Friday, December 30, 2011

Year Of The Trenches

In warfare, trenches are dug-out depressions whose purpose is to deny the enemy ways of taking over fortified positions. One may never pass, until that section of an obstacle has been breached.

In life, trenches are like life stages when one appears to be in suspended animation. Gaining ground becomes an insurmountable feat, knowing too well that you have found your comfort zone, and that, to occupy positions beyond your line of control entails the risk of losing your past accomplishments. 

Securing your holdings become the ultimate goal.

I'd like to sum up the year with this metaphor, to tell that I spent my waking days running along the trenches. Much as I would like to count with my fingers, the moments when I had actually stepped foot outside the gullies, memory could only spare a handful of moments. My fondest recollections remain the ones when I actually remain halfway below ground. 

Take for example at work. The company had to let go its people when our ocean-side partners decided to close shop. I was supposed to join the ranks, but was held back - by a personal request, and uncertainty of going elsewhere. It could have been my perfect exit, yet I chose to stay at the belly of a sinking ship. Somehow I knew, this was my calling. I have to help find ways to make it float and reach port.

Meanwhile, the union with the significant other remains strong, despite the challenges brought by time, distance and familiarity. Who would have thought I'd live a monk's life while the pope was away. To think I was never a fan of remote arrangements. The bond endured because of our desire to make contact, by our heartfelt recollections of our good days, and by sheer faith alone, that love, like butterflies, emerges more beautifully from its cocoon.

It is getting more difficult to return to the vanity's temple, knowing that age, petty distractions and purpose are turning against you. Girth has expanded two-fold from the time I spoke of my grand plans 365 days ago. There were contemplations of retreat, especially when procrastination often gets ahead of plans. But once the renewal of ties had been sealed, belated the validation of plastic cards maybe, the tempering of physique remains a cornerstone of my rituals.

Last but not the least, the raketship stays a profitable venture. Thoughts of abandonment crossed my head, but when the commissions started pouring in, it was hard to let go of duties. Sure it takes a week to finish a travel guide, and the children's stories require communions with my lost childhood, but the sublime rewards, on top of my paycheck did thwart the trappings of secession.

I ended the year by going on a pilgrimage and see for myself the home of Bentusi, my work provider.

The gamut of trenches cover an entire battlefield, and while attempts to overwhelm these lines resulted in tactical defeats, some portions were left open for invasions. And so breach my armies did and the outcome exceeded beyond my last year's unsaid directives: 

A bold assault brought my feet to the shores of Santa Ana. Fifteen hours by bus from home, nestled in the farthest corners of Cagayan, the trip re-awakened the sleeping backpacker in me. 

Another breach and I found myself on a path of evolution from dial-up to broadband Internet connection. It was a revolution forthcoming. I only waited for my cable provider to wire our neighborhood. And when high-speed Internet plugged my house to the web, it took less than a year for the entire house to be liberated from entanglements wrought upon by Ethernet cable.

WiFi arrived at home.

From the family closeness centered around the bundle of joy, to the steady acceptance that I too might take up residence at the Home for the Golden Gays, the trench year will go down in my timeline not as an epoch of stalling, but a period of collision between the forces pushing for retreat and of those campaigning to hold out long enough, until I figure my wants in life.

Because when I look back and account for the things I did, the sum of my accomplishments shows that somehow, the hold out let me secure my gains from recent conquests. Short of returning to my academic roots in Diliman, the last twelve months could have been a Golden Age instead.

Only for the simple reason that I found myself back on track again.

And so we close the year along the lines. Trenches have always been tools of war. But when seen with eyes looking forward for blue skies and sunny days, the dug-out becomes pathways of peace. For when the smoke clears and the battles cease, the same trenches often become the permanent peripheries on earth of a sovereign ready to seek inward

and grow from within.

Sharing my hopes and dreams with everyone this 2012.
Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Note: Growing up in the city has deprived me a window to the sky. With lights from street lamps, billboard signs and buildings constantly overwhelming the heavens, it's hard to spot even a single star at night. 

They say, in remote towns and mountain hideaways, an explosion of lights still illuminates the great beyond. Once, I was treated to this spectacle while our car cruises an unlit highway. We were on our way to Isabela. 

The light show only happened once, and such sight, I still long ten years later.

This story, intended for elementary school pupils gave Bentusi, my editor, goosebumps. I guess it must have awakened a consciousness she had long suppressed. 

In remembering my first year as a children's magazine writer, I share this entry. Although slightly revised for older readers, it hopes to remind everyone that one can still find joy at the sight of stars.


A huge Balete stands next to a six-lane highway. At the base of the tree is a mound where old people say a duwende makes his home. 

The mound and the tree were already there before the highway was built. The Balete watches over a valley, where factory complexes and acre-wide warehouses have now sprung.

One night, the duwende found himself sitting on top of his mound. He was looking at the sky, trying to find a star even with a lamp post overhead.

“The lights are too bright!” The duwende growled. “Where are the twinkling stars?”

“The bear, the archer and the eagle have all disappeared too.” He was talking about a bunch of bright stars known as constellations. These stars, when connected with an invisible line take the shape of animals. Some were even named after humans.
“I used to spot Venus there.” The duwende was pointing at an empty corner of the sky. “And Mars there, and even the faint blue dot which is Jupiter.” He pressed his hands above his eyebrows to shield himself away from the glaring light.

Alas! he couldn't find what he’s looking. The sky glow from all the lights in the valley kept the poor dwarf from seeing even the nearby planets. 

“Now they are all gone.”

The duwende remembers a time when the hillside was full of trees. Everything was swallowed by the darkness. On some nights, the full moon looks down from above. Its silvery glow hides the heavenly bodies. And since its time for the diwatas and encantos to collect their moon dew, the forest hums to the sound of enchanting songs. Nowadays, only the roar of truck engines can be heard late a night.

“I should have left when the diwatas decided to go.” A tear rolled down the dwarf’s cheeks. “I should have listened when they said, ‘soon the stars will be no more.’”

Turning around to the Balete, the duwende spoke his wish to see the stars again.  

“Just this once, please.” the dwarf whispered.

And as if it was magic, all the lights in the city went off. The hillside was dark again as it once was. Even the valley below, not a single light bulb flickered.

The duwende couldn’t believe his eyes. He was seeing constellations instead of blinking airplane lights. The red planet was pinned in the heavens. And even Venus, the second brightest object in the sky appeared just below a grinning moon.

