Sunday, May 27, 2007


Short stories as a literary form would probably be second only to poetry in terms of the number of pieces churned out by writers all over the world. The Decameron, the Canterbury Tales, the Thousand and One Nights are examples of early short story forms. In France the notable short story writers were Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France just to name a few flourished and were acclaimed masters of the genre during their time.

In America short story writing found impetus during the early twentieth century when magazines and other periodicals printed short stories as additional content as well as an added come-on to readers to patronize their publications. Short stories as a feature of popular magazines stayed on for quite a while but went on the wane towards the start of the seventies. Except for a few publications like the New Yorker short stories are now a rarity as a magazine feature.

Authors such as O’ Henry, Bret Harte, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, HH Munro (Saki} and others found it possible to earn a living writing short stories. Because of time (some had contracts which obligated them to churn out a short story every month) and financial pressures this gave rise to an unfortunately termed piece, the “potboilers”, which some authors succumbed to write because the genre had become a veritable source of reliable livelihood to the otherwise starving artists of the literary circles. It might be heretical of me to have mentioned the aforementioned luminaries in the same breath as “potboilers” but they, with so many others have produced at one time or another works that would be in this scurrilous category.

There was intense competition among the short story writers at that time. Competition was either bane or boon to literature. It was bad that it spawned more and more production of less worthy literary pieces but at the same time it also spurred the writing of more and better short stories. On balance the good effects far outweigh the bad ones. The “potboilers “ would have been justly swept under the rug to be readily forgotten while the brilliant ones, and there were many of them, have stayed on for posterity and benefited the future generation of literature lovers.

A Much Delayed Post

September 12, 2006

It is the day after the fifth anniversary of the infamous 9/11 event that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center five years ago.
Most television programs today and yesterday had some mention of the catastrophe which ended the lives of close to three thousand people in the city of New York. President Bush has appeared in several tv broadcasts some of whom hinted that this was an effort to prop his sagging political fortunes. He was shown placing a wreath in the site at the Pentagon where one of the renegade planes crashed into in commemoration of those whose lives were snuffed out by the disaster. I am probably a jaded spectator of the antics of politicians who take every opportunity to exploit media events and squeeze out brownie points no matter how sordid the events were. It is in bad taste, and yet these callous antics actually bring up the popularity ratings of those who have insensitively seized the opportunity. I am sure the assiduous image makers of these politicians would do post surveys to find out how much gains have been made by their clients after coming out in the media for photo ops and coverage of tragic and disastrous media events. And like vultures they become better at eating carrion with every tragedy exploited.

In blogsphere, bloggers were invited to write about the individual casualties and post them in their blogspots. Called Project 2996 a name of a victim has been assigned to bloggers to write something about the person in condolence or as a eulogy to the unfortunate victim.
One of the memorable blogs written was that of Quinn Cummings in the QC Report who honestly proclaimed his difficulty in writing about somebody he knows nothing about and so he, instead, wrote about the effect of this tragedy on those who were left behind, mainly their children. A praise on somebody who is completely unknown would have reeked of insincerity and hypocrisy, but blogger Quinn was able to capture the universal feeling of loss and create a compassionate empathy on the tragic effects on the children of the victims who would suffer and carry indelible scars long after the shock and the trauma of the incident had long passed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Writers' Cramps

I can’t seem to get started today. This is the third time I have sat down in front of my laptop and I still have to put a line on the eagerly waiting page. Other things get into my mind. A few household chores intrude themselves and every time this happens I stand up to attend to them no matter how trivial or least urgent they were. The intrusions seem to be welcomed ones and I probably felt relieved each time I got to postpone filling up white space.

Do I really want to write or is it just one of those nurtured notions from my youth when I was pursuing a literature course? I had writing heroes then and have read most of the pieces of these Philippine literary lions…NVM Gonzalez, Nick Joaquin, Greg Brillantes and others. I longed to see my name in print but have never had a piece set on paper that I would consider worthy of sharing publicly. Will I always be reluctant to write? Instead of getting inspired by my heroes they may have given me some sort of inferiority complex, a feeling that I will never be good enough.

