Friday, August 21, 2009
The End of the Conversation
It was raining hard when I entered the all-night diner. The place was deserted, save for an old man quietly sitting on the counter. I sat down on the eastern corner and dropped my wet jacket on the far edge of the table. I looked out the window — on Escario Street, headlights from passing cars filtered through the diner’s decades-old Venetian blinds, their glare partially blinding me.
The old man took the seat across me and I did not notice him there until he cleared his throat and spoke.
“Have you no shame, Ben?”
“Excuse me, old man?”
“Don’t hand me that bull! You may think you and your goddamn uncle own this town but I know the score. I may be regular folk but I ain’t stupid. I know what’s going on. I know what your kind have been up to lately. I know the truth about you and it don’t scare me, do you hear? I know the truth so don’t give me that bull, kid!”
“Sorry, sir. But I don’t know what you’re talking about — ”
“Oh, yes you do. We’ve been partners in the force for how long — seven years, eight? We’ve been through so much and all this time I thought I knew you. God, how wrong I was. I’ve always thought you were clean, decent in spite of your uncle’s reputation. I’ve always thought you’d be the first in your family to lead a respectable life. Well, tell me now, kid. When you and your uncle dragged that woman out of her house, after killing her husband and her two children. Tell me — did you think you could get away with it? Did you? Sorry to break it to you but I saw what you did. I was there and I saw everything. And now you’re going down, mister policeman. Because I know the truth now. And nothing, I mean nothing will stop me from telling the whole world about the crimes committed by you and your mayor of an uncle.”
He leaned towards me, took my collar and drew my face closer to his. I could smell his stinking breath as he continued to speak.
“Do you understand what I’m saying, Ben? And when I’m done, you and your uncle will rot in jail. I personally guarantee that, pal.”
I slumped on the chair as his hand let go. He continued to stare daggers at me as he lit a cigarette.
I reached out for my jacket, my right hand digging beneath the pockets. In a few seconds, I found what I was looking for. In one quick motion, I held up the semi-automatic handgun to his forehead and fired once. The discharge emitted a soft thud, its gunfire muffled beautifully by the silencer. The old man collapsed on his seat and then slid sideways.
I stood up, took out my mobile phone and dialed. A woman’s voice greeted me on the other line. I spoke clearly and slowly.
“Liz, I have a message for Ben and his uncle. Tell them that I found the old cop and he has agreed to keep his mouth shut about the incident. Okay, thanks. Bye.”
I picked up the spent cartridge on the floor and walked out the door.This piece originally appeared in Paperbag Origami.
Posted at 06:20 pm by iampaperbag
Sunday, January 11, 2009
“What to do, what to do?”
Mused the gallant bird of prey.
A thousand feet above ground,
He soared disgruntled, in dismay.
Wings have been cleaned,
Feathers neat and trim,
Talons all polished,
But excitement is slim.
“O where art thou, Thrill?”
He uttered through his beak.
This is kinda strange because
Eagles don’t really speak.
He flew over the emerald jungle —
Eagle eyes on his vast kingdom.
He lorded above tallest trees
But his reign is menaced by boredom.
“Mighty Wind, I beg of you,
Mighty Wind from the Great Sea!
Grant me some deliverance
From this gray monotony!”
But Mighty Wind remained still
Silent, just hovering there.
Well, you can’t really expect a reply
From something made of air.
“Mighty Wind, heed my plea,
Have pity on me, my Goddess!
Bestow my heart with enthusiasm
To smite this dreadful dullness!”
Suddenly, the Goddess stirred
Awakened from her trance.
She spread her arms far and wide
Even though she had no hands.
With one swing of her massive arm
She slapped him with a blow.
It propelled the bird at lethal speed
Down the rocks below!
The full force of the impact
Left the eagle finished and dead.
All he wanted was some excitement
But he got exterminated instead.This originally appeared in Paperbag Origami.
Posted at 06:36 pm by iampaperbag
Saturday, December 13, 2008
"Sure, sweetie. Grab some of that and put them on this tray. Then put mayo on top of each one. Don't pick the burned ones."
"Okay. So, what do you think?"
"About what, dear?"
"Come on, you know what I'm talking about."
"You mean, what do I think about that schmuck sitting on our dinner table back there?"
"Mom! He's a nice guy."
"You said the same thing about the last guy you brought here. And look what that jerk did."
"That was different. I was young then. I didn't know any better."
"And I supposed you're older and wiser now? Tell me, have you ever thought about what you're getting yourself into? I mean, just look at him! God, what will the neighbors think? And your Dad--how am I ever gonna tell him we raised a doofus with the worst taste in men in the universe?"
"Will you keep your voice down? He might hear you."
"I doubt it. Done with that? Get more from the fridge. And some mayo, too, this one's almost empty."
"Could you hand me that other tray? Thanks. Look, Mom, I know he doesn't look like it but he's a great guy. Once you get to know him, beneath all that arty stuff, you'll like him. I know you've got some kind of phobia about people with alternative means of livelihood, but believe me, this one's different. He's actually opening his own tattoo shop next summer."
"Oh, I'm absolutely jumping with joy hearing that."
