What Work Awaits the Exile

I am using the word 'exile' in a broad, loose, and general way here: anyone who has to leave the home country in order to live.

The problem with being an intellectual who goes on exile is the problem rooted in social privilege.

In intellectual work, there is more of a brain here than the use of brawn.

You are an intellectual, you rely on book knowledge and education, on training and experience, and that dreadful of all things dreadful in many societies, the developed ones included: name recall, economic capital based on that name recall, the compadrazgo system--or just that aberration we call 'connection'.

You have your named etched in the history of victors and oppressors and powerholders of a country, you are made even if you cannot spell your name.

Like some sons of senators and presidents and other political warlords who probably cannot sing the National Anthem.

In a society that values intellectual work more than those works that make use of physical strength, you get some perks--and more, the pelf--when you can dangle the MD, LlB, or the honorific 'attorney', 'engineer', 'architect', 'doctor' to all and sundry.

When you go on exile, you cannot bring the built-in social privileges.

You have to leave all of them behind, except, of course, if you are nurse or a physical therapist and you want to sratch out a life lived in fantasy by working on two jobs, by putting in sixteen hours a day, by forgetting the meaning of quality time for youself in order to have that monthly amount to pay off amortization for a mansion in the suburbs, a good car, and a family in the Philippines that has grown dependent on you for remittance and the perks of having a 'kapamilya pram abrud'.

At the time that I fetched a friend from her Valencia work in California, I got to handshake with an anesthesiologist from the Visayas, an experienced, mature, medical doctor who probably is better than some of those smart-alecks in downtown Los Angeles.

The anesthesiologist was to replace my friend as caregiver.

My friend worked for about two months in that ritzy part of California where all you hear was silence. All around you were mountains and mountain tops and mountain sides. There is good energy in this place and if one were a writer, this could have been some kind of a place for retreat where you can think thoughts about your thoughts.

The lady who was replacing my friend had bearing. Regal and poised to a fault, her hair coiffed.

You can see the way she carried herself that she probably had not washed nor ironed her doctor's uniform in her lifetime, not a single day. In the Philippines, and during her time (well, not anymore!), you could have an army of servants who were willing to pamper you and attend to your whim when you have posted that 'Doctor of Medicine' marker on your home's walls fronting the main street of the town for everybody to see.

Kumusta po kayo, I said, offering my hand. I smiled my sweetest.

Eto, ayos naman ako, she said, accepting my hand.

Maiiwan kayo dito, sabi ko. Mag-enjoy kayo.

Oo, salamat. I will.

And so we left after the ritual of goodbye and picture-taking for posterity.

On the road, we were silent, Linda and I.

I sped towards I-5 South.

Hay, the friend told me, heaving a deep, deep, deep sigh.

So how do you feel? I asked, my eyes on the overwhelming freeway with all the speeding cars and trucks. And the glaring late morning sun.

I felt relieved, she said. I cannot understand, but I feel I have been liberated.

Did you feel imprisoned?

Certainly. It is not the people, mind you. The circumstances. My mind cannot go figure why I have to do this. There is resistance, and it is this pull that keeps me from enjoying what I should be enjoying.

You are a writer, I told her. You see things differently. You feel things differently. You are more sensitive that anyone around.

I guess so, she said, her voice vibrant but there was a tace of sadness and hollowness in the way she pronounced her words. That lady who replaced me is one of the better doctors in her city in the Visayas. But look at her. She cannot practice here. So the only thing she can do is work as caregiver. Imagine America so damn lucky: our medical doctors are this country's caregivers while the poor in our country have never seen a doctor in their lifetime.

A, the University of the Philippines mindset in this friend. I looked at her, her eyes misty. I did not say a word. I pedaled the gas so we can run faster.

This is the work that awaits some exiles, I told myself. I never told her that but kept the information to myself. She will edit my book anyway, and she will find out more. And perhaps worse.

And the friend had not seen it all.

A. S. Agcaoili
June 1, 2006
Torrance, CA

Counting Your Blessings

The pictures of the day come to you in the memory, like a flasback, swift and urgent and furious: the Los Angeles Times that had come into your hands rather randomly.

Or the newsflash on TV.

One is the container bearing the dead Chinese smuggled into the United States through the freight cargo way. They, whoever are the masterminds in this human smuggling activity, put the Chinese in those containers and load them like the way they load the other containers, craned and packed.

They were dead when they got here.

Another picture of the day is the trunk of a car cramped with Hispanics which the border patrols sometimes catch.

And then another: deaths of border crossers in the deserts, deserted by coyotes, those human smugglers using the desert border to guide people to cross--and for a fee in thousands of dollars but with no guarantee of coming out alive. You dehydrate, you lose your bearing, you become weak, they leave you behind. No qualms, no ambulances, no rescue. The birds of prey are aplenty in this big swath of a desert in Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico.

At whatever cost, people are sold to that grand idea of coming to the United States.

The U.S. is an idea, a possibility, and people spend so much money just to come here. And put at stake life and limb to pursue that idea of a better life.

I remember other stories from Filipinos, this last one one I gathered on Memorial Day.

A couple with their three-year old daughter went to an acquiantance to visit. But this is not the point of the visit, I tell you.

The couple were proposing a deal with the matriarch of that house, about 64 years old, but a newly-minted citizen, just a few weeks ago. The deal was: could the matriarch, in her advanced age, get married to the man, in his 30's, so they could have legal status? I can imagine the subtext: Could you be kind, my wife is pregnant, there is no way we can ever have a legal status here except through marriage?

I am telling these stories to provide a context to the idea that those people who are here in the United States, however difficult the process they are going through, ought to count their blessings.

I know a friend who can hit rock bottom sometimes with despair and frustration. He has been here for six years, and in all these six years, he had worked so damn hard and loyally to one and only one employer, a Filipino American company, that petitioned him for the job for which he was granted a working visa from the immigration services.

But six years and counting and here he is, with the working visa that cannot even guarantee him a short visit to the Philippines. His father died and he had not even gone through a closure: he could not go home. It is easy to get out of the U.S. but it is not easy to come back. A re-entry is never, never, automatic. The immigration services does not owe you anything.

And so when immigrant life at its lowest strikes us to the core and makes us wonder what we are doing here in this strange land, we think of these stories.

We think of the misery of others so we can compare with our own and see from there the lesson that we need to count our blessings.

I tell myself that to steel me of the days ahead, of the coming fall and of the coming seasons that I will be drawn into celebrating by celebrating by myself: the Thanksgiving Day that I have to shy away from by just sleeping it off because the following day the fireworks are gone and it is no longer Thanksgiving Day; the Christmas that makes you wonder why family is at the core of this day and you have your family miles and miles away, on the other side of the ocean that greets you so merrily when you go for a leisurely walk or where you throw all your pains and anguish; and that New Year that the Christians have invented and that have enslaved us all anywhere we are.

Oh yes, I just sleep them off, these days that remind me of my exilic life.

I count my blessings and they are too many I have no reason to complain.

Like the children who understand the meaning and worth of a father who is always away.

Like a wife who mans the fort even if the ammunitions for everyday survival are meager and sometimes not enough.

Like brothers and sisters who keep praying for your safety.

Like a mother who prays on her own to ask grace and more grace so you can pull it off--and pull it through.

Or the monastic sisters of St Clare in Sariaya whose prayers strenghtened me so and who I will always be grateful.

Or this darling of a daughter, one year old when I left her, who promised to me she would not take it against me when she gets to be older, this absence for long periods.

A. S. Agcaoil
Torrance, CA
May 31, 2006

Aloneness and Exile

Aloneness is a hard fact of life.

It is one of those ambivalent things we keep dear in the heart, polar in value, veritably containing some good and some bad 'something'.

Most of the time, aloneness as a life condition is pulled tense and tight by the extreme forces of the everyday like the need to be yourself, to run away from it all, to keep silence--or the need for company, to have a company to keep, to be be with a crowd, to be one with the crowd.

Seminary life had taught me what aloneness is, understood in a metaphorical and poetic way the way Rod MacKuen had proposed in 'Alone', the book of lyrics he wrote sometime in the 70s or 80s.

The three years of exile that I had gone through had taught me the same things about aloneness, the lessons coming in parallel.

I had kept the MacKuen book when I was in the seminary and together with Carlo Caretto's' 'Letters from the Desert' and Thomas Merton's 'Seven Storey Mountain', these three books served as my guide to confronting the aloneness that afflicted each aspirant to the religious life.

For the religious life is basically a life of aloneness.

It is simply a matter of between you and your god and either you go the right way by ending up talking to insects and animals like St Francis of Assisi or you go nuts like that Silas, the albino of a monk who was most happy killing for his god. There are traces of the Crusades here, those mercenaries in the name of a god that created empires, blessed emperors, and permitted the killing of other people in his name. This was a dark history of the triumphalist Catholic church for which that church must be sorry for, agonize over, and ask for forgiveness and pardon.

I read St Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross (what a morbid book, his 'Cloud of Unknowing', with all the symbology for a cosmology that is so medieval you either hate him or you go his way), and some other spiritual writers but I never liked many of them. They used a strange language that did not even promise anything poetic at all. So I dumped them as soon as I got acquianted with the titles of their books. In those days, we had to remember the titles of books we read, remember even the year they were published, where, and under what circumstances such as: who signed for the 'nihil obstat', who did the 'imprimatur'?

So back to this aloneness thing.

It is a discipline, this capacity to be alone.

When you get to reach novitiate, which I did for a year at Quezon Hill in Baguio in the same house where the Crisologos summered prior to the patriarch of a governor's assassination at the cathedral in Vigan, aloneness is a fact of life.

You live alone in your room, with your empty bed, with your cold pillow, with your cold crucifix, and with your too delicate conscience.

