Saturday, February 28, 2009

Deaths in the countryside

The bird

One morning, in a small hut in a small farm in the countryside, a boy was dreaming of the glory of war he had seen in a -- particularly of the scenes, in black and white, where the good guys shot the bad guys -- when he was roused from his reverie by a noise outside.

The noise was caused by a branch heavy with coconuts cracking and crashing to the ground. As the boy went out to clear the debris, he saw among the coconuts the scattered straws of a nest, three bird eggs, their shells cracked open by the fall, and one baby bird.

The baby bird had its mouth open in the silent scream of one who had been born too soon, its eyes still closed to a world it was unprepared to cope with. The soft, tiny flesh, nestled in the boy’s small hand, quivered.

The boy gently touched the wide-open mouth with his little finger and a small feeble beak softly closed upon it. It didn’t hurt, but somewhere deep inside, the boy felt a spark of pain.

“Are you hungry?” the boy thought. The eyes remained closed, the mouth was still open – trusting, waiting. Then the boy realized the bird was dying.

Where is your mother!” It was the boy’s silent scream. “She doesn’t know…”

Quickly he wet a little finger from a small tin of water and gently let a drop into the bird’s mouth.

“Live!” he whispered. “Live…”

With a fingernail he cut a sliver from a grain of rice and turned to feed the pulse of life in his palm. Then he knew that it was too late.

He plucked a leaf and covered the lifeless body. He left it under a mango tree just starting to grow, its parted seed still clinging on to the stem that served as its trunk.

The boy turned his back, his eyes stinging with tears of indignation. He knew that along with the bird, he had lost something valuable.

The man

One afternoon, a burly man crouched behind a boulder in front of a hut in a farm in Tucaan Balaag, Davao del Norte. His companions had already spread out, their camouflaged uniforms blending with the bushes and trees nearby. Their M-16s were pointed at the hut.

Inside the hut nested four rebels -- one pregnant woman and three men -- who had just come in from the rain the night before. They left their wet clothes and shoes outside to dry, a mistake that would cost them dearly.

Unknown to them, a comrade they had sent to get some supplies in the poblacion was caught by the military. He was “persuaded” to lead the soldiers to the hut. The rebels’ clothes and shoes outside the hut betrayed their presence inside.

The soldiers opened fire.

Inside the house, the rebels took cover and assumed battle positions. Their commanding officer stood by the door and shot it out with his AK-47.

After the shooting stopped, the bodies of the CO and one other rebel lay dead amidst the scattered debris in the hut. Barrio folks carried them to Tagum town.

The pregnant woman and the other guerilla were wounded but alive. They were taken outside: they huddled under a coconut tree while the soldiers deliberated on what to do with them.

They decided not to bring anyone back alive.

The woman was shot first, her unborn child and her body left under a coconut tree.

The remaining guerilla was led to a nearby tree where a big burly man shoved a .45 in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The bullet shattered the back of the rebel’s skull and, exiting, scarred the trunk of the mango tree that was just bearing fruit.

“He was a sparrow, you know,” one of the soldiers told the executioner.

The burly man merely turned his back and walked toward the hut.

That night, in a hut in a farm in the countryside, a man thought about the gory war in the countryside, where the red blood flowed when the good guys shot the bad guys.

“I shot the bad guy,” he told himself, “but I don’t feel much like a good guy.”

But he was not thinking of the dead sparrow at all. In fact, nothing much had moved him since that day a long, long time ago, when he was a boy, when he saw a little bird die.

It was a bitter lesson he had learned that day. He knew that when he gained the wisdom of the world, he lost his innocence.

Friday, February 27, 2009

"System Security" -- A Potent Computer Virus

I had to reformat my computer yesterday because a very persistent and potent online virus, System Security, embedded itself on my PC.

CCleaner, McAfee, Norton are no match for it. I was advised to access AVG, an anti-virus program, and download it. When I typed in the Google search box, the virus simply wiped out all open windows I was working on at that time, including Google. Same thing with Yahoo search.