The duwende was laughing and crying at the same time! His gleeful voice echoed across the valley. The blackout lasted only a few minutes but for the dwarf, it doesn’t matter. His wish came true and he could now return inside his mound.   

Like the heavenly bodies, the still chuckling dwarf disappeared when the bright lights once again flooded the sky.

Meanwhile, in a faraway valley, where not a single human has ever set foot, one can still hear fairy songs at night. Without an artificial light to fend off the darkness, a billion stars light up the sky.



Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cartography Of Veins

It all started when JC sent an SMS asking for directions.

"Hala Baaaboo." The message read. "Yung friend ko di alam pano umuwi sa kanila. Haha. Pano ba magtaxi papunta jan sa area? Sanay kasi na may driver. Lol."

I sent a reply asking my partner where his friend will be coming from. As much as I would like to help, her whereabouts is needed so I can tell exactly the streets she must pass through.

"Alam na daw nya pag andun na sya sa area. She just needs to get there. Manggagaling siyang Rockwell. Let's say papunta na lang jan sa inyo pano?"

Instincts hint that something is odd about his statement. It seems like someone is cooking up a plan. But rather feel nosey about the hypothetical inquiry, I opened my desktop's Google Map to plot on the digital chart the taxi's swiftest trajectory.

"Tell your friend to cross the Rockwell bridge." I instructed. "Dire-diretsuhin lang nung driver yung Barangka drive until he reaches Nueve de Pebrero..."

As I traced with my fingers the streets on my computer's flat screen, I remember those late nights when I used the same passage to get to Makati from the gym in Shaw. Cheesy as it may sound, but those roads were my direct link to JC when he used to work in one of the office towers along Ayala Avenue.

Somehow, I felt the memory's distance. Like a footnote at the end of a page, the disused shortcut had become a mere reference for someone whose sense of direction require a little fine-tuning.

"Once you find Shaw Boulevard, turn right on the street across Puregold. There's a Shell gas station next to it. Dirediretso na yun going to Wilson."

JC asked several more questions that put my office within walking distance of his friend's residence. But gullible as I am, by then I was able to suppress whatever doubts still lingering in my head. Drowned with thoughts of the gym, and with my resolve further weakened by my inability to think clearly because of sleeplessness, I realized the ruse only when my phone started humming its melody to tell an incoming call.

It was a missed call from Baabaa. Immediately, I left my workstation to return his call.

"How's my baabaa, still in Greenbelt?"

"Wait... choppy ikaw, can you find an open spot where the signal is much clearer?" I left the narrow corridor to walk towards the building's lower-level rooftop. JC still grumbled about the phone's poor reception.

"Teka asan ka ba?" I asked.

"Andito sa baba ng office niyo..."

From a passing mention of a female ex-blockmate who lives within the vicinity, to finding my partner standing outside the building with a faint smile on his face, was beyond words. Even the poor reception was faked hoping I would show up in one of the building's balcony. Alas, our room faces the sunrise direction.

Heaven knows how difficult it is to find my office, especially for an outsider who doesn't know the maze of streets along the peripheries of Mandaluyong and San Juan.

The effort alone speaks of JC's wonderous intentions. But to receive something like this, as Christmas present:

Makes you see his triumphant arrival the fruit of his quiet journey, steady and straight to my heart.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Panahon Na Naman

and on this day 
a child was born
and he taught people
what love is all about.

words cease to tell my deeds 
this time.
all I'm saying is that love
always return in kind.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Guilt Pangs

Where does this torrent of remorse come from?

As far as I can tell, the Mugen twitter account remains a conveyor of directions as to where to send relief goods bound for Mindanao. 

Same with the blog, a satirized news article that includes a sexy photo of a naked rescuer piggy-backed the list of relief agencies accepting donations for flood victims.   

I left scathing remarks against a leader who seemed ambivalent to his bosses' suffering. It became news the next morning. The president flew to the province to see for himself the damage wrought by Sendong to Cagayan De Oro and Iligan cities on the same day.

And using my postpaid number, I donated money to Red Cross. The family gave away five bags of used clothes to the Social Welfare Department. These too would reach Cagayan and Iligan in a week or two. 

Blankets are to follow.

I guess this is what happens when you are being encircled by people who run relief operations day and night.

You couldn't help but feel that you could have done more.

And judging my response to Ondoy - the initiative, the passion and the energy to make it not only to the busy warehouses of Sagip Kapamilya but to the muddied streets of Calumpang, Marikina on the third day, my actions today shows a tinge of indifference.

They say it's the compassion that counts.

But that's not how I see it.

Maybe, the flood of guilt tumbles not from inaction. But from choosing to heed other preoccupations rather than staring right in the face the urgency of the day.

Monday, December 19, 2011



Tinatayang hindi bababa sa isang libo katao ang namatay, karamihan mga bata, matapos ang magdamagang buhos ng ulan na nagdulot ng pagbaha sa Cagayan De Oro at Iligan City, Sabado ng madaling araw.

Bilyon bilyong pisong halaga ng ari-arian at pananim ang kasamang naanod nang umapaw ang Cagayan at Tubod rivers. Tinatayang aabutin pa ng susunod na taon bago makabangon sa delubyo ang mga residente ng nasabing bayan.

Sa kabila ng mapait na trahedya, nagawa pa rin ng pahayagang The Philippine Daily Inquirer mangiliti ng imahinasyon nang maglabas ito ng litrato ng isang makinis, artistahin at pagkasarap-sarap na binata sa kanilang front page kahapon.

Ang nasabing binata, na lumabas sa December 18 issue ng diyaryo ay nakuhaang nakahubad at karga-karga ang isang batang babae habang sila ay patawid sa rumaragasang baha.

Ayon kay Luningning Saqnioco, isang Gay Sociology expert, inaasahang magiging viral hit ang litrato ni kuya.

"Day, sa dami ba naman ng mga baklang sabik sa laman ngayong kapaskuhan, hindi malayong siya na ang bagong pantasya ng bayan."

Sinang-ayunan ito ng isang tabloid reporter na napabalitang suki ng mga sinehan sa Cubao at Avenida.

"Siney yung julakis? Bet ba niya lumabas sa bagong pelikula ni Manay Josie? (isang indie film producer) Kukunin ko shaa." Sabay walk-out para sundan at sutsutan ang isang matipunong security guard papasok sa loob ng pampublikong palikuran.

