ng Buhay Ko, the Manila Sound classic from Hotdog

Artists of The Week:

OPM English: Angeline Quinto
OPM Tagalog: Miguel Vera
International: Color Me Badd



Photo credits:
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