Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to Survive in a Lonely Room

[Part 4 of "The Manual" series]

Stare at the open window. Except for the nimbus crawling at a lazy pace, the view it offers is the same as yesterday—rusty iron sheets, corrugated walls and the distant atmosphere superimposed against the infinite universe. Breathe. Smell the afternoon roast. It exudes an aroma reminiscent of countless conversations under a tranquil summer sky not too long ago. With ample vigor, grip the handle. Plant your lips on the tip of the mug and take a generous sip of the warm brew. Break the taste with buttered toast because lonely people do not live on bread alone; others starve in doing so. Let every crunch cure the twilight silence by obliterating it. Feel the liquid gently settle in your belly. Appreciate the aftertaste. It is as bitter as the arabica beans one hundred and more cups before. Drink to the last drop.

Enter epiphany where cobwebs are without walls and heaps of dust are without floors. Some things never truly leave even after they have gone elsewhere. Memories are coffee granules that dissolve completely on the first stir, but they are still there, one with the liquid, embracing the shape of the vessel. They remain bitter, if not tasteless, which is perhaps why the instruction is right: sweeten to taste. Most often, you need more than mere sugar for that. Sweetness goes beyond the tongue and palate, especially if it is not about coffee.

The stream of faint orange through the window gathers on your face. Fish a cigarette from the pack and smoke. It is a splendid sustenance for death by bronchial infection, if not suffocation, but it matters not. Government warnings take the form of euphemisms because they do not want to divulge what you already know. Nobody needs a purveyor of personal distress, especially if you are already distressed yourself. Feed on the burning tobacco by suckling the filter with as much zeal as a drowning man longing for surface air. Exhale. Make smoke rings. Watch them dissipate one after the next. Continue until all you have left are ashes and bouts of cough.

Tonight is the end of summer. The clouds ahead summon the first sign of rain. By nine in the evening, the wind is cold and the rain patters on the roof. Take a cold bath. Undress completely even before you reach the bathroom door. There are no silhouettes, no peeping eyes, only you and your stark nakedness, with random hairs that garland your most cherished organ. Soap, shampoo, rinse. Shave your beard and mustache. Wash your face. Before wrapping the towel around your waist, you remember something. Or someone. A female stranger whose face is enough to make you forget your name, whose body holds the promise of sinful lust, and whose voice is just as sexy. Suddenly, you realize two things: life is hard, and so is your cock.

Masturbate, for tonight is the end of summer.

At two hours before midnight, browse the internet and sift through online forums. Hide your identity by using your sixtieth pseudonym. Every foray into the dregs of discussion boards always feels like your typical saunter. Bash every pretentious genius who is very fond of his degree from the most popular diploma mill in the world—Google University. Have a surge of laughter courtesy of those who use tautologies for their farcical platitude. Unfortunately, you misspell a word and your opponents rejoice. Achilles’ heel has been found. Your foes turn ecstatic, eager to fire their arrows. Log-out before the first hit.

Hit the sack. No text message. But a few minutes after midnight, there is a long beep. Your subscription to unlimited SMS has expired. Apparently, it is not unlimited. More so, it is a waste of money. You have no one in your phone book. Still, you have someone’s number in your living memory, which is not exactly as alive as it was some years back. Instead of counting sheep, you recite the digits. Her digits. Then, you fall asleep after surviving another day in your lonely room.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Monday, May 9, 2011

How to Date a Slab of Granite

[Part 3 of "The Manual" series]

Smile but do not speak a word. Let your teeth do the talking. To leave her question hanging is to inspire every possible answer to brew in her mind. After twenty seconds and a sip of Brunello di Montalcino, the absence of a reply will further confuse her. She will have to force herself to guess your age. While she utters one random number after another, observe her crimson lips; they move smooth and ever so delicate. You know you want to taste them so bad. Unfortunately, mischief gives birth to embarrassment. Restrain your mouth from trumpeting an expletive by doing two things in seriatim: fork a slice of beef steak and stuff it in. Your silence is golden, her patience is silver, and mutual pretense of interest is bronze. By this time, she starts to think you are worse than a runner on a limbo, terrified to finish a marathon. In your mind, though, your victory has just begun. Fork another slice and continue with the race.

Anticipate the next query. Since the interrogation is purely a tactical procedure, consistently give the wrong answer even if a question is yet to be asked. At least, you are consistent. Examine the facial expressions and hand gestures of your inquisitor. Note how the eyebrows are raised and the frequency in which they come to life just to annihilate every point you make. You interpret it as an omen. She thinks so, too, except that she is the only one who is not ecstatic about it. Survey the constant fidgeting and the deep breaths that go with her forced smiles. If you look close enough, you will recognize a grimace waiting to explode. Five seconds after, you will see something else. Recall the birth of a piece of granite.

