give the rest away.

what's in my backpack? in my bedroom in my parents' house, there's half a closet full of jackets, sweaters, shirts, and one suit. there's some underwear, a red striped tie, a swiss army knife and pocketwatch, a full-sized bed, a stack of books on the closet floor, a subwoofer in the closet, a lamp, four poems tacked to the wall, a 2005 graduation tassel, a stuffed bear and roger rabbit, a sleeping bag, a stereo, a small rug, a small black table, a shelf and a half of records, and that's about it.

in my apartment in seattle, there's clothes, a guitar and case, a television and stand, a laptop and stand, an external hard drive, a queen-sized bed, a level 3 comforter, a couch, three chairs that don't belong to me, some kitchenware, a bicycle, a suitcase, a fan, refrigerator and oven (not mine), an iphone, wireless router and modem, my friend's x-box, electric toothbrush and charger, towels, curtains, a passport, and a record bag.

just about everything i own is replaceable. if i set the backpack on fire, there would be no big loss or sadness. it'd just be an inconvenience. it'd give me an excuse to upgrade to a macbook, a terabyte and a half hard drive. s lighter, faster, more expensive bicycle. a guild guitar made in america. i'm still set out to prove that the things i own don't own me, but maybe i'm wrong. i might be wrong.

i didn't have a couch for the longest time. for maybe two months, i had nothing in my apartment except for a bed and a laptop. my friends said, "how do you live like this?" i got called a "hipster," and two women commented on how it looked like maybe a serial killer lived here. i got talked into buying a couch. a friend said that i should buy a couch, so that i could have people over. and so i bought a couch, and then i had some people over. and then that friend moved away.

i decided somewhere in my early to mid-twenties that i shouldn't own anything. i didn't want material things tying me down. i knew i was gonna move from this place to that, and that whatever job i took, i was only gonna work at it for a couple of years. it was pointless to own things, since i knew that wherever i was wasn't home yet, that i wasn't going to settle down until i had a reason to.

so for now, i'll take what i want and give the rest away.
all curmudgeons go to heaven.

i read catcher in the rye when i was a freshman in high school. like every other depressed and angsty teen, i savored every word. mostly, i couldn't believe there was a book that had the word "fuck" in it so many times, and i couldn't believe we got to read it. how was this art? how was this part of the academic curriculum? it was all the dark, brooding shit that had been running through my head. it was all the isolation i felt, all the ways in which i wanted to see this world burn.

and then i heard about the author. who was this brilliant man, this guy who wrote about sex and nervous breakdowns and phonies? i read about him being a recluse, and i thought that was awesome. he wanted to get away from everybody. he only had to write one really good novel, make a shitload of money from it, have everyone love him, and then he didn't have to love them back. what a fucking rockstar. i loved him, and i had to read everything by him.

so i read nine stories, franny & zooey, and raise high the roofbeam, carpenters. it didn't matter that i didn't understand what was going on half the time. what mattered was that, generally speaking, his characters were a little bit off, just as i had always felt, especially those days at an all-boys high school. i pictured the characters back in the day, the 40's, 50's, 60's, and they had the same bleak outlook on life as i did, but they dressed better, and spoke more eloquently. i wanted to be in that world, that time. i wanted to be a piece of a fiction.

i even read love & squalor, collected essays by modern authors who were all influenced by salinger. i resented all of them for being so untalented, and for writing about a man who could write one paragraph more profound and heartbreaking than the dozens of novels any one of them could pen. they all said more or less the same shit. the girl who wrote namedropper and thin skin said that salinger fucked her, fucked all of us, and then didn't even remember our name. another dude said that when salinger died, a novel called the glass family would be published, and it would be beautiful and it would make him cry. that's all i really remember from love & squalor.

i remember reading franny & zooey, and i was in the backseat of my parents' car. i remember the ending of franny - that fucking ending - where she has a full blown nervous breakdown in the bathroom, and she's just chanting some prayer over and over again, and my god, that ending scared me. i can't even explain it. it's what i wanted. i just wanted to say, fuck it, to hell with everything, and i wanted to just find some obscure prayer and just chant it. i don't know what was wrong with me then, or even now, but at the time, that was what i wanted. that was what was gonna happen to me, i just knew it.

and then i read raise high the roofbeam, carpenters, and i really don't even remember what it was about. i think there was a part where buddy was describing seymour's face, or at least he was trying to, and that description, somehow, even though i can't remember it completely, had changed my whole life. i thought of things differently after reading that passage. i thought that life was short, that things were possible, that words can alter us in ways i didn't know, that i wanted to be a better, happier human being. i saw a tweet today; a guy had said that roofbeam had changed his whole perspective on life. i don't know how it's possible, but i agree with him one-hundred percent.

