Monday, March 06, 2006



The story begins yesterday. My childhood friend, perhaps the only friend I had, came by without notice. The visit was a big surprise since it was unexpected. And I was even more surprised that he had retained that youngish look and that his hyperactive personality was not diminished a bit. But the biggest surprise for me was Jasmine. Truly, my friend is a real friend, in need and in deed.

He was the friendliest human dynamo I had ever met. Recalling our first encounter in the grade one classroom of yore, he was like a tempest in my peaceful atmosphere. And being my namesake compounded my dismay. Since he was just a transferee, the consensus was unanimous that I be called the First and he the Second. A remnant of the Spanish regime with his mestizo looks, the Second spoke with a sprinkling of Si, Por Que and catchy interrogatives like Como se llama usted and Donde vive usted. With the Spanish touch, my moniker eventually changed to the better sounding Numero Uno and later on mutated to Uno which was still acceptable to my ears. No need to say that he was called Dos. And with his dynamic personality, Dos clearly personified my alter ego.

How I relished the days when everyone called me The Dreamer. Like an ear candy, The Dreamer has a touch of class despite its literal meaning for my constant dreaming in the classroom. You see, grade one days were filled with laborious mornings and dog day afternoons so it’s only natural to nurture my inherent inclination. But the task of cultivation somewhat ceased when Dos came along.

It seemed that fate had a sinister plan on me. Dos took a fancy on my sluggishness. He started pestering me for knowledge outside of the textbooks. Things like how many birds are left if I shoot one of the 5 perched on the tree branch? Or what is it that has 4 feet in the morning, 2 at noon, and 3 in the afternoon? Being a self-proclaimed smart boy, I took the mental challenges posed by the officially proclaimed intelligent classmate of mine. That’s how I saw the difference between intelligent and smart. He was the intelligent one and I was the smart ass.

As the school days passed, the challenges that Dos hurled got harder. How could a grade one pupil figure out what really happens why the ice melts faster when an ice box cover is removed? I developed juvenile migraine in order to come up with the most plausible explanation. Without the cover, the ice melts faster because the warm air gets inside the ice box and at the same time the cold air escapes out of the ice box. So simple an answer yet full of impact on our young minds. Little did we know that the refrigerator was already a reality in other parts of the world at that time.

I got used to my alter ego’s intrusions though. Adding insult to injury, the puzzles seemed to have whetted my mental appetite such that the innocent questions elicited my excitement at times. And that same excitement was what I felt yesterday when Dos arrived. Used to living alone by my lonesome, with no real friends nor caring relatives, I couldn’t imagine myself to share what’s left of my life with a companion. Mind you, Jasmine is not just pretty but beautiful, inside and out. And to think that I had considered Dos as a pest in my young life, my inner conscience is telling me now to repent and kneel, that is, if I had the capability to do so.

Back to the olden days, I noticed my alter ego’s influence on me. I had developed the skills for deep thinking which I often practiced during my lucid intervals. That made me smarter such that I always found a way to avoid spending my energy. There’s the leaking roof that messed up my neatly written homework, a recurring headache that would exempt me from cleaning the room, and the persistent fainting spells that would excuse me from attending the flag ceremony.

The disturbance I was getting from Dos was arrested by the onset of the second World War. On the day after Christmas, my father enlisted in the resistance movement and we evacuated to the boondocks on foot. With “to each his own” as the motto during the wartime, we had to fetch our own water, causing me to be tempted to establish my own religion, one that forbids bathing. Our transient community had to move from one place to another to avoid the enemy troops. The volatile situation forced me to shelve my routinary rest periods. Living in the mountains was the most horrible chapter in my life and the only good thing that came out of it was the birthing of some legends about me.

First and foremost was the story about my open mouth waiting for the ripe guava to fall. Although not entirely true, the portrayal of sheer indolence is more of a bargain than being branded the Rip Van Winkle of the brown race. I was actually asleep under the shade of the fruiting guava tree and my open mouth was a manifestation of my difficulty of breathing due to the summer heat. Nevertheless, folks who saw my young body sprawled under the guava tree conjured up a derogatory tale that would spread fast like a nasty folklore.