"Mom, please, I could use a little support here. I'll deal with Dad but I need you on my side on this."
"Whatever. Here, you take that while I take this one. Careful with that."
"Wait. How do I look with this on?"
"Gotta hand it to you, though. His folks are filthy rich."
Posted at 11:36 am by iampaperbag
Sunday, December 07, 2008
“You’re stepping on my foot, kid.”
“Give me that light.”
“How come you know so much about this stuff? I thought you were just one of them old geezers rotting away back there.”
“That’s because you’re dumb, that’s why. Hand me the wrench.”
“Here. You’re nothing like no regular plumber, ain’t you? Stinkin’ Joe couldn’t do half the things you’re doin’ right there.”
“I’m no plumber. You don’t learn these things from the plumbing academy, that’s for sure. Only one place in the world where you learn things like these.”
“And what place is that?”
“The army, kid. The United States friggin’ Army.”
“Figures. Wait—if you’re this war hero, how come you’re serving ten to twenty here?”
“Pilasters’. Philadelphia. Ring a bell?”
“Holy shit! The 1959 break-in! You’re one of them saggy bottom boys! Too bad, Miller gave all of you that big old stab in the back. But you’re my hero, man! Grew up wantin’ to be one of the Philly gang!”
“Will you shut up? You’re just another dumb kid from South Central who happens to have quick hands. I know your story and I’m sick of hearing it. But I can’t get this done without an extra pair of hands. Now, for God’s sake, shut your mouth, get in here and help me pry open this goddamn thing!”
“Okay, okay, I’m on it.”
“Stand there and hold that. Now when I say so, you pull as hard as you can, you understand me?”
“Good. Let me just get this out of the way. Ready, kid?”
“It’s moving. Pull harder!”
“Jesus, it’s stinkin’ here!”
“Shut up and pull!”
“I’m pullin’, old man.”
“That’s it, that’s it, kid. Careful, slowly now. Let go, let go!”
“That thing’s heavy.”
“Got that right, kid. You see that? That’s our ticket outta here. We’ll inflate the raft right there and the tide will take care of the rest.”
“It’s a cloudy night, that should give us some cover in the darkness.”
“Old man, need to tell you somethin’.”
“I forgot the raft.”This originally appeared in Paperbag Origami.
Posted at 05:59 pm by iampaperbag
Sunday, November 30, 2008
“I’m a wizard,” Sam says to me in greeting, his head hidden behind the hood. He stands up and the light hits his face, a sinister grin. He takes out his wand and gracefully waves it in the air.
At 23, he is burly. The last time I saw him, he looked tentative, frightened, not sure of himself. He has grown a beard now but it hasn’t completely hidden his boyish face. But still, his movements convey an easy confidence, almost a swagger. Beneath deep-set brows, his eyes glimmer as they follow his hands. I looked closely at his left wrist — there is still some visible scarring, but not recent, which provides some comfort. He recites his incantations and the boom of his voice is convincing. His unbridled brio seems to cast a spell on me. For a moment he stares at me with such intensity that I’m almost compelled to look away. I hold his gaze and his face breaks into a smile. He still recognizes me. He clasps his hands, makes a friendly bow and retreats to the far corner of the room.
“It’s nice to see you again, Warlock,” Dr. Crawford calls out to me. I smile at his joke and turn away from the glass panel to shake his hand.
“How is he?” I ask, reverting my gaze to Sam.
“No incidents since your last visit,” Crawford replies. “But we’re not taking any chances, he stays in this room for an indefinite period of time. You know how unpredictable he is. For the record, what you’re seeing now is Personality 23. Obviously, we don’t want Violent Sam to resurface again.”
I review Sam’s file on my hand. Genius IQ. Played fullback in high school. Diagnosed at 20. Arrested at 21. Declared C.I., which saved him from the gas chamber. Brought to Baltimore State Hospital four weeks later. Two incidents during incarceration, one intern severely injured, the other not so lucky.
I look up and stare at Sam through the glass panel. He smiles at me again. Who will you be tomorrow, Sam?This piece originally appeared in Paperbag Origami.
Posted at 06:24 pm by iampaperbag
Sunday, November 23, 2008
He was half awake when she greeted him with a soft kiss on the cheek. He turned to look at her face and that familiar smile — reassuring, playful, yet sad. She giggled and draped the new shirt on his face. He feigned sleep and pretended to snore. She said nothing and buried her head on his chest. As he stroked her hair, he could smell the scent of the new fabric. That smell had always bothered him, he remembered how he had always hated trying on shirts at the mall. This time it was different.
She propped up and took the shirt. He sat up to take a better look at it in the morning light. It wasn’t the type of shirt that he usually gets from the store. Its bright color was in contrast to his sable preferences, the design of the print was a tad austere. But she lifted it, slid it slowly through his head and deftly guided his arms through the sleeves. Her fingers glided softly through the shoulders to smoothen the folds, her hands hovering here and there — caressing, flattening the creases on the seams. Every movement was defined, every gesture fraught with meaning. He was watching her all this time but she didn’t look at him. She was staring at the new shirt but he could tell that her mind was somewhere else. He took her hands and held them silently. She pulled him to her and hugged him for a long time. “It looks good on you,” she whispered to his ear, “don’t lose it.” Then she let go and walked across the room to finish packing her bag.This piece originally appeared in Paperbag Origami.
