May 29, 2007

High School

The stroll down memory lane started with a 23-year-old photograph. There we were, a lot, lot younger, hair harking back to 1984. The art-paper hearts pinned on some of the girls tell two things: 1) that the picture was taken on Valentine’s Day and 2) that the girls with hearts were gangmates. High-school berks, if you will.

Bagets was the hottest thing then, and one of us was (probably) still mourning the death of Alfie Anido. We went to Saturday afternoon movies in groups, “dedicated” songs to one another on the radio and wrote silly dedications in autograph books. We counted crushes, exchanged girly secrets and gossiped well into the night. And yes, there were X-rated Betamax tapes that we watched on the sly.

High school meant cramming for oral recitation in Miss Loilo’s Florante at Laura, surreptitiously reading komiks in science class, devising just about every kodigo imaginable. It meant FLAMES and Grosby shoes and Sharon and Gabby, Snooky and Albert. It meant swapping Mills and Boon, Barbara Cartland and Harold Robbins, playing jolens in the schoolyard, taking Tuseran even when there was no cough.

Alas, immaturity doesn’t last forever. A month after the picture was taken, we sang “Farewell” and “High School Life” (and “Dignity of Labor”) and hit the road, in search of our own destinies. Some stayed, some left, some returned, some went to the great beyond. All of us changed.

If we were to take that picture again, there would be empty seats and blank spaces. Almost half of the class has joined the great Pinoy diaspora, finding jobs and building families in foreign shores. The ‘80s hair has gone from siete to shaggy to permed to rebonded, from down there to up here to gone forever. Mills and Boon has taken a backseat to the love stories of our lives, more real and much more intriguing.

The boys and girls on the picture could very well be our clones, our own little boys and girls. And we could very well be our own parents, torn between holding on and letting go; realizing that it is best to give them roots and wings.

Twenty-three years later, we are doctors and engineers, lawyers and writers, teachers and scholars. We have gone from reading about life to living it, sometimes writing about it. We are players in the game of life. And yet, we are still connected. We have e-mail and blogs, reunions and chats. We laugh about old times and new times, we jokingly match each others’ children, we make plans for 2009.

We are connected by memories of the way we were 23 years ago. And open still to the possibility of future connections.

May 26, 2007

Out-of-fashion Phone

“This is your cellphone?” J asked incredulously. “But Ate, it’s so out of fashion.” The way he said it, I could just as well have committed the gravest fashion faux pas. Like wearing plaid with paisley. Or checks with stripes.

Better an old, trusty cellphone than a trendy gadget that almost always has no load, I thought to myself as J sauntered off to yet one of his of-the-moment pursuits,fingers happily keying in on his latest Motorola. And this is the same person who asked for a five-peso load just minutes ago!

You have to truly give it to J and his kind for thinking that the world judges them by their cellphones. They mark the passage of the seasons with uploads and trade-ins, with textmates and multiple SIM cards. In the in-between times when they are short of cash, their phones get temporary repose in Lhuillier or Tambunting or Ana Aspe.

I have my reasons for holding on to my old Nokia. For one, it has Kurt Perez on the display. (This is a marker of sorts of the heady, breezy days when I was pregnant with Gianna and I was just so gaga over Kurt and Starstruck Kids.) Besides I don’t like models that practically scream to be stolen.

In the not-too-distant past when the 3310 was the biggest thing, Swiper the Fox made off with mine. I never thought that a single gadget would change my life, but the blasted phone did. Initially, anyway. For a moment, I thought I had lost all traces of “me”. As if a giant hand pushed the erase button and left me friendless and totally empty. Precious, irreplaceable numbers were in there, my best friend’s especially, who had just moved to the States. It took a while for me to re-establish ties: I had just moved back home then, and most of the numbers on my book were those of friends from Manila and beyond.

And this is why I don’t get crazy shopping for the latest, the sleekest and the most compact. It’s like a take on the old friends, old shoes analogy: In this case, old phones, like old shoes and old friends, are the most comfortable. And harder to swipe.

So yes J, this is my cellphone, and unless it dies out on me, or it conveniently disappears, I am sticking to it. In fashion or out.

May 25, 2007

The World According to Tumblebugs

Welcome to my latest distraction.

For almost three months now, I have been drawn into the colorful world of Wildfire Studios' Tumblebugs. It is a simple enough concept: you free these adorable bugs from the clutches of the Black Bug Empire. With cool tools such as ballistuc bugs, star bugs, power ups and rewinds, you go through 12 levels of play. How difficult each level is depends on your dexterity. If you have fingers that are meant for clicking the mouse, if you have unquestionable eye-and-hand coordination, you just might be the person to save the bugs from the crafty Black Bug, his equally evil apprentice Igor, their power crystals and their underground lair.

Like other digital diversions (believe me, I have a lot; they span the range from solitaire to Pacman to Mario and Luigi to Hercules to Zuma) Tumblebugs does provide a welcome break from the daily drone. There is a "lesson" somewhere at the end of each hurdle (you complete at least five before you move on to the next level), a funny, if cynical take on an otherwise bug-eat-bug world.

