Friday, August 11, 2006

Pine Scented Memories

Cocoy's Christmas Tree in the Paco house.
Memories of Christmases past would be a nice thing to write about. I am trying to search my mind for past images of Christmas mornings as a young boy who still believed in Santa Claus. I remember during my childhood we always had a Christmas tree where we used to hang our socks filled with hopeful letters to Santa Claus, telling him how good we’ve been and what we would like for Christmas. I would hang my sock in a branch that was at eye level…the most conspicuous place in the tree.

Our tree was a Baguio Pine that one could buy only during the Yuletide season. They have long since stopped cutting down the trees because conservationists were afraid that after a while the cutters will make extinct this pine species because of indiscriminate cutting. Lately the threat of its extinction is posed, not by Christmas commerce but by the numerous squatters in Baguio City. They have cut down the trees in the hills near the city as clearings for their hovels. I hope something is done to stem this increasing urban blight.
The Baguio Pine has a scent which one associates with Christmas and the pine needles are so much greener and thicker than the foliage of the Agojo Pine, a species found in the lowlands.

The buying of the tree was an event that I looked forward to. I would tag along with my older brother, Tito, to go to a vacant lot in the corner of
Governor Forbes Street where a big open truck would be unloading cut branches of Baguio Pine to sell as fresh Christmas trees. We would select a medium sized one and one that would have the best conical shape. To get the best looking tree one had to go there early otherwise what would be left of the lot would be the scraggly ones and the ones whose branches were just nailed together. Bringing home the tree was also a pleasure. My brother would put on his shoulder the heavy lower part of the tree while I would hold on to the top part walking behind my brother to prevent the tree from swishing. I would proudly march in the tiny eskinita where we live and enjoying all the while the nice comments of our neighbors, especially the kids as we passed them on the way home.

Angge's Christmas tree

My older brothers would do a bit of carpentry work to put together the base for propping up the tree. The base would then be covered with
Christmas wrapping making it look like a big gift box.

Christmas with neighborhood kids. The Dullanos and Sevillas

My sisters would bring out the tree decorations from out of the storage, dust them and start hanging them on the branches. There was a wide assortment of decorative materials. Plastic Christmas balls colored metallic red, green and blue, angels grouped together as a choir, funny looking thin Santas made out of pipe stem cleaners, bells of different sizes, plastic reindeers and metallic ribbons wound around the tree. The last to be done were the Christmas lights. My elder brothers were in charge of checking all the light bulbs, the wiring, replacing burned out bulbs and connecting two sets of Christmas lights together before stringing them up in the branches.

Now what would Christmas be without snow? A final touch is added on the sagged branches, weighed down by reindeers, colored balls, thin Santas etc…lumpy wads of cotton sparsely spread on the pine needles looking like a collection of snow flurries precariously resting on heavily laden branches.

Capping the activity was topping the tree with a big tinsel star, a privilege given to the youngest sibling, Angge, who was four at that time.
My brother , Dado, would put on a new stylus in the RCA phonograph and play Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. We would all take a step backward for a full view of our creation and looking at each other with smiles of approval and feeling good about the familial handiwork.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Oh Those Marvelous Machines!

I was about to complete an exercise of about 700 hundred words on the morning’s activities when suddenly the computer cable got detached when my wife accidentally nudged the connecting cable of the transformer. A whole hour’s work bit the dust, gone forever, because the reserve power source no longer worked, one of the many things that no longer worked with my old laptop.

My laptop is a handover from my working days. I have become so attached to this contraption because I spent more intimate hours with it than anybody that I have had the chance to be with, except for my wife, of course. Half my working hours were spent with my lap top doing analyses, reports, writing memos to the staff, doing local and international correspondences and on needed breaks, an occasional computer game. There was never a day that I didn’t have my laptop in tow. It has been a constant companion in client presentations, conferences and workshops and even when on holidays. The demand s of an international business required us to be on call for 24 hours inclusive of weekends and holidays.

This efficient electronic assistant has relegated my secretary into a social scheduler and coffee provider. A noble partner and factotum it has survived the rigors of being the laptop of a hardworking slave to the millstone. Even after my retirement it continued to serve me faithfully.

Expectedly, some of my geriatric quirks have rubbed off on her and sometimes she even has outdone my cantankerousness and obstinacy. I feel she has earned and deserved the privilege to be this way having been battered and abused repeatedly by an insensitive despot.

My laptop was not my first automaton true love. I was, in my younger days, enamored to an olive skinned beauty whose pulchritude can only be paralleled by its namesake during those days; I speak of my Monroe calculator, an engineering wonder at that time.

As a brand assistant in a multinational concern during the late sixties I was equipped with this machine so that we could do endless computations of product mix costing alternatives, meticulous budget trials for support activities, marketing plans and doing validations of market volume and value estimates.

Though without the sanctity of marriage, I was a live-in partner of this beauty. I can still feel the sensual pleasure derived from caressing the smooth keys on the board and delight at the tinkle at the end of each forward and backward stroke of the crank. This was a love affair that did not last for long. Our Marketing Director at that time was a very numerate person who did mental computations and came up with results faster than anyone of us even with our Monroes in hand. He would chide us about how slow we were despite our mechanical aid. He would say “look chum we haven’t got all day”, these said with a matching thump on the table with his fist.

