There’s the rub

I would say the Conde Nast Traveler citation was not at all undeserved.

I have not read the citation itself, but I figure that if Cebu was chosen one of the ten best destinations in Asia, it had to be because of our malls.

It doesn’t matter which one. Either of the two major ones will prove the point. You feel it at once: this friendliness; this feeling of being welcome, the moment you walk in.

Actually, just before.

“Good morning, Ma’am/Sir,” the security guard sings. (I guess in these days of blurring genders, it has become necessary to say both “Ma’am” and “Sir” in the same breath. Mercifully, they still omit pronouncing the “slash”.)

How nice. But then security guards hardly stop at obligatory pleasantries. It isn’t enough to welcome you. They feel it their duty to make you feel at home.

And so – words not being enough – they proceed to stretch out their arms, as if to say “Hey, it’s good to have you back”, encircling the middle region of your body, both palms inching closer until they rest on the sometimes non-existent boundary between your hips and your waist.

“Welcome to Ayala Center,” the man in blue says, rubbing your sides to make sure you fully appreciate this supreme gesture of intimacy.

And so awed are you that, if it weren’t for the long queue of people pushing you beyond this zone of friendship, past that table of understanding on which rest handheld radio transceivers and log books, you might have stopped to reciprocate, if only to say: “I’m not sure I got your first name, but say hello to the wife and kids.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into a mall with my head turned back to the security guard, trying to recall that forgotten place and time when he and I became brothers.

I’ve been telling my friends about this wonderful experience at the malls and I’ve been struck by the cynicism that usually greets me. “That’s for security,” they invariably say. They say this with an incredulous look on their faces. “They’re checking if you have a gun tucked to your side.”

How cynical. How sadly it trivializes the tremendous significance of the hip rub.

And it’s not that believable either. I figure if it were for security, how easy it would be – in those few moments it takes for the security guard to stretch out his arms and rest both his palms on your hips – to grab the gun holstered to his own hip. Faster than he could say, “Welcome to SM City Cebu”.

So let’s not be cynical. Let’s take hip rub for what it is, and return the warm and friendly gesture.

I do. These days, when I walk into a mall and the security guard does his thing, I throw my arms up and say: “I know, I’ve grown maybe one or two inches since the last time.” You never call me. Let’s do lunch.

SunStar Cebu
27 January 2005

My last confession was. . .

And then you hesitate. Should you tell the truth? But what would the priest say if he learned that the last time you confessed, it was over Vivian Velez? In her prime?

Or maybe you should lie a bit, and then after the priest gives you the go-ahead to recite your sins, you include “I lied, Father”? Would your confession be valid? Is this within the intent of the Council of Trent?

If there’s one sacrament Catholics dread most, it is confession. It’s that “face time” with the priest, you see. It’s embarrassing. It’s so… analog. We have come to embrace the virtual anonymity of the digital world, and here you have to say your passwords out loud.

I remember that a few years ago, somebody suggested confessions by fax. List your sins and transmit them to your priest’s fax machine, and receive penance on yours. Reconciliation and redemption at a baud rate of 9600 bits per second.

Of course the proposal was quickly shot down by the Vatican. It tends to be absolutist on the matter of absolution. You need a personal interview to get a tourist visa to the United States, why shouldn’t you need one to get a green card to heaven?

You’d think that was the last of it, but someone came up with the idea of an ACM. The automated confession machine. If you don’t believe me, look it up on the Internet. And why should I lie? I’m the one who’d have to get some “face time” with some priest if I did.

The ACM is set so low you’ll have to kneel to confess before it. Then you key in your PIN, I guess. What kind of automated confession machine wouldn’t require you to key in your PIN? You don’t want the wrong people to mess with your permanent record in heaven.

Then the machine deftly guides you from one step to the next. Press “venial” or “mortal”. In the “venial” sub-menu, I guess there must be a listing there of minor offenses to choose from. The “mortal” sub-menu has options consisting of the Seven Deadly Sins and the Ten Commandments. You just key in your choices.

At the end of the transaction, the screen flashes your penance. I’m sure it would offer the option: “Would you like a printed receipt?” Then you go home. Forgiven.

If the idea hasn’t been shot down already, I’m sure it will be soon. But you can’t help thinking of the advantages. For one, as concepts go, the computer’s binary logic blends perfectly with the good/evil, black/white dichotomies of our creed.

And it does away with a lot of the arbitrariness that comes with penance. No more: “What? You only got 3 Hail Mary’s? I got 5! How much does it cost to get impure thoughts nowadays?”

The ACM can keep a record of recurring sins, and give you more Our Father’s for repeated offenses. And the Church can set some sort of a credit limit for mortal sins so that incorrigible sinners could have their accounts closed when they draw against an insufficient balance.

Then maybe their ACM cards can be captured so that they’ll have to apply for new ones once they’ve reestablished their credit.

And you can’t lie about the date of your last confession.

Hey. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

SunStar Cebu
13 January 2005

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