Here are snippets of the wisdom (?) of Tumblebugs:

1. Always remember you’re unique. Just like everybody else.
2. A photographic memory is no use if it’s never developed.
3. Never mess up an apology with an excuse.
4. Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it bothers the pig.
5. Buy low, sell high.
6. Confidence is the feeling you have before you understand the situation.
7. Politicians and diapers should both be changed regularly, and for the same reason.
8. Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of cheques.
9. How long a minute is depends on which side of the bathroom door you’re on.
10. Ambition is a poor excuse for not having the good sense to be lazy.
11. Sometimes, speed is the way to win (especially later on).
12. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.
13. Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.
14. Genetics explain why you look like your father, and if you don’t why you should.
15. Never argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level then beat you with experience
16. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
17. Some days you are the bug, some days you are the windshield.
18. Don’t worry about what people think; they don’t do it very often.
19. A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility.
20. Money will not buy happiness, but it will let you buy happiness in nice places.
21. A bit of hard work never killed anyone, but why risk it?
22. Everything takes longer than you think it will.
23. The glass is either half full, half empty, or twice as big as it needs to be.
24. Diplomacy is the art of saying "good doggie" while looking for a bigger stick.
25. Everything your mother ever warned you about is true.
26. The only substitute for good manners is fast reflexes.
27. If at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.
28. When all else fails, play dead.

Not that they come highly recommended, but they do make for a few laughs...

May 23, 2007


I am staring at the screen, mind going blank, trying to shut off “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” I might as well sound like Bonnie Tyler, except I can’t sing. So here I am, sounding more and more like Inday Badiday, waiting for Congestril and Cefalin to take effect.

This gets me to thinking: how many hours in our lifetimes do we spend waiting? And just what do we wait for? Right now, for example, I am waiting for relief from this pesky cough. I am tapping my fingers, wishing that the internet connection would speed up. In between trying to write and trying to connect, I have a game of Tumblebugs going, the better to fend off mental block and the persistent ticking of the clock.

Three weeks ago, I was waiting for a plane that never landed. Despite the oppressive heat all over the country, it was pouring in Legazpi. It was impossible to land just yet, Cebu Pacific said, so we were advised to wait, wait and wait. Cupfuls of coffee later, we were told that we would know for sure at around 11. To ward off the time, we crossed over to the Parks and Wildlife, took a few pictures and waited out the rain. The plane did arrive, but without Weird Sister—who, after hours of waiting in line, was told that Cebu Pacific just had to accommodate this senatoriable and party.

Come to think of it, I have been spending most of my life in transit, in lobbies and waiting rooms, in lines and in coffee shops. Waiting for lab results, standing in line at the counter, in the polling precinct, for a particularly good movie. Waiting for my number to be called, for inspiration to hit, for the clouds to clear. Waiting for the last hour to finish a project, to get married, to have a baby.

Not that I mind waiting. There are so many things, so many distractions that make the wait worth it. Or bearable anyway. There are crossword puzzles and sudoku, games that I make up along the way, conversations with myself, with my ghosts, with real people. There are wonderful discoveries, belated joys, side trips.

The really happy man, they say, is one who enjoys the scenery while on a detour. I don’t profess to be the happiest person in the universe, but I do enjoy forks in the road. Life is so much better that way. In the end, it is the journey—and not the destination—that matters.

May 22, 2007

Good Morning!

It's a great morning. The streets are empty, the stars are flashing their dying light and the air has none of that kerosene smell.

Never mind if my eyes are beady from getting up this early. This is my quiet hour, when the rest of the world is sleeping and I am me, stripped of the wrinkles of the workplace and the nagging of the biological clock.

Mornings like this remind me of the days when Roxas Boulevard was a clean, peaceful stretch and Manila Bay was clear and unpolluted. PNR trains were safe then, and I would wake up at dawn, sweeping past acres and acres of coconut trees, heading for the city or heading home.

Even home is different now. There's traffic, Jollibee and other unmistakable signs of change. There are lots of unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar names. The streets are no longer safe at night.

On mornings like this, though, clutching a paper bagful of hot pan de sal close to my chest and taking in draughts of pure semi-urban air, I am home.

Hope you are, too.

May 21, 2007

Bad Movies, Good Memories

I love the movies. I love sitting in the darkness, staring up at the screen, losing myself in the story. I have seen a lot of movies, some of which are worthy of a Siskel-and-Ebert thumbs up, others of a basket of rotten tomatoes. My stock of great movie memories, though, has nothing to do with rave reviews and award- winning plots. They are more of in-front-of-the screen takes.

Growing up, my earliest viewing fare were double features that were a month or two behind Manila screenings. In those pre-MTRCB days, movie theater owners didn't lose sleep over choosing which movie to show with what. It was bad for business to play two popular movies in one screening, that much I understood. And thus started my first practical lesson in the Duality Principle.

Thanks to the "double with" movie runs, I learned to tell the good from the bad, the great from the so-so. This did me a lot of good in my film criticism class. I also saw "censored" movies way before I was legally supposed to. Contrary to what prudists think, movies such as Burlesque Queen did not turn my sisters and me into promiscuous, immoral "citizens." (Burlesque Queen was shown along with The Sound of Music, and our chaperone had to make a big show of covering our eyes whenever Vilma Santos appeared in skimpy stuff.)

