, JANUARY 17, 2007 (STAR) PENMAN By Butch Dalisay - It’s good to be back home – the predictable aggravations of life in Arroyolandia notwithstanding – and to be resuming old routines while starting a few new ones, most notably four undergraduate preparations. We hadn’t been away that long for anything to have changed too radically, but here and there the tell-tale signs of time passing would emerge: the price of gas, yet another mall in Ortigas, trees lost to one typhoon or other, the cost of a taxi ride from home to courthouse. "Parang tubig ang pera!" I lamented to no one in particular, observing how quickly a wad of hundreds in my wallet thinned out to a pale purple memory.

I thought we were supposed to be enjoying a spurt of growth in the economy, the same paradoxical way that the American economy is booming under a hugely unpopular president, but I couldn’t feel any kind of happy lift where I was standing; instead I had the sinking sensation that I was in the eye of a storm and that something dreadful was around the corner, like a bloody, crazy, and perhaps ultimately pointless election where wives would replace husbands and sons replace fathers, bringing us exactly where we were 35 years ago, except that in 1972 you could get a ride in a UP Ikot jeepney for 10 centavos versus today’s P6.50. Six-fifty! It’s not as if I still take Ikot rides (maybe it’s worse that I have to buy my gas), but I can’t imagine going to school with a bulging bag of coins at my waist, like some footloose Judas.

My depression got worse as I settled back into my study at home – a small squarish room I had commissioned to serve as my workspace, entertainment center, warehouse, museum, and general hermitage. We’ve only been living here three years, but even before we left for the States my study had already begun to resemble a junkyard conceived by Hieronymus Bosch, cluttered with the dusty carcasses of old PowerBooks and Macintoshes, constrictor-like cables and wires leading to even more tenebrous extensions, shelves of books, CDs, DVDs, and floppy disks dating back to the days of DOS 3.3 and System 7.0.1, and innumerable boxes of crusty old pens, dried-up ink bottles, loose coins from half a dozen countries, microcassettes of voices long silent, mummified watch straps, operating manuals for hollow-block-sized cellphones, checkbooks for closed accounts, exotic Torx screwdrivers, and adapters and chargers for an assortment of digital doohickeys, many of them now absent or misplaced. This creeping tide of jetsam had bubbled up to my desktop, which was positively frothing over with calling cards, staplers, bent-out paperclips, paperweights, and insurance and credit-card bills.

I came to be convinced that I was drowning in this quagmire of junk, and that I could do nothing, write nothing, until I was free of it. And it was true: the first few days upon my return, all I could do was stare at the massed and seemingly motile army of everything that I had coveted and acquired for the past couple of decades, which now trapped me in its closing grip, like Macbeth besieged by the trees of Birnam Wood. ("As I did stand my watch upon the hill," says the messenger to his King, "I look’d toward Birnam, and anon, methought, the wood began to move.")

Finally, with a great sigh, I resolved to fight back, and commandeered our housekeeper Jenny’s cleaning cloths – all the rags she could muster, and a bucket of soapy water – and began scrubbing away at the thick dust and the impacted grime, only to realize, of course, that the dust on books and hard disks wasn’t the enemy, it was the things themselves, the sheer accumulation of them. I would wipe a box clean and move it from one corner to another, but it was still there, as immutably concrete as a playground hippo, taking up space, sucking on my psychic energy, inviting a fresh coat of dust as soon as I had set it down. Pretty soon my room was even more disheveled than ever, and I was holding fistfuls of filthy rags, screaming to the heavens for guidance. (I was, of course, intent on accomplishing this mission all by my noble self.)

Irevisited my suki, Anisa, at the Natural Spa, hoping that her unforgiving fingers would knead the agony out of my system; I frolicked with Chippy, scratched his chin, and fed him special cat food I’d handcarried from Virginia; I slurped nilagang baka and scarfed down a heaping plateful of pancit palabok in Cubao; I did all sorts of things I knew would make me happy; but as soon as I re-entered my room to work, I felt instantly paralyzed, engulfed once more by a wave of despair: this beast in residence was just never going to go away; I could smell its breath, hear the clink of its armor plates as it shifted its weight around the room, as if teasing me to draw a sword and take one lunging stab at wherever I thought its wandering heart was.

Professing defeat, I left the house for a brisk walk around the campus, thinking that blind fatigue would buy me some peace. It was on a turn around the Sunken Garden that it hit me: take it one corner at a time. Clean up the small table with the fax machine and the printer first, and then the computer table, and then the desktop, and then the shelves, and so on. And of course the corollary was, I had to let go of whatever had to go – ruthlessly, decisively, irreversibly.

As soon as I got home, I asked Jenny for trash bags – big ones, industrial-strength ones that could be tossed onto the shoulders of dump trucks, never to be seen again. And then I began my methodical assault on the source of my torment: objects I had dragged around from one address to another, keepsakes I had meant to tinker with in my old age, souvenirs from barely remembered and indeed perhaps perfectly forgettable travels.

Out went boxloads of floppies from the ’80s and CDs from the ’90s containing software for ancient computers (I’d copied the most important files onto my hard disk); analog cell phones that hadn’t rung in ages; bluebooks of exams written by students long graduated; a shoebox full of calling cards, some of them from quite important people, but not one of which I’d really looked at again after I’d taken the numbers down on my PDA; instruction manuals for various gadgets and appliances in Spanish and Japanese; music CDs I’d bought or made but never really listened to; and large brown envelopes containing smaller brown envelopes containing yet smaller white envelopes.

To up the ante, I took another huge breath, went online to my favorite grazing grounds (, among others), and announced that I was giving away to fellow tinkerers and enthusiasts many if not most of my Apple computers and peripherals from the pre-USB days (you remember those, don’t you? – SCSI drives, serial cables, 14.4K modems, ADB mice, installer floppies, Zip disks, docking stations, etc.). I was holding on to my best museum pieces – the PowerBook 100, the Duos, the Mac Classic, the 2400s – but the rest would go to whoever yelled "That’s mine!" I wasn’t even going to bother with a yard sale, which would only make me fret again about price tags and such.

And so it went, and so it goes, this great cleanup and giveaway that’s not only yielding me more working space and breathing room, but also the sense of a life reclaimed from the brink of abject surrender to the Junk Monster – a fellow whose shadow I’ve seen slinking behind me in the bathroom mirror, from time to time, hissing, "Keep it."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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