Sunday, February 7, 2010

First Call

“There are two moments in life where you are totally alone. One is when you are dead. And the other is when you are going to give a speech”

-Oscar Wilde

That’s only one of Wilde’s immortal quotations. A great philosopher, thinker, writer, and declaimer that he is, certainly he is the best person to create a perfect metaphor on the scenarios of solitude.

Bur if only Oscar Wilde had been a Customer Service Representative (or a Call Center Agent, as the greater proportion of the society would generically call it), he would not go as far as giving a speech, or for Pete’s sake – being dead – just to describe what “being alone” really means. Having the first call is more than enough.

It was nine o’clock in the morning. While the sun is shining benevolently on the urban paradise known as Makati, giving the atmosphere of hope to its inhabitants, I am sitting inside the air-conditioned 8th floor room of our building, having cold hell. After a month of grammar drills, customer service preparations, communication enhancement exercises, and product knowledge trainings, I have come to this singular moment that will determine whether I am cut for the job or just a desperate piece of hopeless crap trying to fit myself in. The first call.

No, it’s not the usual, scripted, by-the-book, mock calls that we used to have where we talk to our trainers who will twist their accent just to give the feel that you are talking to a foreign customers, or the QA’s trying to be irate just to give the impression of the real thing. This time, it’s a real foreigner, from a foreign land, with a foreign culture, barrelling me with an equally foreign problem that only God knows whether I have the capacity to address or not.

Even Melory, though the top agent that she is, couldn’t even give me the presence of help. It’s either she didn’t give the help that I needed or she only distracted me (Women!). I wore the headset; she pushed the “Auto-In” button on the phone, and I heard a beeping sound, which means a call is coming.

Back in the olden times, a loud trumpet sound roaring through a kingdom means that a furious, revolting, and raging enemy is coming to raise hell, crush its mettle, and take glory from it. The beeping sound is not very different. It means that a furious, revolting, and raging customer is calling to raise hell, crush your mettle, and take (money) credits from you.

After that sound, I know, I am alone. I don’t have anyone. It’s just me and this customer. No one else. I am alone. There is no turning back. Great men from history never turn their backs. So I am.


Honestly, I want to go with my spiel like this. But I know I can’t. It doesn’t only sound stupid; it looks so obscene as well. So I went on with my usual, energetic, and rattling spiel:


I waited for the customer at the end of the line to speak, everything is scary. Then it answered. It sounds like an otherworldly language from an unknown land. Only to find out it’s English. I can’t understand anything. She started talking about some numbers and words, but my hands won’t move to type the keys. Time stopped. Everything went dark. From that moment I have only one dismal conclusion: I’m going to mess this call. Shit happens.

“The customer wants to check her account, get her phone number.”

No it wasn’t my customer. The voice isn’t from my headset. It came from someone physically there for me. It was Melory, sitting beside me, listening to the call, and ready to give a helping hand. Her round eyes behind her eye glasses seem to say “What the hell are you worrying about? The top agent’s here. I am here” And from that moment I instantly knew. Hope has come. (Ahh! Women!!!)

It turned out that I was talking to an agent also, asking information about a customer. Melory supplied what I am going to ask, and what I am going to say, with me articulating it with the smoothest American accent my tongue can produce. A puppeteer and her puppet on its work. Inch by inch we carried out.

“There’s always the first time.” 

She said after the call.

“My first call was also rattling.”

But deep inside I know I’m not rattled. I’m terrorized.

My first call wasn’t something to be proud of. It almost became a mess. Thanks to Melory. I thought I would be a smooth flow of conversation between two people from different land, but from the sound of it, it more sounds like a hostage negotiation. Full of misstatements and misunderstandings. But that will not me prevent me from going on, especially there are people like her who will always give that “What the hell are you worrying about? I am here.” feeling, until come that day when I will no longer need it. Until come that day when it’s my turn to give that kind of help to other agents who needs to survive their first call.

Adam Creed

I believe in Man and in his Destiny.
In the Daughters of Adam, and
the Sons of Eve.
I believe in his Compassion,
in his Courage, in his Intellect.
And in his Potential and Resolve
to alter Fate,
however clouded and hard it may be.

I believe that in Weakness,
he will find Strength;
In Confusion, he will Understand;
In Suffering, he will earn Peace.
Though how fragile and delicate,
He can persist and prevail.