Over time, I realized that the terrible movies had much more recall than the popular ones they were shown along with. I can no longer remember the general-patronage movie that served as my passport to the for-adults-only A Danish Love Affair. Or to the definitely-not-for-kids Lies My Father Told Me. What I do remember is that my sisters and I had a great laugh over the "mature" scenes and the dialogue (She: "Are you finished?" He: "Not yet." She: "Go on.")

Others that are in my roll of Bad Movies, Good Memories are:

Burnt Offerings, a "thriller" about a family who had the unfortunate lot to buy a haunted house. Weird Sister, who escaped to the canteen, thought it was safe to step back into the theater because there were no more screaming and yelling. When she reached the topmost step, she turned to the screen in time to see this scary face whispering: "I've been waiting for you." Needless to say, we picked Weird Sister up from the bottom of the "balcony" stairs, where she tumbled along with a giant bag of Chippy.

The Exit, another of Tony Ferrer's Agent X44 (?) movies whose storyline I don't remember anymore. I do remember the title because it was the first movie shown in the "newest" moviehouse in town.

Scanners, a mind-over-matter thingie that had heads bursting and people twitching and dying. It could have been scary, but a schoolmate screamed her head off before a gory scene could take flight. She had the whole moviehouse laughing.

Digby, the Biggest Dog in the the World. Long before there was Clifford, there was Digby. I don't know why he got so bigger than big, but I do recall watching on a Sunday and the moviehouse reeking of packed lunch.

Ang Texas at ang Labuyo. My sisters and I must have seen all the Niño Muhlach movies, that is when Niño Muhlach was still cute. This one is particularly memorable because we watched it along with our cousins on the night of Lolo's funeral (It was a Monday, and since movies changed on Tuesdays, we just had to watch.) We were so many (Ma says we were 72 then, give or take a few babies) we had the whole balcony to ourselves.

100 Ways to Die. This one is downright horrible and takes the cake for being so low-budget (the bulk of the budget must have gone to Lorenzo Lamas, ha ha. Now why do I hear "Body Rock?"). My college friends and I watched it nonetheless, if only to bond.

Pido Dida. Mortifying, but (blush, blush) yes, I watched Kris Aquino's first movie. My friends and I did it on a lark, and because we didn't want to risk being caught watching, we chose one of the ugliest theaters in downtown Manila. Not only was the theater ugly: it stank! We had a great laugh at ourselves and the lengths we had to go to.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), my thing with bad movies ended with Pido Dida. I didn't want to cough up precious cash for something that cable TV would screen free. When I first moved back home (and terribly missed my one-movie-a-week routine), I decided to give the last surviving moviehouse another try. Mission Impossible II was screening, and I showed up really late so that I would miss the other movie.

Alas, Jomils had already gone to seed. It was impossible to make out what Tom Cruise was saying, and the screen had so many unsightly gashes and stitches. Fifteen minutes before "the end," they turned off the "blower," and we had to fend off sweat, mosquitoes, the smell of leftovers and a cat. A month or two later, the theater finally said goodbye to the movies, hello to fellowships and prayer meetings.

A dramatic turn-around, if there ever was one.

May 20, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ta Car!

Can't believe it's been 21 years since our first ride together. G Liner--was it? On our first day in journalism class? I don't exactly recall if we became fast friends right then. But I do remember other rides: the one we took after wading in Espana's legendary floodwaters; the other when we barely made it in time for curfew after "escaping" from the initiation. And I do remember you being a constant, comfortable presence in the two years that Professor Kiko was preparing us for the "real" writing world.

As fate would have it, our rides didn't end in UST. We took the same route--almost anyway. From 4C5 to Mr. & Ms. to Sunday Globe to Kaibigan to Psicom. "Inseparable" could have been our song. We were together in most of life's crazier moments. Cheering for the office basketball team (we actually did that in leggings, sweat socks, shoulder pads. pompoms and all?), getting lost in the jungles of Cubao and showing up really late for an interview, just coasting along. Remember the era of the horrendous brownouts? We were so bored we often escaped to National Bookstore. When we had accumulated an outrageous number of books to last us a lifetime, we tried to learn to play mah jongg. (Too bad the mah jongg case split open, huh? To this day, whenever I see a set, I remember you, Berna, Andeng and me picking up the blasted mah jongg tiles along Quezon Av amid jeers of pong, chao and todas from the tambays.)

We rallied, took to the streets, battled it out in court, we "cocooned" and raved over Faith Popcorn. We learned together: to cook (your Dad's adobo is still the best, though), to fight, to play badminton. We learned the easy way and the hard way: I was just as heartbroken when you and Papa M called it quits. And when you told me you didn't like the person I was going out with, I listened. I figured you'd be there to coach me through the heartache anyway. And you did.

