11" x 15"
pen and ink on paper
“Yes, I work naked. No clothes on. Nothing. In fact, I think I am the only one I know who works in his birthday suit at ten in the morning.”
I told Vicky as I was taking some careful sips from the hot coffee she gave me while I was hanging around in the clinic during that cold, wet morning while the rest of the city was being battered by a super typhoon.“Hindi ka ba nilalamig pag hinahayaan mong nakasabit yung pututuy mo habang nagpipinta ka o nagdo-drawing?
(Don’t you get cold when your thing’s hanging out while you paint or draw?)
“Of course I don’t get cold. I simply don’t open the windows.”
There are a lot of things that I like with what I do aside from the fact that I don’t have to worry about any clothing allowance or the right office attire. However, ever since I started to pick up the brush and pencils to work as a painter (I hate using the word artist. It’s too sweeping a word) there are some annoying sides to it. And I am not talking here of the lack of money in my pockets. People, when they so much as hear in a whisper that I am an “artist”, start to ask me certain questions.
Though I never bothered to rank them, the three most common ones are as follow:How come you don’t have long hair?
My younger brother and I grew up with our mother as our haircutter. In order to save on trips to the barber, she’d use the salad bowl as a haircutter’s template. At a time when the Beatles were already out of vogue, we sported their cut. There’d be times I’d have to tie my hair with rubber bands and I’ll be walking around with a small tree on my head. As I grow older, I promised myself that someday I will do something about that hairstyle. And so I did.
My first trip to a real barber involved an old man at the corner two blocks down the road from our house who could barely see. He was wearing what seemed to be magnifying glasses that made his eyes look unnaturally large behind the lens. He did my hair and I ended up being a butt of jokes amongst my classmates the next day. It was quite clean haircut. No unnerving bangs that made my forehead itch and no more hair tree that sprouted on my head, but the back of my neck looked like it was a surveyor’s map of Kennon Road.
A week later, having had enough of my classmates calling me hair names, I went with a cousin and had an over-all buzz cut.
That hairstyle stuck with me ever since.
Do you do drugs? Hey man, do you have some weed on you?
I don’t do drugs. The only drugs I ever did “hit” were the occasional paracetamol whenever I feel a fever coming in, or those over-the-counter drugs with TV advertisements any ordinary sick person would take.
There were only two occasions I ever did get “buzzed” from drugs and one of them, being the worst, involved Sinutab.
It was a Sunday morning and I was having a pretty nasty cold. Not wanting to be bothered by a heavily stuffed nose and a pounding headache I rummaged through my bathroom’s first aid kit and found some Sinutab capsules I kept handy. I plopped one in with a glass of water. As insurance that my cold virus be immediately dissipated, I thought, why not plop a second one? After I did, I looked at the packet and it was only then I realized that each capsule I swallowed was 500 milligrams each. Wow, I’m sure with that dosage it’d bring in an instant cold cure.
It did bring in some wonder and an almost fatal one.
A few minutes later, while walking to church, I started feeling dizzy. My legs were wobbly and I couldn’t look straight. I knew that with that huge dosage, I’d better take careful steps. Looking down on the sidewalk, I made sure I avoided possible cracks or anything that would make me trip or fall over in my drugged state when my eyes came across the base of a pole. Still looking downwards, I made a side step when, bam! My head hit something really hard that I immediately saw stars and twittering birdies. The pole I avoided turned out to be one of two bases of a big metal sheet signboard of the church. I walked right smack into it.
I immediately picked myself up and looked around to see if anyone saw my embarrassing episode. Luckily, I thought, nobody witnessed it.
Already in church, in the middle of the homily, I was still trying to fight off my dizziness with my head propped on my arm when a little girl of around five beside me kept peeking at my face. I tried to ignore her by keeping my face turned towards the altar but she was pretty persistent on examining my face. So I decided to sit up straight, turn towards her and smiled. It was then that the woman beside the child grabbed her and hurriedly moved away to another pew. I thought that was odd. Odder still was I noticed that some of the people on my pew were looking, no, staring at my direction. But I shrugged it off. I still have my dizziness to tend to and a mass I was determined to finish.
When it was time for communion, I stood up, took a spot on the line that ended at the priest giving the host and tried hard to control my dizzy, wobbly state. When my turn came and the priest mumbled “Body of Christ”, he stopped mid-air in giving me the host.
His brow took on that questioning look and he asked, “Are you alright son?”
“I said are you alright?” he repeated. It was only then I noticed that the altar boys, the woman at the lectern, the priest, the people who came before me… they were all staring at me and had that concerned, questioning look you see on the faces of the pious.“May nakaaway po ba kayo?
(Did you get into a fight?),” asked the smallest of the altar boys beside the priest.
“Huh?” was all I can mutter. I thought my clothes were sullied or something for the kid to ask me that when I noticed drops of blood on my shoes. My eyes trailed upwards my shirt and I saw bloodstains on it. It was only then I thought of my head hitting the metal signboard. I touched my forehead and when I looked at my hands, it was covered with blood. It has been oozing down my forehead the whole time!
I felt the strength drain from my legs at the sight of all the blood that several men had to help me towards the front pew. It was an embarrassing moment I had to endure when several “manangs” kept on fussing about me, fanning me with their abanikos asking me all sorts of questions that in my Sinutab-drugged state I could hardly even comprehend. A few minutes after the end of the mass with a horrid bandage on my forehead somebody miraculously produced from I don’t-know-where, a lot of good-luck-to-yous and take-cares from the nice people at church, I managed to hail a cab at the church steps and went home.
I immediately went to bed in my apartment and snored away my drugged state.
How come you don’t wear weird clothes?
I don’t like “weird” clothes. When people say “weird” clothes, it’s usually an all-black ensemble like you’re a leftover from some eighties goth revival or your whole wardrobe consists of ukay-ukay fashion. Though I have nothing against people who buy from ukay-ukay, I just can’t bear the thought of wearing something that used to hang on the shoulders of somebody else. There are a lot of these outlets along Libertad and if I were an ukay-ukay fanatic, I wouldn’t have to go far.
I once heard from Vicky that in Taiwan or China, they bury their dead with his/her most expensive togs when they were living. She goes on to say that there’s this group who’d buy the dead man’s clothes (or steal them from their graves) many of them designer brands, put them in a crate and ship it in container vans that find their way into these ukay-ukay outlets. I don’t exactly cherish the thought of wearing some dead guy’s rags even if they’re Gucci or Armani.
I do like cool t-shirts but not to a point that I’d wear them for days without washing. I also eschew angst-ridden statements and with a political bent on t-shirt designs. I don’t like the Mao or Lenin or Che Guevara patterns. I’d rather let them be as what they really are – long dead and not on my body.
I am not a fashionista. I couldn’t care less about what’s in season or what’s not. I am not wafer-thin nor am I built like a clotheshorse, so I simply stick to the basics – a clean, comfortably fitting shirt, jeans and clean shoes. And someday, when I am really able to afford it, I would like my closet to be filled with Wasp-y wardrobe of white shirts, khakis and nice loafers - nothing fancy, just plain, simple and neat.