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.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous (or, money-money-money)

“JUST WALK, don’t ever glance at your left as you cross streets!” My dadaistic roomie of long-ago, Minnie The Ripper, glumly reminded me as I stepped out of the loft to hang out down East Village on a hot spring afternoon in New York City. “When a freakin’ car hit `ya, let ‘em hit, OK? I tell `ya, baby—just like that, get hit by some rich and famous SOB, you’re fine,” she flicked two fingers, like a magician’s castanets, spewing a dope dealer’s gunslinger zeal. “Just like that, baby!” Of course, you know what Minnie The Rip meant, right? You see, it was really difficult not to take the feisty young lady seriously. She seemed unavoidably dead-serious as Rosie O’Donnell after a parking lot brawl, y’know what I mean? You just gotta take ladies of that kind seriously, or else... “And, by the way, go Central Park West,” she added, spitting her Nuyorican twang out like three-day-old gum, “One bump equals three grand, broken neck is, uhh, twelve-grand minimum as long as you get a darn good attorney... Just don’t get killed, man. Be careful not to get hit too bad. No mo’ good s—t in heaven, my man!”
Believe it or not, Minnie The Rip’s Brazilian bro-in-law Paulinho de Souza – in cahoots with a Joe Pantoliano-looking lawyer in Corona, Queens – managed to rack up almost half a million in settlement dough after a series of freak (albeit, scripted) accidents in 1999. Paulinho didn’t care whether he broke this ankle, that jaw, both knees, lost a leg – or whatever – as long as he gets mucho dollares, on a snap of a, well, limb crashing-on-concrete. The color of money, I guess, heals all physiological wounds, whatsoever...
When desperation sets in, crazy shit inhabits one’s brain faculties... You see, there were times when I felt like standing four hours straight a-front Battery Park’s huge condo – waiting for a Weinstein piano to fly out of the penthouse window onto my poor, pitiful head – from an irate wealthy tenant up there. (You know by now that they get pretty pissed with some “voodoo” drumming down Pritchard Park, right?) Then, I’ll sue, then I’ll settle – I am sure, I’ll be able to raise more easy dollars to publish more cheapie newsprint magazines that way? I mean, Paulinho got a cold $5,000 cash after a high roller dude, a scion of a Jewish grocery chain clan in Bayside LI, broke his ribs at a Ceasar’s Palace bar in Atlantic City one July midnight. Just like that! (Don’t ask me how Paulinho pissed the dude off though...)
OK, forget about scums like Paulinho. And, okay, I’m just kidding about doing a vigil-for-an-induced-accident-for-settlement in downtown Asheville... I’m not that Desperate desperate.
Alright now—I don’t intend to consume my two pages this time out talking about the above subject. I didn’t plan to talk about Paulinho de Souza or Minnie The Ripper – although Minnie has already reformed her hustler-ways... she now works a legit job at an uptown Slovak delicatessen, and on weekends, at home, she diligently crafts handmade jewelry that she supplies to gypsies and bellydancers in Pittsburgh and New London CT. Instead I planned to talk/write about The Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous – but whenever thoughts of these bluebloods cross my acerbic brain cells, I can’t help think about everyday people, I mean—the honest souls kind of breed. Most often than not, these ordinary human beings get the tail end of mishaps, “accidents,” and brat-venoms inflicted by the more privileged, more endowed...
Heard about the maid who got it from “supermodel” Naomi Campbell – in the form of a cellphone running berserk onto the nanny’s face? Well, a judge ordered Ms Campbell to pay her erstwhile slave a measly $363.32! (plus two days at an anger management class).
Geez, how much do supermodels earn for few minutes to strut and heave at a sequined runway, anyway? Five figures, more? So, would $300+ and two days of lecture make them behave—and would that be enough to compensate for the maid’s bruised face and person? I don’t think so—but I’d be so willing to offer my ugly face to Ms Campbell’s cellphone for the same amount. (That’s almost an issue’s printing budget of The Indie.) At least, it’s less riskier than Paulinho’s perilous gig, right? (Or, a lot more manageable than a Weinstein piano plummeting down my skull...)

MONEY IS SIMPLY maliciously, ferociously overflowing in America that the Rich and Famous can’t seem to figure out how to spend (or throw) them away. What more to buy, what more to spend on... I guess, unmitigated boredom and flabbergasting stupidity set in upon knowing that everything has already been “handled” by financial managers and accounts advisers. Or maybe because their wealth is so unstoppably overflowing off their diamond-studded sleeves, they actually believe that “money changes everything.” They can do anything, everything, under the blue sky—who cares whether it’s unacceptable or nauseating or revolting, or simply not good, or even illegal...
Remember those insane thousands that eccentric ex-basketball star Dennis Rodman paid the NBA in fines as a result of his on-court antics (headbutting a ref, fighting, pushing a photographer etc)? Maybe he got really sick and tired of his sick and tiring off-court stunts (cross-dressing, bar brawls, dating equally notoriously “bad” girls) that the only way to battle hubris is to stay badder and badder. The only “significant” plug, though temporary, to his badness, anyway, is monetary sanctions, plus few days at a slammer. Meantime, let the dollars do the talking.
So while fashion world and sports’ millionaires bombard our impoverished senses with magnificent tantrums that can easily be had or forgiven by an issuance of a check after the fact, Hollywood’s brat packers don’t fail to feed the tabloids for fodder for wholesale wastelessness. Britney Spears and new boyfriend Isaac Cohen recently dropped $40,000 for just one night at Palms hotel in Las Vegas. Ah, $40,000! I believe that almost 97% of my friends only earn below $20,000 (or lower) a year! Not fair!
Many years ago, I thought the rich man/poor man discrepancy was at its widest in societies like India, Nigeria, Mexico, or the Philippines. And since US of A is the bastion of equality (by way of democracy), citizens in this country somehow have more chance to be a bit at par with the rich. Can we park our 70s beat-up Sedan beside P Diddy’s Hummus at a Manhattan parking lot, or maybe position our inherited trailer home a-front a mansion up in The Cliffs, or maybe enjoy a lobster dinner beside Derek Jeter’s table at Smith & Wollensky? I am sure that in the event that a minimum wage-earning dude accidentally hits the sidemirror of Paris Hilton’s BMW, the poor dude gets aggravated assault or reckless endangerment rap. That can never be settled by Ms Campbell’s $363.32 spare change at all.
What is the use of law if the super-endowed makes fun of them? How many celebrities marry after an orgasm, divorce after a fight over who hugs the remote control, reconcile after another orgasm, divorce again following an argument over a toilet seat that wasn’t taken care of?

ON ANOTHER ANGLE... Tell me honestly, are you touched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s billion-d0llar donation to funding agencies – purportedly for the poor people of the world? Big deal, isn’t it? So the richest human beings have finally agreed to share their astronomical wealth to poor, pitiful humanity?
I’m not impressed. If the world’s richest dudes could easily “share” their billions just like that... why didn’t they just raise the salaries of their employees and workers? Simple. The labor workforce – especially those toiling in sweatshops in faraway communities – should be the first batch of souls who deserve a piece of Gates/Buffett’s magnificently impossible fortune.
This moolah to nonprofit organizations is downright, straight-up PR.
Give the working class their just due, so there’ll be lesser poor on Earth. Mr Gates’ 12-month earnings is easily higher than the annual budget of a dozen or more countries in Africa, we all know that... So if he’ll just make ways to justly pay wages that assure a “decent” living in poor countries where his microchip factories abound, then—there’s not much need for grant foundations to supposedly facilitate aid assistance to the needy anymore.
Or, how about the millionaires who supposedly rendered their time and talent – through live concerts attended by thousands and thousands of taxpaying, paycheck-to-paycheck citizens – to help Hurricane Katrina victims? Who paid for the “aid” money and goods for the displaced families? The people.
The people pay/paid for the tickets, buy CDs, download songs, purchase merchandise etc so the Rich and Famous could “help” those who most need help. But PR makes us believe that the benefit money or relief help came out of these glitterdome gods/goddesses’ willing hearts and hands.
Is it so hard for them to just sign a check, like $5 million or so, the minute that they learned of the calamity, right there right at that moment? They didn’t have to go out of their mansions to be able to help, just a phone call to their assistants—that’s it!
Ah, so they performed for free for the poor – so they should be exalted as Good Souls – or is it plain and simple marketing strategy to sell you more merchandise?