i read that novel, that passage about seymour's physical traits, and i didn't want to be alone in this world anymore. i pursued a girl, and for christmas that same year, i gave her that book. i told her how important it was to me, but she never read it. but it didn't matter. i had grown up, and i convinced myself i didn't need those characters anymore. i had to be part of the real world, where not everyone smoked cigarettes, was well educated, middle to upper class, and lived in new york. i didn't need the nervous breakdowns, the eccentricity, the alienation, or whatever else it was that he had to offer.

and now he's dead. my friend broke the news over gchat. i went to sleep after work, and when i awoke, i was hungry. as i was putting on my shoes, i thought about feeling hungry and how i was alive, and how salinger was dead. i was still sleepy, and my neighbor said she liked my shoes. i thanked her, and then i got a georgia gold from roy's bbq. i asked the clerk if they had changed their hours, but she said they'd been the same for a while now. i went back to my apartment and i ate my sandwich while watching the last few minutes of an episode of two and a half men.

life is just fucking weird like that.
words they already knew.

it was monday morning, and he worked for some youth center in san francisco. he had mostly given up on trying to find a new job. a few months before, he'd sent out his resume to a few places, but he never heard back. he found these listings on craigslist, postings that promised a competitive salary, full health and dental benefits, a good retirement plan. they also promised that they'd put his good skills to use, and that he would receive special skills and training from the job. the descriptions read as though they weren't jobs, but rather opportunities.

so, he sent out some lines to grab these "opportunities," but nothing came of it. he wanted a higher-paying job, but he wasn't sure how to get one. he was college-educated, smart, confident, but that didn't seem to be enough. he thought about the bad economy, blamed it on that, and he just kept working at that youth center. the bills were catching up with him, that was the problem. he made $11 per hour, and he had to repay $254 in student loans each month. he had a car payment, medical bills from a basketball-related knee injury, rent, utilities, cable, phone, internet, groceries, water and garbage. forget about unwinding at a bar with friends on the weekend, or even seeing a movie.

he got on gchat, and he instant messaged a friend, someone who would understand. man, fuck this job. his friend was sympathetic, but only to a point. a man could only complain for so long. it was up to him to do something about it. go back to school. make new friends. keep applying. learn a new language. get a hobby. don't be so co-dependent. don't blame the economy. don't blame your surroundings. don't blame yourself. this was advice his friend would've written back to him, but he didn't. because they were just words, words both of them already knew. it was up to him to actually put them into action.

he hated his job so much, just as millions of other young people (and old people) also hated their jobs. he went into a fit of despair, and there were times after work, he would just go home and go straight to bed. on those days, he might wake up around 10 or 11 at night, go on the internet, maybe watch some cable, listen to music, and then fall back asleep. the good thing about it was that he'd slept through dinner, so he saved a little bit of money that way.

his friend didn't know what to tell him. this friend had a bunch of other friends who also fed him the same usual negativity. i want to move, one would say. i need to get a new job, said another. of course none of it was working, none of it was enough. they were just a bunch of children pretending to be adults.
i really gotta go.

this was during my last trip to manila - i mean the one before this last one. i was sitting at my aunt's kitchen table, and i noticed a bottle of green tea behind me. i've always been a fan of green tea. i've had the green tea sobe, the arizona green tea, starbucks green tea, buzz cola (cola mixed w/ green tea), and actual green tea from many restaurants all over. naturally, i was curious. i lifted the bottle, and i inspected it. it was mostly asian writing, so i had no idea what it said. my aunt saw me inspecting it, and she spoke up.

"that's good for cleaning your system. it helps clean your liver and kidneys."
"would it be okay if i tried it?"

i tried just a little bit, and it was sweet. a taste of honey, something or other. i drank it with my meal - most probably eggs, spam, rice, and fish - and before i knew it, the bottle was empty. i had downed the whole thing. i could've gone for another, but i thought one was enough. and anyway, we had to go. we were supposed to go to the metro manila film festival because k.c. concepcion would be performing there, and because i had written a really bad song about her, my aunt got this idea that i was really into her. so, we hopped in the van, and tony drove us to sofitel, an upscale hotel by the water.

about five minutes into the drive, it hit me. my stomach began to tighten, and i was in pain. i really had to go. i thought about what my aunt said: "it's good for cleaning your system." at the time, i thought she meant that it was generally good for cleaning your system, like how vitamins are good for you in the long run. i didn't know that "cleaning your system" meant literally cleaning out my system via massive diarrhea. i loosened by belt, and i held the seatbelt as far away from me as possible. i didn't know if i'd be able to make it. these were uncertain times.