Posted at 06:42 pm by iampaperbag
Sunday, October 05, 2008
The plan was simple. A week or two before the Adventure Caravan, Bench would start to act distant towards Bryan. She would refuse to hang around with him during mid-afternoon snack breaks. She would stay away from his workstation on the days leading to end of October. This would give everybody hints that Bench was in fact trying to avoid him. Of course, he had reminded her that not everybody would detect the signs at first. True, with the extremely busy days ahead, anybody could guess Bench would have plenty of things to do and wouldn't have any spare time left to loiter in the Creatives' department. She would display a complete reversal of the day-to-day persona her officemates were used to seeing — a persona characterized by aberrant silence and almost infectious lethargy.
Still, Bryan worried that convincing the office people this way was kind of a long shot. Obviously, everybody would be pretty busy too in the days to come and it would be highly unlikely for them to catch in on what's going between Bench and him. He had told Bench about this and she said not to worry — she'll just have to find a way to expedite the process by engineering a "leak," through the one person who is likely to be believed, the one person who is sure to spread the message, the best word-of-mouth conduit in the entire agency — Ellie. Of course, the "leak" will have to happen in a week or so after the Adventure Caravan and Halloween Fashion have wrapped up. Doing so earlier would be overkill.
Despite his uneasiness, Bryan had marveled at her cleverness at the same time spooked by her guts. He still couldn't believe that she would really push through with it. And the worse thing was, Bryan had agreed to it. He could have said no. Now he was kicking himself because he didn't.
Truth of the matter was, he was scared. He was never comfortable with getting away with any fib. He had told Bench that he was never good with things like these. She had told him to grow up. Besides, she had insisted, Bryan won't have to do anything. It would be up to her to do the pretending. Technically, she would be the only one doing the lying. All Bryan had to do was be himself. The only reason she had told Bryan about the whole plan was because she didn't want Bryan to think she really was giving him the big cold shoulder. She said it was a "matter of courtesy" for their friendship. She said it would be unfair to him if she left him high and dry.
Bryan wanted to find comfort in Bench's words. He couldn't find any.
She was true to her word. Since the second week of October, she was never seen hanging around with Bryan. When there came a need to brief Bryan about a certain new project for an account Bench was handling, she would easily find a way to let Ellie or Lisa do the briefing. When Noel scheduled a brainstorming session with Bench or Bryan, she would defer or simply wouldn't show up on the excuse of meeting a client. When asked to do something that involves Bryan's participation, Bench would politely refuse without offering any explanation.
And her attendance has gotten increasingly peculiar and erratic. Fifteen-minute cigarette breaks turn into hour-long trips to only-God-knows-where, sometimes she wouldn't even return to the office for the rest of the afternoon. Bryan had heard Ellie complain loudly that she couldn't contact Bench's cell phone number at one time. When she did get by the office, she would sit with nary a word in front of her laptop all day long, except for the increasingly long cigarette breaks. On certain days, she would come in as early as 6 AM and leave the office before 4 PM. During lunch breaks, she opted to eat out alone in the nearby mall, in restaurants where she was sure no one in the office would go.
When it was time for Bench, Ellie and Ken to fly to Cagayan De Oro City for a few days to handle the Adventure Caravan, Bryan realized he was actually looking forward to Bench's absence. For once, he could go to the office without having to worry about the awkwardness of his and Bench's situation. On any given day, he could probably disregard any officemate's ill-feeling towards him and get on with his copywriting duties without ever giving that person any ounce of thought. But it was way different with the current state of things. Try as he might, he just couldn't ignore the discomfiture and inherent weirdness of being shunned like that and knowing that all of it is one elaborate sham concocted by his almost-deranged friend and colleague. And the fact that he's completely in on it was giving him creeps of the different kind. Conniver's guilt is never easy, he realized.
"Sit down, Bryan," Noel said without looking up from his laptop monitor, his hands busy typing on the keys. Bryan sat down on the chair in front of Noel's desk. The room was chilly. Bryan wished he brought a jacket.
"I wanted to talk to you about Bench," Noel said, still typing. "But let me just finish this."
"Okay," Bryan replied nervously.
Noel straightened up and folded the laptop. Then he stared at Bryan.
"You do know that the Adventure Caravan was a tremendous success. In fact, the client wants to do a Boracay version next year. All thanks to Bench's coordination. I hate her guts sometimes but frankly, I'm very impressed with the way she handled it. And so is the client. They're very pleased with the results and they want to thank her personally. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know where she is."
"She has gone AWOL," Bryan muttered.
"Looks like it," Noel said.
Bryan looked down on his hands.
"Ellie told me you and Bench were pretty close," Noel continued. "Former classmates in school, digs the same stuff Bench likes — Ellie told me you and Bench were practically like best buds."
Bryan remained unmoving.
"My point is — you might be able to tell me just what the hell is going on," Noel pressed on.
"There's nothing to tell."
"Ellie says there's plenty going on. She says you and Bench are — let me put it this way, socializing more than what's appropriate in an office environment."