THE UNREALISM of materialism in America has grown so unfathomable and unreachable that we don’t know anymore how to deal with what we have and what we don’t have. For instance, we sometimes love our pets more than our fellow human beings – that we also seem to get confused about what’s a human being and what’s an animal.
Like this one – saddened horseracing fans, sane human beings, sent CDs, flower bouquets, and books to then ailing Barbaro, the “famous” Kentucky Derby winner to cheer her up. Makes me wonder—what’d happen when the time comes when these animals start getting pissed because of this amazing, unrealistic attention heaped on them... sometimes, I believe, they just wanna be left alone to live and enjoy their being animals, not human beings. Who “killed” Barbaro, anyway? We “love” these horses because they entertain us on the racetrack when they should be running in joyful freedom somewhere in the prairie... We love our pet dogs and cats because we fall short of tolerating our fellow human beings and, yes, these animals are such swell playthings and baubles.
A 5 foot, 100 lb pitbull in Portland, Oregon got upset with his owner that he viciously attacked the poor fellow. I guess, the solution of most people when animals act this way is to find them a shrink or maybe take them to Disneyland or buy them an iPod nano.
Oh well, of course, it’s not an “extraordinary” occurrence that a Naomi Campbell exhibits or displays real love and affection to her poodle than to her maid – I know of so many people, ordinary people, who’d rather buy their dogs and cats jewelries and NHL jerseys than share $5 to their poor relatives. I mean, I know of a dude who got jailed because it was uncovered that he was receiving food stamps and all kinds of social security benefit for his coterie of 15 dogs! But then, that’s not a far-fetched reality! A survey came out few years ago that said something like, more than 50% of Americans maintain that owning a pet is part of the US Constitution.
Now, hear this – a Dutch pet-shop owner has recently came up with Kwispelbier, a beef-flavored beer created for dogs. She figured she wanted to have drinks with her Weimaraners after a hunt, so... It cost $2.14 a bottle, by the way. Geez, that’s even a dollar more expensive than my favorite PBR! Not fair!
So expect this at a bar in a not so distant future: “Hey, Mister Doberman, show me your ID. No ID, no Kwispelbier, sorry! Want a soda, instead?”

WHEN PEOPLE have money, they just gotta spend them. Money, money, money. Some 200 fans of Michael Jackson have reportedly agreed to pay him $3,300 for an hour – to just hang out with him. I mean, if a baseball fan could easily churn out few thousands to purchase a glob of gum that Diamondbacks slugger Luis Gonzalez spat out, then what really is weird these days?
I rant and rave about the Rich and Famous who juggle their moolah like balls of fire, or voided beer cans... but then, we Ordinary People are also guilty of the same oblique extravagance, am I right? I wonder what would Naomi Campbell’s victim do with the $363.32? Ah, don’t tell me she’s so thankful now that she could pay her late Verizon cellphone bill?
Think about this – while we perpetually whine about unpaid cable TV bills and late rent, we also “threw away” close to $5 billion to watch “Spider-Man,” “Shrek,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” – and the sequels (not including DVD rental). Well, I am guilty—VERY guilty. I treat DVDs, my “other” food. Like we all gulp in gasoline like alcohol, caffeine, or sugar – I chow down movies like ramen noodles!
And, wait up—let me remind one and all. Americans spend $36,000,000 every hour of every day – at Wal-Mart. This year alone, 7.2 billion different purchasing experiences will occur at a Wal-Mart store (Earth’s population is approximately 6.5 billion).
Okay, okay. Money changes everything. So the US government is spending approximately $60 billion a year in Iraq – so that we could teach the Iraqi people how to live their own lives.
Oh man, I am so confused forever! When it comes to money, sometimes it’s easier to understand Paulinho and Minnie The Rip.

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

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sex is Beautiful, Sex is a Gift, Sex is Good

Talk about stuff. Import liberalization, objectivist epistemology, cultural imperialism – faulty heating, broken windshields, missing buttons— Daisuke Matsuzaka, Sanjaya Malakar, Don Imus. Talk about stuff—there’s always a lot of stuff to talk about. It’s all stuff, nothing big deal. Life, you know... We just have to talk, speak our minds out.
Talk about sex. Cool stuff to talk about, right?
Sex is a subject that is unfailing as Buffalo NY’s blizzard, unmistakable as krispy kreme cholesterol, and undeniable as sin. Sex is something that we can’t argue, rationalize, intellectualize, idealize, trivialize—although we all try to. We all go back from where we started from. Nobody says, “No, I don’t do sex...” and feel proud of it. Or, “I don’t like sex, it sucks!” Why would you say such a thing?
Sex is beautiful, sex is a gift, sex is good. So let’s talk about it.
I don’t, however, intend to question or validate or debate the where and wherefore of sex. Whether we live up in a West Central Park penthouse or in a trailer park in Murphy, NC – whether we consume precious time musing over capital management at a Wall Street board room or laze around at the backwoods of Bristol, Tennessee, impersonating William Shatner... sex is something that we all share equal right to, equal passion to, equal ruin to. Nobody says “corporate sex” is different from “proletariat sex,” or “sex at The Hamptons” is better than “sex at a Camden, NJ `hood,” or “sex in Amsterdam” is a lot better than “sex in Bangkok.”
Sex is some subject that can be nonsensical and preposterous, frivolous and significant – yet it’s some subject that we can’t refuse or ignore.

ACCORDING to a recent study by the National Survey of Family Growth, men aged 30 to 44 have had a median of six to eight sexual partners in their lifetimes; the women’s median was about four. Surveyed were 12,571 men and women aged 15 to 44, as contracted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
That’s nothing to crow about, I reckon. My friend, simply called Rainbow—who used to be Christine Green, Brown, Black, White, Jones, Smith and Robinson—was married and divorced seven times. I mean, she’s talking about marriages-that-failed – not just sexual partners. “You’re asking me how many men I slept with?” her heavily-shaded pair of virulent eyes speared at me. “You are silly! I am 42 years old, Christsakes!” What my good friend was trying to say, I guess, was that—in case, she married all the men that she slept with since age 15, she must’ve had 517.5 divorces by now.
Nothing to crow about. Sex is part of life and living – whether you are single, divorced, or whatever. And it is also beautiful—sex is a gift, sex is good.
Few weeks ago, I chanced upon this news from Fox TV. Two pairs of high school students engaged in sex during class hours while their teachers were in a meeting. Their classmates stood as lookouts. For these “kids,” sex is good albeit “forbidden.” But high schoolers can also have sex (if they can’t help it), as long as they do it beyond school premises. Besides that, the school system provides for steady supply of condoms.
My friend Rita K barred her 14-year-old daughter, Kristi The Krispi, from venturing downtown because “it’s dangerous there, shady guys and all.” But she generously allowed her “baby’s” 15-year-old boyfriend stay over at night, anytime... “What are you having in there?” she questions them. “No beers, no weed, OK? I don’t allow you kids to even think about them. You are both minors!”
Kristi responds, “We are just having sex, Mom!” Mom was so relieved, “Oh, okay, don’t forget the condom... otherwise just do oral sex. That’s safer—but don’t swallow.”
“Mom?! You’re so obnoxious!”
The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) 2005 findings indicated that oral sex is very much part of the teenage sexual repertoire. According to the survey, more than half of all teenagers aged 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex - including nearly a quarter of those who have never had intercourse.
Whatever the case, although most “teen-aged” youths don’t consider oral sex as “sex really,” sex (“really” or “not really”) is still good, sex is something that need not be argued or debated. Sex is beautiful.
Meantime, the religious has also “mellowed down” in regards its revered outlook on sexual intimacy. Well, at least for a 41-year-old Florida pastor, Matt Keller, who’s most prominent preaching subject is sex. “Sex is beautiful, my brethren, go and have sex tonight... over and over again! Jesus wants us to have plenty of sex!” Membership to Keller’s flock has grown 30 percent since he started sermonizing on the carnal topic. A website, www.mycrappysexlife.com, serves the purpose.
Nothing to crow about, I guess.

SEXUAL adventurism or sexual ambivalence (I’m at a loss for words here) is also very much a part of the current humanity. Active sexuality among homosexuals and bisexuals—especially between females—has also been an important facet of the same NCHS research. Fourteen percent of women aged 18 to 29 reported at least one sexual experience with another woman, more than twice the proportion of young men who reported having had sex with another man.
Almost 3 percent of men between 15 and 44 and 4 percent of women reported having a sexual experience with a member of the same sex within the past year, and over their lifetimes, 6 percent of men and 11 percent of women reported having such experiences. About 1 percent of men and 3 percent of women said they had had both male and female sexual partners within 12 months.
Nearly 6 percent of all men between 15 and 44 reported having oral sex with another man at some time in their lives, and nearly 4 percent reported having anal sex with another man.
Again, whatever the case, sex is good. Sex is beautiful. Oral sex, anal sex, gay sex, straight sex, whatever sex.
Needless to say, sex is amply marketed in America—a lot more passionately and enthusiastically pitched than political happenings or health concerns.
Popular Hollywood movies like “American Pie” plus a slew of low-grade teen-age films, and multi-awarded TV fares like “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex in the City” articulate the “importance” of sex in human bonding and day-to-day living. Sex isn’t just fun—sex is needed. Magazines and publications from Christian-lifestyles to fashion subjects to sports world to music/recording industry to health readings – dovetail marketing trends and variables on sex.
More sex between spouses mean a deeply spiritually-committed marriage; flimsy, strawberry-scented lingerie lures the hubby off Sunday football in favor of more sex; trimmer abs and bustier bosoms mean stronger sexual charm... Fergie’s cleavage and Christina Aguilera’s nude shots sell more Rolling Stone Magazine ad space, and Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition tops ‘em all... Paris Hilton, J-Lo, The Bachelor, “Who is the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby.” It’s all linked to sex, sexuality, sexual intrigue, sexual fascination.
Nothing to crow about. Indeed, sex sells!—especially in the Western world.