"umm, are we close? i really, really have to go."
"yes, it's only a few more blocks," my aunt said.
"ok." and then i changed my mind. "is there somewhere we can pull over?"
"it's really bad?"
"yes. it's really bad."

my mom asked me if i was dudume (sp?), which usually translates as dirty, but in context, i realized it meant having to take a dump really badly. it was supposedly a more polite term than nagtatae, which translates the same way. the other thing was, i hated going to the bathroom at public places, especially in the philippines. in most public places, i'd be lucky if there was a toilet seat, nevermind toilet paper. from what i understood, most people were supposed to squat, but me, being the untrained foreigner, i'd just bring my own toilet paper, place it on the rim, and have at it.

i expressed my concerns. "is there a bathroom there?"
"yes, yes," my aunt reassured me, "it's a nice hotel. they have good facilities there. can you make it?"
i breathed in deeply. the pain was coming and going every two minutes or so. "yes, i think i can make it."

we finally pulled up to the main lobby of sofitel, and i looked at tony, my aunt's driver. he was smiling. my impending dump was hilarious. and since i was so relieved we had finally made it, i couldn't help but smile back. my mom handed me a small package of tisses, and i power-walked to the nearest restroom. my aunt also power-walked, trailing close behind me, and she called out directions. "left! straight ahead!" finally, i had found the glorious bathroom, and, let me tell you, what a wonderful sight it was.

the bathroom was well lit. it had those circular lights in the ceiling where the bulbs are actually in the ceiling. it made the whole place almost kind of yellow, like natural sun. there were flowers in vases on the marble counters and black soap dispensers in between mirrors. electric paper towel dispensers, and no hand-dryers. the bathroom stall doors were made of dark, heavy wood, and they stretched all the way down to the floor. and last, but certainly not least, fully-stocked toilet paper, and a beautiful, shiny porcelain seat. my heart almost melted.

you probably think i'm crazy, but i tried the tea again on this last trip. i waited until we were back at the hotel, home base, and i downed the bottle. nothing happened. turns out, it wasn't the tea that did the trick, after all.
you be agile.

he was on his way to a basketball game. he didn't even want to go, but he did it anyway. he would've much rather stayed at home and played his wii, or else played a star wars game on the computer. who the hell wanted to go to a stinky gym full of a bunch of assholes who didn't matter in the first place? hell was other people. he was only in fifth grade, but he knew that much already.

everyone on his team, except for maybe three other kids, were white. it was a weird thing, putting on a jersey and having to slap hands with other white kids from other catholic schools. he didn't like wearing that jersey. he felt too exposed in it. it was the year 2010 for christ's sake. no one wore tanktops of jerseys. not even jay-z.

and all the other kids looked like idiots. they were all curly hair and moles and skinny arms. what even gave them the right to be on the court with him? ten bucks said they'd rather be at home watching icarly with a box full of mcnuggets and a mcflurry waiting in the fridge. that was the life. not this being in a gym on a saturday morning business. who gave a shit about sports, about cheering, about getting a ball across a court and into a hoop, anyway? mcnuggets and mcflurries, motherfucker. ain't nothin' else.

and then the game started, but he didn't. he warmed the bench for the first ten minutes. he watched, but he wasn't watching, really. he was just nervous for the moment the coach was gonna blow the whistle and look at him. coach would say, "you're in," and then he'd have to get off the bench, and it'd be like going off to war, para-trooping. it sucked. he could be in bed, instead, listening to miley cyrus on his ipod.

he didn't know it then, but moments like those were just preparing him for what life was gonna be: doing a bunch of shit he didn't wanna do. the alarm clock waking him up for school. registering for classes. visiting with the in-laws. networking with grownups who had better haircuts, better suits. traveling to a conference. dental appointments. signing up for e-billing.

the chinese kid on the other team, sacred heart, stole the ball from him mid-court. he chased after that chinese kid, but he just couldn't catch up. lay-up, two points. he could hear his dad screaming from the bleachers. "look alive! hustle, hustle hustle!" his team lost that one, the first of many in a seemingly endless losing streak.

on the car ride home, they stopped at mcdonald's, his reward. they were waiting in the drive-thru when his dad told him, "you be agile, aggressive." and he thought this, but of course he couldn't say it: jesus christ, dad. not all of us are cut out for this.
but you were wrong.

i put on my ipod and set it to low's "just like christmas." i was with my parents and my cousin and my aunt, and we were walking through the streets of hong kong. it was cold, and i had a sweater on underneath my leather jacket. it was cold, but the song was right: it wasn't like christmas at all. there was something off about it. no snow, no children playing with their brand new toys.

on christmas eve, tony and pino's kids did ravage through the wrappings once again, to find shiny new plastic things, books and stickers, go-go pets, whatever the hell those things were. there was something great about it, something that transported me to a time where my grandparents sat by the fireplace and everyone was there. i mean everyone.

and at the time, it was great. i didn't have to worry about where all the wrapping and packaging was going. at the time, i was happy to get that new ninja turtle or magna-doodle or whatever it was, but when i re-watch old videotapes, christmases in the eighties, it's about much more than that. it's about seeing my uncle with a beer in his hand, dancing in his new robe somebody bought him from mervyn's. it was about my cousin sitting on the floor, entranced by a monkey that clapped two cymbals together.

