Friday, November 15, 2013

AFTER the storm

We do not and cannot criticize that
1. The government has issued sufficient warning that the coming typhoon is strong. It has.
2. The president and his officials had asked the people in the Yolanda's path to evacuate ahead of time. True.
3. The government had allotted massive resources like food, water, medicine, and personnel for relief-and-rescue after the storm. Yes, but it failed to deliver them.

The president and his officials were not expected to have stock knowledge of the destructive effect of a super typhoon of Yolanda's strength and magnitude. In fact that knowledge turned out to be useless: Maps gathered from past storms through the years -- to help predict the probable paths of landfalls -- did not even indicate Guiuan as a possible site, and that's where Yolanda made her first landfall before going on to Tacloban and four other sites.

That said, it is the tendency of people with facts to expose people who cause, through their actions and inactions, harm to the lives and welfare of the citizens. In this case, the president is the man responsible for entrusting the welfare of the victims to DND chief Voltaire Gazmin, DSWD chief Dinky Soliman, DILG chief Mar Roxas and DOH Secretary Ona. PNoy and those three are the cause of the chaos and hunger in Tacloban and other areas. Although they cannot be blamed for the deaths and damaged wrought by Yolanda,  they must answer for what they have done and have not done for the victims AFTER the storm.

Everyone is a genius in hindsight, true, but we, and the victims, and mediamen local and foreign who had been to Tacloban, have been howling since Sunday, AFTER the storm, when it is the government's turn to wield its massive strength and machinery to search and rescue those who can be saved, feed the survivors, heal the sick and wounded. All these acts involve people, and all these must be done immediately, even if we have not rightly assessed the storm's strength and path, even if electricity and communications were down, even if debris blocked the ways in or out of Tacloban, even if Mayor Alfred, Romualdez, Rep. Martin Romualdez, and some barangay personnel are heartless bastards.

For those lives and properties Yolanda has taken and destroyed, Yolanda and no others must be blamed. But for those who died because the government did not act immediately to extract them from the rubbles, feed those debilitated by extreme hunger and thirst, send life-saving medicines to the wounded and severely injured, Aquino, Gazmin, Soliman, Roxas and Ona are culpable.

Why Aquino? Could another president have come out with a different and better solution? Exactly. And there, from that man, unravels the source of the survivors' frustrations and unnecessary hardships AFTER the storm. Aquino is weak-willed, and right after he was elected he failed to keep to his pledge that he will appoint in office only those qualified to hold and execute huge responsibilities. It does not take the strength of a typhoon to sway this president's mind: just a nudge from old family and crony connections got Gazmin and Dinky their positions in the second coming of the Aquino administration. It had been that way in Cory's time; so it is now -- a De Quiros to SSS, Alex Padilla now in Philhealth, former Bulacan governor Dela Cruz to Philpost, Boy Abunda somewhere out there. Roxas, as the Liberal Party's losing candidate, naturally got a slot. Let's see how they administered in Tacloban.

Anderson Cooper and other correspondents' observation that armed forces personnel are usually at the forefront of disasters is not off the mark. In calamities where speed can save a life,  soldiers have the manpower, machinery, training and experience to cope and solve, bringing in lighting, transportation and communications, and dig out survivors and send them to feeding and medical centers, set up by them too if required. DND chief Gazmin was in Tacloban all along, and he did not take over when the Tacloban government officials and police failed to do their tasks. He did not ask for additional personnel to help set up distribution points for food and water, dry clothes and blankets. He let thousands of Filipino corpses rot in the streets and be shown to the world for almost a week AFTER the storm.

Aquino -- who arrived in Tacloban one morning, posed for the news cameras while distributing mineral waters to some victims in a designated PR site -- apparently did not ask Gazmin why hundreds of Filipono deads are still lining the streets of Tacloban? He did not ask about the darkness at night because he was whisked out of there while the sun was bright and clear. He was also spared the sight of seeing hungry mothers in makeshift shelters tiredly fanning their hungry children from the oppressive heat. He did not see helpless fathers appeal for food, water, medicine for their family. Victims who lost members of the family did not have the luxury of grieving as they tried to fend off starvation, thirst, and afflictions. Many failed and died, days AFTER the storm.

What Aquino and his officials announced about food is true and remains true to this day: There is enough supply of food and water. Jessica Soho, who was in Tacloban, said she saw the warehouse where Dinky and volunteers were repacking food for the victims. Yet the victims went put to the streets day after day after day begging for relief. Because Dinky (and Gazmin and Roxas and this Aquino) maintained that the local government is the one in charge when calamity strikes. Yet Yolanda had swept away the Tacloban government structure (Aquino himself availed of this fact and used this as an excuse for his inaction), and Gazmin entrusted the repacked relief goods to the barangay head, who obviously kept the goods for a select few, letting the rest go hungry, especially those who did not vote for him in the last elections. Gazmin admitted this on TV Friday morning. Ineptitude marked the Cory government, and Gazmin is extending this to the present Aquino adminstration.

What about Roxas? He is supposed to handle the local government units. When the Tacloban unit was demolished, he could have installed an emergency unit so relief goods, there in Tacloban all the time, can reach the victims. Roxas and Aquino have consistently pointed out that there are not enough trucks, gasoline, personnel, etc., to do the job. So the dead lie in the street, the hungry starves to death, those injured die, until when? Until someone cries, This can't be right! Days AFTER the storm, part of the bridge leading to Tacloban was opened; if Roxas had something to do with that, he did not bring in more trucks, gasoline, personnel to save lives. The roads and bridges are jammed? If Roxas and Gazmin were concerned and frantic about more people dying AFTER the storm, they could have availed of the government's massive resources to clear traffic, to get trucks and gasolines outside Tacloban, even in Manila if necessary. Surely it cannot take six days to clear a path to Tacloban, get trucks and gasoline available outside Tacloban and bring them in? A DOH doctor, fishing for sympathy, told a news reporter that they had run out of medicine days ago, because their supply are still held up in a pier Cebu for four days now. DOH is government, it is supposed to set up a path for medical supplies to the victims, not complain of the supplies being delayed by minor factotums in the bureaucracy. Ona, who had been announcing directives as if he is in Tacloban, has been in Manila all along. People are dropping like flies, and Ona is attending meetings with members of the Philippine Medical Association about the date when thay will go to Tacloban. Thickheadedness can cause death. No amount of apologies will bring back to life those who died because of these officials' lack of sympathy concern for the victims.

Roxas revealed his lack of sympathy for the victims when he traveled to nearby Tanauan yesterday. He reached the barangay and talked to the people, who asked for food and water. Roxas said he came there to assure the people of the government's presence -- six days AFTER the storm -- and that assistance is forthcoming. He had planned to get there, but did he think that the people he would meet there will be suffering after six days without sufficient food, water and medicine? He did not bring any. And this creature Roxas wants to replace Aquino as President. Are not they doing enough harm?

