Friday, December 10, 2010

The “Hoohah” Monologues, state censorship, self-censorship, freedom of speech...

By Pasckie Pascua

FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2007 (Asheville, North Carolina).

Remember how Al Pacino’s Col. Frank Slade proudly spewed martial chic and gruff sophistication to the word (or was it a cuss) as he swooned and tangoed with fine wine and sweet women in “Scent of a Woman”? No wait, that was, “Whoa!” that he haughtily belted... I stand corrected.
Whatever it was, that movie was pretty cool stuff!
So what about “The Hoohah Monologues”? The first time I heard, “Hoohah!”—Mr Pacino crossed my mind, who else? A one-man gig for Michael Corleone, The Godfather, I thought out loud... No, I’m wrong again.
You must’ve already heard the story by now... A couple of months ago, a modified marquee in a theater in Atlantic Beach, Florida drew some attention. “Hoohah” replaced a word in a famous play after a female motorist complained about finding the previous wording offensive. Some thought “The Hoohah Monologues” was the name of a punk-rock or new wave band, or something – after all, said venue books acts of diverse musical genres. Meantime, I’m sure you’ve known of 80s acts with outrageous monickers, in the mold of Butthole Surfers and Piss Factory, right? Honestly though, I didn’t know what “hoohah” meant until my 9-year-old neighbor Colby The Dolby admitted that it actually meant “vagina,” or what he meekly muttered as, “that thing down there.”
“We got a complaint about this play The Vagina Monologues,” said Bryce Pfanenstiel, of the Atlantic Theater. “We decided we would just use child slang for it. That’s how we decided on Hoohah Monologues.” They did this after a driver who saw it complained to the theater, saying she was upset that her niece saw it.
The woman was reportedly enraged because she was forced to respond to her niece when asked what a vagina is. “I’m offended I had to answer the question!”
Uhh, I wonder... has anybody heard of an off-off Broadway play called, “The Penis Offensive”? It’s certainly not as famous and engaging as Eve Ensler’s Obie Award-winning episodic play, centered on various women’s views about the aforementioned part of their body... but, still, this “Penis” one-acter kind of courageously super-navigated “unexplored” terrains of the male genitalia like you’ve never imagined before. I tell you, it was obnoxiously nauseating!
Anyways... what the hell, right? The pristine beauty of living in the US of A—I dearly, deeply believe—is the fact that human beings are afforded the free will to say “Yes” or “No” to any given stimulus. Refuse or agree, conform or object. Or fence-sit, stay on the middle, it’s okay—that’s also a basic human right... But it’s all about Freedom.
But then, the word “vagina” flickering so proudly on a theater’s billboard, offensive? What about a giant full-color poster of half-naked Giselle Bundchen on super-tiny Victoria’s Secret underwear devouring a prominent spot at Times Square’s tourist belt? That’s a simplification, but—ah, contradictions...

I DON’T REALLY intend to consume my time on such elementary, hypocritical discourse. But I’d like to talk about this thing called “censorship.” It’s a popular notion that censorship is usually, most likely imposed by governmental institutions. That is a given, I guess... but the deeper anomaly rests within our psyche’s workings. We—wittingly and unwittingly—excise ruthless, often wayward, awkward “censorships” upon ourselves by way of acquired racial bias, over-adherence to “political correctness,” ideological/political dogma, and cultural/religious bigotry, that don’t necessarily emanate from State-imposed mores and “moral” statutes.
Censorship is the removal or withholding of information from the public by a controlling group or body. Typically, censorship is done by governments, religious groups, or the mass media, although other forms of censorship exist. The withholding of official secrets, commercial secrets, intellectual property, and privileged lawyer-client communication is not usually described as censorship when it remains within reasonable bounds. Because of this, the term “censorship” often carries with it a sense of untoward, inappropriate or repressive secrecy.
I mean, do we get it? Official/legal definitions tend to appear more complex than the act itself... We are so consumed with extravagant wordplay and lush vocabulary that human reflex (or common sense) gets lost in the dizzying fray.
Meantime, yes—it’s true that media censorship as imposed by governments remains as the one most incurable poison to freedom of speech. Or, it’s the most “popular” form of censorship. In China or Nepal, for instance, a wrong caption equals a warrant of arrest, and until now, an open tirade or passing ridicule against/of a public official is synonymous to jailtime or death wish.
In Turkmenistan, for example... State television displays a constant, golden profile of President Saparmurat Niyazov at the bottom of the screen. Newscasters begin each broadcast with a pledge that their tongues will shrivel if their reports ever slander the country, the flag, or the president.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the ten most censored media in the world are those in North Korea, Turkmenistan, Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Eritrea, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Syria, and Belarus. This means that no one can broadcast or publish anything these governments consider to be “immoral” or “harmful,” or that threatens the countries’ “stability” (which usually means the government’s own power base). This is what we usually think of when we hear the word censorship.
Democratic countries, on the other hand, take pride in upholding the principle of freedom of speech. People are free to say and write whatever they wish, with some carefully defined exceptions.
In America, for example, we can always make fun of the President or any public official like it’s simply one insignificant practical joke, no big deal. But that’s not the real deal – the deal is, it’s FREEDOM. Sadly though, we oftentimes push that freedom to the limit because we have the best of it... and we savor it to the hilt. Sacha Baron Cohen AKA Borat makes it hip and cool, Sarah Silverman gets away with it because she’s “acting” vs a super-smashed Mel Gibson off-cam, but Chris Rock is the Master of them all—he makes fun of anything “white” and earns hefty paycheck for it. Who cares! It’s entertaining...
In the Philippines, it’s “different”—at least, when I was a student (during the Marcos years). One time, a student activist berated presidential daughter, Imee, when she spoke before a University of the Philippines crowd. After the event, Imee’s bodyguards simply grabbed the youngster and threw him out of the 9th-floor window of the building. But, of course, that’s just one of so many bizarre stories emanating from the dictatorship’s genocidal years...

IN A MARKET economy, there is another controlling power at work – the power of money. In North America, most mainstream publications depend on two income sources: subscriptions and advertisers. Both influence decisions about content. Readers must find the content relevant, interesting, tasteful, and entertaining, or they will drop their subscriptions. And advertisers will cancel their accounts if they consider the content to undermine or challenge their messages about the products they sell.
Consider the tobacco industry’s enormous advertising power in the US and Canada. According to the American Federal Trade Commission, annual advertising and promotions expenditures for the US tobacco industry in 2000 were over $9.5 billion. The advertising expenditures for Canadian tobacco companies in 2000, on the other hand, were over $19 million. Yet we all know that the tobacco industry’s economic clout goes beyond tobacco products.
Before it was bought out by British America Tobacco in February 2000, Canada’s largest tobacco company, Imperial Tobacco, was owned by Imasco Ltd – the same company that owned Shoppers Drug Mart and Canada Trust. RJR Macdonald, Canada’s second largest tobacco company, is owned and controlled by American-based R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, which also owns Nabisco foods.
Meantime, forty percent of Canada’s third-largest tobacco company, Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc., is owned by Philip Morris Tobacco – the largest tobacco company in North America. Philip Morris also owns Kraft Foods, the largest packaged food company in North America. This combination of tobacco and food products includes 91 brands with annual revenues of $100 million each, and 15 brands that generate annual revenues of over $1 billion each.
With these givens staring down like an imposing dark cloud of control, some media institutions easily succumb to “self-censorship.” The logic is simple—without advertising, there is no publication. No publication, no job.
According to a study by the American Council on Science and Health, popular women’s magazines state that they have a commitment to general health coverage, yet they fail to cover the number one cause of cancer death in women—lung cancer. Women’s magazines continue to publish cigarette ads, but rarely include information on the negative health effects of smoking. Of the 2,414 health-related articles published last year, only 24 articles – less than 1 per cent – addressed the health effects of tobacco. Moreover, the image of female smokers as independent, attractive and lean (or sexy) was portrayed overwhelmingly in the advertisements.
In November 1983, Newsweek ran a 16-page special health supplement written by the American Medical Association. Although the original AMA manuscript included information on tobacco addiction, Newsweek resisted any mention of cigarettes. That issue of Newsweek had 12 full-page cigarette ads. This hasn’t really changed... Most networks seem to propagate health consciousness via talk shows and special features, yet commercials continually run ads by food products that only contribute to the growing rate of obesity, heart failures, respiratory problems, among others, in the country.
“Self-censorship” is also prevalent in writers and artists. Blogs, books, films etc are “censored” or “classified” by the authors out of deference to the sensibilities of others without an authority directly pressuring one to do so. Self-censorship is often practiced by film producers, film directors, publishers, news anchors, musicians, or authors.
Again, I digress...

OVER-ADHERENCE to political-correctness is another example of self-censorship that isn’t just confined to media circles, but to educational institutions, as well. Political correctness makes people stupid, said Elizabeth Kantor of The Boston Globe.
After interviewing 14,000 undergraduates at 50 colleges across the country, researchers from the University of Connecticut have determined that “seniors actually know less about American history and government than entering freshmen.” That’s because they spend four years with professors who no longer teach them English literature, the classics, or any of the other pillars of Western civilization, Kantor claimed. If modern college students study “dead white men” such as Homer, Lincoln, and Shakespeare at all, it’s to expose and condemn their patriarchal oppression, racism, and imperialism, she added.
A new book by University of Pennsylvania professor emerita Phyllis Rackin, for example, attacks “Macbeth” for promoting “the domestication of women.” Not a word about the beauty of Shakespeare’s language, or his “peerless insights into human nature.” Ms Kantor adds that colleges now prefer to give courses in comic books, “queer theory,” pornography, or Erica Jong. These days, we tend to easily reject a reading material, film craft, or musical effort—if they do not conform with our political beliefs or sexual orientation. Forget about good writing... Or, well, “good writing,” I guess, has to be politically-correct. Then, again we have to define what “political-correctness” is.
One other very significant and powerful “self-censorship” is done in historical circles. Until now, the world recognizes a hero that “colonizers” imposed in a “colonized” culture’s mindset. University scholars and history researchers in respected educational institutions recognize, for instance, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo as THE hero in the Philippine-American War. Volumes of documents obtained by the University of the Philippines’ cultural anthropology department contend otherwise.
Aguinaldo, who ordered the execution of revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio, “represented” the Filipino people in selling (or “ceding”) the islands to the US for a mere $20 million under a Treaty of Peace between the United States and Spain on December 10, 1898. Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were slain by Aguinaldo’s men because they objected to the treaty that were forged following the defeat of Spain by the US in the “mock” Battle of Manila Bay.
I don’t think that “censorship” of historical records will ever be corrected, at all, though. Day after day, the so-called media cover political and cultural upheavals all over the world—and fed to the unsuspecting public like tobacco or paracetamol. Over and over again... After all the hundreds of TV hours that major networks spent on Anna Nicole Smith, we may never know the “truth” behind her untimely death. What we get are the sweetened fillings and deodorized morsels that litter the periphery of her glamourized ruin. Or how one souvenir photograph by Joe Rosenthal—iconized as the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima—could alter or blur valuable pages in World War II history.
Most of the time, it only takes common sense to find out why “censorship” of the truth continues to exist unabated. In my novel, “Waiting for Winter,” I touched several significant events that took place in the Philippines from 1980 to 1992 that I wasn’t able to fully explore because of “state censorship” and my own, admitted “withholding of facts” because these could put the so-called revolutionaries in a bad light. Still, I was called a “revolutionary journalist” by my peers back home.