Iba-iba rin ang nakalap naming reaksyon sa kilalang social networking site na Twitter:

"Ay, para siyang tasty bread na lumulutang sa kape." Ayon kay @bekingeseako.

"Ayos! May bago na naman akong inspirasyon bago matulog!" Sabi naman ni @goldenboy75

"Para siyang isang basang sisiw na nangangailangan ng kalinga't aruga." Kumento naman ni @miss_cougar na kaagad ring ni-retweet (kinopya) ng isa pang twitter user na nagngangalang @missterioussgirl.

Pinilit naming kuhanin ang panig ng Inquirer, kasama na rin ang pangalan, tirahan at shoe size ni kuya. Ang mga detalyeng aming makakalap ang siya sanang magbibigay daan sa mabubuting loob na handang mag-abot ng tulong pinansyal, cellphone at pati na rin kabuhayan showcase sa binata.

Hanggang sa mga oras na ito ay wala pa ring reply sa aming text ang news editor ng nasabing pahayagan.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Most certainly, the mood wouldn't be this festive
if the deluge happened in Imperial Manila.

For the first time,
I am beginning to question the leader
I voted into office.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Decade Later

4:00 pm
LRT 2 Pureza Station

Hey Jay,

How does it feel like turning a decade older?

I'm off to Santa Clara to give thanks for a meaningful and blessed year. While waiting for the train to come, I thought of walking down the memory lane, hoping I could get in touch with you again. And you know what, I vaguely remember how your birthday was ten years ago. Was it the one you got so drunk and made mom and dad upset?

You caught them by surprise, kid. They don't know you already sleep with alcohol at such age.

Besides, you never had plans that day. Because a few days later, your class will hold a Christmas Party. You took great pains for it to happen.

You said, "kahit pa-birthday niyo na lang." Since its your last year in school, you want everyone to show up and enjoy.

I'm sure you had thoughts of how your life is ten years after turning twenty.

You ask:

Did you succeed your dad and became a tabloid publisher?

Did you run your family's security agency business and made it prosper?

Did you marry your girl and became a "trendy millionaire by 27" like what was written on your college yearbook.

Big plans eh?

You saw life through a rose-colored stained glass window. The future maybe unseen, but you know it will be good!

I remember even before, you don't throw a party on your birthday. Not even a tagayan session at home. A quick trip to the Santissimo Rosario parish with your girlfriend for a quiet reflection and your day is done.

But your tropa - the PGC - had insisted to have a drink after your class was dismissed. "Birthday mo naman eh," they cheered. "Minsan lang to," said another. You first turned down the idea, but eventually you gave in.

Now that I see it through the train window - as it crosses Edsa, you had a choice of stomping it down - and get on with your solitude. That moment of giving-in, somehow, put in front of the mirror your ways of coming up with decisions. You played passive as default. Seldom did you make choices and when you do, it is laced with doubts and hesitations.

But you made very good ones too!

Going back to the evening of December 15, 2002, your childhood friend gatecrashed your little drinking session. He presented himself as an expert tanggero and after countless shots of Ginebra San Miguel, you lost track of time and the next thing I remember, you were slumped on the ground.

After being carted off to Neverland, I'm sure you had twisted dreams of becoming the undisputed sovereign of your family business. Though you know within that you never like being surrounded with hot, sexy starlets, it doesn't hurt to know that your coffers never get empty.

Sadly kid, I'm afraid your fantasies never took place. In less than a year after leaving college, a series of tragedies struck your family. First was your dad going into hiding. He was accused of sending someone to his death. Next, the business had its computers and printing machines taken away by the authorities. It was too obscene for the prudish and was thought of corrupting the minors - when they get their hands on them. We will never able to rise up after that raid. And when dad was able to breathe new life into the newspaper, he said bye-bye to this world a week after it resumed operations.

He died just when your cold war was beginning to thaw.

There was no choice but to sit on his broken throne. You were plucked from another company (you abandoned your post at your dad's company after some disagreements made you realize you cannot work for free.) and found the once mighty tabloid now swimming in debt. All it took for the newspaper to sink was one summer, and then its over.

The tabloid may have had several comebacks, but never will it be yours again.

As for matters of the heart, you began crossing fences shortly after turning twenty. Blame the Internet for the Lavender Spring, but you saw it coming way way back. You will have three boy relationships. You will spend five years with one of them. The third will make a phone call and say "Happy Birthday" exactly a minute after you've turned thirty.

You will discover what contentment means with him.

Returning to that fateful night, as you tried to get up and meet your parents waiting at the dining table, the next ten years will replay the scenes of the struggle.

Your savings was almost wiped out during the first five years of the decade. You jumped from one job to another, only to settle in a career not far from the one you were groomed to take. You were accepted in UP Diliman, and was able to join their Creative Writing program.

Short of thesis, you decided to put your academics on hold while you sorted out the other realms of your life.

I remember, dad always tells us to stay healthy. We were blessed with faulty genes that no matter how we aspire for good health, heart ailments and diabetes trail not far behind.

It's a good thing you thought of enrolling in a gym at 26. More than reasons of vanity, the long and fruitful fitness tradition has allowed you to stay out of reach of our ancient maladies.

Even though you know, they are catching up.

Well Jay, these sums up your life. I could have said more, but this piece is getting lengthy. Besides, its getting more difficult to ruminate especially when you're walking along White Plains avenue with cars facing head on.

To be fair, the decade wasn't that bad. As I said earlier, though seldom did you make you own decisions, the ones you did are the finest. First, you may have inadvertently liberated so many other guys in the closet when you accepted your absolute attraction with boys. I will not go into details, but surely you know how sharp your pen is. (no pun intended)

You might not earn much (and you seem lagging behind the career race) but at least, you get to lead and look after a dozen people at work. You are also under the good graces of the boss.

Lastly, you may not have found a career in the newspaper industry. But at least, you have a very strong, quasi-anonymous online presence. And you get to write science articles for small children too!

I don't know any loftier accomplishment than that.

What I'm telling you Jay is that no matter how you see your last ten years as a glass half-full, it doesn't look that worse than showing up at the dining table drunk and wasted. Your mom and dad bought food pa naman for you to feast.

But let me stop reminding you of what happened that evening and focus on why there's a need to reach out.