Many times, silence is imposed, the silence that is physical and material even if inside you there is that noise, thaere is that revolution going on, there is that rupturing of the volcano of emotions and doubts and unbelief.

I went through the novitiate, and I am recalling it now because of its resemblance to these three years of exile that I had gone through in another land.

Like the novitiate, in exile you have to go through a kind of ceremonial cutting of the 'umbilical cord' connecting you to all that is familiar and fair because in these you have a security blanket of some sort.

In the novitiate, you go to another land, another place, another phase, another territory, another topos of the soul seeking and searching for its God, the God that is unknown, unfamiliar, nameless, immutable, eternal.

As in exile, in the novitiate, you have lost those landmarks and you have to travel your way into that spiritual journey of a lifetime.

You grope in the dark, find your way in the new territory, spell out the redemptive even as you go figure what is good and what is bad and what is in between.

The novitiate is like that: you live alone, talk to yourself, talk to your God and listen to your soul.

You can even talk to your guardian angel, except that you do not ever report to your novice master that you are hearing voices coming from heaven or you are able to hear the singing of angels in the early hours of the morning before the lauds. Even if you do experience those things, deny them before your novice master and do not even share those with your brethren. You will be accused of having lost your mind.

Because people who are supposed to be alone are simply lonely, that is all. But their loneliness is shared with their God who is the Supreme Alone.

Because people who are in exile are supposed to be talking to themselves, and if they are not 'legal', they should forget talking to other Filipinos especially those who have reasons to look for monetary gain by taking advantage of your precarious situation.

But there is more to aloneness, in exile as well as in spiritual life.

It is that capacity to listen to the 'inner voice' without announcing to all and sundry that you are hearing voices.

It is that capacity to reflect and put two and two together in the attempt to understand the mystery of your life.

It is that exploration into the dynamic of your relationship with your God who is the same God of other people, not yours alone, but also the God of others, whether these 'others' go to your church or not.

In aloneness, there is a celebration of our being accompanied by the life-forces, by the same energies that sustain us each day and that preserve and maintain the universe.

To be alone is to be attuned to all these things.

In exile, aloneness is heightened by the fact that you have all the time to listen to the 'inner voice'.

You live alone.

And that phone card that you buy for five dollars is not easy to come by.

So you have only yourself and your thoughts for company--and that makes aloneness a gift or a challenge, a virtue or its lack.

Or you can chose to be sick with that sickness of the soul called aloneness undefined.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 30, 2006


Readers say that my pieces are not light but bruised, burdened, bad for the soul. Heavy with sadness and sorrow only few poets know.

Like Linda Lingbaoan Bulong who had said, in all seriousness, that my poems always carry the thought about life lived and experienced so deeply, so deeply sad.

Or the missus who had threatened a number of times that she would never visit my blog again if she ever sees and senses how sadly I look at life.

Well, there had been other complaints bordering on my being a provocateur par excellence of the serious, the less comic and its plain absence.

And so I promised myself to be wakeful next time, wakeful of the other side of life no matter how I feel deeply about injustice, about basic inequities, about the lack of happiness even if we all have tried to pursue it at all cost.

For indeed, it is true: that life is a yin-yang thing, a left-right, an up-down, an antithesis of everything and that the only way to get out of this is to be wakeful, to be attuned to what is there, to what is necessary.

And then this requisite, fundamental as it is: live only for each moment.

Each moment is more than enough, not the long projection towards a future that we are not certain of, to be conscious of that which matters now, here--in the here-now.

So that is what I have done to start off my day today, just for today.

I woke up from a fitful sleep, the dream of happier days looming large like a promise fulfilled.

So I thank the spirit of life, the Lord of our breadth, the giver of our strength each day that we get out of bed.

I go to the altar in an instant, a few steps from my bed, the altar I reclaimed from the books I have bought but many of them have yet to be read.

I grab the clear bowl with the old water, the water that I offered to the spirit last night.

The spirit of life has to be fed, nurtured, nourished.

I go to the bathroom, turn on the faucet and throw away the old water.

I wash the glass bowl with soap and warm water.

I make sure the glass bowl is clean.

I fill it up with fresh water from the faucet and go back to the altar to offer it to the spirit of life.

I lit an incense, the Black Love I bought days ago from the liquor store.

I smell the scent of Black Love, perhaps some concoction of a witch from some place, the witch possibly a diviner of the good fortune awaiting us all.

I utter my silent prayer.

I thank the god of life for this new lease on life, this new day, this new wakefulness about how to live life the best we can under difficult circumstances.

As I stand before the altar, I remember my sister saying: You have to have strength and good bones to be able to come to terms with what America offers.

She continues: Many of us here had to put in seven or eight years before we were able to move to another phase of immigrant life. That is a lot. The key here is: Are you ready? Manong, everybody wants to come here. Every Filipino wants to come here. But not everyone is made--and meant--for America.

I pray: Let this America metaphor remain in the heart. Like Carlos Bulosan, let me see that America is a promise of the good life but it does not mean only this place where sacrifice is a must.

Give me grace to live, o Spirit of Life, I continue to pray. I speak now in silence, total and entire.

Give me wakefulness, give me love, give me understanding, give me a heart to understand everything.

I move to the kitchen to brew myself a strong coffee to perk me up.

The caffaine is good company and it does not complain.

I bring my coffee to my window and welcome the new light of day.

There is so much sun today, I tell myself.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 29, 2006

Smell, Scent, Aroma, Pinakbet, and the Slow Healing of an Exile

This could be as superficial as any attempt to commit to memory the traces of homeland.

The smell you remember that oozes out of the rice field right after the stalks heavy with grain have been cut.

The smell of the field in fallow for the whole summer, with its soil caking and showing some earth underneath and with its gift of the native spinach, the kalunay, or the saluyot (Tell me, help: what is the English of this herb? Any botanist who can help?) right after the first downpour in May?

The scent of the dama de noche in the evening as you come home from work, the scent spreading like some kind of good air all over the neighborhood in the small village where you have lived for sometime, away from the sights and scenes of your childhood. (You remember, of course, that you have planted the dama de noche yourself from a branch you have asked from a gardener of a bread-and-breakfast inn you billeted with the whole family when you attended a brother’s wedding in Baguio many years before your departure for your exile to another land.)

The aroma of garlic leaves cooked the Ilocano way: sautéed with lots of native tomatoes, some citcharon to taste. You forget the cholesterol bugging every immigrant in America. With this garlic, you have viand, you have a medicine for the heart, you have your bloodstream cleansed of its toxin, and you satisfy the cravings of the tongue that has not forgotten how to be an Ilocano despite the many years of absence in the Ilocosland.

The visual delight in pinakbet, this mix of the simple things one can procure from the flea market in Honolulu or San Pedro Port, if luck is on your side. Honolulu is more blessed, what with its more tropical climate compared to the rest of Californialand where I had stayed for the last three years. In fall and winter, the ampalaya could be gone except when some farm traders could sneak in from Mexico, Peru, or some other South American countries that know the culinary delight this veggie would give its consumer.

I like the way the pinakbet is cooked in Honolulu, the delicacy complete, always complete, with the ingredients and the trimmings—and sometimes more: okra, the Ilokano eggplants, the Ilocano ampalaya, the lima beans, the horse radish, the peeled malunggay fruit, the string beans, the tomatoes, the ginger, the Ilocano garlic, the fish sauce, and the bagnet. This is one delicacy that has come from a mixture of the many races and continents the Ilocano owes his dish: from Africa to South America, from Europe to Asia. Name the continents and they are all there.

For an exile like me, these are reminders of home.

These are acts of homing, the wandering soul's search for a refuge, a quick one, a fast relief from it all, this sickness we call exile, this need to go away in order to dream of going back where we come from, this dream of returning, whole and entire, without the bruises, without the scars, without the wounds, but completely healed.

These are reminders as well of how much more effort and time an exile would have to invest on in order to get back to the delight these reminders bring.

They give healing to the broken heart, broken by exile itself.

They salve the soul hungering for that was—the familiar that gave some sense of security.

I have before me a pinakbet now, cooked by a sister.

She had kept the garlic leaves frozen for months, harvested from a father-in-law's rented garden in Honolulu late in the year and since I arrived many months after from my base in Los Angeles, the leaves had to be subjected to a tortuous defrozing.

The leaves, leafy green and fibrous, add some flavor and taste to the pinakbet we had known since time immemorial, the one aroma we have kept in the mind, always remembering its elements, and that healthy mixture of ginger, garlic cloves, tomatoes, fish sauce, and broiled mudfish.

I sit down on my sister’s table, my back to the fruit trees in the yard. In front of me is a random Japanese garden of the kind Japanese neighbor. The garden is aglow, bathed by the morning sun.

So how is life in Los Angeles, manong? my sister asks me

Not much yet. But I hope and pray I will be able to hit it right, find something, I tell her.

I know that you have not eaten pinakbet for a long time. So I have prepared this. Just for you, she says, pushing the bowl of pinakbet closer to me.

Wait, I tell her. I would like to simply look at it, smell it, take in all the aroma, and remember this scene forever.

The pinakbet heals, di ngamin?

Perfectly said, I tell her. My soul food.

Then eat, she says, serving me ladleful.

I take care of myself, I tell her. I will not forgive myself if I miss this opportunity.

Ok, she says. Do you want the crisp rice? I had cooked the rice on the kaldero.

Yes, I want it. I want to remember the good old days. Kayatko a maramanan ti ittip. Manen ken manen.

Start eating. You are not eating, she reminds me.

Can we do away with the kubiertos? I cannot eat pinakbet with the spoons and the forks. Just leave the serving spoon.

Let us eat with our bare hands then.

I like to touch the pinakbet, smell its aroma, and chew it slowly. I like to feel the soupy tenderness of this food, its promise of fullness, its capacity to heal our broken spirits, our bloody memory of a bloodstained land.