AH, DAMN, I talk too much, don’t I? I was just going to rant about “Hoohah” when all these just came out of my head. As if you don’t already know about all these that I just babbled about...
Oh well, this is the pleasure of self-publishing, I guess. I can always write and write and write—as long as it’s within the legal boundaries of whatever I am wading on. I don’t even know... I may get a letter from Immigration one of these days for being too “political, radical”? Or my purportedly quiet benefactors may cut their contributions to this madness—because I just printed a “politically-incorrect” story? I don’t know. Freedom in America is still very beautiful and glorious to me—such a gift. This, coming from a survivor of a regime that shoots down, literally, a hardheaded fool who dare question an “official” pronouncement from the hallowed halls of power.
I really don’t know. Tell me if I am pushing my acquired freedom too far. All I know is I am writing, and it’s cool. I am safe... Am I? You see, my subject isn’t even about a vagina.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Flint to Cary, crashing computers, missing e-poems, good ole’ linotypes and Underwood, full-moon fevers... oh my, I am so depressed!

By Pasckie Pascua

FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2007 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.

WHERE’S CARY, North Carolina?” my Bay Area homey Beaver The Fever rang me up at 2:17am on a bright full moon June aftermidnight. “How far is Cary from Asheville? You gotta tell me, man. I am freakin’ out!” I’m quite sure Ms Padgett Lee Feaver III (her real name) was fine, I’ve known this li’l pesky critter – a good friend I call, “a turbo-boosted chipmunk on perpetual imaginary acid trip,” since age 17 not to know better of her irksome nocturnal buggings. “What’s up with Cary? Why would you want to go to Cary?”
“Because I can’t go to Irvine CA or Amherst NY! That’s why!”
Hmmm. “Why not Asheville? I live in Asheville. Don’t you miss me?”
“Nah! Asheville is some contradictory, oblique, crisscrossing juxtaposition of maddeningly bottled inertia! I’ve got enough of your Asheville! I got enough of you, rock star!” (Ah! What arrogance! Didn’t I just say Beaver The Fever is some turbo-boosted chipmunk on perpetual imaginary acid trip? So I forgive her for the acerbic sarcasm. No problemo.)
Uhh. “What do you mean? You prefer Cary over Asheville?”
“What do I mean? Cary is all I want and need right now. Asheville is just like you or my ex, who adores you like you’re a demented alter-ego of Holden Caulfield, or some fantasized nutcase-dreamer. Besides, I am done with all these best-of WNC bugaboo. Damned PR! I just want to get to Cary.”
Oh, man... Do I deserve this wayward missile right now? But what are friends for anyway, right? I just have to understand Ms Feaver III. Just like all of us chronically New World-harassed earthlings, Beaver The Fever wants PEACE. For her, peace is the absence of war—aka violence. “Violence” also translates to an emotionally/mentally-tortured marriage. (THAT is WAR for her, and I can’t blame the poor soul...)
Right now, Padgett lives and works in Flint, Michigan. Yes, Flint – Flint of Michael Moore’s “madness,” beside Bob Seger’s sprawling Metamora ranch – the town that currently ranks as the US’s “most violent” or dangerous city. According to the most recent FBI data, Flint owns 26.0 violent crime per 1,000 people – compared with Cary’s 1.2. (Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.) Irvine, CA (0.7) and Amherst, NY (1.1) are the two top “least violent cities” in North America.
For some reason, Beaver opted for Cary. I don’t know—maybe Cary means Cary Grant, her everlasting-muse. Bottomline is, she is, as she calls it, “On the verge of doing a Thelma & Louise kamikaze move” right now. Tough, isn’t it? I gotta help her.

I HAVE always considered myself a devout non-believer of Prozac Nation – depression, melancholia, writer’s block, or the “a-lot-of-things-are-goin’-on-in-my-life-right-now” stigma. But then, in the past few weeks, it’s like I’ve been hit by a some kind of gung-ho Scud myself, leaving me sleepless, irksome, difficult, and aloof. Oh yes, there are graspable physical reasons that usher these unmitigated blues and funk (although, many times, I refuse to accept these “excuses” ... “not my culture, not my gig!)
My two work-computers conked out on me twice in three weeks – thereby deleting most of my Indie and Bonfires files, “lovable hate mails,” poetry drafts, three unsaved chapters of my novel-in-process etc etc. My computers have always been objects of magnificent jealousy and insecurity of my past girlfriends – but at this juncture, when my “ancient” PCs gave up, it’s like I lost it all.
Lessons of life, you know—come so bitter and painful, most of the time. The words of my last GF, Lacy Miss Molly, before she dumped me were, “You will realize, one day, that you need me a million times more than your Dell or your iMac!” (Well, I didn’t have an iMac, actually.. but then, she dumped me, just the same, saying Hendrix, her redhead Pekingese Poodle, is 300 times more sensible and sensitive than I really am!)
Anyway, I’m probably “depressed” that I lost most of my files – and here, I am, frantically emailing/calling friends and past GFs (yup, including Beaver The Fever and Lacy Miss Molly) in case they somehow kept some of my work, you know. (Lacy: “Hendrix devoured all your printed poems, m’dear! Poor kid, I mean—Hendrix. He had indigestion all night!”)
Ah, whatever. When computers give up, it’s gone—kaput, vanished, disappeared! But then, I believe in the inherent goodness of the human heart – no matter how people hate each other, there will always be a way to retrieve some shared “gifts” like a cool love poem or a “classic” fiction-on-the-works, right? Well, I never trashed my ex’es’ mementoes and memorabilias– I actually keep them, secure them, in five Office Depot boxes on my basement. (Although Marta The Nicer almost mistook them as “throwable treasures” that we sell in our weekend yard sale fundraisers.)
“Yes, I know you hate me until now, and I sort of remind you of your ex whatever his name is... but did I somehow cc’ed you a long poem that I wrote when I was in Lyons... I think when I was living in Great Neck, Long Island... no, I think when I was in a train to Brussels or Antwerp—remember that one?”
Beaver groaned, “Ah! You never changed! Men don’t change! You don’t even remember where the hell you wrote the silly poem, do you remember who you’re with at that time, or to whom you wrote the freakin’ poem for?”
“That’s why I am asking you! Because I lost the poem or poems...”
“Then, go and fix your freakin’ computer?! I am asking about Cary, North Carolina—and here you are, whinin’ about some poetry!” Then she hung up the phone. Just like before, just like the bad ole days—they just hung up on me... Sometimes I don’t understand women. They call at 2:17am without a warning, bug you out of your deadlines, demand undistracted attention. And then, they hung up. Click!
So here I am still “depressed.” In the past few weeks, I think I’ve only been sleeping for three hours at a time. But then I found out, I am not alone on this wonderful predicament. The Wall Street Journal reported that only 26 percent of adult Americans get eight hours of sleep a night these days, down from 38 percent in 2001.
What’s going on? What’s up with all these funk and blues? PCs that conk out paralyze an entire month of media mobility, cellphone “drop calls” are equal to massive breakdown of communication, missed appointment with the shrink earns you another six months of Zoloft prescription.
Depression. My Key West buddy, Merwin The Merlin, refers to this annoying malady as “a necessary readjustment of Mercury retrograde” due to realignment of Pluto’s pizza delivery on the next curb to Jupiter, or something to that effect. Some full moon fever, you know?
Check this one out – police in Brighton, England, recently announced plans to deploy more beat officers on nights with a full moon. “From my experience,” said Inspector Andy Parr, on full-moon nights “we do seem to get people with, sort of, stranger behavior—more fractious, argumentative.” I recall how I yelled and cussed at this pair of mischievous squirrels jumping up and down my front yard trees – it was a full moon, ha! I actually thought that these annoying pests were the ones responsible for my Charter wireless or Belkin router’s failing signals that midnight. (Are these squirrels working for Homeland Security?)
Come to think of it, do we deserve such stupid stress levels? I believed I was doing something relevant and urgent that evening. I was blogging bigtime, and then—wham! All my 1-million KB worth of spam email messages and blog updates went pfft! What’s going on?
Now you tell me—why there is no large-scale, organized opposition to the war? There are several reasons. But the biggest factor, according to Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune, may be the Web, or overdependence to the Internet. Instead of gathering in smoky coffeehouses or in massive rallies on the street, today’s activists fire off mass e-mails or update their blogs. Blogs may reach a lot of people, but they siphon away energy and indignation into angry words, instead of action visible to all. It’s “counterintuitive,” but the vastly improved communication networks of the modern age “may actually be taking a bit of oomph out of political activism.”
Glorious madmen like George Orwell, Alvin Toffler, and Kurt Vonnegut already sent out precautionary warnings before, but we are not listening. I am guilty, as well. There was a time when I actually believed Judas’ exhortations in Jesus Christ Superstar – “Everytime I look at you I don’t understand / Why you let the things you did get so out of hand / You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned / Why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? / If you’d come today you would have reached a whole nation / Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.” No. That doesn’t work at all.
Do I have to tell you how 32 (11x17 pagemaker 7.0) pages of the supposedly June 1-15 issue of The Indie – plus maybe 6K kb worth of “other writings and files” – got wasted because a mass communication device like computers crashed on me? Yeah, I can email, text-message, make a cellphone call etc to my ex-GFs and homeys with an objective to retrieve some valuable “words” that I’ve written – but, no dice! (Hendrix, Beaver the Fever’s redhead Pekingese Poodle even ate some of my Neruda-like “poemas.” Lord, have mercy!)
I remember those days of yore—during the early years of my little journalism career, back home in Manila. When my scoop news stories, proletarian verses and Brechtian street plays were neatly typed on Underwood typewriters and pressed-printed on linotypes, stacked up on sturdy molds (then later on IBM Roadrunner composers racked up on galleys). My songs? We simply sang them in front of starry-eyed villagefolk – and voila! They memorize the songs! They even reminded me of missed verses whenever I sang them during barrio fiestas. Cool, isn’t it?
Now, it’s so easy to get depressed. I did not save my volumes and volumes of work on zip disc, CDs, or external what... drives? I did! But when I went to Best Buy to retrieve the poor, pitiful manuscripts, some Borat-looking dude on pink goggles informed me that my iOmega zip disc wasn’t compatible with their machines! Oh, man...

