Alex Maskara


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~

Lazaro Sembrano





I went through the routine of housekeeping that often starts the night before. I cleaned my sink, took out the garbage. And today, the first thing I did the moment I woke up was brew my coffee. It tasted good. Earlier I thought of dropping by the gym for my resistance training. But the drive would chip away at my free time that could otherwise be spent writing, which is my morning habit now.

Yesterday I had this thought of going to the library in the afternoon for better learning and working. I usually accomplish more in the library with a cool temperature and presence of other learners that usually inspire me. But I had to eat lunch first and as my usual habit, I surfed the Internet. I also had to allow Jim’s pet Rocky outside to pee. Jim texted me earlier to do just that since he'd be at work the whole day and I'd be home before him. When all was done, I fell asleep. When I woke up from my nap, there was no way I'd go anywhere with thunder and rain that just rushed into my city without warning.

Since I walked more than 3 miles in the morning yesterday, I ended writing my meditation in the evening which was grand. I spent time talking about something, now I don’t even recall what that something was, oh it must have something to do with the zealot dude in the park last Saturday, he was obviously damaged by psychosis. He could be a material for a fine story. He was yelling at anybody passing him by and suddenly would open his bags and pull out their contents and put them back in again. I moved away from his path but couldn't get him out of my mind. Most days, he would be preaching alone in one of the sheds in the park. Today, he was fighting with some imaginary enemies.

I was also impressed by my own behavior now. Yesterday I managed to respectfully greet a homeless dude who greeted me the same way. Yesterday I also saw a fisherman who must have caught the biggest fish from the Intercoastal. I said he got a big catch, the biggest catch I could remember. He smiled and acknowledged me. The usual park crowd swelled as the morning sun lifted itself higher in the sky. A few homeless people dragged down their baggage on wheels, some sitting in hidden corners as if embarrassed by their luck, refusing to make eye contact with people passing by. This state of Florida, for whatever reason, has turned so expensive that it is now beyond the reach of low-paid workers. A lot end up being evicted and it is much more difficult for the retirees who have no means to move somewhere or start all over again. It is tough to pass by them knowing I could be one of them if luck would turn against me.

I thought of my roommate Jim. Without me, Jim would have lost any chance of living here in Florida although he has his mother in Arizona to rescue him, hopefully. She’s supposed to be rich and it puzzles me why Jim would not go to her now. They must have some family dynamics that Jim tries to avoid but I made sure that he knows that one day I will be gone and hopefully he will have secured his own dwelling and life by then. I admit there are some perks in having him as my roommate. My current neighborhood is risky for people living alone. It helps that I have Jim here (I tell everyone he is a roommate/tenant to avoid people thinking we’re partners or lovers because we are not; he is as straight as an arrow) with his pitbull pet Rocky providing peace of mind and security. He contributes to the cost of utilities, at least. Now and then he does home repairs that require ladders and especially electrical, which is his line of work. It is all good. The Lord blessed me with having him around.

Other than that, I am content as Floridians approach what is predicted to be a severe hurricane season, which will contribute more agony to the already stretched out people. Between hurricane-driven property taxes that tripled and insurance premiums that increased more than quadruple, people are reassessing their stay in this state. I guess the Lord is telling us something. As for me, I don’t want to focus too much on the negative what ifs. The Lord has always guided me in making decisions in life and whatever disaster comes along, I will follow whatever He tells me. If I lose everything, I will just sell and leave. For I am in a much better position in life at this point. I am retiring soon and there will be a fixed income coming my way. It is not much, but better than nothing. I saved a little which in my estimation will help me fund my old age. I also have the option of returning home to the old country if my life comes from bad to worse. This is the way of life that I worked hard and prepared for. The last thing I would like to do is worry as much as I did when I was young.

My health could afford to worry when I was young, when I took all the responsibilities of providing for my extended family. Those were the days when I refused even to drive long distances for fear of getting injured because being disabled would cause a total failure not only on me but the family I vowed to support. Those days are over. What took their place are the aging-related problems of slowing down and getting sick easily. There is still the possibility of losing it all with a result more woeful for me because I am alone. Even that is something not to fret about. I did something good for those who needed it most in my halcyon days.

Remember the extended family I supported? They will never abandon me. I can see that in their eyes, their loving eyes that say ‘ if I was there when they needed me most, they’d make sure they will be around when it is my turn to need them.’