I tried Firefox -- the virus popped out a message that its firewall has just prevented a certain virus from accessing my credit card information; the source of the virus? Firefox! That's when I became certain that System Security is not a protection system, it's an extortion program.

Almost every minute, different pops-up disturb my online work, and you have to click Yes, I want to leave my computer unprotected from at least 38 viruses it found in my site (expletive, expletive!), and then it goes away -- to return a few minutes later, insisting that for only $59, you can be protected by System Security for two years. Lifetime protection (or extortion) is a bargain at $89.99 because of the 60% discount.

You cannot remove it from the Control Panel either: its icon -- shield-shape with diagonal lines on yellowish-orange background -- can be removed, but the program stays. After you close your computer, you see its icons on your window and control panel again when you reopen.

I asked a friend who once headed the MIS (Management Information System) at the Journal Publications to help me. Neri Torrecampo, who now heads the company's Pre-Press Production, came after work last night. He first typed in at Google and in a blink the Google window was gone.

Then he brought out an AVG program in a disc to manually download AVG in my computer. The System Security icons disappeared, so we sighed a collective relief. Then, I said I found the virus, after my coping with it for two days, very wily. So Neri typed in on Google, and Google was gone. The virus was only pretending it's gone!

So Neri had no option but to reformat everything. We finished at about 12:30 in the morning and Neri went home to wife Miriam (Hi, Yami!) and their kids.

So I can blog and go to ebay again.

I deny I access RedTube, by the way -- my nephews do that; Me? Never! I digress, because I'm relieved. When you cure the computer, you also cure its owner. Thanks, Neri!

For those who have the same problem, you can contact Neri, who gave me permission to post here his name and cellphone number > 09065594180.

Journal Publications gives you People's Journal, People's Tonight, Taliba and Women's Journal.

Birds Mini Sheets

Last year, Philpost issue two terrific Birds mini sheets: one for the Taiwan Stamp Exhibit event, the other for the Jakarta event. Hip-hip, hooray!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Astronomy in stamps

I love this terrific sheetlet, issued in March 2008, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Astronomical Society of Japan. Photos of the planets, which could not have been possible a century ago, are now taken for granted by schoolchildren.
There's a fabulous site for Astronomy buffs:

Doraemon stamps from Japan

In 2004, Japan issued as part of its anime series a set of Doraemon stamps on a set of sheetlets. This set is very popular among young collectors everywhere.

Juan Luna Painting on stamps

A complete set of Juan Luna stamps and souvenir sheets featuring some of his paintings was issued by Philpost in 2007 in commemoration of his 150th birth anniversary.
Everything about Juan Luna and his works online are at
Stamp addict like me? The best site about Philippine stamps is at

Astro Boy stamps

This set of Astro Boy stamp sheetlets were issued in Japan in 2003.

Hello Kitty stamps from Japan

Last year Japan issued two awesome mini-sheets of Hello Kitty stamps. I have asked a friend in Tokyo for 10 sets. One set is shown here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009



ISANG KASKASERONG DRAYBER ang nakabundol ng isang bagets na di marunong lumingon nang kaliwa’t kanan bago tumawid ng daan.

“Oops!” sabi ng drayber sabay baba sa dyipni niya. “Nasaktan ka ba, ‘tol?”

“Op kors! #@*% po, why are you driving-driving so fast naman kasi, ayan you hit me tuloy. It’s so ouch-ouch!”

“Saan ba ma-ouch-ouch, este, masakit pala? Aruu! Naputol pala itong is among paa. Halika, lagyan natin ng band-aid.”

“Never mind na lang po, anyway meron pa ‘kong isang paa. Pero next time naman don’t kaskas your sasakyan and make bundol-bundol the people.”

"O siya, siya. Nagmamadali kasi ako dahil manonood ako ng dyolens tournament sa barangay namin. Kasali sa finals ang lola ko at malaki-laki ang pusta ko. Pagbibigyan na lang kita sa katangahan mo. Pasalamat ka at mahaba ang pasensiya ko.”

“Naku, thank you very much po, ano.”