Instead of pursuing the muse I put all my efforts behind having a career in Advertising and Marketing. This I have done with some success and was able to provide my family with more than the basic wherewithal for existence. Now in retirement and tired of the frenetic race that I had just gotten out of, I searched my mind for things that I might want to do and writing came to mind. I haven’t done any writing except for the usual business stuff. I have written good business correspondence, excellent reports, rah-rah notes to my people and during my earlier career days, some creditable advertising copy. All these comprised my writing for more than forty years while pursuing commercial ends. Whether this would be enough reason for me to embark on a writing vocation is something I would have to resolve myself. On further thought, any contemplation to become a professional writer would be considered a delusion of a grand scale.

This notion of becoming a writer has always been a secret one. No encouragement can be expected from anyone because nobody knew that I aspired to be a writer nor were they aware if the talent existed in me.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Floodwaters of Sampaloc

I have seen health advisories on television that warned about wading through city floodwaters. The murky waters, according to the ad, is home to billions of germs that could cause one to have ailments ranging from the common cold to more serious ones such as bubonic plague from the urine and feces of rats, snail fever, and a variety of nasty skin afflictions.

City floodwaters is thick primal soup, a brew that brims with malevolent things more noxious than the concoctions that any of the hags from Endor can put together.

Growing up in Maria Cristina, a narrow eskinita in Sampaloc, a district in the city of Manila, one looked forward to typhoons that brought about flooding of the streets, an occasion to enjoy the long wet walks just wearing a pair of worn out rubber sandals. We would slosh from one street to another, my cousin Ric with a wooden toy boat in tow to carry interesting flotsam fished out from the muddy water, finding out which street had the highest waterline and just having a splashing and refreshing romp in the flood. Suspension of classes was a bonus and this gave us almost unlimited time to enjoy the watery pleasures from the aftermath of a typhoon.

Maria Cristina was a dead end street. The eskinita was cut off by an estero that flowed along a course parallel to Lealtad Street. The eskinita’s declivity was towards the estero so every time it flooded the water current flowed towards it.

The young men in the neighborhood hanging out in the Chinaman’s sari-sari store in the corner of Espana and Maria Cristina would float paper boats with large sails. On the sails they scribble the names of some of the girls in the eskinita and all sorts of amorous messages to the delight of the young ladies who were along the path of the armada of floating paper and at the end of the street, downstream.

During the floods the estero would have stronger currents than usual because of the elevated water line. The boys in the neighborhood would stand by the edge of the estero to witness a parade of all sorts of trash, dead animals and interesting debris coming from the public market.

One of the boys in the neighborhood was audacious enough to dive into the raging waters and swim with the current in the midst of the flotsam until reaching the pedestrian bridge in Dos Castillas Street. He would come running back through Espana and repeat the same feat for about three to four times. That boy never got sick and neither did we suffer any disease coming from our wading in the dirty waters of a city flood.

Despite the happy childhood memories I never allowed my children to wade into the city floods and much more vehemently my precious grandchildren. This is one pleasure they could forego.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

He Should Be Writing

At the party to mark the first year of my daughter in law’s death I had the occasion to talk to my older brother Pete about our childhood summers in Cavite. My brother was the victim of a cerebral clot and half his body, his right side, had been paralyzed for quite a few years now. He could have recovered from it were it not for an accident that broke his right hipbone. Although he continued to undergo physical therapy sessions regularly it now took a bit more effort and this impeded his progress towards recovery.
He loved to play mahjong. Mahjong was a game that he really excelled in even as a young boy. In his situation it became a central activity for him. He derived a lot of enjoyment from this since he had a good batting average of wins over losses at the same time this was his way of socializing and keeping abreast with the goings on in the family and in the world even if it was just within the 3x3 confines of the mahjong table.
There was a regular quorum of which I was an occasional member. The quorum broke up when one of the regulars quit because of unkind of remarks that were being frequently thrown at her for playing ever so slowly and ever so badly. She was careless and often made wrong throws in the course of the game to the consternation of the other players. In mahjong there are quite a few common sense rules that one has to follow. A player who transgresses these upsets and derails the expected progression of the game and this rile up the serious players.
The quorum was a veritable tinderbox. At sixty-two I was the youngest in the group. Everyone, myself, included were grumpy, impatient at the same time very sensitive and easy to take offense. Although the group had existed for quite a while, the creeping up of age will doom it to dissolution. Without his cherished mahjong sessions Pete would spend most of his time in front of the TV set. He was close to turning into a “couch potato” or perhaps more appropriately a “couch grouch”.
It was during the after dinner conversation that I intimated to him that I have started to put into paper my life experiences. I had lots of free time in my hands and this was great way of using them. They say that an idle mind is the workshop of the devil and I was not about to have the horned one fit me in his infernal lathe. He showed interest when I suggested that, he too, take up writing especially about our childhood days in Cavite. He warmed up to the topic and became a veritable treasure trove of anecdotes and events. In his condition he had seldom shown any excitement during conversations but he was a different Pete as he narrated his boyhood adventures in Wawa. They flowed out copiously from his lips. He not only talked with a lot of verve but he also had a lot to tell. I am hopeful that he would pursue this. He has a facility for language and would have a vocabulary that can match that of any ivy leaguer. He would make a top class raconteur because he had a lot more exciting and colorful experiences….much more than what I or that of my other brothers had ever lived through.