In the in-between years that we have not seen (and heard from) each other, you have been a constant presence in my stories. I'd often tell new friends how it is with you, Berna and me: we don't have to be there physically to reinforce our friendship. We don't have to play starring roles in each others' weddings (ewww! ceremonies, ceremonies...). And we don't have to be in the same country to bond.

You are now 40. And I will soon be. We have pap smears and memory lapses, backaches and pains in the butt, minor physical discomforts here and there. We have seen a lot, and only few things have the ability to shock us. There will be more roads to travel, more trips to take, more journeys to make. Whether separately or together, I know that they will be good. Just as I know that we will always be best friends.

Happy Birthday, Tita Car!!! Mwaahh!!!

May 15, 2007

Post-election Blues

I don't understand politics. The seamier side of it anyway. I grew up with a grandfather who toed the line, and a father who--for most of his working life--was a public official. Both were into politics when it was honorable to be so, when political affiliations meant a great deal. Political campaigns then were anchored on platforms, and rallies didn't hide behind the cloak of show business.

Nowadays you could hardly tell real politics from show business. Or from a tacky talk show. Instead of "what I will do to serve my constituents if and when elected" candidates focus on "what I would give to destroy my opponent." Instead of literature lauding a candidate's achievements, you get risographed copies of his opponent's muck.

It has been a day since the elections. I voted, if only to earn the right to say something about those who would eventually "rule" for the better part of three years. I voted, if only to make sure that Doc Martin doesn't get a zero in my precinct.

Not that the elections hold much promise. A day later, and I still hear the same stories I've been hearing for four elections or so: stories of leaders pocketing the "meant-to-buy-your-vote money," stories of irate electors who voted for the other candidate because they did not get the "envelope," stories of equally irate candidates whose names "mysteriously" disappeared from the sample ballots on the last hour.

On the canvass board, Doc Martin is way, way below. It's quite shattering to see his name alongside that of Victor Wood. So much for thinking that I could make things happen with my one vote...

May 13, 2007

The Road to Mommyhood

Ahh, Mother’s Day! My cellphone has been beeping all day, and my inbox is almost full. Friends who have fallen into the New Year-Valentine-Easter-Birthday-Christmas routine have found another way to announce their presence in my life. I now get Mother’s Day messages, too.

My daughter, the reason for my initiation into the wonderful world of Disney, diapers and soggy french fries, is oblivious to the fanfare. She did mouth a sweet “Happy Mothey’s Day” earlier. But if I thought that I wouldn’t have to deal with the terrible-twos tantrums, I thought wrong. All through the day (and night), the house echoed with her “mama-mama-mama-mama only” demands. I have tried just about every trick in the book and beyond to calm her down. She is now asleep, peacefully sucking on her binky.

Two years and two months into mommyhood, and I have learned that there is no such thing as by-the-book parenting. Everything is a work in progress, an endless learning experience. I guess it’s really true: giving birth is the easier part. (In my case, I had to undergo emergency C-Section because I was already fully dilated but I couldn’t feel a thing.)

My first taste of the “maternal” headaches came the next day, when the baby had a bad case of colic. She bawled from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., and the panicky hubby had to make a lot of trips down to the ER to persuade the medic on duty to please, please, please take a look at the baby. The solution came in the form of this greenish oily substance that the midwife told us to apply on the baby’s tummy. Thank heavens for aceite de manzanilla! (At about the same time, I was battling my own internal “demon:” an only-in-my-head endless rendition of “La Chupeta.” It turned out that my sister, who volunteered to do yaya duty while I was still sedated, kept playing her ring tone to pacify the baby. For three or four days, I couldn’t get “La Chupeta” off my mind.)

Since then, hubby and I have breezed through other parenting challenges. Some answers have been supplied by Dr. Spock, others by well-meaning relatives. Still some we figured out on our own. The challenges will be here for a long long time, so we might as well take things easy.

Meanwhile, I look forward to more Mother’s Days, if only to wake up to a butt on my face coupled with the sweetest smile ever. Happy Mother's Day!!!

May 12, 2007

A Day in the Life

I took time off from work today. There hasn't been that much activity in the workplace recently (unless counting the hours counts), so I declared a personal holiday of sorts. And so here I am, a steaming mugful at hand, quietly celebrating the little successes of this oh-so domesticated day.

Today I:

1. Baked. I took to baking ten years ago, when I was really, really bored. My first attempt had the neighbors screaming "fire." (I have since learned not to confuse Fahrenheit with Centigrade.) Anyway, here's a great brownie recipe: Melt 1 1/2 sticks butter and 4 oz baking chocolate. Stir in two cups sugar, beat in three eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add 1 cup flour, mix very well, then fold in one cup walnuts. Bake in 350F oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Heavenly, if I may say so.

2. Planted basil. Milenyo flattened my herb garden eight months ago. I found basil cuttings in this quaint little store and had them repotted today. Yum, I can already taste homemade pesto...

3. Checked out the new supermarket. While pounding the aisles for Pampers, Promil Kid and a host of other baby stuff I discovered fresh asparagus, fresh spinach and--glory!--fresh lemon! Lemon squares, anyone?