"It's none of Ellie's business."
"Okay, I'll respect that. It's none of my business. But this agency is my business. And I need to know if there's something funny going on. With Bench currently unreachable and Kyla also missing, I'm bound to —"
"Kyla? What do you mean?"
"Just last week, Anne told me she couldn't reconcile several checks drawn to cash somewhere between the last week of October and first week of November. Anne says she couldn't figure out why those checks were drawn in the first place. She tried to call Kyla but she couldn't contact her."
Bryan sat numb with the news.
"No trace of Kyla," Noel continued. "She just disappeared. Right about the same time Bench went AWOL."
"Are you saying Kyla and Bench — are you saying they both —?"
"I don't know. I was hoping you could tell me."
"It can't be. I know Bench. She wouldn't do something like that."
"I think she already has."
"Back when she had that deejay job. There was some fiasco about funds that Bench was directly in control of. Anyway, short version of the story is, it got blown into such a mess that the station had to let go of many people. Bench included."
"Anne, of course, thinks Bench was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Personally, I think she might have been involved. And now she may be robbing my company."
"You don't know that."
"I don't know anything, yet. But sooner or later, the truth will come out. Count on that." Noel stood up and approached the glass window panel.
"I haven't spoken to Bench since, I don't know, early October," Bryan said.
"You had a row with her?"
"Something like that."
"And she hasn't contacted you since?"
"How about Kyla?"
"Are you sure about that?"
Noel turned and sat back in his chair. He gave Bryan a serious stare. "I may call on you again if I have questions," Noel said.
"You may go. And tell Lisa I want to see her now."
Bryan nodded before walking out of the room.
Two days had done little in lessening the impact of what he'd learned in Noel's office. Since that day, Bryan had been in a state of combined confusion and utter numbness. He wanted to be knocked out of this stupid stupor. He wanted to get away, far away from the sight of his workstation, out of the office. He wanted to exist without devoting one iota of energy thinking about this recent mess. But more than anything, he wanted to see and talk to Bench.
He was wont to admit it but it had taken its toll on his work. The copy he wrote barely met his personal standards. Fortunately for him, clients sometimes had the unusual habit of picking the studies that he least liked.
That afternoon, a brainstorming session had gone nowhere. Bryan and Ellie struggled to come up with an event-driven campaign for an agri-feed client and failed miserably. Bryan wearily excused himself and headed back to his workstation to collect his stuff and go home. He unplugged the charger's cord off his cell phone and checked the liquid crystal display: 1 message received. It was an unregistered number. He opened the message and read: "tequila jos 5.30pm. dont b l8 sucker, i wont w8." He glanced at the time — 5:37 PM. Damn.
In three minutes he was at the entrance of Tequila Joe's. Bench was sitting at the bar with her back to the door. Her head was tilted towards the TV screen propped seven feet up on the wall behind the bartender, American Idol was on. The glass of iced tea on the counter was already half-full. Bryan took the stool on her left.
"Don't you wish sometimes you had a TV remote in your brain?" Bench casually remarked without looking at Bryan.
"Why would you wish something like that?" Bryan asked.
"So that I could just press mute in my mind whenever it's Paula's turn to say something."
"I mean, Paula's always saying the same thing to anybody, anyway. She's like the judge on the Miss Universe pageant who always gives an 8 to every contestant. I can't stand her actually."
"Neither can I."
Bench smirked while she sipped the last of her iced tea.
"Bench, Noel has been looking for you. He says — "
"I already talked to him," Bench interrupted him.
"Yeah, last night at their house. We sorted out everything. Well, not everything, but the areas concerning me — it's okay now. Trust me."
"Sure about that?"
"Funny. Who would've thought that Kyla would do something like that. I mean, she's a world-class beeyatch and all that but … Damn, she's got guts, that's for sure."
"How did you find out?"
"Maimai from Camp Cebu, she's friends with Anne. She told me yesterday morning. Naturally, I had to talk to Anne, tell her I didn't have anything to do with what Kyla did. I had some explaining to do to Noel, too. God, you should have been there. Noel was really pissed, I mean really pissed. He was sure I was in on it because I disappeared."
"Well, you did disappear."
"Yeah. But the thing is — I chickened out." She laughed weakly. "That's why I was back in Cebu since Tuesday. I was in Davao the whole time, ever since the Adventure Caravan was done. I was really planning to talk to Anne eventually, to her alone. And then this ruckus just blew up. I could have done nothing. I don't even care a shit if Noel hated me for not showing up ever. But I did show up. I guess I didn't want him to hate me for the wrong reason. I mean I got issues, I know that. But I'm no thief. That's not who I am. That I'm sure about."
"You got me scared. You did."
She burst into laughter. "I got you, didn't I? I got you big time, Bry."
"I did tell them everything, about my plan to go AWOL. But I didn't tell them that you were in on it, too. That would be unfair to you. Bottom line is now they know how badly I want out of the agency. Anne — I guess she took it rather well. Noel — well, you know Noel. But I'm not scared of him, I never was."
"So what happens now?"