The legend of the flea killer made from the powdered clay pots was also a half-truth. It wasn’t like me to bore a hole on each of the pots and tie them up with a rope. Selling clay pots was my mother’s war time business and I was tasked to transport a load on a cart pulled by a carabao. In my dreamless sleep, sounds of gunfire shook me. The smart carabao, scared of getting caught in the crossfire between the guerilla fighters and the Japanese troops, scurried to the nearby forest. The cart upturned in the process, and all the clay pots were broken. So as to recover the loss, I quickly concocted the idea of turning the broken clay pots into powder and selling it as flea killer. However, the band of guerilla, which won the skirmish, took pity on me and gave me a share of their loot. That humane gesture saved me the effort of selling the powder. It didn’t matter if I lost the opportunity of telling the would-be victims, flat in their face, that the fleas should be spoon-fed with the powder.

As for the dissolved sacks of salt in the sea, that’s another lousy yarn. I was then in a river transporting 2 sacks of rock salt when a couple of tora-tora planes hovered above. Half-dreaming, I mistook the drone of the planes for roars of thunder. With anticipation of the pouring rain, I instinctively hid the sacks under the banca. Naturally, the still waters of the river dissolved the salt. Quick thinking saved my day, however. I couldn’t imagine that people would call me Little Moses with my small mischief. Bottle after bottle, the salty water of the river was bought by miracle-believing townsfolk.

It may not be funny at all but the war eroded not only the peace of mind but also a piece of mind. The people seemed to have lost their common sense. Just like my optimistic mother, townsfolk were always in search of hope, logical or otherwise. Desperation was the order of the day. It took time for the war to end. It also took time for my mother and I to accept the reality - that my father would not be coming back anymore. As a consolation, it still makes me feel proud to realize that patriotic blood is running in my veins.

Aside from the torment and the misadventures, the war had also given me something worthwhile to be thankful for. The school records were destroyed hence pupils were enrolled not on their merits but simply based on their ages. I passed for a high school student and found out that high school life was a replay of the elementary years but with some modifications. Sleeping in class was strictly prohibited so I had to improvise by learning how to sleep with my eyes open. Believe me, it’s impossible to do that. There were no cleaners nor blackboard erasers but work was terrible with the essay and the drudgery of reading the literature book almost ruptured my medulla oblongata.

Fortunately, Dos was there to spice up my boredom. His innate dynamism had grown parallel to his height and his inquisitive mind metamorphosed into a creative one. I wasn’t surprised that the lanky mestizo had turned into an amateur inventor. But unlike Edison who created the inventions by his own devices, Dos commissioned me as a silent partner. Being a friend, I relented without hesitation. And to lend credence to our secret partnership, my small bedroom was converted into a laboratory of sorts.

Our first venture was the Adhesive Snap that would replace the troublesome zipper. The early zippers easily developed rust due to constant laundering. And when an accident happens, that of a jammed zipper, shame is showered on the hapless victim. It was my alter ego’s idea to use a woolen surface and it was to my credit to complement it with the bristles of a worn out toothbrush. The two surfaces, when attached to each other, proved to be the perfect match although the adhesion was far from perfect. It would have been the first Velcro except that my partner’s attention immediately meandered to the second invention - an anti-rust soap. No one could blame me since, as I said, I was just a silent partner and not responsible for pushing the idea nor gain the desire to propose a patent to it.

Sans the benefit of a chemistry subject, the Anti-rust Soap was doomed to fail. After each trial that turned my bedroom into a warehouse of bubbles and soapsuds, we were always back to square one. The emergence of stainless steel zippers snapped our string of patience. My alter ego’s desire for the anti-rust Soap quickly dissolved in the sea of oblivion

The next project was an easy one. A “strike anywhere” match. From the common procedure of using saliva to mix the matchhead with the black substance in the matchbox, we employed the use of a paste. More hygienic and scientific, the mixture gave birth to the “strike anywhere” match. So far, that was our nearest stab to success. But marketing tests told us that the matchbox is a de rigueur partner of the matchsticks. It is foolish to carry matchsticks in one’s pocket unless one carries a fire extinguisher. That finding made me realize that the war was over and common sense was back in the people’s heads.