A UNIVERSITY of Chicago research, conducted last year, revealed that couples in Western countries are the most sexually satisfied, while countries in the East appear to be less satisfied. Only 49 percent of “foreign” men and 32 percent of women indicated that sex was extremely or very important to their overall life. Most of these are Asians.
Moreover, Asian countries all reported low levels of sexual satisfaction and moderate to low levels of satisfaction with their relationships and the importance of sex. Israeli women placed the highest value on the importance of sex — the lowest score came from women in Taiwan. Among men, Brazil scored the highest and Thailand the lowest. Overall, people in Austria are most satisfied with their sex lives, and Japanese are least satisfied.
However, I believe that not having a lot of sex doesn’t necessarily mean, “dissatisfaction.” The study was conducted coming from the standpoint that sex is needed, an exigency or very basic human want. That doesn’t entirely follow.
My sister Alicia’s husband of almost 15 years is an OFW or Overseas Filipino Worker. A few months following their marriage, Jose—an on-call carpenter who barely managed a high school education—flew to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to work as hospital janitor. Since then, my bro-in-law has worked in Dubai, Saipan, Taiwan, and United Arab Emirates – visiting home for only one and a half months each year. Alicia and Jose have four kids.
I remember, during their early years of marriage, when they were still living in the ancestral house in Manila—they would lock themselves up in their room for days, coming out only to have dinner. I don’t think they were having Novena or saying the Rosary, either.
Alicia and Jose’s case is simply an example of how impoverished cultures view sex. Food on the table, basic education, simple housing, and gut-level health/medical needs occupy significant faculties of the human brain—no much time to discourse sex. Sex is good but sex isn’t really good if there’s no fish for dinner, or sturdy roofs come typhoon season.
In poorer countries where “basic human needs” doesn’t necessarily include assured orgasm or sex-3-times a week, sexual pleasure is numbed or downplayed by economics.

IN MY PERPETUALLY clueless American journey, I always get confused with relationships, friendships, sex and love. Until now—I don’t know what is “going out with,” “seeing someone,” “hanging out with,” “dating someone,” or “sleeping with.” I still don’t have the nerve to follow what I thought was the “real thing” (am I having a relationship or just having sex?)—for fear of being bitch-slapped or sued (for sexual harassment?) or misread as “gay.” Many times, I didn’t even know if I was dumped or I just dumped a girlfriend. “Breaking up” doesn’t necessarily mean that we aren’t hooking up or hanging out anymore—to make out or f—.
I also “slept” with some women friends because they said, it’s okay. So I “SLEPT” with them in their bed... One time, I got into trouble because I responded to a question on the affirmative, whether I “slept” or not with a lady friend that I traveled with in a Greyhound, alone, for 12 hours. I said, “Yes, I slept with her.” What I meant was, we slept side-by-side by our seat, that’s all.
Until now, I remain clueless about a number of American English “double-talk.” Why do we call sex at a swimming pool or backseat of a car for 15 minutes, “sleeping with”? We don’t sleep, you know... and that, why would I be misread for saying “I slept with her” on the same seat while traveling by bus for 12 hours?

AH, AMERICA! We consume excessively... sex is all over from high school to older age that it becomes a necessity. When it becomes too much, we try so hard to snuff it out altogether, that is why it becomes such an issue.
Take this example. Harvard University seniors Sarah Kinsella and Justin Murray decided to fight back against what they see as too much mindless sex at the Ivy League school. They founded a student group called “True Love Revolution” to promote abstinence on campus. The group, created earlier this school year, has more than 90 members on its Facebook.com page and drew about half that many to an ice cream social.
Harvard treats sex — or “hooking up” — so casually that “sometimes I wonder if sex is even a remotely serious thing,” said Kinsella, who is dating Murray.
“Sometimes that voice on campus is so overwhelming that students committed to abstinence almost feel compelled to abandon their convictions,” Murray said. He acknowledged he “slipped up” and had sex earlier in college but said he has returned to abstinence with Kinsella.
Nothing to crow about. Sex is good, sex is beautiful. But why abstain—why simply engage in (or consume?) small, reasonable doses? Sex isn’t sugar, caffeine, or nicotine—or is it for most?
Anyhow, while sex is generally viewed as imperative and a necessity, certain “thinking” patterns figure a lot in people’s decisions how to treat their sexual lives, as well.
Sexual behavior includes a lot more than sex, according to Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University. She argues that three primary brain systems have evolved to direct reproductive behavior. One is the sex drive that motivates people to seek partners. Second is a program for romantic attractions that makes people fixate on specific partners. Third is a mechanism for long-term attachment that induces people to stay together long enough to complete their parental duties.
Whatever the case, sex is still the end result... Sex is still a good subject to while away hours by. So what am I trying to say? Nothing really, I don’t intend to rant against the war or complain about my Charter phone/internet bill this time out. I just want to talk about sex, that’s all.
You have any problem with that?

FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2006 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010. [Art: "Femme Couchee" by Pablo Picasso]

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Day in the Life of Marta The Nicer Osbourne

MARTA THE NICER OSBOURNE was visibly upset, nah—let me correct that. She’s fuming mad. “I don’t understand these people!” Well, that was supposed to be my role, right? I am the indefatigable, unrelenting, unstoppable ranter/raver here—not Marta The Nicer—but that’s okay. Anger, as long as it emanates from an unexpected swig of street wisdom, is called PASSION, as opposed to hatred. And passion is always cool. So, let it rip, baby! Go on—yell, “Ich liebe sie, damnit!” or “A l’enfer avec eux, paix!” whatever works for you. Then, take a deeeeeep breath, look up the gorgeous blue Appalachian sky, and heave, “Ahhhhhhh—I’m OK, no problemo, it’s just another day in the life, let’s continue rockin’!” Remember, when you rock, you roll (not the other way around). So let’s kick the 5-minute hassle away and then, roll the… whatever.
Marta might be having a bad 10-minute-gig that time, but for me—I was cool. In fact, it was one of my most light-assed and easy-flowing, albeit coal-burning summer afternoons of my Asheville crashland. Besides, I was just plain-goofy on that particular “buenas tardes” Wed 4pm. I was bringing it on—doing an Axl Rose snake-dance as “Sweet Child O’ Mine” pummeled the car’s CD player… but as I was about to chug in an ice-cold Coke, Marta hissed like a super-pissed copperhead.
“She said we’re hyprocrites! She’s not gonna support our magazines anymore because she said we were spotted one afternoon drinking Coke at Pritchard Park!”
Um, I sort of paused before I gulped my Coca-Cola with my startled mouth agape, “You mean, we should’ve drank Pepsi, instead?”
Uh-oh, Guns N’ Roses—rock’s synthetic booze brothers—were puking hedonist riff drills all over me on that very moment, so I should’ve dropped the snake-dance and ushered in the pure Ani DiFranco, instead? Oh man, can’t we take it easy?
Almost all day, 7/24, all we get are bad news, absurd stuff – terror panic in Frankfurt, London and Paris, “liquid” bombs on Avon products, plane crash in Kentucky, Hurricane Ernesto a-brewing, John Mark Karr, Ray Nagin’s “showbiz” mouth, Charter’s perpetually erratic billing, Nancy Grace’s arched eyebrows, Barry Manilow winning an Emmy as show host (duh!)... So how am I supposed to buck the virulent ray of the August sun?
In Brattleboro VT, young souls beat the heat by appearing naked in downtown parking lots, while others rode their bicycles or simply strolled the streets in the nude. Should I do that? Nah. Just give me back my COKE, please! Soda is guilty pleasure, OK—but don’t shoot us, we ain’t the enemy.
“Jeez, why can’t we just loosen up a bit... Coke is bad! So let me do the Dew instead, how’s that?”
“No, you know what I mean, you crazy little man!” Marta The Nicer doesn’t get easily ticked off, mind you. Sure, I know what she meant—but I’m not going to ruin my day now.
But, allow me to try to understand... so let the enlightenment begin!
Should we hike the length of Haywood Street to Lex Av to Broadway to Merrimon – all the way to our humble abode in West Asheville – with our non-biodegradable flip-flops to deliver our little, silly non-organic magazines? Or maybe we could have pedaled our beaten lungs away with a “green” bicycle? No, we can’t possibly drive this obnoxious big business assembly-line gizmo (AKA automobile), right? Tsk, how dare we muster the nerve to swallow corporate oil to get us pass I-240? Gimme my recycled magic carpet, please...
No go, sorry.
What makes a quarter-tank of Amoco premium gasoline lesser evil than a can of Coke? Did they grow microchips on their pesticide-free backyards to keep their PCs and laptops beaming like blessings from a vegan, non-corporate paradise? What makes Michael Dell different from Sam Walton, from Warren Buffett, from Bill Gates, from Johnny Coke, from Vinnie Pepsi, from Joe Wachovia, from Jimmy Exxon, whatever/whoever... Is it because it’s easier to junk a 24-pack of Coke than an iMac or iPod, diss an Ingles pork chop vs a Greenlife tofu? Burn $200 cash at Wal-Mart or run up your AmEx at Best Buy – what’s the difference?
The gruesome truth is – almost every little bit of atomic hiccup and sweatshop-processed chuckle that we clothe with winter heating and summer airconditioning in America passed by the lung cavity and drained esophagus of the poor and underprivileged – whether those beaten entrails are owned by an overworked/underpaid buddy in Canton, China or Canton, Ohio or by a tiny village dude in Matagalpa, Nicaragua or by a small suburb homeboy in Flint, Michigan. The largest chunk of this what I call, the other face of humanity, translated via empty stomachs and emaciated limbs—located somewhere unreachable by “American Idol” or FedEx—would easily devour our shampooed poodles, barbecue our spoiled Pekingese cats, and feast on Mission-issued Spams. These earthlings don’t know what CT-scans or flu shots meant – they simply have to live a day, that’s all, and be thankful that they could still smell flowers and bathe in the rain, forget that these were grown on chemicals and contaminated with acid.
That is the planet Earth where they live in. Yup, that’s for real.