"The deal is, I stay until the end of November, just enough to turn over my accounts to Ellie. That's about three weeks — that should be enough. She's quite a capable lady, that Ellie, although she could use some chillin' out. As for Kyla — well, Anne is going to have to handle the accounting for now. They don't really know how much damage Kyla did to their funds. Anne mentioned about getting an independent CPA to sort it out. I wish him luck. As for me, I don't know. I'm thinking about finding work overseas. Or maybe school. I really don't know. All I know is I want out."
Bryan remained silent. Bench took a crumpled mauve bill out of her pocket and unfolded it on the counter. "I need a smoke," she said, "let's get out of here."
They stood on the paved sidewalk outside the restaurant. Bench absent-mindedly watched the cars whizzing by. Bryan stood three feet from her, staring at a large billboard ad recently put up. Bench took a step towards him and turned her head at the same direction he was looking.
"Advertising has ruined my consumer life," Bryan said.
Bench couldn't be sure if he was talking to her or himself. "Why is that?" she asked.
"I could no longer look at any ad without mulling about how much work has been done in creating that ad — the copy must have been redone and revised many times over, the graphics going through endless changes, the many steps, the arguments. When I look at an ad, I don't see the product anymore. I just see the work behind it. And sometimes, the lie. I'll never be sold by any ad, ever again. Advertising has ruined my consumer life."
"No, it hasn't. You'll be okay, Bry. I know you." Bench took out her cell phone and turned around. "Lex is here to pick me up."
"Lex? A friend of yours?"
"She's my — you know." Bench smiled.
"Oh," Bryan said in comprehension.
"You should get yourself a girlfriend," Bench said.
"Don't need one."
"What's so funny?"
"I know something about you, Bry. But I'm not telling. You're just gonna have to figure it out by yourself."
Bryan didn't reply.
"I gotta go. I'll see you around?" Bench said.
He nodded. She punched him on the shoulder before walking away. Bryan watched her walk towards the parking lot, her retreating figure finally getting obscured by the passing vehicles. He stood for a while with his hands in his pockets. He glanced eastwards across Archbishop Reyes Avenue. The skyway was finished. He sighed and walked away.
- END -
Posted at 06:35 pm by iampaperbag
Sunday, September 21, 2008
"How long have you been writing?" Fernandez asked.
"I've worked as a press release writer for KM for almost two years," Bryan replied. "I resigned last October"
"KM, the PR agency?"
"Yes. But I've made contributions to the school publication back in high school and college. And some freelance work here and there."
"What kind of contributions?"
"News articles. Feature write-ups. Short stories and poetry. Stuff."
"Do you have any sample now? Of any freelance work, I mean."
"It's there. The Love Satellites review."
"I didn't know you were a contributor to the Indie Times. You know Jake?"
"Yes. He's the one who usually coordinates with me."
"Cool. I did some editing work for him last summer. I may have come across your articles then. But the ad agency takes up most of my time now."
"He still contacts me from time to time."
"Really? You get paid?"
"For the last one — no."
Fernandez laughed. "Anyway, I don't think I should do more of this interview stuff," he said. "I know your work anyhow. Here, let me just give you something to work on. An assignment, if you will."
Fernandez stood up and walked towards the photocopy machine. A tall man in his mid-thirties, he moved with an easy gait. He wore his short hair blithely as if he didn't care much about hairstyle. He sported a maroon sweater over black denim pants that fit comfortably. Black sneakers nicely complemented his over-all garb.
Bryan took advantage of the distraction and looked around. The conference room was not much. Ash-gray blinds shielded the glass window from the three o'clock sun. Old magazines lay piled in one corner, rolled tarpaulins parked in another. Beside the heap, a shelf stood containing books stacked haphazardly. Marketing books, advertising books, graphic design books. A large table varnished in evening brown lay in the middle of the room's carpeted floor while a rattan couch was placed beside the glass door. Through the transparent panel, he could see Fernandez finishing up and approaching the room.
"Here. This is a creative brief for a client of ours. You should be able to get background information about the campaign. What you need to do is this: Give me at least three concepts or studies for a print ad copy. It's totally up to you what you want to do and how you want to present it. Just base your materials on the data at hand. Email it to that address there — I wrote it on the first page — before Friday. So you got about three days."
"Before Friday," Bryan confirmed.
"Yeah. And depending on what you can come up with — well, let me just see your work first and we'll go from there. Okay?"
Fernandez stood and shook Bryan's hand. "Will be waiting for your email," Fernandez said and motioned to the door.
"Thanks," Bryan said and walked towards the front desk to retrieve his ID. While the receptionist was rummaging in her drawer for the ID, he took a careful look at the wall behind her. Emblazoned in gold, the sign displayed "P.M.C." in large, bold letters. Underneath, it read "Pendulum Marketing Communications." The receptionist found his ID and proffered it to him. He took it without a word and made it to the closing elevator just in time.
Barely three months but it feels like more than a year already, Bryan thought to himself as he took a Coke and headed towards the table beside the glass window. He sat and buried himself on the sheets of paper strewn on the table. There were seven pages in all. The first two pages contained a printed email from one of the account managers in the agency. It contained detailed requirements for a flyer project. On the first paragraph, the words "top priority" were written in bold-red font, followed by bulleted sentences in varying degrees of misspell and contractions. Bryan had the message printed earlier that morning. He had already underlined the important parts and key words and had written quick notes on the margins.