We are howling about that, Not about PNoy's lack of foresight or preparedness. PNoy and his men insist on staying on until 2016. We are shouting and cursing that if they are shameless enough to stay in power, they must at least do no harm to those who still trust them, including those who for personal reasons defend such impeachable acts and inaction. They are fortunate: members of the Opposition are equally thickheaded, and some are also culpable of great offenses, so they cannot oust Aquino and his cohorts. They wait until Aquino delivers us from his trespasses into the hands of Binay.  Another storm is coming.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A kittycornered categorie

"This is Schoppi. He --"


"Short for Schoppenhauer. He gets antsy around people. Must have received some kicks from some before we found him."

Welcome to Kittycorner, the accidental orphanage for cats. Well, they are kittens when we adopt them, but they all grow up to be cats. Lovely cats, too.

"Look at Schoppi's side-whiskers, just like the muttonchops of his namesake. "

"Are they all named after philosophers?"

"Many are, but not all. That's Thoreau, he's a loner and doesn't mingle. Walks a lot."

"You must have felt like Blake adopting Thoreau."

"Yeah, I got the urge to write some essays and do woodcuts. [Laughs.] Ah, here's Pavarotti, look at his girth! His high-pitched meows will astound you."

"[Sings] ♪ Perhaps love is like-a boiled chicken, or a stuffed pair of mice... ♫"

"Haha, that was Placido who sang with John Denver, not Pavi. Anyway, aherm! -- Ladies and gentlemen, here's the Beatles!"

"Really? You've got four mopheads here?"

"No, it's Ed Sullivan. Here he comes. Move slowly, he startles easily. He hunches his back like he's always introducing someone."

"That's some hunch, shoulda named him Bruce Lee. WooO0ohhah!"

"That one in the corner is Bruce Lee. Looks like an upside-down 'U' walking, but can he leap!"

"Hey! Look at that one, he walks with a shuffle and swagger like..."

"Bruce Willis. I can almost see him smirk and make his pitch: 'That die-hard cat's a natural coz he's got nine lives!'"

"That one's nose is kinda huge. Now, let me guess... Durante!"

"Except that's the lady of the house, so it's La Streisand. She's a Ragdoll, soft as an easy chair."

"Wow! What a menagerie you've assembled here."



"Because of Streisand here, it cannot be called menagerie, you see? So I think Categorie fits nicely."

"A kittycornered categorie. Ok. And that cat in the hat is..."

"Theodor Geisel!"

"Huh? Whozzat?!"

"Hehe, just messin' with you, man. Yep, it's Dr. Seuss."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This PNoy

President Noynoy Aquino, his username cleverly compressed into PNoy, can be considered a rarity in the steeply alpha Filipino culture -- truly a man only a mother can love. Many Filipinas will take umbrage at this statement and come to his defense (time and time again this has been so), but none will marry him, or consider becoming his mistress. So far.

Men with strong opinions without sufficient social skill to back them up tend to fall into deep trouble. They are such stuff of which tragedy are brewed. The first Benigno, his grandfather, was a senator even before this country was deemed sufficiently literate to be declared as a commonwealth by its American colonizers. After Filipinos helped drive out the Japanese in WWII, Benigno Sr. and others who had helped run the Japanese Administration's  puppet Congress (he served as Speaker from 1943 to 1944), were charged with treason and collaboration, but MacArthur easily prised them out of ignominy.

Benigno Jr. -- Ninoy -- carried on the senatorial trade for the clan. It is assumed that the old man had political charisma, and Ninoy inherited, and wielded, that great political tool with equally great skill. The volubility, it is also assumed by those who inferred from Dona Aurora's silent demeanor, came from the father's side of the family.

Ninoy talked at a fast clip, charming his way to political prestige and into Cory's heart. Their son, Benigno Simeon, must have been a talkative boy, competing in volume with Kris and three other sisters. Noynoy, people say, also got his father's charm, but not (this is tactfully left unvoiced) the good looks.

Irony is also a hallmark of tragedy. Ninoy -- favored with good looks, wit, and the Cojuangco wealth -- easily became the country's youngest mayor, then governor, then senator. So it was also assumed that he would, inherently and rightfully, replace the young Ferdinand Marcos as president in 1972. (It was a young Marcos who beat the old Diosdado Macapagal, who is to be blamed for siring Gloria, in the 1965 election.)  Martial Law denied the country of the turmoil of a Ninoy administration, but fate finally played her hand, and the twist is undeniably ironic and tragic.

Sent to exile in Boston, Ninoy availed of a grant and talked and talked until 1983, when he decided to return home to replace the ailing Marcos. Ninoy died with his impossible dream, the presidency, which Marcos toyed with for an extended 20 years after his term. It took people stopping tanks with flowers and prayers in EDSA to banish the Marcoses to Hawaii in 1986.

Never in his wildest nightmare did Ninoy even remotely see his wife, the quiet and unassuming Cory, rise to the presidency that he had failed to achieve. To view it in another way: Without Ninoy's dream, struggles, and death, Cory would have remained an unknown quantity in the political equation. Things are not simple as they seem.

Cory ruled. Her speech at the US Congress was boisterously applauded by the American senators and congressmen, who gave her a standing ovation. Back home, she survived several attempts by Enrile, aided by Honasan and the Ramboys, to oust her from office. Powerful men can also be big ignoramuses: Enrile should have known that what fate has decreed will  be done. So Cory stayed as president for her full six-year term, even greeting (in a Valentine's Day radio message) the ousted Enrile a happy birthday to share with her daughter Kris.

Noynoy had repeatedly asked for his mother's permission to run for office, but Cory said no member of her immediate family should aspire to public trust during her term, and Noynoy was a good and dutiful son. In 1992 Cory stepped down, and Noynoy became a member of the House of Representatives in 1998. After three full terms, he leveled up to become senator in 2007.

In November that year we saw Noynoy at the side of his frail mother, heeding the call of Capt. Danilo Lim, Trillanes, Faeldon and other Magdalo officials to kick the corrupt Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo out of office. Fate, it seems, does not make a distinction between good and evil, and so Gloria stayed while cancer slowly rounded off Cory's life. It was Cory's funeral in 2009 that highlighted the possibility of another Aquino presidency, through the third Benigno. And so it came to pass: Death sends another Aquino to the presidency.

