Monday, November 23, 2009

The Boy Known as Brandon

Few days ago, during my 1-week break from the hospital which I spent south of the country, I was able to explore the darker side of Davao City and talk to a good man. A dear friend Nel, a single mother by choice, with another old friend Joe with his long-term gay partner Greggy dragged me into this small, dimly lit niche skillfully hidden along generally wholesome San Pedro Street of the city. It was an obscure gay bar ironically named Fame, a secret hangout of the city’s not so apparent and not so opulent members of the gay community, along with a sprinkling of today’s recently emerging collection of females hungry for any semblance of intimacy from the male kind.

We were ushered in by able-bodied, fierce looking males into the smoky alcove. Standing by some walls or lounging on threadbare faux leather sofas were brawny, crisp-looking young men dressed in red sleeveless tank tops and tight-fitting, crotch hugging denim really-short shorts. Their arms were well sculpted, not the gym-induce biceps, but those biceps toned and toughened by hard back-breaking labor. Their legs looked strong, with hamstrings that can make any woman drool. They looked bored, like a bunch of old women waiting for their favorite telenovelas on a warm uneventful evening.

Then the stage-lights turned on. The small, make-shift stage that appeared like a bathroom was suddenly flooded by red neon lights. As if on cue, they all stood up, walked to the small stage in front of the room, and started their small number. Moving their hips languorously to Mariah Carey’s “Open Arms”, almost 20 testosterone-laden, hot-blooded males strutted their stuff to the salivating audience. That was when he caught my eye. He was tall, with an empty, distant look in his eyes, and he shyly dropped his gaze when he saw me staring at him. I kept quiet. I was never the type to squirm from these types of situations and I never avert my eyes from this sort of taboo
The boy ended up at our table, with my friends buying him a beer, for several minutes of “table” time. He started putting his arms on my shoulders, but I moved away and told him, “Hey, you don’t have to do that.” Instead, I ended up asking him about his life.

Perhaps they have a generic story to tell all customers. He said his name is Brandon and he’s 21 years old. He said his mom was unmarried when she had him, and his dad was an Iranian who ran away. Eventually, his mom married someone else, had 3 more children and the stepdad turned out to be cruel and alcohol-dependent. He said he had to go all the way from Butuan City to escape this bitter family situation. He ran away and stayed with his grandfather in Davao City. His grandpa tried to put him to school but he said he had to help out. So when an offer from a neighbor who’s employed in this bar came, he took it without batting an eyelash.

Yeah right. Straight out of a Maalalala Mo Kaya screenplay. Go on, Brandon. You’re telling me crap and you’re 19 years old, but go on. I’m listening...

He said they have a decent job, that they are not prostitutes. They’re just paid to give small talk to lonely people, some might touch them here or there, but there’s really no harm done. He said they really don’t lose anything. He said making lonely people happy is a decent job too.

Perhaps the boy was right. Making lonely people happy, no matter how short-lived or evanescent that happiness is, is a noble job. With this epidemic of loneliness around, perhaps the real heroes are those who are able to give small talk to lonely people during moments when they are most needed.

Sometimes I wonder if the prevalence of loneliness is exceedingly underestimated. If a certain percentage of our population thrives and even profits from the business of temporarily assuaging loneliness, does this mean that lonely people make up a significant share of today’s market economies? And if this hefty share of the market continues to be hiding in the dark, how many of these people actually walk among us during daylight? How many seemingly respectable people in fact lead double lives – acting reputable and upright during the day while in the evenings, they creep in the dark crannies of the city, lavishing in the excesses of the flesh, with their faces hidden by almost-opaque veils of anonymity?

When the evening came to a close, I said goodbye to Brandon, and in the gravity of my musings, forgot to give the poor boy a tip. So long, Brandon. I may never see you again. You may end up with HIV or you may end up to be a tycoon one day. Either way, I’m honored to have met you.

Now, as I work in the ostensibly decent comforts of this hospital, I sometimes think of Brandon. Brandon with those sad eyes, Brandon with that empty gaze. Brandon dancing under the lights. Brandon ravaged by hundreds of plundering, searching, lonely hands. Sigh. Wherever he is, whatever he does, and wherever fate may take him, may God bless him.

And then I know that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are not merely stuff for novels. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde could might as well be anyone. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde could might as well be me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

After the PMS

I've been spending the past few days gorging on chocolates, red meat, oil, and yeah, evil carbs. I've been eating way too much that everyday, I'm probably consuming twice the recommended daily calorie intake for Filipinos. This is indeed a cause for guilt and alarm, considering that half of this nation's population is actually subsisting on a meager 1,500 kilo-calorie-days, which is below the recommended daily allowance, not because of vanity or health reasons, but simply because they could not afford to eat more. But emotional eater as I am, I'm left with no choice but to give in to my chocolate fantasies and carbohydrate addiction. True enough, the scales don't lie. I've gained 2 kilograms in a month's time, and I don't feel any better at all.

While I had PMS to blame for my lousy state of mind during the past weeks, I'm left with no other valid reason now, except for my sheer lack of self-control or my innate tendencies to fall for the phony and fleeting elation of a sugar rush. The monthly visitor has come and gone, and the changes in the hormones didn't do anything to abate the need for sugar. It only heightened the need for salt, a trap I readily fell for, of course.