“Walang anuman. Babuh!”


Ang Pinoy, wala mang disiplina,
Mahaba naman ang pasensiya.
Problemang mabigat gumagaan
Dahil uso ang katangahan.


“TEN-JACK-QUEEN-KING-ACE. Straight-big!”

Nandaraya na naman si Bopis; kung di sa lihis, idinadaan niya sa bilis. Straight-big daw, pero tingnan mo 'yung barahang inihagis: Diyes, Sota, Sota uli, Haring itinakip doon sa katabing sota para mapagkamalang kabayo o Reyna, at Alas. Straight daw, pero liku-liko.

Panalo na naman siya. Di naman masama ang loob ng mga kalaro niyang sina Hito at Teddy – Teddy raw, ipinanganak pong Teodocio 'yan – dahil kasabwat sila.

Ang dinadaya nila sa Pusoy-Dos ay isang bagong salta sa looban nila. Malaki-laki na rin ang natatalo sa kanya. Medyo malakas ang tayaan: 1-5-10 ang labanan. Ibig sabihin, piso bawat baraha, tiglilima 'yung tatlong Dos at sampung piso 'yung panginoring “butong pakwan,” ang Dos spade.

Nararamdaman ng tatlo na malapit nang matapos ang laro dahil kokonti na lang ang natitira sa kuwatro syentos na inilabas ng kanilang biktima. Tahimik lang ang pobre sa bawat balasa at nakamasid sa harap na dinding; tila mas interesado pa siya sa ginagawa ng dalawang bastos na ipis na magkadikit doon.

Kaya natalo na naman siya nang ilusot ni Docio, este, Teddy pala, 'yung "flush" niyang diyamanteng may halong puso. Malaki rin ang nakaltas sa kanya nang mag-full house na may nakasingit na sobrang tiyani si Hito.

Balasa uli. Sa pamamagitan ng daya at maniobra ay napaiwan ni Bopis ang pares na Dos, ang puso at butong pakwan.

“Plus 15, bwa-ha-ha-ha! Sori ‘tsong, di mo araw ngayon. Oops, kulang na pala ang eraps mo; di bale, balato ko na lang sa 'yo.”

Kakabirin na sana ni Bopis ang pera nang, por da pers taym, kumibo ang bago nilang “kaibigan.”

“Teka, pare, 'di pa naman tapos ang laro, ah.” Ipinatong niya sa pares na Dos ni Bopis ang dalawang baraha -- ang kuwatro at singkong spade.

Napabalikwas ang tatlo niyang kalaro.

"Ano?! Dalawang tiyani lang 'yan ah,” ngisngis ni Bopis. “Paano mananalo 'yang kuwatro at singko sa pares na dos? Sige nga, ipakita mo nga!”

“Eto o,” at inilabas ng estranghero ang .45 niya at ipinaypay sa sentido ng tatlong marunong naman palang rumespeto sa automatic. “Di ba panalo ang kuwarenta’y singko sa dalawang Dos?”

“Oo nga, ano!” Magkasabay na sagot ng tatlo. “Ang galing mo pala sa pusoy, Boss. Eto ang bayad namin. Aba! Nabawi mo na pala’ng lahat ng talo mo. O sige ha, tsip, hinihintay na ako ni kumander sa bahay at magsasaing pa pala ako!”

“Sandali lang. Hihingi sana ako ng tulong sa inyo. Di ba magkaibigan tayo?”

“Op kors, sir, yessir. Ano ang maitutulong namin? Sabihin mo lang, Boss.”

“Kasi may sakit akong nerbiyos, 'yun bang nanginginig ang aking kamay at daliri, at 'pag sumusumpong ito e lumalabas itong… ano ba’ng tawag dito sa lumalabas sa .45?”

“B-bala, Boss, bala.”

“Ah, oo. Bala. Minsan nga ninerbiyos ako at lumabas itong, ah, bala. Aksidente 'yon, nililinis ko itong si Mike Hammer nang makalabit ko ang gatilyo, pitong beses, at biglang inilibing iyong kaharap ko. Ba’t kaya siya inilibing, pare?”

