Wednesday, November 16, 2005

roach

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1: When dinosaurs ruled the earth and I was a toddler, my grandfather came across me calmly munching on something while I gazed at the beach as I sat on the porch of our old house in Kanigaran, Palawan. He did a double take though when he noticed that whatever it was I had in my mouth, it was feebly wiggling and possessed antennae. In a whirlwind of panic, he forced my mouth open, retrieved a half-dead cockroach, and proceeded to teach me the error of my gastronomic leanings with his belt. Traumatized, I was careful never to eat another bug.

(This is the same grandfather who saved my life when, again as a toddler, and again, while eating, I ended up lmost suffocating on sago pearls that had somehow insinuated themselves deep into my nostrils. Don’t ask how they got there – I suppose that even as a little boy, experimentation misguidedly burned in my blood. He threw me on my back and proceeded to suck the sago out of my nose with his mouth, in a kind of reverse kiss of life. I could tell my grandfather loved me so much because I cannot imagine doing what he did for just anyone. Years later, after he died and rumors of his spirit walking around the house surfaced, it fell to me to persuade my family that the old man could not possibly mean any of us harm; a ghost who in real life saved lives would not seek to frighten but only to be remembered.)

2: As a young boy, I chanced upon an old bottle of cinnamon which I remembered my aunt used for baking. Entranced by the delightful smell, I proceeded to dab my finger into the small jar, coating my finger in the brown powder, then sticking it into my mouth. At first, I was puzzled by the exotic taste; I thought the stuff was potent since it was concentrated, so I plowed on. It was only when I was halfway through, dizzy with spice overload, that I found the remains of a cockroach inside the jar. I recall throwing up. Henceforth, I would associate the taste and smell of cinnamon with cockroaches, furiously declining offerings of cinnamon rolls, cinnamon-laced apple pie, cinnamon-powdered coffee drinks and visits to Cinnabon and its ilk. The smell of cinnamon makes me physically ill, triggering a phantom-taste reaction in my mouth.

(Funny thing about us Filipinos: we like to share astounding horrible tastes we’ve just experienced.

ME (eating something): OMG! This tastes like shit!

YOU: Really?

ME: Yeah! Here, try it.

(YOU try it.)

YOU: Yuck!

ME: Yeah!)

3: When I was around 6 years old, my mother kept a condo unit in Makati. I’d look forward to spending the weekend there because I could pretend we were rich people (we weren't). My mother helped create the illusion: we’d have breakfast on pristine china – delicate Vienna sausages, fluffy eggs and toast smeared with a variety of imported jams in tiny bottles – and keep the air-conditioning on all day and all night. Part of pretending involved wearing pajamas while lazing away on Sunday mornings and my mother got me several sets – silk and cotton in different patterns, though I remember desperately wanting the superhero Underoos I saw in comic book ads. One night, right after I changed into my new pjs, having meticulously buttoned all the huge buttons, I felt something scurrying on my skin, skittering on my back, trailblazing a path around to my chest. At the moment, I was rendered helpless in the throes of horror, as the air around my nose and mouth was suddenly suffused with the terrible scent and flavor of cinnamon, while the invader, which felt like an army, furtively caressed me with a thousand scratchy legs. I remember bursting into tears, unable to speak or cry out, before finally finding the strength to move, tearing the front of my illusory-rich-boy pajamas apart in an effort to escape. The roach then took wing, and took on a new petrifying approach, erratically flying in alien patterns. By the time I managed to somehow kill it, the sense of wonder that my mother’s weekend condo used to provoke was gone forever. The roach served to teach me the obvious lesson: reality has the power to shatter make-believe.

(Now that I think of it, perhaps it was me who started the lifelong enmity between roaches and myself. After all, I fired the first salvo.)

4: The only roach I willingly placed in my mouth was rolled by a friend, shared and passed around as we listened to music that dramatically revealed its significance. I would always get thirsty, and before long gave it all up in favor of the less mind-affecting cigarette.

(I tried a lot of things when I was younger - popped, snorted, smoked, but not injectde - and really, they are all unnecessary to be creative or enjoy life. Nowadays, I get high on creation.)

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