You are right, she tells me.

We do away with the spoons and forks.

In an instant, we are transported to the Ilocos, to our childhood, to a past that is as present as now, to a future that is part of our living memory as a family, as a people, as a nation.

For my sister and I, like the rest of the Ilocanos in the diaspora, have been part of a nation. We still are.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 29, 2006
Memorial Day

'Sobrang Thank You' and the Useless Subversion of Language

Sobrang thank you talaga!

I first heard the phrase, an expression among the younger Pinoy, mostly teenagers on television and on the streets, during the months of April and May 2006 that I went to the Philippines for a short visit.

The expression came as a shock to me, the way texting and text messaging had shocked me long before, what with the dissemination of a mobilization in an instant like the Universiity of the Philippines and Miriam College and Ateneo de Manila University mobilization right after that sad scene of the senators of the Republic deciding, with finality, to not allow the opening of the envelope purportedly containing prima facie evidence against the sitting president at that time, the B-film actor Joseph Estrada.

By B-film, I mean the second rate kind because it is basically bang-bang: that B-rate of a hero with a gun from some dubious source, its sound one of a bang-bang, the hero on a furlough for the salvation of the oppressed, coming from somewhere with all his glory and might to save those who are in dire need of saving.

That is the plot--or its lack.

And the B-moviegoers simply loved that flat plotline that they even glorified the hero of the B-film genre by (a) electing him president of our sad and sorrowful republic and (b)almost electing another B-film actor, his friend, president of the land.

The text messaging thing evolved into a language beholden to this new form of communications technology, dependent as it is on commerce and chips.
But just the same, the end-product answered the need of the oppressed people, oppressed by the monopoly of a telecommunications company that had lorded it over the lives of the middle classes who need the telephone most by simply making them wait for an average of ten years from the date of application before they even see the telephone line hooked on to their own homes.

Ten years of waiting had to change, and the chips revolutionized the way communications had to be conducted.

And now this texting thing revolutionizing everything, with technology providing the infrastructure of delivering the message.

The trope to all this could be: 'Message Sent.' Or in the internet, simply 'Sent'.

The whole revolution thing that even Marshall Macluhan could not have fully comprehended even when he was hypothesizing about a new gospel that could be reduced to 'the medium is the message'.

The impact of all these on human language has been enormous, with Filipino texting going back to the primeval Hebrew or Aramaic minus the vowels, minus the diacritical marks. You simply have to guess, move around, grope in the dark until you guess the whole expression right. Yes, just the expression. I see that the language of the young now is one of speed, brevity, abbreviation, acronym, Da Vinci Code-like, much like those of the pidginized Hebrew of the Tadtad cults or their many transformations with their absurd notion of what constitutes 'a sacred and sanctified language'.

And now this abomination, this 'sobra' in everything that the young utter, the 'sobra' appellation really sobra, really now, superfluous, unnecessary.

It has to be deleted right away, with the utterers punished by not allowing them to speak any single word for 40 days and 40 nights as part of the cleansing and purging process of their clogged mind, their mind polluted by so many things unnecessary including this abhorrent sound of a 'sobra anything' that is part of their collective strategy to exaggerate everything even if they do not know the meaning of that figure of speech that calls for one some of the time.

Unless, of course, some linguists can come forward and explain to us this aberration so we can give our communal pardon, our collective absolution.

The English language has committed a grievous sin, unpardonable in any time, when it invented the word 'very'. It is useless. It does not mean anything. Like this 'sobra' in that word of thanks that is not necessary. Like the 'sobra' that the young add up to a word already described, defined, modified, 'adjectivized', 'adverbialized.'

The more annoying thing is that this is a linguistic dis-ease, a social malady of the Word that is being spread like wildfire in summer by well-meaning but foolish residents of the idiot box, those wanna-be teen actors and actresses who have nothing substantial to say to the public except to say, 'Sobrang tenk yu to yu ol!'

Come on, quit it, this exaggeration, this penchant for that which is meaningless.

For that which is empty.

But there is a cure here: Say the Word with honesty and sincerity. Mean it. Mean what you say, say what you mean.

It is only in this way that this 'sobra' could be eliminated, eradicated, wiped out, erased. Totally, finally.

Ok, I grant some debate here.

That is, if some linguists can tolerate this 'subversion of language' that is not even subversive in the real sense of the word.

For subversion is empowering, liberating, freeing.

Pray, tell, what is empowering, liberating, freeing in useless exaggerating like this use of the 'sobra' to sound as if you mean anything?

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 29, 2006
Memorial Day

Some Funny Fantasies with Francine

The joy of talking long distance with a four-year old daughter who is most severe with her demand of getting my phone number is endless, a kind of an alpha and omega of happiness that can never be substituted by something else.

Papa, anong number mo, she would ask me repeatedly, a ballpen on her right, and a paper ready infront of her.

She repeated the same question about my phone number during the last few times that I called home.

I told her many times: I have my number but I cannot give you because you cannot call me. I live so far away, unlike your lola's house. Many times more than that.

I guess it all began when my mother who lives in a village close by finally got her phone after months of waiting.

Francine would write her grandmother's number again and again until she memorized the whole set.

It helped that her cousins from Baguio were summering with their grandmother and their other cousin who lives with mother.

So you have three small children whose dream of happiness is to play the whole day.

It was summer when I came home to visit and the children were there in mother's house.

The four-year old daughter took me in instantly as soon as I arrived, hugging me and kissing me as many times as she could, and each time that I told her so.

It helped that I had all the bribes: a Dora doll, a Dora jeans, a Dora long-sleeved shirt, a Dora slippers that did not fit, a set of Dora ballpens, and other Dora paraphernalia.

But then after some days, the novelty of my visiting wore off.

The four-year old got tired of me. I had become less important than her playmates. And her indispensable Dora.

It was summer and the heat was punitive. So many times, the little girl was outside, on the streets in our small village, in other people's homes or yards where there were children of her age.

Other times, she also got tired of her playments.

So she would gravitate to her grandmother's place in the next village where her young cousins were.

So for many days, I would drive her there early in the morning and would fetch her in the evening after she has tired herself conjuring with her cousins all those games about Dora, school, fantastic stories, culinary delights, and watching Dora shows and animation.

For her age, the daughter is brilliant.

And I say this because I am her father. End of argument--take it cum grano salis.

Or the argument does not hold water: cadit quaestio.

In the early evening, as soon as I carried her from the car, she would fix herself a bit, make a little showtime with her ispantar a birabid way, and then go to bed.

When I called up home several days in a row, she would bring up after our hellos the topic of Dora being sick.

She goes to the street, she says. She goes out that is why she is sick.

You are not doing it yourself, this going out on your own? I ask her.

No, not anymore. Mama says I should not do it. So I am not going out without asking permission.

And what about Dora? I ask.

She goes out on her own. She does not ask permission.

Are you allowing her to do that?

She goes out by herself. Nauulanan siya e.

What is she sick of?

Inuubo, sinisipon, lahat.

You are coughing yourself.

Kasi nagkasakit siya.

Did you give her medicine?


And why?

There is no medicine.

Did you ask your mama.


Ask then.

I will.

You are coughing. Did you go to the doctor?

Yes. I did not cry, papa.

Good, you were brave.

Yes, brave ako, ano?

Of course, sweetie. Did you take your medicine?

Yes, mama says three times. Umaga, tanghali, gabi.

What about Dora?

She will take hers. Umaga, tanghali, gabi. Tatlum beses.

You be sure she will.

Opo. Tsaka hindi siya natutulog e.Patulugin mo.
Ayaw matulog sa tanghali.

Did you ask her to sleep so she would get well?


Then ask her. Did you sing to her?


Then you should, the way mama sang the lullabyes. Pampatulog.

Opo, kakantahan ko po.

Love you, sweetie.

Love you, papa. Padalhan mo ako ng maraming-maraming popcorn.

I will. Bye now.

Babay, papa.

The end of the line clicked.

Your five-dollar of a phone card promising so many minutes more than the usual but did not happen was used up.

You would have to scrimp for another five-dollar phone card again.

Maybe next time you try another phone card from another company.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 28, 2006

Penny Picking and Penury

I look at my window, the cream blinds in their dusty garb, the sun peaking through the equally dusty glasses which the summer months bring generously.

Sometimes the rains come and wipe away all that which block my view of the morning sun. But the rains only come once in a while now.

In the meantime, I have the glass jar on the window sill, the vessel an accessory to the first and the last crime I have ever done as an exile: penny picking.

I could elaborate: I picked pennies on the streets, on the floors of buses and trains, on waiting sheds doubling as bus and train stops, on church entranceways, on cheap restos where you take your cheap lunch hidden on a cheap brown bag, on airports where I wait for hours and hours for my connecting flight to nowhere, on the tables of Starbucks where I nurse my pain as an exile, on the feet of santos and santas in mission churches, the old ones and in ruins, where I like going. Like the San Gabriel Mission, the congregation speaking in Spanish the way it is spoken in the borders and in Los Angeles.

I picked pennies everywhere.

And I do not give a whit whether they had yucky germs or biological warfares or virulent viruses in them.

For one, I do not know the difference.

For another, the dollar money has the counter mantra to any spell, ill or good: In God We Trust.

So what would I be afraid?

I am more afraid of becoming penniless than anything else. Which is why I have easily connected this penny picking habit to a solution to starvation.

To mask off the poverty of the pocket and the bank book and the ATM card and the checkbook that has not been written on for quite a while.

To remain believing that somehow there is still that money left in the coin purse.

To remain in full trust of the power of the spirit of life that somehow, somewhere, you will pick up a blessing more than a penny. And sooner than I least expected it.

So I picked up pennies starting on my Day One as an official and formal exile in the U.S. of A.

