Miracle moments, I call them, these moments that come into your life when the spirit just blows, and blows freely, most especially when you need the blowing.
This piece could be a testimony to the omnipresence of grace which the spirit of life gives.
Or how I have become a beneficiary to this grace in my three years of exilic life.
How could have I gone through all these trials--ok, call them tribulations too, in this land of exile?
In the Old Testament account, there was this exodus, this mass movement of people as they left the land of their souls and hearts and minds.
At least, they have each other for company, these exiles.
They sang songs to each other.
The recited the psalms together.
They recalled the giving of the old covenant to Moses by Yahweh.
But when you are all alone and trodding upon unknown ground, you bet you need to be more careful.
And resilient, persevering, patient.
There are rules in the trodding as there are rules in the tresspassing of other territories.
You can be enmeshed in the tangle of barbed wires, holed up in deadly traps--or both.
The barbed wires of life, dreams, relationships, even memories.
The traps of ambition, desire, passion, that itch to write the greatest Filipino novel or Filipino poetry ever written.
Such an ambition would be enough to sustain your spirit for the day.
Well, tomorrow is another day. It is sufficient that you worry about today. Only today.
But at the end of the day, you need to worry about bills: your bills in exile, your bills at home.
Why have bills been ever invented, I do not know. I am totally ignorant of this and I am not a party to its invention. I dare say: I have nothing to do with it and this is absolute.
One miracle moment is when I applied for work.
The newspaper that I was working for closed shop.
Bankrupt. Now, finally, I can say and write this word without feeling remorse. And sick and in panic mode.
There is that 'sayang' feeling still when I remember the newspaper. Together with the founders, I have put in so much--as many others have--to make this paper alive, alive with vision, kicking with goals.
We saw vision when we put it up.
We babied it, presided in its birthing, nursed it.
But c'est la vie, it did not last long.
And so I had no other recourse except to look for another job right after I came back from Manila for a month-long vacation.
I went to one office and then to another and then to another.
That became a ritual.
Each day I would do that while counting the dwindling dollar bills in my miraculous 'envelope', the one envelope that always has some money in it, all sorts of money from so many economies, monies I have collected as 'pasalubong' from friends.
It does not matter that the amount in this envelope is not much.
It matters more that I am reminded of the meaning of want, of need, of the need to get past hunger and famine and thirst.
I have seen them, the homeless in Skid Row. I do not think I can ever last a night of winter on a road pavement, in a park, in a bus terminal, or in a shelter.
I cannot stand the cold of the winter night wherever I am.
More so with the cold that comes from both the mountains and the sea, which is what the cold of Los Angeles is coming from.
I could chill, and I could forget the meaning of a poem in an instant by cursing myself a thousand times: Tanga, gago, nagpunta ka sa America, overqualified ka naman!
Which is what exactly happened to me as I went from one office to another.
One interviewer was speechless when she found out that I have the advanced degree and the credential to teach in her own county.
You taught English? she asked me. She could not believe my one-page resume, the kind of resume that they want in the United States.
They do not know how to read, these people who have been delegated the task to weed out the underqualified and the overqualified.
Yes, I told her.
Why don't you go back to teaching, she reminded me.
Hey, the hiring period is not now, I told her. I should have told her, with pomposity and bombast, that I would go back to teach in the university. But I needed a job, a work, any work. I would have applied as an engineer, a priest, a pasto, a musician, an architect, an attorney, even a nude dancer if I had to.
Right there and then, I wanted to enchant her, cast her a spell, bewitch her with my 'black magic', make her a temporary loca-loca, make her utter indecipherable voodoo words.
I wanted to wrangle her neck so she would know how is it to be jobless, this idiot of a middle-aged fat and lousy and shrieking lady.
You have a place for me? I asked.
Nah, she said, her eyes on the ringing phone. You are overqualified.
For what? I asked, incredulous of her statement while she held my one-page resume as if it were a litany of spells from Madam Auring.
You are overqualified to become a case manager for our workers comp firm, she said. She did not look at me but on her desk laden with all these post-its of various colors, with scribbled numbers in them.
I was case manager, I told her. In Wilshire, a big firm. Call them. I raised my voice.
Even then. We want someone that is not overqualified, she answered. She clearned her throat right after answering, fearing that I would choke her.
The ad said you also needed a janitor, I insisted. I gave her the clipping from a lousy Filipino newspaper that cannot even put out a decent editorial for its weekly issue.
You cannot sweep the floor, can you? she asked, her eyes slitting into unbelief.
I told her straight in the eyes, I might love sweeping the streets on Skid Row and decide to stay there as 'sanitation engineer' forever.
I bolted the door, not listening to what she said next. Perhaps she was asking me back, showing me how to use the broom and the dustpan and the floor polisher?
I wanted a smart and self-respecting street cleaning job, the one that wipes out all the dirt of Los Angeles, the dust, the muck, the pus, the booger, the mote, the saliva, the phlegm, the tears, the dead skin, the dried blood, the mud, the poop of men and women and animals, the shit of birds with the avian flu or virus free, the hypocrisy of the city, the tentativeness of its joy, the loneliness that suffuses it like ether.
I wanted dirt in my hands.
So from one office to another, I got the same remark--or so I thought because I would not listen if the interviewers acted as if they knew how to sweep the dirt of the city: You are overqualified.
And this is 'normal' business here where you only need a high school diploma, not a doctorate (what is that, huh?), to become a bank teller.
The heck, no, this is another land. Sabali nga ili, sabali nga ugali.
Aganuska a bagi ta dikanto met ngamin nagpadi, my father would tell us when we were kids and we would complain for doing some of the household chores. Get ready to suffer because you did not become a priest.
So here, in the many more miracle moments that I have go through, I will have to steel myself to the task ahead, that of presenting myself as a janitor of the city, the janitor of all its dirt and bad luck and negative energies. The janitor of all its huge ambitions, sometimes made of air, bad air, the mal + aria.
I will have to reclaim my prana, summon my chi, recall my ruach and get back on my feet again with that nakem that will keep my head above the waters of Lethe.
I will have to finally drive away the shadow of a shadow, if I must.
I wish myself some good luck for the next job application before Fall begins.
I need to put food on my table between now and that time when I will be able to pick up university teaching again.
In the meantime, I write all these things on my field journal. I will need them when I will get to write that book on Filipino immigrant life. Do scholars call this 'subject position'?
Talk of capitalizing from experience, from the misery and many miracles of exilic life.
Ha, I will write that bestselling book about what has America done to exiles like us.
A. S. Agcaoili
June 4, 2006