it wasn't about my aunt, too sad to return to the states, so she spends christmas now with children that aren't hers. she's started a new family, a driver and domestic helper and their children. she doesn't want to come back here because, maybe in her mind, those videotapes capture all that was good in life, all the good that will ever be.

so maybe there's this pressure to start a family myself. i get to thinking that maybe if i have a wife and children and turn my parents into grandparents, there can again be this sense of fulfillment, of warmth, gratitude, all that crap. maybe i won't ever have to wander the streets of hong kong again feeling like it wasn't like christmas at all.

but then again, it wasn't so bad.
one convenient, quiet place.

who is this jackass with his passive aggressive blog? this tool with his iphone, lacoste shoes, and j. crew university coat with thinsulate? who is this person who stopped caring about others' needs, about making the world a better place? who's this smug, confused asshole who thinks he's better than everyone, but also thinks everyone is better than him? who is this person who is never happy with anything, never satisfied with all that he's been given? who is this individual who takes it all for granted?

he isn't me. and maybe that's why he's been feeling sick, why he's been trying to tell himself to wake up, wake up already. he hasn't used his brain in a while. he hasn't solved a math problem in years, hasn't had a conversation about something not tv, music, or film related in months. that's why all his blog entries lately have been boring, why they've all been about...nothing. he doesn't know how to do anything these days but fall asleep and look at the internet.

at a cathedral in manila, he sat at a pew by himself. his parents were looking at other things - statues and tourist displays - but he just sat there, and he relished the quiet. church was good for that. he sat there and thought about why people went to church. and for a moment, he liked it. it was the one place where all the major things in life could and probably would happen. baptism, marriage, death - all in one convenient, quiet place.

there was another tme. he was standing outside another chapel, somewhere in boracay, and it began to rain a little bit. just a little drizzle started, and everyone moved in towards the church's entrance. he stood there, next to a wall, and he listened to the priest. it was in tagalog, so he couldn't understand the homily. everything else was textbook mass. music played in the church, and it sounded sad, something like old radiohead b-sides. they even sang "the lord's prayer," and it was hauntingly sad, beautiful. it was the most beautiful thing he'd heard in a while.

he was sitting at the back of the bus, and they were headed back to the airport in kalibo. he set his ipod to snow patrol's eyes open, and he started thinking about the past, about how things used to be. it was a good thing he had his sunglasses on because he started to cry. he didn't want to cry, but he couldn't help it. his cousin, sitting next to him, was asleep, so it was okay. he got away with it. during the whole trip, everyone knew something was wrong with him, and his crying would only confirm it. so he didn't want them to see. he didn't want them to see him that way.

a few weeks back, he was at the vacaville outlets with his parents. he spent over $100 on clothes to make himself feel better, and it helped, if only for a short while. his parents went to harry and david to buy snacks, and he sat at a bench whilst trying to read a michael chabon novel. they bought some snacks, and then his mother decided she wanted to go to coldwater creek. he waited in the car for her, and when she returned, she looked at him through the car window. she looked surprised and saddened, and she asked him why he was crying. he wasn't crying then. he didn't know what she was talking about.

but he was older now, and as he aged, he found it more difficult to make friends. he wasn't so much angry anymore. maybe the boys who roughed him up before just wanted to be his friend. maybe that was just their way of showing it. they didn't know how to act any different. maybe if he'd just told girls in his past how he felt about them, they might've felt the same way. maybe if he'd just been open about things and he didn't bottle them up so goddamn much, he'd be okay with who he was, where he was going.

who the hell is this guy.
chandelier of bones.

i walked into the bakery, and he was already in there. he was standing in line, and he held a yellow thermos. we greeted each other with the bro half-hug thing. he asked if i had a usual drink, and i said i didn't. i looked at the mini-fridge and said i would go with a pink juice. i said i'd probably also get a cookie. he rang up his coffee, and then he asked if he could get me anything. i said no, not to worry about it. he finished ordering.

after i bought my juice and cookie, i asked if we should sit by the mini-fridge. he pointed to a table by the window and he said that his stuff was over there. there was a coat on the back of his chair and a knapsack resting against the base. i sat down and started on my cookie. he asked how i've been. and i said good, but i wasn't good. i'd been up since 5 in the morning and my eyes were all fogged over. i've been worrying about diabetes, glaucoma, going blind.

i asked if he went home for christmas, and i thought home was ohio. he corrected me. it was michigan. close enough, he said. he said he was there for ten days, and it was good. he asked me how my trip to the philippines was. i said it was good. i didn't know what else to say, so i told him about boracay and hong kong. i said that the kids in hong kong dressed well, and that their transportation system was efficient.

