Sunday, October 30, 2011


A little bit after lunch last Wednesday a tragedy struck and changed the life of one of my closest friends.

It is funny how one is so completely unaware of what happens as the world turns.  We all exist in our compartmentalized lives, functioning within the domain of our schedules and appointments --- and completely unknowing of what else is happening to the rest of the world.  For instance, my friend was attending a seminar somewhere in Makati for the telecommunications company that he worked for. He did not even have an inkling of what was happening to his family residence in Cainta.

My friend did not know that at half past one in the afternoon, a fire broke out in the house possibly brought about by faulty electrical wiring.  

In less than half an hour, everything inside the house was burned down.  That included his eight year old nephew who, together with his younger brother, were watching tv and the first to see the flames burn the wall behind the television set in the living room.  The older of the two boys rushed to one of the bedrooms to get water to douse on the flames but since the residence was made of old wood and built some time in the 1960s the fire spread too quickly.  

No one was able to retrieve the boy who was now trapped in his grandmother's bedroom since the corridor leading to that part of the house was suddenly engulfed by flames. The windows of the bedroom had grills and even the air conditioner was boxed in by metal grills thus making it impossible to pry open to give room for the boy to escape. 

The little boy's body was retrieved later. Autopsy pointed to asphyxiation and suffocation as his cause of death.

The friends were all stunned when we got the news. 

Of course, our friend was devastated.  He kept saying that he did not mind losing everything ... but not his nephew.  His partner was also saddled with guilt: he was able to save the younger boy but failed to retrieve the kuya because of the circumstances and the speed that events took over.  And no amount of explanation or rationalization can seemingly provide a credible answer to the question --- why.

Why did this happen?  Why did it take only thirty minutes to completely obliterate all the fruits of hard work that my friend and his brothers put in to provide their seventy year old mother with a sense of security and the best of comforts in the winter of her life?  

Now that they have literally lost everything, where is the fairness here?  The family did not make their money out of corrupt practices or abusing the weaknesses of others. They were honest middle class people who struggled with budgets but loved each other very much and dedicated their efforts for a better life for their kids.  They were the most humble of the remaining sector of the Filipino middle class.  So how can you possibly justify this horror that befell them right at this time in their lives?

There is no answer.  Maybe someone can cite that world-weary observation that life was never fair, is not fair and will never be such.  But still ...

Does that also explain why an eight year old boy should die?  Because life in unfair?  Try telling that to his father.

To snap into a situation realizing that you literally have nothing left because everything you owned (except for what you are wearing and carrying at the given moment in time) has burned into ashes is something that we all refuse to imagine. But for my friend and his family, it is a reality. And frankly we do not know how they will literally start from scratch again especially in dealing with the senseless death of a child.

But then again, there are certain realizations indeed.  They are not explanations. They cannot be justifications. They are only realizations of things we have known all along but are suddenly brought right in front of our faces to deal with and recognize. We hear of tragedies such as these. We read them in the papers. We hear them reported in the nightly news. But when it happens to someone we know ... it jolts us into the most painful territories of reality.

There is indeed great truth that what you cannot take with you to your grave really does not and can never matter. 

All these trappings of material acquisitions which we equate with security and success are perishables.  These are volatile.  These can be taken away.  If we choose to define ourselves with what we have, with what we possess ... if we choose to calibrate the quality of our existence by the brands that we foist, the lifestyle that we brandish to others ... then all these point to something really quite evident: an impoverished life.  

Yet there lies the irony. A great number of us --- nay, a majority of us --- think that success and happiness can only be measured by how much we have.  It is all the tangibles, verifiable and accountable in our lives that we use to prove to others how far we have gone or how high we fly. There are those who dedicate all their lives in acquiring what they think as the best --- because they do not only feel they deserve it but because this is the only way they think they can prove their worth.

One's success story is always measured by the distance traveled from there to wherever --- and all the bundles acquired along the way.

Yet they can all be taken away --- just like that.  Then what?  Then how do such laws of definition function?

As we got together to console our friend, we too were rattled into confronting what governs this universe.  Somewhere along the way, we are all conditioned to believe in what is important --- and what should constitute a good life.  More often than not, we are deluded. We are lost by the machinery of politics and economics.  We own things but sad enough ...we lose ourselves.