I guess writing back is my way of telling, of telling my future self my state of mind on a breezy, late afternoon of December 15, 2011.

Sure, my accomplishments were modest and I got slightly piqued having to walk all the way from Santa Clara to Ortigas just to hear myself talk.

But this act of walking, of this silly writing to a boy who was intoxicated on his twentieth birthday, if it carries any weight, is my way of telling the future that I'm willing to take long journeys on foot to get there.

To my destination.

For when you sum our lives from that night of worthless abandon to where I stand today, the wind tells me, I'm back from where I started.

Only now, I'm fully aware of my senses.

I hope, the next time I will write this way, Jay, you will find yourself on top of a scenic vista overlooking a breathtaking landscape. Better if you remain alone, as long as you're well-accomplished in ways you have dreamed of.

I hope you will get to finish your masters, and stay fit. May you never give up the Olympic Bars and Steel plates all because you thought, you had enough of weightlifting.

And I sincerely wish that even though you never get to see your teenage dreams fulfilled, may your sublime aspirations of becoming a teacher, a crusader of the planet, a devoted and supportive partner be realized.

May you succeed in putting your house in order.

Just so you know, I kept the bottle as souvenir.

Because despite failing miserably in laying down and showing off your earthly feats, I can tell deep down that you have served your Creator well.

In the silence of Baaspace.

Happy Birthday...  Joms.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I will not deny that I sometimes see my house like this:

Yes, a little close to that.

Unfortunately, I am in a rush since it is time for my general cleaning tradition.

Stories can wait for another time.

I just want to tell that if there is one soul who has the audacity to draw the line, it's me. And the more trash the hoarders bring, they can expect a reaction so brutal that thoughts of sentimentality will be thrown out of the window.

If it is the only way to clean up the house and give-away stuff we never need in the first place.

Desperate times need desperate measures. Plans are set and they won't know what hit them. Meanwhile, all I can do at the moment is start the overhaul within the confines of my room. I may not be able to convince the rest to follow. At least, I live my own rule.

Monday, December 12, 2011


The self-controlled soul, who moves amongst sense objects, free from either attachment or repulsion, he wins eternal Peace.  

Bhagavad Gita

All I ever wanted was to make all traces of its previous owner disappear: The one-hundred and one photos, the movies stolen from Torrent, even the text messages and mp3s that take so much space on the gadget's memory. The Apple is already mine. I can take a bite whenever my heart desires. 

And so I swiped the touchscreen. Deleted the apps I will never use. Swiped again until I found the Settings icon. Selected the option "delete all data and restore factory settings." without checking on Google the consequence of my action. And then tapped the digital button to confirm it.

Only to realize - too late - that I should have pondered my moves over.

My mom warns me that I always get into trouble when I let impulse rule over. And this time, it reared its ugly head. By deliberately blocking any dissenting opinion over my purchase, over my overwhelming need to cover up the truth - that I bought something that was never mine in the first place, by letting my emotions and restlessness reign, I eventually ended up losing more than my stolen music player.

I returned home six hours later to find the gadget drained of power. I plugged it to a USB socket and waited for the device to come to life. 

It's been two days after my historic acquisition. Furion would still turn on - only to remain in boot mode - but never to reveal its lovely square apps again.



Hushed voices tell of a place where all electronic gadgets forcibly taken away from their hosts are sold.

There, pickpockets and robbers turn ambulant vendors. Their makeshift stalls line up a busy strip. It is where flies come together to inspect their wares; eager to get the best deal, knowing somehow, what are laid before them came from someone else.

But such words are never spoken.

This shitty truth was avowed to me by a colleague. Someone, who in his past life clawed out of the dregs. At the back of my head, going there is the closest I could exact as revenge. Maybe too, my Ipod Nano found itself peddled in one of the stalls there. 

I would like to retrieve it with cash.

"Ingat ka papunta dun." It was from my agent.

So I went to Avenida in search of the blackest market. Dressed down to my house garments, I even left my phone and wallet to ensure my possessions are spared. 

It was easy to fit in. The sidewalk was packed with people. Most were blue collar workers off to see if their wages could afford them a worn down phone. There were Nokias and Motorolas, I even spotted a touch-screen Samsung and a bunch of China-made Cherry phones.

A stall sells digital cameras. I wonder how it was snatched from its owner. A hold-up maybe? What if it was pawned? There were even laptops at drop down prices. Displayed for all to see, my heart wishes of amiable partings. But all I could hear are the cries and woes of their past owners. 

I moved from one stall to the next with a heavy heart.

And then, like a silver lining at the tail of a cold front, I caught glimpse of sunshine. Square in shape, silver in color. It was the same Nano I lost. 

I picked it up, hovered over the home button with my sweaty finger. I had to see what songs are kept in its repository. Rihanna, Goo Goo Dolls. Not a single Electronica. I think there was Eminem as well, and a slew of punk bands. Close enough, but those weren't my songs. The Nano was owned by someone else. 

"Magkano po siya manong?" 

"Two thousand."

"Wala na pong tawad?"

"Sige P1,900." I was ready to haggle some more, or even check the other stalls just a few steps away from my prospect.

But just when I was about to move on, I saw another gadget. an Ipod Touch lying beside the Nano.

"16 GB yan"

"Magkano?" I prefer to withhold the price.

"Kaya niyo pa ibaba ang presyo?"


The bait was very tempting. Especially when I learned how the inferior Apple gadgets on the nearby stalls commanded a higher price. The one being offered had a defect. Yes, a major one now that I see it differently. But at that moment, I was easily swayed by a wagging finger. Leaving my phone behind denied me salvation from my own impulses.

"I will get it." It was too late to back off.

Drunk with the thought of having my first Apple, I went to the nearest ATM to withdraw some cash. It was worth half-a-month's pay. Something I could use to fund my holiday project. But my inner demons say otherwise. 

"It's time you level up."

"Think of it as a reward."

"You can use WIFI instead of your service provider's snail-paced WAP. Imagine how it would revolutionize your Social Media usage."

No questions asked. The demons have a point.

And so I returned to the vendor to see the iPod Touch for a final inspection. Guiltless of my ways of acquisition. Fearless with my unilateral decision. I handed over the cash as the product exchanged hands. Sliding it inside my pocket, I left the strip a conqueror.

It was a Pyrrhic victory.