Writing It Like It Is

I am now a long way from the time I started my autobiography. The first draft has been completed and there are a few things that I need to revise and polish. I am thinking about paying an editor who can go through my manuscripts, clean up the fuzzy edges and to make it less egocentric as autobiographers writing for the first time are wont to be. I would like to get away from the first person point of view but I guess this is what novice writers are damned to do in their early attempts.

It must have been the apprehension to offend other people that I tended to disguise the personalities and in most part not use names in my initial drafts. I asked a friend to go over it and asked him if it would make a difference if I put names in instead of just description of the characters. “Absolutely” he said. Names give life, a unique identity to the dramatis personae of your life story. In an autobiography characters have to come real.

Names helped me remember things more completely because in the course of the writing I do not lose track of the person’s humanness, I can also recall every nuance of his being as if he was present…in my face.

I knew that I had to get rid of the anxiety of offending people and be honest with the recounting of my experiences and to give an uncensored opinion of people and events. Honesty unshackles ones’ mind and allow for fluidity of thought and expression. Being guarded blocks out some of the creative opportunities for great prose.

I told myself that I am writing for myself and have no intention of having it on print. Besides I could always come up with a revised version should I decide on its publication? In the meantime, telling it like it is, is the dictum.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Macopa Tree

In the whole neighborhood there was only one tree, the Macopa tree that we had at the side of our house. Actually, there were two within the neighborhood, the second one was the Aratiles tree that grew beside the open sewer canal at the end of the eskinita that was Maria Cristina. I suppose the Aratiles did not count as a tree as it was inaccessible to most of us kids and besides it lacked the stature of a real tree being a small and scraggly outgrowth in the banks of a filthy and fetid open sewer canal.

My tree, the Macopa, was the tallest natural living structure in my little world. The highest perch I could manage atop the tree was at about roof level of our house where I would have a good view of the apartment across our house. From my perch I could go to the roof of the adjacent house. I sometimes do this during kite season but always without my mom’s knowledge as she would never allow me to go out on a limb literally. It was fun doing and it always added to the pleasure when done surreptitiously.
Ownership of the Macopa tree gave me privileges that other kids didn’t have. Trees were a special treat to children especially in Sampaloc.. The other kids would curry my favor so that I would allow them to play in its shade, climb the lower branches and when in season, with my consent, pick a plump and bright red ripe Macopa fruit from a low lying branch.

There was one boy in the neighborhood, a real difficult kid, a wild one who did what he wanted with out any regard nor respect for other peoples’ property. While he seemed intractable, the things that he did seemed so natural coming from the innocence that his mien exuded. He would be the kid whom you will find in somebody else’s kitchen helping himself with the cookie jar or a taking a bite of a fruit that was left on the kitchen counter. He was also the one kid who would climb the Macopa tree at any time it pleased him.

One time, when I looked out of the window fronting the tree I was surprised to see him atop the highest branch, my private perch, and was munching Macopa some of which were still unripe. While it irked me that my tree, my precious private domain has been trespassed, I could not show that much anger with the interloper since he was hardly six years old, about four years younger than I was. Instead of a show of displeasure I shouted the caution that he might fall from the branches and hurt himself together with the threat to tell on him to his mom when she came home from work. Those threats did not stop him at all. He brazenly ignored all these and even defiantly made faces at me from my perch as I watched helplessly from the window. When he had his fill and his pockets full of the Macopa fruit he clambered down from the tree, scaled the wall and ran home. His interloping happens at least twice a month and more frequent when the fruit is in season.

