Martes, Agosto 25, 2009

On the back of a truck: A punk rock sumvac

(I sent this to the 2007 “If My Life Were a Book” essay-writing contest of the Philippine Star, and I don’t think they’re going to publish this...for obvious reasons.)

Parental advisory: This article contains four-letter words not suitable for adults (but there isn’t anything in here that you haven’t heard/used before).

They say that if a writer pours his heart and soul into his work, that work lives--or gets turned into a movie. If my life were a book I wish its pages would burn with the passion of On the Road--a mid-50’s paperback that hardly anyone reads. But it appears that a certain Jack Kerouac has done his job rather well. For life does imitate art--even fiction of the transgressive kind. And these are two days from one of those lives:

May 19, Monday. Work is a four-letter word and we were all so pretty vacant. I was on forced leave from my Makati slave job after my five-month contract expired. Louie was on summer vacation from his sixth year in art school. Philip had just gotten out of college and, like all of my friends, was jobless as fuck. Slowly being killed by the heat wave in Bulacan and the hopeless boredom of our modern existench, we thought of going up north: Baguio. Only problem was, we were all dead broke.

Not to worry, with a combined total of 200 pesos in our pockets, Louie and I grabbed our good old backpacks. Two shirts, two shorts, a pair of underwear, a sweater, a sleeping bag, and a lot of courage are all we’ll need for a week. From Malolos crossing, we took a jeepney to Tabang tollgate (several rides actually, ‘cuz we just hitchhiked). Then we were off on a van carrying drums of chemicals to Manila. We arrived at SM City in time for supper and met up with Philip who came all the way from down south--Cavite.

Before hunting/gathering food at the basement, we planted our butts on the mall’s benches and watched all the credit card-operated automatons, este, people around us. The masa window-shopping; coƱos and phonies speaking in colegiala tongues; the burgis and jologs displaying their signature clotheshoes, expensive cameraphones, and all the scum of consumer culture. Ah, the fashion show of life where you are no more than the logo on your shirt, the model of your celfone, or the contents of your shopping bag. At the food court, I had quite a fill of food scraps and leftovers from plates half-full and soda bottles half-empty. Imagine all the waste our fastfood mentality churns out every single day, while many of our kababayans subsist on instant mami noodles--if they’re lucky. By the way, Louie and Philip are vegetarians while I’m “freegan”--that is, I’ll eat anything as long as I don’t have to buy it. Lured by posters saying “Sale!” I took the up-escalator to the department store and indulged in a shopping spree. Socks, a towel, a bonnet--I got ‘em all on 100% discount. Thanks to the overworked sales ladies and underpaid security guards who, like me, are just cogs in the machine.

It was closing time when the three of us jumped on a bus going to Balintawak. From Cloverleaf interchange, we walked to the Camachile tollgate under the cover of darkness, and waited in the shadows. Our prey came in the form of a ten-wheeler truck with “Vegetable Dealer” scrawled on its sides. As the driver stopped to pay the toll, we pounced on it and scaled its eight-foot high body. Fat-assed Louie had trouble getting on and was left dangling like a pile of shit just as the truck was speeding towards the North Luzon Expressway. A bunch of shocked tollway cops tried to give chase on foot but thought better as the herd of speeding vehicles overran them. Hanging on to dear life, Philip and I hauled poor Louie’s carcass onboard.

With hands for pillows and frayed ropes for beds, we lay on our backs, faced the night sky, and told our stories as if around a campfire. It’s the sensation of sucking the marrow out of life, of the wind rustling your hair, of bathing in the light of the moon, of counting the stars, of sleeping in a blanket of clouds. At two in the morning, the driver, who hadn’t the slightest idea of his extra cargo, made a stopover at Hacienda Luisita. We dropped ourselves off and hopped on another truck, much to his dismay. Surveying my surroundings, I couldn’t help but wonder how much land a person really needs.

May 20, Tuesday. The red skyline greeted us at Rosario Junction, just at the foot of Baguio. From there, we got a ride to Pogo, then to Marcos Highway. A great thing about riding on the back of trucks is that I get to interact with the scenery and all. It’s an experience alien to commuters who are trapped inside the comfort of their airconditioned cars. For one, I get a certain kind of high smelling the air and the grass and the soil and, somehow, the cow dung. Can you put a value on a beautiful day?

Touchdown. First on our list was the City of Pines’ downtown ukay-ukays or wagwagans. I always thought that changing our consumption patterns, buying second-hand stuff, or recycling saves a lot of things: labor, raw materials, energy, and money. Not to mention it minimizes the junk we dump on earth. For lunch, I asked this girl at the carinderia if she could spare me some tutong. She obliged with a bagful, plus tirang ulam. Ah, the kindness of total strangers. There is hope for humanity. As for my two companions whose food group is different from mine, they had to find other means to secure their nourishment. Asking vegetable/fruit vendors for rejects, my friends had proven that if you use fictitious pet rabbits as an excuse, you’ll get free food. For some strange reason, telling people you’ll eat their spoils turns them off.

As the last light drained and the cold mists rolled into the empty streets, we found ourselves climbing one of the tribal Ifugao huts on display at the Botanical Garden. Amidst the wet cobblestones, eerie animal sounds, creepy plants, and thick fog, we rested like modern primitives and slept the sleep of the just. For no matter what glamor magazines and reality TV shows profess, there is a difference between life and survival. There is more to being alive than just having a heartbeat and brain activity.

So, if you’re life were made into a book, would you read it? Is reading things as exciting as doing them? Could danger be joyous? How much of your life comes at you through a book, vicariously?

Hippie is a punker masquerading as a writer. He is not a president of anything and spends his time daydreaming. You may reach him at