4. Bought the latest Yummy issue. Will definitely try Marbled Cream Cheese Peanut Butter Brownies.

5. Uploaded photos to my Friendster account. For the longest time, I had been fighting the urge to join Friendster (distraction,distraction). I recently clicked on a friend's invite, and lo and behold friends I haven't seen in ages have resurfaced. Now I'm hooked. Too bad I still have to scrounge around for low-res photos.

6. Scrapbooked. Finally found use for the papers I've been hoarding all these years. That's Adam, the Brother Formerly Known as HoneyBoy's son. Did the layout for Gianna's second scrapbook...

7. Sang along to Maria and Little Orphan Annie. So okay, I got rejected by the high school choral group. My daughter, however, thinks I'm the greatest singer in the world, bar none.

Guess I had a little too much of Annie, though. Blogging over, coffee gone and ready for bed, still can't get this thing off my mind:

"Rover, when you think it over, Rover is the perfect name for this dumb-looking dog."

Bad case of the last song syndrome...

May 10, 2007

Vienna, in a Tricycle

For four months now, we have been playing The Sound of Music every single day. Gianna and Sam, my 21-month-old niece, wouldn’t have it any other way. They “Do Ye Mi” along with Maria, and say their goodnights “So Long Faywell” style. Thanks to Maria and the Reverend Mother, naptimes and bedtimes are relatively tantrum-free.

Of late my two-year-old has taken a fancy to Captain Von Trapp. At the precise moment when the captain would throw the door wide open on an unsuspecting Maria, Gianna would gush: “Kagwapo Captain Von Tyapp.” She must have heard the line from her nanny, so I usually let it pass. Besides, I’m not about to launch into a panic attack just yet. I answer her never-ending whys instead: why are the “mothers” singing, why did Maria bring her guitar, why are the children marching, why is Captain Von Trapp going to Vienna.

The other day, backpack in tow, she went to say bye-bye to Excruciatingly Thin Sister.

“Why, where are you going?” the sister asked.
“Going to Vienna,” Gianna answered.
“What will you do there?”
“See Captain Von Tyapp.”
“And how will you get there?”
“With Mama, in a tricycle. Papa will drive.”

Isn’t it sweet how uncomplicated kids think? To them, the distance is nothing. In her mind, Gianna has already made plans to go places. She will take the tricycle to Vienna, fly to New York in an “autocopter”, take the bus to Salzburg, sail the Pacific Ocean in Tito Jeric’s ship, board Cebu Pacific to Paranaque.

I tell her these trips take time, and she tells me it’s okay. We’ll go to the grocery first to buy Promil Kid, and then we’ll go. And oh, let’s not forget Lolo, Lola, Tita Nani, Sam, Pusa, Ate and The Sound of Music.

Celebrating Life

Today is the third “anniversary” of Daddy’s stroke. We went to church, ate out, celebrated. No, we did not celebrate the event of three years past. We celebrated life. After all, despite its many discomforts, life is beautiful.

If there is one thing that Dad’s stroke taught us, it is this: there is always something to be grateful for. True, the past three years have not been the easiest. It is a source of great pain that Dad—who could out-talk and out-debate anybody—is now literally a man of a few words: the stroke stripped him of speech. He had a great voice. When we were little, he lulled us to sleep with “Edelweiss,” “Let the Sun Shine” and stories of his life. Too bad he can no longer do the same for our kids.

Still, appreciation outweighs the minuses. We are thankful for the little miracles, the small mercies. We are thankful that he is mobile, that he can take long trips, that he is still with us.

In a sense, it’s starting life all over again. We celebrate the milestones: a song remembered, a new word relearned, a few steps without the cane. We salve each others’ hurts. We share in the frustration of wanting to say something but not being able to.

It has been three years. We are sappier than we've ever been; sappier than we've ever imagined we'd be. Every single day is a reminder that we are quite lucky. Our kids may have lost the chance of sitting on Lolo’s lap, listening to his many stories. But we do know the stories by heart, and it is up to us to add our own.

May 8, 2007

Rocking My Vote (Not!)

It’s almost midnight. I’m wide awake—and not liking it one bit! How can I when I can still hear blasts of mindless campaign jingles even in this ungodly hour? Obviously, the candidates have invaded Maytime dances (“kurudalan,” we call them here: you fence in—kudal—a vacant lot, dangle lights and a mirror ball, set up the sound system and presto! a roadside disco is born). As if they can rock their way into the ballot box!

I’d be really glad when the elections is over. For close to a month and a half now, I have been subjected to just about every “personalized” version of “Boom Tarat Tarat,” “Wowowee,” “Itaktak Mo” and the like. As if the original versions aren’t insufferable enough. I happen to have the misfortune of living in a village where everybody is practically a candidate—and those blasted jingles are the first things I've been waking up to recently. Ever heard “patriotic,” “religious” versions of these inanities? Listen closely, and you will find election cliches like “makatao,” makabansa” and “maka-Diyos” tastelessly woven into equally tasteless songs.