But I fiercely protect my independence. I want to go on fighting and kicking till the day I die. I don’t need someone’s hand guiding my weakling arms and legs to cross the street. I would refuse a seat offered to me by a young man or woman in the LRT. I want to pass on from this life like my dear old grandaunt who was a solid spinster. A week before her death, and no one could figure how she knew it, she pulled her hidden brown baro’t saya and told her niece that should she die, that is what she would like to wear in her wake. She died a week later without drama and fanfare. She was admitted to the hospital due to pneumonia and died peacefully. That is the way to go, I think. She was almost 90.

Ah the drama of my youth when life was hard and full of responsibilities still makes me teary-eyed but it is all over. My sister reported to me yesterday that everyone back home is doing very well. Another house was built by a niece on the old land owned by my deceased father. My older brother, the one I followed, is planning to visit his son, my nephew and family in New Zealand. I heard of my youngest brother getting away from his family for a few days, sulking after his wife and daughter argued over something, which amused me more than worried me. Apparently his daughter bought a piece of land that was still occupied. And the occupier refused to leave. It is a family affair beyond me. Trivial matters I have nothing to do with. My old intention of saving my siblings and their families from a disastrous future had been preempted and it is all over now. Time for me to bow and take my own trip somewhere. Not sure where but somewhere with a total peace of mind and calm spirit.

Again, this is my drama and I own it!

Today is another day of meditation, work and maybe workout. I must spend time blogging my fiction website that surprises me with a few readers based on Google analytics, much better than my health website that I regularly update. I feel that Filipinos are hungry for stories, especially stories they could relate to. It so happens that Filipino bloggers, upon my close examination, are populated by lifestyles and whatever they want to show off. And these lifestyle blogs are meant to fade away. They are meant for the young and hip and rich which is irrelevant to the majority of the population that are middle class or poor. Lifestyle blogs are for those who think they live in a well-to-do-country, like the US, showcasing things that I myself have nothing to do with. I live in America and I have no plans of elevating my lifestyle, like theirs, wearing expensive clothes and traveling with a camera pointing at me telling people - Look here, see how wonderful my life is and should yours be’. Ok. My answer to that is no.

What I want to share is what I am writing now. The Filipino’s resilience in life. The Filipino’s power over his demons and adversities. The Filipino’s power to look at his misery straight in the eye and kill it until it is gone. Sadly, this requires a lot of story-telling, a lot of serious thinking and these are done without self-promotion because who cares? Most especially me. I was never a good looking person to start with. I am hideous, what is the point of sharing my appearance?

My Filipino story is what matters. It is the only gift I can give to those who are interested in what I have to tell. And millions of Filipinos have millions of stories to tell. Most of them have no outlets for their stories because they could not find a decent quiet place to tell them or a venue to show them. Their stories could not compete with all the distractions all fighting for netizens’ attention. The worst part is, when they have the opportunity to share their stories, they are buried under lifestyle blogs that impress on them that these are what they should emulate.

Not me. I studied how to design websites. I learned how to create reels and videos and shorts and how to scale images and convert them to jpegs and store them in AWS S3 or in youtube or even on web hosts and clouds. But I also practiced writing all my life. Am I good at writing? Heck no. But I can be good in sharing and hoping that someone would get what I am driving at in my stories.

And this is what I am driving at: that Filipinos would own themselves again, and I am talking about their true selves. They should unshackle themselves from what the world tells them they should do. They should get away from appeasing and attracting and feeling a sense of false superiority because one Filipino won a beauty contest or one foreigner posted his admiration for the Philippines as a beautiful country. Worse, Filipinos seem to have this propensity to feature themselves with a foreign spouse or husband/wife/partner called AFAM, and feel cut above the rest of the country. Worse, other Filipnos become so jealous and start looking for their own afam as well. It is almost comedic. Here I am dealing with all kinds of ‘foreigners’ ( in relation to where I come from) and feel not a single iota of pride, even when most of my friends, Caucasian, Blacks, Latinos sleep on my sofa. Jim is white. Matt is black. Javier is Latino. They don’t care how I look. Or act. They just know I am a good friend, equal to them, and have nothing to do where I come from. All they care about is the joy of being together, doing things together which, sadly, is getting rarer as we get old. Aging is dooming us.

In order to do that, they need to leave the noise behind, they need to dwell inside, way deep inside and find what they want and accomplish outputs and products they are good at doing. Everyone was given a gift by God.







Lazaro Sembrano (circa 1994)


Will someone say, why, then, this
divine compassion extended even to
the ungodly and ungrateful? Why, but
because it was the mercy of him who
daily "maketh His sun to rise on the
evil and the good, and sendeth rain
on the just and the unjust." (Mat 5,45)
St. Augustine, The City of God


I take the liberty of chronicling a Gay Sainthood foretold.