Hugging our friend and telling him that all will be well is perhaps the Universe also taking its sense of balance. Of course all will be well. Life will go on. Life will move on.  And it does not require the heavy load we carry on our backs to prove to everyone that we are indeed at the forefront of the games we play.

It is not the things we can lose to chance that matters in life. It is what we do with what is given to us that makes all the difference.

Friday, October 21, 2011


You reach that certain age when birthdays have ceased to be a big deal.

Yeah, yeah.  This is one day when everybody (well, almost) goes out of his way to be extra nice to you.  Once upon a time there were only a handful of people --- usually relatives and close friends --- who know the exact date of your natal day.  But then, thanks to social networking, especially Facebook, your birthday is will be as big as the number of friends you have acknowledged and authorized to gain access to such delicate information.

So today is my birthday and if anyone asks me how I decided to spend it, I will tell them that the day has been categorized into three specific activities:

(a) Replying to a barrage of text messages from friends with all sorts of birthday greetings ranging from the pre-cut-and-paste "Happy birthday to you" --- to the more exotic forms of greetings which include chimpanzees and other mammals --- to the very serious Bible quotations talking about each candle added on your cake means that the Kingdom of God is close at hand.  

By seven in the evening, my fingers were practically undergoing major cramps from punching thank you's in all possible variations and permutations hoping that the well-wishers do not feel that my replies carried the sincerity of a postal stamp pad.

(b) Replying to an even larger barrage of Wall Posts on my Facebook page.  Lesson #1: If you have more than one thousand friends, prepare to dedicate a substantial mount of the day giving short but sweet replies to each birthday greeting ... or eventually learning the shortcut of pressing the LIKE button underneath each message just to get some semblance of gratitude back to the sender.  

The thing about Facebook is that it goes on forever.  The messages started coming in at 8AM ... and as midnight approaches you feel that the number will diminish.  That is, until you realize that as a specific date ends in this time zone, the day still has an extension on the other side of the world.  This only means that you have to learn Lesson #2: Birthdays in social networks last a day and a half. The messages will diminish but they will come trickling it ... until noon of the following day ... not to mention the "belated" greetings.

(c) Forgetting about watching what you eat because you are literally swamped by cakes.  Considering the amount of time spent in the gym, birthdays are such waistline busters considering how cakes seem to naturally flow right into your territory.  Now if you only lose ten pounds each time you blow candles after a chorus of "Happy birthdays",then that would be fine.  

But then that is not so. Just today alone, I received a grand total of four cakes --- two of which were Estrelle's sinfully delicious butter concoction with even more sinful sweet butter roses.  And the night before I was literally indulging in what looked like a vat of bannofee cake that was floating in a kingdom of cream.  So that means another extra four hours of cardio? No ... because when the butter cake stares right back at you ... all sense of resolution goes out the window. There is always that excuse that anyway it is your birthday.

You can feel guilty next week.

(d) Still deliberating on how to deal with seeming innocent but extremely intimidating questions like, "So how old are you na?!"  Maybe there is a book of etiquette somewhere that explicitly states that it is  extremely bad manners to ask for anyone's age --- regardless of gender. Well, there could be some clarification that such questions should not be thrown at someone who is obviously past the age of forty.  

There seems to be no problem fishing out such info for someone in his twenties or even thirties ... but this becomes a touchy issue when you are about to indulge in your midlife crisis and somebody (in dire need of conversation or merely trying to be socially competent) reminds you that menopause is an inevitable reality.

But then again, when you really come to think of it ... there is really no point in complaining or making issues out of all these.  Everybody has a birthday and whether we like it or not ... regardless of what these days reminds us, they will come and go each time of the year to remind us that we have added another notch to our belt.

There is nothing wrong with ageing.  Even Vicky Belo will tell you that: you can do anything to defy its effects but ageing will happen because it is meant to happen.  Regardless of all the hours spent primping one's self ... or all the money invested in preserving youth, everyone will grow old. It is a matter of accepting this as a fact ... and with honor.

Not unless of course you belong to the family of Edward Cullen. But that is most unlikely.

I realized that ageing is something I had to deal with about six years ago. That was when I decided that it was about time I ceased to look like an avocado and started taking my blood pressure regularly.