Today, millions in the Visayas suffer as a result of a ferocious typhoon's onslaught. They suffer more, people say, because Benigno Aquino III or President Aquino II or this PNoy is inept. Also garrulous. He sure can talk, but he can't perform as well as expected. And why does he paste that inappropriate smile on his face in times of crisis? He had explained that when he is stressed the smile appears, as it appeared when he announced the death of seven Hong Kong tourists and the ex-cop who had hostaged them in Luneta. That was years ago, but China remembers.

A few days ago, this PNoy, his approval rating down by 19 points, made an appearance in Tacloban. He distributed bottled water to the typhoon victims; his smile seemed to indicate that he was handing refreshments to party guests. Can we trust a man who can't control a facial tick to handle the great affairs of a benighted country? Twenty-two countries have pledged millions of dollars to help the Philippines; China, with oriental nuance, pointedly donated $100,000, much less than the NBA's $250,000 aid. This, because Aquino refused to apologize to China over an individual Filipino's offense? Former President Estrada, now Manila mayor, had recently volunteered to apologize, even profusely if necessary, in behalf of the people.

Estrada, of another people-powered presidency, might have been a rogue, he will throw sincerity to the winds if it helps his people, but he is not the president any more. PNoy is. Will this, can this Aquino set aside his strong opinions and beliefs, if in exchange the Filipinos are alleviated of their misery? Or will he be set in his ways, still stubborn and smiling inappropriately, not even aware that there is a crisis at hand, that anger and outrage must be expressed over his bureaucracy's lack of urgency to deliver food and medicine to the starving and wounded victims?

It is the sad history of the Philippines that not one leader since 1521 has loved the Filipinos beyond his self-interest, his own dignity, his opinions and personal beliefs. Not Felipe II, after whom this country and its people were named, certainly not Magellan nor Lapu-Lapu, not Legazpi, not the sultans and datus, not Bonifacio and the uneducated Katipunans. The spouses Diego and Gabriella had the ardor but not the means. Rizal tried but failed. PNoy is president but not a leader. This he has made clear by his actions, or inactions.

If PNoy fails to get more than a mother's love, if no woman will bear a son of his, then the Benigno line of the Aquino tale comes to a close. Perhaps it is fitting it ends this way, to save PNoy's life. After his father Ninoy died, his mother became president; after Cory died he became president. We pray that this Benigno, this PNoy, single or eventually married, lives to a ripe, old age. After Cory's Kamag-anak Inc, after this PNoy's KKK, the Philippines may not be able to survive Kris' Showtime.

Friday, September 20, 2013


Nanonood kami ni Leena ng Pawn Stars.

Pogi: Bakit wala atang Chess set sa mga pawn shop?

Leena: Wala namang kikitain sa Chess. Ano naman ang gagawin ng Chess set sa sanglaan?

Pogi: Chess lang ang alam kong may pawn. Ba't tatawaging pawn shop kung walang pawn?

Leena: Malay mo, may ibang ibig sabihin ang pawn, at hindi lang yung sa Chess. For example, meron ding horse sa Chess.

Pogi: Knight ang tawag doon. Rook yung tore.

Leena: Eh yung Queen, ano'ng ibang tawag doon?

Pogi: Pag galit sa kanya yung King, ang tawag sa kanya ay "Bitch."

Leena: Sonnamabitch naman yung hari pag galit si Queen.

Pogi: Sssh... Baka marinig ka ni Bishop. Kahit tagilid ang lakad nu'n malakas ang pandinig.

Leena: Naalala ko, ano na ang balita kay Pope. Bakit kaya nag-resign?

Pogi: Baka matse-checkmate na siya.

Leena: Hindi yun! Yung balita sa Vatican.

Pogi: Ah, yun... Palagay ko alam ko yung tunay na dahilan.

Leena: Talaga? Hindi yung edad niya?

Pogi: Malamang ang theory ko ang tama. Di ba hiwalay na si Kim Kardashian sa slightly used niyang asawa?

Leena: Ano'ng kinalaman ni Kardashian kay Pope?

Pogi: You know, binata si Pope -- Just call me Benedict na lang siya starting March 1 -- at single na naman si Kim Kardashian. Pagtugmain mo lang ang mga current events at may Therefore may I conclude ka na, di ba?

Leena: Aysus! Di ka pupunta sa langit sa mga pinagsasabi mo, baka hanggang Lhuiller ka lang. Di ka pa tutubusin hehehe...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I saw a good movie on Channel 55 this morning, the Art of Getting By. As the laid-back title said -- and what the art professor in there said -- "It can be something big, it can be small, it can be painted in bat shit, as long it's real, something you love."

It's also a little bit about, well, Art, about painting and what moves you, not necessarily in a big way: you can coast along, you get by -- with a little help from your friend. It's fortuitous if your friend is a girl, easy on the eye, and she lifts your heart. The school principal of Morgan High said, "We are finally getting down to the wire." Eventually it's about love. 
I realized late in life -- just last week? -- that all good movies deal with love.  How you get by with your parents, teachers, schoolmates, your buddy, who also wants the girl you love. Basically, then, life revolves around love -- whether you get it or not; whether you lose sight of its importance and, setting it aside for the while, believing you'll still find it there when you get back, you surrender to the immediacy of business.  We have to be practical, right? We cannot spend all our time on just Art, on love, on doing what we really want. Right?

In my perfect world I will be reading and writing and watching movies all the time. Others will be painting their lives away, or integrating their existence with their music, sculpture, architecture, toys, gadgets, inventions -- whatever makes life meaningful and renders love worthwhile. I will never be a clerk, an accountant crunching numbers not my own, a salesman selling products not created by me, nor will I be involved in any money-earning activities that drain the color of life away.

I return to Raymond Chandler, who in one of his novels let detective Philip Marlowe expound 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.”

Elsewhere in the novel, Marlowe listens to a cop's lament: “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..."

Does it really matter, what we think, or do? "...[Our] existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness..." said Nabokov, who hated little men with little minds.  (He tagged Dostoievsky as "that idiot.") I cannot read beyond Nabokov's "Lolita" and Dostoeivsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" bored me to tears. And I don't understand why "Crime and Punishment" is regarded so highly. But it's ok, we can't get all of it right, but our candles can burn on both ends and with a dazzling flash leave a personal mark between two eternities.

"I read the news today, oh boy..."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I have measured out my life with coffee spoons...
-- T.S. Eliot

Rizal's calling card in Hongkong
A colleague at People's Tonight once showed me a copy she had prepared for the backpage of the morning edition. She had done a good job, and I guess that's why she wanted me to appreciate it. The lead paragraph indicated that it was a crime story involving an eye doctor.

"It's spelled ophthalmologist," I said, "the t is sandwiched between two h's."

"Are you sure?" She was already turning the pages of her desk dictionary, unable to find opthalmologist.