i don't like talking, so i asked about his summer trip to europe. he said he had a blast. he visited friends, ex-pats living in berlin. and then he hitchhiked with his friend to prague and they slept in the bushes. he wanted to see an ossuary in a little town outside prague where there was a chandelier of bones, and so that's where they went. he said his friend was an artist and lived in an artists' collective in berlin. they made art all day long, and just got by, he said.

he kept talking about what it meant now for him to be an adult. a responsible adult with a career in mind, and the same boring stability he might one day be able to offer his children, the way his parents had done for him. he said he'd like to make a down payment on a house some day. he said that for christmas, he told his parents he wanted nice clothes, and that he didn't want to look like a dirty hippie anymore. his parents were thrilled. i looked at his pants, and i commented that there were no longer holes in them.

he justified it. he said that was the way the world worked, right? if he wanted to be successful, he had to look the part. it was time to stop being a child, wandering around, making art, making noise, and it was time to just grow up and be responsible. hence the new clothes, his desire to go to architecture school, his goal of owning his own home. the way he spoke was the same, but his values significantly shifted from when i knew him five years ago. the talk became serious, and i wanted to lighten it up, maybe call him a sellout, but he was right. we were grownups now.

he asked if i was seeing anyone. i told him that these days, i'd be happy just to get a number. i told him that in the philippines, everyone kept asking if i had a girlfriend, and wasn't it okay to just be single for a while? i told him how single men in the philippines were frowned upon. that, if a man was single for too long in that country, others would suspect him of being a homosexual, a bading, or else a dirty old man. but that could just be the way i perceived the way they thought.

we didn't have much else to say. it was clear to both of us that catching up was nice and all, but we were both eager to just get the future on with already. the whole thing about being in your twenties and going to bars and working unrewarding jobs was just - well, we were over it already.
only the fear of being alone.

he was in his bedroom on halloween night with the door closed, the lights turned off, a stack full of 80's horror tapes by the television set. the doorbell would ring and ring and his mother would open the door, give out candy to all the neighborhood children dressed up as angels, monsters, princesses and skeletons. he hadn't even bothered to decorate that year, forgoing the usual fake cobwebs and red goo that was supposed to be blood. he probably had himself a couple reese's, maybe a few kit-kats, but that would be all.

when those ugly towers came down and all those people died, he might've been the last person to hear about it. he slept in on a day of tragedy, and years later, he'd sleep through his own birthday. he turned on his new hp computer, the one he'd recently purchased for college, and the american online homepage came up. it read: america under attack or something, and he thought it was a joke. it looked unreal, like something only a failed hollywood screenwriter could make up.

his grandmother visited the day before he left for college. she was so old and fragile, a slump of alien mass bound to a wheelchair. she was distraught about the attacks, and her eyes were moist. never trust anyone, she said. her words had the same effect as any good novel, something he could revisit years later, and it'd mean something else completely. at the time, he heard her referring to terrorists, awful bearded brown men who hated his country and wanted him dead. he envisioned plane rides back home to visit family, and he'd be eternally vigilant.

and then he was back from college, maybe it was summer time, and he was with his friend and a bunch of girls his age. he let his friend do all the talking for him. it just didn't register. other than a polite "hello," he had no idea what to say. there was a chubby mexican girl he found rather attractive, but he couldn't do anything but sit and try not to stare at her. at one point in the evening, her chair broke, and everyone succeeded at not laughing at her, though it was a funny sight. everyone was sympathetic, and the girl was obviously flustered. are you okay?

what was wrong with him? there was something clearly wrong. he had been to school for thirteen years, but he was never taught any socialization skills. it was the boston tea party and long division and the quadratic equation and sexual reproduction. there was a significant piece missing from his education. the kind that could've prevented him from blowing up at his friends, from isolating himself, from feeling like there was no point to any of it, none at all.

he was all alone, driving by himself late one night. the opening riff to "hunted by a freak" came on the radio, kexp, and he circled the block to find a parking spot. there's no such thing as love. only the fear of being alone. no spots. he circled the block again. again and again until the song ended and a new one had begun. i don't love anyone. well, not even christmas. at last, someone had turned on his reverse lights, signaling that he'd be vacating his spot. it was a good spot. a prime spot. parking's premium.

he climbed the three flights of stairs in his blood-red apartment, the one that resembled the shining. it was a difficult thing, this business of being alone. he thought of the scene in 30 rock, the one where liz imagines herself choking on a piece of meat, and there's no one in the house to give her the heimlich. he thought of charlie on party of five, after kirsten had abandoned him, and he finds a lump in his armpit. scores of young men dying on the battlefield. widows in retirement homes passing the time with soaps, trying their best to remember what it was to be young, to be beautiful, to be full of hope for their futures, and full of love.

he was on his way back to school. it was a bright sunday morning, and he was up in the air. he had a window seat, and he was surprised by how warm and sunny it was for a february morning.
is that a calculator watch?

