Monday, December 31, 2007

Reduced Friction

This holiday season is, by far, the most boring one I have ever lived through. True, a lot of things happened, never a dull moment, really, except that whatever's going on, I'm not feeling it. I'm not quite sure how to put into words what I feel, or cannot feel. It's as though the spirit of the Winter Solstice has been, more than just commercialized, also exorcised.

I used to be a gift-giver during this season. It does not necessarily imply, though, that I like giving gifts. Au contraire, I don't like second-guessing what other people might like or dislike. Yes, I could have just settled with giving people senseless aromatics like candles or oils or, uh, scented photo albums or, uhm... cakes, fruitcakes... scented fruitcakes! However, my code of ethics, which has more than once gone against my better judgment, made me exert an effort to really give.

Truth be told, I used to give gifts only to my friends. I'll admit that it is one of the reasons I don't have that much friends; it is that much easier to micro-manage your relationships. This year, however, I am bathed with a sense of surreal quality, as though what I'm doing may or may not matter at all.

Allow me to elaborate, I started working, and a six-month probationary period, at June 25 this year. As such, I am scheduled to be regularized on Christmas Eve, that is, if I am to be regularized. In other words, I have no clear idea whether I'll be seeing the recipients of my gifts ever again or if I'd be updating my resume for some other company, hopefully, someplace with less homophobic people.

Anyway, it went well, somewhat. Unexpectedly, really, one of my friends, er, warm acquaintances actually liked what I gave him. I guess it might be for those kind of smiles and thanks that I decided to invest, err, give gifts to my co-workers, I mean, friends. Who knows?

Christmas was a pretty dull event. After some kind of altercation between my family and the other families on my dad's side three years or so ago, it was, so to speak, the first day "we", as in the family tree on my dad's side, were together for Christmas ever since "the incident". Really, it pissed me off. An uncle all but ignored me and was muttering under his breath something about chairs and tables. Other cousins, aunts and uncles also, quite overtly, made a point of not sharing a table with us, despite there being enough space for three or four more people. Smiles were forced, laughter was kinda stifled, everyone gave off the impression of happiness but everyone old enough to know also knew it was a rather tense happiness at that. It sucked, really, and it was a "family" gathering I'd rather not repeat anytime soon.

Things were a bit better with the family on my mom's side. For one, it was not a large family so it was rather easier to form connections. For starters, they were only four of them. The eldest died by a railroad accident, so I was told. The youngest, on the other hand, had, for all intents and purposes, dropped off the face of the earth. That left only two families, two pairs of parents, six children and me, the lone adult-child.

Anyway, the day after Christmas was the birthdate of my sib. There was not much by way of guests and the party was rather boring too. Still, it was just right for cooking good ideas... or what seemed to be good ones. In any case, it ended with us going out for another family adventure on Rizal Day.

First stop was Quiapo, that dirty place in dirty Manila famous for its Church and equally infamous for the mendicants of pirated wares, palm and card readers, hawkers of potions to induce abortions and nimble-fingered thieves, all who plied the dirty streets of dirty Manila. However, my parents, my aunt and my uncle all thought it was a good place to buy fruits for the New Year. Indeed, as far as price goes, it is good to buy in the Quiapo market, perhaps second only to Divisoria.

After this little adventure, which started with a trip to the Church (Is it just me or is it really burning hot in that hell?), we proceeded to Luneta park. After all, what was a Rizal Day, which we weren't really celebrating, without a trip to the place where he was shot, immortalized, bastardized, vandalized and worshiped? It was a rather dismal atmosphere we had for breakfast there; the ground was still damp where the trees shaded it while the air was uncomfortably warm where the glaring sun prevailed. There was enough wind up above to half-heartedly pull on kites but not enough at ground level to cool the heated populace.

It was crowded, at least, that's what it seems to me. I haven't been to the park frequently enough to judge accurately when it is crowded and when the people are sparse. Everywhere I look, there are people: fellow civilians in picnic mats having breakfast, or an early snack, vendors of balloons, toys, kites and trinkets, peddlers of rice cakes, delicacies, taho and newspaper (it was still early morning), overtly gay or lesbian people screaming over a spider, locking lips, holding hands and, well, being intimate, children clothed with ash and dirt and soot begging for alms where the park's security guards cannot see them and athletes training for arnis, taekwondo, running, badminton, cycling, whoring, man-whoring, resting, sleeping or lounging, among other people. Well, it was what I expected from Manila and I was disappointed to have been proven right.

