Movies I’ve watched recently: The Kingmaker, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Come and See

Imelda, Lucy, Florya

The Kingmaker
It would be difficult even for Hollywood filmmakers to make a biopic about Imelda Marcos, one of the most notorious first ladies who ever lived. I truly believe there is no actress chameleonic enough who can exude the delusional aura that Imelda possesses and no screenwriter talented enough who can write a script that can capture the inanity of every word that comes out of her mouth that spews twisted takes on truth, beauty, and their family’s supposedly glorious rule of the Philippines. But it would be interesting to see Natalie Portman tackle the role of Imelda fucking Marcos.

The Kingmaker is a documentary about Imelda, her pivotal role in shaping Philippine history, and her family’s audacious attempts to ascend, once again, to the highest government positions in the country. Imelda is a fascinating woman who will never cease to be a subject of films, songs, novels, and think-pieces. Also fascinating is how she willingly participates in these films and not think that she’d be portrayed in any way other than as a vicious monster who live —and will die — in a bubble. It could only be explained by her egomania. This documentary is so maddening and so well-made.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about couple Lucy and Jake taking a road trip to meet Jake’s socially awkward parents. Lucy thinks out loud during the trip; in particular, she is thinking of ending things with Jake because she no longer wants to be with him. She’s narrating in her head, as one does while on a road trip to meet one’s partner’s parents. She’s unaware that Jake can hear her thoughts, which induces a pleasant kind of cringe.

It’s an interesting premise although one that would require paying very close attention (which is difficult to do considering this is a Netflix movie, and is therefore watched at home) to what soon unfolds when they reach their destination, Jake’s house, where his parents act all servile and weird. I would have been happier with a straightforward romantic comedy/drama in which a couple is about to separate, with one-half of the couple thinking out loud and the other hearing everything that’s not being said. I enjoy the occasional Charlie Kaufman mindfuck, but I was put off by the dream-like sequences in the school toward the end. It wasn’t quite clear if the person who was thinking of ending things, ended things. I think that is part of this movie’s allure.

Come and See
Florya, a boy barely out of his teens, is joining the village soldiers to fight against the Nazis. His mother is against it, but he does it anyway because it’s not as if there are many options for them; their entire village along with 600 others according to Wikipedia and history books are about to be razed to the ground by very bad people. Florya joins the troop only to be told to stay behind and give his good shoe to a veteran deemed more capable to fight in battle.

Nazi soldiers soon arrive, and it doesn’t take long for them to destroy the village and slaughter every man, woman, and child. Florya and those who manage to escape the first round of slaughter live through this long enough then promptly go mad. When everything you own and live for are taken away from you, it won’t take long before you lose your mind. Florya and some of the villagers are spared, not because they acted right and/or luckily escaped but because the soldiers needed an audience for their little fire show.

The barbarity of Nazi soldiers during World War 2 is well documented in history books, novels, essays, films, etc., but there’s something about its depiction in this film that gets under one’s skin. So many war stories need to be told, and movies like Come and See, about Germany’s invasion of the land formerly named Byelorussia, are an important reminder of the kind of evil humans are capable of, e.g., incinerating people like they’re kindling and doing it with maniacal glee, among many, many, many other acts of cruelty. This movie is a fever dream of atrocity after atrocity. It’s an Important Film, although one that’s very difficult to watch. Watch it.

Older

Big news: I listened to a classical radio station on Spotify today. It felt like something I should do more often. I also played my Kid A CD, which is a grown-up album to listen to. As you know, Radiohead is not a Dua Lipa, a Cherry Sawayama, or a Chromatica. As a gay who’s always listening to pop girls new and old, I sometimes feel obligated to listen to pop queens, but at what age must it stop? Is it okay for a mid-30s gay to listen to “Rain on Me” and “Sour Candy” on repeat and not feel like an old uncle trying to be cool? I like the aforementioned Chromatica tracks, but it’s “1,000 Doves” that I love. That’s me as a grown-up – listening to classical music instead of pop girls. But that’s not all that I do that’s been making me feel like an adult.