My friend, Lazaro Sembrano, was a sucker of tragedy; this he attributed to his mediocre looks and strict Catholic upbringing. He was, as a product of Tarlac farmers, replete with superstitions. A mole on the side of his nose was a destiny to weep gallons of tears; his shoulder growth meant a lifetime cross to bear; his buttock birthmark supposedly spawned disasters. He blamed his misfortunes, earthquakes, typhoons, drought, floods, fires and volcanic eruptions to these bodily marks. Their house used to stand beside a cemetery. As a kid, he'd jump over the fence during the burial of anybody and join mourners just for the heck of it; when it was time to wail, he'd wail the loudest. Such a nuisance! He said, "To cry for someone you don't know is the highest form of sympathy." He sure found tragedy everywhere.

During his residence in Murfreesboro Tennessee as a nurse, he learned through Discovery Channel that Marlon Brando championed Civil Rights and Native Americans. He wrote him a letter - addressed to Marlon Brando c/o Tahiti - "I'm rooting for you. Sincerely, Lazarus." Just one problem - Brando's activism occurred thirty years ago and was residing in California when my friend mailed him the letter. Worse, when Brando's son was charged for the murder of his half-sister's husband/lover and, when later, this half sister committed suicide for the same reason, Lazaro cried for days. He got hysterical in the middle of A Streetcar Named Desire, where Brando, his wet shirt torn, cried - "Stellaaaaa!" And I couldn't pacify him. His tears carried-over Guys and Dolls, a comedy. More recently, he wept with Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire. Which reminded me of his previous similar reactions to Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams , Mickey Rooney's BoysTown, and Mel Gibson's Ransom. Judging from the looks of these actors you'd become suspicious. Suspicious or not, Lazarus also cried through The Sands of Iwo Jima, All Is Quiet in the Western Front, The Dead Poets' Society, Hamlet, Kiss of a Spiderwoman, Ten Commandments and Chariots of Fire. Nothing could beat the impact of Philadelphia though. On the scene where the young brother of Tom Hanks could no longer bear the dying Tom, I thought Lazarus would collapse!

Call his weeping multimedia. He burst into tears listening to Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, which I bought him for Christmas. He cried over the biography of Ernest Hemingway. I teased him all the time; I said, "Your favorite tree is weeping willow and passage from the Bible- Jesus wept." Lazaro I believe, was born with the largest lacrimal sacs in the world. Of course he is gay.
He'd find travesty in mundane things. I dragged him to a gay bar. When a go-go dancer mounted the stage and gyrated, Lazarus asked me, " What makes a man drop his pants for a few bucks? Is he hungry? Is someone in the family sick? Is his child needing milk?"

Goodness, where did he get these ideas? When the rich Bill Gates was featured in C-SPAN, I said, "That Gates is one lucky guy." Lazarus murmured something like, "Sadness is written on his face. It is lonely at the top." To test him I asked him once, "Is this glass half full or half empty?" His answer was, "Do you realize how many people on earth need clean running water? How insensitive of you to even ask that."

Eventually I had to confront him about his miserable psyche. I said, "What is disturbing about you Lazaro is that your love for tragedy is turning you into tragedy itself." My question was ill timed, he was reading Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Right after finishing Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice. Which meant he was on the verge of tears. Again.

"I can't help it," he said. "I love tragedy because I'm gay."

"Excuse me. Say that again?" I asked.

"Are you blind? Gays like us are pressed down, buried under the feet of society. Teen-age gays have the highest suicide rate; gays are dying by the thousands because of AIDS; we are deprived of honorable positions, made fun in all forms of Art, condemned by religions, discriminated and deprived of happiness. Can you blame me if I find everything tragic?"
I stood there counting one to a hundred. I was really pissed. "So?" I said, smarting. Did he read something in the Servant of the Bones? When my counting reached fifty seven, I resumed the konfrontasi. "Stop this weeping now Lazaro, this immense attachment to tragedy or else you'd join the long list of gay psychotics and eccentrics."

Wrong again, he had an immediate response - crisp, strong, full of conviction. "What else is new Mario? Aren't we considered abnormal now as we stand here?" I surrendered.

My friendship with Lazarus was, to put it mildly, an act of charity. It began when one of the Filipino nurses in Tennessee tasked me to visit him. She said he was extremely depressed and homesick. I soon found him virtually dead. Socially. He limited his adventures to five places - the SNF where he worked, the Xanadu video store, Kroger Grocery, Texaco gas station, and the library. I beseech him to come with me to Nashville Mall which he declined, preferring to mail order from International Male. On week-ends, he'd rent twenty videos and watch them in a row until his eyes hurt. He'd finish reading two novels a week until his vision became blurred.
After our confrontation, our friendship took a sharp turn. He did something unimaginable. My hermit friend who never ventured beyond the two mile periphery of his apartment suddenly turned into Houdini. He vanished.

