Help wanted

There must be a lot of earthmoving going on in there.

Which is the only logical explanation, if you’re wondering why a local motel in the northern part of this city has a sign outside that says “Dump Truck Drivers Wanted.”

Which is a great way to advertise your motel, and what a three-hour stay might do to the earth under your feet. So it may not be that funny, after all. So maybe I should just stop snickering.

We tend to underestimate the marketing skills of motels. We don’t expect them to go beyond billboards advertising three-hour specials, with rates shouting for attention as if someone with the urge really stopped to consider the prices.

I am in the grips of passion, Maria, and I know I must have you now, but the other place we passed cost 20 pesos less. Going back on your tracks is unlikely, and not out of superstition.

Looking at those billboards, you’d think they were gasoline stations with pump prices and oil change rates… And maybe I should just stop there because I’m not going there, where the naughty possibilities are about to lead me. Suffice it to say that these are filling stations of an entirely different kind. You don’t have to start zero-zero, Sir. You can pretty much start anywhere you want.

So you can understand how refreshing a “Dump Truck Drivers Wanted” sign can be, marketing-wise. “Guaranteed No Brownouts” was getting a bit old. And a bit odd. People with the urge to enter a motel are worried about power failures of an entirely different kind.

And everybody’s having midnight specials. So that was getting a bit tired, too. And people were beginning to question why a motel should reward people who stay overnight instead of go home, unless it was for stamina. They should be charging these showoffs more and subsidize the rates of those who are honest enough to confess to needing just a short time.

And not one motel has ever taken up the very intelligent suggestion to advertise its great food. That would give people a great excuse for going there, so maybe they’ll stop ducking in taxis when they’re about to make that sudden turn. I went there for the fricassee. It’s like reading Playboy for the articles.

I used to wonder why motels didn’t make themselves more discreet. I mean, why all the lighted signs and billboards to welcome couples who are about to remove themselves from the state of grace? Don’t clients prefer the anonymity?

I got my answer last week and once again, I was wrong about motels. You see, I live in the southern part of the city, and there’s a very discreet motel nearby. If you didn’t know it was one, you’d never suspect it was there. No lighted signs. No shouting billboards. In fact, if you’re going there, you’re liable to miss the entrance. Even in daylight.

Which was exactly what happened to that taxicab we were following along that road. It missed the entrance. In broad daylight. So it stopped in the middle of the street, a few feet from the entrance. It didn’t know whether to back up or to make a U-turn. The cars behind were honking their horns. And the distressed lovers were ducking in their seat.

I know. But the embarrassment was only half the problem. Inside our own car, my wife and I were imagining the conversation of the lovers. We should have gone north, the man was saying. The woman would have none of it: Maybe it’s a sign, my love. Maybe it’s not God’s will.

And you thought a power outage was your biggest problem.

SunStar Cebu
18 November 2004

Girth control

People who worry that Filipinos are losing their competitive edge in English should just go and buy an abdominal binder. And I recommend this medical supply shop in front of Chong Hua Hospital.

I know. I didn’t know there was such a device myself. Never thought you could grab your flab, tuck your tummy in and hold it all together with Velcro. What a remarkable feat of girth control. Such solid waist management.

Last week, I bought one for someone who had just delivered a 7-pound girl. That 7-pound girl filled this world in such a big way she must have left a big void where she came from. Hence the need to pack the slack and put it all back.

Best of all, it’s from Korea.

At least the one I bought was. Nice, unintelligible characters on the packaging. A picture of a slim Caucasian model who looked like she only needed the abdominal binder to make her waistline look bigger.

Then, a smart looking trademark of a Korean orthopedic company that boasted, in English: “Special in Health Care and Orthopedic Soft Good.”

So there you go. I had purchased not a mere abdominal binder. I had, in my hands, a special “orthopedic soft good”.

So you can understand the complex literature that not surprisingly came with this intricate product. Apparently, for products like this, it is not sufficient to say it is for women who had just given birth. “To use the belly getting weak from numerous pregnancy” is, I guess, more appropriate to the magnitude of this invention.

