Monday, April 18, 2011

Essay flashback: A piercing look is never enough

This is the first humor article I ever wrote. I didn't want to post it for a few reasons, the main reason being that I don't write this way anymore. At least I don't think I do. For one thing, I try to avoid using Filipino to reach a wider audience, except of course when the funny does not translate well.

I also don't write this way anymore because I think I am much happier now than in 2000. When I wrote this I was a very sarcastic, cynical hag who enjoyed making snide comments to anyone who would care to listen (and Tiger Woods still had a clean image, which would explain the dated reference). A few of my initial essays had the same tone, and when I read them again, I felt like a stranger wrote them. Today, I try to avoid writing very negative or critical pieces.

In any case, here it is again, just very slightly edited without changing its original bitchy tone. (I'm sorry.)


A piercing look is never enough
August 2000

“I don't get mad, I get even. Actually, I don't get even, I usually get mad. Okay, really, I just get depressed and mope for a while. Then, eventually, after much pain and consideration, I get over it.” – Kevin Morris

To say that I have a pimple problem is like saying Tiger Woods plays golf.

During my uneventful adolescence, while most of my peers were complaining of acne outbreaks, I usually had just one or two blemishes, which (much to my friends' consternation) cleared up after a few days sans any dermatologic intervention. I suppose I was extremely spoiled by this pattern of pimple appearance-disappearance, because when I started to have acne in my mid-twenties (!), not a tinge of worry crossed my mind.

I suspect that the root of my problems is hormonal, or I was born with a bad combination of genes. However, I cannot stop toiling over what I could have done differently. MAYBE I should have been more aggressive in treating my then-obvious skin problem, MAYBE I shouldn't have waited until my cystic infections started turning into ugly dark splotches on my face, MAYBE I should have dismissed the neurotic voice inside me saying "Dermatologists are for vain people."

In a parallel universe, I would've been just another face. Just another scar-free face, that is. However, in this particular world, I have to bear the full consequences of my non-actions.

As if looking into the mirror everyday and spending obscene amounts for treatment are not enough punishment, I've discovered, in the worst possible way, that my country of birth is hell for people with physical imperfections.

I used to be baffled at the way my American cousins would be so scandalized by their Filipino relatives who told them if they'd lost or gained weight since the last visit. I shrugged it off as the elders trying to make trite conversation. Now, with a ton of evidence to prove it, I have come to accept that Pinoys can be downright r-u-d-e.

I will not pretend to know how this particular Filipino peculiarity evolved. I have no doubt that these words are uttered out of genuine concern and nothing but pure intentions, and yet ... has it ever occurred to anyone that people actually know when their bodies change? To the alarmingly common "Tumataba ka yata," I have never heard anyone counter "Why, thank you for telling me I've put on a few pounds. I was wondering why my torso turns blue each time I forcibly zip up my jeans."

Sometime ago, I was talking with a group of people and, for reasons unknown to man, the topic segued to the subject of my facial potholes. "Matatanggal ba yan? Sayang kasi eh, ang ganda mo pa naman sana. OK ka siguro kung wala yan." “What was I supposed to say? "Yes, at this moment I am a substandard person who's better off dead. Let's all join hands and pray that this wretched curse be lifted from me, lest I not be 'OK' to anyone unfortunate enough to lay eyes on my sorry face."

One morning I was walking down our street when a long-time neighbor motioned for me to come over. "O! Anong nangyari sa mukha mo?" "Pimples, ho." (I would have started my Discovery-channel spiel on the wonderful world of acne to her, but I was rushing off to work.) To this lame reply, she responded with "Ay nako. Nung bata ka, ang ganda-ganda mo eh, tapos ngayon ...."

I can't win.

This is why my passive-aggressive personality (with help from a few empathic friends) has come up with a number of retorts I would love to say to all the verbal oppressors out there. Some of these I have actually used, believe it or not.

In response to the simple and direct "What's thaaat?" and its lesser-known, equally thoughtless variations (yes, some people actually waste muscle energy to ask inane questions), here are my suggestions, apart from the obvious answer:

1. The penny-for-my-thoughts reply --- "I cannot believe you asked me that." 
2. The denial approach --- "What? What? Where? What do you see???" 
3. Clarification --- "Did you want to start a conversation with me, or were you just being mean?" 
4. The self-pity wisecrack --- "Oh I'm sorry. Let me walk a few steps behind so you won't have to be seen with me." 
5. Sarcasm --- "I was getting bored with a plain face so I had the doctor surgically alter it so people like you can have something to talk about." 
6. The pagan response --- "I forgot to mention that in my new cult, we inflict ourselves with facial wounds at the crack of dawn every Tuesday... right before the ritual sacrifice of tactless idiots to our vengeful gods." 
7. Subclinical psychosis --- "Look! Over there! It's my ego floating away on a breeze." 
8. The bitchy attack/changing-the-topic technique (depends on inflection and/or how dense the recipient is) --- "Ang ganda mo." 
9. The bitchy attack version 2 --- (after "Awwww. What happened?") "Don't ask me what happened. I don't know what happened. Don't ask me things I don't know the answer to!" 
10. The self-help retort --- "Thank you for affirming my sense of self-worth today. You have indeed boosted my morale with your insensitive comment. My years of low self-esteem have now been compounded by your astute observation."

It should be obvious by now that part of me has irreversibly turned into a total crab as a result of all this pimple business. I have only myself to blame.

On the good side, thinking of snappy comebacks has been a stimulating form of mental exercise and, I must admit, having a daily source of amusement keeps my sense of humor alive and bitchin'. Furthermore, I'm not exactly in the mood to transform the entire Filipino psyche today. Ask me again tomorrow. Maybe by then, I can give you more than just a dagger look and a dry comment.


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