Because he received his green card. Or so I thought.

That was three weeks ago, on the Feast Day of St. Augustine. In three weeks, he submitted his resignation, hoarded his little property to a Nashville Storage, packed up his duffle bag and drove all the way to Fort Lauderdale. He did these without telling anyone, including me. And I was his best friend. The rat.

And then, he called me.

"Mario," he said in a mild and nervous tone.

I blurted out my fears and anger. "What have you done? Where are you now? Are you okay? What happened?"

"Calm down," he answered. "I am safe here."

"In Florida?... Why did you do this shit Lazarus?"

"I was visited by St. Augustine."

Being a La Salle graduate, I have a low regard for any Augustinian. I was Dominican bred. Besides being sociable, I was practical.

"Do you have a job there?"

"No."

Dammit! "Medical insurance?"

"No."

"Do you have money?"

"A little."

"Lazaro, Lazaro, why are you so impulsive? Do you know what you're doing?"

"Please understand Mario, I need to act upon my visions. They are gifts from God."
I had the urge to hang up the phone, guilty for what I suspected was his mental demise. I should have done something. I was imagining a headline in Fort Lauderdale: A Homeless Filipino Nurse - Murdered.

And then he narrated his visions, he talked as if I was not even in the other line:
St. Augustine came wearing a bishop's habit, stomped his staff on the floor three times and cried, "Lazarus, wake up." I raised my head and asked him what he wanted.

"How long will you remain dead?" His words made me tremble. I corrected him by saying I was alive.

He raised his staff and pointed it at my chest. "The world and time have passed while you lie in your tomb. Lazarus, the Saints and Angels in heaven are agitated, for lately, there are droves of souls knocking on our doors, crying out for justice. They died before their appointed times. This was unprecedented since the Black Death of 1346. You've seen them, Lazarus."

I stared at him puzzled. He continued. "Have you closed your eyes so long you're blinded to them? Saying this, thousands of spirits came to me like a tornado, encircling me. They were the faces of people who died of AIDS. Arthur Ashe smiled.

But these souls did not know me at all. I was just an ordinary person. I shook my head.
The Saint's voice became threatening. "Don't make your resurrection too hard for me Lazarus. You don't want the Saints to get mad. During the Black Death, 16,000 Jews were murdered after being accused of starting it. Now, listening to the voice of time, there are hidden whispers blaming homosexuals for this new plague. If you do not act now, history will be repeated."

I told him to forget about it, who would listen to me, I was a homosexual myself. After I said this, a flash of lightning cut across his face, he released a thunderous cry, raised his staff again and struck me, yes, he hit me so hard I rolled in pain.

"From what measure do you judge yourself Lazarus?"

Well, who else but the modern moral crusaders, especially the Catholic Church.

"Stooop!" he cried. "I am not exactly proud of the Dark Ages. Who could have ever thought that the earth was round; that Joan of Arc was guiltless; that the sun was the center of the universe as Galileo claimed; that man would land upon the moon? And the gravest mistake of all, who could have ever thought that the Inquisition would imprison the great writer Cervantes? But Lazarus, who said that I, the scholarly Saint of Christendom, would be free from mistakes?" He paused for a while, mulled his thoughts, and then continued. "Hear my confession. When I was your age, I lived in sin. I housed a woman who bore me a child. We were not even married! I continued living in the joys of flesh, torn apart by the good and evil within me. I was on the verge of suicide one day when I heard the voice of a child. He said, 'Take up and read. Take up and read.' I began my Confessions. Today it's a classic. Oh Lazarus, you are no worse than me."

Still, I argued, people listened to him because he was a solid heterosexual.

"Oh your affinity to self condemnation makes me sick," the Saint said.

I told him that nowadays, people categorize sins in a certain hierarchy, homosexuality being at the bottom of the totem pole.

"And you believe that rubbish?" He asked.

That's the Catholic tradition, I answered.

"No one can be blamed for that but the secular Dante. And he was not even a man of God. Listen to me my child, to our Lord and Master, a sin is a sin. There is no difference between a lie and a murder. That is written in the Bible."

That was new to me. So I expanded our discussion into some moralists' claims. Which was homosexuality being responsible for the falls of Greek and Roman empires. And for the spread of AIDS. And for the moral decline of America.

St. Augustine seemed surprised.