My first loot was a bit of a robbery in broad daylight: I had some quarters, some dimes, some nickels, and the famous pennies.

That should have been more than two dollars and I picked them up, all of them, while on my way to taking my Metro bus for my Wilshire appointment with the employment agency that promised me all the powers of heaven and El Shaddai, that movement that is run via satellite by the guy who, he claims, talks to his god and who gives up paniolitos with all the mantras of reverence and reward on them, in Latin, in Greek, as well as in Hebrew, pidginized and badly phrased.

This piece is not about the agency, though, but it is about the pennies that I have gathered, picked up, collected, washed, and dropped on that glass jar that I bought from a yard sale somewhere in Hawthorne a couple of weeks after setting foot in Los Angeles as an official voluntary exile.

When the tsunami that hit Indonesia and many other countries in the Pacific Rim of Fire struck, I decided to open my glass jar so I could donate the money to the victims.

I brought the whole Ziploc of assorted coins, but most of them pennies, to the coin counter in Albertson's down in Carson and Main, in Carson City.

The machine laughed the laughter of a joyous apparatus, perhaps thinking the machine thought that finally it had a soul because it now began counting pennies and other coins for the stupid and foolish penny picker.

For each day that I picked up a penny, I considered--I still do--myself lucky.

Like today, I picked up two pennies while on the street leading to the liquor store in Redondo Beach where we buy our lucky lotto ticket many times.

The pennies and the other coins counted more than thirty dollars.

Now the glass on my window sill is almost empty.

But it is getting filled up again.

Almost everyday, I put some penny and other coins on it, all of them picked, literally, one by one, dirty or clean.

I watch the coins get to the brim of the glass jar before I move to Honolulu and say goodbye to the penury that I have known in Los Angeles.

But I will not stop picking up pennies even in Honolulu.

I know I will still have the chance to pick them up.

To fill up the glass jar again.

To find some relevance in having it filled up and counting how much promise it had after all those months of ritual and ceremonial picking.

To remember forever the meaning of poverty and want, penury and the promise for prosperity.

Or to hope for better times to come.

A. S. Agcaoili
Redondo Beach, CA
May 28, 2006

The Big One in Bantul

Death came in the early morning hours when the people were asleep.

Like a thief of the night.

Ladron, ladron, the mestiza Castila of a grandaunt would say.

Death toll in Bantul is 5000, the reports say.

This is Bantul's story, with the quake that came rushing in as the people slept the sleep of the just.

They were simple people, those who died, they who were in farming districts and villages, small-time merchants and fisherfolks.

Perhaps all of them did not how corruption and government ineptitude look like except now that they desperately need help so they could rejoin the earth through a proper burial.

Or those who have survived but would not know how to begin living again, what with their loved ones gone.

They say the grieving is not exactly for the dead but for those who have been left behind to pick up the pieces again like this one, this recent tragedy in Indonesia.

When was it that another earthquake struck?

When was it that a tsunami claimed the lives of hundreds again?

Like the Philippines, there is no end to this tragedy in Bantul--and in Indonesia for that matter.

When tragedy strikes and government response is so slow like the one that happened in New Orleans, the tragedy is multiplied a hundred times. We just simply cannot afford another Katrina whether we are in the First World or we are just simply Thirld World.

Reports have it that help has not come underway in a quick fashion.

There is bureaucracy while the people waited in tents, on roadsides, on streets, and on hospital entrances for the wounded to be attended to.

And then since help did not come as fast as it should, some decided to die their own death.

It was more decent that way rather than waiting for that something that is not coming anyway. It is the tragedy of a Godot--and it is not redeeming.

The sight is familiar: it happens the same way in my bloodstained country, the Manila with all the bruises of the sick and the impoverished, the Ilocos with the telltale signs of oppression and opportunism, the Leyte with its share of deaths every so often, the Samar with its share of landslides and boats sinking and storms.

In some cases, relief goods get into the hands of the wrong people in my country. I hope it does not happen in Bantul.

These people take the imported relief goods for themselves, stock them in their bodegas or the bodegas of their friends and alliances and sell them for profit afterwards.

So what goes into the back of people who need blankets to drive away the chill of the night?

Other blankets of the poorer variety, perhaps bought from the cheap stores of Divisoria or Binondo.

What happens to the canned goods, the good milk, the good medicines?

They all go to the profiteers. And they do not have any qualms doing that.

Habit is difficult to break once you have done the act a hundred times.

There is this ease in doing it again, and the conscience goes away in panic and in search of a better soul.

A, my poor country.

But this piece is about Bantul and its big earthquake.

The scenes are a repeat of what had happened many times.

I wonder why tragedies of this magnitude have always the poor as the victims.

What tought luck.

In the Philippines, the poor and the poorest get to sink with overcrowded boats and ships.

The poor and the poorest get held-up by the same poor and the poorest on jeepneys and buses and megataxis.

What tough luck.

We pray for blessing for the people of Bantul even as we pray for the kindness of strangers who will help them rebuild their broken lives, shattered to pieces by an angry mother nature.

Earthquake or no earthquake, the Big One in Bantul has spoken: We cannot take things in stride any longer.

Somewhere, just somewhere, there should be peace and quiet.

Just somewhere, we have to listen again to the same earth that has nurtured us, that has given birth to us.

Maybe, just maybe, we have been blind to the signs.

Maybe, just maybe, we have been deaf to the sounds.

Paging a Da Vinci code symbologist here, now, this time around.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 28, 2006

This Dream of Water

It is Sunday over here and it is three o'clock as I write this piece, that three o'clock that, according to folklore, is the very moment Christ expired, lost all of his senses and resigned to his fate of becoming the Messiah that some people now are questioning.

Or subjecting to interrogation.

Or, if you so wish, well, negotiation.

I have not dreamed of any religious 'anything' in a long while.

One of the rare times that I ever dreamed about religion, or something close to it, was when I was doing my first novel, Dangadang.

I did not know how to translate one scene that was more revolutionary than what I wanted.

I agonized over that scene, and my writing stopped for sometime.

I remember that I had to tack a note on our bedroom so the children, two hyperactive kids in their elementary days, would not barge in.

When they were young, the kids, they thought that they owned the parents, that parents do not have the right to have their own time.

They would get into our room anytime they want, not even knocking but announcing their coming in the middle of anything, in the middle of my writing included.

I wished, of course, that I had my own office to write like what they have in the U.S. for writers who are damn trying to make it in the bestseller list so they did not have to be knocking on doors any longer and begging for the mercy and indulgence of literary agents, publishers, and their doubles.

So I had to display that note each time, the note saying that "Papa is writing."

We had a father-children agreement: if they saw that note tacked they would know that I was writing.

I explained to them that my writing would someday help us tide over, would help them go to school, pay for our bills, maybe buy a second-hand car we could use to drive around the city without taking that rickety-rickety other car we had.

I tacked that note but I could not think of anything.

I went back to get all my 5X8 index cards that had all my novel notes for some parts of the scenes I was imagining for one chapter.

Nothing came out, not an idea.

I got the dirty notebook, that journal that I kept so I could scribble anything that came to mind anytime, anywhere. I remember that I would write even while on a jeepney ride, on a taxi, on a bus, on a theatre, in cafes and restos, anywhere that something cropped up, something that interested me.

I lied down on our bed nearby to staighten my back, the old computer on, a second-hand machine I bought from a friend whose wife worked in Japan but needed the money so he can go on with his life in his own terms. It was those computers with the VGA monitor, the screen green, running on a disc-operating system, and working on a Wordstar 4.

I fell asleep. It was also three in the afternoon, one afternoon that had all those trimmings of another noisy session with the kids who just came home from school.

I dreamt, and I dreamt of a scene: the hero of the novel Dangadang, Bannuar, came out of place.

He seemed to be running away from some soldiers, some Uzi-bearing warriors, or paramilitary men of the infamous regime.

He was on the road. And running fast.

While he was running, one icon of a virgin came out on wayside, as if witnessing his running.

He had those long buneng, the bolo, dangling on his left side. Yes, the hero was a leftie, heavily leftie, the leftie of the world.

He decapitated the virgin.

Then another virgin came out on the other side.

He chopped the head.

And then it happened: the rapid multiplication of virgins on both side. The hero had to keep on chopping while he ran away from the promise of terror.

That was a feat. That dream helped me construct that chapter.

I had to grab my notebook of a journal to write down that dream so no important details would escape me.

But this afternoon, in that siesta that I have not taken for a long long while while listening to the Readers Digest Collection of 70's and 80's songs that come in only with the flute, piano, sax, trombone, I slept the sleep of the just.

And then I dreamed.

There was to be a contest of making a pool of water by using a basin.

I was one of the contestants.

The other guy, I could not figure out who he was but he looked like a stocker of a salesman from some Marukai store with his apron and all the paraphernalia of a stocker, had done his pool.

A kind of a moveable wooden wall divided the contest area.

I was on the left side.

Spectators had gathered around, amused at what was going on. Some were heckling.

I have not started my basin of a pool, or my pool of a basin. But I have poured the water.

The other guy had decorated his pool while my pool was just water, and only water.

I wanted to make it a minimalist pool, something closer to Zen than anything else. But I thought the spectators would not get the drift.

I began looking for something I could float on the pool.

There were beads in my corner, standing in watch of what was happening, hanging loosely on steel racks painted white and all on my left, easy and close for grabbing.

Then a rosary came to view, the one decade rosary, wooden, and varnished in mahogany. I wanted to grab that and had it on the pool to float. But I did not want to snap it, destroy it, detach the wooden bead.

So I looked for a necklace with plastic beads, one that could easily float on my pool.

Then I heard the music on my laptop, the one coming from the collection: Raindrops keep falling on my head, keep falling, the lyrics mute, only the coalition of instruments, and the blessing they give.

I got up from bed and looked at the afternoon sun in all its summer glory, radiant, light, brilliant, hued in celestial blue.

