Sunday, January 04, 2004

siglo: carnival

For a belated birthday outing, the gang eschewed our usual "blabber in a resto until the wee hours of the morning" (actually, that's inaccurate, we still did that, but much later) in favor of going to one of those carnival/amusement things near UP Diliman.

We expected horrible crowds, grime, bad food, life-threatening rides on antiquated machines and thieves, but were all pleasantly surprised by the place. The last time I went to one (before the continental shifts) I remember being so affected by the promise of a mermaid.

Flashback: For a small amount, I watched a young girl with a sequined tail shiver in a makeshift pool, her world limned in the garish red of a single suspended lightbulb. Some young men with me threw cigarette butts and hurled sexual innuedo in the manner only Filipino men can. She hid her face. I wrote a story right after, "The Last Mermaid Story", published in the National Midweek, to exorcise the turmoil of my heart.

Cut to Present: One of the first things I saw was the Dysebel attraction, and the immediately, the guilty feelings of my previous voyeurism came rushing back. But I had to see her again. I paid the P30 and climbed up. This time, her caretakers placed a protective netting above her, to prevent objects from being thrown in. But the pool still looked dark and dirty, her hair was lank and lifeless, her sequined tail feebly stroking the water. But this time, she looked up at me and smiled.

Later, we were entranced by Galema, the Queen of Snakes, who played in a pit full of her slithering friends. The snakes adored her, drugged by her deadpan skill and fatal ennui. Even when she kissed one on its cold lips, she affected a certain worldweariness that was distinctly German in appeal. She wore a jacket because even royalty gets cold at night and snakes offer little true comfort.

The Haunted House was more about the journey and anticipation that anything else. In turn, our group shifted from buddy pairs to a choo-choo train, hands on the shoulders of the person in front, creating a delicious sense of self-perpetuating fear as we crossed the halls of exquisite corpses and shambling revenants. I do not like to be surprised (because I tend to scream), but my preferred flavor of psychological fear was served up in spades as well. Fear breaks down the barriers between strangers, as when one of the women in front of our group told Vin "Mama, mama, pwede bang pahawak ng kamay mo?" (Sir, sir, can I hold your hand?). And really, in the face of the unknown, the comfort of another person's hand may be all that is needed to conquer fear and move a step or twelve forward. As long as it is a living hand, of course.

I braved the murk of the men's room, contributing piss against the stained and reeking walls, my eyes watering as I held my breath for as long as I could. It was the fastest pee of my life - because I valued my life and did not want to collapse and asphyxiate on the cement floor at some grimacing man's feet.

We played games of chance, transforming a peso in five at the capricious flip of a coin. We threw balls, shot pigs, hurled rings and gambled on lights in an attempt to win cheap toys and chocolates. We watched Buddha spin on a gyroscope, and smile as the hand-operated machine granted him Nirvana. We rode the red ride, the octopus, where I felt the crush of love and the vertigo of moments suspended in the air. We devoured dubious cotton candy, still-hot grilled pork, chemically-enhanced hotdogs and bite-sized crab crackers.

And we walked as friends, seeing things through alternating blinks of wonder and cynicism, and managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. It was tiring and incredible and jarring and different and familiar and childlike and very adult and so much more.

Some of us left with stories developing. I know I did.

And we wound up in the comfort of a resto, sipping coffee and twirling ice cream, talking about the evening and the tomorrows to come.

And that, all that, was how my friends and I celebrated my birthday (and Camille's too).

Circling a carnival and winding down with conversation - extending to chocolates and anecdotes by our Christmas tree in the condo.

Thanks to Nikki, Vin, Andrew, El, Marco, Camille, Dino, Jason and Carl.


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