HOKEY DOKEY, let’s get real. Don’t we live in America?
Do I need a car, really? Or do I need to poison my lungs with Starbucks hemlock or melted-plastic Pepsi blood to be able to quench my 3-minute thirst? I should not, I know that... but what choice do I have? Throw $2,000 more so I could install my own crystal-clear, no-chemicals H2O brook right on my basement… and hope that I live 50 more years to savor this Fantasy Island nestled somewhere between the four walls of my shop or condo, blessed with fancy neon beams and AC? Hallelujah!
Two-thousand bucks is 100,000 pesos in the Philippines – more than enough reason for my bro-in-law Jojo Fernandez to reconsider renewing a desert job in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia to be with his four tiny angels and self-sacrificing wife in a Central Luzon barrio. If most of us could save two grand each month – for steady supply of pesticide-free leeks and spinach, write checks made out of recycled paper, allot $75 for chiropractors and massage therapists, or save up $120 for Weightwatchers or Brahma-Rockefeller yoga classes, then our next of kin wouldn’t be risking life and limb in Iraq or Afghanistan trying to kill or not be killed.
A soldier’s tour of duty is a job, that’s all. Don’t you know that Lebanon’s basketball coach is “a small town dude with a big city attitude” tax-paying American, and Gary Busey flashed his bucktooth once-twice-thrice too-many in recent Iranian cinema?
My life’s mathematics is simple. It’s very third-world yucky – I eat whatever I could gobble up on and save my money on... OK, you know what me and Marta The Nicer are up to all through these years. I save a lot of dollars by scoring “poison” food and patronizing “evil” products – so I could guarantee that our “rock journeys and sublime madnesses” stay alive. Our “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park” gather a 7-year-old tyke and 70-year-old granny over a 7-minute boogie, and entice drunken hobos and bejeweled tourists to shake their booties, period. That is joy, that is fulfillment – it doesn’t get any better than that. I don’t give a damn whether they gulp in Sprite or inhale Marlboro lights later. I’d like to keep my ambitions simple and reachable, and ensure that I get a good night’s sleep tonight—free of guilt and bum tummy. We ain’t tryin’ to save the world, y’know... we just want to have fun.
So should Marta The Nicer quit delivery of these crazy magazines that get painstakingly printed on non-recycled paper? I wish she simply stops chowing down those deadly Marlboro crap, and I chuck the dirt soda… but why should this be so freakin’ heavy? Why can’t we simply take it easy and enjoy the sweet toxicity of freedom in America? To each his own, enjoy your gig—have the right to dig your own grave or float among/along fluffy organic cloud. Savor the free will to gallivant in and around your own magnificent unrealism, at the same time, dig the cool idiocy of burning your lungs out. That’s the beauty of life that America gifted us, isn’t it so?
But then, I know that you know that we are all “enlightened” and fully informed spirits here. We are very much aware that the other glorious face of “freedom” is out there and that, we can easily enjoy it. That’s the free will to savor the peace and quiet of just having to spend 5 or 6 more hours of unpaid/self-funded community service, no expectations of hours rendered/dollars paid… or the serenity and contentment of just staring at the Blue Ridge Mountain and hope this is 1496 and you are one of The Last of the Mohicans. And then, you declare—”Yeah! I am gonna be crazy and spend my money on something that’s cool and easy. I gotta rock today, bless my soul! I gotta bungee jump down Chimney Rock!”
And what’s that? Of course, you know what I mean...
I still feel the quiet joy of knowing that I have a lot of friends from everywhere who offer me their comfy Jennifer couches, fridge stocked up with Corona, DVD players all-set with my favorite silly horror and comedy flicks, gifts of bracelets and earrings scored at Wal-Mart, and “unhealthy” boiled white rice, and say, “That’s all that I can afford, dude... I’m glad that you’re here. Feel at home!”
Many, many years ago – these wonderful amenities came in the form of creaking bamboo beds, “toxic” coconut gin, duck embryo, goat head’s soup, Peace Corps-issued blanket, World Bank-donated jeepney, red tide messed-up fish... I savored all these “evil, inappropriate, poison” implements on my way to a “bonfire for peace” in barrio plazas and ravaged villages that’ll easily make Pritchard Park look like Madison Square Garden and a Unica sardines taste like a plateful of caviar or Angus beef.
So, okay, we are “hypocrites” because we drink Coke. What’s more hypocritical than have the enlightenment and awareness to know what’s inappropriate and evil and not do anything about it but to exalt one’s self-gratification within the protective comfort of a ConEdison-provided shelter?
I choose to burn my liver with cheap gin or salvaged moonshine with the downtrodden and the outcast, I enjoy eating rattlesnake stew and croc sushi with train-hoppers and Greyhound “losers,” opt to dance with the devil in pursuit of a heavenly madness, and WHY? It’s because that’s all that I could afford, or that’s all that my superhomeys’ friendships could offer...
More than anything else, these junk and filth make me connect more with the people. I’d rather do something out there, right here right now, than worry whether a corporate hubcap hits my skinny butt as I negotiate a dark street, or a bad food messes up my holy intestines. There’s something out there, out there, that makes us live forever – certainly, not the $65/hr asanas drill or endless meditations or organic cheese or “nice hellos”...

I REMEMBER few years ago, when I was editing a Filipino-American newspaper in Manhattan, a towering Barnard College-educated lady adorned with Gucci and Vera Wang, lashed out at me right at the lobby of the Philippine Consulate on Madison Avenue. “Why do you keep on writing these crazy, distorted accusations about your own people, Pasckie? This is New York, this is not Manila—be ashamed to our American benefactors!”
I just looked at him, a-la Robert “Taxi Driver” De Niro or Clint “Outlaw Josey Wales” Eastwood (sans the slim cig and the pistol but with the knockout poncho and a mean glare), and muttered, “Are you talkin’ to me? Are yooooou... talkin’ to me? Why do I write THESE things? It’s because I have 5,000 subscribers who read me, I have a magazine – you don’t. What you have is a Vera Wang and a loud mouth. You can keep them to yourself, nobody cares. But my readers do read me, one way or the other.”
What’s my point?
Marta The Nicer isn’t Condeleeza Rice, she isn’t even Talullah Greenwood Heep (my neighbor in Dunwell Av). And, do I look like the Filipino-Cherokee grandgrandgrandson of Lamar Hunt? As sis Elton says, “Don’t shoot me, I am only the piano player.”
If these people really do care about corporate sham, environmental bastardization etc etc etc, by all means, march towards I-240 all the way to Washington, DC and fight it out. Or worse, at least, gather your minions, congregate at Pritchard Park or Vance Monument, save extra dough that you’re saving for weed and hummus to pay City Hall for the permit, and say your piece, loud and clear – at least once a month. That’d be cool. I’ll throw my $15 worth of monthly Coke budget in your tip jars.
Twenty years ago, I traveled to Madras, India with two of my high school bestfriends to find peace and quiet. I dabbed turpentine oil all over my hair and pushed it all back up, I chucked my Hanes in favor of the traditional kaupina (y’know, diapers), ate no “dead flesh,” and then I meditated and meditated and meditated and meditated from dusk till dawn – hoping that 1/16th of earth’s population follow my lead and be vegetarians themselves. (I actually believed that that’d happen in year 2000. As I write this, my roommate, I noticed, just gobbled his 3rd Big Mac.)
Meantime, in the streets of Manila, farmers and fisherfolk and workers were marching under the punishing midsummer sun towards the presidential palace to fight for food on the table and tiny land space to put up their shanties. Meanwhile, up in the mountains, deadly landslides buried towns as the government’s gung-ho anti-Communist insurgency program bulleted the blue sky... all these while senators and congressmen played golf and escaped Southeast Asian heat and humid with secret rendezvous in Buffalo NY or Brooklyne MA.
How could I ever sleep in peace? How could I enjoy my soya milk and “camote” sprouts, and dance the rhumba with pristine butterflies and frolic on virgin riverbeds in my immaculate neck of the woods? How could I deliver my holy sermons on the mount? How could I liberate my soul and flutter like “jai guru deva om”? My people were starving, weeping, bleeding, dying… I had to go back where the shoutings were coming, where tortured limbs fought over a three-feet wide spot under flyovers, where swollen lips and bum stomachs feasted on soiled sardines and salvaged bread… no Coca Cola, no Toyota Subaru, no “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” no tofu, no Spam, no meditations, no lotus positions.
I had to be with the people… Shouldn’t I worried instead that I may have ruined my kidney with incessant shots of cheap whiskey as temporary relief to soggy spirit? Or that, fish head “kebab” might’ve crushed my liver and gave me Hapa-C? Oh yeah, my old Nikon was made by some wealthy, insensitive, gluttonous tycoon somewhere?
Who gives a damn.
The thing is, do we have to travel to Samar Island in the south of the Philippines, in a Buenos Aires pampas, or in a Zaire village to feel the beating of a wounded humanity? Marta The Nicer came from an unbelievably impoverished county in West Virginia called Welch… just a few hundred miles to a small mining town called Sago. It’s unbelievable that a US town appears exactly like the same dusty, food-to-mouth Mexican sitio or Indonesian hamlet where I’ve spent some time in the past.
Marta The Nicer’s people – as well as my goth homeys in an Oteen trailer park and Barnardsville Highway – go to Wal-Mart and chow down Mickey Dees. These people send their sons and daughters to war so they could be guaranteed a college education, these people work at Starbucks and Wal-Mart and Barnes&Noble so they could pay their bills. These people don’t have enough dough to score a downtown shirt, imported from India or Bangladesh; they can only afford either a secondhand Goodwill Levi’s or Family Dollar pots and pans donated by the rich for tax exemptions.
How do we convince these people, these Americans, to throw their toxic sodas away or boycott Wal-Mart?