"From now on, you will be Furion." I said to myself, smiling, while looking at the side mirror of the jeep.

And the sweet taste of hubris
lingered in his mouth.
Only to learn, too late
it was the same fit of arrogance that would 
lead to his downfall.
Less than a day later.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Incident Report

Mga alas-otso po ng gabi iyon nangyari. Naghahanap po ako ng gift wrapper at kahon sa Carriedo. May buhat po akong malaking plastic bag ng National Bookstore, samantalang puno naman po ng mga pinamili ang backpack ko. Hindi ko po napapansin ang mga tao. Naka-earphones po kasi ako at naka-full volume ang MP3 player. Nakikinig po kasi ako ng Trance music. Mabilis po ang mga pangyayari. Biglang na lang pong nawala yung sounds malapit kung saan naroon yung stall na ang tinda ay mga boxer shorts. Tapos pagtingin ko sa baba, yung earphone jack nasa labas ng bulsa ko. Mahirap man tanggapin pero doon pa lang, alam ko pong wala na ang iPod Nano ko. 


I was checking my Gmail account when I came across an e-mail from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

And you know what my first reaction was? "Shit, did CBTL came across my blog? Is that why they are offering me free coffee?" 

You see, I use that Gmail address for online correspondence. I also do business with Bentusi using that account. While Nuffnang sometimes seed my inbox with their lame promotions, seldom do they offer freebies. To make sure the invitation came from someone else, I tried to look at the sender field. 

What I found had put a big, big smile on my face.

I won't deny that I have this HD to become a social blogger. Yes, the ones who write glittery reviews of restaurants or creating a buzz on the Internet to endorse a certain product. I want to put my writing and SEO skills to good use - to the benefit of local entrepreneurs. Since the Souljacker generates quite a traffic I thought CBTL was subtly requesting me to spread their marketing campaign.

Who am I to put down their favor. After all, I don't recall a time staying in their coffee shop and sipping a warm cup of coffee.

This might be a good experience.

So I went to the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf website to claim my free drink. There was the mandatory registration, of course. And you must also let them dig into your Google contacts for their system to send invites to your "friends." 

"I will include you, you and you," I was telling myself while checking the box to pick among my contacts the ones to forward the offer.

"No you're just a fake account, erase. erase."

While in the process of selection, I figured how the announcement got into my email. Someone was exactly doing the same thing before he realized (if ever) how CBTL mines his online account for information.

"You dirty bastard! Anyway I got a freebie so who cares."

And with that, I gave away my closest friends' and colleagues' email addresses. They say I could claim my espresso at SM Megamall branch only. 

No exceptions.

I can live through the thought that I was hoodwinked by CBTL's promotion. The data mining procedure already defies the goal of creating good impressions. Besides, a free coffee at a certain branch? Isn't it too inconvenient for its customers? 

But you know what rubbed salt into the wound?   

A few minutes after sending my registration, another e-mail came. This time, it was a confirmation that I have truly sold my soul and allowed Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to use me as a springboard to reach out to more people. Included in the email are instructions on how to claim the prize:

1. Only one couple will be allowed per person.
4. Redemption period is from December 1 - December 31.
5. Please print out this e-mail and present your valid ID. Print-outs without the following fields will not be accepted: from, to, date, subject, name, store and code.

Swear! I was short of saying, "at namigay ka pa sa lagay na yan!" after reading the last item. At a time when using paper is being frowned for environment reasons, the nerve of the one who came up with this idea to require patrons for print-outs. If he had only used his brain to think - digitally - he could have sent the authentication through SMS to make the process easier.

Conventional wisdom say that when you wish to give something for free, and generate goodwill, you don't put the receiver at a disadvantage.   

And so I tell you, I won't get caught going to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf with the e-mail printout. I won't fall in line along with paying customers and show my ID to claim their giveaway. To hell with their coffee. I'm not too atat to taste it anyway. 

Besides, I could afford a Venti at Starbucks anytime my cravings demand.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On Gay Marriage Last Pt.

Previously on Souljacker

February 14, 2003

It was past 7 in the evening. Lovers were everywhere. Restaurants and hotels were fully booked for dates and other expressions of intimacy. While lonely singles banded together for group dates and bachelor parties. 

Meanwhile, there I was in Dapitan. The street was empty. There was a girl using the phone booth and she was crying while talking to someone on the other line. I can't remember why I'd be using the phone after her. All I know is that I just had a fight, and had this urging to let go once the boyfriend call it quits. 

I won't run after him.

"You know what, I'm willing to give up everything. I'm willing to shell out so you can make both ends meet. Because you are my partner. Pero tama ka, break na tayo." I cleared my throat before pressing the button to send the reply.

Barely four months after meeting the stranger, my first man to man relationship had ended. 

The split was welcomed with more jubilation than grief. My friends were behind me, (they never liked him in the first place) I've suffered for far too long that I was already plotting my exit. During the first two months, a day won't last without him picking up a fight. He would accuse me of cheating - even when I report to him at 6 in the morning and before I go to sleep at night. I even used our landline to assure him I was already home. On weekdays, I had to pick him up at work - not because he wanted to, but to let him know how dead serious I was with the commitment. 

Because I was living a dream, at 21, while he dwelt on jadedness at 28.

The guy after him was no different. We lasted five years but all I remember now is how I kept my growing world hidden while our point of convergence straddled along the lines of personal convenience. He showed up only to use my computer for school, or he needed extra money to jack up his finances. 

There were good times. But these were buried under heaps of emotional baggage and dissolved under the bitter awakening of how tiny our relationship had become. The aftertaste served as the fuse that lead to the end of our relationship. Had you read my deleted blog, you would understand the struggle, and for this reason, I never saw a future - much less - a permanent union.

God knows I had loved those men. He knows how I had surrendered every inch of me not only for their happiness, but for mine as well. He knows how I tried to make the relationship work despite its slow crumble. While on television, on online forums and in the streets, gay people assert their right to marry. The debate went on in the halls of congress like a poorly-rated musical shown season after season.

The motion gets junk before its first reading simply because the bigots say gay marriage is an affront to the Almighty.

Did my maker say that?

I stand by my faith that not a single word is found in the Scriptures, where Christ condemned people like me to eternal damnation. I have never known Him forbidding a man to love another man when it is sincere, heartfelt and drawn out from selfless inspiration.