only two beers in, and i was feeling it. i didn't know what it was, exactly, only that i didn't like it. i had agreed to attend an after-work happy hour, and so there i was, chugging a beer i had never heard of, something that was supposed to be fat tire, but wasn't, since they didn't have it (what seattle bar doesn't have fat tire?). and i was sitting there with two young women from work - 29 and 24 - and the two of them were talking about how her nephew was obsessed with cowboys, talking about slip and slides, talking about what vegas was like. i didn't have anything to say on the subjects, so i drank.

and all i could think about was, why have i chosen this? why didn't i choose, instead, to be in a country where people had brown skin like me? why didn't i choose family first? i could've been at a bar with my cousins or nieces and nephews, and i could've gotten to know about them, about our family history. how many affairs did uncle bobby have? why was cesanne's mother in prison? what was it like living under martial law? though i had a whole month to ask these questions, i didn't.

and so there i was, at a seattle bar where i was the only minority with two happy-go-lucky gals who liked flailing their arms about and talking loudly over the stale indie music blowing all around us. i had my shirt tucked in, and i felt like an i.t. nerd. they didn't ask me about my trip, but they were disappointed that i hadn't yet posted enough pictures of it on facebook. the only new thing about me, the only thing i had to contribute to the conversation was my new phone. "you're so fancy with your new phone," they said.

we moved next door to fish fry because they were serving unlimited fries and $2 beers. though i ordered 2 beers and my order came out to $8. i didn't question it. i just went along with it. we stood at the end of this one table, and these two guys struck up a conversation with the girls. and let me tell you, when you are out with two girls on a friday night, and some random guy who has their skin color starts talking to them, it's emasculating. even if i'm not trying to score with either one of said girls (especially since one is a lesbian).

but the two guys matched the two girls' enthusiasm. everyone was talking like they were on speedballs or whatever kind of drug makes people really hyper. it was a real a.d.d. fest, and they were talking about beards, calculator watches ("is that a calculator watch?" "it is." "congratulations." "hahaha."), more vegas, cell phones, etc. the guy who was standing next to me had salami breath. he told me he had never sent a text message in his life.

we moved onto another bar, and once there, i made up an excuse as to why i had to leave early. i was in bed by ten.
rose and elaine.

i was sitting on the can, and it was about midnight. it was a few days after my birthday, my last night in the philippines. i thought i could just go to bed or i could go out and have an adventure. i wanted to do something stupid and dangerous. i wanted to have an awesome night. i decided i'd better do something because i was just gonna go back to the u.s., back to my cold and empty apartment, back to my meaningless job and poor social life. so i put on my jeans and a shirt and i headed downstairs.

the way i pictured it was that i'd go down to the bar and drink by myself and be like bill murray in lost in translation. i'd just be sipping a whiskey on the rocks when a beautiful young scarlett johannson type (even though i'm not the biggest scarlett fan) would be sitting alone, too, and we'd hit it off. hell, i'd even smoke a cigarette. the string quartet on the balcony would play an instrumental taylor swift song as we'd talk quietly about our painfully boring lives. and then we'd go to her room, not have sex, but have a deep and meaningful connection, and i'd put my hand on her foot.

but instead i went down to the shady cellar bar, the ktv room. i sat down at the bar and i ordered a beer. i tried talking to the bartender, but he didn't understand my english so well. he called a girl over, a girl whose english was much better than his. her name was elaine. elaine was from bulacan, a province north of manila, but she had moved to manila to work at a bar. she said that she used to teach english to korean kids. she'd laugh at some things and put her hand on my arm.

she asked if i'd like to sit on the couch, and i agreed. i ordered a bucket of beers while she drank gin and tonics. i had no intention of doing anything with this woman. she said that i should have come to the cellar bar earlier, and why did i wait until my last night to go? i said i didn't know. i wanted to ask if she was a whore, but i felt that might've been a little offensive. there were other girls there, too, young and pretty ones, and they were there to "entertain" the guests.

there was another girl there, and her name was rose. it was rose's birthday. i asked rose how old she was. she said 19, but really, she was 26. elaine was 28. elaine asked if i had a girlfriend, and i said no. she asked me why not, and i said i didn't know. she told me that her ex-boyfriend had cheated on her, and then she said she didn't understand why men had to cheat. she said maybe men are not happy with what they have, so that is the reason they cheat. i said maybe she was right.

rose came and sat down with us, and in my mind, i kind of wanted a threesome, but i knew it would never happen. i was buzzed enough to propose one, but i didn't do it. elaine said that rose was half-german, half-shepherd. i asked rose if she was really half-german (she did look white), but elaine looked at me like i was stupid and said no, that she was just making a joke. i asked rose why she was so white. rose said it was because she wasn't dark.

elaine said she lived only five minutes away from the hotel. i asked if it was dangerous walking home by herself every night. she said no, and that she had many policemen friends. she said that it would be dangerous for me, a foreigner. i asked if it was obvious i was a foreigner. she said that i looked half-filipino, half-american.