"Yep. Its root word did not derive from the Middle English optic, but from the 14th century Greek word for eye, ophthalmos," I said. "That fact is one of the tidbits I have picked up earlier."

"And I did not even think there is a problem here," she said, her smile deflating.

"Perhaps it's serendipity, but I have learned it just a few days ago from Ed there," I said, pointing to a nearsighted editor of a sister publication. 

She immediately brightened up, the twinkle in her eyes indicating that her UP masscom degree cannot be upstaged by an upstart with a grungy Engineering degree from that Dominican backwater joint, that... that UST. Her superiority restored, peace was allowed to reign. She even smiled when I lit up a forbidden cigarette. A Marlboro for me, supremacy for her. Life is good.

Technically I was her boss, and because my rank and pay scale were two ranks higher, I took care not to pull rank on her. It had taken quite a time before I earned her grudging acknowledgement that I was not as illiterate as she had expected. Finally, in her ophthalmos, I ranked above the amoebas, with high expectations to be elevated to bacteria soon.

I remember my first encounter of the 
editorial kind with her. She had just made a printout of the backpage, and I saw that her headlinewas about the Philippines to cut off diplomatic ties with blahblahblah...

"Should not that be Sever instead of Severe?" I pointed out. I did not pull rank, but I did not let errors get pass my watch either.

"Yeah, sure!" she said, the arch of her brows high enough to hang my neck on. To her credit she looked the word up in her dictionary, perhaps to show me not to meddle with a journalist with a valid degree. However, a few minutes later she showed me a new printout, with the third "e" severed from Sever.

"We usually use the past tense and sometimes get confused," I said, "we do not just add a 'd,' we add 'ed.' It's when we use the infinitive form that we realize how severe our mistake is, particularly when we use the word in the headline. That's why we prefer simple words like 'cut,' as in, The publisher will cut off my head if he sees a misspelled head."

"It's these tidbits that you remember best," the young Bobby Fischer had been attributed as commenting on his game against former world chess champion Max Euwe in 1960. Tidbit, according to Merriam-Webster's secondary definition, is "a choice or pleasing bit (as of information)." The word was first used about 1640. A variant spelling is titbit: I do not use it because I am haunted by the unpleasant impression of a breast having been past-participled by a hungry mouth.

More tidbits: Fischer's comment appeared in the book My 60 Memorable Games, ostensibly authored by Bobby Fischer himself, a high school dropout from Brooklyn. The book is now widely believed to have been ghostwritten by his erstwhile friend, Larry Evans, who wrote short introductions for all 60 games. Up to the end of his life, the mentally unhinged Fischer relied on the royalties from that book to sustain his troubled existence.

Fischer died on January 17, 2008, and was buried in Iceland, unmourned and hated by millions of Americans. Four hours after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, he gleefully announced on Bombo Radyo in Baguio City: "I applaud the act. The US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians for years. Now it is coming back to the US..." Bitter and paranoid, he died at age 64, a year for every square of a chessboard.

Fischer's book and grave
Other tidbits: In this article I relied heavily on the Merriam-Webster app of my iPad. The app is free. However, I have a hardcopy of the Eleventh Collegiate edition, which had made me P1,200 poorer. I think hundreds, if not thousands, of Webster knockoffs proliferate in markets worldwide now. Editions without the "Merriam-" prefix are much cheaper because anyone can publish and sell it without paying royalties to Noah Webster, who died in 1843.

Webster stamps and dictionary

I don't understand why Merriam-Webster allows free apps to its dictionary. Will it not drive out sales of the hardcopies? Encyclopedia Britannica has ceased publication of its printed version since 2010, converting to online format. Britannica died, as the hardcopy edition of Newsweek died, because we googled up for any information on Wikipedia instead of buying the printed kind.

Anyway, I am not really concerned if Merriam-Webster loses or makes a bundle: I am trying to learn how to write, not to learn economics. I have tried business, and I'm not good at it. I have been a newspaper employee, and I learned I could invent and write lies and sell them as news -- and get rewarded with a fat salary. Now I don't even read newspapers. What I read are novels, written by the best and inventive liars who earn gazillions of dollars. Alas, I can read but cannot write beyond a brief, shining lie. So I live retail because I cannot handle wholesale. Now I understand T.S. Eliot's line about measuring life with coffee spoons.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Facebook pics

Jolly profile c",)

No Facebook status is as good as it appears, although sometimes, not often, it is better, but that will not last. Not one is as bad as it seems: all is worse. 

In a way, that's a nutshell way of describing life. We tend to put our best profiles up front. Those who do not have good photos of themselves, they substitute something else. I'm guessing, but the substitute pictures depict things which make the presenters feel good or comfortable. 

Landscapes are good substitutes. Mountains are for those who want to ascend to higher things in life; churches are for the religious who favor spiritual over material considerations; the sea for travelers to far, foreign lands across the waters, maybe to escape unpleasant settings.

Comic and anime characters are popular profile pics. For the young, an anime hero represents the power which compensates for their inadequacy -- the handsome/pretty faces and body they aspire to have, and the easy confidence they wish for. For the young-once, a cartoon figure takes them back to earlier and happier times, when life seemed as simple and innocent as comic book stories. 

Decades ago, comics and movies and TVs were not allowed to show graphic scenes of sex, decapitation and other evidence that real life is brutal and senseless. Sure, we had Conan, but when he sliced an enemy's tummy open, we did not see the intestines falling out, presumably with body fluids dripping out. When he chopped off a head, we did not see the red hot blood gushing out from the stump of the enemy's neck. Happily, all that changed with the arrival of the Kill Bill series.

Now, when Hancock shoved a prison inmate's head into another's butt, we laughed. I also laughed when Bruce Almighty made a monkey pop out of a gang leader's ass. The arms and legs blown off in Saving Private Ryan took a lot of skill and effort to bring home the hard violence of war. A Nazi pushing the full length of a bayonet into a GI's chest made me see, as scenes in the Godfather made me see, that reality favors neither the good nor the bad. 

Was it just a year ago that I heard someone in TV say "Shit"? I thought then that the scene slipped through the government regulator's eyes and ears. Now I realize that it was I who had been out of sync with the trend. A movie or TV episode with SPG (Super Pogi or Strict Parental Guidance) rating is allowed to let fly an earful of bitch, fuck, shithead, asshole; and brains being blown off (or bits of brain matters splattered on walls and gunslingers), bodies sliced in half (lengthwise, crosswise, diagonally), arms and legs torn off brutally (How else? Try tearing one off gently. It's not KFC chicken, folks), and necks snapped sideways left and right, backward and forward. Imagine anything gory that can be done with the human body and I expect to see it soon on The Walking Dead. The comic book episodes also attract a lot of fans and dollars. 