I wonder: do platforms still translate into votes? Or does anybody still listen to serious campaign stuff? (Okay, the other day, I tried my best to. But when a candidate started to challenge another with "correct me if I'm right," I suddenly remembered that I had to shave my armpits.) Tragic, but these days, it isn't so much about plans and prospects as digging dirt and mudslinging.

Today's elections are obviously not the sacred political exercise that they should be. Voters' education is a losing proposition. In most cases, it is the same people (or the same kind of people) who get elected anyway. Yesterday, on my way to the office, I passed by the house of two candidates. The queue outside--mostly of women lugging large bags and small children--is depressing. They are obviously there to ask for something: for anything, as a matter of fact. (An exasperated ex-candidate had this story: there was this large contingent who went to his house, asking for money. When he told them he had no money, they asked for rice. When he told them he had no rice, the crowd pointed to the cheesecloth being prepped as banners. They'd settle for the cheesecloth, they said.)

Ugh! Times like this makes me feel that there really should be a law limiting the number of people who can vote. This way, politicians won't resort to gimmicks, voters won't make like beggars and the 45-day campaign period won't be the agony that it is.

Wanted: Perfect Yaya

One of the thankless tasks of mommyhood is the search for the perfect nanny. Someone close to perfect, anyway. Someone who:

1. Would fill in the mommy shoes while I’m at work but gladly relinquish the same when I’m home
2. I can leave the routine to (I am hopeless at regular stuff like feeding, clipping nails, giving vitamins)
3. Wouldn’t expose my daughter to “Spaghetti Pababa,” telenovela, Wowowee, TB, infections, cooties
4. Doesn’t have fangs, doesn’t suck blood and doesn’t count Dracula as a cousin
5. Reads, or at least knows how to read
6. Would treat my baby as her own

At first, I was content to do yaya duty. A midwife would come in to give Gianna her bath, a cousin would clip the nails and my trusty phone would prompt me when it was time for vitamins. Because my baby was asleep most of the time, I had enough time for Bo Bice and American Idol, scrapbooking and squeezing in the paper work.

But maternity leaves don’t last forever. With two weeks to go, I began my frantic search. Candidate No. 1 had a lot of demands. Candidate No. 2 was way too bossy for comfort. Candidate No. 3 seemed okay—and with me reluctantly on the way back to the glorified sweatshop—we inked the deal. She had a school-age kid, so it was impossible for her to “stay in.” Which was quite fine, since she promised to report early. She needed cash, so I gave her half her salary in advance. Her college-age daughter needed a summer job, so Ma took her in.

In her 40s and a fashionista at heart, Yaya T practically dolled up my daughter. She introduced her to girly stuff: ribbons, lace, headbands, frills. She read to my daughter, said “milk” and not “dodo,” “drink” and not “mamam” and “eat” and not “papa.”

She introduced me as well to the crazy world of superstition, which I naturally pooh-poohed. According to Yaya T, these are baby dos and don’ts:

1. Never bathe a baby on Tuesdays and Fridays as these are the days when the “unseen” are at their most potent
2. Never kiss a baby when s/he is making poo-poo: the baby would develop “bad breath”
3. Put something red on the baby’s bed to ward off evil spirits
4. Do not allow two babies to kiss: it would take them a long time to learn to talk

I thought Yaya T was quite ideal, never mind the fact that she had this habit of “advancing” her salary. Six months later, however, I realized that I was practically doing most of the yaya duty. Yaya T always had an excuse for not coming to work—menopause, PTA meetings, Sara Lee, fiestas, family emergencies (which, suspiciously always fell on Tuesday mornings). When my daughter turned one, I knew it was time to look for another Yaya.

Enter Yaya J, who was still in her teens and raring to work. I had initial misgivings about entrusting my baby to someone so young but it seems that Gianna did the choosing. Turns out that she wanted not so much a guardian as a playmate—an ate.

For all her shortcomings, Yaya J is okay. Sure, she “texts” a lot. As a result, my daughter’s vocabulary now includes “pasaload,” “low bat,” “charger,” “load please to zeyo nine one seven twenty eleven five six seven”. Sure, I sometimes have to do the picking after. And sure, my daughter knows “Boom Tarat Tarat,” “A Doo Doo Doo” and some other inanities on Wowowee. But Gianna is responding—and she is starting to learn that there is a world outside 7th Road.

I have since learned that in this imperfect world, there is no such thing as the perfect yaya. Not even close.

Come to think of it, I am luckier than Excruciatingly Thin Sister in the Yaya Department. Her daughter is turning two this July and she is already on her eighth yaya…

May 5, 2007

Cootie Cootie Coo

Something you should know about me: I have this thing for hair. It must have started when Dad was my age: turning forty and convinced that the battle against gray hair was winnable. He would pay me five centavos for every gray I picked. Most of the time, I’d net around 25 centavos, which was already a lot.

I would spend the better part of an hour weaving my fingers through his hair in search of the precious gray. And how I loved it when my nails encountered dandruff! One scratch, and the little flakes would be flying. When we were rooming together in and immediately after college, my sisters were the unwilling targets of my tugging and scratching.

