Delusions of Grandwhore

193/ Case Histories

Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on.

Jackson ponders: “If it was Marlee and he had to decide — dead or missing for ever — which would he choose?”

It’s the same dilemma bugging me as I impatiently wait for the individual and collective fates of Niamh, Laura, Olivia, and Michelle to unravel. It’s the same question I grapple with the entire time I am hooked on Kate Atkinson’s effortlessly fascinating “Case Histories”.

If it was my own mother or any one of my sisters and nieces, I would probably just think of them missing. That way I can think of them being in a better place — happy, loved, and cared for. I can imagine the best things for them. Whereas knowing will leave no room, not much at least, for imaginings.

At the same time, like Jackson, I don’t even want to think any thing untoward happening to them. I can’t bear to imagine it, because doing so may be tempting fate.

Postscript: Kate mentions the Philippines as the possible location for sweatshops where T-shirts in size ‘8-10 yrs’ are manufactured by 8-10 year old factory workers. Reminds me of the seven-hour Kentex Fire in Valenzuela City, which claimed the lives of seventy two footwear factory workers a few weeks ago.

192/ Dave Barry Turns 40

Generally the midlife crisis is triggered when a male realizes one day at about 2:30 P.M. that he has apparently, for some reason, devoted his entire life to doing something he hates. Let’s say he’s a lawyer. He did not just become a lawyer overnight. He worked hard to become a lawyer. He made enormous sacrifices, such as drinking domestic beer, so that he could afford to go to law school. He studies for thousands of hours, sweated out the law boards, groveled to get into a firm, licked a lot of shoes to make partner, and now, finally, he has made it. And then one afternoon, while writing yet another deadly dull formal letter to a client, a letter filled with standardized, prefabricated phrases such as “please be advised” and “with reference to the aforementioned subject matter,” he rereads what he had just written, and it says, “Please be advised to stick the aforementioned subject matter into your personal orifice. “ He may not be a trained psychologist, but he recognizes latent hostility when he sees it. And so he starts to think. And the more he thinks, the more he realizes that he hates everything about being a lawyer. He hates is clients. He (needless to say) hates other lawyers. He hates the way every time he tells people what he does for a living, they react as though he had said “Nazi medical researcher.” He hates his office. He hates Latin phrases. He hates his briefcase. He hates it all, just hates it hates it hates it, and finally he decides that he really wants to have a completely different job, something fun, something carefree, something like…hang-gliding instructor. Yes! That’s it! He tried hang-gliding once, on vacation, and he loved it!

Meanwhile, somewhere out there is a middle-aged hang-gliding instructor who has just discovered that he hates his life. He hates not making enough money to own a nice car. He hates sudden downdrafts. He hates having to be nice to vacationing lawyers. What he really wants is a better-paying job that enables him to do something truly useful with his life. Yes, the more he thinks about it, the more he wishes that he had become…a doctor.

Forty. I feel it. I think it. I know it. I look it. But I refuse to believe it. Because I don’t know what to make of it. Does it mean I now have to start thinking acting looking feeling being old? Like being serious with my life, i.e., start saving up for diapers and maintenance pills? Like mapping out a career, something that leads all the way up to retirement?

So many questions. Good thing there’s the essential dependable serious Dave Barry. Better, there’s Dave’s “Dave Barry Turns 40” to give us the guideposts for being graceful about midlife and what will probably be beyond it. Let’s see:

  1. Body. Yep, starting to rot away. Stomach bloating by an inch every nanosecond. Hair strands in a constant Diaspora—anywhere but my scalp.
  2. Marriage. Not applicable.
  3. Kids. Not applicable, but starting to consider having one or two.
  4. Sex. Still as horny as a sixteen-year old but no longer as bashful in bed (or on the kitchen floor, in the parking lot, by the seashore, or anywhere the need arises).
  5. Job. I don’t hate being a lawyer. I love being one, but then I haven’t been one for a long time yet.
  6. Money. Still poor, but happier with the things I spend on, like travels cameras books condoms.
  7. Retirement. Looking forward to but starting to worry about seclusion.
  8. Parents. Father is dead. Mother is fast shrinking like an overripe grapefruit. She’s becoming repetitive. And demanding. But never have I missed her this much before. Finally dawning on me how I am the luckiest sperm for having her as my mother.
  9. Politics. Can’t be bothered to care.
  10. Memory. Glad I made it through the Bar, but worried about drawing blanks in the middle of an argument during court hearings. In my mind, I know exactly what I want to say but, once I open my mouth, I take a pause wondering where the hell I am.