And I believe too that a covenant meant for life doesn't need a priest as a witness. Love is between two people. The less fanfare it has, the deeper the attachment is. I've heard stories of gay couples marrying in a Metropolitan Church complete with media coverage only to divorce a few years later. Besides, a commitment is a work in progress. The attachment wears off from time to time, so it must be renewed by new shared experiences, and sometimes, even common struggles.

There are moments when I still ask myself if I was meant to go through two failed relationships and six wasted years so I may become wiser with the present one. Surely the scars remain with the first, and I have been less susceptible to revolts, after waging a protracted rebellion in the time of the second lover. I have also ceased relying on forever and instead, have learned to place my faith in love at present. I guess these are their legacies.

As for gay marriage, the aspiration will be realized sooner than we think. There is no need to rush, or worse, display those trappings of travesty when a gay man wears a bridal gown during Pride events. Everything falls into place, including collective perception.

As for me, I can afford to wait, and surely JC too, as we are both partners whose union is shaped by age. And if the time comes we decide to live together. A government recognition and protection will do.

After all, I speak of our creator everytime his thoughts cross mine.

For we already share a journey.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Star That Is Lilia Cuntapay

Put yourself in the shoes of a bit player. Someone who spends her waking days waiting for that call - A phone call from her agent for a role so insignificant, not even the supporting actors notice her presence. 

Imagine playing this role over and over for the next thirty years, and then one moment, in the dustbin of her career, a break comes. A role she has spent a lifetime of waiting to play. This time, not just an old hag in an r-rated film, or a ghost nanny in a horror flick. 

What if that person has been given a chance to play a character, not just an extra but the lead actress herself?

In the film Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, this question has been finally answered. Written and Directed by Antoinette Jadaone, the film explores the life of a bit player - someone whose perpetual movie role launches her to pop-icon status, but her name, hardly anyone knows - not even her co-stars.    

The film is done in a Mockumentary style. The director follows the real Lilia Cuntapay around as she bares her life outside the movie industry. Here, we get to take a peek at how bit players are seen as celebrities in their low-income neighborhoods; how they take their roles very seriously, even practicing the few lines they have to deliver, and how frustrating it is to be stereotyped in a role until the people identify you as the character and not the person.

Interviewer: Kilala niyo po si Lilia Cuntapay?

Interviewee: Lilia who?!?

Interviewer: Yung matandang yaya na mahaba ang buhok sa Shake Rattle and Roll 3? 

Interviewee: (after seeing the picture) Ahh siya ba? Yung mumu? Uu naman, napapanood ko siya nung bata pa ako eh!

Mona Lilia

We also get to learn that more than the White Lady and the Aswang in the Regal Films horror franchise. Lilia Cuntapay lent her expertise in movies such as Curacha and Brokedown Palace. She also claims to have worked with almost all the celebrities (including Kevin Bacon) by virtue of six degrees of separation. 

The idea rests on the fact that Nanay Lilia has worked with someone who has collaborated with another actor in the same industry. Based on this premise, it is possible even for a lowly bit actor to find herself at the center of the movie universe. 

More than the comic relief, the film brims with heartfelt moments that add depth to the story. We see Lilia Cuntapay arriving at the set at 4 in the morning (and was forbidden to use the VIP toilet) for a six-in-the morning call time. We also get to see her being interviewed in TV Patrol (for she was nominated for best supporting actress in a film) and throwing a viewing party for her neighbors. We also get to see her relationship with her adopted daughter, and how one seems to be in-denial of the other. 

I do not know how much of the narrative is fiction, but I was convinced that Lilia Cuntapay's acting was drawn from the gut. It speaks of hardships in the industry she belongs, her perpetual dilemma whether to see herself as an actress and not just an extra, and how she was confined to playing minor roles for so long, when she could be the star herself. Between the lines of the acceptance speech she had continuously revised throughout the film, a keen observer can see the point of what the Mockumentary is all about; of how one's aspiration has been realized.

Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay is a film dedicated to all the nameless, stereotyped bit players out there. It's no wonder that for some reasons, I felt that justice has been served when I left the UP Film Center after the ending credits began to roll.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


I was channel surfing one morning when I came across a featured, free channel on Skycable. There were no syndicated shows like ANTM or Glee, not even grappling documentaries like Mythbusters or Deadliest Catch. Instead, it was playing instrumental music - a lullaby - the ones you hear on mobile cribs (the suspended contraption with revolving toys going around in circles) when someone puts a baby to sleep. Out of fascination (because I find it too odd that a TV channel for infants and toddlers would keep me hooked) I left my thoughts on Twitter. 

Me: Is watching BabyTV Channel on Skycable at 2 in the morning.

Me: Teka, lipat ko nga yung TV sa Master's Bedroom to that channel. Nandun naman si Baby Lenin eh.

Me: (After eating Lugaw and Egg across the street) Now back to watching Babytv. strongly recommended for little girls who want to be put to sleep.

Nobody paid attention to my punchline, or maybe, I was the only one laughing at my joke. But to my surprise the next day, somebody sent a reply

Jess Abrera, Editorial Cartoon, Philippine Daily Inquirer

BabyTVChannel: Hope she fell asleep:-) RT @xxx now back to watching babytv. strongly recommended for little girls who want to be put to sleep.

I wonder what would Elena Bautista-Hor (née. Yee) say when she finds out that even the Baby Channel Network wants her boss to be put to sleep. As for me, I'll drop ESPN and Balls Channel in favor of BabyTV for my nephews. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Champ

To say that my fitness activity is faltering is an understatement. The truth is, I have lost much ground that people are starting to notice my expanding girth. The three-times-a-week work-out became two. In the last two weeks, the frequency of my presence - at Eclipse - has decreased to one.

I could raise a howl as to why the whimsy behavior is getting more obvious. It's the season to be glutton and everyone's busy preparing their tummies for the holiday feasts. The constant thighs-and-back pain would drive me to the comforts of my own mattress. And the dreaded metabolism has slowed to a standstill, even when I starve myself the way skinny stiletto-wearing models do, I gain more pounds than shed weight.

It would have been much, much easier to give up the gym. After all, it's over - the body is bloating unopposed. Who am I to turn against my genes when I am bound to become obese one day. In his thirties, my dad had the tummy of a pregnant lady. His arms and thighs were as big as logs and his big-nippled man-boobs sagged like a hundred babies suckled milk from his soft bosom. 