"How wrong and pitiful. How odd. I thought the modern man have erased myths already. Listen, during my time, after the Goths sacked Rome, I believe it was in 410 AD, Christianity was considered the culprit. Otherwise, I would not write the City of God in the defense of persecuted Christians. Lazarus, people will always find a scapegoat for their failures. Don't listen, look instead to the visions I am going to show you."

He raised his staff and two doves, carrying the Bible between them descended upon me. The Book opened before my eyes. A passage was marked, it was Romans 1,26: "Because they do this, God has given them to shameful passions. Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts. In the same way, the men give up natural relations with women and burn with passion for each other. Men do shameful things with each other, and as a result, they bring upon themselves the punishment they deserve for their wrongdoing."

After reading the passage, one of the doves flapped its wings turning the pages, which stopped at another marked passage. It was Matthew 5, 27-28: "Do not commit adultery. but now, I tell you: Anyone who looks at a woman and wants to possess her is guilty of committing adultery in his heart."

The Book and the doves disappeared. I looked at Augustine, confused.

"Lazarus, God who condemned homosexuality is the same God who condemned a heterosexual fantasizing about a married woman. So stop condemning yourself. Look at this new vision."

Two men appeared.

One was in drag, swayed his hips, danced before a raucous crowd, he lip-synched Ertha Kitt, the audience was delirious with laughter. Naked dancers toured the tables, some of the men tipped them as they passed.

The other was married, I could tell by the wedding ring he wore. He came out of a hotel with a woman, they furtively drove away. "That was his mistress," the Saint whispered.

Sunday came. The man in drag shed off his clothes, counted the money he earned from his show the previous night, kissed his lover goodbye, proceeded to Publix Supermarket, bought groceries, drove to his mother, laid the groceries on the table, cleaned the house. Then his mother came out of her room and shouted, "I don't need this! This comes from your sinful job! Get out of my house!" He left in pain, crying.

Then his mother changed into her Sunday's best clothes, proceeded to her local church and worshiped God with her preacher. The preacher was the man who the night before drove away with his mistress from the motel!

"Now tell me Lazarus, what is wrong with this vision?" St Augustine asked.

I was too shocked to say anything.

"What is the consequence of this vision?" St Augustine pressed on. "Look at what happens next."

The man in drag appeared again, this time he was carrying a banner marked with symbols ACT-UP. With anger in his eyes he shouted. "We are queer, get used to us!"

On the side of the road, the preacher was holding a banner. On it were printed the Biblical passage Romans 1,26. He reacted to the shouts of the gay marchers: "Sinners you'll burn in Sodom and Gomorrah!"

St. Augustine stopped the vision. "Tell me Lazarus, who has the right to condemn the other?"
I was quick in my conclusion. No one Father, I said, both are sinners.

He raised his head toward the sky: "Let the man without sin cast the first stone. My child do not condemn yourself, for God lets the sun and rain fall on both the sinner and the good, the just and the unjust."

He stared into my eyes, full of gentleness and kindness. He said, "As for the falls and declines of empires, contrary to your beliefs, the cause was neither gender nor sex orientation. Look closely at the faces of the two men and you will see the real cause - the three faces of the Devil himself."

I looked and looked and looked at the faces. But I saw nothing.

St. Augustine quoted another passage from the Book. It was Mattew 5,22: "But now I tell you: Whoever is angry with his brother will be brought to trial; whoever calls his brother 'You good for nothing' will be brought before the Council; and whoever calls his brother a worthless fool will be in danger of going to the fires of hell."

Hearing this, the three faces of the Devil on the two men were slowly revealed. Hatred, Intolerance and Deceit.

The Saint spoke once more. "Yes, these are the true faces of moral decline. But... Lazaro there is another evil face that I haven't shown you yet. It was the face that toppled the Greek empire. Before Greece fell, the people took upon themselves to live in pleasure and selfishness.

Sometime after the death of Socrates and the Philosophers, they descended into the place of this evil face and in doing so, fell."

I want to see the fourth evil face my Saint, I pleaded.

"Before I reveal that, are you willing to come out of your hole to take the Cause of AIDS victims, those poor souls who are crying out in the heavens?"

I am afraid. I am a foreigner, gay, poor - what can a lowly man like me do?

"If you won't heed me Lazaro, this final vision will happen."

The vision came to me, it was short and brutal, it was insensible. The man in drag was singing in the bar and four masked men barged into the door. One of them was the preacher. He shouted: "In the name of God, I'm going to kill all you faggots!" He raised his rifle and began shooting.

I broke down and shook. No. No. No. I knelt in front of the Saint. Don' t let this happen Father, I begged.

From his hand, the Saint brought out a mirror and placed it before my face. I looked at my reflection.

He spoke again. "That is the fourth face of the Devil. It is called fear."