they wanted to go out, since it was rose's birthday. they wanted to go to the cowboy grille, which was located in malete. i had no idea where malete was, or how far it was, but a part of me was excited about going to some random bar in the middle of the night with two filipina strangers. i thought about us partying all night at some crazy club, but i also thought about them drugging me, cutting me open, and selling my kidneys on the black market. i went to the bathroom to fully think through both scenarios, and i decided it would be best if i just went to bed. it was after 2 a.m. after all.

i had a good excuse as to why i couldn't go out. i didn't have any pesos to pay the taxi. when they found out i didn't have any pesos, their demeanor completely changed. it was a good feeling, knowing that they were only paying attention to me because they thought i had money. rose joked and asked if they could borrow my credit card for the night. a couple of broke bitches they were. i asked rose how she got home if she didn't have cab fare. she said that she rode the jeepney.

at some point during the night, i asked elaine for her number because i was sure she would give it to me. i think that was part of the whole "entertaining foreigners who look like they might have money" bit. she wrote her number and email down on a small piece of paper, and i pocketed it. in the morning, i threw it into the recycle bin.

that was all i had been needing to do for a long time now.
no resolutions.

he didn’t bother making any resolutions in the new year. sure, there was plenty he could do. he could work out more, sleep less, eat better, be more confident, be nicer, forgive and forget, fitter happier more productive, etc. but he didn’t. he was older now, and he realized that resolutions were as pointless as other things in life that wouldn’t come true. things like birthday wishes and pipe dreams. saying that he was going to be a better, happier person in the new year was just as stupid as the usual drunk talk he had with friends about opening a bar.

there was that thing, though. that time he spent with the neighborhood children, and he couldn’t be sure if it was something he had just dreamed up, or if it had really happened. it was just a carefree night of hide-and-seek in the dark, or maybe it was flashlight tag, and it was his greatest childhood memory. how sad that the best memory he had of being a kid was spent with other kids he didn’t even know. he had to leave early that night, and everyone was sad to see him go. he waved goodbye to these children, his heart sank, and he went back to his private school life, leaving the public school kids behind. he didn’t know it then - well, maybe he did - but he loved those public school strangers. they treated him like a brother.

he spent his whole life looking again to relive that connection, to relive that fleeting moment of true brotherhood. there were black kids, asian kids, white kids, a tall white girl with crooked bangs and a ponytail. the girl in a flannel shirt who smiled with a backdrop of sunset and suburbia. the kind of girl he dreamed about in an innocent way. they’d just be playing genesis at his aunt’s house, or else sitting at a picnic table, and her hand would slip into his. when he awoke, he’d try his best to fall asleep again, to prolong the dream, but it never worked. still, those few blissful seconds of r.e.m. could lift his spirits for weeks.

what was he trying to prove? was this any way to go through life, looking for something that might never have been real in the first place? he didn’t want those private school memories anymore. they were useless and dead to him. they were just endless of days of red, and later, navy sweaters, white polo shirts, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of alienation. why did he live his life like that, full of frustration and sadness and boredom? why didn’t he put up a fight, and years later, why couldn’t he just let it all go?

letting go was the hard part. he was quite comfortable with his flat screen tv and his netflix queue and his endless hours of videogameviolenceporn. he was lazy as shit, and he thought the world found this unacceptable, even though the world wasn’t watching. the world was too self-involved with its warming and wars and financial woes. still, he foolishly convinced himself that the world was watching (it wasn’t), and ultimately, he was torn between trying to find something he loved and giving up.

so, he went to job interviews, and he visited college campuses . he went to bars, and he made an online dating profile. he kept in mind, though, that none of it really mattered. truly, none of it. he didn’t love anything but himself, and the thing he searched for was only a lie, the biggest lie, something to fill the void, to pass the time between now and the next year, yet another, sans resolutions.

they just pocket it.

outside the comedy bar punchline, my nephew handed me the january 2010 fhm.
"do you know what that is, uncle?"
"yes," i said, "i think so."
"it's a men's magazine," he said, smiling.
my niece and i laughed.

i was in the business center, where i am now. it was the day after my birthday. i was twenty-seven. the woman who worked there had always been nice to me. she greeted me and gave me usernames and passwords to sign onto the internet. she was much nicer than the other girl who always asked for my room number as though i didn't come in here every damn day.

"miss," i said, "do you have facebook?"
"yes, sir."
"can i add you as a friend?"
"yes." she laughed, and then she wrote down her name on a small piece of paper: jonelyn kok.
once she added me, i immediately checked her status: engaged.

i had to leave the comedy bar early because my uncle wanted to go to the dirt mall, 168, really early in the morning. 6:30 a.m. he texted me while i was watching gay filipinos talk about stinky vaginas and the ampatuan family. my uncle was driving down queson ave., my dad riding shotgun, me in the backseat. we drove past some streetwalkers.