The other sheets on the table were mostly used documents he collected from the messy pile beside the big office printer. These were usually erroneously printed pages dumped beside the printer or old statements of account discarded by the Accounting department. Some of these were studies of ad designs. Bryan had five of these sheets in front of him. He took one and started writing notes on the flip side. He was already working on a few headline options when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
"I've been looking for you," said a woman roughly his size and height.
"Hi, Bench," Bryan greeted her. She was dressed in a black shirt with stylish corduroy sleeves. Her faded blue denim jeans had seen too many years but she managed to make it look cool, they hugged her slim, petite figure perfectly. She usually wore a lot of jewelry but this time she aimed for simplicity. Speck-sized silver earrings and an ethnic braided brown bracelet went along well with the bronze-colored crucifix necklace she was wearing. She was a bit relaxed with her hair — letting her bangs hang loose on her forehead, with longer locks casually draped over the sides of her small cheeks.
"Have you been here long?" Bench asked.
"Ten minutes, maybe fifteen. What's up?"
"I've got an accounting question."
Bryan laughed. "I'm not the accountant. I'm the copywriter, remember?" he replied. "Go ask Kyla."
She smiled, took off her fawn jacket and sat on the vacant seat. "She's busy," she said, her head collapsing on the table. "Come on, you know this stuff."
He laughed again.
"You graduated with an accounting degree, right?" she asked.
"Yeah, but I don't practice it, never did. I graduated more than five years ago. I'm not sure if I remember anything at all."
"What about you, Bench? Back in grade school, I remember you were always in the top of the class. We always thought you'd be running for president by now. But then nobody ever heard from you after graduation day. I mean, nobody even knew where you went to high school."
"It was some private school in Pasay. I went back to Cebu after high school. I got into deejaying back in college and then I quit school. I honestly figured I could do well at NU. I never thought they'd shut down the Cebu station. Anyway, Noel's wife Anne, she was a close friend of mine from the broadcasting days, she asked me if I'm willing to try advertising."
"How do you like handling accounts so far?"
"Almost four years now. It's tough. You know how it is."
"Not really. I'm still learning the ropes."
"You'll be alright. I have a good feeling you'll be okay, Bry. Besides, things have been looking up since you came in. Fernandez used to do all the copywriting himself but he's the creative director, he's supposed to be doing something else. Which reminds me, how are we doing with the flyer copy?"
"This is it."
"It doesn't look good."
"It will be by the time I collate all these. And you're hampering my progress."
"Sucker," she replied before taking a quick glance at her mobile phone. "Shit, three missed calls from you know who. I have to get back." She stood up to retrieve her jacket and turned to Bryan. "Tell me when you're done and I'll cajole Ken into doing a few lay-out studies."
"See you around."
Bryan nodded as Bench headed towards the exit door.
The first three months had not been easy. True, he had done some extensive writing for KM but working as a press release writer for a PR agency pales in comparison to working as a copywriter for a small Cebu-based ad firm. When he got the job, Bryan had thought he'd be joining a company with an existing pool of veteran writers. How wrong he was. As the sole writer, he had to comply with every copywriting requirement that came up. In the first two weeks alone, he was already neck-deep in all sorts of copywriting requirements: three flyer studies for a national cable TV company; full brochure copy for a local real estate firm; 500-word advertorial for an international school; five-minute AVP script for a shipping company.
And that was not all. He also had to help Wilma, the business development officer, with her power point presentations, letters of intent, sponsorship proposals, contracts and memoranda of agreement. In addition to that, Kyla often bugged him to draft a demand letter to accompany overdue statements of account. Even Noel was pressuring him to come up with a better concept for an official agency AVP and brochure. The existing materials had a theme revolving around the concept of bowling and Noel had asked Bryan to think of something more institutional, but at the same time "accessible." Truth was, Bryan never really understood what his managing director meant.
He was close to being overwhelmed.
Good thing Bench was around. She and Bryan had gone to the same grade school together and that connection became the basis for a quick friendship. She became the perfect foil for his personality. While he was normally taciturn, she was constantly in high gear — monologue-ing, firing anecdotes here and there, and sometimes even breaking into out-of-key renditions of The Lion King songs.
Bryan was a bit of an introvert but he didn't mind the attention. He secretly wondered if Bench held a weird fascination for him. She had, on one occasion, mentioned that as a frustrated writer, she tended to have a trivial veneration for people who were good with words. At that time, he didn't take it seriously because she sounded like she was just fooling around.
Nevertheless, he welcomed her company. Even when he realized that the grown-up version has deviated so greatly from the twelve-year old he used to know. What was once a student achiever who had led her class during flag ceremony was now a near-chain-smoking dynamo. What used to be a crybaby in the playground had now become a force to reckon with in the conference room.
But he remained unfazed by these changes. Even when she had hinted to him that she was not straight, he wasn't as surprised as he thought he should be. In fact, he was quite ambivalent to her hints. Or he might have just been in denial, he had thought on later occasions. He found himself disturbed at this.