I eat lots of vegetables now and even find them delicious (except ampalaya, a vegetable that relentlessly assaults the tastebuds with bitterness). I also cook veggies and always look forward to the results. My cooking skills are uneven; sometimes the dish comes out decent, sometimes it’s too salty, too spicy, too peppery, or too garlicky. If I were a parent, my children would hate the things I cook for them. First of all, if I were a parent, I don’t know that I’d be cooking vegetables for their benefit or for mine. I’d probably cook lots of fried foods for those needy bastards, which would compel me to eat some of the fried junk that their young body can process hassle-free. This is why I’m so glad that in my present reality, I don’t have to. The thought of me with children will never be not terrifying. 

I also no longer put sugar in my first cup of coffee, not even “sugar in the raw” (which is Starbucks jargon for raw sugar that is barely sugar for how unsweet it is). The 28-year-old me, the one that drinks at least four cups of coffee a day and still manages to sleep like a baby, would never. 

Still on food: I sometimes insist on giving friends “adult dishes” I’ve ordered or have stocked up on. I have friends who have the palate of 12-year-olds, and may they be always blessed. Being an adult requires the utmost politeness when accepting or denying offers of food. Some people would decline the food we offer them, and that’s okay. If you don’t want your feelings hurt by friends’ rejection of your adult dishes, offer it to a religious shrine instead. Similarly, we wouldn’t always like the adult food our friends give us, but we’ll accept them anyway because it seems rude not to. Unlike certain friends, I can eat almost anything and have grown used to different foods on my plate touching each other. For example, I don’t mind the ketchup touching the kangkong. But there’s a limit to this newfound tolerance. Rice drenched in sinigang soup touching portions of a saucy dish like mechado or menudo is still abominable. Still, I don’t think I’d mind should I ever find myself in a Pinoy food buffet situation where these wildly varying dishes find themselves on my plate. I’ll cross that bridge when that bridge finds itself on my plate. 

In Thailand, we are no longer called to sit on the couch

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The lockdown restrictions in Thailand have been lifted months ago, but people are encouraged to remain paranoid. And we still are. We still wear a face mask (or just “mask” as I prefer to call it) when going out and we still use hand sanitizers after touching any surface outside our homes. There are different groups of we’s, though, and some of these groups are more brazen and less fearful than the we I belong to.

We are no longer called on to sit on the couch and watch Netflix, as a certain meme had admonished (the one that thinks it’s so clever). It was good while it lasted, but who’s to say we should abandon our couch-sitting, Netflix-watching duties (which also applies to those who don’t have Netflix)?

So I still fulfill that duty whenever I can. I recently watched Bad Genius, an extremely enjoyable, well-made Thai film about a brilliant student and the kamotes that befriend her. I wrote my thoughts about it on my notebook then I followed the actor who played Pat on Instagram. His Instagram is “lit AF”. He’s an okay actor but you wouldn’t know it from his Instagram. On Instagram, he is like most cool young Thai guys who know how to make baggy and slightly trashy clothes look elegant and immensely photographable.

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Recently, we went to the Bangkok Arts & Cultural Center (BACC) to see, gulp down, absorb, and take photos of art and oddities. It lifted my spirits somehow. The BACC is roomy, designed to accommodate crowds whose behaviors are forever changed by the pandemic. We had coffee at one of the shops, and the coffee was so excellent that I didn’t need to pollute it with brown sugar. I wish I’d taken a photo, but the thought of taking my phone out of my pocket and increasing the number of times it is exposed to the virus and having to disinfect it later was too much to bear.

We bought notepads from an artist whose current exhibit centers on 100-year-old men wearing funky, ahead-of-its-time, thong-like underwear. You’re not supposed to buy the photographs even if you had the money but especially if you don’t have enough money or don’t have money at all. Those photographs deserve to be seen by many, many 36-year old men. Those photographs are a window into (mostly) Asian men’s future as 100-year-old stunners. They’re beautiful photos but a tad terrifying. Just thinking about turning 37 next year horrifies me. It’s not the number itself but the inevitable thickening of the love handles. It’s the old-man health issues. It’s the gradual decrease in the number of push-ups that one can do in one go. It’s the further deterioration of an already-poor eyesight. I didn’t need Charnpichit Pongtongsumran’s exhibit to remind me of any of that. But I’m thankful for his useful, stunning reminders.