A granite is an igneous rock. Once a molten volcanic material nesting in the bowels of the earth, it has become a cold and hard slab, lifeless then and even now. It lost its warmth several days after the eruption. It was a grand explosion that jettisoned ash and debris toward the rustic twilight sky, furnishing the heavens with enough spite from hell. A crater is a geological wound nursed by a monolith. As with all things that bleed, it festers through time, creating mild tremors that scale the course of its length. After the exit from that fiery crevice, a granite becomes just another transformed object wearing all the required corrugations for imperfection. Blink. When the trance is over, return your attention to your date who is about to explode in a fit of verbal onslaught. Ask her about granites.

You gave the wrong question. She gave the right answer.

Remember that a date is a pastiche of typical job interviews. Rarely does it truly become a prelude to a romantic affair. The other person is the boss, the one who wields the payroll with tender fingers and polished nails. It leaves you with no other choice but to assume the role of the applicant. Do not be submissive, though. Display your arrogance like peacock feathers refusing to fold against the lashing of a midnight gale. Amplify your ego by feeding it with more delusion than you can handle. Your balls start to swell and take the image of Charlie Sheen you can almost sit on them. But as the night lengthens, rejection will be your full name. Be unafraid to be called by that misnomer. It is harmless unless you are not Charlie Sheen.

You are not.

Look up and mumble a phrase. Know that this will be your last supper with her and, between the two of you, she is not the one to be crucified thereafter. You feel like Judas atoning for the sins of all the waiters in the restaurant, including the chef. Tell your date that the price of the entire dinner irritates your nose and tongue: it smells like trouble and tastes like your one month salary. Squeeze every possible permutation for your confession. Refuse to fish your wallet from your pocket because, to quote your typical passenger jeep, God knows Hudas not pay.

The bill has been settled. Exit stage left or wherever there is enough space to squeeze your Charlie Sheen balls through. No hugs, no goodbyes, no complications—like a date that never was, and never will be again.

Understand one final thing. Throughout, you are the slab of granite. Learn from the experience. There will come a time when you will also date a lifeless piece of rock. By then, you already know what to do.

Your mission is accomplished. But somehow, you are consumed by remorse and guilt.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How to Mingle

[Part 2 of "The Manual" series]

Although you may be single, keep in mind that the city is still a world of wary strangers. People come from different planets. Some are from Venus. Others are from Mars. Some others are from that anomalous place forgotten by aesthetics, a nether region where the sun never shines—Uranus. Understand that there are delicate lines. Everywhere, there are barriers shielding one innocent person from another, especially those whose thoughts, like interest on a bank loan, consistently compound ignorance with malice. One is the victim while the other is the stalker. Nobody wants to be either, including yourself, unless you see yourself as a nobody. This is not about being a nobody. This is about having one, a body to complement the willing spirit, not necessarily the intoxicating kind.

The barriers go by various names: an obtuse sense of humor, a disinterested genitalia, a mammoth waistline, a suicidal life anthem, an abundance of hair—or the lack thereof—in all the wrong places, age and—to a very real and unpleasant extent—a breath unmistakably reminiscent of the Jurassic period. Some other aberrations of the human psyche and anatomy are of the unbearable kind that the connoisseurs of decorum have yet to enumerate them in a list, cataloged according to their reckless obscenity. In all, they invite repulsion and disbelief, oftentimes in that order.

Reconnaissance is vital. Study your target from a safe distance, which is anywhere beyond the reach of the person's fists. A glance only takes a second; a millisecond more is already a stare. The first eye contact is guiltless. The subsequent retinal flirtations are clear invitations, imperatives to close the gap by taking the first step. Your knees might wobble but your desperation will keep them intact. Wear a fake smile. After all, nothing in what you do is genuine except your impulse to mingle.

Always assume the presence of an invisible wall. Dignify it with a plan on how to destroy it. Be prepared. Do not make a plan that has more holes than Bin Laden's head. Understand the situation. In front is an imposing border. You feel like an alien about to cross foreign territory under the pretext of immigration, whatever that means to you. You will sail through the faceless crowd and safely set foot elsewhere, elsewhere being a table for two, catered by no less than the other lonely soul. Approach, frigid liquor on one hand, a trembling pulse on the other, and an extemporaneous speech waiting to thrust itself from the tip of your tongue. Release. The first word ever to teeter in the air will declare your existence. All the rest will just teeter. Engage in small talk.

Never parade an obnoxious character that rightfully belongs to the sewers. The moment it rears its head with impunity, flush it immediately. Note that the table does not have ample room for an overinflated ego. You are not in a contest. The other person is not a contender you must outdo with your impassioned displays of narcissism. You have your neighbor for that purpose.

Self-immolation is never hot. Do not think that the other person will gather all the broken pieces of your life and put them on a silver platter then and there—with cherries on top. The world is already miserable. Purging the other person with a protracted monologue of your personal miseries will only make you sound like a juvenile high on narcotics. The last thing you will want a new acquaintance to remember you for is your infinite whining. Remember, there is always a cork stopper for every whine. There is also a proper venue for acting like a troll. It's called forest.

The mantra just be yourself is genius, except for one small problem: it requires that you already know yourself in the first place. But seriously, do not take it seriously, at least not yet. You know you cannot be yourself early on. You can only be someone else. You need to find yourself in others.

Which is why you have to mingle.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5