Forty. Sounds old, feels young.

191/ Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak

The thinkers got the genocide going, and the militants paid for the damage.

How does one even begin to imagine the 1994 carnage that took place in the marshes of Nyamata and the streets of Ntarama? How to understand the machete-wielding Hutus cutting thousands of their neighbor Tutsis to pieces and soaking them in their own blood? What to think of the murderers getting up early in the morning, polishing their machetes, going out in the field, hunting for Tutsis, butchering their finds, and coming back home for dinner – and they followed this routine religiously and unquestioningly for two months as though it was just all work and nothing more?

Elie, one of the killers, ratiocinates: “In the end, a man is like an animal: you give him a whack on the head or the neck, and down he goes.” That simple.

And, all this hate, where is it coming from? I am struggling here because I refuse to believe that Hutus hate Tutsis for the latter’s elegance and beauty and snootiness. So envy brought about one of the most inconceivable bloodbaths in history? So envy explains the killers’ readiness and willingness to slaughter their neighbors? So it all comes down to envy?

What I find most bewildering though is how the killers have easily moved on from the genocide. It’s almost naïve how they feel entitled to forgiveness without even being sincerely sorry about what they did. It’s aggravating how they look forward to their release thinking they can just go back to their village, cultivate their land, and be neighbors again with the remaining Tutsis they failed to butcher.

“Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak” is all about the individuals who participated in the genocide and what they have to say about their unspeakable acts. Jean Hatzfeld masterfully got them to talk in the hope of making sense of the bloodshed. But I have to say it’s still the victims whose words and views I find most heartfelt:

Berthe: Before, I knew a man could kill another man, because it happened all the time. Now I know that even the person with whom you’ve shared food, or with whom you’ve slept, even he can kill you with no trouble. The closest neighbor can turn out to be the most horrible. An evil person can kill you with his teeth: that is what I have learned since the genocide, and my eyes no longer gaze the same on the face of the world.

190/ Xerxes

A confession: Jonathan Buckley’s “Xerxes” aroused my interest because of its cover, front and back—an illustration of a woman’s naked body, her partly covered breasts, navel, and shaved vagina up close. So even before I got to the first page, I was already thinking—page after page of erotic adventures, hopefully the Erica Jong kind.

But, no, August Ettlinger bored the lust out of my pants with his extremely dull courtship with the love of his life, Helene von Davringhausen, and with his extremely dull although a tad mysterious alliance with his rival, Johann Friedrich von Wolgast. Their fancy names are equaled only by their dullness.

In the end, this is the raciest I could get from “Xerxes”, and it definitely does not, by any means or measure, come close to the Erica Jong brand of the erotic —

On the stage of a deserted theatre, a number of nuns and soldiers were engaged in an orgy, making use of various trapezes and vaulting horses to achieve their improbable couplings; the one spectator, a drunken general, sat on a costume trunk in the wings, fiddling with the erection that protruded from his unbuttoned breeches. The next illustration continued the theme: it showed a queue of young men, the one at the front ejaculating over the breasts of a pubescent girl, the others each sodomising the one in front of him.

189/ Ilustrado

An important clue to writers like you. Rizal’s books were good, but their lyrics on the page were most certainly futile against the Guardia Civil, not to mention tanks. But their lyrics in the hot head and swelling heart of a young reader, well, Mr. Heaney, there by the grace of God goes your tank buster.

The thing about being Filipino is that we know the deep shit we’re in and we’re all dying to come up for fresh air. We know exactly what’s wrong with us, we know what to do about it, we talk and argue about it.

We know that our leaders are too corrupt and incompetent to lead us, so we ousted a couple of them, yet we send them and their ilk back to power nonetheless. We know that it is our government that should provide relief and assistance when disaster strikes, and we rant about their lack of action and organization, so we end up doing the job for them—then we happily call it resiliency, Pinoy brand. We know that our transportation system is so inefficient we might as well work and shop and socialize and do every thing else from home, still we allow ourselves to be squeezed real tight inside vans, jeepneys, buses, and trains to bursting capacity.