I believe in his Laws and Principles.

In his Science and Inventions.
I believe in his Ethics and Righteousness
To use them, not for ruin.
But for the good of all.
I believe in Man.

And Man alone.

The Talented Mr. De Guzman

“The super carrier, USS Enterprise is the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the eighth U.S. Naval vessel to bear the name. It has a power projection of 20,000 miles radius…”

This was what I saw glaring in my brother's computer monitor during a visit (actually an emergency errand) to his house. I went there summoning his almighty aid (and sacrificing my Thesis Class) for a Public Relations Plan assignment.

To his (and his wife's) surprise, I arrived there with hardly any research at all. I was there ready to make a pair of shoes out of shoe laces. Another classic case of “silly younger brother did not use his brain again”.

But still, my brother taught me. It was part-breakfast talk, part-business lecture, and part-class discussion. As a whole, it was the Sermon on the Mount Zion.

I’d almost developed a growing interest on this field (which I know will not progress because of my dysfunctional propensity towards mathematics). At the end of the Sermon, he told me:

“You should have taken Business (Management. Or any goddamn course connected to it) instead.”

Of course, as what would a full pledge Servant of Journalism with iron-clad faith to its principles and tenets will do, I retracted with great pride and tremendous courage:

“I can't. I am into writing. This is my talent. I was born with this. It’s innate in me.”

But my brother is not ready to give up. In his usual, arrogant, pragmatic, downplaying, I-presume-you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about-kid-so-you’d-better-go-home tone, he unleashed his counter-attack (in his usual, thick, fluent American-English accent, of course):

“So you think you have talent in writing? And it’s innate in you?


I answered, gulping my saliva through my throat. The great pride and tremendous courage I possessed seemed to evolve into some microscopic, insignificant entity. Or maybe it had gone with my saliva.

“Whoever told you that talent is innate; introduce him to me. Or better yet, just tell him ‘Go and take a hike.’.”

And next is a discourse that gradually (and painfully) debacles my hard-earned beliefs. Principles that I had held-on during my entire learning years. I am a block of ice facing the desert sun.

“People are not born with talent in them. Each human being is born with only a single trait called urge. During his primitive years, this is the only thing he holds on. The urge to survive. The urge to live. The urge to learn. The urge to dominate above all living things.

"As man progresses, this urge turns to learning. Learning becomes knowledge. This knowledge turns into habit. And, through life long practice and serious mastery, this habit turns into talent. It gives you the illusion that you are born with it because it somehow gotten into you. You mastered it and made it your second nature.

"Because of this urge, man was able to create many things to secure his place among other species and among other men as well. He was able to create something like the USS Enterprise. This sanctimonious macro-machine has a power-projection of 20,000 miles radius. Meaning it can nuke out and literary liquidate anything(or anyone) within its 20,000-mile radius. Talent alone cannot do that. The urges do.”

It may be hard to admit, but he has lot of reasons to say that.

Nick de Guzman, a six-foot something mountain of muscle, packs better genes, and pride of our family, is a product of the Corporate World. From being a humble graduate of Computer Programming, he had gone through gazillions of seminars, workshops and other tedious trainings. He had jumped from one field to another, from Computer Sciences, to Information Technology, to Marketing Stratagems, to Corporate Management, to Business, to Financial Disciplines, at the same time hoping from one country to another, training other Asians in the same field (who would ironically someday rule over us, economically and geopolitically speaking).

The Corporate World, being ruled with corporate Big-Whigs, expert bureaucrats, and financially-inclined peddlers, do not care with people who have talents, those possessing innate but limited skills. What matters to them are those who can, and who will do different range of things at command. People who had amassed different skills through experience. Versatility and multi-tasking is the keyword here. Talent is only something you can put to your curriculum vitae to make it look good. But everything in the real work is beyond the paper.

It is the urge. The urge to survive the Corporate Jungle. The urge to live its ways and expectations. The urge to learn its mechanics and working systems. And the urge to dominate this domain, above everyone else. These are the things that matters most.

After a few minutes of head-aching, nose-bleeding thinking and meditation, I finally made my PR Plan, with hardly any research at all. I made shoes out of shoe-laces. At least I can declare to myself, with great pride and tremendous courage, I am talented.