DEPRESSED, DEPRESSED. One morning, as I nervously sifted through my bills, I noticed that I was actually paying recycling fees for many years now. And with those fees, I could have bought myself a cool new MacIntosh or maybe I could have eaten raw chilled oysters at Magnolia’s every Sunday of the week for the last seven years. (I don’t get depressed when I eat oysters, you know...)
Now hear this. A total of 1,643 pounds of trash was generated per person in the US in 2005. (No data yet for 2006.) Some 32 percent of this waste was recycled, a rate that has doubled in the past 15 years. The estimated annual revenue of the US recycling industry is $236 billion.
And how much did the superich G-8 countries pledge to deliver to Africa to fight AIDS, malaria and TB? A “measly” $60 billion. Now, that is something to be stressed or depressed about, right? I am lawfully paying the city government “recycling fees” — whether I recycle or not — and then they keep the money, and they don’t even share a decent fraction to poorer people? Bad!
Not good. That is why we poor humanity is so stressed out these days. But although I am apparently upset and desperate, I am not suicidal. And, Beaver The Fever – after a really nasty divorce – isn’t being suicidal, as well. (“Thelma and Louise kamikaze move” means she’s gonna find herself a Brad Pitt cowboy in Cary NC.)
You see, suicide is so uncool! As for me, I just invoke what my “other-Muse” Cher retorted to Nicolas Cage in “Moonstruck”: “SNAP OUT OF IT!” Yeah, I just take a deep breath, heat some ramen noodles, chow `em, watch “King of the Hill,” and think positive. That’ll work. (Do you know that for every 100,000 Chinese citizens, an average of 23 commit suicide each year? The Chinese number is 50 percent higher than the global average.)

SNAP OUT OF IT! That’s what I’m gonna do with my chronic, pesky little funk and blues these days. But I’m not gonna pop in some multicolored pill or go find a shrink or some Lily Tomlin-lookin’ madam with a Dollar Tree notepad to “heal” me. I’d rather buy either Terri The Terra or Marta The Nicer a slice of Mellow Mushroom mozzarella or mug of Westville Pub PBR – and listen to what they gotta say. That works better. Listen to those who love you, and then things will be just fine. No shrinks for me.
We in the super-affluent First World might blame the fact that there’s only 1.3 psychiatrist/s per 100,000 people in China—so the staggering number of suicides? In the US, it’s 14 per 100,000. (Iceland has the highest ratio, with 25... duh, hello? Live in a world of ice day in and day out, do you expect to be jolly?) Do we really believe that shrinks could un-depress the vaunted Chinese production line? Nah.
The scandalously massive Chinese workforce just have to take some time and chill, y’know—after hours and hours of factory work. These guys invented the CD, you know that? Before the Western Merchant called it “compact disc,” it was called “Chinese Disco.” CD. It’s because during those bygone years, the Chinese have real, cool, unadulterated fun—that they invented discotheque. (Do you know that before the Bee Gees made millions with “Saturday Night Fever,” Barry Gibb went on a secret trip to Beijing to study how to effectively sing “Stayin’ Alive” and “You Should Be Dancing”?)
The Chinese are depressed because they are also bored. Look, they mass-produce all kinds of stuff – push-up bra, birdfeeders, Pablo Picasso paintings, Rolex watches, coffee mugs, vibrators and dildos, DVDs, mug-wheels, all kinds of Cup-a-Noodles, boxer shorts etc etc. You name, they got it—ready to go. They might even mass-produce irksome imps like me, in case there is a market for such merciless pests, you know what I’m saying?
Crazy, crazy world! Indeed!
Oh, man... I am just depressed. So depressed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

VERY, Very Short Stories

First published in The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2006 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.

The Shaolin Doghouse, Realla Scham-lately, and “The West Asheville Moon had me at Hello”

“SHE HAD YOU at hello, sweetie,” my ex-girlfriend Audrey’s wry sarcasm—spewing venom on that particular end-of-month bills payment day – was at its most vicious conjecture. More vicious, or certainly a lot more virulent, than the baddest PMS on earth. “You got paid with a smile again?! You never learned! So how are we supposed to pay the rent now? With a wide grin of glory?”
(You guessed it right—Audrey kicked me out of our Brooklyn apartment, but only after she arranged me a “Shaolin doghouse” to stay the night… well, uhh— in Chinatown.)
“I just called my officemate Go Ling—she said her cousin, Jet Lu, could accommodate you in his restaurant. That’s good—you can bus or wait tables there and get paid with your favorite ramen noodles!”
So like a somber, meek, and obedient Kwai Chiang Caine, I wafted out of the building to the F Train bound for Delancey or Canal—and off I closed another tearful chapter in my perpetually tormented book of vanquished valentines.
Just because I failed to earn the rent money again!
I don’t know anymore. Am I stupid or AM I STUPID? Audrey had been shouldering the rent (and most daily expenditures) for the past four months or so since I quit my East Village ad agency job to concentrate fulltime painting what were supposed to be commissioned work brokered by a Long Island antiques import-export trader, aptly named Realla Scham (no kidding). But after four months of incessant labor and unswerving love for good-ole’ art—punctuated by three weekend trips to Atlantic City and Adirondacks, and a steak dinner at Smith & Wollensky on 3rd Avenue on her account – Ms Scham paid me only half of what we agreed upon.
“I just wanted to help you... Look, after all these generosities that I put myself into—you seem to be accusing me of… www-hattt did’ya say?! —ahh! GET OUT out of my house! Don’t yell at me—nobody yells at me in my own house, GET OUT!!!”
That’s what I get. Good grief!

REALLA SCHAM sat on the Board of some Manhattan nonprofit that dealt with maltreated squirrels. At least once, I went with her to St Patrick’s Cathedral—where I witnessed her shed tears like Agnes of God, as she recited the Rosary, down on her knees (though she placed her Fendi gloves on the cold, marble floor as protective padding).
For some reason, I did believe this woman!
As I chaperoned (escorted, bodyguard/ed, accompanied, dated—as Audrey put it) her to Bloomingdale’s one winter’s evening, she goes—while shuffling over a stack of Louis Vuittons, “I can’t imagine… what conscience, what inhumanity, what cruelty—how could Imelda Marcos buy all those crazy shoes!!! One pair could actually feed a family of six for a month?! Poor Filipino children!”
So we spent hours and hours—and weekends and weekends of Dom Perignons, chilled Rockefeller oysters, and roast Angus beef – brainstorming/discussing/bullshitting each other how we could save the entire kindergarten population of Panay Island in the south of the Philippines or donate farm implements to impoverished frijoles in Matagalpa, Nicaragua (or something to that effect).
Then one afternoon, she blurted at my startled face, “Honey, my amiga Claudia—a mucha dinera senora – just bought a house in Hartford. I’d like you to work on some paintings to hang on the walls, or something… She pays good money, this crazy friend of mine. Now you can buy a new computer, take Audrey to Tavern-at-the-Green, go watch Miss Saigon, I don’t know… Gosh, buy a new coat, please! You look like you just wrestled a Doberman in Central Park lagoon, honeybabe!”
I simply muttered, “I need money to help fund a summer basketball tournament for out-of-school youths in Pandacan in Manila. I promised them some money next month…” Realla wrote me a $400 check right there. “But, first, go to Macy’s—buy your girl a Victoria’s Secret or whatever… then, let’s meet my amiga tomorrow, 2pm, at 49 Grove. Don’t be late!”

WELL, I have dealt with—or hanged out with, worked with, collaborated with – a thousand and one Realla Schams in my immaculately clueless little life. For some reason, I strike people like I just emerged from a jumbo jet’s cargo engine—smuggled out of the pampas of Buenos Aires or some Calcutta slum. Always hungry, penniless, down-and-out.
But I didn’t care whatever people prejudge me of. I don’t bother with contracts and paperwork and stuff. I don’t mind weeding grasses with a rusty sickle, shoveling 5ft snow with a wok, foot-massaging obnoxious matrons with varicous veins as huge as a fireman’s hose, proofreading Library of Congress dictionaries, or tutoring septuagenarian Koreans how to read-write English – as long as I earn enough money to pay for printing of my tabloids, gas allowance for my soundperson, extra dough for Kinko’s laser-prints, CD-Rs to burn DIY compilations, and Greyhound fares to my next Vagrant Wind stop. As long as I am able to score some dough to “fund” these madness gigs that I do.
Of course, there were also a number of relatively glamorous “hook-ups” – ie commissioned painting gigs, college lecture sidelines, think-tank/consultancy tasks, and kool kat publicist work—that covered grander projects like band management, club concert bar fines, and short documentary film productions. I however preferred the “right here, right now” deal than the elaborate, 500-meeting sessions program study. I’d like that negotiations run fast, decisions reached quick as a bullet, then “Let’s rock and roll!”
So contrary to what some may think—that I am a complex dude from Saturn, I am not. I am a simple man. Yes, you can have me at hello anytime, and pay my efforts with a smile. I am some uncomplicated mouse who could easily be persuaded by a mere mention of a seafoods dinner or an assured fishing trip to the Catskills or campfire retreat in the Shenandoahs.
You see, I never did work on anything that I didn’t like. I guess, that makes me a some kinda “privileged” individual—I simply throw myself in deep, silent euphoric work trance and forget about what’s going on in the outside world. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess), the outside world means business gain, profit viability, and career opportunism. I am very oblivious and stubbornly indifferent to these things.
So I never quite earned – or consistently earned – the rent money. (Sigh!)

HOWEVER, while I easily plunge into something that tickles or energizes my spirit on the get go, I also end it just as rapid-fire-fast as I took it. In many occasions, I simply plunged in a supposedly collaborative project without prior consultation – despite the fact that my family has always provided me with both legal and financial consult. I accept or enter a deal based on how I FEEL about it, period – whether I like to do it or not, almost totally ignoring the financial implication or equivalent of that particular deal.
I do believe – although this “belief” resulted in me getting dumped by a succession of girlfriends — that I don’t need much to live my life. Although I was born and raised comparatively more materially comfortable and cared-for than the average Filipino, I am always very sensitive with the world outside my gilded gates of plenty. The “weird” boy who stole eggs and longaniza sausages from the household fridge to distribute them up in the hills where tribal families of four or five feasted on a can of sardine stewed on cheap noodles and soy – hasn’t really changed.
I don’t know why some people stock up food in their fridge and cupboard while others don’t even have a canister of sugar to sweeten their rice coffee. In America, most people store an awful lot of red meat, fish fillets, and veggies in the freezer—then throw them away after a month. They forget to cook them...
My life has always been spent mostly with the underbelly — up in the hills, in squatters’ colonies, coastal villages, inner city sidestreets, workers picketlines – that I could almost feel the unquenched hunger within, the collective sorrow of those who don’t have enough, wherever I go. Until now, each time I seem to spend US dollars more than I usually do, I instinctively/spontaneously mentally-convert them in pesos, and wonder out loud how many kilos of rice would $21 worth of mozzarella pizza amount to?
That is my life’s reality—that is the truth that I know, the truth that my spirit is accustomed to.
So no matter how many Realla Schams take me to Smith & Wollensky for a $65 dinner plate of “steak that melts on your mouth,” I still worry about what’s up in that dilapidated shanty of emaciated tykes back home. I have chosen to pursue “madnesses” that I am sure won’t make me a wealthy gallery owner, concert producer, or book publisher – so I really feel uncomfortable when I have this money and that other artist, performer, or writer doesn’t.
I just have to give the money back... Until now, I don’t know how I get around. I’m always like this—I throw myself out there, hop in a speeding train to nowhere, seek my truths, and I simply survive. It’s not that I don’t need money—I do, of course. But I never liked money lounging in any part of my clothing or whatever I’m carrying—I often hand them to whoever I’m working with or I just spend them on anything that I believe is worth some wisdom.