I finally realized what he wanted. I asked him what I should do. He gave me this instructions: "Lazaro, Lazaro, rise up from the dead. Awaken your spirit and heart. There are many souls crying before the Council of Angels and Saints. Justice they ask. Reason, they call. Come out of your tomb Lazaro, roll the rock away from the door. Go to Miami and there your mission will begin."

So there! The first visions of my friend Lazaro which hastened his departure to South Florida. One rainy day, he unfolded his umbrella and drove to Coral Gables, knocked on the door of a building named Dade Rest and spoke with solemnity: "My name is Lazaro Sembrano. I am here to offer services to People With AIDS.

Thus began his crusade which I am about to foretell. He waged a holy war that led to healing and reconciliation in Miami.

And I thought all the while he was insane. And I hope he'd forgive me for calling him a Rat one time.

ow I am a good friend, equal to them, and have nothing to do where I come from. All they care about is the joy of being together, doing things together which, sadly, is getting rarer as we get old. Aging is dooming us.

In order to do that, they need to leave the noise behind, they need to dwell inside, way deep inside and find what they want and accomplish outputs and products they are good at doing. Everyone was given a gift by God.
2024-05-24 10:20:25
shortstories

Manila in the Dark





Darkness in Manila was always my safety. I had so many things to hide during my youth. My poverty-ridden clothes and sunken face due to irregular meals, my constant failures in exams because I could not learn anything on an empty stomach and a parade of distractions in the sardine-can like the boarding house where I stayed because I could not afford a decent dorm. I still can’t believe I graduated from the top university of Manila despite all that. I can only attribute whatever I gained in life through the full blessings of God because my life is nothing short of miraculous.

The only difference between today and nearly 40 years ago was that I am much older and the old spot I used to occupy is now barricaded by fences installed by construction companies reclaiming parts of the bay to build casinos and hotels and theme parks. This saddens me because in due time, the landscape of Manila Bay will totally be transformed and any reminder of the old version will be thrown to oblivion with no one recalling how it was.

The Bay is similar to my life. Blessed but cursed at the same time. Manila Bay had been coveted by many superpowers in the world - it had been ‘discovered’ by Spain, nearly occupied by Britain, taken over by the US, flattened by the Japanese-American war, and now, China is rearing its dragon head, setting its sights upon this beautiful city. The bay remained isolated, waiting for another catastrophe to happen. Now it is being transformed into something that it is not.

I am similarly designed like Manila Bay. I was born, raised, fought my way to a better life but to succeed I had to be single-minded, solitary, because everything else in the world is a distraction that I can’t afford to give in to. When I was young I was so scared of failure because to fail would spell disaster for the people I promised to help. I didn’t venture much outside of work for fear I might get sick or meet with an accident. I did not form close relationships. I was basically transformed by the dictates of my time’s economy. I lived and worked to serve and I always hoped for the day when all the responsibilities will finally be over. Or at least I was financially secure. I am blessed to have both outcomes in my life.

Just like Manila Bay, I served a purpose when I was needed, and the way I see it now, Manila Bay’s purpose in history was to serve as a backdrop for superpowers to project their might - whether through the Spanish-American War or the Japanese Occupation, the city and its bay was the perfect stage to announce to the world their victory or ascendency. And China is probably dying to show its own power. It started claiming islands that belonged to the Philippines geographically and historically.

I found a tiny opening in the fence and furtively eased my body through it so I could sit on the seawall. It was dark and nobody would see me here. I raised my head to stare at the moon which luckily was full tonight. This solitude allowed me to invoke my past and as I said, without the stories I have written beside this bay when I was young, I would have nothing to talk about. That is the good thing about writing, it provides that important tool to resurrect what has long been dead in one’s memory. Regrettably, I hardly see anyone like me who enjoys the beauty of solitude here nowadays. Solitude is not always romantic or melodramatic or a vessel to float in nostalgia. Sometimes solitude is the best way to access the clarity of one’s brain. Sitting alone here, I am able to recall the many sights and sounds and images I saw and conjured a long time ago.

I carry with me the Filipino narrative, it is a narrative that is exclusively mine and every Filipino’s. It is embedded in the fibers and axons of my brain. I started as a Filipino when I was not even known as Filipino. I could have been a maharlika or aliping saguiguilid or namamahay. I could have been a warrior or babaylan. I could have been an Aeta. I was also known as Indio, a term imposed on me by the Spanish as opposed to the original Filipinos who were Spanish natives living in this Asian country or as opposed to the Peninsulares and the mestizos or as opposed to Sangleys or the Chinos.