I believe I deserve the benefit of the doubt here.

For more about career paths and career confusions, check Ephemeral Dreams in Transient Worlds and its continuation, When Impermanence is God.

Riddle of God

"I love God… that’s why I’m doing this. Send this to fifteen of the most special persons in your phonebook in your before December 15. Don’t ignore. If you fail, you will lose the most special person in your life. If you really love God… you will send this."

A friend sent me this text message from a few days ago. I was in a jeep on the way to my classmate; I almost fall from my seat when I read this. This was just one of the few "Send this if you love God" text messages that constantly barrages my sophisticated, state-of the-art Nokia 3310 (courtesy of my nephew). But this one goes to the extreme.

The text message looks like a harmless test of faith. It only wants me to express my deep devotion to God by disseminating them to fifteen friends, the way you send your "quotable quotes" by the likes of Majin Boo, Manny Paquiao, and panty napkins to every person in your phonebook (If you hadn’t received any of these messages, you must be living under a rock). Everyone will agree, loving Him is a must for every person. I can hear the faithfuls now saying in chorals "Wouldn’t you care to give a few push of the buttons for Him?"

Remember, I gave you your fingers.

But if God will really kill your most precious if you fail to send them to fifteen most special and gullible person in your phone book, if God will really liquidate the most important person in your life if you don’t do it until the December 15 due, If God will really nuke everything out if you don’t proclaim to the whole wide world that you really love Him, then God must be the most egoistic, malevolent, and murderous self-serving tyrant I’ve ever known. He alone can give shame to Nero, Adolf Hitler, and (our very own) Ferdinand Marcos combined and rolled together.

Has God, through time, evolved into something like this? Had he become someone who wants to hear He is loved and executes everyone who didn’t? Goddamn it. Now I can see the sense of these words.

When I saw the message and eventually think about it, it harks me back to the time when our zero to hero Robert Langdon still rocks (until Tom Hanks came in). In Angels and Demons, when Vittoria Vetra asked him if he believes in God, our humble symbologist categorically answered:

"I can’t see the sense of believing in a God who, in all His omnipotence, creates imperfect humans, and then sends them to hell for their faults"

Well, perhaps, this is the biggest paradox of all. Who really is God? Some people (priests, preachers, Elie Soriano) will say they know Him. But, if all the mysteries the physical universe had possessed, with the biological complexities a single human cell has, and with astronomical mathematical figures like the Googol (number 1 followed by 100 zeros, not the search engine, you berth) or the Googolplex (number 1 followed by a Gogool of zeroes, makes me dizzy just thinking about it), each of these things is too big for the human comprehension, if God is greater than all of these combined, how can we say we know Him?

Paradoxes, they are as complicated (and as answerable) as the concept of God itself. Good thing I had unlimited load that day, otherwise I could have not sent that! Whew! That was close!

If you want to know what God's greatest creation thinks about, check out Adam Creed, or what other God is ruling with us, in When Impermanence is God.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


It is one cold Monday night. As the pitch black darkness shrouds the gray earth outside, I am alone inside my house, vegetating in the comfort of my room, reading a good book, Memnoch the Devil. My favorite. There are many books in our shelf. Some even older than me. I even found one titled “The Language of Letting Go”. I find this crappy. Who cares about someone letting go someone? It’s already the dilemma of the possessive and the problem of the apathetic. Not mine.

My love for the dark and the unknown has always been unquenched, and this book is just the right stuff for that thirst.

But the dead silence of the night and the cold November wind is too strong. Sleepiness attacked me. And so I began my trip to the Land of Nod.

But suddenly the phone broke the tranquillity of my mortal pre-slumber. Alarmed and disturbed, I managed to pick it up and say the usual “hello”.

There is no answer.

I realized it’s already two in the morning. The pranksters must be starting their silly modus operandi. So I decided to go back to bed.

But even before I hit another sleep, the phone rang irritatingly again. So again, I answered.


The line crackled, and produced some weird noise. An otherworldly sound. I recognized it’s a “hello”. It sounds as if I’m talking to a walkie-talkie, or a transistor radio. But whatever it is, the voice was familiar. Eerily familiar. I don’t want to think it that way, but I can’t be wrong. Chill starts to crawl up my spine.

It's that Thing again.

In a desperate attempt, I resort to hide my self in to some other identity. I changed my voice. Sounding braver.