I read on. “Due to flexible support pad of the product is curved by your body shape, the product makes you be convenient.” I know. You have to read it maybe three times. But I just know that in that purgatory where Korean characters wait to be transported into English, that statement would sound comforting.

Besides, it “protects from rolling for continuous clean.” And it is made of high density sponge, “which is different with general sponge don’t grow its shape smaller or shrink.” And because of that, it contains “fibrils which make air circulate well supply the belly region a suitable compression with itself elastic materials.”

That — you would have to agree — certainly makes up for whatever linguistic difficulties you’ve had to contend with so far.

And the possibilities hardly end there. The abdominal binder works “to make warm getting cold in your belly.” “And”, it continues, “also it keeps beautiful silhouette of your body.” How it achieves that without a lot of backlighting, it doesn’t say. Effects not included.

The amazing thing, of course, is that the abdominal binder does this without losing sight of its main objective. Which is – and you will have to bear with the technical language involved here – “to make normalization your belly hanging down more than the other persons.”

So you hand this abdominal binder to its intended recipient. She reads the packaging. You ask: “How’s it hanging?” And she says: “I guess, more than the other persons.”

And you both get a good laugh. A good belly laugh. Such a deep belly laugh your belly hurts from all that laughing.

And then it hits you. Aha. So that’s how this whole thing works.

SunStar Cebu
11 November 2004

Kerry, that wait

So John Kerry lost.

I sat up the whole day yesterday, waiting for returns to come in from Ohio because it said there on CNN and NBC and even in Fox News that the fate of the whole planet itself hung on whether Ohio voted for Bush or for Kerry.

That, you would have to admit, is reason enough to stay indoors, to skip work and to forego a bath, and to extend a deadline for a column. I care enough about this planet. I didn’t want to be out there, doing inconsequential things, like work, while Ohio messed around with the planet’s future.

But John Kerry lost.

Just when we were having trouble with one of our toilets in the house, and were hoping that a Democratic presidency would provide the best atmosphere for fixing it.

I could have fixed it. I can be your regular handyman when inspiration strikes me. But not — and let me make that very clear — not under a Republican administration. All these fittings, these assemblies, these what-do-you-call-these-little-round-things will have to wait, on a matter of principle.

“We waited four years for this victory,” vice presidential candidate John Edwards said, in an effort to justify their refusal to concede. “We can certainly wait one more night.” Tell me that didn’t come like a breath of fresh air. You go, John, I said. And your partner John, too. If this planet can, there’s no reason why this toilet can’t.

But it appears that John Kerry lost. So what do I tell my wife now? That we were short of electoral votes to ensure unhampered flushing in the next four years?

She had prayed hard for a Kerry victory. I just know that. I knew that from the way she looked up to high heavens when there was another light bulb to change that had to wait for a change of administrations.

And when she threw her arms up in the air, as if in supplication, when the doorstopper for the flinging screen door lay there, waiting for George W. Bush’s concession speech.

Or when she bowed her head and closed her eyes when I refused to install the telephone extension because the Democrats had a better plan.

I’m reading her mind and it’s saying: “Nothing’s going to happen in this world unless Kerry wins.” So there. CNN is right. NBC couldn’t have put it better. Fox News is right on the money. The fate of the planet hung on this election.

But Kerry lost. NBC all but said it.

CNN was more cautious. Wolf Blitzer bit his tongue, and so did Larry King. Maybe that’s why my wife tuned in to CNN and hid the remote control, took out the lightbulbs, the doorstopper, the phone extension and the plumbing tools. There was hope in her eyes.

The sight of tools and things to be done moved me enough to say to her: “ Maybe we should switch to NBC now? Tim Russert really made a lot of sense with all those Bush numbers.” But my wife, and the remote control, were immovable. And so were those tools and things.

But Kerry lost. A new direction for this planet will have to wait. We will just have to put this behind us and move on. I did. I went to take a bath and told the toilet: Four more years. Ohio really did you in.

SunStar Cebu
4 November 2004

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