02 February 2011


(I wrote this October 2009 as an exercise on playful first-person / second-person; and, after having closed the old blog, I thought of publishing the piece here. So.)

Will you kindly get me a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections? I’d be ever so glad. That’s a classic book; my friends tell me so. If you could just visit a bookshop while you’re there, ask the lady at the counter for the title, which, in case you forget it, I wrote on the back of a business card that you will find tucked in your wallet. I also wrote ‘horseradish’, which tastes very nice and which I have come to like almost as much as I do wasabi.

One thing I did not tell you: there’s a paperback copy of the Franzen at the impressive four-storey, energy-efficient, budget-breaking Fully Booked in highly societal Bonifacio High Street. We went there last August, and thus began my dilettantish search. On the first floor I found it, held it, opened and closed and reopened it, almost performed on it my fetishistic sniffing of the page; poor thing, I should have rescued it too and dug it out from the Fiction shelves, which was packed full with books crowded tightly together in alphabetical order and pressed hard one upon the other, each of them looking so very helpless and lonely. A most awful burial, since there wasn’t any room for breathing. I thought at the time, but you’re going back to London, I might as well send you on a fun assignment, which I hasten to remind you cannot be carried out online. (If I should watch Dr. Who with you, then so should you appreciate the curious, fanciful, uncertain, and, most important of all, deeply personal experience of wandering through bookstore aisles.) I also thought, while then contemplating a purchase, what the heck; waiting a few weeks will not matter much in terms of having an effect on my already direly outdated literary sensibilities, which — okay, I know this for a fact — bores you utterly and stupidly whenever I begin to talk about it.

You are none the less missed. I could not help it when, a few days ago, I replayed a video from that night when I introduced you to my friend D in a karaoke joint in Malate, and you sang “Delilah”. Lord Almighty. And such a firm grip on the microphone, too, as though you were the sole custodian of ancient, ready-to-be-bastardized music. I had laughed then, laughed and cheered, but I smiled — smiled true — while I was watching the footage, the reddish light and the fluid dark shadows of the room trembling according to the heady irregular movements of my hand, the audio sharp and loud, almost piercing, and your cradling — your rocking gently along to the song — suggestive of something milder and kinder. Forgive me: more than once I had barked, “How embarrassing!”; of course, it was in jest; it must have been the alcohol, it must have been the cozy, ethereal sight and scent of smoke coming out of the nostrils of the people in the bar, it must have been the knowledge, the desperation, the urgent joy of spending those beloved moments with someone who will be gone for awhile.

In the meantime, enjoy your stay there. You wouldn’t want to be here in Manila, not at this moment. Villages and barangays are still trying to recover from the wrath of tropical storm Ondoy, which left the streets flooded like you wouldn’t believe. Where there’s little flood left, lots of literal muckraking (not the Mitford kind). Gunshots at night in unsecured neighborhoods. Politicians are plastering their names on food packs. There’s looting among the homeless, too. The pictures are depressing, even apocalyptic; nothing feels normal. I thank the heavens for having spared my family from the indiscriminate disaster. Still, it’s like everyone has changed after this rather historic experience, and yet we — well, at least me — I have to go on with life as I know it, back to work, write for clients, earn, eat, read, sleep, constantly with a terrible new unease caused by the knowledge that carrying on such business is nothing close to heroic, and can be considered putrid and apathetic in light of people I know spending hours packing canned goods or deploying their vehicles for relief operations or using personal funds to finance volunteer efforts, all jolted after the calamity by conscience and community. “Where I came from,” a volunteer campaign poster reads, “everyone’s a hero.” But I’d done very little to help, I am sorry to say. I had done very little, period, except for miss and love and demand and disappoint, and write this letter that asks, will you be kind enough to get me the Franzen.


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