My weird fascination for gray hair, white hair, “dead” hair, dandruff—things that grow in peoples’ heads—continues to this day. (Of course I keep my itchy fingers only to my immediate family, and of course I toe the line when it comes to greasy, clumpy hair.) The hubby would be watching TV and suddenly, there I’d be, happily hunting and scratching. Even the little girl has (almost) learned to live with Mama’s idiosyncrasy.

The other day, I was drying Gianna’s hair when I saw a brown spot. I was about to scratch the thingy when—lo and behold—the darn thing moved! A few frantic twists and turns later, I got the shock of mommyhood: I saw a cootie! I was floored, to say the least.

That night, flashlight and fine-tooth comb in hand, the hubby and I made like Sherlock Holmes and methodically combed Gianna’s hair for relatives of the offending cootie. We found a couple of nits. Who could have brought the cooties there? Not us and not the playmates. It turns out that one of the maids had them and, well, you know how these things spread… (In grade school, Weird Sister felt that she was the only one in her class who didn’t have cooties. She got one from a classmate and planted it in her hair. I’m sure Ma raided the grocery for Pretty Hair—or was that Prell?—Shampoo, the one that “cleans hair, kills lice.”)

The whole thing got me thinking. Funny how we protect our kids from just about everything. We childproof our homes, we spend a fortune on vaccines, we stock up on Lysol and Safeguard and Joy Antibac. And then, a thing like cooties throws us off balance…

Reunion Blahs

I come from a large family. Although Dad is an only child, he has a string of half sisters and half brothers, some of whom he has never met. Ma, on the other hand, has 12 full, six half and two step siblings. If we go by the Dado and the Lanuza standards, our family of eight is relatively manageable.

Up until Lolo Hugo died in 1978, the Dados would hold annual reunions in Sorsogon. How those reunions transformed our moms and dads into stage parents! My sisters, cousins and I would be coaxed to play the piano, don our grass skirts or launch into an almost endless rendition of “Where Do I Begin…” or “A Time for Us.”

The reunions became farther and farther apart after Lolo died. Apparently, he was the tie that bound the family together. Without him, my uncles and aunts felt that the uncomfortable “south road” to Sorsogon was just not worth the effort. There would still be summer visits, but they were no longer the huge ones. They did not merit production numbers anymore. Fact is, the post-Lolo reunions were not the planned kind of my childhood: they became the offshoot of marriages, baptisms, deaths.

In 1996, the Dados decided to hold a grand reunion to celebrate Lolo’s centennial. And so the idea for Pagturupar (Bicolano for meeting, gathering, reunion, etc.) was born—ironically during the wake for an uncle. Phone calls, letters and details, details and more details later, Pagturupar 1996 came off without a hitch. Families came in their color-coded best: in tones ranging from gray to sky blue to maroon. It was the nieces’ turn to do the Hawaiian, the nephews to do “magic” tricks and for us cousins to be the stage parents. At the end of the full day, sisters and brothers (whether full, half or step, in-laws or outlaws) joined hands, sang “If We Hold on Together,” made plans to reunite more often and went on their own merry way.

Fast forward to today. The much-anticipated Pagturupar 2006 never took place. In December 2003, two families had a falling out because of—ta dah—a single Christmas star. (Tita A wanted a whole bunch shipped to her, Tita B couldn’t fill in the order but “thoughtfully” couriered one as a Christmas cum birthday present. Tita A thought it was a great insult.)

One parol was all it took, and suddenly the anger, the hurts and pains, the resentment of a generation ago came flooding back, invading cell phones, e-mails and snail mails. Tita A wrote Tita B a scathing, you-owe-me-this letter. Tita B answered point by agonizing point, with matching calculations and equations. Tita A “Xeroxed” Tita B’s letter and furnished a copy to every family, falling just a little short of asking even the clueless to gang up on Tita B.

Talk about skeletons out the family closet! The parol episode erupted into a super nova of sorts, and today the family story has enough meat—and juice—for a telenovela. Or for a talk show. Whenever our nuclear family would settle into our mini reunions, someone would invariably ask to be updated on “the” latest. Good thing we don’t have that many skeletons (unless Excruciatingly Thin Sister counts) in our little corner.

In any case, don’t expect to find “If We Hold on Together” in the soundtrack of our lives…

(Picture 1: Lolo Hugo (left) and his brother, Lolo Quoing; Picture 2: Lolo with a handful of grandkids; 1974)

May 4, 2007

Pusa: A Dog's Tale

Pusa, my beloved mongrel, is now 43. That’s the equivalent of seven calendar years. (A dog’s first year is supposedly equivalent to one 365-day year while each succeeding year is equivalent to seven human years). If your glass is half full, seven years may not amount to much. If, on the other hand, your glass is half empty, seven years may seem a lifetime.

As someone who is known to waver between the half-full, half-empty barometer, I would like to think that Pusa has enough years—whether it be dog or human—ahead of her. Of late, however, she has been showing signs of slowing down. She is content to let the other dogs do the barking (more effective than the doorbell), and she is no longer the slim, graceful askal of seven (human) years ago. Pusa has, in fact, turned “matronly,” with bulges in the most unflattering places.