“D-dahil namatay, Boss-tsip-ser, n-namatay.”

“Ayun, kaya pala. Ngayon, tila nararamdaman kong ibig na namang sumumpong itong nerbiyos ko. Pero may gamot diyan, may kamahalan nga lang. Uutang sana ako sa inyo.”

“O-okey, Boss, y-yun lang pala. Magkano ba’ng kailangan mo?”

“Tamang-tama lang 'yang tigku-kuwatro siyentos n’yo. Pero nahihiya ako senyo dahil baka sumama ang inyong loob. Alam mo naman, 'pag sumasama ang loob ng mga kaibigan ko, lalo akong ninenerbiyos. Baka masama ang loob niyo?”

“Aba, hindi, Boss, hindee! Eto o. Mahal talaga ang gamot mo, tsip. Ano ba’ng pangalan?”

“Marlene. Salamat ha. Talagang marunong kayong makipagkaibigan.”

Nang pauwi na ang bagong “kaibigan” nina Bopis, Hito at Teddy, nagmumuni-muni ito: Tamang-tama, maibibili ko ng Pizza Hut si Marlene – 'yung maraming mushroom ang ibibigay ko sa kanya, aphrodisiac daw ito. Ikukuwento ko sa kanya 'yung dalawang ipis tapos gagayahin namin.


Ang talinong tiwali
Ay dapat nang iwaksi;
Tuso man daw ang matsing,
Puwede namang barilin.
Unang lumabas ang kuwentong ito sa The Angeles Sun nu'ng October 1991.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Happy 5th Birthday, Nuffnang!

Nuffnang, "Asia-Pacific's First Blog Advertising Community," is turning five! And, they're celebrating with a party on Monday, February 27, 2012, from 8pm to midnight at Borough, The Podium Mall. Dress code is blue, for those of you thinking of attending the festivities.

Want invites to their anniv party? Simply write a birthday post like this one and register your entry on their website for a chance to score one of 50 tickets.

The birthday bash is sponsored by the following companies:

Mad World

Turning and turning
The world goes on,
We can’t change it, my friend.
Let us go right in now
Through the days,
Together to the end,
Till the end.

-- Les Bicyclettes de Belsize

ON MIRANDA STREET, in Angeles City, just beyond the rural bank, a young man, insane, his right arm bent in an imaginary sling, hobbles near the street where traffic quietly flows.

Then suddenly he flings out his left arm and stomps his foot at the path of oncoming vehicles, in the middle of the street, as if he is a thin sumo wrestler confronting the metallic snouts of the formidable Saraos rushing at him. To be more convincing, he sustains his posture with a menacing “Yaaah!”

Naturally, the jeepneys swerve, forming a patient arc around him. The drivers are not angry, their tolerant smiles indicate that they understand. Some of the passengers laugh, their forefingers making twirling motions near their temples. They, too, understand.

Nearby, in another street, in a building where a councilman holds office, an editor of a rival paper shows the councilman a story about him that appeared in The Angeles Sun and audaciously asks for money. The councilor gives him P50 and the editor pockets it.

“Now, how about the writer?” the editor asks. Eventually P200 is added. Finally satisfied, the editor leaves. The councilman is not angry; though he is frowning, he understands. Some of the secretaries shake their heads, drawing small imaginary circles in the air. They, too, understand: that editor has a case history.

Somewhere far away, in the country’s capital, a silly woman files a libel suit against a rotund columnist. She’s just a regular plaintiff, she says, and then appears in court surrounded by an orchestra of bodyguards. She’s only a civilian, she says, yet her trial is broadcast nationwide. The judge shows his impartiality by allowing it.

But the people are not angry. The carabao-patient, masochistic Filipinos are apathetic, pessimistic, even sycophantic, but they are not angry. They are sometimes mad, in both sense of the word, but they are never angry. And they understand, oh, how they understand this silly creature they have hatched out of the egg that was EDSA. Just a widowed housewife in a dead president’s shoes.