What they both clearly had in common was an eclectic taste in pop culture. They shared a weakness for musical artists that ranged from the likes of Cornershop to Portishead, from Sonic Youth to Urge Overkill, from Brilliant Green to Sugarcubes, from Ani DiFranco to Zarah Smith. He introduced her to Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman, while she recommended he read Amy Hempel and Alice Munro. When they were waiting for brainstorming sessions to start, they often discussed the merits of Wong Kar Wai's movies, Yann Tiersen's discography and Kelly Link's literature.
Amidst the relentless pace of advertising, many CDs and books were swapped, ideas were shared, fancies were indulged upon. He didn't want to admit it but he was close to conceding that he might not have endured those first few months without her company. All the same, he was beginning to feel comfortable with the frantic rhythm of agency work. He was beginning to feel comfortable with himself. He might have chosen the right path after all.
Bryan was late for the six o'clock meeting. When he got to Noel's office, several people were already seated in front of the managing director's desk. Fernandez took the seat nearest to the table, Steve the art director sat next to him. Farther from the table sat the two account managers, Lisa and Ellie. Bench stood leaning by the glass window panel. He approached her and occupied the space beside her.
Noel's office was the biggest room in the firm. The northern wall was one big glass panel where you can see the city skyline over various edifices in the Cebu Business Park. On two separate walls hung framed paintings done by the same local artist. Directly behind Noel's chair stood a glass cabinet which contained CDs from artists like The Cure, Belle and Sebastian, Sigur Ros and Tears For Fears. On the opposing wall stood a bigger glass cabinet containing Peter Drucker books, marketing textbooks, car magazines, software boxes and various models of miniature sports cars.
Noel was fiddling with his cell phone when Bryan entered the room. He sat cross-legged on his leather chair, unconsciously turning his seat a few degrees left and right. He was dressed in a white collared shirt, half-tucked in dark blue street shorts. He wore a pair of black trainers and he was absent-mindedly twirling his left foot to and fro while he was busy with his cell phone. A few years past forty, the managing director always looked and acted younger than his age. But on that day, the managing director looked tired — his lethargy somehow filtering through his week-old haircut and perpetually clean-shaven face. Noel cleared his throat loudly.
"Listen," he said. "The Adventure Caravan is moved earlier, October 20 to 24, according to their last email. That's three weeks from now." Silent expletives erupted throughout the room. He continued, "Bench, how are we doing with everything?"
"I spoke to Dwayne last week," Bench replied while looking at her Goth nails. "He's forming the Mindanao second unit as we speak. But he can't get commitment from his people unless he gets a go ahead on the budget."
"Do we already have a budget for his people?"
"I emailed the costs to you last Thursday."
"Where the hell is Kyla?" Noel asked, turning his head around the room.
"Bank errand, sir," Lisa replied.
"That was three hours ago. Where is she now?" Nobody replied. Noel cursed. "Are you sure you already emailed the costs to me, Bench?"
"Yep. I'll email it again to you for your convenience. As for logistics, Ellie's doing most of that."
Noel turned to Ellie. "I got it covered," said Ellie. "What about the Halloween Fashion Show?"
"Peste oi," Noel muttered under his breath. He glanced towards the wall calendar and sighed.
"Have Lisa handle it for the meantime," he instructed. Lisa sat dumb-founded.
"Lisa can't do it on her own yet," Bench said.
"I know. That's why you're helping her out," Noel said with finality.
Kayata. Bryan heard Bench whisper.
"Let's move on to the collaterals," Noel said to Fernandez. "Same bunch of materials last year but I need a new look on the event logo and give me a better-looking race manual this year. Last year's was embarrassing. Do we have a full event script?"
"I sent Pam the second draft but she says she needs to review it again," Bryan called out weakly.
"She doesn't like that part where the teams chase after the ping pong balls in the river." Fernandez and Steve exchanged funny looks.
"Then give her another set of options. Work on it for the remainder of the week," Noel said before standing up. "I think that's all. We're done here. Fernandez and Ellie, you two get ready to come with me in fifteen minutes. We're dining with the Millennium guys tonight at Marko's Grill."
There was a collective scraping as the group stood up and started exiting single file out of Noel's office. Bryan was standing beside Steve when Bench caught up with him.
"Need to talk to you about something," said Bench. "I'll be having a smoke downstairs. Meet me there."
"I still need to finish something."
"God, Bry, it's almost seven. Can it wait until tomorrow?"
"It's Ellie's PR. Just need to tweak a few parts. Ten minutes tops."
"Okay. I'll wait for you outside. Make it quick."
Bryan was the last person to step out of the packed elevator. He sauntered through the ground floor's marble-tiled reception hall and took a quick glance at the wall clock. 7:23 PM. Damn.
She didn't see him descend from the condominium's front steps. She was facing eastwards, at the partially-finished skyway under construction at the corner of Escario Street and Archbishop Reyes Avenue, just a mere block away. She threw the used stick carelessly on the trash bin as Bryan approached.
"You said ten minutes," said Bench.
"Sorry, got hung up by Ellie," Bryan replied, "you know Ellie."
