Alex Maskara


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Popong 7 - Meditation



I refrain from taking my writing dialogues too seriously. All I know is it gives me pleasure to write the way I do at the times I do it. It gives me the opportunity to have a good conversation with the Lord in the midst of the most impure and nasty dialogues occurring all over the world. Thanks to the social networks, people of all stripes and colors wantonly release their unfiltered ideas(initially as anonymous) and later are as proud of them as themselves. I remember the days when a person spends days and nights composing a ‘letter to the editor’ hoping its substance and structure and presentation was good enough to be worthy of print. Those days are gone. People who were reluctant to speak are now dispensing countless advice. Children make decisions without consulting the adults. Politicians are turning into petty 6 year olds bullying each other. Artists who used to live in the streets are now treated as gurus of life because they are millions of dollar worth after a song or an act or an image of their went ‘viral’; wealth is the most sought currency in the top pedestal of the world full of salivating people in the hunt for their own millions or billions. No matter how or where or through what they get it. It is a travesty.

I am removing myself from all that by finding my way to the gate of my mind. In this room where I sit, I hear the soft humming of my window AC; I just ate rice and fried pork that I bought at the Guatemalan resto a few blocks away. Jim, my roommate who was born and raised in the US could never adapt to my taste for rice and fried pork, always suspicious of any food bought outside of regular outlets like Mac, BK, Caesar’s, Pollo Tropical. I don’t usually buy my meals outside, preferring to cook when I find the time which for today was impossible given my driving back and forth from this house to my condo units. I still have this anxious desire to have a look-over of all my properties everyday, which makes me feel a little worried about my psyche. Am I getting obsessive-compulsive? Though too young for it, I am beginning to see myself as those old retirees who had nothing better to do than check every nook and cranny, every little non-compliance to rules, always ready to call the management if they find anything out of ordinary in their residences; I feel like the foreman of a construction in search of anything out of alignment ready to rip everything and anyone responsible. I am scared to turn into that. Since yesterday for example, I found an unfamiliar truck parked in a parking spot whose owner is out of the country. I stared at it for a long time wondering if the truck belonged to a visitor, which in that case, should have occupied the guest parking; or maybe the out-of-country owner remotely allowed a family member or friend to occupy her parking spot; or is this another one of those tenants who feel they can invite any of their friends to occupy any available parking when they sense the HOA is not watching. I am the HOA rep by the way.

I was tempted to stay and scrutinize any stranger person and movements in the building to find the culprit but damn it, nobody is paying me to do this stupid job. I am not the condo police. To hell with these tenants and owners who are old enough to follow and implement the rules. If they end up in verbal altercations and fist-fights due to parking spot conflicts (it happened before) so be it. I went back to my car and drove to my little house with my private backyard. I am not Atlas destined to carry the world upon my shoulder.

Besides, I have tasks to do today. Last week I had Roto-Rooter install a new plumbing for my new washer and Jim, being a professional electrician, will install the 240 v outlet for the dryer. The plumber ripped a parcel of the wall to gain access to the pipes and now it is my job to repair it. I went to Home Depot to buy a few galvanized clamps, 4x2 lumber and portable circular saw made by Ryobi (I have the 18+ V battery at home). I now possess a Ryobi straight saw, Ryobi weed wacker, Ryobi tire pump, Ryobi circular saw all using the same battery. These are good tools that I am learning to use, like an apprentice, thanks to the instructions and training by Jim, who, sadly, is half drunk most of the time on his days off. I am born out of a family of carpenters on the maternal side so there is still something in me about working with tools. It goes without saying that learning how to use tools and doing minor repairs is a must in becoming a good homeowner and landlord. So far I learned how to replace faucets, fix leaking showers, replace AC windows, now I am learning how to secure plumbing pipes and repair damaged walls. I am also doing my own landscaping.

The advantage of getting old is the accumulation of memories. For every act that I do now seems to recall a similar act in the past with some kind of a different meaning. When I use my Ryobi saw on a piece of lumber, I recall a similar event in my childhood watching my grandfather doing a similar act or a situation in highschool, when we were in a vocational class.