I digress. Going back to our Facebook topic,  I also wonder about those who time after time change their profile pics, like me. So I ask myself: Is it discontent that makes me try to improve my image? What for? Other causes may be anxiety or angst, very different from angas, which exudes extreme ability and confidence. Happy are those whose profile pics, or cartoonized versions, smile -- until things eventually deteriorate and the smile turns into the angry frown of a Naruto or of a Zatoichi.

There are still a few who have no profile pics. Most are new to social network sites and are just preparing or choosing which side of themselves to show to the cyberworld. I feel a certain sadness when I see a profile pic deliberately left blank. Do you feel so low that you cannot step forward and face people? Why show half of your face only? The other half hides the sad aspects of your life, or there is a line wherein nobody, except close friends maybe, are allowed access. 

Some deface their photos, with a smear of makeup, a frown. Some hide their face behind a part of hair colored canary yellow, bright orange, or veggie green. I think of Nikki Minaj, who has survived hard knocks in life. This Thursday she looked pretty on American Idol, with the normal flow of long, flat and blonded hair, without the weird hats she uses as chips on her shoulder (Excuse the messy metaphor). But her face is creased with a frown, which goes away when a contestant performs rather well, and deepens when she snarls at one who delivered a "pageantic" song. Minaj, like many who have found their way out of a bad fix, looks pleasant now, like those who have replaced their shadowed profiles with pictures of themselves with kids, spouses, classmates, pets.

Artists, billionaires, megastars are people too, subject to whims and heavy mood swings. When a Facebooker uses Batman or Spidey as profile pic, he obviously wants some action, not just sit around the house but to swing above rooftops and clobber some evil mayors and congressmen. Others who can conceal their anger or sadness opt for sedate tokens to represent or efface themselves: a Chess pawn (Does he know he considers himself at the bottom of the food chain?), a King (Ha! I'm on top of the world), or a simple stethoscope (I will listen to your heart and, if need be, I can heal you.) Boys looking for mates should beware of girls who uses money as profile pics, especially if the girl is ugly: No compensation there, all headaches.

There are more variations, I'm sure, as there are species in Facebook. I may be wrong in some of my statements, but I'm just having fun. Because that, my friend, is what life is all about.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Has anybody seen my old friend John?

John in the middle of photo.

2013 Feb.17
I am of the age when any event, even a minor one, triggers association of memories. Yesterday, DZMM TV flashed the news of the death of Governor Faustino Dy of Isabela. I focus on Isabela, not on Dy, because that's where one of my two roommates of high school days came from. Let's hear what my memory has to say.

1972 or 1973
It was sometime in 1972 or 1973 when the dorm master of Chiang Kai Shek College told me that the school's dormitory, occupying the high school building's entire fourth floor, was closing down at the end of the semester. My first reaction, being a rowdy, noisy, skinny and immature gremlin of a student, was: "He's just making up a polite reason to get rid of me." However, I know that the old master may be strict, but he seldom lost control of his temper, of which I have been at the receiving end a few times, and he was never mean. Besides, to close down the entire dorm because of a squirt like me! That seems far-fetched now, thinking back through the thicket of intervening years. But the turbulence of adolescence makes everything personal, and seem plausible.

Most incidents in our lives are made mundane by repetition, even if you are a rock star, an accountant, or the clunky nerd that I was. A conversation with my mother at home in Angeles, Pampanga, will remain vivid all my days. I had told her I had to live outside the campus beginning the next school season. She looked worried for a while. Then she voiced out her concern. "You must know, it's very different outside, living with people not Chinese. They can be rougher, maybe less honest. Oh, I know some Chinese who are worse, but it's different in Manila. Just be aware." That surely made me aware that I must learn to distrust, not to accept what my eyes see at face value, and to interpret the real meaning behind what people claim, assert, vow or promise. Surely others have learned this much earlier in life, and I still envy street-smart kids up to this day.

Anyways, I find myself in the summer of 1972 or 1973 searching for a residence near the school. I will also be made aware later in life that this school, although located in Tondo -- It's still there, but much bigger and fancier -- is exclusive; meaning, it's mostly for children of rich people. I don't know how my parents managed it, but there I was, with classmates whose allowance is always more than sufficient, who were fetched from school by cars and sleek vans, whose parents were educated and owned textile firms, glassware stores, big pig farms, bazaars. I give credit to these classmates for not making me know I'm a kid not in the right place. Maybe we were just too young and had not yet learned that money made divisions between people who had it and those who did not, that there should be a caste for kids with educated parents and another for kids like me. But in time, they learned all that, and more, and now they have become mean, moneycentric, regular Chinese businessmen.

I was the first in my family to finish elementary school. I think my mother barely reached Grade 3, and my father was a farmer in China who, with the help of rich uncles, ended up in Tarlac. I don't know how and when they met; I'm just a product of that meeting. (Mother liked to tell jokes, and she told us: "If your father says 'talak' I'm not sure if he means Tarlac or truck.) What I had, instead of a comfortable background, were extra folds in my eyelids. Chinese are known for their slit eyes, and an extra fold in the eyelid was what they cannot buy in the 1970s, when surgical enhancement was unthinkable and unavailable. My skin is as white as theirs, and I can talk the languages -- Pampango, Filipino and English. Alas, my Chinese -- Mandarin and Fookien -- is worse than poor, barely understandable. This still rankles, not to know the language of your origin. Perhaps this explains the thick volume of English-Chinese dictionary (unread) among my books.

At last I found a boarding house, among a row of similar dark houses on Sanchez St., a narrow alley a block away from CKS. I was assigned to a loft occupied by two college students, my roommates, Alfonso Siy of Lucena City and John of Isabela. It was a boardinghouse owned by a grouchy old landlady, a Chinese with a foul vocabulary (I would learn many obscene words from her burst of curses), and she accepted only Chinese boarders. I moved in weeks before classes began, so I was alone and lonely until Ponso and John arrived.

Ponso had long hair, bangs in front of his wide face and nape-length hair trimmed horizontally straight at the back. His family, if I remember right, owned a bakery; so he was middle class and was not a student at damned CKS. He was taking a computer course, an off-the-common-track subject at that time, at PSBA somewhere in Morayta. He wore eyeglasses with thick, black frame, the kind that made Woody Allen look wimpy and Roy Orbison look like an accountant. But on Ponso the glasses fit right in, reminding me of Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash (Neil Young had not joined the group yet). One day, I peered through hs glasses and it made me dizzy. Ponso was so near-sighted he had to squint when he went through the chords of songs in my copy of Jingle magazine (debut issue No. 1, P5, now lost in time). He can play the guitar better than I, and I learned a lot of Beatles riffs and broken chords from him. The guitar we used was a Lumanog, a good one which cost me P150 (Board and lodging at that time was P90 a month: Different time, different world).