Heartbroken with the successive failures, Dos temporarily suppressed his inventive glands. Regaining back the control over my own little world made me smile in delight. But the smile did not last long. My workaholic mother succumbed to pneumonia caused by excessive fatigue. Born with a lucky paw, I was left to the care of a rich spinster aunt who spoiled me with everything that money can buy. But the lucky paw’s powers ran out sooner than I expected. My aunt unceremoniously followed her sister to the grave, courtesy of Tubercle Bacilli, a lung disease commonly known as TB. That was the time I learned that I was to inherit a fortune. That was also the time I quit school to pursue my chosen vocation.

Having the big house in Manila all for myself, I could do whatever I wished not to do. My nights were spent in dreaming with eyes closed and my days were spent in daydreaming with closed eyes. Hired hands provided my earthly needs, from the food in the morning, fresh, crisp clothes, and even companionship at times I felt afraid to be alone. I learned to be friendly with the transistor radio. The antique narra sofa adorning the living room became my daytime companion. No need to declare that I had achieved absolute contentment at that early age.

But my enviable routine was temporarily halted when Dos, already a high school senior, located my whereabouts. As I guessed it, it was about another silly invention. It may be a wonder why a valedictorian in the graduating class would seek me out for consultation. Being intelligent is simply having acquired knowledge and being smart is having inherent analytical capabilities. Nowhere in the textbook would you find the information that shooting one of the 5 birds perched on a tree would cause all the other birds to fly. Only a smart boy can answer that simple question.

The J-S prom was nearing and Dos had wanted to show off with something that would enhance the affair. Although cautious of electricity, I didn’t have the heart to refuse and easily obliged to his request with nary an argument. In the tradition of my bedroom in our old house, the spacious basement was converted into a laboratory for the creation of his dancing lights.

It was fun working on the dancing lights. After deciding on which color to use, Dos hastily assembled a prototype. He would dance during every trial while I made mental notes of my observation. The constant blinking of the yellow-orange lights produced the desired optical effect. An inept dancer would appear adept with the interference of our Constant Blinker. It would have been a great night for Dos if only the prom was not held outdoors. The barn dance was in vogue at that time and the prom was held in a farm without prior notice to the attendees. Complete with torches and a bonfire, the barn dance was a success and my alter ego’s ego was in ruins. The Constant Blinker never saw daylight and it occupied a special place in our basement. It didn’t occur to me that it could have been the first hazard lights for stalled vehicles. But how in the world could I have an inkling when the king of the road then were the calesas and karetelas?

That disappointment somehow deterred my alter ego’s determination. For the nth time, Dos was gone with the wind. Regaining the treasured privacy in pursuit of my chosen profession, I immersed my ears with the radio drama and Tia Dely’s lilting voice in the evening, the daytime monologue of Damian Soto and the cute Bataan Matamis advertisement of Johnny De Leon’s hare-lipped assistant. But in between my night and day dreaming, I dared to venture into story-making. It would have been great to be a legendary writer but the legend remained a legend since the tape recorder was not yet invented then. Since the story had to be written and I couldn’t find a personal secretary who writes good so I junked the idea permanently.

My pastime broadened with the popularity of komiks and Liwayway. Contrary to the eye-straining literature in the classroom, the graphical presentation of the komiks was very appealing to my eyes. It’s exhilarating to gaze at the neatly-drawn characters of Darna, Dyesebel, and even Kengkoy and Rosing. The thrill of reading Zuma’s immortality made my Mondays, that’s when the Pilipino Komiks was delivered to my doorsteps.

My horizon expanded some more. My househelp’s fondness for dama, the local checkers board game, contaminated me for a while. After learning the mechanics in so short a time, I immediately dominated the informal matches. One by one, the neighborhood bums fell victim to my intrepid moves and brilliant gambits. Running out of opponents, the only recourse was to seek players in other neighborhoods. That was the reason why my excitement for dama succumbed to natural death. I was moving the checkers with my hands but I wouldn’t tolerate a move using my feet.

It was one moonlit night when Dos resurfaced out of the blue. I didn’t recognize him at once with his sideburns and big-collared pink shirt. He was holding a blueprint and a small bag when I lazily opened the door. As expected, another invention was in the offing. Dos confided to me his obsession for Elvis Presley’s music but he didn’t want people to get the impression that he was a musical maniac. The transistor radio was a craze then but it surely was odd to see one carrying the portable radio in spreading the gospel of Elvis. What Dos had in mind was a smaller radio that could be concealed inside a hat.