Mavi on IceAround ten, we moved to SM Mall of Asia and had an exceedingly early lunch. By eleven, we were slipping controllably on ice.

Ice-skating is a rather nice experience, that is, if you don't mind the fees, the smelly skates and helmet, the lustful jeers and hearty applauses by the audience without should someone slip and fall, the occasional slip and fall, the rare collisions with fellow skaters, the tired arms and exhausted legs afterwards, the abrasive ice as you skid helpless across it on you skates and hands, the burning acid of envy and jealousy as you watch figure skaters skid past you or the surplus saliva you secrete when you speed by a cutie you've been eyeing the entire time.

Seriously, it could have been a lot more fun, if I hadn't been developing a headache or nursing a cough at the time. Well, it would definitely have been better if everyone just agreed with me that I am, I really am, a figure skater and that people just don't know how to appreciate the figures I'm making. Really, I didn't slip or lose my balance, it was all part of a trick that is rather difficult to duplicate.

In the rink, there were, in my opinion, roughly three types of people. The noobs, which is, I have to admit, where I belong, are composed of people who can navigate on ice from okay to fairly well. Quite a handful of them, like me, my brother and my cousin, along with nearly half the noob population, can pick up speed and control how they slip across the ice just fine. They cannot, for the most part, do tighter spins or glides, skate backwards, leap across the ice or swizzle from rest. Those are the job for the pros. These people are the object of jealousy, attention and, should they falter, jeers. The last class of people are the uber-noobs, that is, people who immediately feel an inclination to lie on their backs the moment they step into the rink. My sister is one, but as she said, it's hard for a big person (I'm not sure whether she meant breasts, hips, legs, neck or, uh, personality?) to find her balance.

Generally, people navigating across the ice follow a set of rules. A noob on a collision course with another noob or a pro will not collide; one or both of them veers off from quite a respectable distance. A pro and another pro on a collision course are not; depending on their level of skill and trajectory, they can actually veer off on the last two second to the evitable collision. Actually, I have to admit, there was this girl in pink who I've been eyeing for some time. She wasn't pointedly prettier than the rest but she was agile and graceful. Once, when she was skating backwards, she almost collided with another pro who was looking elsewhere. What happened was somewhat beyond my understanding. Basically, there was a clink of metal, with a few shaved ice, she lifted off a few inches and, the next second, she landed right beside the other guy and safely skated right past him. The other pro, himself, also gaped at how she evaded collision by nearly a hair's breadth.

Dealing with uber-noobs, on the other hand, is not a life of roses. They are the most unpredictable lot. They use their arms a lot, especially in flailing. They can skid okay for a few yards before suddenly tripping up on their own toe pick, momentarily levitating like the aforementioned girl in pink, but with much less grace and agility. A pro on a collision course with an uber-noob escapes unharmed while the startled uber-noob screams, attempts to either veer off or reach the wall and promptly falls on their butt or on their face. A noob on a collision course with an uber-noob may not be as lucky, depending on their skill level; they may narrowly evade the accident or end up with more than their skates on ice.

I remember reading an article featured on the New York Times, re-featured by a local newspaper and recycled by the same paper in their Tech news. Delft was a town in the Netherlands where cyclists speed past pedestrians through the town square. Pedestrians attempting to second guess the oncoming cyclist and avoid him are likely to startle him and collide. However, if they just ignore him and keep going at the same pace, the cyclist can safely predict the movement of the horde and safely steer his way about.

The hour draws near when it becomes the first day of the first month of the next year. It doesn't feel as magical now as it did in years past but, for what it's worth, I wish everyone a Happy New Year. May the Fates be kind to you, er, us. May the Earth Mother welcome more of her rogue children in her warm, grave-like embrace. May the world finally recognize the figures I'm skating.

A few minutes before the clock strikes midnight,
In a dim room with only a computer screen's light,
Came a message for a tiger, sleepy and exhausted
Who, though he may be, by the winter's cold, muted,
Still has his claws, his fangs and his deathly glare
That all who earns his ire might die by his stare.

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