A day in the month of April, the Macopa tree was radiant as it showed off its bright red fruits like Yule balls in a Christmas tree. Now this little boy who was named Binggoy was on the street beside the wall of our house and was looking at the marvelous display of the Macopa tree. You could almost guess what was going through the mind of this little brat. I knew that the moment I turn my back Binggoy would no sooner be clambering up the wall and scaling the branches of the Macopa tree and busy himself with harvesting the fruits taking as much as he could fill in his pockets and in his tucked in t-shirt. I was looking at him from our balcony. I had prepared for this event and was picturing in my mind how the grease that I dabbed on the barred gate would smear on his clothes and how his hands would find difficulty in grasping the bars made slippery by the grease. If the obstacles do not discourage him his greasy hands will be a challenge when climbing the tree. The day before I went to the jeepney parking lot at the end of the eskinita with an empty pomade bottle and paid twenty centavos for a pat of used grease to the mechanic. Binggoy knew that I was watching his every move and so he feigned disinterest on the tree and played with marbles at our cemented sidewalk. This went on for several minutes. He must have sensed that some thing was afoot. Normally he would just climb up the wall unmindful of my presence. He remained in the cemented sidewalk bouncing the marbles on the wall with monotonous cadence. Bounce and catch, bounce and catch, bounce and catch…in unerring rhythm at the countless times of bouncing and catching. My impatience was now getting into me. In my mind I was egging him to move on… “Let’s go kid…scale that wall…go, go, go!” Still he wouldn’t stop bouncing and catching as if saying “…no, I won’t give you the satisfaction of seeing me play along with whatever devilish scheme you have in store for me.”

It occurred to me that if I turned away he might just go and do what he has been meaning to do, but no, I wanted to see him fail. I wanted him to be frustrated by his futile effort at climbing up my tree. A whole half hour had elapsed and each one’s strong resolve has resulted into an unbreakable stalemate until I heard my Mom call from the kitchen. I reluctantly turned around to leave the balcony in response to Mom’s call. A few seconds after I left the balcony I thought I heard a faint clang of the gate. I knew then that he had made a dash for the tree. This was followed by a loud sickening thud. It was unmistakably a sound made by a high fall on the ground. There was commotion outside the gate. I could hear frantic shouts of the children in front of our house and the loud creaking of the iron gate as it was hurriedly opened.

Not daring to go back to the balcony I ran to my room and stayed there for a long time feeling sorry for what has happened and afraid of being blamed for the incident. It was only at the call for Angelus that made me leave the room. There wasn’t any news about what had happened. Nobody came at our door to tell us of the incident at the Macopa tree.

I saw Binggoy the following day with a swollen and bruised forearm but looking spritely and impish as before. He was again in front of the Macopa tree eying the low hanging red fruit with much interest. It was a relief seeing him that way. I had worst fears about his fall from the tree. To help assuage my guilt as well as being thankful for the relief, I went down and handed him four big luscious red Macopa fruits which I had asked our maid to pick early that morning. He seemed surprise at such generosity but hurriedly took the red bunch and ran home.

Monday, May 14, 2007


I cannot forget the time when Ric, my cousin, fell through the roof of Mr. Fernando’s house. Ric was the son of a rich uncle. The youngest of seven children and born more than ten years after the sixth child he was the apple of the eye of almost everybody in the family. His mother so doted on her “nino bonito” always made sure that when he goes to our house she would pack all his clothes, toothbrush, soap, his vitamins and an ample amount of snack foods even if he was only staying overnight. At home he didn’t have anybody his age to be around with and longed for the company of playmates. Every chance he got he would stay with us during weekends and for longer stretches during summer vacations.

One time he spent a few days with us and despite the usual admonitions from his mother to keep himself clean and to be sure to stay away from trouble by always heeding my mom’s caution about playing in the streets and god knows where else all these fell on deaf ears. I was sure that my aunt had a special word to my mom about how to look after my cousin.