"sorry, girls," my uncle said, "maybe next time."

i looked back, as i'd never seen an actual streetwalker in real life. i've only seen them in movies and cop shows. the thing was, though, they didn't look like streetwalkers. they wore shorts and t-shirts and looked like normal girls.

"you know, it didn't used to be like this," my uncle said. "this used to be a good area back in the day." we drove past some dilapidated buildings, garage doors with graffiti, streets with major humps and cracks everywhere. i thought about how the city probably was beautiful once, as i'd seen in old footage on youtube. the streets weren't all fucked up, and there weren't squatters everywhere.

my uncle was watching the news.

"where does all the money come from?" i asked.
"well, all these people want to run for office because that's where they get the money, right? but where does the money actually come from?" certainly it didn't come from buko juice and sisig.
"from all over," he said. "it's what they're supposed to use to build more schools, fix the streets, renovate old buildings. but they just pocket it."
bargaining at the dirt mall.

it was a long flight, but finally, she arrived at ninoy aquino international. she brought gifts, pasalubongs, for family and friends, and they stayed at shangri-la, or maybe it was sofitel. some place nice where the bathrooms actually had seats and toilet paper readily available. she spent her days shopping at malls, good ones like rockwell and green belt, ok ones like mall of asia (moa) and trinoma, and even dirt ones like 168 and green hills. she went sightseeing: cavite, tagaytay, antipolo, baguio. she took pictures with scenic landscapes behind her, and she posted these pictures to facebook to show everyone what a good time she was having.

she bought herself bags and beautiful white dresses and went to church on weekends. for the people back home, she bought them small things, shirts and jeepneys and men in barrels. she'd eat sushi at sugi, salad at zuni, pasta at la nuova, seafood at dampa. she hit the bike and ran the treadmill and swam in the hotel pool to counterbalance the fat intake. she rode the cab and didn't speak english because the driver would up the charge if he knew she was a foreigner. as if he couldn't already tell.

lighter than most, she stuck out. men would look at her and smile, and she'd always have to have someone else - a relative or friend - with her. her aunt refused to let her be alone with the driver. when she went out, someone would always warn her to watch her camera, make sure her money was in a safe place. she wanted to ride a motorcycle or a jeepney or tricycle by herself, but it was out of the question. she couldn't go to clubs where there had been a recent fight or shooting.

and then she was at the dirt mall, green hills. she was just looking at bags, maybe asking the price, bargaining with the saleslady. "hi, ma'am." magkano ito? "one-five, ma'am." she was wearing a white backless dress. her hair was a crown of braids tied into a ponytail. she was probably twenty-two, twenty-three. maybe older, maybe younger, it was hard to tell.

she didn't buy the bag, or whatever it was she was looking at. she just walked the other way, and that was that.
get what you want.

the philippines got awesome again. it's not hard for it to become awesome. i just went out drinking with my nieces and nephews, and it got awesome. we went to my cousin's bar again, the v.i.p. room, and they ordered whatever they wanted - drinks, steaks, fish, nachos - all on the house. we sang our heads off, we played drinking card games, we took pictures and got out of control. for my birthday, they talked about doing a boys' night out. we'll probably go to the puta house.

it was a nice change from hanging out with my other cousin who has to ask her mom if she can stay out late. twenty-nine years old, and she has to ask her mom if she can go to a club. if her mom says no, i can still go, but i'd be hanging out with her friends, and it'd be weird. so i said, fuck it. who's twenty-nine and still has a curfew? absolutely ridiculous. thank god for my nieces and nephews, my pamangkins, who know how to tear shit up and have a great time, despite being broke.

we rode in a van, and there were eleven of us. at 11, brent was the youngest, but he still came along to the bar. ram said, "uncle, you sing 'open arms' like you did last time." jerome, jam's boyfriend said, "for your birthday, what do you want? dancing? girls? party?" lahat, i said, meaning "everything." they laughed (they love it when i speak tagalog) and we clinked bottles and we drank and drank some more. it was ftw.

jam was hesitant about letting jerome go out with me for boys night out. they've been together for five years, and they plan on getting married in 2011. she said, "uncle, you will come to the wedding when we get married?" i told her of course i would. and then they said, "you will come back again next december?" and i said maybe. i said i wanted to, but i wasn't sure. i haven't seen my other cousins for two christmases now.

we took pictures and covered each others' faces. i got darlene, as red as she was, to take a picture with me. j.r. and i belted out some love ballads. jam asked me if it was lonely in america, and i admitted that it was. i accidentally spilled beer on someone's cell phone and brent accidentally spilled sprite on my pants. they kept ordering food and more food because my cousin jun-jun said, "get what you want."

around 2 a.m., they drove me back to the hotel while blasting "bad romance" so loud that my ears hurt. and it was legendary.