I uttered a prayer, silent and mute.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 28, 2006

A Brief Ethnography of a Sweet Good Luck

Ethnography is a big concept, something social scientists, those on the qualitive research persuasion, toy with to gather, interpret, and analyze their data.

Forget those social scientists who think of numbers as the only one that matters, that can say something about the human and social condition.

These are the scientists who do not know the meaning of subject, subject position, and meanings and suggestions beyond statistical configurations.

These are the same scientists who do not see that these statistical tools are invented by those who are lazy to listen to other people's pains and perpetual passion to reinvent themselves, this last one the kernel, and always the kernel, of what we call self-redemption.

But let me arrest this concept of ethnography, snatch it from the scholars just for this piece and just for a little while to account, in a rather tongue-in-cheek way, the ways of men and women, they who are in search of that one sweet good luck that will liberate them from the humdrum of daily life, with its routine and frustration, its sorrows and disappointments, its small joys and big tears.

Filipinos in the US of A are not spared of this waging thing--the waging for the better life.

In simplistic term, this lining up in a liquor store to come up with the winning numbers: five on the left and one on the right if it were a superlotto while if the bet were the megalotto, five on top and one below.

If one were not inspired, or the gods of good fortune are not smiling, you can do a rundown of what luck is in the stars by simply running through the quick pick either announcing that to the cashier or doing it yourself on the lotto card.

Yesterday, an informant of a co-worker told me: Ay, biag, nagrigat ketdin ditoy America. Kunada ngata no pidpiduten ti kuarta. Ngem dida ammo a kubboka a kubbo tapno makapagpaw-itka iti doliar a no maibus ket kasla tapno nga agpukaw.

I will translate that for those who are semi-illiterate in Ilokano language (and read the laughter here): O life, it is so damn hard in America. They might have thought that money is picked up here. But they do not know that you have to keep on bending your back endlessly so you can send the dollar that evaporates so fast like water.

I tell him, this co-worker of an informant from Pangasinan: That is how it is here, I suppose. This is not our land.

His name is Michael Canuto, the name a pseudonym. This is acceptable in social science research to protect the name of informants. So I am using this as a technique.

He does not know, of course, that I am--I have been doing--an ethnography of immigrant life.

Yes, but I would want to win the lotto, he tells me. He picks up his canned soda, drinks it from the can they way many immigrants quench their thirst for the Philippines, the homeland of their heart, the one heart of their universe, the core of their cosmology.

You do not bet, do you? I ask him like a judge in the Philippine court trained to look at a bulging envelope from a wealthy accused rather than for an evidence to be weighed.

I don't, he says, scratching his nape and unsure whether he should tell me that stupid answer or not.

That is the big trouble, I tell him. You have to bet once in a while.

I wanted to confess to him right there and then that I do bet, well, really now, once in a while, when the going gets rough and when I dream of the number coming out the next time around.

Or when the loose dollars--or pesos, as the case maybe if I am in Manila for a visist--get to be insistent, as if saying, bet, bet, bet.

We shift to another topic, how he ran away from America for six months so he could get settled in a village in Pangasinan, get married there, and when the wife was six months pregnant, had to get back to the US fast because his financial resources dwindled fast.

But his sister comes in, settles in one chair on the rectangular table where staff take their lunch break.

She is my sister, Elena Ramirez, he volunteers the information. Ramirez is her married name. She just came here two years ago, fairly new.

Yes, I met her last night, I told him. Your elder sister.

Nagrigat gayam ditoy America. Makaaw-awidakon, the woman said. She is saying: It is not easy here in America. I want to go home.

Elena is 40, married, three kids, 15, 14, and 2, the last one born in the U.S. but had to be brought to the Philippines because they cannot afford the salary of a baby-sitter while she goes to work in an insurance office.

Mangabaktay koma iti lotto. I hope we hit the lotto. It was Michael, wistful, repeating himself, and hopeful, a smile, mocking and tired, on his face. He is 30 but he looks older, having come to America 14 years ago when he was still in high school but had to leave school when Black American gang members in Carson where he went to school ganged up on him and threatened to kill him.

He forks his adobong baboy and puts some adobo sauce on his mountain of cold rice his sister brought and which they halved at the start of our lunch break.

Elena just smiles, impish, and unknowing in her ways, quite reserved, almost modest and shy but there is some urgency of hope in her eyes and in the way she carries herself on the lunch table.

Then we should bet, I say, laughing my scornful laughter when the lotto topic crops up, anytime, anywhere, in the Philippines or in da US ov A.

I remember that my daughter threatened to bet in the lotto a day before my scheduled departure for America for the nth time.

If I won the lotto, papa, do not leave anymore, she tells me. Stay here so we can live together again as one happy, normal family. I do not like it this way. We are living apart most of the time.

Then bet, I counter her threat. I would not have to leave anymore if you hit the numbers right. I do not have to slave it out in America anymore, akala mo.

Promise? she says, her dark and brooding eyes twinkling.

I promise, I tell her.

I imagine myself having all the hours and the luxury of time in my hands writing that one great Filipino novel. More and more I realize that writing, all writing, is essentially burgis because you have to have to time to sit down and think and remember and write and write.

Ok, call this intellectual work, according to the post-Marxists.

But I am not Jose Maria Sison or that priest Jalandoni who gets a pension in the asylum land. No one will give me the lunch money over here, in this America of many immigrants, because everyone is busy earning a living and fending for themselves.

Even as I remember this scene with my daughter, with the whole family as members of the cast on that night that I was packing my bag, with the dinner table as our stage, I see that point in Michael being frustrated by the America that promised him so much life.

It is the same with everyone who came here: to hope for the better things America can offer.

Having none of those, those who come here depend on the lotto, Michael and Elena and many others who hold on to what the lotto can offer in terms of endless hope, enough money to live by, relatives to care for and help out.

I think of other people waging their rare dollars in the lotto each Tuesday and Wednesday, each Friday and Saturday.

One friend of an acquiantance hit it right here, right here in Los Angeles, some millions, in cold millions, and in dollars for that matter.

But then that guy did not know what to do with the sudden wealth.

He was just simply overwhelmed by it all, by the dollars that came as a deluge, as an avalanche of blessings, so he bought a house in a ritzy-ritzy area in Dominguez Hills for several millions, gave some amounts to his siblings including those who oppressed him before that turn of good and sweet luck, and then went on a ceremonial spree to all the casinos in town and the surrounding areas and played and played to his heart's content.

And then at the end of the day, he realized he almost had wasted all. He had to sell the house.

Eventually, he had almost none.

And so he ran away, ran back to Manila, and there started his ritual of remembering his good old days in Los Angeles, including his days of want before the big win came.

And then, of course, I remember us academics trying to imagine and reimagine a scholarly possibility for all our researches and research agenda.

I remember one afternoon at the University of the Philippines administration building, the one where the nude man is, in oblation, giving himself and his nakedness to humanity, to life, to society, to the world.

The afternoon was scorching. That was a couple of weeks ago--and we were in that meeting of the core group of Ilokano-Amianan scholars trying to come up with a long-term research agenda for something bigger, some idea nobler than our small causes.

We were there, the academics: LQS, the Lilia Quindoza Santiago, one of the better feminist scholars of the nation; Marot Flores, the ethnologist par excellence; Noemi Rosal, the comparative literature expert; and I.

We were exploring the possibility of holding a pre-Nakem Conference in UP Diliman in September 2006.

We were to gather all the state colleges and universities from Regions 1, 2, CAR, some parts of Mindanao, and Manila for that conceptualization of Ilokano and Amianan studies.

We were worried about the money aspect of the pre-conference.

Mananalo sana tayo sa lotto,--I hope we hit the lotto, LQS said. Or was it Marot who said it? Or, from hindsight, did I say that?

The memory, so recent, is vague now. Dunno why.

Vivencio Jose the professor of folklore won, someone blurted out.

Yes, I heard, another one said.

He collected P25M, another one said.

I had to rapidly change the direction of my gaze. I got drunk by all the tidbits of a professor in the English department winning the jackpot.

I calculated his winnings: One teacher in the state university had to retire 25 times over to be able to rake in all that sum. Imagine 25 times of a lifetime of service teaching both the educable and the incorrigible?

So there, the lotto again.

I imagine the winning numbers and run to the liquor store for that sweet sweet good luck.

I summon the spirit of good fortune.

Today I hit it.

Or tomorrow.


So many will be helped, I promise to the spirit.

Including myself and all my small causes.

A. S. Agcaoili
Redondo Beach seashore, CA
May 27, 2006

Nasudi and her Siblings

This daughter came as a surprise in many, many ways.

Her siblings were adolescents, raucous and rowdy and rambunctious, when she came around on her own in this world.

Her brother was going to college and her sister to third year high school.

So you could see the gaps, in age as in mindset, in interest as in dreams.

And off she came into our lives, this bundle of joy, at a time when the missus and I were in the midst of celebrating our middle age years.

For a long time we have not had a small child in our household.

It has been a long time that toys did not get scattered.

It has been a long time that the walls had not been turned into a blackboard, with pentel pen to mark off creativity and its plain absence.

Like that daughter who, many years back, turned the wall into a questionnaire, with that famous question and the choices to check as if it were an examination.

Since I was the one named on the walled-turned-questionnaire—Papa, please check, was her command—I was turned into an examinee unwillingly.

I wonder now why this little girl who turned into a young woman hates to become a teacher like us, her parents, when in fact, like her younger sibling, she has turned our house upside-down many times over because, in connivance with her brother, this house was deemed school and our small rooms were classrooms, and our small living room a principal’s office.

Well, this second child of a daughter knows so much how a principal’s office looks like.

For several times, we were called by the Catholic sisters administering the school for reasons that had nothing to do with her academics but for exploring the sanctum of the convent beyond the school walls and for bringing along with her other friends to do the same.

