18 January 2011

If That’s What It Says

Here’s an absurd notion: you’re either an L.A. person or a New York person. At first it doesn’t sound absurd. In fact, the more I hear about it, the more I realize that it’s rather popular.

Well. I haven’t actually been to America. I’ll be the first to admit that I have absolutely no say on the matter. But let me, if you will: when W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood emigrated to the U.S. in 1939, Auden chose to live in New York; Isherwood stayed in Hollywood. Wasn’t that supposed to mean something? And then there’s this Mad Men episode — “The Jet Set” (from the second season) — in which (a very charming, for me, and very serious) Pete Campbell, orangey from an aerospace convention in L.A., says how he didn’t quite like the people in California. Rufus Wainwright, who has lived in both cities, and who now lives in New York (at least as indicated in Twitter), once said in an interview — on BBC One’s Imagine, I think it was — that he, along with fellow librettist Bernadette Colomine, were known in East L.A. as “Euro trash”. Mr. Wainwright said it in jest, of course. We all know he is just the opposite of trash. But still.

It seems as though the world has been drawn in binary fashion. If you belong to one, you must not fit in the other.

Let’s take this to a locale. I had always thought of myself as a Quezon City person. This meant – automatically, I guess — that I disliked Makati City, which I kind of did. Or maybe it was the other way around: I disliked Makati and therefore I was a Quezon City person. (I can get along fine with more than a few Makati persons, though.) Of course, it must be noted that the contrast wasn’t as stark as East and West, as New York and California. But whatever. I was born in Quezon City. St. Luke’s Hospital. Moreover, since college, when I grew old enough to be able to get around Metro Manila, Makati had never appealed to me. Too many rules. Too many cars. Too many businesses and tall boring buildings that loomed over you. Too many collar-popping, coffee-drinking people at too many branches of Starbucks.

And the commute was hard. I had to take a jeep at Mayon Street, and then a Tamaraw FX to Quezon Avenue corner EDSA, and then the train to either Buendia or Ayala Station, and then another jeep to wherever it was I was going: my psychotherapist at Medical Towers on Rufino Street; the Inquirer head office at Pasong Tamo for an extremely brief internship; to my very first job interview (a marketing specialist post for Community Innovations at which I had failed miserably); to reunions with friends from school, which would be held at something like, I don’t know, Oody’s or Tropezz in Greenbelt — reunions at which I, standoffish by default, had also failed miserably.

When I finally found a job as a marketing specialist for Eastwood Cinemas in Libis, Quezon City, I still had to go to Makati and meet with the marketing managers of official film distributors, one of whom once made me wait an hour at reception. This was in the Pacific Star Building. Later, when she finally appeared in a condescending red blazer and led me to her office, I was not even offered an apologetic cup of coffee.

My next job, as a copywriter for a Quezon City-based advertising agency, also involved meeting regularly with Makati-based clients. One such client had an office in the Philamlife Tower. She always wanted to get things like planning public relations strategies and press conferences out of the way — so that she could get on with the rest of her work stuff, I guess — and thus scheduled meetings at nine in the morning, sometimes eight. I am not a morning person. It will shock anyone how much of a morning person I’m not. And getting up at five to eat breakfast at six to catch the company car at seven to beat the traffic along Paseo de Roxas Avenue and make the meeting at eight? That was traumatic. It gave a formidable shock to my system.

So Makati became even less congenial.

But a funny thing happened. A book contract recently fell into my lap. Funny, because I’m sure there’s no other way a book contract would’ve been offered me, not until I can resist overwriting. Even funnier, in a funny and sad sort of way, is the fact that it’s a coffee table book, which is the kind of book that is perhaps never meant to be read. (I wouldn’t call it a many-paged, glorified, super-calendered press release.) A colleague whom I had met while she was working on public relations programs for Intel Philippines — let’s call her Miss T — contacted me for a project with her new employer. Something to do with intellectual property.

Miss T’s office is in Makati, near the corner of Jupiter Street and Makati Avenue. It’s a governmental-looking building, which means that all one would ever remember from it is that it’s colored gray and looks post-constructivist, even Stalinist. When I went inside for the first time, a female security guard/receptionist mispronounced my first name (Juan) as “June” — as in, “So Sir June is meeting Miss T today? You can keep your ID but I’ll have to ask you to log in on this notebook. The time is two-thirty.” I told her she could call me Migs.

During one of the editorial meetings, held at a long governmental-looking conference table, Miss T handed me the contract, which I only pretended to read. Then she asked me to sign my initials above the text that designated me as a “content development expert”.

“My what?” I asked, baffled.

“Your initials.”

“My what?” I asked, baffled.

“Your initials.”

“My what?”

I was new to all this initialism, although of course I should have known better than not expect binding legal agreements from an office that was run by a lawyer. I was, after all, the ‘winning’ supplier in a procurement activity, one that would reward me more handsomely than my diary entries ever did. It was a one-month contract, and I was allowed to write everything at the family home, at the apartment I’d been renting, or wherever I wanted, on top of doing all the non-rewarding stuff that had kept me busy. Meetings — for research, proofreading, fact-checking, coordination with the graphic designer — were to be held invariably in the Makati office. Which was all right. I’d have been insincere if I ever complained about anything that had to do with the project.

Happily responsible for the production of this first book, I began to enjoy the jeep rides, the FX rides, the train rides, the solitary lunches at McDonald’s, the taste of non-instant coffee served in the public relations department, the smoking of cigarettes at a balcony that overlooked — it occurred to me fully for the first time — what must surely be the Philippines’ version of New York City. My father used to keep telling me the very same thing about Makati, but I was too young then to appreciate the idea; I was too young to have any feelings about New York.

Or Los Angeles. They were so far away. They’re still so far away.

And besides the idea is so absurd. Popular, yes, but absurd. It’s rarely unedifying to find one’s self in a place where one’s a stranger; on occasion it may even be liberating. So if you ask me now whether I am a Quezon City person or a New York person, I’d tell you I am neither. I’d say I’m a content development expert. That’s what the contract says.


  1. Well, Man in Manila or Manila Man, LA or New York (Cubao?) it's been a pleasure to read your b-log, though I think the rivalry is felt more between Tokyo and Osaka or Sydney and Melbourne than QC and MLA. Personally, my favorite places in MM might be Paco Park, the Museum Cafe, the waterfront before Atienza destroyed it, Del Pilar before Lym destroyed it, the Luneta Hotel for its design, the old whatever it is/was The Metroplolitan? Once, when I lived in LA, a resident put it quite succinctly - At one point, the continent tilted and everything that wasn't nailed down in the east slid over - which I think sums up LA quite well.

  2. Hello Migs. Seems like what you've covered most being the geographical kind of person you are is well, eh...how will you be defined as a person or a professional "geographically" for that matter. Any insights though on who exactly is the "QC Migs" and / or how is he different with the "Makati Migs". or say, in terms of people in the profession, corporate people mostly, how do you separate them, whether it be on lifestyle, influences, etc. Just a thought.

    Can I make a compliment also that I have been admiring the touch of humor in your last (punch)lines. Now that is good reading!