Then it hung up. It knows I’m here.

I can’t move. Fear strikes me. I must get out of this house. Go somewhere else. To my friend perhaps. That Thing is only somewhere else, or more proximal than I think. And it will wreck its way here in my domicile before I knew it. And when that happens, I can’t imagine what will happen next.

I dressed in thick clothes, and left. I hit the dark and murky road, praying that I will not crossed roads with it. Or any of its shadows.

Finally, I reached my friend’s abode. I open the gates (I unnoticeably left it opened), run the yard, and ring the doorbell.

Strangely and unfortunately, no one’s answering.

The house is empty. No one’s home.

Then I heard a metallic shrill behind me. Someone’s opening the gates wider. The thing tracked me there. Realizing my fate, I closed my eyes.

“This is unexpected”. A familiar voice spoke.

I turned on to see that is. It is my friend. He went out to buy some cigarettes.

“So. She’s still bothering you, right?”

I just smiled, realizing I am safe, at least now. But he’s right. There’s no worse than running away from an ex-girlfriend. She’s possessive, selfish, and adamant. I am, on the other hand, apathetic, indifferent, and lethargic. These combined, all hell will break loose. Worse than any nightmare anyone could think of. Letting go isn’t just anyone’s problem. It’s my problem.

It is one cold Monday night. As the pitch black darkness shrouds the gray earth outside, I am at my friend’s house. Cold. Trembling. Safe. But only for now.

Tomorrow, or in the days to follow, the haunting starts anew.

If you liked this article, check out Stargazers Under The Starless Skies for more about threading the night. And speaking of the night, find out why Batman is awesome on Only Human.

Pandora's Box

The past few days had not been so nice to me. An illness attacked me. I’m somewhere between having a bronchitis and having a pneumonia. And it had taken too much toll on me. Night chills, heavy feeling, and a chest pain that feels like someone has tap danced over my chest the other night. And most of all, I failed to join our theater workshop, more particularly, the Tanay outing (it’s a great blow to me, you bet). A friend called me "weakling", but it doesn’t cut it. Even Muhammad "The Perfect Human Specimen" Ali had pneumonia once, what chance would I have?

And while the rest of thespians were enjoying sixty kilometres away in that rustic and untamed paradise called Tanay, I was in my house feeling the metaphorical and cold prison cell of this illness. I’m trapped in my house. And so, with nothing to do, I piled myself under - no, not blankets - but books. Yes. I read. Anything. Old pocketbooks, magazines, high school essays, college papers, old song hits, DVD cover summaries, pamphlets. Anything that can feed my head and kill boredom, I read.

Not too long when my materials were exhausted, so I searched through drawers and old stockpiles for any other book that I hadn’t read yet. Deep within the recesses of my cabinet, I found something. Wrapped inside a white plastic bag, it was an orange card board box. Not so big, about 8 x 10 inches in size. It had been there for four years now, untouched, unvisited, and unearthed. Then a flood of memories came, and it came like crashing dominoes.

An ex-girlfriend gave this box near the end of high school years when we broke off, that’s four years ago. She did not have a graceful exit, nor did I. The relationship was fantastic at first, seemed like "Tristan and Isolde". But then it had become tragic in the end, more like "Alien vs. Predator". She gave this souvenir. It contained a broken picture frame, torn pictures, shattered CD’s, and other memorabilia that had gone through otherworldly disorientations. She had given me this as a souvenir, a constant and friendly reminder of how malignant, heartless and callous monster I was. Something I don’t personally think I really am. Nice gift.

Now the box lay in front of me. My plan was to throw it to just vegetate in the comfort of our garbage can. I don’t want to open it. Fearing that her wrath would come out and haunt me again, much like the Pandora’s Box. Is it guilt? Is it weakness? Am I really a "weakling"? I don’t really know. But I had to face this fear, or i wouldn’t get out of it. As what the diminutive Saiyan prince had put it, "What fails to kill you, makes you stronger". So I pulled the "Pandora’s Box", unwrapped, and opened it.