But as far as my memory whispers, he didn't easily give up the fight. He might have been chubby to a fault, but he did his best to turn against the tide.

There were mornings when my dad would tell me to stay beside him so he could teach me how to use the dumb bells properly. He had just bought second-hand gym equipment and converted a room in our house into his personal gym.

Being a kid who loves to play with his sister's dolls my video games, the side trip proved to be a well-spring of annoyance than a source of learning. Soon, I caved in. I still keep that notebook where he had written a basic exercise program I once capriciously followed to make it appear that I am one with his pursuit.

For two summers, we would go to the Army and Navy club at Luneta. He would swim all morning, while my eyes moved around to spot other swimmers whose physique I would love to have as my own. I would learn to float in waters beyond the reach of my toes, eventually. But other than that, what I remember were the men (in their fifties) who walked around naked in the dressing room and the smooth, toned body of a tsinoy classmate in swimming class who I would fantasize think about all day.

In the home front, dad used to brag to his friends how firm his biceps and legs were, when all I could see are chicken legs and loose skin. The wall separating his room from the maid's quarters were plastered with torn-up posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane. He too bought those huge plastic containers of weight-gain formulas. Had he known they would make him bigger, he would think twice of buying those supplements in the first place.

It was a life-long struggle that took the drive away from my dad. And it was the same uphill battle, I am facing now that lead me to remember his pursuits and learn, that all along, he was passing his greatest aspirations.

So that I won't end up becoming like him.

So goes another year of seeing my progress record

The old man didn't live to see my project. He would never know how I could easily lift a 120lbs Barbell for Benchpress or do 230lbs for Deadlift. He would never feel how relatively "flat" my tummy is - despite the wicked love handles I keep on my sides - when his was already rounded and protruding when he was at my age. I hardly swim anymore, and have never learned the Butterfly. But anytime someone would ask, I can go underwater without the fear of drowning.

Dad missed a lot. Had he known that not a single grain of effort was lost when he taught me to do free weights, maybe, just maybe, he would have pushed himself a little harder and accomplish the goal I decided to finish myself. And instead of having those posters as inspiration, those fitness magazine to guide him to do impossible tasks and supplements to aid his muscle building, he would have a son to remind him - in the future - that all it takes to be a champ is to keep going, no matter whether its a losing battle in the end.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Backpacker: Santa Ana, Cagayan

Previously on Souljacker

Fourth Part: The Beach

The fiery orb continues to march unopposed across the sky, as the swollen, rain-clad clouds quietly assembles where the mountains break the plains. Thunder claps in the distance. Despite the putsch of a late-afternoon shower spoiling my quickie getaway, the landscape basks in some faint semblance of summer. It's like it never rained the whole week. 

Cirrus patches scatter over the heavens forming a thin veil concealing the azure horizon, while below, the blue expanse invites sun worshippers to take a dip. It's been five years since I set foot in the beach and as my feet felt the grainy brown sands of Santa Ana's empty coastline, I was seduced to the open waters like a nymph was calling my name.

Slowly, I disappeared beneath the waves. Crushed corals lining the shore scrape the soles of my feet. I would like to walk further, to the place where even the tip of my toes would never touch the soft ground. But strong currents of the Babuyan Channel and the thought of a runaway jellyfish stinging me to unconsciousness kept me from closing the distance. 

Instead, I stood at a spot where the water sloshes slightly below my chest. A person watching at the gazebo could have mistaken me for a monk in meditation. Slightly bent, with my eyes gazing at the emptiness, I would rather be seen as a sentry at a post. For what is unseen is my hand yanking clumsily underwater, like it was arming a cannon trying to fire at miniature submarines. But it cannot do so, because everything is just in my head. 

It didn't matter if there were teen boys summersaulting nearby. They won't see and they were not the object of my fantasy. For my mind was lost elsewhere, assaulting the dirty demons who were suggesting lustful images since I arrived in paradise. Had I been a little younger, one would see me at the beach, building sand castles only to crumble as the foamy waves trample its feeble walls. Had I been with a tropa perhaps, one would see us racing across the water. 

Had I been with my partner. Well... A shooting war would be happening elsewhere, not definitely at the beach.

None were available so I had to improvise.

I was in that crouched position for an hour or so, but the cannon won't shoot. Maybe there wasn't an ammo to begin with, or I had already emptied myself long before I thought of repeating the deed. What snapped me back to reality was my excuse at home. I would be hard-pressed to explain why on earth did I get sunburned in Isabela, unless I was half-naked the whole time while inspecting the fields.  

Strong waves continue to pound my back, inching me closer and closer towards the shore. Sensing defeat, (the cannon not only refuses to fire, it had gone wimp) it was time to get out of the water.

After taking a long, hot shower, I returned to the bar-slash-restaurant with a coffee shop ambiance. As I send my tweet updates on my laptop and asking the receptionists for leads as to where I could find a public transpo leaving Santa Ana before noon,

a thought occurred to me.

Cagayan Sunshine

This is how short my stay is. In less than a day after I've arrived, here I am making arrangements for my hasty exit back to the city.

And the only reason for returning to the town center is not to take a stroll - it is to say goodbye.

- tobecontinued -

Monday, November 28, 2011

To Quote

"May mga hinahanap ako na basic lang na hahanapin ng isang babae sa isang boyfriend, sa isang lalaki. Pero, masakit man sabihin, hindi ako yun. Siguro nag-fail din ako dahil hindi ako yung kailangan niya sa buhay niya. Or hindi ako yung hinahanap niya sa buhay niya. And hindi, hindi ko mabigay sa kanya yung kailangan niya."

KC Concepcion
The Buzz

Ito ang dahilan kung bakit kahit napakadali sa akin ang tumanso ng babae, at paulit-ulit, taon-taon ay sinasabi sa akin ng mga tropang lalaki (straight) na kaya akong remedyuhan at gawing heterosexual muli ay ni-minsan hindi ko binalak tumawid ng bakod at magkunwaring attracted pa rin sa babae.

They say it is for your own survival. Para hindi ka nag-iisa sa pagtanda. Yung iba naman, to mask your hidden preference, upang walang mag-hihinala na burat at tamod rin pala ang hanap mo. It's my stand, but rather than become someone's source of misery, I'd rather be out in the open, or better yet, suspend all my pretensions of opposite sexual attraction to cover up

the real me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Warp and Weft

In a big city often covered in thick smog, there was once a family who owned a very large junkyard. The junkyard is full of rusted cars and trucks that were thrown away when their owners bought new automobiles. These cars will be then sold for scraps.