Red Diamond x Library Bar x Alone Together x Santa Monica Diner

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Red Diamond long black – add 50 baht for a taste of Ethiopia, Costa Rica, or Thailand. I chose Ethiopia, the birthplace of most Ethiopians (and of coffee, allegedly).

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The airconditioning units at the Library Bar were all turned off because there were very few customers. I hope this bar survives the pandemic because it’s too lovely, and I need to show this place to some friends in the Philippines who would love this place.

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Altar but make it spirited and fizzy and zesty.

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It is so good to drink at a well-lit bar. When you go here, remember that it’s not about you but the drinks you’re about to enjoy, so don’t expect the best lighting to be on you.

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This is “Aviation” – 60% gin, 40% not gin. 

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Santa Monica Diner’s coffee is 30% coffee, 70% hot water. Santa Monica Diner is not the birthplace of coffee, but their grilled chicken breast is satisfying. 

Living with a lizard

Not my apartment but Vincent Van Gogh’s

I live with a lizard who has a child, a very tiny lizardette who scurries away upon sensing my presence. No matter where I live, there’s always a lizard who adopts me. I, like many others who cohabit with reptiles, do not mind sharing a home with the yucky-looking creatures. They are harmless and unaggressive. They’re wimpy, even. Lizards are fine creatures to live with, except for several traits some of them have that border on rudeness. What truly annoys me is that they don’t ever bother to announce their presence. They always wait on you to discover them, and every time you do, they always act shocked, which has the effect of shocking you, too. It’s a situation for which the term “mini-heart attack” was invented. It’s an endless cycle of mutually shocking each other until one of you have had enough of the other and resorts to doing something drastic and may or may not regret later. I’ve done some things to a lizard I’m not proud of. In one encounter with one in my old apartment, I sprayed water on the motherfucker until it choked (or suffer some sort of water-related torture) and left my sink.

The lizards at my current place, I just yell at or shoo away. Here’s some terrific news for them: they’re all guaranteed to never ever starve. I always have crumbs lying around the house: in my bookshelves, dining table, kitchen counter, the top of my refrigerator, the tiny shelf where the microwave is. The pandemic has turned me into a hoarder (mostly of coffee beans, digestive biscuits, almond milk, and Green Leafy Vegetables), so any lizard who thinks to visit or permanently live with me is guaranteed a steady diet of cookies and a variety of crumbs. They will not suffer the same fate that the lizards in my old unit did: die of starvation and dehydration from the lack of food and liquids. I remember one fat lizard whose name is Elizabeth Anne Salander who died unnoticed while hanging in the back of a vintage art frame in my old place. I’ll never know if that was an accident or a statement, but what a poetic way to die.

Covid Daily – 0418

Mini tubes of toothpaste
When checking out of a hotel, I take all the things I feel I ought to take: tea bags, toothbrush sets, and the tiny tubes of toothpaste that come with them. I save these for guests at my place, while the tiny toothpaste I use for office brushing. I don’t need to save these tiny toothpaste tubes anymore because me and them are not going anywhere. The concept of offices where one goes to earn a living may be obliterated soon, so these tiny toothpaste tubes are now going to make themselves useful in my home.

Group video calls
I usually dread video calls for reasons I don’t need to provide. But it’s important to participate in them because these days, I shouldn’t be relying on my own sources of information. Friends who are priests, government employees, bankers, and accountants offer some insight into their corner of this pandemic-stricken planet. Some friends of mine have read articles and have seen videos that shed light on things that have kept me in the dark for days.

Some days, I feel incapacitated to participate in group Zooms or chats. It’s as if all the space I have left in me have been filled with dread and anxiety. But it’s not always anxiety over the thing that’s punishing us all; it’s observing how some people can still function, share funny memes, be productive, and be happy and content and feel blessed send me to the pits of hell. It’s not that I’m unhappy that there are people who manage to be in high spirits; it’s that I can’t. It’ reminds me of what Eve Babitz said about death — it’s other people having fun without you.

This pandemic has effectively encouraged me to participate in conference calls. Seeing people in small frames squeezed into one main frame has become comforting. It encourages that oft repeated slogan, “We are all in this together” even though we really are not. And yet, it’s such a relief seeing people alive coping on their own as the horrors of uncertainty steadily creeps every day.