That was the time I went on a South Beach diet and made a religion out of going to Fitness First.  That was the moment when I decided to quit smoking and really watch what I eat, lead a healthier life and try very hard to diminish my stress despite the challenge of my line of work. But then there was also the reality to face.

Birthdays remind you that your metabolism has slowed down by another number of percentage.  Birthdays also remind you that ageing is the process of cellular deterioration as well as the revenge of gravity when skin starts to go south.  Birthdays remind you that you cannot buy elasticin to remove the jowls, the crow's feet and the laugh lines. Include the double chin, the liver spots and the eye bugs.

Birthdays also remind you that even if you spend an impressive number of hours in the gym, you reach that certain age that you can no longer have the body of a 20 year old ... even with surgery.  I mean, after you hit forty ... neither science nor natural health can make you resemble Anne Curtis or Derek Ramsay not unless you place on your bet on reincarnation.

So accepting that, birthdays should not be all that threatening. It is a matter of embracing the age and realizing that indeed your birthday should be happy not because everybody tells you it should be so ... but because it truly is.  What other reason is there to celebrate in life than to realize that you have lived through another year ... and there are even more years to come to live through more journeys?

And what about those text messages and Facebook postings?  

Be thankful. Be grateful.  Yeah, yeah, yeah cannot measure the value of your life by the number of birthday greetings you receive.  Let us go into that whole quality versus quantity bit.  But damn it ... it still feels so good.  It doesn't only feel good ... but it feels great when so many people remember you on that single day of the year that you can honestly call your own.  Regardless of how you tend to pooh-pooh the situation, it feels great to be validated.

It still feels great to have a birthday even if you decide to work on that day (like I did) and not really have a celebration.

Having a birthday in itself --- is a celebration.  And, as Jim Paredes said via Twitter, "Have the best rest of your life."  That is really what birthdays are really all about. It is deciding that you will have the best of the rest of your days ... making sure that you matter in this present earthly form.

So what about age? Does it really, really matter? Only if you believe that there is a cut-off age when one can wear skinny jeans.  Only if you subscribe to the school of "acting your age".  Uhm, what does that necessarily mean? That when you hit forty, you start starching your boxer shorts or justify the growth of a beer belly as a natural reaction to midlife crisis? Uhm, I should think not.

Birthdays remind you of mortality: you decide on how you intend to be immortal by the sheer power of how you are living your life. And that happens every day.

OK, for those who asked --- I just turned 57 today.  And I am proud of it.  How many people look like this at that age which is supposed to be three years from forced retirement? Ha! Deal with that.

Monday, October 17, 2011


One thing people ought to realize about working for the entertainment industry (read that as Showbizzzzzzzz ) is that your life tends to be overrated.

It is overrated because the common folks think that being part of film and television includes most if not all of the following:
(A) You cavort only with the most beautiful people, fantasized and adored by millions while you can spend quality time sipping coffee with them on posh sets, swapping intimate stories and appreciating their Rolex watches and Hermes bags.
(B) You live the privileged and glamorous life because your monthly paycheck is tantamount to the gross annual income of twenty call center agents who are now suffering from anemia because of their inhuman schedules.
(C) You drive fancy cars, wear designer clothes and shoes and get photographed at the slightest provocation despite your real stature in the pecking order of the showbiz hierarchy.
(D) You have the private cell numbers of Mother Lily, Tita Malou, Boss Vic, Boss Orly, Sir Deo, M'am Roselle, Tita Wilma, M'am Annette, Tita Cory, Miss Linggit and, of course, Dear Ate Charo.  It is almost assumed that they send you daily text messages that include, "Hi! How are you na? :)" or something like that.
(E) All your clothes are free because you have hired a stylist (like no less than Liz Uy, Pam Quinones or Alyanna Martinez) to dress you up as if Raymond Isaac, Jun de Leon and Niccolo Cosme are about to corner you to a pictorial even while you are nibbling on a bag of Boy Bawang in some remote corner of the earth.
(F) You are living in Paradise because there is nothing more that you can ask for.  Ano pa? The fact that you are in first-name basis with Anne Curtis, play Extreme Frisbee with Derek Ramsay and has been invited to Bimbi's next birthday party, is there anything more you can ask from this present incarnation?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Working for this industry is nothing like that.  It is this larger than life sort of illusion that distorts not only the lifestyle but the life itself.  It would be pointless to insist that it is a lot of hard work.  It would be fruitless to explain why being public property (which means every little thing you do is subject not only to scrutiny but to all possible interpretations and interpolations of malice) can be such a hassle.