THEY ARE THE PEOPLE. These are the people who don’t intellectualize whatever zero nutrient they could get from taters and grits, they don’t see television sets as idiot boxes, they see them as devise to amuse a dreary day, they don’t choose between PBR or Busch and the best local brew. They just wanna chill or get drunk, period.
But if we really want to change the world… by all means, we should go where LIFE is happening for REAL. In places where forests and mountains are stripped naked so we can be continuously supplied with papers to print our gallery posters and matinee show tickets and zines and newspapers, in hellholes where sweatshops inflict torment to kids as young as nine so they could heed a quota for spare change so we can afford and enjoy a couch bed or tennis shoes or winter jackets when we need them…
In those places, we are needed – to stop the pain, to tell the masters of corporate greed to stop it. But how many will venture that kind of “lunacy” – how many of us would send our kids to squatters colonies in Peru or dingy, rat-infested sidetreets in New Delhi so they may understand the world? A cool, awesome “spring break” weekend in Fort Lauderdale sounds safer and more fun, isn’t it so? Okay, don’t forget to remind them kids not to strip naked (at least not afront clandestine handhelds) when smashed as hell, or... uhh, stock up on condoms, please. Yup, who would leave the comforts of the east, west, north and south of America – even for one summer month? Flying to Burma or Laos (plus a month’s chill-time beside white sands) is a lot cheaper than a weekend in Las Vegas or Frisco, so what are we waiting for?
But watch out!
You see, in most of those countries, people eat dogs, cats and rats because they are hungry and starving to death… they don’t dress their pets with baseball jerseys and take them to shrinks or cuddle with them at night. These people don’t have much choices as we do in America… We even have 12 choices for a salad dressing when more than half of the world’s population doesn’t even have clam chowder, Ceasar’s salad, or strawberry mousse to kick off and culminate a sumptuous meal.
While we protest a chopped tree that obstructs traffic as we drive to a vegan eatery, an estimated 20 million people, outside of the First World, are already displaced by problems linked to a damaged environment, ranging from eroded farmland to polluted water supplies. Such upheavals already affected millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa, India and Asia. This deterioration could drive about 50 million people from their homes by 2010.
These are the people that we need to help. So let’s be cool and try to be nice to those people around us – who, despite the comforts of America, still strive hard to try to make a dent and end a day with, “Oh yeah, I served coffee at Starbucks and quenched my thirst with Coke but I delivered a free paper to the community and organized a free show at the park last night… and I am sending money to a poor shoeless Adriana in a poor country this Christmas.”
Marta The Nicer came from a deprived American village but she has the nerve to walk the streets of downtown to hand out her free magazine and share something to those who are comfortably lounging in their galleries and office cubicles. These people who profess to have a clean body and non-corporate tact but couldn’t even stand a day to mingle with the drunken homeless at Pritchard Park, yet they have all the time in the world to engage their dachshunds to a “matured” conversation or meditate atop Mt Mitchell for 6 hours each morning.

MARTA THE NICER doesn’t have a cat or a dog—like most in the neighborhood—because after bills and contributions to community projects, she couldn’t even afford a new set of Wal-Mart undergarments. She doesn’t drink Highland Ale because PBR is all that her vices-budget could afford. Most of the time, she could only score few pairs of $3.50 shirts at Goodwill...
She works at Starbucks because it’s the first job that she found that could help pay the bills and she will stay there because she had friends there who loaned her a new car (yup, to deliver more of her free magazines) and donated things for our yard sale so she can help raise money for these little publications that we print on minimum print-run, and the $175 park fee for our next free-for-everyone “Bonfires for Peace” shows.
These friends of hers laugh and cry with her over a silly, sappy Lifetime melodrama or daytime soap. They may care about global world trade but I doubt if they’d debate me over import liberalization or cultural imperialism, who cares? I’m sure, however, that we all dig Owen Wilson and Jack Black and would reinstall digital cable or fly to Orlando and pretend to be rich when we win the lotto. They are the people, and I am happier and more fulfilled when I hang out with these souls, they are my kind of people...
Marta The Nicer Osbourne is my kind of people, my kind of friend.
Marta The Nicer didn’t go to UNCA or Warren Wilson, not even at a community colle. She didn’t know what peace movements were all about until she volunteered to co-organize shows for the Traveling Bonfires. She didn’t even know where Manila was – she thought it was a small town in Wyoming. She didn’t know what this madness that I’m so crazy about until she herself battled homelessness, credit woes, court appearances, ramen noodles indigestion, and bitter critics, and kept on surviving them…
She didn’t know what many of us know. She is “unaware, unenlightened and uneducated,” but what’s the big deal? Marta The Nicer has what, probably 65% of my enlightened, aware, and educated acquaintances don’t have... She has the heart to give it all because she feels it. Simple. Most of time, she gives more than she could – and most of the time, she succeeds – because like the downtrodden, the underprivileged and the outcast, she believes in the power of the stubborn will, the unswerving spirit.
Yes, one afternoon, she drank a can of Coke because she was tired and thirsty. So be it. “Let it in and let it out, dude!” That’s all that I could say to my best buddy. “Now, let’s go kick some butt! We still have to drive to Black Mountain to deliver more Indies. Now, bring in Jacko, play `Billie Jean,’ and turn up the volume. Let’s party!”
So, how’s that? Hypocrisy?

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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bad News, Good News

“WHEN A dog bites a man, that is not news... but when a man bites a dog, that is news.” My Journalism 101 professor of three decades ago declared, pushing her eyeglasses up snug the bridge of her ridiculously humongous nose, like she’d just concluded a malevolent oration of “The Gettysburg Address.” Then, as she tried to repeat it, making sure that we, clueless little souls, may not forget, “When a dog bites a man, that is not news... but when a man...” I interrupted, “Madam!” She eyed me with piercing suspicion that burns the flesh like coal, a-la Judge Judy, “What, Mr Pascua?” I cleared my throat and, with a super-confident girth that is only, usually attributed to either Beavis or Butthead, I asked, “What if a man eats a dog, is that news, Madam?” (Well, what do I expect, I got kicked out of the classroom again... what else’s new?)
But, hey, that was the good ole days when NEWS meant Watergate and “Nine Dead in Ohio!” or “One small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” The days before supermarket tabloid juice becomes front page banner, before a trio of macho losers fighting over millions that could be squeezed out of the corpse of one Anna Nicole Smith becomes the most “important” news of the month, before countdown of wartime body bags becomes a most numbing prozac pill against a sorry generation of utter disconnect, before news got swallowed and devoured by reality-tv escapism.
News... until now, many years since I kind of hanged up my gloves (or newsroom typewriter?), the mystery behind that insatiable thirst for a story that’s unique, uncommon, weird, shocking, revolting — remains dark and cold, unexplainable and distant. Or, in the context of the present times, ridiculously strange.