There is still one thing that can make Pusa run like hell, though: bath. After an entire year of trying, I have just about given up. Never mind that she practically stinks: among my dogs past and present, Pusa is my one great doggy love.

Here is our (Pusa and mine’s) story so far: I had just come from a niece’s wedding when I first heard persistent, tortured cry from the dark kitchen. There goes the stray cat again, I thought. Still miserable over the fact that the bouquet had no other takers but “old maid auntie” me, I tripped over a crate, hit my head and literally saw stars. I saw something else: a fuzzy puppy that was just as miserable.

And on that note of misery we started on our road together: me from a nasty relationship; she from being taken from her roots. Dad was all set to call her Fifty (he bought her for P50 from a little boy near his office). I beat him to the draw, though, and by the time Dad got home, Pusa already liked the idea of being called “Pusa.” Much, much put together seven years later, we are still each other’s masters.

What it is about pets that brings out the softer, ready-to-spoil side in each of us? My sister’s Dachshund, has turned feisty, opinionated Weird Sister into a doting—if over-protective—“mama,” ready to snarl if somebody threatened her precious Bruno. When Batchoy was ran over at the highway 10 years ago, Dad almost tearfully moved heaven and hell to save the poor dog—to no avail. Even today, slowed down by a stroke that took away his speech, Dad still manages to play with the dogs. My daughter, on the other hand, thinks Bruno is her cousin.

For what it’s worth, I guess there is always that little animal in you and me. And a little of that human in them.

May 2, 2007

My Sorsogon

It was my age of innocence, when Lapu-Lapu was legal tender and Loida Theater smelled of freshly soaped leatherette. I never did have any reason to venture out of Molave Street. My friends were there, the komiks-for-rent was just a walk away and the street doubled as a field for our brand of football. On moonlit nights, we would scare each other with stories of ghosts and manananggals, and on sticky summer days—after the visiting cousins’ welcome had worn off—we would fly kites and pick fights with the kids from the other street. Weekends we would spend in Bacon or Pepita Park or Palhi or San Benon.

Then it was time to leave. School was waiting, and there were other more important things to do and learn. The trips back home became farther and father apart. Ties were forgotten: I became too wrapped up in the business of making my own adventures—of walking the earth—to keep in touch. There were mountains to climb, islands to discover, seas to explore. Never mind the fact that I couldn’t quite put a finger to what I really wanted. I was on the move, and that was what mattered.

Two years ago, I saw the old hometown for the very first time. I was assigned to write about the place I grew up in, and I realized that I was practically a stranger. And so, for three days, I went back to my roots. Riding on the waves on our way to Buenavista. Watching the sunset from the Rompeolas. Driving down to Gubat amid the surreal glow of the aurora. It was then that I marvelled at the history-rich walls of the Barcelona Church, trekked Bulusan and discovered the enchantment of Palogtoc. I have been to other places since, but none so moved me as the thrill of coming home.

And so, 17 years after I first left for the city, I am home. Much of Sorsogon is what I remember it to be—the sheltering sky, magical moonlight, the town bedding down at 7 p.m. Of course, people still gossip, as they are bound to do elsewhere, but I am happy in my own space. The wandering spirit has been tamed. Who was it who said “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”?

Note: This was written 7 years ago. Just thought I'd "resurrect" this from my files...

May 1, 2007

Agua de Mayo

It was raining this morning when I woke up. It wasn’t the hard, driving rain, the kind that pounds on the roof. Instead, it was a soft drizzle, as if gently heralding the dawning of May.

I have always loved May. (Of course, I’d rather forget this one May, when I was literally coerced into “Reyna Elenahood,” but that is an altogether different story.) I love the flowers, the showers and the break from the hot days of summer. May is when the garden bursts into a riot of colors, the fields become greener and trees are weighed down by fruits.

Coming from one of the “rainiest” parts of the country, I have also learned to live with the rain. Agua de Mayo—the first rains of May—bring back memories of the old neighborhood, and how we would escape to wade in the puddles and potholes on Gate 2. In college, one of my bonding moments with my classmate Maricar was braving the legendary floods of España, walking from UST to Sta. Mesa in knee-high waters. Because we ended up in the same publications, and probably because we have withstood many other rains, Maricar and I have been best friends since. (Another “rainy” memory was during our initiation into journalism class. Having hurdled the purely-meant-to-intimidate [but otherwise token] tactics of the seniors, we were treated to a welcome program. A much thinner Arnold Clavio did a George Michael. A would-be balladeer rendered his take on Barry Manilow’s “I Made It Through the Rain.” Unfortunately, he never made it past the high notes.)

It was in May that I had one of my most exhilarating experiences ever. We were in a remote island in Negros, in the middle of the endless sea, when the rain started pounding. Suddenly the waters became choppy, and our small banca bobbed up and down, riding the waves. I was—and am—a non-swimmer. But I never did feel a tinge of fear. There I was, in the middle of nowhere, the downpour stinging my skin, and, amazingly, I was utterly at peace. To this day, whenever the pressures of the day would get to me, I conjure images of that great day in May. Suddenly, I am swaying with the waves. I am drifting. I am calm.