John, who was taller than both Ponso and I, can afford a Commerce course at CKS because his family owned a tobacco farm in Isabela. John, I thought, was an unusual name for a Chinese, out of trend with the prosaic Richands, Antonios, Williams and Roberts. He and Ponso had good taste in clothes: they know to blend colors, choose the right textures, measure the right width for their bell-bottomed pants. I tried to emulate them, but I simply had execrable taste. I looked up to them as adults who knew the right songs (John was moved by Carpenter's For All We Know), the right movies (Woodstock, The Godfather, Fiddler on the Roof, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Magic Christian), and the right behavior in restaurants and good stores.

Alfonso, Harold, John, William Pogi, William 2nd

Living at the boarding house, Time became a problem. Back in school dorm days, the bell would blare throughout the fourth floor as if a fire would break out every 5 a.m. Monday to Friday. The dorm master would hustle us out of bed, then herd us down to the court below and make us stretch, twist, jump and run -- exercise for sleepy heads and growling stomachs. Thirty minutes later we were in the common kitchen on the ground floor, eating meals that did not vary much in taste and quantity. By 7 a.m., fed and bathed, we were in classes, nodding off while the teacher mumbled something about exponents and equations. Now that I'm living off-campus I have no way to determine time. The solution is to buy a wristwatch. 

I asked John and Ponso to help me buy one. They asked me about my budget. "I have P200," I said. They looked at each other. (That would puzzle me for quite a time. A few years later I would realize that P200 is not enough to buy a quality watch, even in those times when prices were comparatively edenic.) I got a cheap Seiko with what I thought was a funky design on its face, something like the atomic path an electron would take, if only its path was not cheap and bleary. Back in our room at the boarding house, I was about to strap the watch on my left wrist, but Ponso and John showed me that they wore theirs on their right wrists. So I was accepted in the brotherhood of right-wristed-wearers-of-wristwatch. Based on my smile that moment, no one will know how much gratitude I felt for the two of them for their acceptance of me. Small acts of kindness can last in the memory for a lifetime.  Weeks later my first wristwatch would be snatched while I was walking aimlessly along Espana Boulevard. "It's different out there," my mother had warned me. I never doubted her. 

When I started college at UST I had to leave the boarding house in Tondo. By then Ponso already had a job at the National Computer Center. John had married someone surnamed Chua. I was invited to the wedding, which was held at the Manila Cathedral. Ponso was best man. I was too young to be anything else but a mascot of sorts. I remember a singer named Richard Tan singing for the newlyweds at the reception at the Manila Hotel. The song is Celeste Legaspi's Gaano Kita Kamahal.  It's my favorite Levi Celerio composition. The next semester I was starting freshman life in another boarding house across the Forbes St. side of UST. Less than two months and my life in Tondo already seemed so far away, even unreal. I was like a cat with a short memory span, not even thinking about Ponso and John.

Ponso I would never see again. John would search me out in Pampanga about 18 years later. And that is the basis of this reminiscence.


1990 or 1991

Late in 1990 or early in 1991, before Mt. Pinatubo erupted and hurled me to another life, I was operating a bookstore at the PX supermart in Dau, Pampanga. The store, a prototype of the Book Sale branches all over Manila now, was started sometime in the mid-1980s, I think. In the afternoon, when business was slack at the supermart, I would leave the store to my two salesgirls and play cards with other storeowners. Or I would be squatting by the side of the store, playing chess amid a crowd of kibitzers. One afternoon I was searching for a move to squeeze out of a problematic position when I heard a familiar voice call my name. I looked up and saw John, who was greeting me like a long-lost roommate, which I was.

Leaving the game, I asked John to go with me to the store. While we talked I asked the girls to get some snacks from the canteen. On hindsight, I'm glad I did that. After the superficial preliminaries -- how I have filled up, not so thin now, how well-behaved I seem to have become -- the conversation turned to the real purpose of his visit. "This is not a chance encounter," he confided. "I have been searching for you in the last few days. I even went to Angeles and asked your parents where you are. Then I asked around in Dau until someone led me your store."

He continued (answering my unasked question about Ponso). "He is in Australia now. You remember how crazy he had been about Carmencita? Well, after that girl's misadventure with a lesbian, Ponso took her in and brought her to live with him abroad."

So Ponso is doing well, I thought. How about you? Why are you here?

"My wife and I have separated. My family has lost its property and business. My father entrusted the family business to a politician, who used the money in his bid for a seat in Congress. The man lost, and we lost all. Now I'm earning some money, plucking feathers off chickens somewhere in Tondo. I cannot go to Ponso, then I thought of you."

I was not exactly rich then, just about comfortable with a small store, a house which my parents and friends tactfully described as "cute," so when someone had no other option left but me, that someone was really in deep trouble. Having hurdled my share of trouble in life, I had learned not to ask for conditions or more explanations from people who approach me for assistance. "How can I help you, John?"

"I'm thinking of asking an aunt for funds so I can start all over."

"And your aunt is not in Luzon."

"She's in Catbalogan."

"How much is necessary to get there?"

John told me the plane fare, which is not too much, but still steep enough to make me hesitate because I had to take care of my family too. "But I can go there cheaper by boat," he added.

Having insufficient cash in my pocket at the moment, I asked him to come back tomorrow and I'll have the money so he gets to see his aunt. Before he left that afternoon, I gave him a small amount to tide him over the night.

At 9 a.m. next day he was already waiting by the store. I gave him the boat fare to Catbalogan and back, plus expenses for food, lodgings, for a change of clothes and other necessities he might need in his journey. "This is much more than I need," he said.

"It's what I can afford. I wish I can give more. However, if you are in trouble anytime, you know where to find me now."

After almost a week, he was back in my store. "I saw my aunt," he said. "She told me to wait for a while until she gets some money to give me."

I looked at him. "If your aunt really wanted to help you, there would be no excuses, no waiting."

"I know, that's why I left. You know, of all the people I approached, you are the one who gave me a chance." He said he was going back to his job in Manila, try to sort things out. And that's the last time I saw John.

There are some people who believe that if they help someone, they will somehow be rewarded. So what happened next? Reality bit me, is what happened.

On June 15, 1991, Mt. Pinatubo erupted and I lost my business, my property, even my identity. There are times when I still think that that volcano erupted just to rid Pampanga of me and toss me back to Manila. Mt. Pinatubo: the dorm master of the 90s. 