No wrath came out. No haunting. Just a bunch of things that I regret I had not paid much importance in my high school years. A stained "Pinakamagandang Script" sash (yes, I won this in my second year for writing "Florante’t Laura"), torn pictures of our field trip in Subic (much like a jigsaw puzzle), torn pictures of our high school escapades (also another jigsaw puzzle, but much more funnier), birthday cards (with one that read "Ryan! You are a year older now! But it looked three to you!") , among other things. No, I don’t see fear in the picture, not even guilt, something that she seemed to want me to see at that time. I saw only memories, things that remind me how happier I could be, if only I had paid more attention to them. My friends.

I returned the orange card board box neatly to the cabinet. Still wrapped in its white plastic bag, it looks much more the same, but it seemed to be different now. I forget the idea of throwing it. Who wants to throw memories? Especially when they are so long ago and beautiful. The box would lay there for, say four years again, or perhaps more. It will be brattled by years, or be yellowed by age. Or maybe time will totally decay it. Souvenirs are so fragile, so impermanent. Fortunately, memories are not. But by that time I can be sure I’m a different person, someone somewhat stronger, because I faced my fears, and they failed to kill me.


It started one hot morning, I just can’t remember exactly when. Everything is fine. Even the meal is fine. Nilagang baka, grilled hito, and a pitcher of ice cold soft drink, things that can remind you how great it is to live. And just like any good meal I encounter, I face them with utmost enthusiasm and enjoyment.

After that, my family began to prepare right away. They’re going somewhere else, to my uncle’s house in Laguna perhaps for a little family reunion. Not me. I hate family reunions. It’s so sissy. I have other plans. Iturned my attention to the stack of books in my table. Maybe I’d just read books. No, bad idea. “Read books. So you can read between the lines”, my brother would always say, but I won’t mind. There’s so much that I can do than waste my time on them.

Some two hours later and I’m on my way to school. I don’t have any classes, or any meetings clogging my schedule. What sent me there is for the gimmick. The breeze going through the jeep’s window is strong and cold, perhaps because of the speed, or because the -Ber months is approaching. But it was interrupted to allow some passengers to climb in. An old lady and her child, an office girl, and some common man who looks a lot like Richie The Horsey.

This man irritated me the most. He determinedly squeezed himself through the sited people in my front as he blows his smoke unceasingly. Then he pulled something from his short pants. No it wasn’t bills or coins. It’s something you don’t want anyone else to have inside a passenger jeep. It was a six-inch kitchen knife, something like the ones our mothers used when cutting meat. And based on his look to me, I’m his prey, and he wants to cut mine. At that moment I realized. Shit happens.

Scream and panic filled the jeep. Terror and fear filled me. And before I knew it, he already grabbed my arm, swaying his steel in front of me. Shining. Cold. Deadly. Though he’s not saying a word, I know he’s after my money. I realized I should have taken the LRT instead. It’s fast, air-conditioned, convenient, and pollution-free, and it only costs 15 pesos! Perhaps I wouldn’t be right here staring face to face with death himself.

I felt great fear at that time; I wouldn’t be ashamed to admit it. But what I saw in his eyes is greater fear. Yes! He’s afraid, too! Is it confusion? Is it desperation slowly devouring his sanity? Or is it the effect of the illegal substances that he injected in his veins finally taking him? I don’t know, and at that point, it doesn’t matter. What is certain now is that my fate hangs between being alive and ending up dead. And at this moment this man holds my fate.

Impatient, he decided quickly. Like a bolt out of the blue, he suddenly swung the knife to my defenseless side. I can feel the long dagger penetrate it. I don’t know why, but it didn’t hurt. It’s cold. It’s numb. I want to throw up. I want to collapse. The world revolved, and turned into a flash, then things went black. Consciousness finally escaped from me.

When consciousness returned, my heart is still pumping fast. I was in a room, and it’s so dark. No, it wasn’t a hospital room, no dextrose stand, no white walls. It’s something familiar. It was silent, very silent. Not a hush, not a sign of life. If this is afterlife finally, I have no idea.

Then I saw the clock, it’s already 7:30 pm, and I recognized the stacks of books. I’m still in my room. And my family hadn’t returned yet. I fell asleep. Damn it. Bad dream. I guess a heavy meal and an afternoon nap don’t go well. Well, my brother is kind of right, I should have read the books instead. Or better, join the family reunion. We won't be here forever.

For more about your safety, check out 10 Things You Should Know When Someone's Blowing Off Our Buses, or if it's already late at night, just go to bed, or you can read It before that.