As to be expected we found ourselves flying kites on the roof of the Fernando house. Mr. Fernando was the owner of a botica along Trabajo Street, right across the public market. It was October, a time when steady breezes flowed the whole afternoon. It was the season for kite flying.

The galvanized iron roof provided us with almost comfortable seats. It was late afternoon and the tin roof was no longer hot as it was a few hours ago. Both of us were flying the simplest of kites that was called “chape-chape”. This was a plainly designed kite with a long tail to steady its flight. One didn’t have to make this himself as they were sold quite cheaply in the public market. I think it was two for five centavos. The string, of course, was not included. We asked for or sometimes stole threads from my Mom’s sewing box and we would wound this up in milk cans so that we could easily let go of the string as the kite soared higher and higher in free flight.

We were really enjoying ourselves and were quite content that our kites were flying safely and steadily, avoiding the other kites that were closing in menacingly in search of a dogfight. A kite dogfight is not a head on confrontation of two kites but a series of skilful maneuvers to entangle the strings of another kite and quickly releasing it so that the string which has been barbed with finely ground glass can scrape against the opponent’s string creating a shearing motion ending up with the other kite’s string getting cut.

Our enjoyment went on for hours. The sky was a marvelous sight with multi-colored kites of different shapes and sizes dancing and fluttering in the steady breeze of an October afternoon. A dog fight was going on not too far from we were. The lofty duel was between a red kite with a star emblazoned on its body versus a kite with a wide wing span and tri-colored red white and green like the Italian flag. These designs were known as “tabo-tabo”. Unlike the “chape-chape” this kind of kite did not have a tail. It had a flat bottom making it look like a water dipper, hence the name “tabo-tabo”. Again, unlike the “chape-chape” the “tabo-tabo” does not remain at a stand still in flight. It keeps darting from left to right and soaring up and making sudden dives. It was an exciting kite to fly but it needed some expertise because it was in perpetual motion and one had to be vigilant to keep it from keeling over to the extreme. You could liken the “tabo-tabo” to a hawk and the “chape-chape” to a wimpy helpless dove.

The dogfight was quickly over. The kite with the star design won. With the string of the losing kite cut from its owner it hurtled uncontrollably while the winner, as if in a vainglorious gesture soared majestically announcing its moment of triumph.

The losing kite floated in the air for a while then plunged towards us. We watched interestedly as it settled at the far end of the roof where we were seated. Ric stood up and hurriedly went towards the fallen kite. As if in a struggle to free itself, the fallen kite fluttered wildly, pulling against its string that was snagged in the seams of the roof eaves.

There is some sort of a rule of the skies in kite flying. An “alagwa”, a kite that has lost its mooring becomes fair game to anybody who would be first to retrieve it. A finders’ keepers sort of thing.

Ric raced towards it. He was a hulk of a boy and as he lumbered towards the eaves where the kite was you could hear the grating crunch on the galvanized iron sheets each time his feet landed on the rusty and fragile thin metal. All of a sudden he was out of sight. The roof caved in and he fell through.

I cautiously walked towards hole in the roof where he disappeared. Although I was a lightweight I still had to be cautious treading on the thin galvanized iron sheets as most of them have been weakened by rust.

I could see Ric from the hole he made in the roof. He was lying unconscious on the cement floor beside a cement sink. I quickly backtracked and went down from where we climbed up earlier. It took me sometime to get down. With shaking knees, I held on to each rough cranny in the crudely cemented hollow block wall that led down to the overhanging branches of a guava tree. With a bit of daring, I pushed away from the wall and grabbed a branch. The branch bended from my weight and slowly laid me down to the ground.

It seemed that somebody had alerted the older folks in the neighborhood about the incident. Mr. Dominguez, our next door neighbor was already at the scene when I got down. Ric was sprawled on the floor hardly moving. He had on an ominous pallor, a slate gray dullness in his face. Mr. Dominguez lifted Ric and hurriedly brought him to the North General Hospital on Espana Street just right across from Carola Street, two eskinitas away from Maria Cristina. Mr. Dominguez was a slight fellow and it was a wonder how he was able to lift Ric and rush him to the hospital at a trot.

My mother followed them to the hospital. I was not allowed to go out of the house. I was really worried sick seeing how deathly pale Ric was and also afraid for myself. Ric’s mom and mine would surely blame me to no end for the mishap.