LIKE AN obedient soldier who gallantly went to war in pursuit of something that I can’t really define or physicalize, I headed out onto life and living’s open range littered with volatile substances such as society, government, politics, and pop culture – endlessly, tirelessly looking for my almighty scoop. But why? What’s up, what’s behind the story? “Damnit! You don’t justify your story. Just state the facts, that’s it!” My editor would roar from across the hallway as he mercilessly tossed my piece straight down into the dead-cold trashbin. Rejected again, I bit my lips like an orphan urchin who just lost his slice of leftover bread...
“When a man bites a dog...” I kept on repeating—day in, day out—so I may not forget. It evolved to be my little life’s “battle mantra.”
Until one summer’s weekend, in a tribal village up north of Manila, called Ifugao, I found my “man bites dog” story. I covered animist rituals of warriors and hunters who frantically sucked fresh blood oozing from wild canines’ bloody skulls as cure for respiratory ailments. In a way, I wondered out loud, that could pass as a “men biting dogs” story—true to my little hack reporter’s mission’s quest... Alas, though—the most that I could bargain for at the City Desk was page 16 of the Provincial Section, in tiny 8 almost unreadable font types. Ah!
Then one day, during a campaign trail by a wealthy society matron who was running for Governorship of a southern province, I got my front page story. But, ironically, it was a “dog bites man” story—but since it went with a bizarre twist, I thought, it could probably be a “good” piece of news. The “scoop”? A tiny, malnourished dog bit the magnificent butt of a bejeweled prima donna as she strode by a half-flooded barrio, wooing votes like a sequined vulture pecking ice cream icings amidst a mosquito-infested swampland. Her awestruck coterie of umbrella-hoisting alilas (nannies) and armalite-wielding alalays (bodyguards) didn’t see the coming of the irate dog as it lunged at the politica’s massive behind.
NEWS! Dog bites (wo)man. Front page.
And so it became clearer and clearer to me what “news” was all about... Three decades hence, the story remains the same.

THERE IS another angle to the “news” story though...
The surreal contradictions of news-gathering. The hunger for blood—splattered all over creasy note pads... echoes of tormented souls’ voices imprisoned in stacks and stacks of cassette tapes. Without the hellish stench and the gruesome ruin, news was bland... a reporter’s “day in the life.” We wanted more dark, more cold—without these, we were failures, like soldiers ready for war but there were no enemies at all. Boring.
Then somewhere, sometime—I covered the monstrous aftermath of a landslide that killed close to 5,000 villagers in the coastal city of Ormoc in the Philippines in 1991. Dead human flesh, rotting cavaders have caked with mud and rocks... words were insufficient to describe the horror. I had to gulp in two bottles of gin, threw up for almost two hours, before I could muster the energy and courage to file my story. Forget the “drama,” I just had to file a story.
Five thousand impoverished human beings got wasted. Illegal logging was the obvious culprit, hence illegal loggers—but the Governor of the province rejected that “theory.” That “fact” wasn’t going to get to newsroom. That wasn’t news enough to get the newspaper to live longer... That subtle deduction pierced like bullet to the head. “Men can always bite dogs”—but, this time out, we weren’t allowed to report, “Why.” Somehow, within and around the miserable journey of a journalist—a willing witness to life’s doom and dirt—I wanted to be a “superhero” and save humanity from further negotiating life’s road to ruin with just the quiet glory of a newspaper’s weekend edition. I had to fight to deliver that “news” that says “why”? By knowing “why dogs bite men,” we could probably fix the situation and live happily ever after.
Alas, life is no fairytale. I had/have to live with the dark side. Take it or leave it, do it or die.

TWO WEEKS before deadline, a chartered bus bound for Atlanta crashed, killing several high school baseball players from Boston. The aggrieved, tormented faces of the young survivors were flashed on national TV, for several minutes—over and over and over again. But we never get details of the story, “Why? What really happened? Why did the driver take that deadly turn?” We may never know, maybe we know, maybe the reporters knew—it’s just that the network gods don’t see any point in having us know why. Advertising sponsors want three hours more of Anna Nicole Smith’s soap opera... That “news” is sure to save more network hours, more advertising sponsorships—hence the news station lives longer.
There are times when we simply get so tired by what we hear. But then we can’t close our eyes—we live in this world, this is our life’s residential address, there’s no subway ride or American Airlines flight to Uranus or Jupiter yet.
There are people who don’t want to have TV, avoid media, and so they stay up in the perch of their “peaceful world,” musing “What do I see on TV, anyway? It’s all lies, it’s all bad news, it’s all bullshit. I’d like to protect myself from the evils of this world...” So they hide up there or down there and change their names to Starlight Dancer or Ocean Blue and then they utter “peace” and “love” to the wind and the rain, and then declare themselves The Immaculate Souls of Humanity.
But is that what life’s all about? It’s sad that the world is so bad sometimes, but this is our earth and we are living in it—with all its trials and tribulations, lies and stuff. Living a life is our gig, so it follows that we gotta know what’s going on with our little piece of existence to be able to breathe and carry on.
Watching the news is part of my role as a writer, as a human being—I can’t close my eyes and choose my reading materials, I can’t go out there and choose my company and then say, “I gotta write something, this is what I choose to write, only this!” What is there to write? The things that I don’t see or touch, or the spirits that inhabit my tortured soul? Who cares. The world at-large, wounded and wounding (not the “world inside my crude lump of brain tissues”) is the diesel and fire, hurricane and sunshine that make me get up, write, and rock `n roll. With that, I am alive as love and hate, joy and pain.

THE DAILY circulation of the Soviet newspaper Trud exceeded 21,500,000 in 1990, while the Soviet weekly Argumenty i fakty boasted the circulation of 33,500,000 in 1991. Meantime, Japan’s three daily papers —the Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun— have circulations well above 4 million. Germany’s Bild, with a circulation of 4.5 million, was the only other paper in that category. In the UK, The Sun is the top seller, with around 3.2 million copies distributed daily (late-2004).
In India, The Times of India is the largest English newspaper, with 2.14 million copies daily. According to the 2006 National Readership Study, the Dainik Jagran is the most-read, local-language (Hindi) newspaper, with 21.2 million readers. In the U.S., USA Today has a daily circulation of approximately 2 million, making it the most widely distributed paper in America.
Imagine all these volumes and volumes of paper that we writers consume to write our news. Does it matter whether the news is written via the internet or delivered by way of New York Times? If Internet is better, more environmentally-sensitive/politically-correct, then we can start counting the barrels and barrels of oil that we consume so we can have electric power to keep our Dells and IMacs “alive” 24 hours a day... Whatever we do, whatever we use to physicalize whatever we do, we consume them.
I digress...
The internet technology is a body of electronic bits and pieces that should offer a credible, truthful, and honest sets of information—in the same way do newspapers. Web-based publishing vs. traditional publishing, does it really matter?
Everybody seems to be more concerned with profit than news these days. In the past, newspapers have often been owned by so-called press barons, and were used either as a rich man’s toy, or a political tool. More recently in the United States, a greater number of newspapers (and all of the largest ones) are being run by large media corporations such as Gannett (the largest in the United States), The McClatchy Company, Cox, LandMark, Morris Corp., The Tribune Company, etc. Many industry watchers have “concerns” that the growing need for profit growth natural to corporations will have a negative impact on the overall quality of journalism. “Concerns”?
Let’s face it, despite these conjectures, news has become more entertainment, fodder to a numbed human psyche, nothing significant. We still chase the “man bites dog” story but after we’ve splashed that eerie rage in man’s fang burying deep down a “dog’s neck”... it’s all over. We don’t care. It’s entertainment. It’s better than Vicodin or bourbon, at least.

A LONG TIME ago, I dreamed about an Ernest Hemingway who covered the war as journalist and took home shrapnel wounds and morphine needles deep inside his mind, I amused myself with a Hunter S. Thompson who juggled BS and reportage like a stoned sorcerer... I have dreamed of covering Beirut, digging in bat caves in Peru, scrounging through brushes in Myanmar, hiking foothills in Tibet. I have dreamed of invading those seemingly private or forbidden rooms of humanity’s soul—via my pen and notepad. Until the dream got exhausted, and here I am just a beaten man.
A beaten man, still wondering why did the “man bit the dog.” What happened, really.
Ah, news! It seemed simple sometimes... Simple premise, like—what’s going on inside an average family’s house in America? I think we know why funk seeps through the failing winter heating... We have spent a total of $100.60 for every $100of our take-home-pay this past six months almost. That gives us an idea about what’s going on with national debt situation while the trillion-dollar war in Iraq rages. It seemed so easy to ask ourselves why, if only to console us that, yes, there is hope that change is gonna come. At least, we know.
At least we know that the value of annual production of marijuana in the US outclasses the country’s other cash crops. The total value of all the pot grown annually has been calculated to be just less than $36 billion—compared with $23 billion for corn, $18 billion for soybeans, and $12 billion for hay. This raw data gives us an idea how life flows and ebbs these days, these make us question, “Why? How come?” These valuable figments of truths that a grainy shot of Britney Spears’ hoohah at YouTube or Ms Smith’s boob-tube soap only blur and trivialize.
We want to know why a news becomes news—why a bus jumps out of the wrong Exit turn, why debt-ridden youths sign up for war tour of duty, why Nike factory jobs are all flown to Indonesia, why the “dog bit the man.”
Do you know? You tell me... Paris Hilton’s skinny butt has just been bitten by her Chihuahua? I bet, you wanna know more. Come on! That’s news?!