The preliminary work was a breeze. We opened up the wooden case of the brand new transistor radio that he brought along and tinkered with the resistors, transistors and capacitors. And then it dawned on me. That wooden chip board could be abridged by removing the pilot light and the tuner guide. That simple. Dos worked on my suggested design. In a matter of weeks the CTR, short for Compact Transistor Radio, was fitted in a stylish balanggot hat. But there was a snag that we failed to anticipate. The protruding antenna would make one look like a creature from a space ship. Certainly Dos wouldn’t relish that side-effect. But there was no way the antenna could be shortened lest the signal becomes garbled. Like the previous inventions, the CRT acquired a space in our private museum. Anyone can now guess that it could have been the grandfather of the Walkman.

Getting used to failures, that last one didn’t dampen my alter ego’s spirit. While working as a full time clerk in a small American company, Dos came up with a series of inventions during his spare time. There was the heater-fan that was supposed to provide warm air, the gas-powered stove that wasn’t meant to explode, and the rotating laundry which was intended to clean and not to destroy clothes. The basement museum is now a depository of 54 inventions, all unpatented, undocumented and would not pass the safety standards. The number stopped at 54 when Dos passed the U.S. Navy examination. He left for Subic and was gone for good. Or so I thought.

My alter ego’s inventive acumen seemed to have rubbed off on me a bit so I gave my own inventive ability a break. The portable hammock, which can be placed in a desired spot under the shade of a tree, elicited not a few orders from professional idlers like me. But the cash register failed to ring because I refused to deliver the item. I therefore concluded that my confederates in the profession had no energy to pick up the merchandise. Case closed. On looking back, it might have been different if Dos was around. His hyperactive personality would definitely make a difference when it comes to hard selling.

Even far away and totally estranged, Dos remained a friend in my mind. In fact, he can be considered the greatest friend especially with the present he brought me yesterday. Barring the shades of ancient slavery, Jasmine, according to Dos, is guaranteed to be loyal, willing and able to provide assistance, and has a brain to understand and grant, any and all, of my requests. Truly, Jasmine is the greatest gift that I received in my entire life.

Aside from Jasmine’s arrival, what mattered most to me was my alter ego’s concern for my well-being, whims, and caprices. I still vividly remember his first homecoming from his U.S. naval duty. He had a walkie-talkie for a present so I could call on my househelp without exerting much throat effort. There was a long lull after that visit until I learned that he got out of the navy and landed a well-paying job in New Jersey. By the way, I got to know of the developments in rare occasions that he wrote me a letter. Via postal mail I received news of his marriage to a gorgeous Latina, the four kids that followed and lately the big number of grandchildren.

His next visit was when he snatched away my attention from the transistor radio with the portable TV set he brought along, fresh from the United States. After fitting the antenna and the power cord, the TV came to life with an interview of 4 mop-haired guys from England. Purportedly popular, the weird band’s name escapes my mind now because I wasn’t interested in music. But in fairness to my sharp mind, I can still fully recall the band’s primary sponsor which was Pepsi.

I ignored the TV at first but eventually got my eyes used to the chore of staring at the black and white screen. Although the programs were not appealing at all, there were many things I learned from it. The TV was the instrument that pushed me to sports, I mean watching sports telecast. The YCO team was lording it over in the MICAA of the olden days until the Crispa-Toyota rivalry came into fore. But unlike the common tao, I did not worship the sweet shooting Atoy Co or the long-limbed Phillip Cezar. Mind you, not even the hot-tempered Jaworski. What I cherished most was Joe Cantada’s booming voice which served as my lullaby on my way to dreamland.

Another benefit I gained, that black and white TV was my interactive connection to the real world. Because of it, I got to know of Martial Law’s declaration. Because of the TV, I witnessed the historic People Power in EDSA. Just to clarify matters, the TV experienced a blackout for two days before someone intimated to me the prevailing state of Martial Law. There was a loss of channels when the People Power was going on. Fortunately I heard the Radyo Bandido broadcast of June Keithly from our neighbor’s blaring transistor radio.