Beyond EDSA, in the imaginary land of Bloom County, Donald Trump, whose brain was transplanted inside a dead cat’s body after a falling anchor killed him, converses with a poor black girl, Ronald-Ann (her mother named her after President Reagan), who owns a headless doll named Reynelda.

Trump: My Palm Beach cottage has 118 rooms… how many rooms does your cottage have?

Ronald-Ann: One. But we have nine beds! Reynelda here sleeps in a soup box.

Trump: I have a $100-million boat. Do you have a boat?

Ronald-Ann: When the plumbing breaks our sofa floats.

Trump: I have a dream… a dream that one day I might get six points on margin for the Eiffel Tower deal… What do you dream about?

Ronald-Ann: Dinner.

Trump: And imagine… in this great, quality nation, folks like you haven’t strung folks like me up by their intestines.

Reynelda (to Trump’s back as he walks away): …yet.

Ronald-Ann (To Reynelda): Hush.*

No anger there, just an acceptance of the plight of a troubled man in a cat’s body.

Insane, so you say? Then let’s go to a real and distant land, halfway around the globe, where the cream of modern civilization, using the highest means of destruction, pounds away at its own cradle – all in the cause of an oxymoron: a Just War.

But the Iraqis are not angry at all, even if their broken bodies arc through the air and their dying lips echo the cry of a madman in Angeles – “Yaaah!” They cannot be angry, they just die and then spin in their graves.

We shake our head, but this time -- in the year of our Lord, 1991 – we realize we really don’t understand this insanity, this madness, because we are a part of it. Turning and turning, the world goes on, it grudgingly carries us as it forms never-ending coils around its axis. And we have to ask: Is the Earth angry with us? Does it understand?

I know the answer, for sometime long ago in someplace far away I have heard the Song of the Earth:

If the earth could write its history,
Names of those who strangled her
Would figure prominently;
If the earth could plead insanity
It would spew us all
To a distant nameless galaxy.
Then the earth would sing a new melody;
It would be a lovely tune
With perfect harmony.

* From Berke Breathed’s Happy Trails!
** From Earth Song, sang by The Company with Cris Villonco.

This article first appeared in The Angeles Sun in March 1991.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Raymond Chandler: Poet of Violence

RAYMOND CHANDLER (1888-1959) – along with Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Mickey Spillane (creator of Mike Hammer) – belongs to the near-extinct specie that is now becoming increasing rare nowadays: the writer of detective fiction, “the poetry of violence.”

Raymond Chandler wrote detective stories, but his stories have a thematic difference from the standard murder-mystery. “The emotional basis of the standard detective story,” he wrote, “was and had always been that murder will out and justice will be done.”

But this is not how the real world operates. So he added that justice will not be done “unless some very determined individual makes it his business to see that justice is done.” This mordant view alone makes Chandler and his works valuable.

In his stories, although murders were also committed and solved, the major theme was always the concern for human misery. This is the same theme that links all literature that matter.

In his lifetime, Chandler had written 23 short stories, out of which 15 are generally known to the reading public. Philip Marlowe, the detective-hero in all his novels, first appeared in The Big Sleep, the first of his seven novels.

Philip Marlowe projects a hard-edged philosophy rarely found and appreciated in detective novels of his – and any – period. He is the distillation of Chandler’s ideal detective.

“He is the hero, he is everything.” Chandler wrote in his essay, The Simple Art of Murder. “He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man… He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”

While this description easily fits his creation, it can also sum up the creator, himself an unusual man.

Born in 1888, Chandler published his first story, Blackmailers Don’t Shoot, when he was 45. Before that, he was an executive in five oil companies, and had it not been for the Great Depression that caused the oil business to collapse in the 1930s, he would be unknown today – buried in forgotten records as a writer of oil reports.

Wall Street’s loss was Literature’s gain. When Chandler died in 1959, his works had been translated and published in 18 countries, sought throughout the world “by those who recognized a good story and appreciated artistry in detective fiction.”