THIS “MADNESS” moved offices/residences twice in three months…
While I don’t intend to go to the full details – the long, rambling recitation above explains some of the reasons. This latest mishap happened so fast though, compared to the others that lasted, at least, a year or so. But this one wasn’t ignited by my inability to raise rent-money — it’s far from that.
But let it pass...
Life is such a tricky sidetrip to the “Shaolin doghouse,” am I right? My journey has always been like that. No matter how the rubber honeymoon bounces here and there—all fun and fancy—I always end up with my oodles and oodles of ramens. But that’s the way I like it.
This new abode in West Asheville that we’ve just moved into – is definitely more comfy and peaceful than the Lexington Av cave where we were housed just barely few weeks ago. But that’s not the point here, as ever. For some sweetly weird reason—peace is like a thief in the night. You don’t know when she’s coming and what she’s up to. You know it’s there—but only when you finally lost it. I lost my “peace and quiet” for five months or so, as I frolicked with Ms Scham on First Avenue and Westchester – over Little Italy meriendas and slot machine gigs at Bally’s. I lost that peace-within so many times in my life—and I didn’t even know it. I was so busy gasping for wisdom and self-respect like a boxer who fought for honor first, before the prize. It hurt but I feel freed...
So again, as I tread my highway from hell—pretty much like past episodes of my wearied treks along boulevards of broken dreams and valleys of vanquished valentines—I ask myself, “Am I stupid, or am I STUPID?” I don’t know—but let me remember the past… maybe I can find some consolation from reminiscing this particular episode with my sisters back home in Manila.

“The NPA is home at last!” My sister Alona exuberantly declared in such elated sarcasm and boisterous jest that it roused and threw the entire household in animated disarray. “Whoa! He’s actually here! How’s the revolution up in the Cordilleras, hermano?” Alma, another sis, eagerly darted out of the house to welcome Che Guevara-alias. Okay, okay—it was a family joke.
NPA is New People’s Army—the guerrilla wing of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ Maoist/Communist insurgency. NPA is also “No Permanent Address,” and that applies to yours truly. NPA was me – “Always, forever and ever, amen!” Another sister, Alicia, readily agreed. My revolutionista-fashionista “chic” – disheveled, emaciated, ragged, long unkempt hair, lost-boy reticence, snappy reflex — would effortlessly, easily qualify me either or both a Sparrow Unit (urban guerrilla) hitman or a pathetic pauper with nary a cent to score a stick of Marlboro.
With that characteristic impoverished girth, most believed (I reckon), that I could easily sell my soul to the devil for a chilled oyster dinner and a Corona. And, I bet, with that “NPA” dogtag sticking out of my skinny neck, I could easily be swayed to give up my sublime lunacy with a two-room/one-bath dive.
No, sir!
In the winter of 1982, I was reported as missing by my Aunt in New York City when I “disappeared” for five days straight — hanging out with the homeless of Central Park East. On the sixth day, I checked in a motel in North Bergen NJ with the money that I panhandled — to shower and shave. On the seventh day, I strode in an Upper West Side diner where a cousin, Mario, who owed me money, was a cook – and had a $65 beef steak dinner on his account. That night, I snuck in my Aunt’s apartment, left a note (“I am okay”) and then “stole” four sets of blankets from her closet—went back to Central Park, distributed the fluffy Turkish “winter-warmers” to my homeys, and spent the rest of the week with them.
It was one of my little life’s happiest, most peaceful moments. And I didn’t even have to go hop in the F Train to my usual, unmistakable “Shaolin doghouse.”
You see, this white-and-grey West Asheville house where we just transferred isn’t located on either Delancey or Canal, and although there are no courtyards straddled by the downtown streets of my most immediate misfortune, there was an awesome moon the night we moved in.
The following morning, the Spring Sun smiled at me and, oh yes, she had me at hello. Believe it or not.

--Pasckie Pascua

Monday, September 6, 2010

Writers workshops... such interesting little events

First published in Wander; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2006 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.

WRITERS workshops are such interesting little events… quietly exuberant microcosm of human foibles, fancy/fantasy and fascination. Sometimes they kind of bombard the sanity like some sort of literary Normandys and Waterloos; sometimes they nag and irritate like in-laws Inquisition/Torture chambers. They devastate, they pulverize you into crappy smithereens; they tick you off like crazy, they ruin your day, yet you can’t really complain. You keep on coming back for more… But, most of the time, writers workshops are just fun hangout gigs where we could check in our egomaniac trips or check out smart girls who hid erotic fires between seductive cleavages of some oblique but sweet metaphors… You can also survey hot dudes who may be the same exact replica or clone of Lestat The Vampire—mysterious, dangerous but irresistible. Don’t you know that most often than not—writers workshops are disguised as singles convergences or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club? While the “taken, attached and involved” are busy sipping super-sweet nectars of twogetherness some place more private, the “lonely” seek out writers workshops!
Seriously though, in workshops—we may be able to trip on a cool Dead Poets Society and reap some wisdom along the way, or a publishing agent who’s well-connected somewhere might sit in, that “guest” could be our bridge to fame and fortune. Apart from that, I “accidentally” tripped on a lot of writing/editing side-jobs – including babysitting, dogwalking, housecleaning sidelines — while immersed in writers workshops.
I must say that I learned a lot (of whatever I know about writing) in writers workshops—weekend gatherings and midweek drinking bouts (played up as “workshops”), summer creative writing camps, and literary conventions. For sure, most workshops that I joined in were fun, square room arenas of swashbuckling, duelling egos (masqueraded as “discussion”), unrequited perversions (clothed as “craft” or “art” or “freedom of expression”), super-trashy literary dalliances, and yes indeed, in many instances, I get to discover sparkling gems (that are a lot better and more engaging than what are usually peddled at Barnes & Noble or Borders as “Month’s Bestsellers”).
What’s so cool about writers workshops (at least those that I signed in) is the seductive element of surprise that lurks in there… you don’t know what you’re gonna get.
What I mostly got—during the early years of my own writers workshop saga? Hear these..
“It took me a good 15 precious minutes to ponder rhyme and reason—sanity and insanity—about your little piece of poetic intrusion into this beautiful world of ours. What I’m trying to say is, why don’t you just quit this writing silliness and just wait tables, and be of service to humanity?”
“I’d rather read a Chinatown menu or Wal-Mart catalogue than waste my time over this unrelenting exercise of drab shit stacked up like empty vials of cough syrup clothed with puke sitting beside a stinking downtown commode!”
“My advice – just forget it! Go jump over Verrazzano Bridge, bungee jump down Niagara Falls, eat roaches, wash your grandmother’s apron, buy your girl a wonder bra, whatever—but, please, don’t subject us to this atrocious poetry again, oh please!”
So, how do we deal with those? Well, we have to put up with those amazingly “upfront” comments or suggestions… Although there were moments, as well, when my ascetic patience hit bottom, so I climaxed one writers session too many with a mano-a-mano at a parking lot. (Those were my twentysomething years, I have mellowed considerably.) But then, among these insane piles and heaps of heartaches, bruised egos, and black eyes (c/o the brawl), you’d get one or two good, enticing invite.
“Hmmm, your poetry is very multi-layered, I need to dig deeper, very mysterious… would you have time on Friday night to discuss this? My apartment? Bring more of your poems, I’ll have wine…”

IN ASHEVILLE, I thought I only know of two regular, weekly writers workshops. The Tuesday group (with Robert Kelley) and the Wednesday group that included The Indie’s ever-prolific and diligent senior writer, Mike Hopping.
I was told that there are actually more specialized, exclusive writers groups in the city. Writers groups by astrologers, women-only, non-smokers/non-drinkers, lesbians and gays, Baptists/Catholics, fundamentalists, pagans, Deadheads, Goths (divided between those who dig Danzig and those who don’t), vampires and vampyrs (segregated between those who hang out at Waffle House every aftermidnight and those who simply stay home and chow down grits over diet Mountain Dew and watch “Dawg, The Bounty Hunter”), sadomasochists, Weightwatchers alumni, vegans/vegetarians, white supremacists, Hispanic/Latinos, ex-AA denizens, high schoolers, hip-hop homeboys/girls, anorexics anonymous, Crumb&Pekar Fans Club, divorcees and jilted lovers…
And more – writers workshop by men who were disapproved by their in-laws, women whose husbands are honorary members of Man Law sect, weekend lovers of autumn leaves, haters of dandelions, celebrators of the wind and snow, eaters of beef jerky and pickled pig ears… (believe it or not, there’s one like that).
MANY! Many writers workshops!
This is good, you know. Don’t get me wrong…
When I used to go around Filipino-American communities in the NY-NJ-CT tri-states seven years ago (while editing a mainstream Filipino newspaper), I chanced upon a million Pinoy writers groups denominations. All of these are rooted to the Filipino culture back home… but it seems people don’t simply agree the moment they sit down around a circle and open their mouths. So they form their own splinter, semi-splinter, pseudo-splinter, copy-splinter, splinter-splinter writers workshops.
Some of the list that I gathered – a group for writers with northern background (12 chapters scattered all over and around five New York City boroughs), writers with northern background whose parents are from the south, writers with northern background whose wives/hubbies are from the south, writers with northern background whose kids were born in the Philippines, writers with northern background whose kids were born in the US, writers with northern background who’ve been dumped by their wives/husbands, writers with northern background who are applying for American citizenship, writers with northern background who are undocumented illegals or with expired visas, writers with northern background who are actually from the south but don’t wanna say, writers with northern background who are… whatever.