Some of us made use of the slide rule. Although you could quickly come up with approximations, most of the time this was not good enough because oftentimes precision was required. Margin computations need to have at least a modicum of accuracy and so too are the weighing of alternative costs of different product formulations.

I found the solution to this problem in a book that I chanced upon at the National Book Store. The book’s title was the Trachtenberg Method of Speed Math, a system of computation that could make you breeze through computational challenges without paper in hand and without any sort of mechanical aid. The method required the setting aside of the rules of arithmetic that has already been ingrained in you ever since you stepped into a school room and the replacement of this by a completely new set of procedures and rules. Trachtenberg devised this method while in the concentration camp of the Nazis during World War II. To keep his sanity he mentally composed the new system and scribbled notes using bits of charcoal and paper scraps that he hid in the interstices of the stonewalls of the prison camp.

Those days were my days of struggle and any opportunity of impressing the gods that be were pursued assiduously to gain some positive attention to one’s self. I persevered with the book and pored through it with a fine sifter making sure not to miss any little detail. It took months but at the end of the effort I emerged confident with my new found skills. I made sure that this will not go unnoticed and even tried to outgun a visibly impressed boss.

I have long forgotten and lost this skill through unuse. Not long after this the handheld electronic calculator arrived in the scene and anybody but anybody could do speed calculations with no sweat at all. The skill that I acquired was really doomed to obsolescence. A little later the personal computers came along with programs that could do simultaneous calculations of near infinite umbers, this among other task ameliorating capabilities. All these smart new fangled inventions must have made Trachtenberg turn in his grave.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Saigon Visitors

It’s a new day. I woke up a little before six in the morning, my usual wake up time. I’m a bit excited because my daughter and grandson will be arriving from Saigon today.

I went to the water dispenser and placed the coffee mug on the hot water tap and pressed the button while letting the water touch my index finger to find out if the water is hot enough. My wife turns off the hot and cold water switch at night to save on electricity. She must have forgotten to do so last night. I overfilled the mug because I could not see well in the morning light the water level in the mug. The hot water reached the rim of the mug and overflowed. I went to the kitchen sink to throw out some of the excess water and went to the cupboard to get a sachet of sugar free three-in-one coffee. I think it was the last sachet and took a mental note to buy a box when I come down to Manila to fetch Lyn and David at the airport.

After fixing coffee I instinctively went to my laptop to plug the cable on the wall socket just below the end of the molave table. The west end of the molave dining table has become my writing place. I have two laptops on the table. My old one is used for typing my manuscripts while the other one is used mainly for playing a Texas Hold’em game. This laptop is owned by my son E. It is in a worst condition than mine. Half of the keyboard does not work.

My computer takes time to get electrically engaged. Once plugged you have to wait about five minutes for the connection to heat up, then you can push the opening button and wait for it to start. It seldom starts at the first click. Normally you have to try five to ten times before you could get the connection. I was lucky this morning to get it in two.

I must have forgotten my closing statement in yesterday’s writing.
After some frustrating starts at my writing exercise I swore to give it all up. I take back what I wrote. This is not a futile exercise. It is good to force oneself to write. Once the inertia of non-writing sets it would be difficult to shake it off.. What could start off as gibberish begins to take on a meaningful shape and you continue with more comfort seeing that what comes out on the page are not useless and inane word splatters.

I have missed my grandson David even if it was just a little less than two months ago since he was here last. I missed him each time I had Dustin with me as we looked for beetles beneath rotting logs in the garden, as we fed the carps in the pond and as we sat in the bamboo floor of the Balinese hut exchanging stories. Dustin would suddenly perk up as he espied dragonflies hovering over the pond and alighting on the reeds. He would disturb the pond surface by throwing a pebble on the pond skaters as they darted and glided looking like ice skaters.

I would miss David some more when Dustin starts to cuddle up and whisper in my ears that he would like to have a tree house which he and David will use as secret headquarters. The tree house would be an off limits place to those above ten years old and to young girls especially Nicole, their next door neighbor in Bansalangin Street. Dustin even went to the extent of drawing an elaborate plan of an eight storey tree house, a plan which his dad, an architect, would be proud of. I would if I could grant him this wish except that the trees I have in my lot are no more than four years old and are not big enough to support a tree house, much less, an eight storey tree house. I know that in a few years Dustin would lose interest in a tree house as he pursues new interests. It would have been worth the expense. Creating a moment of joy for my grandson is worth all the treasures in the world.

I have heard good news about David’s standing out in the British International School in Saigon with his straight “A” grades. His grades in all subjects were outstanding. What’s more, he has finally subdued an earlier nemesis, the math monster. However he still remains to be a joker and a prankster in school. He easily breaks into laughter with the slightest provocation. I guess his teachers just overlook his impishness because he does well in scholastic work.

My father who was an actuary, God rest his soul, would probably have a smile on his face because an offspring has taken up from him a proficiency in numbers. This is a facet that is newly revealed by David. His forte prior to this was communications because of his prodigious expression skills.