"She can't touch you, Bry," she sniggered, "you're the copywriter, remember?"
"I don't want to end up like Ken. You know what happened to him."
"B.S.! Ken deserved his suspension. You're not like him. Everyone knows that."
"Tell that to Ellie."
Bench murmured something as she took the last stick from her pack and lit it.
"You're already pushing seven months, right?" Bench asked.
"You like the work?"
He shrugged. "It isn't easy but it sure isn't boring."
"You really are at home in the firm now."
Bryan smiled, detecting the faint sarcasm. "At least it isn't as hard as my last job," he said. "Back at the PR agency, I had to do everything. Now, I'm just busy with the writing. And I'm okay with that."
Bench just nodded wordlessly.
"What did you want to talk to me about?" Bryan asked.
She didn't reply. Bryan shifted in his feet at the uneasy silence. "You want out," he said in realization.
"Yeah," she was slow in replying.
"That explains everything. The sudden irregularity of your attendance in the last two months."
Bench laughed weakly.
"Does Noel know?" Bryan asked.
"I talked to him last June, actually. I told him I wanted to resign effective by the end of August. I didn't even cite some reason, just told him I want out. I told him two months notice should be enough for him to find a replacement or train Ellie to replace me. You know him, he wouldn't hear any of it. Well, I wasn't backing out of my decision, either. I told him out I'm out before September starts, period."
"But you're still here."
"Yeah, because Anne intervened. She asked me if I could stay for a while, at least until the Caravan is over. She said backing out would be a mistake because Noel was considering me for partnership in the agency. That's what they told Jong back in 2003 but it never happened. Lucky for him, he still got the Dubai job one year later. Besides, I've seen the books and the numbers don't look pretty. But I still said yes. The thing is, I owed Anne big time. She once did something important for me back in the days and I've never repaid her for it. I figured that if I do this for her, we'd be quits. I promised I'd stay until the end of the year. That's why I'm still here."
"But I'm not staying beyond November, that's for sure. Noel is already bugging me for updates on December and January deliverables and like hell I'm going to commit to those. If I do, I'm never getting out, never. That's why I need your help."
"From here on, Noel isn't going to listen to any bullshit from me, about changing my mind on the deal and leaving the agency. Hell, I could even tell him that I got a job waiting for me in Houston but he's not going to buy it, I know he won't. I need a better reason, a different ticket out. And this is where you come in."
"You want me to think of a reason for you?"
"No, Bry. Listen, everyone in the office knows we get along really great with each other. You know me, I've had rows with Ellie, Ken, Kyla and even Noel. But I've never had a quarrel with you, not only because you're such a nice guy but because you're actually pretty cool. Now, what if we give them the idea that we got something going on that's more than just the usual we're-just-buds shtick? You know what I mean, right?"
"But you're not into guys — "
"I know, I know. But none of the office people know that except you. Listen, what if we give them the idea that I've gone AWOL because we've had an affair that went sour?"
"My God, Bench," Bryan muttered, shaking his head, "you've lost your mind."
Posted at 07:37 pm by iampaperbag
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Stan Winston (1946 - 2008). Farewell, Maestro. Thanks for turning Mister Depp into Edwards Scissorhands, my most favorite movie character of all time.
Posted at 02:37 pm by iampaperbag
Friday, June 06, 2008
Four pieces drop into my plate with nary a sound.
I tilt the now-empty container sideways —
Until it’s upside down.
I study the scarlet residue with reserved admiration.
While the last drop trickles slowly,
My hunger nears cessation.
I bend my head closer, closer to this solitary plate.
The smell seems to greet me “hello” —
Vampiric urges I must sate.
The sight of this foursome infuses me with ardent desire.
My proclivity for seafood dining
Increases by the hour.
I take the first one with my silver spoon and bit.
Roll and roll in my tongue it goes —
Sauce merging with spit.
The initial thought registers pleasure, and then awe.
The tender attribute of this Piscean flesh
Conveys no flaw.
It bleeds beautifully in my lips, a feisty flood of feasting.
Engulfing me in pure sublimity,
Taste buds near-bursting.
I wait for the expectant crack when teeth meets fillet.
But my chewing remains unopposed,
Unhindered in every way.
With unexpected glee, its lithe filaments they quaver,
Brushing inside my guileless cheeks,
Seducing me with flavor.
My spirit declares gluttony but my tongue screams delight!
Something that tastes this good can’t be wrong!
Ergo, it must right!
Now the bits are ground, I prepare myself to swallow
This crimson victual of incessant charm
Down my neck’s hollow.
And there it is, it lingers still, the faintest remnant
Of something resembling Beatlesque bliss
In my throat, for an instant.
The moment subsides, now I’m left with a mercurial smile.
My restless tongue pleads repetition —
I’ll concede in a while.
I utter pearls of gratitude for this marvelous mastery.
Praise to him whose dexterity created
This gastronomic poetry.
I sit without a word, except for one contented sigh.
I stare at the remaining three pieces
Then I let out a cry …
… God, I just love sardines!This piece originally appeared in Paperbag Origami as a creative writing exercise.
Posted at 05:28 pm by iampaperbag