IN ASHEVILLE, this cornucopia of writers groups certainly add spice and brew to what we all call (and brag) as diversity.
Well, diversity is good if these seemingly “different” people, or humanity with different points-of-view or “madnesses,” decide to coexist as one community and try to work or unite towards a collective end… diversity won’t work if these same groups of people simply create their own cliques and specialized groupings. Why do we drum up “diversity” and celebrate community while at the same time, we segregate ourselves from the heart of the collective?
Many times I observe that the gap that separates between a non-vegan/non-organic carnivore and a healthy-living, non-smoking, non-drinking person is wider than the space that sets apart a Republican from a Democrat… a lesbian group has their own place in the community, is their a Man Law group around here? How about the anarchists vs the moderates, the hippies and the yippies/yuppies, the babyboomers and the confused young?
It’s not like these people are going to co-exist on a daily basis or watch Glen Beck or “Desperate Housewives” on TV, seated on one couch under one roof. It’s just at least, once a week meeting in a public venue, you know…

IN THE LAST few weeks before this deadline, senseless killings and shootings painted our lives red. Is there a war in America? Why do our kids decide to grab that gun to articulate a point? Who are they listening to, what are they thinking?
It seems like we have more time to figure out the good nutrients in a hummus, ruminate over the dark spirits behind an SUV, hail and glorify the peaceful vibes of an unseen god up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, mused over gender sensitivity and political correctness, or debate whether Dan Brown is a heretic or not, or Oprah Winfrey really has right and authority to pick a good book, or does condoms bastardize the sanctity of Kama Sutra… than try to sit down with our children and, for once, listen to what they’re saying.
What do the children or the young want? Maybe they want to join our good-natured, holier-than-thou, “exclusively for adults” writers groups. Maybe they know better than us… maybe they have more beautiful ideas to share.
Maybe one of these kids are working on a novella that’s actually a blueprint to another Columbine tragedy? Or maybe these kids exude promising auras of future literary greats? Do they have to grab a gun again to let us, adults, listen? The writings on the wall scream like a giant cat’s blank stare. What are we gonna do with these signs? Muse, ruminate, discuss, debate, banter, ponder—over them—behind closed doors, closed to/from the outside world? Our doors that secure and protect our exclusive groupings from the others are so tight and sealed that we can no longer hear what’s going on out there, just a good ten yards away.
I wonder what we have been writing lately…

WRITERS WORKSHOPS are a gathering of people, I believe. People, who—besides a writing passion commonality—are also human beings who want to be heard, to connect, to bond. I don’t believe that most struggling writers—or even published ones—are in workshops simply to polish or break in a draft. They are there because they have a truth to share, no matter how risky or dangerous that may be.
We always mouth the words “community” and “diversity” – seemingly, to trumpet a global, no-walls/no-ceilings wisdom. But we seldom have the courage to open our doors to those who knock just because they don’t measure up to the word, “Writers” or “Part of the Group.”
We write about the world we live in, and the people in it—including us. Isn’t it boring to listen to just one “truth” every Monday or Friday or Wednesday night? Unless, we only want to listen to our own voices and cuddle our own stuffed toys of elitism and exclusivity, then it’s maybe cool to just stay locked up.
As for me, I just want to write… Whether you tear my poetry away and flush it down the toilet bowl, or hang it on your bedroom wall, beside a Van Gogh or three red roses. Whatever it is that you do with my little intrusion inside society’s four walls – the important thing is, I have extended my heart’s spirit. Quash it, burn it, step on it, no matter—no one frustrates, rejects, dumps, disappoints the spirit.
That’s the spirit of the writer that I want to hang out with in a writers workshop. I don’t care whether we do it at Waffle House, at Pritchard Park, or inside my humble abode, beside my fireplace, on 61 Dunwell Avenue.
Bring in the poetry, I’ll have wine and tea.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The New York Story of Jimmy-baby & Frieda Looks-Like-Abba, or money doesn’t change everything

WHAT’S BUGGING you, sweetheart, Jimmy-baby? What’s wrong? Are you sick again? You wanna go visit Dr Smith this weekend? Don’t worry, we’ll go take a walk later this afternoon and see if your buddy, Carlos, is also at the park, okay, honey? We’ll sit by West Central Park lagoon, at your favorite spot, and watch the swans glide by, as we wait for your pal, okay, honey babe?” Jimmy-baby was painfully silent, alarmingly morose-he was usually bubbly, cocky, jovial, even hyper. Something must be wrong with him. So, my good Swedish friend, whom I fondly call Frieda Looks-Like-Abba, took him to Dr Smith that Saturday, 7am.
“Jimmy is suffering from what I ascertain as EMSA, otherwise known as ‘Extreme Melancholia due to severe Separation Anxiety.’ This is serious, Frieda, my dear…” Dr Smith slowly, achingly bobbed his gargoyle head like he just detected a fatal, malignant virus chewing away at Jimmy-baby’s sorrowful system. (The manner in which the tragic, deadly words spilled out of his trembling mouth, it gripped me like he’s actually the one who’s got the ailment, it terrified the hell out of me!) Frieda started sobbing, “Oh my God?! Poor, oh poor Jimmy-baby! I thought it was just a sorta seasonal case of ADDB, uhh, ‘Attention Deficit Disorder Bitchiness?’ Doctor, please, do everything, anything-I don’t care how much this’ll cost me. Jimmy-baby has to be back to his NCSC again, y’know, ‘Normal Cool Self Complex?’”
Tearful, heart-broken, and upset, Frieda Looks-Like-Abba hugged Jimmy-baby… at the same instant, she motioned at Soledad, her loyal Peruvian nanny, to write Dr Smith the one-hour consult check, amounting to $750, I think. Then, as Frieda weakly staggered out of Dr Smith’s Upper West Side clinic, Soledad whipped out six twentys and 15 dollars (or $75) off her extra-large, tightly-brassiered breasts, and handed them to me, “Hijo, Pasquito, muchas gracias!”
Hmmm, that’s actually $15 more than I expected. Uhhh, $75 for what, you may ask? Well, that’s my salary for walking Jimmy-baby for two hours that morning… yup, Jimmy-babe is Frieda’s dearly-beloved Saint Bernard, you know, a dog. Dr Smith earned a lot more than me, of course, for an hour’s job of incessantly, meticulously doing a painstaking monologue afront a sullen-looking, visibly bored canine that never responded, or dared bothered to bark back, at his “intelligent” queries at all.
But, then, I understand-the Dog-Doc went to, maybe, Oxford or Princeton to master his lucrative Dr Doolittle profession-and, we all know, nobody goes to one freakin’ Ivy League hole and earn a PhD on dog-walking, right? But there’ll always be some strange dudes who’ll get rewarded with two-grand minimum for engaging a duchshund to an hour of psychoanalysis session. I mean, I can’t even understand why human beings need shrinks! Why would chronically financially-harassed people entrust some yellow pad-scrawling nerdie their lives’ deepest, most kept secrets? For $75 to a hundred bucks an hour, these expensive “experts” tell you this, “From what I could possibly deduce from here, you are suffering from what I call Krswtreaxy Defrkwxs Sydrome, and now you need to take 500 milligrams a day of Grzasstftfrrwejxw, a tablespoon every after dinner of Rweqdasehy, and then try engaging your pet iguana thirty-minutes of intellectual discourse, then see me after two weeks…” And, look here now, my friend Frieda Looks-Like-Abba budgets at least three to four-grand (or even more) a month for Saint Jimmy-baby Bernard’s shrink!?
“Jimmy-baby was barking all night, I knew something was wrong… he never barked that way, there was a some kinda tone of bothered, distant rejection in his barking, you know…” I just attentively nodded my head and pretended to know a thing on the subject of canine behavioral patterns, or something, “Maybe, he needs a sexual partner, don’t you think? Let’s go check out Dog Day NY Chats and find Jimmy-baby a date!”
Whatever. I can go on and on. But that is okay. I don’t think it’s entirely weird to sympathize with Frieda Looks-Like-Abba. She’s fine, she’s pretty normal human being. And you can easily judge me as anti-animal or insensitive to living things, or something to that effect. Yet it still mystifies me why we get so bothered and disturbed whenever a cat that we fondly dress in a Barbie duster starts purring and whining at the “wrong-time of the aftermidnight during Solstice,” or when the goldfish imprisoned in a velvet aquarium looks dejected and refuses to breathe bubbles, or when a pitbull that has been kept alone inside the house for eight hours straight suddenly jumps and attacks a house visitor and bites off the poor stranger’s ears. “What is wrong with my bulldog? He just ate my neighbor’s left arm, for cryin-out-loud?! My doggie must be afflicted with HLD (Hannibal Lecter Disorder).”
Or why it’s so easy to shelve away two hundred bucks to make sure “that Jimmy-baby starts jumping at my Turkish couch at 6am” (or, y’know, just to make sure that the dog is “normal”) while it’s so hard to do away extra $15 for Soledad, the nanny, so she can score a new set of bra that fits her humongous bust size, so that she won’t be commuting on a Path train every Friday night all the way to North Bergen NJ for those $7-for-a-pair-of-5 brassieres?
When I was 5, I recall being grounded for a week - because I set free two pairs of expensive parakeets off their cage at a pet store. I reasoned out, “Birds should be allowed to fly in freedom in the open sky, not kept in a cage!” Because of that, my parents never took me to the zoo again-lest, as my sister Alicia cautioned, “He might set free the lions out of their den!”

THERE’S SO MUCH money to waste away in America, don’t you think? Once upon a time in a not-so distant past, we were already so happy just to own a transistor radio that played all the hit tunes of the year-never mind that the radio also served as our lunch box or book bag. These days, we aren’t contented anymore with Walkmans and boomboxes-we need an iPod. We aren’t happy anymore to own an Underwood typewriter with the coolest pica typefont-we demand a wi-fi enhanced, DVD-equipped, CD-burning iMac. Most surreal and weird of all, while we unstoppably, voraciously feed our insatiable desires with all possible techno-consumerist, material-world baubles and gizmos… we never actually stopped whining, moping, complaining that, oh my, life is soooo hard!
Look at this picture - the US government’s House of Representatives has just considered an additional $45 billion budget spending for Iraq and Afghanistan next year, “to defend democracies there.” This, while low-income heating aid is proposed at a slim $1.8 billion, and community development block grants budget is at a measly $3.7 billion. No wonder the City Government of Asheville charges us, tax-paying public, couple hundreds of dollars rent for use of a public park-so we can organize a free concert to the community that worries no end about health care and housing benefits. Next time, I’m afraid, they’ll be going to charge us $50 a hour for sitting by a roadside bench, waiting for a City Bus that never comes on time, or maybe for enjoying a good day’s sunshine, it’ll be like $15 for an hour of sun on a Saturday.
And yet, people still have so much money to spend. There is a huge, pitiful, bizarre mis-alignment of privileges or awful wealth-distribution discrepancy in this world. While most of my mountain homeys struggle on an $8/hr, 40-hours workweek paycheck to pay their rent, these brothers from California, Ron and Roni Hyde, recently forked out $4,298.99 for two front-row center seats to a Paul McCartney show in Anaheim. And do you know that George Lucas’s annual salary is $290 million? I won’t be shocked anymore if Mr Lucas pays fifteen-grand a day for Chewbaka’s personal make-up crew.