With the help of Ody Fabian, who succored me in those dark days, I was taken in by People's Tonight, where I worked from 1994 to 2004. When fate (if you believe in fate) deals you a wild card, you get a magical mystery tour. From bookseller I became a newspaperman. Now I'm selling stamps to international collectors through eBay. And through it all, old friends I tried to help and old friends who helped me survive are always on my mind. Gone, but not forgotten; Far, but not away.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A gift

Want to hear what the Universe sounds like? Put your ear to a seashell. For full HD effect, read Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" while listening.
-- William the Henry

Silver and me

2:57 a.m.
It has become a habit to me, embarrassing I think, of extolling the magnanimity of the universe, of presuming to know its intimate nature, of imposing upon its generosity even. Accompanied by darkness, and insomnia and the silent stars, and the heavy purrs of Silver as she paws this electronic pad, I imagine my Chinese teachers in younger days, admonishing me for my lack of humility.

"Ah, so, already a wise man, hmm? Maybe as precocious as Feynman, if not as sagacious as a Sagan, eh?" Miss Lee remarks in the dark, sounding like a Jewish mother in a Philip Roth novel, instead of a proper but sardonic Chinese mentor marinated in the Analects of Confucius and steeped in blind faith over the goodness of the thieving Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek who, with his voluptuous wife, formed the original Conjugal Dictatorship of Asia. The Ferdinand and Imelda of the '50s, so to speak.

"He can't wait, our little genius," interjects Mr. Lim, "Not a late bloomer like that poor Einstein fellow, of whom nothing much had been expected of him, as we expect from our brilliant prodigy." I breathe a sigh of relief, making Silver, sitting between my nose and iPad, jump an inch. Mr. Lim, even in this imaginary exchange, has joined the scene, adding his own remarks in a bantering way to draw any potential poison from Miss Lee's harsh intrusion upon my afternoon nap (in her Geometry class). Mr. Lim had always protected me by deflecting the shrewishness of the old maids in the faculty.

How Mr. Lim got into this story, I don't exactly know. Maybe because he saw Miss Lee approaching my desk, in this imaginary flashback extending back almost 50 years? I don't even remember how this story got stuck in my head, pounding my sleep away in these unholy hours so I can type, to make this story as real as life -- "of such stuff as dreams are made of" -- to make it tangible as the ripe fruit fallen from the Raintree in my mind, to be printed, to be read by those who will be puzzled by its meaning, if any at all, and by those who will understand and appreciate it. Even if I myself don't get it?

Yes. I hear the answer. Without knowing why, I know the answer is right. Yes, you (this story, not I) are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, the Universe is unfolding. As it should.

An affirmation! A fulfillment of a desideratum (not mine. Of the Universe?) to exist, to make a mark where life blooms with fecundity in this part of the vast Milky Way, contradicting the emptiness of space, giving breath to the lifegiving heat of distant stars. Red, white, yellow, the stars send off their seeds with each nuclear pulsebeat, to grow where they can, to evolve and develop a cellular structure that can type out the Master Formula. 

And so, seemingly, out of thin air I pluck this concept and share it here, through millions of pixels to cyberspace. This is one of the billions of stories that exists -- E pluribus, unum; one among those which survived to be seen, to be scorned, to be brushed aside, to be shunned, to be admired, to be.

All I understand is that weaving a story is not unlike the process by which a spider seems to pluck endless webs from thin air. A gift, if you will, from the Cosmic Cornucopia. Therefore never send for whom the bell tolls, just ask the Universe. The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mau, Silver, Chess & David Copperfield

“Never," said my aunt, "be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel..."
--David Copperfield, Charles Dickens


Mau, lovely Persian, jumps into the bed and prefers to perch on top of iPad covers, where she makes her observations, and wisely, never makes any comment. I think she is much more intelligent and honest than the bunch of Senators and representathieves plaguing our legislature. So she sits on the green iPad cover and looks intently on Gary Kasparov's book of Chess, Volume 4 of his My Great Predecessors series, this one discussing Bobby Fischer's life and games. 

The 11th World Chess Champion visited the Philippines sometime in 1973, more than a year after Marcos declared Martial Law, in connivance with the Minister of Defense at that time, Juan Ponce Enrile. According to Enrile's "Memoir," Marcos and he had been considering the imposition of military rule as early as 1971, two years before the next election, when Marcos' second term and hold on power should have ended. Anyways, I remember Fischer's arrival because I, with my boardmates, was herded to the Araneta Coliseum in Cubao to watch the ceremony of the new dictator welcoming the new Chess champion.

A little research revealed that on a clear afternoon in October 1973, me and my friends were strolling along Cubao when a group of men in barong suddenly accosted us and pushed us inside Araneta. It was the height of the chess fever gripping the world then, and all the newspapers were announcing Fischer's visit here, and anyone can buy a ticket and watch the ceremony at the coliseum. We did not have enough money, but we went anyway, hoping to get a glimpse of Fischer and the President-who-had-extended-his-term when they arrive. And we got in free! Inside, we realized why we were pushed into the coliseum: the seats were empty, and it would have been embarrassing to perform a ceremony without an audience. We climbed from the back row to the more expensive (but free for now) front row seats to get a better view.

Marcos went onstage first, making a speech I don't remember now: probably how much the Philippines had improved since he closed down the Senate, Congress, the Judiciary, the critical radio and TV stations, and he made disappear tens of thousands of disgruntled citizens who complained about something called freedom. Of course, Marcos did not exactly couch the situation in those words; he said something flowery blah newsociety bleh economicprogress duh we can now afford to invite celebrities like Cristina Ford, who is with the First Lady now. Imelda was wearing a dress with the so-called butterfly sleeves, probably matching her butterfly brain, constantly flitting between the lovely the perfect the beautiful. Bleh.

Fischer made a short speech; he had to bend down slightly because the microphone was still adjusted to Marcos' Ilocano height. We were not listening to what he was saying, or slurring, in his Brooklynese argot; we were looking at the elegant Mrs. Ford. I don't remember if there is a tall guy named Van Cliburn on that occasion. After his blurb, Fischer proceeded to another part of the stage, where Marcos and Florencio Campomanes were waiting in front of a table with a Chess set. We clapped after they made a few cursory moves, declaring the game a draw. Marcos had done what few Chess masters had done -- achieve a draw with the Chess maniac like Fischer, who had reportedly refused a draw with a grandmaster despite having only Kings left on the board.

When the Marcos group left, we prepared to leave. Near the entrance, we saw two or three boxes containing leaflets and glossy brochures about the Fischer visit and the Manila Chess Match starting that day. We took a few copies with us. In hindsight, knowing what such paraphernalia earn nowadays in eBay, we should have taken all the boxes and earned bundles of dollars today.