Alas! A time came when the junkyard hardly makes any money. The old cars that used to pile up in the vacant lot now directly goes to the factories that assembled them. Nobody wants to buy the land because of the ugliness of the place.

One day, Alfred, the owner of the junk yard called his 2 sons to talk.

“I am getting very old and weak.” Alfred said. “And the only treasure I will leave behind is this piece of land.” He paused, before looking at the dull landscape outside the window.

“I want you to tell me what do you plan to do with this junkyard when I’m gone?”

“Lets sell it,” Donnie, the older of Alfred’s two sons suggested. “And then when I get the money, I will start my own business!”

Donny is the older between the two brothers. He dreams of becoming a businessman someday. Since he was kid, he wanted to turn the junkyard into a toy factory.

“How about we plant trees instead, and let this junkyard turn into a small forest?” Miko said, shyly.

“Are you out of your mind?” Donny stared at Miko. “Selling this land means more money!”

“Look around you big brother.  When was the last time you saw a bird fly, or butterflies come to this place?” Alfred seemed to agree with his younger son. 

“I would like people to remember dad not as a junkyard man but someone who is friends with trees.” Donny laughed at his brother’s idea as if to mock him. Meanwhile, Alfred thought of dividing the land at once into two equal parts to keep the brothers from fighting it over.

“Have it your way Miko, but don’t come to me begging for money.” Donny said before storming out of the room.

The next week, Miko went to the mountains to buy saplings of trees that used to grow in his father’s land - before it became a junkyard. After all the remaining old cars were carted away, he planted Mahogany saplings, hoping it would grow despite the land being polluted with chemicals.

On some days, Alfred would watch as his younger son spend the whole day tending his growing garden, and smile. He can’t help but feel proud of his accomplishment. As a teacher, Miko would sometimes bring his students along to teach them the importance of taking care of the environment. 

The students would also bring tree saplings with them. Some even set free small birds and frogs they caught in other parts of the city. Though they were not sure if the animals would stay, they pressed on making sure the land becomes home to these small creatures.

Meanwhile, Donny’s business isn’t growing. The factory he built stayed small, and the children didn’t like the toys he made. He would sometimes look at the window and see a caterpillar crawling at the sill. He would brush aside what Miko told him when they were young boys, but his little brother’s words stayed inside his head.

“When was the last time you saw a bird fly, or butterflies come to this place?”

Years went by and the patch of greens finally got a life of its own. Butterflies and dragonflies flutter over some wild grass, while frogs leap on some small pond filled with rainwater. Children would sometimes sneak past the gate to pick flowers while old men, breathe fresh air - something they can’t even enjoy in their own homes.

“You were right all along, little brother.” Donny’s hair has now turned grey. His toy factory long abandoned, even the trees had taken over his part of the old junkyard.

“And I’m glad you returned.” Miko said smiling. His face now creased with age. “You should meet my grandson one of these days.”

The two brothers spent the whole morning sharing stories about their father, while outside, a flock of Cattle Egrets decided to stop by before their long journey heading to their new nesting grounds in the south.

Task: Tells of a family who planted trees and allowed ecological succession to take its natural course

Personal Notes: I just can't get over with my previous children's article that I had to write a rejoinder. It aims to uplift the somber mood pervading in that story. Like many struggling writers, my well of ideas get empty, and I find it difficult to treat a specific topic as well. To counter this malaise, (and to keep myself challenged) I started writing articles of different subjects set on a single setting.

Unfortunately, the Grade One kids won't get to read the Smog rejoinder. This article is meant for the batch ahead of them.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Sad Children's Story

“Wake up my fledglings!” Eden said. 

The graceful Cattle Egret stood up from her moist nest not far from a rice field to gather around her three babies. 

The young Cattle Egrets had just learned to fly.

“Today we will go on a vacation.” The young birds started jumping upon hearing the news. It was the last day of November, and the breeze has become colder. 

“Where are we going mom?” Tony, the eldest of the baby Egrets asked.

“As you know, these mornings have become colder.”


“And its hard for us to find food.”

“Uh huh,” Bruno, the youngest of the birds nodded. 

“So we will fly south to build a new nest.” The little birds looked surprised. Their wings are not used to flying great distances.

“Don’t be scared, we will make it.” Eden smiled nervously. “But first, you must listen.”

It was very cold that morning and warm air from the sun turns water vapor into liquid before it touches the ground. The birds, including Eden have no name for it, but humans call it fog.  

The very low clouds make flying difficult because the Cattle Egrets could not see very far. 

But if there’s something Eden and her chicks should avoid, it is flying over the big city to get to their new nesting ground.

“Remember what Uncle Fifi told you about the low clouds in the city?”

“The one he flew over and then he coughed so bad, he almost dove to the ground?”


“Other birds have told me the low clouds got worse.” 

Eden was talking about a kind of fog that covers the city in a curtain of brown clouds. When water vapor get mixed with dust and very small particles, it becomes a smog. It makes flying across very hard because the birds could not only see, they also cannot breathe.

“Your grandma once told me those clouds were not there when she was still a fledgling.” The three young Cattle Egrets panted while flapping their wings to climb a mountain.

“It is when people started burning black wood, and rode metal boxes with wheels did the brown cloud appear.”

The birds may not know about burning coal or black smoke from cars, but they can see that it makes people unwell, including the children whose parents drive those cars or burn those coals in their factories.  

Sadly, unlike the Cattle Egrets who avoid flying over the city, the people simply wore masks when the smoke and fog got very bad.

“I feel sorry for them,” Mandy, the middle chick mumbled.

Eden and her three fledglings got past the big city covered in thick smog. It was hard for them to breathe, but it was the only way to get to their new nest. Below, there were no children in the playground, the windows in all the houses were closed, and only few people walked outside. The trees had shed their brown leaves, while in the distance, black smoke billows from big chimneys. 

Task: Describes how smog forms and why it occurs more often during the cold months. Tells about the dangers of smog.

Personal Note: Some stories, no matter the reader must be told in a bleak manner to deliver the message. It was meant for Grade 1 children. 

The story would be revised.