Eventually I claimed the name Filipino, a consolidation of everyone (Indio and otherwise) under one description. Everyone is Filipino now, no matter what their blood mixture or social class or state of mind is. So long as they have been a part of the soil and culture. It makes everybody equal and nobody is surprised by that. There are still a few who maintain their separateness - some tribes of remote islands, some Muslims and other regional ethnic groups. But they are mostly a fraction of the whole.

That is the reason I came back here to this part of Manila. I have switched my nationality to American keeping my one foot on the birth country while planting the other on the adopted. That makes me incomplete. I am nourished through many umbilical cords. One is attached to Spain, the other to America. I dream of visiting Latin countries in search of the culture that once thrived in my native land, before it got canceled by the US. Some local Filipinos also try to drink from their umbilical cords attached to America.

It is hard to erase in one’s cultural memory the relationship I had with Spain and America, especially when that memory has been as long as 350 years. Even now, I always dream of traveling in Mexico, celebrating the celebrations I shared with them. From the Day of the Dead to Christmas to Spanish cenaculo, to the Catholic traditions. The best part is our familiarity with each other, the Latinos and I. I live in an enclave surrounded by Latino immigrants and for some reason, I feel at home just by listening to their music, the way they gather and laugh at the end of the day. They are the closest I can find to my home outside of home. The saddest thing is my alienation with my Asian neighbors Japan and China. There are still remnants of old stories embedded in my brain about Japanese atrocities in World War 2 despite their total change and my distant love for their culture of which I can never be at home to. And now the Chinese, instead of building their friendship around Asia, are relying heavily on bullying tactics to subjugate and claim what is not theirs. They seem to look at their neighbors with disdain, and when I see how they water-cannon Filipino fishermen on the fishermen’s fishing turf for centuries, only because they can, it makes my blood boil. For a Christian, that is the last thing you want to do to your neighbor. They can do whatever they want, but love and neighborliness, they cannot have from me. It is probably their Confucian teachings that make them do that.

I look at the images of Spain and I see their wide poblaciones and plazas which reminds me constantly of the towns and Manila I grew up in. In the same manner I encounter old buildings in the US that have uncanny resemblance to the old buildings of Manila. Of course they were designed by the sane people. And then there were the Filipino oral traditions of Spanish times and the Commonwealth era. The colonization of the Philippines created both positive and negative impacts. And I would be lying, mainly to myself, if I would deny the feeling of superiority by ex-colonizer against my inferiority as a colony. I wouldn't be surprised if I meet discrimination in the land of the master now and then. The Filipinos themselves are full of discrimination against each other albeit using different criteria.

But the sadness of my being Filipino stems from my inability to mentally consider that I am equal to them who colonized me. Even now, I seem to appeal to their acceptance, their generosity, that I can never match their intelligence and accomplishments. I still feel the joy of having them around because it triggers that old Filipino feeling of having a superior being making all things good for me. I sing and dance and parade in beauty pageants to entertain them. I have this curse that I cannot outsmart them, or beat them in sports, I am their perennial consumer to what they create thinking I cannot create like they do. I am the top user of social media and Internet and before that I was the top texter. I create every digital content possible and feel smart being the user, not the provider of their platforms. I am their zombie.

Zombies Of Heroics and Histrionics(undated)

Sometimes I get so dramatic with my articles only because (I'd like to think) only a few read me. That's why I prefer not to 'link' or join any grouping of bloggers on the internet (not that I belong to any particular mindset, mind you)- my isolation frees me from censoring my writing. I also base my writing on the countries that read me. And I always draw from my life as a Pinoy in composing my sentences here and there. I am still surprised at the number of hits on my site but then, I don't know, I'd like to think no one reads me except myself. Which means, why shouldn't I just confine my writing in notebooks inside my drawers? But then, at the same time, I'd like to imagine people reading me, because we as humans are actors on a stage, always imagining an audience. Oh well, as long as nobody writes me back and tells me I'm breaking the law by writing what I write I'd continue. Besides, blogging is self-publishing without censorship and editing. I find it very pure and liberating. So Beatnik. And I love that.

I've been writing lately about the recent crisis in the Philippines.

Ramon and I had lunch today and he said, "The country is so surreal it becomes a zombie movie." He said this as he raised his eyes from reading Morikami's Wind Up Bird Chronicle. He's now half-way through the novel, reading it steadfastly and fast while sucking the straw from his chilled chocolate mocha. He continued:



There was a time when a barrio existed in the Pacific populated by people who used to be so alive until one day, multitudes of fish swarmed the coast to their delight. The fish themselves jumped into their fishing nets and bit their hooks even without the baits. The people concluded the fish were a gift of God and they feasted right there and then, eating fish left and right, day and night, and many many more days after that. And then, they all turned into zombies. Well, not all of them really.