Today, Raymond Chandler lives on in the adventures of Philip Marlowe, his durable and endearing alter-ego who “was motivated lass by the desire to solve the mystery of a murder than by the compelling necessity to right social wrongs.”

We might add that Marlowe the Adventurer can extract from the commonplace in life some of the anomalies in human existence. In The Little Sister, he expounds on the nature of clerkship:

“You go in through double swing doors. Inside the double doors there is combination PBX and information desk at which sits one of those ageless women you see around municipal offices in the world. They were never young and will never be old. They have no beauty, no charm, no style. They don’t have to please anybody. They are safe. They are civil without ever quite being polite and intelligent and knowledgeable, without interest in anything. They are what human beings turn into when they trade life for existence and ambition for security.”

And elsewhere in the same novel, he listens to a cop’s lament: “We’re coppers and everybody hates our guts… As if we didn’t get pushed around enough by the guys in the corner offices, the City Hall gang, the day chief, the night chief, the Chamber of Commerce, His Honor the Mayor in his paneled office four times as big as the three lousy rooms the whole homicide staff has to work out of…

“We spend our lives turning over dirty underwear and sniffing rotten teeth. We go up dark stairways to get a gun punk with a skinful of hop and sometimes we don’t get all the way up, and our wives wait dinner that night and all the other nights. We don’t come home anymore.

“And nights we do come home, we come home so goddam tired we can’t eat or sleep or even read the lies the papers print about us. So we like awake in the dark in a cheap house on a cheap street and listen to the drunks down the block having fun. And just about the time we drop off the phone rings and we get up and start all over again…”

And so on. Philip Marlowe understands and that is the secret of his philosophy: He is not weak because he is strong; but that strength is not tat of brute force, rather it is a strong tolerance – a capacity not to take offense – for what the world has to offer everyday, for what human beings do to each other everyday.

No wonder Raymond Chandler lives – even if only in the hearts of a few who find universality in his writings, where Philip Marlowe lives.

We seek in the printed pages what we cannot find in the troubled realities of our time. So long as this is true, Philip Marlowe will endure.

And so will Raymond Chandler, a poet of violence.

This first appeared in June 1990 issue of The Angeles Sun. I edited it for this blog.

Photo of Raymond Chandler from American

Also, read The Genius of Raymond Chandler: An Interview with Judith Freeman
By Allen Barra at

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Movies: Prejudices

THERE ARE IN THE www several presumptuous sites listing what they claim are the best 100 movies (1) of the century, (2) of the millenium, or (3) forever.

At the top of the lists usually are Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone with The Wind, Dr. Zhivago, etc. People of my generation will agree to most of the choices, and even add more oldies like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; The King and I, Ben Hur and even some Chaplin creations.

Then there is the gory generation, whose denizens venerate the dismemberings in The Terminator films. They collect DVDs of the Die Hard, Resident Evil, Kill Bill series, aside from the now classic Sin City, Terror Planet, and Apocalypto. I belong in this generation -- I escaped from the older one and have to lie about my age so I too can relate with Spider-Man, Batman Returns, Iron Man and Fantastic Four.

I must be forgiven for not understanding the fascination over Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Narnia, films I will gladly ignore in favor of the first two Godfather epics, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, The Pianist, Flags of My Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, Unforgiven, The Gladiator, The Exorcist, Blood Diamonds, No Country For Old Men, Slumdog Millionaires and even most Schwarzenegger fun thrillers.

Less known but much loved (by me) are Terms of Endearment, Tender Mercies, The Prince of Tides, The Silence of the Lambs, Dance With Wolves, Driving Miss Daisy, The Last Emperor, Moonstruck, Gandhi, The Sting, Fiddler on the Roof, Around The World in 30 Days (1956), Breakfast at Tiffany's, All Quiet On The Western Front, Before Sunrise (see trailer of this film somewhere at the right side of this blah-blah), Before Sunset, to name a few.