I used to take pride in our being resilient. We keep our cool and find a way to stay above cataclysms. But I think we have become too resilient for our own good. We readily gather our resources and apply them as needed. A super typhoon strikes, we gather food and  water and clothes and medicine and we ourselves bring them to the victims. Meanwhile, our leaders have become too lazy and corrupt to look for long-term solutions; instead, they rely on us – donor citizens – for stop-gap measures. They have so skillfully exploited the undying bayanihan spirit in us. Or they have so expertly manipulated our being inured with our government’s incompetence and corruption.

Miguel Syjuco says: “And write to explain the world to yourself and to others.” That’s exactly what his “Ilustrado” does: it explains us to us. I just hope there are enough hot heads and swelling hearts out there to pay heed.

188/ A Marriage Made in Heaven or Too Tired For an Affair

The impact of television on marriage was awesome. There wasn’t a woman who wasn’t threatened by it. Meals were planned around it. Social life revolved around its schedules. Sex was worked in around the commercial breaks. But mostly, our lives were shaped by its contents.

Erma Bombeck whips it up light and fun but what her “A Marriage Made in Heaven or Too Tired For an Affair” comes down to really is this: marriage is work; tiring, perhaps, but also quite rewarding.

187/ The Children’s Book

What angered her was the lie. Those who are lied to feel diminished, set aside, misused.

My friends and I, we didn’t grow up with stories. We didn’t have books in our houses. Television was unheard of in our barrio. Radio did not interest us; it was for old people.

But we grew up with games. We needed to use our imagination to create magic — to make armored cars out of empty tin cans, laser swords out of dry sticks, rope bridges out of rubber bands.

We were so much like the children in A.S. Byatt ‘s “The Children’s Book”. But I hope not as fucked up as those children were when they grew up. I hope it was clear to all of us that we were in a perfect world only in our imagination. And I hope we all got out of that perfect world free of angst and illusions, without feeling lied to.

186/ My Mother Was Nuts

But like most people, I needed to live most of my life before I could look back and understand how lucky I was to have been tortured.

Penny Marshall, I have no doubt, is witty smart talented. I love the way she told “A League of Their Own” on the big screen. It has such a big heart I always feel nostalgic every time I watch it.

But if there’s one thing “My Mother Was Nuts” tells me, it is this: Hollywood thrives on nepotism, even incest. It is not enough that one knows somebody. That somebody has to be family. If they’re not, one has to fuck that somebody to make them family.

185/ The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

When the twins were small, I had a recurring dream that I was served up on an enormous platter and my children ate me. They had always loved ribs; they snapped mine off with strong, greasy fingers and consumed them voraciously, with barbecue sauce. The strange thing was, I was conscious in the dream, and I was smiling. All I could think of was how much protein the kids were getting.

Love, the unconditional kind, is overrated. Pippa devotes herself to Herb Grace Ben and what does she get? She finds herself floating away from Herb Grace Ben and toward anywhere but where she is right now. She yearns to go away, maybe with Chris, maybe with any one.

Herb’s liaison with Moira is actually a small mercy dropped from the high heavens. It expunges every bit of her doubts about going away. It affirms her need for a new adventure. More importantly, it allows Ben and Grace to understand the changes in her.

Rebecca Miller makes a touching and thoughtful case for a midlifer’s shot at happiness. This is “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee”.

184/ A Long Fatal Love Chase

Let me be happy for a little while, then I will be wise.

I have always admired people with strong mind strong will strong ideas. Everything after all is possible to a strong will. But Philip Tempest and Rosamond Vivian take the idea of strong to a whole new surreal level. It’s almost like their will is law.

When Tempest decides to own Rosamond, he decides to own her utterly. He stalks her beyond reason, with insane possessiveness and competitiveness. Interestingly, when Rosamond decides to leave Tempest, she decides to leave him completely. No giving in and no looking back.

They are such a good match I was hoping they would ultimately end up together. Well, in a way, they did. For they pursued their obsession right to the very end.

Louisa May Alcott wrote “A Long Fatal Love Chase” in 1886, but her publisher would not have it for being too long and sensational. So big thanks to editor Kent Bicknell who unearthed Alcott’s manuscript and finally published it in 1995. It took more than a century but “A Long Fatal Love Chase” is worth the long wait.


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