Kasparov's 4th volume (the object of Mau's interest) contains the second game of the 1957 match he played with Philippines' Rodolfo Cardoso, who was considered the best Chess player here at the time. Cardoso was 19 then, Fischer only 14. They played eight games, with Cardoso winning one game and drawing two, but it was Fischer who won the match with a final score of 6-2 (4 wins, 2 draws). The match was sponsored by Pepsi-Cola. A bottle of Pepsi in 1957 was BIG and cost only 10 centavos. In those golden years, every 10-centavo coin contained high-grade silver. A dollar was equivalent to 2 pesos only. A Batman comics cost only 10 US cents or 20 Filipino centavos. I was already in the scene, although I was still a small, drooly but cute baby. Mau and Silver were still stardusts winging their ingredients to become delightful companions in my dotage.


Mau jumped off the bed when Silver appeared, sniffing for possible hoard of goodies. Middle photo shows Silver tackling the intricacies involved in Game 2 of the Fischer-Cardoso match. Fischer opened with P-K4 and Cardoso, in a psychological ploy, answered with Fischer's favorite defence, a Sozin variation of the Sicilian Defence, where White sometimes offers a Pawn the enemy can't refuse. Cardoso resigned after 31 moves and faded into oblivion while Fischer went on to win the US Open Chess Championship the next year and became the youngest Grandmaster in the world. He was also seeded to the Candidates' Matches to determine the next challenger to the World Champion, Mikhail Botvinnik. He made it through the elimination but failed to become the youngest World Chess Champion ever. It would take 14 more years for him to wrest the Chess crown from Boris Spassky, thus breaking the Soviet hegemony over the game. After that Fischer's mind began to unravel slowly, until he finally lost his grip on reality. In 2001, four hours after the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, he gleefully cheered the terrorist attack, telling Pablo Mercado in a live interview on Bombo Radyo network in Baguio City that the United States had it coming. After the US Chess Federation revoked his membership on 2001 October 28, Fischer addressed a letter to Osama bin Laden, telling the Al-Qaeda leader that "...We also have something else in common: We are both fugitives from the U.S. 'justice' system.'"

Fischer, unkempt, disgraced, deranged, hated, died of renal failure in a hospital in Reykjavik, Iceland. Fischer lived up to 64, a year for each square of the Chess board. He was not the only Chess player to lose his mind. The Mexican master, Carlos Torre (1905-1978), was crazy about pineapple sundaes, consuming several a day, sometime more than 10. But that's a minor quirk compared to his affinity to being naked in public. He was once arrested for running nude on 5th Avenue, New York. The next time he shed his clothes was in a bus full of passengers.

Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900), the first World Champion, claimed that he could call anyone with his wireless telephone -- not so crazy in this electronic era, but mentally offline in his time. One recipient of his calls, he said, was God. Steinitz said he could defeat the Almighty even with odds of Pawn and move. And there's the anthropophobic Akiba Rubinstein, who so disliked having people that his wife admonished his friends, "Do not visit too long, or Mr. Rubinstein will kindly excuse himself by crawling out of a window." 


Silver, after reading this, eventually lost her admiration for people who even considered Chess as a pastime. She took her afternoon catnap, leaving me to Dickens and his zany non-Chessplaying characters. I've read up to the first fourth part of David Copperfield, having met the boy's temperamental, eccentric yet kindhearted Aunt Betsey Trotwood at the beginning of the novel. The unmarried aunt appeared at the Copperfield home when David's mother was about to give birth; she declared the child should be a girl, and named Betsy, after her. When meek Dr. Chillip said the baby was a boy, the aunt trundles off the first chapter and is never seen again until David, an orphan in difficulty years later, seeks her out.

My interest in Dickens revived because in every mordant novels I read, writers like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allan Poe, G.K. Chesterton, Kafka, Freud, Maugham, Woolf, John Irving, Salman Rushdie, Tom Wolfe, Anne Rice, acknowledged the old master's influence on their writing. Even a poet like T.S. Eliot took notice: T. S. Eliot concurred: "Dickens excelled in character; in the creation of characters of greater intensity than human beings.” Although Chesterton criticized the last half of David Copperfield, he concurred that this novel, Dickens' eight, is the best of his creation. It is also known to be based on Dickens' encounter with hardship and cruelty in his youth.

My favorite John Irving novel is The Cider House Rule,. The bildungsroman follows the life of Homer Wells, who grew up at St. Clouds orphanage after being left there by a young woman who refused to abort him but did not have the resource to take care of him. I remember young Homer finding a copy of David Copperfield at the orphanage and reading it to the other young orphans, starting with, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”   

Itinerant readers, I'm sure, have in their youth encountered Dickens' A Christmas Carol, of which many movie versions appear on cable TV, and A Tale of Two Cities, which begins, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..." Whose mind can withstand the force of the combination of such simple words? It's like seeing for the first time 13-year-old Fischer's incredible 11th move (Na4!!) in his masterpiece game against Donald Byrne in the Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York in 1956. The game was nicknamed "The Game of the Century" by Hans Kmoch in Chess Review. Kmoch said, "The following game, a stunning masterpiece of combination play performed by a boy of 13 against a formidable opponent, matches the finest on record in the history of chess prodigies." It is the existence of such works in words or Chess pieces that affirms the wonder of the universe. Geniuses among us give hope that our species will survive our mishandling of this planet.

Every genius, like the rest of us in the course of our journey, has sustained damages. A few months ago I heard a writer tell Charlie Rose (on Bloomberg channel) that writers have become what they are because they have damaged lives, himself not excepted. I can't recall if the writer is Salman Rushdie, whose autobiography, Joseph Anton, came out last year. In that book Rushdie reveals that Ronald Dahl, John le Carre, and singer Cat Stevens condoned the death sentence that Ayatollah Khomeini issued against him for writing The Satanic Verses. I mention Rushdie here because I have also come across his Shalimar the Clown, in which Dickens is mentioned repeatedly. As I said, in all good books the reader will encounter other good books, leading to an endless discovery of all the wonders the human mind can conceive.

Ayn Rand declared that the human mind is the most powerful instrument in the world: It can cut diamond, the hardest substance in the universe; it can create vehicles that can carry men to the moon, and voyagers that carry messages, about our existence, beyond our solar system, and speed toward fresh frontiers ages after we are stardusts again. On the other hand, I read two out of the four Twilight novels by Stephenie Meyer and I find myself face to face with a dead-end, reminding me that we exist in a small speck of space enveloped by the vast vacuum of eternity. There are more Vacuums like Meyer than geniuses like Dickens. I learned that from someone somewhere.

Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond any experience... 

And that's it, so far. I'm expecting to meet more mad men and women in the next few days. When I rest, I turn the TV on and watch the insane people at the Senate do their gigs, and the antics of the Villafuerte clan. I also learned a long time ago that the things we write about, we draw from real life. I leave off with another quote from the book: “It's in vain to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present.”