I remember my grandfather hellbent on teaching me, his grandson, the carpenter’s trade. He tunneled his vision upon me among his many grandchildren because I was the only effeminate among the boys and he hated his co-workers teasing him about his pansy boy. It was the decade of the 60s when sissy boys were delegated to sissy tasks. Grandfather hated that and he was intent on teaching his pansy boy how to be the toughest of them all.

He was, I assume, at an age like mine now, a man whose life was dedicated solely to building houses and in our town, he had the reputation of being a master of his trade. In those days, payments for building homes was a pittance, it's only able to bring food on the table; there was no extra benefit other than that. But Grandfather loved his job. He loved it so much he was still climbing roofs well into his 80s that his children had to restrain him from continuing.

On this particular day I am recalling, I was in the middle of the neighbor’s house being remodelled by my Grandfather. It was just me and him; my head was raised up watching him sprawled over a frame made of bamboo as he installed the beams of the would-be ceiling. He was on his own. I was hypnotized by his swift motions, climbing his old wooden ladder without a single hesitation, gliding as smoothly as a lizard up to a tree. His ladder, I remember it clearly, had become shiny through the years of use.He never followed any safety measures, no harnesses, no ropes, nothing. He was a very old man to my own eyes at this time, his head kept bobbing up and down on account of his bifocals. He chewed tobacco. Whatever remained of his hair, I think I now have the same hair he had.

He was a short-tempered perfectionist man, rough talking if he talked at all; once he told you one thing, you better not ask him to repeat it. His lionish meanness bit you like fire.

I was watching him for a long time when he abruptly stopped midway his job. He raised his head up towards the roof and surveyed his work as if searching for a needle in a haystack. He uttered a ‘Puneta’ with some tobacco spit. One thing was amiss. To fix it required the use of a carpenter plane.

Sounding like he needed no time to lose, he ordered me to throw him the ‘katam’.

I was terrified at that moment. The reason was I did not know what a ‘katam’ was. I stood frozen first, wrecking my brain as to what it was. You see, I was a nerd even as a child, the only thing that interested me were comics, science magazines and children books (if available and are within reach). I stared intently at his toolbox, it carried assorted items from nails to hammer to chisels to pliers, these I recognized, but a ‘katam’? I nervously stood on one leg, then the other. I summoned whatever bravery I possessed and gingerly walked towards the toolbox, hurriedly sorted the tools through my sharp vision; I could sense my Grandfather’s disdain and contempt from above. I slowly bent over the box and picked a tape measure.

I made the mistake of asking, “Is this it?”

I heard a sound whizz past my shoulders and end up in a thud on the ground in front of me. It was a hammer thrown at me with such force that had it hit me, I could have died. I was stupefied. And at that instant, my fear transformed into something. I felt this heat overpower my entire being. It was the same powerful emotion the man above was feeling towards me. I stared up and stared at him eye to eye, my eyes were more fiercely ferocious than his. This time it was him who got frozen, something frightened him. I was not sure if he got frightened by the possibility of killing me, his grandson or the way he saw my contempt, beastly anger, murderous glare, ferocity, hatred that stared at him right that moment or he saw himself defiantly staring back at him. Then without even a thought, I uttered with such intensity, “I will never be like you - fucking old man.”

I turned around and walked away. I never came near him again for the rest of my childhood.

I don’t know what transpired between him and my mother but it looked like my mother kept the distance between us after that event. He probably told her about how, in the heat of passion, he threw a hammer at me and how he saw the evil eyes stare back at him. I may never know.

All I knew was I graduated from the top university in the country with a degree as remote as possible from his carpentry. I was hired to work in the USA in a hospital, it was the beginning of my family’s rise out of poverty.

Before I left, I visited him and my aunts and cousins. This time he was already retired, in his 80s, almost blind. I approached him and he asked me about my departure and what kind of work and how much money I would make. In that final meeting, I felt his tenderness, his acceptance of the inevitable, his hope that his daughter may finally be saved from her poverty by the pansy grandson he almost killed, unintentionally of course. He died within my first year in Texas.
2021-01-31 12:44:07
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Popong 7 - Meditation

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