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

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

(Postscript to Bele Chere, Remembering Turumba)

JULY 28TH, the second day of Bele Chere, “the largest free outdoor street festival in the Southeast.” A dark cloud of imminent rain hovered overhead—but it wasn’t the impending downpour that kept me off the effervescent streets of downtown Asheville that time. Rain is a beautiful gift from the sea and the sky. I savor the blessing—and the street is where my spirit’s subversive quiet resides and rests.
But what am I doing somewhere south of downtown, roughly 29 minutes and 25.4 miles away?
Technically, I was still within the periphery—at Ingles Grocery in Asheville Hwy, Hendersonville. As I lined up towards the cashier, intently examining a Lindsay Lohan spread on Entertainment Weekly, a slight dude on beige carpenter shorts, Tar Heels shirt, and soiled Oakland A’s cap behind asked me pensively, “You are Pasckie, right? Why aren’t you in Asheville?”
It didn’t take me a blink to respond (though I doubted my snappy retort), “Uhh, it’s Bele Chere, that’s why.”
Normally, I would wonder out loud—nervously, frantically—when asked or approached by a random fella. A CIA spy, an MIB emissary, an ex’es vengeful BF, an overzealous John Deere salesman, a Snoop Dogg urchin? None of the above, I reckoned. But this particular unexpected query cut me like, “Hey, this is my `hood—why are you here? You’re not supposed to be here!”
“I’m here, in your `hood, because I’m not in Bele Chere.”
I reckon, that was a more confident follow-through. The dude simply nodded, yet unsmiling like a stoic Sitting Bull on US Marine coiffure… “Okay.”
Relieved, I continued examining the Lindsay Lohan spread.

UMM, BELE CHERE. I used to love that lovable feast of lovable humanity, you know. And mind you, not just because of the expostulating ocean of psychedelic muses with sexy, healthy hips, puzzling (and puzzled) hairdos, and cute Meg Ryan smiles. It was on my first BC July weekend, maybe year 2000, when I found—and eventually, fell in love—with what I later on called as My Asheville Downtown Menage-a-Trois: Malaprop’s, Pritchard Park, Lexington Avenue.
I wallowed on Bele Chere’s libertine exuberance and radical chic that time. Of course, you can always dispute that—although it doesn’t really matter much these days. My Appalachian guilty pleasure has miserably evolved into nothing more than secondhand guilt…
Oh yes, it could’ve been awesome to be right there at Biltmore Stage on that gloomy-sky Saturday night, shakin’ my skinny little butt to Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, right? Nah… It didn’t take me 3 seconds to decide to instead spend my last $35.55 at Ingles—on fresh produce, catfish fillet, chicken cuttings, white rice, and 6-pack of PBR—than scrimmage my acerbic girth and brooding snout downtown. A quiet, cooking gig in Terri The Terra’s humble abode was unmistakably that particular moment in time’s last frontier – sublime, ethereal, transcendent.

“WHY AREN’T you in Asheville?”
Was it a compliment that the random dude easily identified me as a “bonafide” Asheville spirit? For a brown-skinned, black-haired, horribly-accented shortie to be recognized and acquainted with (out of town, at that) as a resident/inhabitant of a predominantly white community in the South of the US of A… that is something. I am really “home.” Dig?
Four summers ago, as I wearily, tearfully strode along Wilmington’s coastline, a heartbroken Corona Lite on hand, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees on my Walkman—a girl (I mean, a 9 year old kid) approached me.
“You look sad, you should be home—I know you, you’re from Asheville! It’s Bele Chere, y’know! Me and my Mom saw you read poems at Beanstreets!”
When a random kid reminds you – 331.9 miles away – that your home is Asheville, you should be proud, right? Right! I got a home—and I am not even somewhere near South China Sea or the Pacific Ocean! I am an Ashevellian! Afront the waters of Fells Point in Baltimore, amidst Adams Morgan’s militant chic in Washington DC, along Bleecker Street’s incendiary allure in downtown Manhattan – I trumpet and howl my acquired ID as a true-blue Asheville spirit.
“What is your ethnicity, where’re you from?” I am not bothered by these inquisitions anymore. I just say, cool as a pistolero (a-la Clint Eastwood in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western), “I’m from Asheville. You got a problem with that?” At least, I never got into weird exchanges again, in the mold of—
“Where you from?”
“I was born in the Philippines, I am half-Filipino, half-Cherokee…”
“So you are from India! That’s cool! Do you like padthai? You drink a lot of sake, right?”
“No, I don’t, I am sorry. But I throw down bigtime on grits and taters and chase them down with ice-cold Busch.”
For seven consecutive summers, since some distant wind blew me away from New York City’s plasticine bubbles and crashlanded my undernourished anatomy in the Appalachias, I have always declared that Bele Chere is my weekend birthday party! This fantabulous feast of fun sort of happens exactly on my birthday weekend (July 23)—until the just concluded episode/s. I didn’t mope—what the hell!
The truth is, I did actually wrangle my reluctant self for few hours out there on the first day, July 27th, primarily because I had a visitor—Jeri Carter, an architect from Philly—who requested that I join her there. No prob. I always toured my visitors wherever they wanna be, whenever—just part of being a gracious host, you know what I mean? I need to perform this kind of “hospitality gigs” sometimes. When I was living in Brooklyn, I haphazardly/painstakingly/achingly accompanied obnoxious relatives and irksome sisters-of-ex’es up the Empire State Building in uptown Manhattan and Statue of Liberty near Staten Island – until I couldn’t take it anymore.
But then, I never called or “owned” New York as my “home.” Nobody says, I am a native New Yorker, come on! But Asheville is different. It’s home to me. This is my barrio. So I just gotta tour visitors to every nook and cranny, hale and hearty, grime and grace – of my “home.” That’s the way it is.
I can’t mistake it, no matter what we say – the Bele Chere Festival is an Asheville tradition for 29 years, according to Jeri. Before she flew into town, she googled WNC and Bele Chere... (But, heck, she didn’t succeed in coaxing me to sacrifice my $35.55 weekend dinner/cooking budget to finally visit The Biltmore Castle. An intimate dinner with another friend Terri Smyth was it, no second thoughts whatsoever.)

HOW COULD one pass this one up? A humanity of “350,000+ that flock to downtown Asheville each year for three days of Bele Chere.” Six stages provide performances by 80 local and national musical acts. Lots of food, great art and crafts, and many other activities make Bele Chere a fun event for all. Some of the best local and regional artisans showcase their best handcrafted jewelry, pottery, and clothing, along with photography and painting.
LizBeth McQueen, the fantastic 86-year-old matriarch of the first-ever North Carolina clan that I shared a compound with (in Barnardsville Hwy in Weaverville) five years ago would always groan and growl each tailend of winter.
“Bele Chere is just few months away, honey! It will be all fun—I can’t wait, Lordy Mother of Mercy!”
She did relish and savor the fiesta, I tell you! There she was (on my first Bele Chere in 2000)—a beautiful octogenarian blondie shakin’ her booty to Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”—hip by hip, sweat to sweat, lowriders and all—with a dozen or so river of turbo-boosted teen-age bodies at Battery Park Stage. Rock `n roll!
Indeed, there was a time when Bele Chere owned up to the PR. Downtown’s number one summer dalliance is oft touted or hyped as “The largest free outdoor street festival in the Southeast.” I have been and seen a lot (of May to October festivals) in all my seven years in North Carolina… But all I can say is Bele Chere still mystifies and intrigues the doubting uninitiated and the unsuspecting stranger. And we in the mountains are always ready to eat it up like a funnel cake chowdown over poboy and Miller Lite. That is not an opinionated guess, that is a documented fact.
Southerners spend about the same amount of money on clothes ($1,507) as they do on entertainment ($1,561). According to a study (c. 2005) by the US Department of Labor, Southerners spend 5 percent of their budgets for entertainment and another 5 for clothes, jewelry, and shoes. “Entertainment” expenses are things such as fees and admissions (to concerts and festivals), televisions, radios, or sound equipment, and also money spent on pets, toys, and playground equipment.

“TURUMBA” is a late-summer community religious festival in the south of Manila (capital city of the Philippines).
In honor of the The Second Image of Virgin Mary, “Turumba” is a traditional community feast held in Pakil town in the province of Laguna in the Philippines. The holy relic is a replica of the image of Nuestra SeƱora de las Antiguas from
Spain. According to tradition, the image belonged to missionaries who crossed Laguna de Bay in a launch. When the launch was shipwrecked, some of its relics were washed ashore including the image of the Virgin.
Some local fishermen found the image in the nets. Believing it was a religious image, they decided to drop it off at a parish church. When they started to carry the painting, they found that it was heavy. They tried to carry it in many directions, until it was near the church of Pakil. While they headed that way, the wind and current aided their course; and when they landed, they left the image on a rock so they could continue their fishing duties.
One Sunday morning, a group of women found the image. Although it had rained during the night, the canvas was dry. When they tried to take it away, they could not move it; even the strongest among them, Mariangga, could not lift it. They quickly told the parish priest, who in turn called the sacristans, choir members and churchgoers to get the image. As they lifted the image, the people around begun to sing and dance. To their surprise, the image gave way.
And So the Tarumba to Our Lady was born.
The word tarumba is from the Filipino phrase "natumba sa laki ng tuwa" or tremble in great joy. The first Tarumba in Our Lady's Honor was held on September 15, 1788.