WHAT IS WRONG with the world? Or, as I always say, what is wrong with me? Everything’s allright?
Isn’t that sad? According to a survey, only 4 out of 10 schoolchildren, aged 3 to 12, can identify Jesus Christ’s The Eye image. But a stunning 9.7 out of 10 can easily, readily spot Ronald McDonald from a crowd, and 8 out of 10 fifteen-year-olds could mouth or recite the words of at least five hiphop/rap or rock tunes but only 2 out of ten could sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” in full. It wouldn’t be so surprising that, maybe, a few years from now, kids will be so ostracized and alienated from the very emotional confines of the family abode that they couldn’t even recognize their own workaholic Dads but could actually find real parental bonding from Darth Vader or true friendships from The Incredibles.
There was a time when my own friends’ kids could identify me only when they go over all the Star Wars characters. “Whenever I see R2-D2, I remember you… you are so cool!” But, that’s nothing. This is the scary one — I didn’t know how to react when my niece Margaux, went, “You are like Yoda! You are so smart! You are sooooo beautiful!” I got so bothered by that, I started to stare at my ugly face on the mirror every morning… do I look like Yoda, really?
You know what’s more bizarre? I showed a 7-year-old kid a drawing of a tuna fish, and asked the tyke to identify it. “Uhhh, what is that? I think that’s a little monster!” I said, it’s a fish, you know what a fish is? This is a fish! The kid stared at me, and then he took a bag out from the fridge, and showed me a fish fillet, and blurted, “This is a fish!” I was about to ask him if he knows what’d a chicken look like, but then, I saw a bag of Mickey Dees chicken nuggets sitting near him, so I simply shut my smart mouth…

LAST MONTH, when I was in New York, Frieda Looks-Like-Abba invited me to check out this incredibly lavish art auction at Phillips, de Pury & Company in Chelsea. How I got there with my brown Goodwill-purchased corduroy coat over an orange mickeymouse shirt, faded Lee with that unmistakable red “Vampire” patch and $15 walking boots scored at a bargain stall down St Marks, I don’t know-Frieda just whisked me in. Oh my! How I quietly amused myself as I marveled at Manhattan’s nouveau riche outbid each other for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s famous streetwise scrawl, “Catharsis.” Some filthy rich dude on the phone bought it for $1.5 million!
I wondered if Mr Basquiat even had enough payphone money to call his girlfriend, long distance, whenever he felt so depressed before he OD’ed to death. I mean, the dude is already dead, hello? Do I sound morbid but how come only dead, beautiful souls get rich-why not when they’re still living? Who’s earning money from Vincent Van Gogh’s work, or even Jim Morrison’s estate, or what about Sylvia Plath’s? Do Delta Airlines or Cathay Pacific pay royalty to the Wright Brothers’ greatgreatgrandchildren?
Ah, how millions of dollars worth of supernatural fame and outrageous fortune could make mortal living things like us seem so different from each other. Go jump up and down, up and down at a public park bench on West Central Park, and you’d surely get hauled off to a paddywagon like a regular loony, especially when wealthy tenants at The Dakota complain—but a Tom Cruise could, anytime, do that “embarrassing” stunt on national primetime TV, and it looks really, “Oh so sweet, so cute!”
And, have you ever get pissed because your hard-earned 50 cents have just been eaten away by a Verizon payphone as you eagerly, nervously call your wife or girlfriend to warn her that you’ll be late for dinner? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? But what if you suddenly forgot to dial the overseas long distance number combination at about 4am while in a hotel room, and couldn’t get through? Would you grab and tear the miserable telephone off the wall and threw the poor thing at a hotel employee’s face, and say, I am sorry, I was just so frustrated, I didn’t mean it, no worry, my lawyer will take care of your broken nose. Of course, you can’t do that-unless you are Russell Crowe. You got it, mate?
And what about this—Houston Rockets’ coach Jeff Van Gundy was fined $100,000 for saying something that irked the NBA head honcho. One hundred grand for saying something stupid, and I can’t even earn extra $250 in one week so I can organize a free concert in my home-city’s downtown-though I never ran out of beautiful words to say to all the gorgeous women and kindhearted men around my little world. Sad.
One Saturday, I tagged along with my friend Renrick to a Filipino-American “wedding gig” in Westchester NY. Again, I was wearing my favorite brown Goodwill-purchased corduroy coat over my $10-for-5 “I Love NY” shirt and my “vampire” jeans. As I marveled at Prada, Gucci, Armani, Lhuillier dancing with these fascinating royal souls in the ballroom-as caviars, Dom Perignons etc etc etc sprawled on white, candlelit tables -I realized how poor I really am. I wondered how much did they pay this resort retreat for the wedding reception, or how much did they pay the wedding band? After all these years, I still can’t help but wonder how Filipino nurses, doctors, and engineers work 14 hours 6 days a week and then blow away thousands of dough on a single day of matrimonial show-off and then divorce after two years? Ah! But maybe they have money to throw away… or maybe they don’t throw them away? Why are marriages and divorces so expensive, anyways...

I AM NOT saying that having so much money isn’t enjoyable. It is. I wish I could easily spend $300 dental exam fee for my favorite Woodfin Place mouse. I wish I can also bankroll $1.2 million to score Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strap when it gets auctioned at Christy’s, I wish I can also pay a nanny more than $35 an hour so she can buy a new pair of Victoria’s Secret. I wish I can readily pay the Parks&Recreation $400 to $1000 in advance so we can reserve Pritchard Park for an entire summer of free “Bonfires for Peace” concerts.
Oh okay, I guess, I gotta stop being such a bitter ass at this juncture. I don’t intend to sound really dark this time out, I am sorry. But despite all these complaints and whinings and mopings, I do enjoy my little blessings. I just get distracted a bit...
It could have been a lot easier if I simply chuck the sentimental crap and boogie with the devil without letup like life is nothing but cheesesticks on Jose Cuervo, right? That tomorrow never happens… it’s all within a day’s partytime, you know what I mean? Why can’t we just treat life like a Friday night discotheque romp of cheap tequila fun, 30minute make-outs, and fleeting, nameless how-are-you hugs. Sometimes I feel so freakin’ corny, so clueless, so square because I’d rather ruminate and muse and dream and believe that, yes, sentimental crap works. I mean, I also get depressed like Jimmy-baby but then, all in all, life is still beautiful. Living is still a blessing. I enjoy hanging out with my wonderful buddies Frieda Looks-Like-Abba or Marta The Nicer Osborne or Lacy The Alexandria Muse or Good Mary Miss Molly, because they’re very sweet and very sensitive and very smart, and they laugh at my very silly jokes. That’s the way they are-they allow me to bitch and mope and complain about life for like three to four hours a night, but we always end up laughing, dancing, and sharing a nice, intimate dinner.
That is why I don’t seem to understand other people-why they seem to hate life, you know. I always say, let it out then let it in, inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale, then rock n roll, baby! Enjoy!

COME ON, who says the world is a picnic? It’s all about life, it’s moving… it’s rollercoaster, but it’s such a joyride, it’s still a gift. The greatest risk in life is not taking one. Life can be stormy but it’s also full of great sun. I mean, I am sure, by now, Jimmy-baby is already out there at West Central Park enjoying the sight of swans gliding by Central Park’s lagoon… and Dr Smith might be out there perfecting how to effectively converse with bedbugs, or something, and that makes him happy. Maybe it’s not really the fat paycheck that spells his joy, but it’s that magical ability to, say, detect a cockroach’s anemia or a poodle’s acute stress that makes his life meaningful to him, who knows?
Money doesn’t change everything, that’s for sure. Because, if money actually changes the world and the creatures in it, then we won’t be having free Bonfires concerts at the park anymore and I won’t be having free Thai massage or free accommodations in my endless Vagrant Wind trips anymore. Then, life becomes so hard. But, even though how much, how often, we all complain that life is so maddeningly difficult, it is still a lot better to be alive and well.
I’m sorry to disappoint the ascetics and the spirituals and the transcendents—but I don’t think I’d enjoy heaven because there’s no PBRs or Doc Chey chicken curry “up” there or Joss Stone live concerts... In the after-life, I don’t think making love would be so pleasurable. More so, Asheville isn’t going to be relocated in nirvana, utopia, or wherever perfect dive there could be. My human flesh is as mortally spontaneous as a cuss word and a sincere “I love you.” My carnal reflexes are as temporary as a 2-hour sexual intimacy by a river boat under an Equinox moon, my earthly joy is as limited as a sweet song sung on an aftermidnight radio. So let’s take it easy. Believe that we are here because it is a wondrous, unexplainable gift from a wondrous, unexplainable (——) you know that I mean? That is called faith—y’know, faith. That’s true—because there are moments in my life when I feel joy, pleasure and ecstasy deep, so deep inside without really knowing why... my brain couldn’t comprehend what my “foolish” heart is saying. That is very cool. When I “waste away” hours and “throw away” dollars putting up concerts and then I see people happily dancing to whatever I came up with, I feel happy, I feel peace within—it’s just that. That’s my “heaven.”
So, okay now, let the rich spend their huge dough on genius shrinks, let those who can afford to score all that Michael Dell and Steven Jobs could sell them (it’s better to purchase a new computer than a gun, you know), let those who earn better, fatter paychecks spend almost four-grand to see an aging Beatle… You see, we can all drive up Mt Mitchell for $5 gas money and watch and flirt at all the beetles and dragonflies and butterflies that freely commune with the greenery-it’s all fun, just the same. It’s not what we have that matters, it’s what we are that really counts.
I repeat, money doesn’t change everything. Yes, it makes us crazier and crazier each day, but money also makes us realize that, when it’s gone-all we got is the gift of humanity-and we can’t waste that one because that’s all we got. It can’t be replenished, recreated, refunded—it’s a one-time thing, no return, no exchange. Yes, indeed, life is beautiful and the only thing in this world that money can’t buy.
So love good, live good, and eat good. You don’t need a shrink to figure that out, or do you?

FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2005 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Peace Prevails When Food Suffices

AGAIN (with the obligatory “Iron Chef” drumroll) I’d like to evoke my “patron saint of chow,” the honorable, incomparable inventor of ramen noodles... Momofuku Ando. “PEACE PREVAILS WHEN FOOD SUFFICES!” (More drumroll, please... Kampai!)
Indeed, there is no argument, no fight whatsover—when there’s enough food on the table. Everybody shares the blessing, no excuses. I deeply, sincerely believe that when humanity enjoys a nutritious, sumptuous meal, there should be no other unnecessary distraction – let ‘em eat! In the same way that Adolf Hitler’s Waffen-SS Troops (sorry, sorry for the bizarre comparison) respect enemies on a sexual tryst—by not engaging them in combat or shooting them to death until they’re “done”—I also respect those who’re on euphoric state of throwing down at the moment... I don’t mess with them (until they’ve heartily burped and all done). I repeat, let ‘em eat!
When I was kid, my Dad always castigated us – nine kids in the family – whenever we talked or engaged in even itsy-bitsy conversation while at the dining table. He would grumble, “In case you don’t have anything important to say, don’t say them when you’re in fr0nt of your meal! Respect God’s grace.”
I remembered those words so clearly—especially after I read this “weird” news from Rhode Island... The Catholic St Rose of Lima School in RI has recently banned students from talking during lunch after three recent incidents of choking in the cafeteria. They choked while they’re eating—because of that, the school banned kids from talking while having lunch! Uhhh, isn’t that stretching it too far? What are these kids eating anyway? I bet, not Nathan’s hotdogs—otherwise, the school will have to solicit some advice from undisputed hotdog-eating champ, Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi (another Japanese like Ando San). This average-built dude could easily gobble up three dozens of hotdogs without choking at all—smooth dude!
That’s something serious that we have to think about... How come Mr Kobayashi manage to keep a “slim” physique despite being one of the world’s most voracious eaters of junk food? We certainly don’t see a lot of these occurrences, do we?
During the past 20 years, obesity among adults has risen significantly in the US, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Thirty percent of US adults 20 years of age and older—over 60 million people—are obese. This increase is not limited to adults. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. Among children and teens aged 6–19 years, 16 percent (over 9 million young people) are considered overweight.
For a time, some states tried to implement certain programs to abet obesity. I believe both North and South Carolina still offer tax exemptions to health-related activities, like gym visitations and Weightwatchers class attendance. Arkansas schools send home obesity report cards to warn parents of overweight kids’ health risks (although that may change because Little Rock is now opposing it).