Yes, there will always be people spending endless hours looking at infinity and wondering how it feels to be:
(a) Unable to walk down a street or enter a mall without being mobbed by a kazillion people wanting a piece of you or having a photo option or yearning for an autograph;
(b) Walking down a red carpet wearing your Francis Libiran gown gown or Randy Ortiz tux while a sea of screaming fans are willing to offer not only their virginity but also their blood to venerate your importance to the Universe;
(c) Capable of buying anything you want --- like entering Zara, Mango or Topshop and spend two hundred fifty-thousand pesos just because you are depressed --- or ask a buyer to get you an authentic Hermes Birkin 32 (alligator ha? ) so that will not feel so out of place the next time you bump into Greta somewhere in the corridors of the ELJ Building at ABS;
(d) The subject of an eight page spread in Yes Magazine where you can display not only your posh residence (interior design and landscape thanks to noteworthy artists as well) but also your baubles, bangles and beads are laid out like a treasure trove for the salivating masa to envy.

Ah, but that is best at fantasy level.  Try leading the life.  Try being that magnified object --- like a paramecium pinned by glass slide and observed by a public microscope. Then you will know the price you have to pay in order to be able to afford all the luxuries.

Worse than that perhaps is what people expect from you.  

In all honesty --- and with brutal frankness, any human --- regardless of greatness of disposition, largeness of heart and dedication to be canonized by the Vatican as the Patron Saint of Happy Thoughts and Sunshine Disposition --- is not blessed with the ability to smile relentlessly, endlessly and unconditionally.  But that, unfortunately, was never genetically conditioned for any stage of the evolution of the homo sapien.

But ironically that is what is expected.  Somebody who has decided to live and make a living in that stellar sphere where mortals are mistaken as gods must:
(A) Always be available and amiable to his/her fans.
(B) Tickle the interest of his/her followers by providing glimpses of an exciting (love)life.
(C) Never show any sign of fatigue, irritation, mood swings or --- God forbid! --- anger, exasperation or disgust especially to the most loyal and diehard fans. Also include the general public --- that encompasses people who have no sense of fascination or fondness for said idols as well.
(D) Play it safe and cool with all the denizens of media, especially the entertainment press --- most especially those who go out of their way to (d.1) concoct blind items about a star that is so ambiguous and uncertain that the scandalous press release might as well include the real initials of the creatures involved, (d.2) make write-ups that specifically bash and diss the celebrity, excavating scandals (both real and concocted) just to make waves of news and  (d.3) just make one's life unbearable and miserable.

That is the way it is.  That is also why I do not exactly envy actors and actresses because sometimes most of their lives are spent not in perfecting their craft ... but insuring their statures as celebrities.  Having all those Urian, Star Awards, Famas and YCC trophies do not really mean a thing when it comes to the politics of studios.  After all, real talent is only 30% of the formula for success in a showbiz career. 35% is luck and the other 35% is on how good you suck up to those who get you up there --- and make sure you remain on top as well.

And for those who work behind the scenes, the occupational hazards are different. 

Production people are almost expected to have the range of up to the minute knowledge of everything happening in showbiz to embarrass writers and researchers of The Buzz and Juicy Express.  Regardless of age or economic class, the curiosity for the private lives of actors and actresses has reached a point of collective obsession.  

There is this insatiable hunger for learning the latest salacious piece of news ... if not confirming assumptions, presumptions and rumors.  This includes unwanted pregnancies, cases of physical abuse, clandestine relationships and the whole can of worms.

And because you personally know the people involved ... there is still some sense of ethics that should be practiced, some embarrassment that tells you not to say anything. But, of course, that is an exercise in futility because they will badger you with the same questions over and over again.

But there may yet be a distinct way of surviving this irritating curse. For instance, one question endlessly and tirelessly asked from me is: "Is it true that ________ is gay?"

To end what could be a tedious thread of succeeding questions, I reply: " No, he is not gay. He actually f---s goats. And I heard he is very good at it."

After the moment of stunned silence and perhaps nervous laughter, the topic automatically changes.  The purpose has been served.