9. the reality of failing

One week later. If I say that I’m proud of the people of Manila, I either sound presumptuous or it seems I don’t support Chazrick. But they saw right through Sid David. His paring down of the variety show only exposed his lack of compassion for the contestants. Earlier this week, I read somewhere (I think it was an interview in Sid’s Picks) that Sid David is responsible for the hundreds of shampoo commercials running on PMN. If the daily airtime of these short commercials were added up, the sum would exceed that of all the news broadcasts. The executive producer is quoted: We give the people what they want.

Chazrick headstands in the corner of our half-house. His eyes are bloodshot because he won’t let himself sleep.

Manila fails me, he says, not even looking at me. I contemplate this. Never mind, he says. Manila fails me. Did you see? They didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Maybe I fail Manila.

We’ve only been here for a month and already he’s experienced his highest and, presumably, lowest points.

I headstand beside him and say, I’m in love.

Oh yeah? He turns in my direction. With?

Manila.

Funny.

The people make choices, I say. They choose what they want to see in this world.

So write about Manila. He falls forward, does a pushup and springs up to stretch. Reese says the best stories come from here.

That’s because they always cast her.

Still jealous? he chuckles.

I retreat to the mattress, which we’ve moved closer to the window so the sun can wake us up. Jealous? Reese De Verdad is attracted to a different Chazrick Villarosa, not the one in front of me.

We should go home, says the one in front of me.

You’re saying it was a bad idea?

There’s nothing here.

Maybe today’s Manila is just not ready. Tak Takahashi says Manila is unpredictable in that way.

That lowlife? Chazrick laughs. He’s not even independent. He’s guerrilla.

I haven’t spoken to Tak Takahashi since we met but I have read some of his articles in the Cubao Daily Messenger. Reviewing BEGINS, he wrote: Manila knows what it wants and when. The entertainment industry hits and misses. It all depends on the current sociopolitical situation. Sometimes a hit in the States translates directly over here. But don’t expect today’s laughter to be tomorrow’s. There’s no telling what will capture the hearts and minds of the masa.

Lately my stories have been set in Manila. One follows a stripper who has killed her unsupportive and abusive husband in order to continue stripping for her son’s tuition. There’s no resolution, no immediate conflict. I’m trying to avoid the predictable plot twist of turning her into a political assassin. I like numb and flat characters.

Chazrick joins me on the mattress. He’s scentless.

I’m not tired of you either, I say and kiss his throat.

This time Chazrick’s cynicism is real. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved him, even during his lowest. But now I like him. I honestly like the man I love. He’s making choices. Nothing is made up for him. It’s not all in his head. Or mine.

I don’t wish to leave, I say.

He nibbles my ear. This is the first time we have sex since our arrival.

Dear Mother, I write. Don’t expect me home anytime soon. I told you, I knew what I was doing. I’m working on a story about your life had you gone on to be a stripper like you said. I know you never said that but it makes it more dramatic. Tell the Aunties that here, sex steals. I’ll give your regards to Reese De Verdad.

10. creative control

Soap Films Inc. calls me about my latest script.

The violence is awkward, they say.

What’s normal violence? I ask.

We promise, when we feel the people are ready, we’ll consider your ideas.

Before I can hang up the lady says, our best advice is to come up with ideas that work. Get out of your head.

In a short while, we’re standing outside of PMN Studios. Sid David has assured us that the new format guarantees success. Multiplying by the hundreds, the masses are dressed for church—pressed T-shirts and jeans. One woman stands out with neon-red toenails. I thought people only gathered like this for protests. There’s something fishier than the air. It’s whatever Sid David did to resurrect this show. It feels like a baseball game or a politician’s funeral. The corn vendor struggles to push his cart because eager people think he’s cutting in line.

You’re the host of a variety show, I say to Chazrick.

No, he says, and scratches his ear. I’m at the launching point of my career. Remember what you said about more chances? Or were you just being selfish again?

(It’s true I’ve been focused on my writing. But selfish?)

I know Chazrick. One more failure means the end.

Sid David, in a vanilla polo shirt and slacks, approaches us.

The name of the show is now begins, he says as he uses his hands to span the title in the air, Because Guffawing Is Never a Sin. Pure comedy. Wala nang reality.

It’s a variety show, I respond.

It’s a comedic experience, claims Sid David as he walks off to the fish ball vendor.

Chazrick, I say, I know you’re determined—

I have creative control, he says, massaging my neck. I’m the host. Manila is not the focus. I am the focus.

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