Amid my indulgence on the idiot box called TV, the idea of wireless control did cross my mind a number of times. If only Dos was with me, we could have developed the first TV remote controller. But what a coincidence! My alter ego seemed to have heard me telepathically despite the great distance that separated us. As was his wont, he came without warning and replaced the old TV with a new one, a 17-inch color TV with a sleek, light and handy remote control. It was the best thing that ever happened to professional idlers like me. The TV set can be turned on or off with just a click. Another press on the button can change the channel or adjust the volume. Despite slightly increasing my waking hours, the color television set with remote control became my second best friend, only next to Dos, of course.

I didn’t care, and still don’t, if the computer is more thrilling and more beneficial. I wouldn’t want to suffer mental fatigue with the complexity of operating the computer so I refused it when Dos brought me one. Despite the challenge he posed, I stood pat. With sincerity in his voice, Dos wanted me to learn the internet and email. Although his homebase was a classy flat in faraway Manhattan, we could communicate via email or maybe even thru chat sessions. And to think that he braved the city traffic at the height of EDSA 2’s People Power, the heart of an ordinary mortal would have melted. Really, his genuine concern was more than enough to move mountains but my steadfast refusal for the preservation of my stagnation was firmer than the Rock of Gibraltar. That was his last visit, aside from yesterday’s.

By the way, at that time Dos was just hired by a big corporation called Microsoft which later turned out to be Microsoap. That brought to my mind his attempt to invent an anti-rust soap. Perhaps if we had pushed for it we may have developed the first anti-rust paint for car undercoating. It was ironic that my alter ego would eventually be working for a soap company. But he countered that Microsoap deals with the thing called nano technology. My lethargic brain didn’t catch all the gobbledygooks he was rattling but I got the gist that it’s all about chemistry. I didn’t ask but I assumed that Dos, after all, finished Chemical Engineering. All along I thought Dos brought the computer to deaden the impact of another invention in the offing. But I got him wrong there. Maybe Microsoap had provided Dos with the sponge to absorb his inventive juices.
Me in my automated wheelchair

For my part, I have the Rolling Couch to boot. The prototype was a folding chair made of bamboo. Then I enhanced it by using woven rattan fiber which was softer but still provided good ventilation. It could be used both as a chair and a lounging piece that’s fit for slouching. When the sofa bed gained fame, I hastily came out with version 1.3, a remodeled design to achieve softness and a semblance of elegance. Still made of rattan fiber but with foam and colored sheets, the architecture mimicked the sofa bed so I could sit back, relax, and get to sleep anytime. And, of course, the main feature of the Rolling Couch is the mobility. It’s a wonderful feeling to be moving from one location to another inside my big house. Indeed, the Rolling Couch saved me the effort of walking.

Speaking of walking, I had not walked for quite a time. My condition belied my answer to the puzzle about the 3 feet in the morning, 2 at noon and 3 in the afternoon. Isn’t it that I used 4 limbs to crawl as a baby and walked on my two feet as an adult? But now, in my advanced years, I couldn’t even use a cane. Perhaps my answer to the said puzzle was still correct, it’s just that I am already in the night and had failed to notice the passing of the afternoon in my life.

The doctor said that my legs had atrophied. Obvious that my arthritic hands couldn’t open a dictionary, the doctor clarified that atrophy is the decaying of muscles due to lack of use. Feeling some panic, I decided to consult a specialist. But personal assistance at that time was rare when most of the neighbors were either working abroad or studying to work overseas. Besides, I was afraid that the specialist would prescribe physical therapy which literally means exercise. With the help of the neighborly kid, I was able to write and mail a letter to Dos about my sad predicament.

That was two years ago. Sadly, I didn’t get a reply. But the fact that he dropped by yesterday, his unannounced visit was worth the agony of waiting. As he came inside my house, Dos immediately introduced Jasmine to me. That was yesterday. Today, Jasmine exhibits total control as if she is the alter ego of my physical self. She does all the chores up to the extent of carrying me to the bathroom and doing things for me that I should be doing myself when inside there. Commissioned to be my lifetime companion, Jasmine had pledged to take good care of me until I breath my last which I reckon is not a bit far. She would provide not only my physical needs but also my mental and emotional needs as well. It’s really heartwarming to think that Jasmine is the only successful invention of Dos. And I’m willing to bet all my time deposit certificates that no one would suspect Jasmine to be a robot.

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