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.