My grandparents were called to war; I am called to sit on the couch and watch Moving Parts
Moving Parts is a documentary you can watch in installments, which is how I watch most shows. It charts drag queen and folk recording artist Trixie Mattel’s semi-interesting life as an entertainer. What I love about Trixie is that she makes the most of what she’s given. She seems fully aware that Shangela should have won Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3, but did it stop her from starring in a documentary about her experiences in that season and the difficulties of what looks like a mildly successful tour? No, it did not.

Moving Parts is also a film about her friendship with the great Katya, although it only skirts around that subject. That’s probably because Katya might steal the film, which is fine because Trixie doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would mind fading in the background in a documentary about her life. I can relate with that okayness with being upstaged, but only if it’s to deserving queens like Katya.

Fun fact: Like Trixie Mattel, I, too, was called ‘Trixie’ by relatives who thought it clever to feminize Patrick as a way to torment me when I was revealed to be gay at age 7 or 8 or 9 (I can’t remember). This was in the ‘90s, a time that I like to think of as the golden age (in the history of my life) of people being homophobic and unapologetic about it. This may come as a shock, but there was a time when homophobia was as natural as disease. The feminization of my name was a result of getting caught trying on my cousin’s gown. I, too, had the makings of a drag queen. Sometimes, I think about what direction my life would have taken if, instead of being shamed for getting caught trying on my cousin’s gown, I was celebrated and motivated to dress up in girls’ clothes and championed by relatives instead of being mocked and called Trixie.

As it happens, there are many ways to feminize Patrick: Patricia, Patrixie (which was used by some of my dumb cousins and aunts and uncles), Trixie, and Tricia. This essay is a call to stop feminizing “Patrick” to torment little gay boys in Pasay and everywhere else.

My grandparents were called to war; I am called to sit on the couch…

Wanderlust

Those of us who can still afford a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriptions are lucky not just because we still have money to pay for an incredible luxury like Netflix but because, according to some people who believe they’re clever, all we’re called upon to do is to sit on the couch and watch Netflix during this distressing time.

Watching TV is not my favorite thing to do, but I watch TV often enough — while having lunch or dinner at home and to watch the mandatory weekly movie — to not qualify as a non-TV-watcher like Jonathan Franzen who is proud to proclaim that he doesn’t watch or own a TV. Good for him, but I doubt if that’s still true.

The pull of the couch is indeed very strong in these strange times. I’d rather read, but lately I find that every other marvelous sentence of Eve Babitz’s that I read is interrupted by thoughts of buying next week’s groceries, health issues, and the bleak future. TV shows don’t demand my complete attention, so it has become, a more practical way to pass the time and forget about life for just a moment.

So, in the next few days, I’ll try to write reports of my TV-watching duties that I am being called on to do.

Wanderlust
This is an edgy British sex comedy series about a couple, a female psychiatrist (Toni Collette) and her husband, who have lost the desire to have sex with each other. Other characters include their son who babbles about Jonathan Franzen to a girl he likes at school and the couple’s respective fuck buddies.

Toni Collette’s face on the title card made me watch this, so congrats to Toni Collette for earning my view. I’m never sure if I could finish an entire TV series because there are just so many and I am drowning. Also, I’m in my mid-thirties so I already have favorite shows that I turn to again and again for comfort.

For me, Wanderlust is quite similar to the brilliant Sex Education, but with adults, front and center. I didn’t think I’d finish watching the entire episode because I thought it was trying too hard to be cringey (e.g., the Toni character getting caught JO-ing by his son) and the random quirky characters (like the son) and his friends seem random and written to up the cringe.

It started to win me over in the scene where one of the psychiatrist’s clients was very incoherently yet valiantly trying to explain why and how he and his wife have ended at the therapist’s couch. “Mop up all the semen” also made me laugh.

The episode concludes with Toni and husband confessing their acts of infidelity, leading to their mutual agreement to sleep with other people as a way to keep their marriage intact. The end.

The rest of the five episodes could be as quirk-filled and may contain some hilarious dialogue, but I think the pilot episode could stand on its own, and if I never watch another episode again, I’ll be fine. I feel it has already made a point and Toni Collette was a delight to watch, so that was time well spent.