Once, she discovered the joy of running through the stairs and sliding on the stairs’ wooden railings.

She was not contented to have discovered the joy of doing that.

She was overjoyed and she had to share that joy with her other friend—and which they did.

So off we were called to the principal’s office.

At home, the court room scene as a matter of course:

Why did you do that? You bring shame into this house! I accused, mad, furious, and raging.

She did an oral argument a good judge would see as valid, in and outside the court: They teach the same lessons everyday. Paulit-ulit na lang, lalo si sister. Alam ko na yung Bible story, yun pa rin ang ituturo kinabukasan.

She was six or seven and she could argue her case in my house's court.

It paid that this girl learned to talk straight, no baby talk, before she even turned one.

I do not remember exactly now but I was involved in the parent-teachers council at that time and the embarrassment these episodes brought was incalculable.

But children will always be children even if they have grown, even if they have become their own persons.

So this is the family context in which Nasudi Francine came about.

She was coming into a world of four grown up people and her world is all her own!

You could say she could have been an only child in so many ways what with her sibling having a ‘small community’ of their own based on the kind of world that they were exploring and venturing into.

When she came, she doubled my birth number, a good sign according to a numerologist of an expert symbologist would understand. Paving the attention of Umberto Eco here, quick! I was born 4-11, she 8-22.

So the megalotto and superlotto clues are there: 4-11-8-22. You got four.

Then the birthdates of the other children: 25-26.

I know these numbers will give you some kind of a quick pick when you rush your luck a bit.

One time, in that father-daughter bonding that we had, a rare one indeed in her four years because I left for voluntary exile when she was just a year old, she asked me: How many names do I have, papa?

Ilan ang pangalan ko, ha, papa? There was insistence in her four-year old voice as if eager to hear from me that all her names were her own and no one else's.

You have many names, and I gave one you also like, I answered.

Like what? She held up her hands, her small fingers ready for the counting.


Hindi Nasuli? One small finger, the thumb raised upright for me to see.

No, Nasudi.

Ano pa po?
Nasudi Anchin.

Korek. Ano pa po? The pointing finger, the one that I sometimes bite, or she offers me to bite. Like her index finger.

Leah, I said, testing her knowledge on names and identity.

Hindi ako si Leah, di ba? Si mama ang Leah e.
Sige, si Leah Francine ka.

Tama. Ano pa po? Her middle finger.


Ano pa, papa?

Leah Francine Nasudi Anchin A. Agcaoili.

Kompleto naman yan e. Ang haba pa.
Leah Francine lang sa iskul, di ba? I asked her.
Marunong na akong magsulat nun!
Patingin nga.
She gets her pad from her Dora bag, gets a Dora pen, and writes her name so Dora the Explorer would see her full school name.

From afar, you can only reminisce, remember, smile by yourself. Para kang sintu-sinto.

You can only keep on hoping—and utter a prayer for the children.

A S Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 27, 2006

Balik Diliman Republic

For a visiting ex-UP academic like me, there is nothing more unnerving than to go back to the place that nurtured your dreams night and day.

Like a thief, I would sneak into the familiar nooks and cranies and discover from there the meaning of the sacred place, the sacred space, the sacred moment.

Like that small stone bridge that links the Palma and the Melchor Halls, the AS and the Engineering.

I love this bridge, and the memories of drizzling afternoons come rushing to me each time I see this spot.

When I was still a struggling non-tenured, probationary instructor, they threw me at the engineering to teach some general education courses to those who were willing to be terrorized by me.

As in every Gestapo-like institution, and UP is not exempted when it comes to the power-tripping of some of its powerholders, you cannot complain when you are on a probationary status.

In UP as elsewhere, there is much politics in getting that tenure as there is much academic rigor, with that endless demand for publication and research and some such other crap we call community service.

Ha, as if teaching with a meager pay to the supposedly brightest and most promising and the most patriotic is not a community service!

UP is reducible to one thing for me: memories that will never fade, memories that will keep me company for as long as I live.

When I was a student, I had some of the best teachers.

Well, some were not so good but bluffed their way to academia.

But the rest of them were scholars par excellence.

Pat Cruz and Bien Lumbera urged me to look at the Philippines with the eyes of a Filipino.

Zeus Salazar and Poping Covar did not mince words when the going was rough in the interpretation of some discourses.

Like Cruz and Lumbera, Salazar and Covar were tough, so tough we had to review a lot for our comprehensive examinations.

Sister Idad Dacayanan taught me much about religion, movements, symbols, and frameworks for studying cultures. She showed me the way to pluralism in the articulation of faith and belief. She was tough and she was nicest when she was tough, with piles and piles of books for us to read in her class on myths and rituals.

Dan Magat believed in my excursions into hermeutics even if SV Epistola almost did not read my thesis because he had not read Gadamer's Truth and Method. Funny, but these things happen.

The last time I went to UP was when I had to vacate my office at the Faculty Center.

I did it on a Saturday so no one would see me.

I did not want the talks, the long hellos.

I wanted the crisp goodbye, short and final.

Off you go.

No story-telling rituals.

So on one rainy Satuday, I had all my things moved: books and books and books and other things a trying-hard of an academic is expected to accumulate after almost a decade of public service.

I saw those boxes of thank you notes from students and colleagues, the thank yous for
the goodness that I had done to them.

That meant I was capable of doing good, and I patted my back: Dude, dude, you are capable of doing good.

When I went home last summer, word that I was home spread around so quickly I could not anymore hide.

I had to come out and show myself to friends, many of them dear to me.

Some of them demanded that I showed up, which I did, with two gallons of Magnolia to perk up their hot afternoon.

The heat was scorching--and so was their welcome.

The summer heat was some kind of a delayed cuaresma, with the penitencia- to gain indulgence towards redemption.

But we laughed the summer heat off, mindful that the talk of the past was some sort of a presencing--a past becoming present.

There were ties renewed during that last visit.

Except that I never got to see and talk to Sir Bien, the itay of people like us who intellectually grew up by benefitting from his sense of things Philippine.

But I invited him to come to, and address us at, the Nakem Centennial Conference to be held at the University of Hawaii Manoa in November.

By then, he shall have become a National Artist.

A. S. Agcaoili
May 26, 2006
Torrance, CA

To be Certain in this Uncertainty

Highly spiritual is what they say I am.

So many have called me that. The spiritual in you, that is other people's perception of me.

I pray I am.

Or evolved.

Or connected, always connected to the spirit that gives life, radiates energy, links you to the power that moves you, makes you see life in its pulsing, beating, breaking-free stage.

It is prayer in action, this uncertainty and you are acknowledging it, and certainly so, certain that in this uncertainty, you are certain of one thing:




It pays that I had gone through a spiritual formation in the seminary for the Catholic priesthood, the seminary in the midst of all the din and chaos of the big city and yet remaining self-contained, a peaceful place unto itself if we understand this to mean the 'material' peace that we so desire, the one that erases all the tricycle brum-brum-brum or the honking of cars or the shrieking cry of family members.

Or many other distractions.

But there is more to this 'material' peace, and the inner solitude and quiet matters more.

And more.

It is that coming to terms with life and its energies.

In the seminary, you hear the tweeting of birds, offering their prayer to the God of all that which is possible this way, which, during the more illumined days that I spent some novitiate in that hill on Road One in Quezon Hill in Baguio, I could see as some kind of a laud or matin or vesper or compline.

Some days you go Ayta/Agta/Ita--and their concept of the Divine: Apo Namalyari, the god of all that which is possible--of all possibilities.

It is a beautiful name of a God.

And it is a full name, full in its ways, not the European that is so ensconced with the duty and phobia and obsession to name all things according to the dictates of sex, gender, and all these other terminologies that try to correct all the political incorrectness of the language that dominated and colonized and imprisoned many cultures in the Orient.

Apo Namalyari.The God of all possibilities.

The Ilocanos have the same name for their God:
Apo a Mannakabalin-Amin, the God who has all the power, who can make all things possible.

When I wake up each morning, I listen to my heart, its beatings.

I listen to my soul, its stirrings.

I listen to my mind, its urgings.

I go near my small altar I reclaimed from my bookshelf and offer a bowl of fresh water to the Apo Namalyari, to the Apo a Mannakabalin-amin.

This is one ceremony I cannot do without to begin my day.

I light a vigil candle, sometimes with the Virgen de Guadalupe, the lady of Guadalupe that has helped so many Mexican migrants come to terms with their exile and migrancy and diaspora.

When there is incense, I light one as well, offering the aroma of sandalwood or baby powder, or summer rose to the Apo Namalyari.

Or this time around, like last night, I bought Black Love from the 99 cents store close by.

I utter a silent prayer to the God of all possibilities.

I ask for understanding.

I ask for calm, peace, quiet.

I ask that my children will grow up to be good people: kind, caring, ever-giving.

I ask that the missus will understand the difficulties of scratching a life whether in the home country or here.

Well, she has had this virtue of understanding for a long long while.

So I keep praying.

For sustenance of the spirit.

And now I offer a bowl of fresh water to the God of all possibilities.

I am certain of this God of all possibilities despite--and because of--these many uncertainties.

I know we can get by.

This I am certain.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 26, 2006

Kangkong Killer

This is real, and it makes your heart cry and crave for more of the kangkong in the world.

In my exile in these parts, there have been only a few times that I have seen kangkong.

How do they call this green and leafy thing here?

Water cabbage patch, patch water cabbage, or water cabbage, I am not sure now.

But two nights ago when I came home from work, I wanted to grab some water from the fridge.

Dull work sometimes makes you so damn thirsty, with your throat parched and asking for a smooth liquid like water, cold and refreshing and reminding you of great summer joys after you were done with your summer games in the rice and corn and wild kangkong fields.