SOMETHING ABOUT America that still fascinates or perplexes me is – while more and more people are sinking into a deep well of funk and blues (so many reasons to get depressed really) – the number of obesity also steadily rose to unprecedented heights! My understanding, before I decided to live in the US, was that—sadness, misery and loneliness make people’s appetite for food shot or low. I still feel that way, mind you – when I am pissed or upset, it’s hard for me to enjoy my ramens. It’s also economic – in poorer countries where poverty means grave shortage of food at the table, human beings just swallow their saliva for dinner or they drink more tap water to fill intestines up.
“So that you will get full fast, drink more water!” I always heard that ruthless admonition by parents to their kids in impoverished shanties in Philippine barrios.
But, it’s different here... Last year, one of my Candler homeys, Gwennie Twinkie, got really saddened and disheartened that Katharine McPhee lost out to Taylor Hicks in the last “American Idol” finals that she spent an entire month eating all that she could find in her fridge and pantry. As she ranted and raved and cussed and cursed—afront the boob tube, on her pitiful couch—her gargantuan mouth devoured tons and liters of krispy kremes, marshmallow peeps, mickey dees, little ceasar’s, wonka zoids, cokes, Einstein bros bagels, KFCs, booster juice, haagen-dazs, fast franks, wingstop wings etc etc etc. So, what do you expect—she shot up to 250 from 190 in just four weeks!
Meantime, my cousin Brigham The Gum who visited his in-laws in Sylva recently – and got caught up with the snowstorm scare – spent almost $300 on foodstuff to stock up in case Armageddon happens in the Appalachians. But it didn’t happen... So he and his wife, Laura The Fauna (she looks like Tinkerbell on dreadlocks) got really sad upon realizing that they just “threw away” all this money. So to appease their sorrow, they gobbled up all the food and soda (Banquet frozen chicken, Laura Lynn sweet corn, Sanderson Farms canned ham, bags and bags of Dorritos, Pepsi, 12 kinds of TV dinners, loaves of bread of all shapes, Oreos and Chips Ahoys, Reese bars, M&Ms etc etc). It’s good that they didn’t chow down pounds and pounds of Bounty toilet papers that they bought—although their dog Zsa Zsa swallowed a box of cherry-flavored condoms. Oh, man!
I mean, seriously... when are we going to learn—and do something about our eating habits? I mean, I don’t mean – don’t eat – otherwise, you’ll turn into a Nicole Richie. Just take it easy...
These increasing rates of obesity in the US of A raise concern because of their implications to our health. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions, including hypertension, dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides), type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon).
Although one of the US government’s national health objectives for the year 2010 is to reduce the prevalence of obesity among adults to less than 15 percent, current data indicate that the situation is worsening rather than improving.
But are we listening at all?
Well, you see, I know that many people have reminded or cautioned me a lot about my ramen noodles diet. But, what should I eat? Wendy’s $2.99 burger or baked taters? I mean, the late Mr Ando has said and proven that eating is good, per se—and even though a Cup-a-Noodle could only churn out an iota of nutrient, what the hell? Right? I mean, the Japanese are still the world’s healthiest human beings. There are an approximately 28,000 citizens in Japan who are 100 years or older—up from 1,000 in the early 1980s. And the world’s oldest living person, Yone Minagawa, is 114—a Japanese woman!

I FIGURE, one of the culprits of unhealthiness (or obesity) in most people these days is the over-availability of food choices flashed in front of our gluttonous faces, day in and day out. Food, food, food – more food, more and more food.
In most countries, you don’t have much of a choice. When you say, “sandwich” – that’s usually chicken, ham, egg, cheese... and they’re all prepared, ready-to-go. During my cousin Brigham The Gum’s first day in America, he got really nervous and stressed out—because he found it such an ordeal to buy sandwiches in fastfood stores. One time he strode in a Subway store...
The “sandwich specialist” behind the counter glared at him like an irritated Charles Barkley: “What kind of bread? Rye, wheat, white, blue, brown, Slovak, Polish, what?” / “Jalopino? How much, this much, not much?” / “Ketchup? Spicy, hot, how hot, medium hot, super hot” / “Mustard, little bit, more, less”? / “Olives, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers”?... He didn’t know what to say, what to respond—he wasn’t prepared to be interrogated like that. He just wanted to have a Subway sandwich, for Christsakes! So instead of getting one, he simply whispered to me, “Cousin, can we just get a hotdog?”
I mean, we are so pampered in America. So pampered and so privileged that we are also allowed to do whatever with our food. Like, how about make your frankfurters taste like asparagus, fish fillets look like chicken nuggets, ice cream smell like Busch beer, mozzarella pizza bloat like magic carpet... and, donuts as caffeine-spiked breakfast chow—like Dunkin’ Donut and Starbucks coffee in one! Dr Robert Bohannon, a molecular biologist, recently unveiled the world’s first caffeinated donut. By “microencapsulating” caffeine particles inside the doughnut, Bohannon says, he’s created a “buzzed” doughnut that need not be dunked in coffee. Tada!
Meantime, some people also push humankind’s “food-fancy” to the limit by doing ridiculous spectacles out of it. Recently, high-rolling food lovers flew to Bangkok from Europe, the United States and around Asia for a swashbuckling dinner, which carried a price tag of $25,000 a head, excluding tax and gratuities. Six three-star Michelin chefs from France, Italy and Germany prepared the meal’s 10 courses, each paired with a rare fine wine. Alain Soliveres, the celebrated chef of Paris’s Taillevent restaurant, for instance, was commissioned to prepare two of his signature dishes including the opening course: a creme brulee of foie gras to be washed down with a 1990 Cristal champagne — a bubbly that sells for more than $500 a bottle, but still stands out as one of the cheapest wines on the menu.
Can you beat that? I heard that the proceeds go to charity—for hungry human beings somewhere in the planet. If that’s the objective of such magnificently lavish show of “food insanity,” well—we gotta organize more of that. Summon the Iron Chefs, pronto!

YOU SEE, food are simply overflowing in our midst that we are simply having fun modifying, reinventing, rehashing or reinventing them. This happens while more than half of the world’s population remain super-starving.
Ten years ago, the World Food Summit (WFS) in Rome promised to reduce the number of undernourished people by half by 2015. Will that ever happen, when there are more hungry people in the developing countries today – 820 million – than there were in 1996? The total number of undernourished in developing countries in 2015 was projected at 582 million. This would fall 170 million short of the WFO’s target of 412 million. Most of earth’s hungry are concentrated in South Asia and East Asia, with 203 million and 123 million respectively.
The signs and proofs are upon us like a cat’s blank stare. Not many people want to cook anymore, we all run to the nearest restaurant or burger joint. Find a town or city – big or small – in America without a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Waffle House, IHOP, Burger King, KFC, there’s none.
The latest data says that more than 47 percent of the money Americans spend on food – and astounding $476 billion – are wasted away at restaurants. Hamburgers were the most popular menu item ordered by men at restaurants last year; French fries came in second. For women, French fries ranked first, followed by burgers. Pizza ranked third for both genders.
Clearly, even in a society where people are aware of the need for healthy habits, most consumers still appear to have one major goal when they eat out: indulgence, or overindulgence that is.
And the fast-food joints can’t complain either. Burger King’s breakfast sales jumped 20 percent thanks to its introduction of the Enormous Omelet Sandwich — despite its 730 calories and 47 grams of fat. The new triple-cheese Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza at Pizza Hut was such a success that it took in 20 percent of the chain’s business within four days of its debut. KFC is testing plans to bring back the Kentucky Fried Chicken name (a.k.a. fried foods), along with new menu items linked to its Southern roots.
But then, let’s ditch all these horrendous facts and figures, okay? Food isn’t bad at all... Peace prevails when food suffices. In the Philippines, we eat three full meals a day, excluding meriendas at 10am and 4pm, and if you’re awake at midnight—just cook, eat more. Eating is a religious ritual—a devotion, a way of life. We love eating, I love eating, it’s great to eat. If we don’t eat, we die—period.
You see, I am almost sure, 114-year-old Grandma Minagawa – plus 28,000 more Japanese – know how to eat and still be healthy and live past 100. I mean, even my ramen noodle homey, Mr Ando died at age 95. I would love to live till 90, at least – well, unless I spike my Cup-a-Noodle with a Maker’s Mark or a Jose Cuervo. Of course, I will not do that, are you crazy?
Meantime, love good, live good—and eat good food!


Monday, August 30, 2010

LIVE EARTH: A Concert of Carbon Footprints (or one surrealistic pillow?)

I HAD a sweet nightmare the other night. Amidst a numbing migraine in between vertigo and hubris, I saw myself forty years ago—zealously quizzing my Aunt Pilar, “What is a surrealistic pillow?” As she danced—swinging, swirling, swishing across the den—as Marty Balin’s spaced-out voice and Grace Slick’s blank growl soared and heaved like a pair of tired, beautiful sorrows wanting to touch ground, copulate and heal each other, she would lazily whisper at my left ear, “I don’t know, my dear…”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”
Like a spellbound moth—stubbornly, giddily circling around a lamplight of unknowingness before it finally runs out of spark—I untiringly kept on asking questions. Questions that I patiently culled out of LP sleeve covers’ lyric sheets.
“What is a whiter shade of pale?” “Why is the dead grateful?” “Where is the velvet underground?” “How do I get signed up with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?” “Can you dance the light fandango?” “What is a surrealistic pillow?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”

MY AUNT Pilar hasn’t failed to mystify me. It’s certainly not just because of her “lucy with a white rabbit in the sky with diamonds” trance dance—it’s because, despite her “I don’t know, my dear...” caresses and reassurances, she is a very strong and smart woman.
More than anything else, my dear Aunt Pilar is a VERY “involved” woman. The very first real-life human being (apart from Huck and Tom) who imbued in me the beautiful urgency of getting involved with what’s going out there. So when she whispers on my left ear, “I don’t know, my dear...” that actually meant, “I got it all covered, young man!”
Deep inside, as years wafted by, I came to profoundly live with Aunt Pilar’s ethereal spirit and radical pragmatism. “Enjoy your dance but don’t get swept away by the quiet peace... the world is calling you out there. Go out! Protect humanity, young man!”
My Aunt Pilar has long been living in Frankfurt, happily-married to Detlef Moessner, a German veterinarian who was born and raised in Piedmont, South Dakota—who’s a carbon copy of The Stones’ Charlie Watts but who neither played drums nor looked stoic at all. Uncle Detlef (I sometimes call him Detleffard) is a happy man and he shows it. He always laughs like it’s his one-and-only gig, outside a blissful matrimony. He’s such a happy man that whenever he attends to his dog-patients, you could actually hear the canines laughing with his wild Will Farrell jokes. Have you heard pooches and coons and hounds laughing out loud in a kind of “We Will Rock You!” unison? Go to Uncle Detlef’s vet hospital... It rocks!