MONTHS before the September fiesta, a traditional “working committee” or village council start mapping out or physically preparing for the one-week festivities. Nobody gets paid and seldom legal tender (or cold cash) circulates. Residents assume specific tasks – from construction/design of giant papier maches to carpentry work of theater/concert stages to fundraising trips to bigger cities (for necessary materials that aren’t found in the barrio, and to personally invite popular national personalities).
Days before the feast, villagers come together — farmers donate baskets and carts of fresh produce and fruits, fisherfolk commit their week’s catch, “richer” ranchers give out cows and hogs and chickens, youths start rehearsing musical and dance numbers, others prepare parlor games and pick-up basketball games. A day before the fiesta, an entire ricefield is turned into an open-air kitchen—where everybody cooks on humongous woks on firewood and charcoal. A separate “committee” travels by foot, carabao-pulled carts, or “jeepneys” to send out invitations to neighboring towns and solicit prizes for the games.
There are no concert fees, food is free, village-deputized “tanods” (no guns, just bamboo sticks) keep the peace and order. Warring tribes and battling Communist rebels and government troops declare automatic “cessation of hostilities.” (Most “wars” are ended following a fiesta or Christmas/New Year’s Day ceasefire.) Food, peace, fun, community, laughter, family, friendship. Relatives and barriomates visit from abroad (games prizes come in the form of “imported” Nikes, $50 cash, or an autographed posters of Yao Ming or the Black Eyed Peas)... tourists and visitors savor the harvest convergence, like blessings from God. You can’t get any simpler than that.
All these happen a month or two before raging typhoons batter the barrios and towns again. Misery beats them up – almost six months a year, every year of their lives. But they gather as a community, everybody is proud of their community, everybody thank God... Despite sharing whatever that they could’ve saved for “the rainy days,” they don’t thank no one, except God. “May awa ang Diyos” (God provides). That fatalist wisdom of simplicity, camaraderie and sacrifice make them laugh and dance during summer fiestas, like there’s no more tomorrows – from the advent of 100+ degree heat to the first downpour of incessant rain. That is peace, that is humanity – calm and joy before and after the storm.
There was a time, in a not-so-distant past when I saw the beautiful spirit of “Turumba” in downtown Asheville – Friday Drum Circle, Downtown After Five, Shindig on the Green, Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park, and yes, Bele Chere…
Now the spirit seemed lost, gasping or dying. Even the rain scared us away...

WHY AM I not in my home city—on Bele Chere weekend?
A week before the 3-day spectacle, we held a “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park.” This is my “Turumba.” Me and Marta The Nicer almost literally “panhandled” the $$$ that we paid City Hall so that we may be able to continue holding this 4pm to 10pm “low-key fiesta” in the heart of downtown.
I think we had around 200 or so people (old and young, kids and parents, locals and tourists, dogs and cats) – dancing, smiling, shaking hands, hugging — as we winded up the (4pm to 10pm) concert around 8 or 9pm. The main act N-2-Soul, a local act whose lead singer Jim Barnes works at a Merrimon Avenue store called Cash Converter, donated the PA/sound equipment. The lead guitarist David Tedford rendered free soundperson job. All the bands—and emcee Nancy Rollins—gave their one hour time, free. Food was donated by Mellow Mushroom, bottled water by Ingles. We sold few Bonfires shirts that were donated by Terri Smyth and her sister Renee Ratford. (All these beautiful spirits have been living in WNC for more than 20 years.)
Midway through the concert, Mark Anderson (bassist of bands Hippie Shitzu) walked to a pub across Pritchard Park to use the bathroom. His band played in this club for years with a weekly fee that is 50 percent or lesser than what most clubs pay “visiting acts” these days. His band played free for community residents and tourists via the Bonfires for Peace in the last four years…
Mark, more than anything else, is a native Asheville dude. He was born and raised in this town, he works in this town all his life, he pays his taxes in this county. But he was refused access to the bar’s bathroom because he didn’t want to buy liquor. That’s the rule.
A day after the event, I received a phone call from the City Government’s Parks & Recreation Department saying we may not be able to hold our concerts at the park anymore—because of “noise.” Local businesses and downtown residents are complaining about the noise emanating from Pritchard Park. The person I talked with said that we can probably hold our events if we don’t use amplified music. The “noise” distracts local downtown business and condominium residents.
Does this mean that there will be no more Downtown After Five, Shindig on the Green, or Bele Chere concerts from here on—because of “noise”? Our free concert distracts and bothers local business or new residents—a concert by “non-marquee acts” at Pritchard Park—that we painstakingly put up in the last four years?
We organized almost 50 concerts to date, with money that come from our hard-earned salaries and measly tip-box earnings. We pay City Hall for use of the park so we can entertain people for free—when we could have just saved the money to help ensure that we pay our rent on time, or that we could score a few PBRs at a local pub to relax our small-town funk and forget our working class blues.
Mark’s rejected bathroom request exemplifies what has turned into this town we call “home.” Do we belong in this house? I could have just given Mark $5 for a beer, so that he could use the aforementioned bar’s bathroom. But I’m sure he’s not gonna take it—he has refused my offer of gasoline money (from the tip box) so many times in the past, I don’t think he’s gonna take it just so he could use a club’s bathroom. All the bands that played in the park – refused that tip box money, an amount that isn’t even enough to re-earn the $$$ that we pay City Hall.
Downtown is always the “life” of a city. Its people—the heart and soul, the heartbeat that makes the community live. A Bele Chere that is enhanced and “jazzed up” by the local powers-that-be that give more premium to market feasibility and sales quota – and whatever whim and wish that the new moneyed denizens of downtown could “suggest” – shoots down the primitive sublimity and ethereal wisdom of any community, such as Asheville.
What did I see in Bele Chere’s first day? Unadulterated, consumerist throwdown. Rain was like acid downpour, chasing humanity away. Like cold, frightened rats, we lumbered under shades, wearied and tired.
“It’s sad that you only saw that this year,” cousin Brigham Martinez emailed me, “I saw that three years ago, my man...” (Brig and wife, Kristi, instead, spent their “Bele Chere moolah” on a “quiet” 15th honeymoon in Guadalajara. Smart choice.)

IN CASE you are wondering... I am not boycotting Bele Chere as a protest move. This, despite the fact that most of my friends who’ve been here long before I did have already refused to step into this festival years before I did. Meantime, sad – I wasn’t able to catch LizBeth McQueen, the fantastic 86-year-old matriarch of Barnardsville Hwy, during the few hours that I clattered on Haywood St down to Lex Av on Bele Chere’s first day. Maybe she was there, I am not sure. Although a mere snow “drizzle” demobilizes her so easily, rain or storm doesn’t halt my longtime friend’s insatiable appetite for good ole Southern rock spiked with ice-cold apple cider. But who knows…
Despite my frustration, I wish that the City earned good from “the largest free outdoor street festival in the Southeast.” A Parks & Recreation staff (to borrow a Citizen Times report) disclosed that 2,000 were sold for July 28’s jam in a venue that holds 5,600. She also estimated the total festival attendance at 300,000. That Press Release would surely fly whenever an unsuspecting, “new-life seeker” visitor like Jeri Carter googles WNC or Asheville before she flies into town.
Meanwhile, a storeowner at Broadway Avenue complained that said weekend’s profit is their worst sales output—since they moved here almost a year ago. Even the tried-and-tested magic of the vaunted drum circle could only entice a few dozens of curious onlookers on that first BC day – definitely far from the sweaty, exuberant humanity that rocks Pritchard Park on a Friday night.
Was it the rain?
Sometime in distant America—that my Cherokee aunt, Marguerite Rainhawk Chenault and Filipino immigrant-grandfather Juan Carlos Valdez told me—rain means harvest, rain means life. A new promise of plenty, a celebration reborn. I don’t want to blame the rain for the saddest, most alienating Bele Chere that I ever had in all my seven years in Asheville.
But—again, I reiterate—Asheville is my home.
So after spending the rest of my Bele Chere weekend “hiding” in Terri Smyth’s humble abode in Hendersonville’s Lyndhurst Drive, off a “hidden” cross-street to Asheville Hwy called Greater Druid Hills Blvd—I went back to my `hood at Dunwell Avenue in the West side of town.
Few hours after, me and Marta The Nicer drove downtown to drop few, remaining copies of The Indie at Malaprop’s. On our way, I saw Mark Maloy, my Pritchard Park homey, bicycling down Patton Av afront Jack of the Wood, and I think I saw Charlie Thomas walking down Walnut St to Lexington Avenue... Charlie beat me twice playing chess at that same park’s shoulder fence the last time we did a Bonfires show (I shared him a slice of pizza donated by Mellow Mushroom’s Gerry Mahon). Five years ago, on my first Pritchard Park concert, I gave out four boxes of my old and new shirts to the “homeless” for free—in turn, two of them offered me food from the Mission. “We are going to protect you, my man...” one of them assured me.
As we snaked through Merrimon Avenue, I saw Clare Hanrahan chatting with a young man with grayish beard with a “Stop The War” shirt or something, near Greenlife Grocery. And I think I saw George Glass with a beat-up guitar on his shoulder striding towards Musician’s Workshop.
That night, as usual, I had two PBRs at Westville Pub, my neighborhood bar—while I listened to River Guerguerian’s and Stephanie’s Id’s new CDs on my Walkman. An hour or so after, I walked back to my house just a block away. A squirrel scooted out of my front yard tree as my neighbor’s cat greeted me, “What’s up, bro?” Then, the gentle rain fell.
I was home again at last.

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