Many from foreign lands have focused their eyes on these barrio people whose peculiarity was so puzzling. How can people so easily be turned brain-dead when they were so alive and so intelligent before?

It turned out it was not the fish that turned them into zombies, it was themselves. The fish were just a decoy. Later on, the foreign observers discovered how they turned into zombies: The first ruler of the land removed their freedoms and they were forced to learn only things the ruler wanted them to learn. No one could question the ruler's decisions lest he wanted to die. For twenty years the people moved according to prescribed and programmed movements, like robots. They were fed with lies and grand ideals emanating from the ruler. These people became blind followers, marching wherever they were told to go. They had to always be quiet and not bad-mouth the ruling class. Until one day, a zombie accidentally woke up and started to question the ruler. The ruler hastily shot him. But it was a wrong shot, it was the flick that unzombied the zombies. In one particular year their hypnotist ruler vanished and they were back into being alive and intelligent again.

But it was short-lived because it was their misfortune not to know how to act with independent, functioning minds. For twenty years their minds were locked-up. For the past twenty years they looked up to one ruler.

For the next twenty years they kept on searching for a single ruler.

The poor zombies claimed independence but deep inside they were looking for someone to tell them what to do, how to act, what to think, what not to think. This unfortunately, is a trait of zombies that was easily manipulated. They lost perspective. They did not know how to distinguish heroism from heroics, they could not tell the difference between real sense and histrionics. So that, when the zombies heard a screaming sound: Fight! Let's all gather together! Lets kill the Devil, they all gathered thinking that by reliving their first release from zombie-ness they could be unzombied again. True they were unzombied but they had to go through it again and again, like some form of therapy (everytime there is a new ruler) to unzombie themselves. And so many zombies of heroics and histrionics took advantage of this: Even the college drop-outs who could not pass Trigonometry became philosophers in newspapers so long as they re-kindled the fire of the "First Unzombie-ness". So they went on and on, thinking because they were ready they must truly be heroes in Zombieland. The other zombies gathered together in the name of different things, like Zombies of Morality (You fuck you're a sinner- I fuck I'm a Saint); Zombies of the Prayer (I pray for you asshole because You cannot pray for yourself); Zombies of the Senate and Congress (You don't give us what we want, we investigate you); Zombies of Business ( You protect my ass I give you money); Zombies of Jueteng (You protect my ass, I give you Balato); Zombies of Literature(You give me Award, I give you Award); Zombies of Mutual Admiration Society (You do good...and so do you...oh no you do good really...but you do good too...really...etcetera for eternity); Zombies of Entertainment Industry(Ha?); Zombies OFW (How much is the dollar rate now? When I go home, I'll show 'em...); Zombies of Youth (When I grow up I want to be an American Idol, otherwise, I want to be a member of the Zombies of -----); and so on and so forth.

But on the 20th anniversary of "The First Unzombie”, the most powerful of the Zombies gathered together to plot a coup. They invited all the Zombies of whatever persuasion they could gather and discussed how to topple the new ruler. All of them need to be unzombied again, they said, they just can feel it. Their power as The Heroes of Zombie-ness is wavering, fracturing, and all the Zombies no longer see 'the light'. These powerful Zombies are no longer capable of appointing the new ruler and the ruler they got now doesn't want to give them what they want. They gathered as a prelude to Unzombie-ness. And this time, they'd do it with such force.

But, the ruler they want to topple is a Zombie who is smarter than them. And the other Zombies in this Zombie-land are now awakening. And the other Zombies who went abroad to work saw the true light. And the many Zombies of lowland and hinterlands are just becoming humans again, alive and thinking. It took them twenty years but by golly - how smart they became. How intelligent.

On the day the Zombies of Power and Ruling Class called on all the Zombies to protect the Spirit of Unzombie-ness, some zombies shrugged them off, others went on playing sports, others went on business as usual, others made fun of them, others looked at them and found them unattractive, others played mah-jong, others went shopping, others went blogging, others watched the world wrestling championship match.

The Zombies are about to write volumes and volumes of explanation for this, volumes and volumes of threats and counter-threats, volumes and volumes of analysis of what happened to the Zombieland ....

But they too, are slowly waking up.


-- the zombie does what everybody's doing. In a stampede, everybody kicks and shoves at the same time to the deaths of the weak --
2024-05-11 07:54:23
shortstories

Lazaro Sembrano

Manila in the Dark

Boy Luneta

A Night at the Luneta Grandstand

Migratory Bird (circa 2005)