Yes, you had those wild kangkong, the Ilocano kangkong variety, in the fields during the summer months.

They just grew there, nature-given.

We would gather them day-in and day-out.

That was memory--and it is living, alive, kicking.

The waste bin was just close by, tall and immaculate in its plastic garb.

And then something caught my eye.

Kangkong, the remains of a bundle of kangkong.

Literally remains, leafless, and just the stalk, long and Melanie Marquez-like (pardon the innuendo here) but promising food and edibleness the way we perceive things in the Ilocos, hunger or no hunger.

I accosted the perpretrator of the crime, the one who got only the topmost portion and threw away the rest. You son of a kangkong, how dare you do that? The Ilocanos do not throw anything, mind you.

Any food is with grace, spirit, energy, blessing.

They call that the ugaw.

If you throw away food, the ugaw will run away.

And if the ugaw will not come back, then that is it: you will have to suffer the consequences: hunger, not-so-grace-filled life, and more hunger.

And that famous eerie sound of the stomach wishing for a morsel of bread.

Each time--and it will never go away, not any longer.

And so there is a threat in there.

Forget the ecologists and conservationists, courtesy of the consumerist society of the capitalist world where waste is a virtue.

We did it first, we earthy people in the North of the country, this conservation thing.

And the ugaw concept is one core of this native world view.

So if you grew up in the Ilocos, you get to be more careful with food, any food, cholesterol or no cholesterol.

The cholesterol thing is a wild invention of science, western and capitalist, pharmaceutically hostaged and drug addicted.

So no one cares about all these drug things for the cholesterol.

In fact, the Ilocanos are probably the most protein deprived Filipinos because they eat grass instead of meat.

The reason is simple: there is not much meat to go around with while there are wild plants in the rocky parts, in the small forests, in the meadows, in the prairies, in the savanas, in the deltas, in the mountain fastnesses, in the fields, in the rivers in the brooks, in the seas.

So there, that 'long-legged' kangkong came to view and seduced me.

Readily, summers in the Ilocos flashed in my mind.

The last time I went to visit the old country, I had been dreaming of adobong kangkong.

I never remembered to ask the missus to cook it.

I only asked the mongo soup with lots of ampalaya leaves we bought from the streets of Quiapo when we went to the famous church to pray.

The 'long-legged' kangkong was whispering to me--now I am schizophrenic about kangkong and I know it, I admit it!--Come on, come on, pick me up!

I grabbed the bundle right away, right from the waste bin, hoping that wala pang three minutes and that germs had not set in.

The retrieval process was not even a process, if you mean being time-bound, long and arduous and tedious in some sort of way.

Swift it was, and so swift it was over in one full sweep, as if I was the professional snatcher in Cubao or in Commonwealth or in Paris or in Rome.

I rushed to the sink.

I got a basin and put it on the sink.

I opened the water, the cold one, the blue one, the right faucet and allowed the Los Angeles waters from the mountains of Colorado to run through the 'long-legged' kangkong.

Thrice I had to change the water and repeat the water cleaning process.

So there, I have my culinary victim, this adobo.

I planned the cooking.

Tomorrow, I will have you.

And I went to sleep afterwards.

And dreamed about adobong kangkong.

In the morning, after I had lighted the vigil candle and offered a bowl of fresh water to the Lord of all that which is possible, I went to that greatest work I have ever done as an exile: to cook the adobong kangkong the old fashioned way, the way folks in the Ilocos had done, the way I remembered how, the way it smelled how.

And the kangkong was a killer of a delight with the toyo and the Ilocano garlic some friends from the Ilocos gave as a pasalubong.

I congratulated myself for having become the greatest kangkong killer expert in immigrant land.

I ate with delight, the newly cooked rice infront of me, the kangkong still kangkong but promising satiation.

I ate with my hands so I could touch the kangkong, feel each stalk, and feel the grains of the newly cooked rice.

There is life to be celebrated in a faraway land, I suppose.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 26, 2006

Husbanding in the Time of Hunger

In the time of hunger, everything is compromised.

It is going to be a difficult essay, this one, and it is most difficult to write because it is about how to husband hunger, exile or no exile.

I have many anecdotes to tell--and brace up yourself.

Our firstborn came in at a time when we were young, his parents.

This was also the Sad Time of the Republic.

The Great Assassination, which became The Great Blunder, happened, just happened as if it were a phenomenon bound to come like a flicker.

But then there was chaos, all kinds, all of them and the firstborn of our three children chose to come into world--no, chose to throw himself into the world--in the midst of this chaos.

While The Republic was going through this difficult baptism of fire after fire, storm after storm, and deluge after deluge, the politicos were busy cooking up something sinister, a kind of a political potion meant to poison the mind of the already-hungry and already-angry publics.

I cannot use the masa term here, plain and simple.

For the masa is a misnomer, in the same sense that there can be something of a misnomer in the term 'elite'.

Look at Kris A, for instance, with her masa ways.

Yet she is clearly a bundle of contradictions: she dons the best of the show dresses she probably orders from Robinson's May or Macy's down here, in these parts, in the Tate of her spokening English, accent and all, the faux pronunciation evident despite the intent to hide it by masking her 'narrative voice' with that idious phrase--or is it a sentence, a verdict, a judgment?--'Korek ka jan!'

The masa at this time, as it is still now, was a two-faced entity: one face, the hungry and loyal to whoever gives the dough; the other face, the ideal and loyal to the abstract concerns of persons.

Many were caught in between, the definition essentially not a two-pronged, quarrelling and contradictory position and reality.

Hunger is hunger everywhere you go.

And anger too.

It is easier to judge than to go through the process of hungering for what is just and fair--and hungering for food on the table.

And so you become angry just entertaining that idea that some are really smarter than others because of lineage or parentage or connections or just plain stupid luck.

When the stomach aches because there is nothing in there, the law of the jungle comes in, whether that jungle is cemented or not.

So, at the time of The Great Payoff during that snap election that was meant to seduce the masa into giving its blessing to either the incumbent or to the challenger, that housewife of an haciendera-turned-rallying point/point of reference of the nation that was crying for freedom, some hands got some of the newly-minted bills, in the twenty peso denomination, crisp and fresh and smelling of ink, with the face of a president smiling at the beholder.

The missus got some. Or was it only one?

Her father got mad, furious, fiercely the UP policeman who probably had seen so many nationalist rallies in his decades of service at the State U that he must have realized that heroism has a place and that putting your ideals above anything else, is the most honorable thing to do.

The missus said no, This is the people's money and it is my money, and I will use it to buy milk for my firstborn.

There was hunger, remember?

And the firstborn chose to be thrown into the world like the mode and manner of the ritzy-rich you have to forgo some protein intake to be able to buy his milk.

You return it to that idiot of a barangay chairman, the activist-turned-patriot of a father of my missus commanded from his mountain post, regal, royal, pontifical.

The missus said, No. My firstborn is above any consideration. I do not care about Cory Aquino, presidents, freedom, or those others abstractions at this time. He has to eat, he has to live. Malay ninyo, siya ang magiging presidenteng matino.

End of argument.

You could just imagine how she guarded her firstborn, the missus.

The firstborn was about six or seven months at the time of The Great Upheaval--and he needed all the Similac money to live.

He did not live on any other milk, except this most expensive of all the baby formulas.

So in him was resistance, early on, resistance with the big R: Nag-aanak kayo, puwes, suportahan ninyo ako. I want the best.

And to think that he was a special baby in some sort of way, born to imitate--even duplicate and eventually transcend, the geometric pi, as if our life at that time was a geometry of many sacrifices, trials, and more sacrifices and trials: weight at 3.14 pounds, size so small like a rat, his face that of a prune or a raisin.

But he was our beautiful firstborn, raisin or no raisin, prune or no prune.

And this is the trick, amidst difficulty of looking for the milk money: he had to remain in the hospital so he would be incubated for more than two weeks, the incubation a medical necessity to help him grow a bit, swell a bit, help his bodily systems mature and function.

And when we left him in the hospital, it was during the season of heavy rains and flood.

One day after my class the University of Santo Tomas where I taught, philosophy and literature, among others, I passed by the pediatric ward of the hospital on Morayta where his mom was also born 22 years before.

The flood water was up to my knee that I literally had to wade in the murky and brown and smelly liquid that claimed the streets just to visit the firstborn, our firstborn.

That became a regimen, a ritual, a ceremony, this daily visitation.

That firstborn grew up to be man, one of his own.

And I am proud to have husbanded our hunger in those most difficult times.

Two years after the birth of the firstborn, the first daughter came.

There is the appelation 'first'. There is a 'second' that came after after almost 15 years of hiatus.

By then, I was just finishing my masters and the missus had yet to find a job, which she could not because she had the firstborn, and that job was fulltime. The firstborn was always sick and he had to be brought to the hospital for check-up very often.

But then the first daughter came.

Her coming was insistent, as if telling us: hey, hey mga parents, here, here ye, here I come!

It pays that when Kris A was starting showbiz after she recited that beautiful euology and said her public goodbye to her martyred father at the Santo Domingo Church on Quezon Avenue, when she was still trying to impress the television powerbrokers and the viewing publics, the missus was conceiving with our second born, a daughter we found out later who acts, until now, as if she was born in a manor, or as if she grew up in Boston or London or Los Angeles.

Hollywoodish ways, hers, you can say. And to the hilt.

She simply acts like Kris A, with her Boston and sometimes London and sometimes fake Los Angeles, accent. Forget New York. She can even manage that pretty well.

But that is not the point of the story.

We, the missus and I, were young in terms of youth--and the lack of resources that went with it.

We were husbanding our hunger when the first two children came and we ploughed through with grace and blessing and a thousand sacrifices.

The husbanding, however, has not ended--it does not end with the birth of children.

People are not fish.