MEANTIME, back to my Aunt Pilar — I don’t really think that she would remember I even asked those kind of “surrealistic” queries at all when I was a kid, or that, she would even care about Jefferson Airplane anymore. It has been four long decades ago... I guess, Grace Slick has now been retired in some Baton Rouge backwoods, munching crawfish enchilada over Busch Lite belting out a Kelly Clarkson ditty all weekends of her 50/60-something life, who knows—people change with age, you know.
For some—yes, surreal—reason, I ran across my Aunt Pilar in a bizarre dream sequence the other night. She was fuming mad outside London’s Wembley Stadium, where an episode of “Live Earth” worldwide concerts was happening. Among many other reasons, my Aunt Pilar and Uncle Detlef were protesting against DaimlerChrysler, a major sponsor of the lavish environmental-awareness spectacle.
DaimlerChrysler — which was using its low-emissions Smart car brand in the sponsorship — should not sponsor concerts, complained Aunt Pilar. The average level of carbon dioxide emissions from DaimlerChrysler’s fleet was 186 grams per kilometer — well above the automobile industry’s own commitment to cut emissions to 140 grams a kilometer. (The above data wasn’t, of course, flashed in my “nightmare.” But, of course, I gotta tell you that fact.)
Aunt Pilar was a staunch anti-war activist. “”We were creating the rules and making them work,” she would lighten up when reminded of Laurel Canyon, LA in `67. “There was magic all over.” According to a neatly captioned Polaroid photo that I retrieved from a family library in San Fernando Valley, Aunt Pilar was in Los Angeles, outside a club called Pandora’s Box, on Sunset and Crescent, on Nov 12, 1966—when thousands of people showed up to protest a 10pm teen-curfew law. Local business simply got fed up with what they called as “longhaired interlopers” who loved dancing all night, so went the crackdown.
My Aunt was also present during a rock benefit show for a music industry-related organization called, “CAFF: Community Action for Facts and Freedom,” at Valley Music Theater on Feb 23, 1967. The Byrds, the Doors, and Buffalo Springfield all played for this fundraiser—which was fighting the teen curfew.
Aunt Pilar was very active with anti-war street protests and “civil disobedience” activities in Manila, as well. Along with many activist-students from the state-run University of the Philippines and the upper class Ateneo de Manila, she took the streets so many times to help prevent the Philippine government from sending more PHILCAG (Philippine Civic Action Group) troops to Vietnam.
I once queried, “What do you mean by `make love, not war,’ Aunt Pilar?” Well, as usual, she hushed me with, “I don’t know, my dear...”
Although I always saw Aunt Pilar and her “groovy sisters” partying to “Purple Haze” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” flashing those exuberant “Peace Man!” signs—it wasn’t all fun, all the time. Whenever they communed and held vigils on picketlines, they would usually end up ushering their lean bodies, wrapped with multicolored gypsy dresses, along factory driveways to block the oncoming transport of scabs. They would scream, “Down with scabs! Welga! Welga!” Only water canons, tear gas bombs, and truncheons would force them out of the streets. That is, if they were lucky enough not to be thrown in jail—which, of course, happened more often than not.
That was my Aunt Pilar, and that was her kind of activism. “No wonder, we don’t get the war to stop,” she would rant in my dream, “it’s because we only want to party.” She would go on and on, “These days, we just love to dance and get drunk, and talk and lecture, stack up on condoms, and fire off emails on the sides. A slight rain forecast will keep us off the streets!”
In a way, or sure enough, Aunt Pilar was referring to the “Live Earth” magnificence last July 7. The concerts, which was designed to raise awareness about man-made climate change and advocate environmentally friendly living, brought together more than 150 musical acts in eleven locations around the world and was broadcast to a mass global audience through radio, television, and the Internet.

THE UMBRELLA organization for “Live Earth” was “Save Our Selves,” founded by Kevin Wall, and included major partners such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the Alliance for Climate Protection, MSN, and Control Room, the production company which produced the event. Unlike the similar “Live 8” concerts, which were free, “Live Earth” charged admission. The event set a new record for online entertainment by generating more than 9 million streams.
Although Gore has repeatedly voiced his prior stand that he is “not planning to be a candidate again for office,” this blatant display of self-promotion – that started with his narrator’s work with the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” – is simply staggering and almost unprecedented. This makes me point to (on a relatively less grander scale) Cindy Sheehan, who apparently got so tired in front of the camera, so she officially gave up the (anti-war) fight. Now she wants to run for public office and challenge Rep. (and Speaker) Nancy Pelosi.
Is this what all these “activism” amount to? A political career?
Until now, it makes me ask why is it we are not very familiar with that young madman who organized Woodstock in 1969? I know I read about him many years ago—a small-down dude with a big-city attitude but who never made it—but then, he excised enough courage, patience, and diligence to raise money from mostly his rich midtown Manhattan and Long Island-based Jewish buddies to be able to put up the rock event that became the ultimate, unswerving template of all rock festivals with a cause.
Do you know? I know that it was held in Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel NY – because Joni Mitchell and CSN sang it, but I bet you don’t even know who started it all. Does it matter? (We can all talk about a fun weekend at Bonnaroo, Ozzfest, Lollapalooza, or Lilith Fair, but Woodstock will always be up there in heaven, its transcendence remains unequal, unreachable.)
We remember Woodstock for the spirit – no names, no main bill, no chasers in between – just the spirit freely soaked in pristine rain and primitive, selfless love and community. But then, how easy it is to remember Mr Al Gore – the name, the politician, the soundbyte – when we think about “saving the earth.”

ACCORDING to The Observer, the event’s total carbon footprint in the London segment alone, including the artists’ and spectators’ travel and energy consumption, was probably at least 31,500 tonnes, which is more than 3,000 times the average Briton’s annual footprint.
Carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide or CO2 emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels; in the case of an organization, business or enterprise, as part of their everyday operations; in the case of an individual or household, as part of their daily lives; or a product or commodity in reaching market.
The artists on stage had to fly at least 222,623.63 miles (about 358,278 km) — the equivalent of nearly nine times round the planet — to take part in the event. Wembley bill-topper Madonna — who, fashion magazine Marie-Claire, reported owned a Mercedes Maybach, two Range Rovers, an Audi A8s and a Mini Cooper S — had produced an estimated 440 tonnes of carbon dioxide on her four-month Confessions on a Dancefloor publicity tour.
Meanwhile, The Red Hot Chili Peppers flew in by private jet from Paris and flew out, again by private jet, after the London concert to perform in Denmark, event organizers had admitted, and The Beastie Boys had to be in Montreux the next day. After the appearance of the UK band, Razorlight, at the London Live Earth event, they were ferried to an airport in a large tour bus with police escort where they caught a private jet to an airport in Scotland, from there, they used a helicopter to travel to Balado where they performed at another event.
Meantime, concert-goers at the event’s London leg had left thousands of plastic cups on the floor of Wembley Stadium, although organizers had urged audience members to use the recycling bins provided, the BBC reported.
Oh well, it would probably take a blitzkrieg of tanks standing guard around the venue to ensure that people loyally, obediently dump their cups on designated cups/papers/plastics-only bins. How many people religiously recycle in their houses and then trash out beer-filled styrofoam and plastic cups at a rock festival – just because they were so smashed or having so much fun they didn’t remember?
So much for the “environment-awareness” bit. I don’t believe that people nowadays need to be reminded by an intercontinental rock concert to start recycling either. Why don’t we just start consuming less of these magnificently-toxic rock concerts that profess “saving ourselves” while we also stoke ourselves deep down in a (non-biodegradable) pit of excess and hedonism?
Wanna save the world? Eat ramen noodles and drink tap water sweetened with sweat, then go launch a lifetime-worth of rock concerts in the heart of the Amazon rainforest and/or around the vicinity of every factory in China. Something like that…
(That’s not my Aunt Pilar ranting in my nightmare, that’s me talking in my sleep—migraine and all.)

ROGER DALTREY, who wasn't part of the “Earth” party, said “The last thing the planet needs is a rock concert... the questions and the answers are so huge I don’t know what a rock concert’s ever going to do to help.”
Few years ago, an entire village was swept away – thousands perished – in a very impoverished island town in the south of the Philippines. The obvious culprit – illegal logging. Mountains are raped of trees so that we, mostly in affluent countries and societies, could consume them at a pace that can only be called bizarre and fiendish. I see “environmental activists” hug trees from Bolinas, California to Florence, South Carolina – so they could protect them? – from whom? What does that amount to? Advocacy to save the globe? A crusade to save your summertime shade or community beautification campaign?
Our ‘hood is not the World. Wembley Stadium or some intentional community in the Shenandoahs aren’t the Earth. Ormoc Island in the Philippines, a Kenyan village in Nairobi, an “untouchables” slum in New Delhi – these are the communities and humanity that need help. With all the money that rock concert titans are throwing away, why don’t they just funnel the resources and energy to where they are most needed?
Gore continued, “This one day, 24 hours long, will not only be a wake-up call for the world but the beginning of a multi-year campaign...” A global campaign like recycling? Again, I repeat, we pay the government recycling fees—while we volunteer to segregate this and that on this and that bin—so that a total of $236 billion is generated from this “awareness.” Then we hand over a measly $60 billion to an AIDS-stricken and starving Africa, then we praise ourselves because we care for the Earth—all cameras clicking. Hallelujah!

NOT TOO LONG ago, a number of “cause-oriented” rock concerts and festivals took Woodstock’s lead. George Harrison spearheaded the two 1971 “Concerts for Bangladesh.” John Cleese and Martin Lewis conceived the Amnesty International-sponsored “Secret Policeman’s Balls” benefit concerts from 1976 to 1981. Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall organized the four “No Nukes” concerts in 1979. Four other benefit concerts for Kampuchea was conceived by Paul McCartney and Kurt Waldheim in 1979. Then, there was the 1988 “Free Nelson Mandela Concert” at Wembley Stadium.
The most popular of the post-Woodstock “rock concert series” initiatives was, of course, Bob Geldof’s two “Live Aid” concerts on July 13, 1985 and the eight “Live 8” concerts staged on July 2, 2005. Before that, Amnesty International staged 20 concerts in 1988 called “Human Rights Now! World Tour” - a tour conceived by Jack Healey and Martin Lewis.
What makes these efforts different from “Live Earth” is that – these concerts had a clear-cut humanitarian agenda or program of implementation – other than the fun side of the revelry or the multi-media PR bombast.

AH, I SHOULD quit complaining now... This nightmare the other night is just disturbing.
“What is a surrealistic pillow?” I can still visualize my Aunt Pilar swinging, swirling, swishing across the den—as Jefferson Airplane rockets and weaves along the purple haze of my psychedelic memory.
“I don’t know, my dear…”
“What is a horse with no name?” “Where can we buy an American Pie?” “Can you please take me to Strawberry Fields?” “How do I light a fire?” “Have you seen Proud Mary?” “Where is the dock of the bay?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”
The music plays, the dancing continues... but the Earth is bleeding, bleeding so bad. I need Aunt Pilar’s spirit to show me the way to help start or continue the healing. Meantime, let me rest on my “surrealistic pillow” and muse over my sweet nightmare. Tomorrow is another day. I gotta keep on rockin’.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2006 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.