And so today, I just woke up feeling more oafish than ever. I need a way to get out of this perceived need to eat. I need to free my mind from the clutches of evil carbs and the nefarious red meat. I need to get satisfaction from hunger. Ahhh, the glorious sounds an empty stomach makes - the gurgling, the hollow buzz - I need to hear music in those noises again.

I promise. I will start dieting tomorrow. But whether I'm serious or not, well, I guess that would have to wait until tomorrow too.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


“So, what was your first impression of me?” - I once asked a recently discovered friend who I’ve been hanging out frequently with during this past few weeks. I was expecting something like, “You’re too big” or “Too tall”, or “Overweight!”, or “A bit intimidating”, or “Ahh, really smart!” (tehee!). But all I got was, “You’re too clumsy!” Aaaargh! Ouch! That stung!

But instead of pouncing on the poor guy and tearing him up into pieces for the unnecessary insult to my already injured self-esteem, I found myself awed at this unmitigated display of candor on his part. Few people dare to discuss my clumsiness with me, out in the open. And I appreciate his sheer lack of knowledge of the magnitude of my wrath or the peril of my tantrums. For this alone, I spared him.

You see I do not deny my clumsiness. This huge, amorphous physique that I’ve been so terribly gifted with could only come with a matching awkwardness in movement, a gawkiness in behavior that even my parents found irritating. For years, I have been dealing with a chronic lack of grace. I walk with an oafish, lumbering stride, so unfeminine and unbecoming. So, I do not move my head flirtatiously or fiddle with my hair the way most women do. My hips don't generate a lovely erotic sway. Ahh, I don't even have hips to speak of, much more a butt! Hah! But duh! So what? What's the big deal about being graceful? Why should women take pains in acting fluidly, with so much grace?

My mom once said that if I continue to move this way, I’ll never get myself a man. She said, "Jean, go find yourself some grace!" Hah! Grace, huh? I wouldn’t bother with men who only look at how women move, and forget about what they think and say and do. For me, grace isn't just a degree of beauty or form or style. It has to be more than that. And if there should be restraint for grace to exist, then I'd rather pass and remain clumsy as I am now.

Ok, excuses, excuses. My legitimizing this literally “awkward state of affairs” is not enough to remove my clumsiness, I know. But biologically, I do have an excuse that might be valid enough. God gave me feet with collapsed transverse arches. They make wearing heels an ordeal and they make my feet grow hideous corns right in between the balls of the feet. No matter how many foot spas I go to, my feet are as thick as farmers’ feet. They will always be huge Size 9s and I will never be able to walk on heels with enough grace that I won’t be mistaken for a transvestite. Because of the wrong shape of the feet, my knees just followed. I remember that at 4 years old, my mother was trying to massage my knees to reshape them. She said they look weird. Well, they are weird.

So these were the gifts I was born with: knock-knees, calves as big as logs, feet with collapsed transverse arches, corns and calluses that spontaneously spring up despite the absence of trauma, and a gait that can never survive high heels! Because of those in-born attributes, I have learned to carry a backpack like a high school boy, and walk around like a full-pledged overweight, drunken kargador. I don't subscribe to that well-accepted notion that girls should forever be sitting down with legs closed and slightly positioned to the side, and with their hands neatly rested on their laps.

I walk and talk as I please. Grace for me, is not merely the presence of dignified and restricted beauty, but beauty despite the lack of form or harmony - what the poet Robert Herrick called "delight in disorder". And I, being born ugly, should find beauty in what I was born with. Knowing that is grace in itself.

Ergo, I would like to believe that there must be a reason for this clumsiness. God must have thought I should be born this way. Ahhh, maybe He thought I would have to be loved that way too. And because clumsy people like me slip and fall down all the time, God must have already devised ways to catch us every time we do.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dead Spot Issues

The recently concluded long All Souls Day weekend was a suitable opportunity for me to succumb to a long suppressed urge to fall into a stupor, where everything from the outside world ceases to matter and nothing else exists except the actual moment. To be caught in a dead spot, like a cellphone trapped in a signal-less cave, was paradoxically liberating. Isolation from the rest of the world unleashes parts of the self that have chronically stayed dormant, and inconceivable truths about the self suddenly become manifest, and the thought of what and who the self would evolve into becomes too frightening.

This brings to mind bits and pieces of the old stuff from pre-med days - Plato's Allegory of the Cave. What if everything that I have construed to be real is after all unreal? I imagine I'm a prisoner in a cave, staring at shadows on a wall, unaware that these are merely shadows and the real world is right behind me. Aargh! Too profound. My mind can't digest it now.

All I know now is this: I like this dead spot. The darkness and isolation of this cramped secret cranny brings comfort - that kind of comfort that comes from not trying to understand anything at all. While reality is a matter of debate, the moment is real. No signals from the outside world, no interferences of whatever kind - just me, the shadows cast on the wall, and the moment. Everyone deserves to stay in a cave once in a while. And even if it doesn't make any sense, I'll bask in this dead spot until I get kicked out, back into the real world again.