Up next:
Born Beautiful
Darkest Hour
Moving Parts

Currently Reading – Not A Virgin by Nuril Basri

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I’m currently reading “Not a Virgin” by Nuril Basri, an Indonesian author. It’s a nice reprieve from the mostly western authors I read. It’s a welcome distraction from the corona-v craze.

Someone on Twitter pointed out that watching certain TV shows may make you recoil at scenes where characters “carelessly” touch each other or make any type of contact. It’s sort of how I feel when reading certain works of fiction, especially in this one where the main characters live in cramped spaces. I had to take a short break from reading fiction because I’ve been reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, which was such a timely read. There are lots to unpack, and if I feel like it, I might write a book report about it like a high school student would. One of my takeaways from it is that Sapiens will not make you root for human existence. It was a borrowed copy so I tried to finish reading it soon because I feel like it needs to be passed on to others. But it’s too late. Book lending is now a thing of the past.

Thinking about lending books or buying secondhand books? You can forget about doing either of that now. In the first place, there are many reasons not to lend or borrow books. Reason number one: people who borrow books take an eternity to read the book you lent them while some completely forget they borrowed a book from you. As for borrowing books, I really don’t see the point (although I do borrow extremely popular books that I otherwise would never read but that I wouldn’t mind reading if you shove it in my face often enough. Also, it’s nice to accept someone’s recommendation every once in a while). What I’m saying is that I have a lot and don’t need to be borrowing that often.

But the reasons not to lend or borrow books are more compelling now. Only lend books if you have no wish to get a book back. The secondhand books trade may be slightly affected too because in everyone’s minds, ALL secondhand books are previously owned by coronavirus carriers. If you’re one of those who think this, remember that many of the books in bookstores were also caressed by staff and customers. But although the book industry appears to be screwed, there seems to be a surge in book buying in certain parts of the world, which is encouraging.

There is a way to prevent the publishing industry from being screwed. Order more books online and hope for the best. The “best” being a scenario where people who will handle the packaging, shipping, and delivery are of great health. In any case, getting books delivered to you is worth the risk.

“Not a Virgin” is a coming-of-age story narrated by an Indonesian boy whose father kept referring to him as spoilt. The father isn’t mean. I’ve only started reading so I’m guessing more issues will be uncovered in the next few chapters.

But here’s the thing with me and reading and the coronavirus. I need to be spending the rest of my precious days reading something worthwhile. I no longer care too much about doing something great for myself (like finishing a manuscript or winning a Palanca Award or any award) because no one cares anymore except a tiny part of myself. Although, of course, we still need to do not-great but kind things such as donating and mobilizing help for the needy.

I still find time to read, as crazy as it sounds. The two hours in the morning that I’m no  longer able to spend sleeping, I allot for reading. So, I try to read only books that are worth my time.

There’s not much I/we can do about books that have already been published. Stories with “heavy” themes like growing up gay in a Muslim country could be compelling, but if I were reading such a story right now (I am), it better be moving and the prose must be shockingly great and tender. I know that’s probably too much to ask for any gay Indonesian writing about his difficult childhood in the slums of Jakarta, but time is ticking so fast.

As a result of such monumental expectations, writers of fiction now might feel undue pressure to create stunning pieces. As a person who likes to read fantasy, writers should still write fantastical stories of teenagers going to school or stories with characters who take public transportation without a mask.

“Not a Virgin” is off to an okay start. I try to fight the urge to cringe while reading about people able to carry on with their lives at the salon and at the slums, not knowing they could catch a virus and die. A hundred pages in and I’m hooked mainly because of the characters. The gay parlorista Paris is revered at school and at the beauty salon where he works because he has great hair and skin and because he has money and drives a nice car. The straight main character Ricky is all set in his journey to be a parlorista’s kept man. I’m unlikely to read about kept Muslim boys in the stories of Mavis Gallant, Ian McEwan, and Alice Munro, so I’m going to keep reading.