Like a murderer who feels no compunction about life, my mind goes blank in front of A Streetcar Name Desire, From Here To Eternity, On The Waterfront, West Side Story, Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, Deliverance, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Jaws, Grease, Rocky, Kramer vs. Kramer, Ordinary People, Raging Bull, and many more for which, naming such venerables, I will be comdemned to a boorish category.

And since I value more the esteem my relatives, friends and some co-species, I will not comment on Twilight -- the movie or the book. Let Shakespeare's "devouring time" take care of the matter. Life is short.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Isn't it a pity?

Isn't it a pity,
Isn't it a shame?
How we break each other's heart,
How we cause each other pain.
-- George Harrison

Grateful Dead's AOXOMOXOA album cover design by Rick Griffin

One morning in 2004, a hospital attendant was pushing my wheelchair on the way to St. Luke's Therapy Room for stroke victims when, turning a corner, I glanced at one of the rooms lining the corridors: the sign at the door said, "Renal Care Section." This triggered an avalanche of thoughts.

Having just survived an aneurysm then, my mood was on the timorous side, especially after I was told that a stroke can recur. I suppose my fatalism suffered a dent, though I never felt depressed, just a bit despondent, like fortune had turned against me, deflating the two aces I was holding in a poker game. The agony of defeat, the fear of further disability, the disarray of a life forced into indefinite hold -- all these were rattling in my mind when I saw the sign.

I was disabled physically, but my mental capacity to edit signs and meaning remained intact. "Whoa!" my mind was prodded by taser, "if stroke followed by expensive therapy is bad, how about the patients there?"

You get renal care when one or both your kidneys, sometimes for reasons left unclear, suddenly refuse to filter the waste out of your blood, threatening to end your existence by poisoning your inner organs. Dialysis for life -- in both senses of the phrase -- is not only painful and expensive but mandatory. In poker or even in stroke rehab, you just lose your money and time when you get a bad hand. But if treacherous fate deals you a pair of leaky kidneys, your life is on the line. The sand in your hourglass trickles faster.

With therapy, I can regain, even partially at least, my ability to walk (or hobble), and to learn to use my other hand. I get something back for the money and time spent. On the other hand, dialysis, twice or three sessions a month, means throwing heaps of money and not getting even; the kidneys deteriorate with every flush of the poison passing the vital organs. You are not regaining anything out of Renal, just buying more time that for you has accelerated, inexorably, without malice, without compunction. Diseased cells are immune to sentiments.

I felt sheer disgust, that such wayward schemes on life can exist with impunity, never to be edited or ameliorated. Pity? Pity is a virus that infects every malicious, malignant, and ignorant hypocrites of the species; it thrives in monsters that console themselves on the misfortunes of others, signified by their gratefulness that there are people whose pain are deeper, whose chances are less. For pity to exist, there must be an object of pity, a victim.

This is one of the main pillars of almost every religion practiced on this benighted earth. A Mother Teresa can only blossom on soils nurtured by the unlimited misery in Calcutta. I believe, however, that this benevolent woman properly bestowed compassion and aid, not pity, on the poor, sick, orphaned or dying. Compassion has no victim, pity has a congregation of saints in its trail. The difference between compassion and pity is vast. A Lorenzo Ruiz and other martyrs can only be blessed to sainthood only if other fellow humans are ordained to lives of evil, so that the martyrs
can be beatified.

In a world more kind and less bestial. there will be no saints who feel so much pity that they can forgive the transgressors who sped them to their biblical destiny. In a less superstitious, less fearful and more enlightened existence, there will be no forgiveness because there will be no transgressors. No sinners? Well, no saints!

That world exists in my imagination only, so religions are safe from sinners like me. Still I claim that the patients undergoing renal overhaul, add those confined in Oncology, are better rid of a wayward existence which dealt them deuce and treys, and let the foolish kings and jokers reign. Eventually I, who send them off with compassion, will follow them and bid good riddance to this hell on earth.

And I don't wish to meet the creator of this cruel absurdity. I prefer playing cards and drinking beers in limbo, with crooked cardinals and congressmen, than spending eternity flapping wings and playing harps with pious lawyers and hormone-gorged old maids.