And vice versa.

Rule of identity.

Which means, we had to work hard to see them through their childhood--and now their youth.

Working hard means you have to count your pennies and cents sometimes especially when the going gets rough.

And be ready to open the one and only piggy bank when the need arises.

But working hard means also working hard for blessings.

Surely, we have an abundance of these, these blessings.

And we can only be grateful.

The last born?

Well, she gets all the credit for making us all on our guard, on our toes.

And for giving us rare joys, big joys, small joys, everyday joys.

Like when she says her Dora, her doll of a student or her student of a doll, whichever is the case, is sick because she is hard-headed: she goes outside, in the rain, under the sun, smells the polluted air, plays with dirt.

I am always reminding Dora to not do these things, she brags on the phone.

You are not doing the same thing as Dora? I ask her.

No, she says. Mabait ako.

End of the story.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 26, 2006

Luminosity and Light

By the tragedy of other people, we get to realize our comic lives: light, airy, and one that we have no right to complain.

The missus always says: you always complain and you do not count your blessings. Live light, let light live in you.

Ha, the sermon.

And so today, with this piece, I will not complain.

I will sing peans to one thing dear to me each day: coffee.

I have had so many blessings and I have not been counting.

The missus is right in reminding me in the strongest terms possible of these blessings.

Like children who are brilliant.

And wise.

And smart they can easily outsmart their parents many times over.

And it is true.

But if you have gone through so much in life, complaint is as real as taking a cup of the worst coffee in the world to perk up your day.

Or to alter your way of looking at things: the instant coffee whatever is its name.

You realize that in the midst of deprivation, the stomach can remain choosy, at best.

Ano ka, mangarap ka nang matayog, like my daughter.

She takes only Starbucks coffee, and only Starbucks coffee. She likes to sip it lazily at Marquinton down in Sumulong.

Was she a princess displaced by the Kastilas in that little queendom in Mariquina in times past?

She does not realize, of course, that Starbucks in the US of A, like the one at Katipunan Avenue, is a plain tambayan.

You realize that like your daughter, you want one of the best also for yourself.

Many times you just deny yourself that wild craving before you have to count the few dollas in your palm.

But admit it: you like your freshly brewed coffee from a corner Starbucks on Carson and Normandie on Sundays with your book on hand and that omnipresent writer's dirty journal.

Or on a better doughnut store down the road, with the tinderas speaking Cambodian English or English pronounced in a Cambodian way.

You go past Normandie to the 91 Freeway and you get the high smelling all the aroma of the world as if the highlands of Columbia or Benguet or Bukidnon or Isabela have all been transported here to make your day.

O aroma, aroma. Are you the Hills Brothers coffee on this long stretch in Normandie?

O coffee--you make my world luminous, you make my life light, so luminous and so light I can go on hoping forever, hoping for the best lotto combo to come so I can hit it right and go from there doing all these corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, take care of the sick, give home to the homeless, give money to the penniless, hope to the hopeless, dream to the dreamless, poetry to those who live bland lives, poety to those who do not know how to be passionate with life, poetry to those who do not know the meaning of music to drive away the evil intents and purposes of men and women, and aroma to those who do not want any caffeine in their bloodstream.

Ha, coffee.

I like the Lion brand, the Hawaiian kind coming from some place in Maui or Hilo.

I like it hazelnut.

Or the Bukidnon or Malaybalay mountain variety, harvested from the prayers of the Trappist.

The Benguet mountain coffee speaks of stars and moons and suns and wind and fire and earth and magnet and magic.

Like the one they harvest in Isabela, beyond the villages hamletted during the martial law regime.

Ah, coffee.

Let me find the way to taking you in one gulp and taking you some more.

What is it in the mind of the ancients who discovered you?

What is it that they saw?

What is it that the early medics and the pretenders to medicine called you a drug like the cocoa?

You make me luminous.

You make me light.

Luminous and light--and then I go take the road to face the new day.

The new challenge.

The new hill to climb.

The new sea to navigate.

The new night to confront.

And the dawn to welcome.

And I have you.

Like a prayer.

Like grace.

Like a prayer for grace.

No matter, I have you.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 25, 2006

Fathering in the Time of the Great Absence

Let me be clear about the premises of this piece.

On the meaning of fathering, it is that literal rearing of children, especially those gifted with strong will and who know how to fight for their rights at the expense of the rights of parents. Well, this last one most of the time. They can be rational sometimes.

On the meaning of The Great Absence, it is that phenomenon common to the Philippines where parents are away eking out a life elswhere and never in the home country. Parents, out of guilt, justify their absence in the rearing process of their kids by invoking their divine right to be away because it is their divine duty to put food on the table. I call this The Great Bribe, veritably an argumentum ad baculum. There is a veiled threat here, and the key concept is "veiled."

There is, of course, one thing that is left out in these premises: that, indeed, parents do go away because they may have fallen under the spell of An Idea, the idea that a decent life is possible in other places.

This is how I come into the equation.

I left my family at the time when my first two children were testing the waters of my patience, that patience that I certainly do not have. But even from afar, they understand the meaning of my rage--and the kind of reach this rage has on people who cross my path, the two of them included.

I could be A Storm Signal Number 5 when the situation warrants it. At other times, and the kids can corraborate this, I could be the most placid of waters, of a lake, of an ocean, or of a waterfall--cool and enchanting, with my capacity to connect, tete-a-tete, certain and sure of my honest feelings and passion.

It did not help that my fist two children were born almost exactly two years apart: one on June 25, the other a day after in terms of the Julian calendar courtesy of whoever pope was that who blessed the tinkering of time by the powerholders of that Empire that produced the Crusades and whatever abomination we have during the medieval times.

But look at it this way: the first two children could have been born on the same day if one were to look into the witches' brew: same moody moon, same twinkling stars, same dancing and swirling sun, same gusty wind, same wild water, same passionate earth, same perennial fire.

In short, the same elements of fighting it out in this life.

So what have you got?

Two conspirators from Day One, two conspirators in your household, one the leader of the other, the other the leader of the other one.

Sometimes you do not know who is leading who.

You get to know it only when war between them has erupted and you get to witness the violence of words and their meanings.

The other one fractured her hand when she jumped from the railings of our window onto the awaiting sofa and had to be hospitalized; at another time, she had asked for a bike and after a few hours, she had the bike bumped onto a parked jeep. Twice she had to be hospitalized at the orthopedic in Banawe. The other child did the same thing with his bike, perhaps imagining that he was Tarzan on a bike.

So between them were three hospitalizations courtesy of oversupply of adrenaline and the miracle of hyperactivity. One hospitalization cost my whole summer pay in the state university such that after getting my pay in advance, I literally had to run to the hospital to pay the bill so the child could be discharged.

When they were children, you could not imagine a toy, any toy for that matter, getting on into the next day with its part complete.

You buy them a clay and after a few hours, you have the clay cooked.

You buy the girl all the Barbie you can imagine including her Ken and the following day they are headless, armless, pantyless, shoeless--in short, burlesque. The boy was more careful with his toys, but the cars could become skeletons in a few days.

Their mother, of course, would always recite her rage: We never had that and you never know how to take care of your things. I will have them locked in the cabinet.

The mother would get the hanger, any hanger, and threaten them both with The Whacking.

Well, some days the hanger threat is a threat.

Many days, that hanger is simply a hanger. You get the feeling that both of them were simply saying, Come on, come on, momsy!

And then one day, the two of them, in a duet, said: Isusumbong ka namin sa Bantay Bata kapag pinalo mo kami!

I come into the picture: You choose, I tell them, angry now, really mad. You become good or you get The Whacking.

There was a time I could talk to them rationally. If they committed one of those innumerable foolishness, I would ask them how many whackings they deserved.

The girl would always have a ready answer: three, the trinity of woes and patience, love and more love, care and more care.

The boy never talked back. He just got the whacking--and then sulk in his corner.

And so I get the Inquirer, roll it, and whack their buttocks for all I care.

That was when they were younger, when they were still under the care of some Angelic sisters down the road and when goodness was presumed to have been inculcated by them.

When the children got to be bigger--in their high school, when they have learned to fight for their right to speak and speak so loud they did, they told me of their secret: that they would put some karton on their buttocks before the whacking and that they never felt anything. It was the sound of the Inquirer that jolted them.

Whose idea was that, I asked one time.

The conspirators looked at each other.

No word.

I knew it. I did not pursue the cross examination. it was plain uselss.

Now that I am always away, that this Great Absence is what defines our relationship at this time, we get to miss each other, we get to long for each other's bile, each other's temper, each other's idiosyncracy.

For the children are as idiosyncratic the way I am.

You see this same temper and character in the last born.

Do not ever stand in the way when she turns the sala into a classroom by pulling all the chairs and putting all her toys on these chairs, and turning them all into her ever-willing and ever-loyal and ever-mute students, with Dora infront, in the first row, because she is the most intelligent of all her educatee.

This is the last born, a teacher at four, her chalk on hand, her blackboard reclining on another chair.

And her spiel of a lecture could run the gamut of a wikipedia, from the alpha to the zeta of a zing.

Hers is a social drama at its best, at its most playful--indeed a real play of language, word, scene, sign, symbol, personhood, dreams, ambition, the future, the present, the past, all the moments of Time purged and merged.

I miss these scenes many times over.

Each time loneliness creeps in, I run to the liquor store, close my eyes, fish the rare five dollar bill from my wallet, and buy that Super Asia to bridge the distance between us.

Or hook on to the internet, do a webcam, if our hours jibe.

Or the email which we do everyday.

It is still not easy going away.

But it is less difficult now compared to the time when the globe was still The Globe: large and monstruous, ovewhelming and unknown.

A father's absence is still an absence. One can only hope it does not any longer fall under The Great Absence with this act of memory-making.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
May 23, 2006