Covid Daily – 0315

A near-empty Ratchaprasong walkway
A near-empty Ratchaprasong walkway

I regret using Facebook yesterday and this morning. I had a moment of weakness and was unable to resist the urge to troll certain Facebook “friends” whose opinions I disagree with/hate. I only posted tweets on my stories, but still, I wish I hadn’t. It served no purpose other than to tell people that I’m not a fan of the (our, Philippine) government, that I am on the side of those who despise the administration. And that was all. Some people I know who have superior, robust intelligence are not participating in all that mess. There are many good reasons not to, but mainly it’s that it’s a waste of time and energy. Unless one is sharing useful information, it’s best not to add to the noise (which is what I’ve done when I shared screenshots in my stories). That is I suppose what  my robustly intelligent acquaintances have chosen to do — take a vow of silence.

Today, I turned off my phone for a few hours because I didn’t want to go on another social media downward spiral of posting stories, engaging with people’s content, and processing hundreds of people’s thoughts. It was a good decision.

There still are personal matters to deal with that even a pandemic of this magnitude could not erase. I still have to deal with health problems because self-isolation is necessary. I am mildly panicked that I might have to lead a hermit-like existence with a bitching toothache. This must be how it feels like when you’re pregnant and there’s a virus destroying your plans.

Covid Daily – 0313

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In the next few months, people will be waking up to the reality that they are living through a pandemic. They’ll be sharing their experiences to their hundreds of friends and followers. Some will write essays about what everyone should be doing, some will be writing three-word criticisms, and some will passively observe. Some will be obscene. Everyone will be right and at the same time, everyone will be wrong.

The last sentence in the previous paragraph sounds profound and at the same time, it sounds like nonsensical paradox.

~

I’ve decided to wear my weeks-old mask when riding the BTS because it feels shameful not to wear one when everyone is wearing one. Unlike Pinoys, Thais aren’t in the habit of giving people evil stares when they think someone looks or is being strange. Thais mind their own business most of the time. I’d rather risk getting sick from this unhygienic practice to put strangers at ease mainly because it puts me at ease too.

At the bookstore, plague-themed books appear to have run out like Albert Camus’s The Plague, the most obvious novel that Bangkokians thought to buy in the time of Covid-19. I didn’t check other plague- and plague-like-themed books like Max Brooks’ World War Z,  Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. I have enough books at home to last me two pandemics, and this may be the year I shorten my TBR pile.

If this were the ‘90s, people might drop by at video rental stores to rent videos before they hole up in their houses. Titles likely to quickly become unavailable would include movies like Contagion (which I know didn’t exist yet in the ‘90s), Outbreak, and apocalypse-themed films. It would be sad because video rental shops would probably be closed for a few days and the person who rents it would have to hold on to the laser disc-copy of the Contagion VHS for weeks, immersed and riveted by the life-like scenes unfolding in the Steven Soderbergh film. Or, people would rent something completely unrelated to doomsday scenarios like Wild Things, I Know What You Did Last Summer, There’s Something About Mary or LA Confidential. If this were the early ’00s, some people would drop by at a record store to buy VCDs or DVDs of movies they’d watch more than once. Some would buy a bunch of CDs because they’d need to soundtrack their lives while in quarantine.

~

Moleskin notebooks and bags were on sale in the lobby of the M floor at Emquartier. People should be snatching those Moleskins because they’re going to be trapped for a few days at home where they’ll be seized by the urge to chronicle their self-isolation, even as they go from app to app and watch Korean teleseryes ‘til their eyes bleed.

The virus could soon shut down Emquartier and other malls. That would then be a demonstration of the virus ability to cripple Bangkok institutions and establishments which provide everything anyone could possible need in this great city. Pharmacies and other small stores have already run out of masks, so you know it’s definitely starting, the demolishing of institutions. We are going to have to learn to fend for ourselves in the next few days, weeks, or months.

~

I was worried that I’d be the only person not wearing a mask at Muscle Factory, but I seem to have worried for nothing: not a single beefcake at MF was wearing a mask. What a relief. The Muscle Factory guys are made of the the tightest muscles, packed with protein, and are probably extremely healthy. Otherwise, what a shame for them. You couldn’t find a group of people more attuned to keeping one’s self healthy than at that hardcore gym, which I love and will miss. They eat clean, train (note: not “work out”) hard, and sleep early. Does the corona virus stand a chance against them? Probably not. The worst that Muscle Factory patrons could do is, probably, carry the virus and pass it on to those puny ones who don’t train as hard and don’t inject as much protein into their bloodstream. I hope to see them soon.