Choking hazard

Toys these days are getting more and more complicated.

Last Christmas, my then one-month-old daughter received a toy, and so, dutiful father that I was, I figured I should read the packaging first, so when the time came to teach her, I’d be ready.

It’s been 9 months but I still haven’t figured it out. From time to time, I take the toy from the shelf, bring it to my study and subject the literature that came with it to another round of hermeneutics and logical analysis. This has occupied my mind since, and I’m now concerned that another Christmas is coming in less than three months.

I thought the toy itself promised nothing complicated. It’s made in China, calls itself “Magical Light” and is supposed to light up and play a melody when you push a button. What kind of light? A “different efffeet light!!!” – the extra “f” and the extra “e” and the missing “c” giving you an idea just how different it is.

What I’ve been spending the rest of my life on since last Christmas is the warning label, under the heading “Notice” which advised: “The custodian must be read it as follow.” Custody over my daughter not having been in dispute, I felt alluded to, so I read on.

“No play under 3 years children, so as to eat it.” I am not a genius, but it did not take me more than three months to abandon the idea that this was an invitation to partake of the gustatory delights of “Magical Light”, with its main ingredient, the “special efffeet light”.

“Forbidden small parts leaded into the mouth, so as to lead to stifle.” This was the particular line that I wrestled with throughout the summer months and into the rainy season.

After 10 months, I decided that it sounded like a Japanese poem manufactured in China through some outsourcing scheme that took advantage of the cheap labor. So I have since been consulting Basho and the other haiku poets in hopes of arriving at its meaning.

“No shut battery, resolve or throw into the fire.” How does one resolve a battery? There must be some Zen wisdom here, reminiscent of the poet Buson, advising us to transcend the duality of the battery’s negative-positive polarity.

And even if you cannot figure it out, who would fail to see strains of Yosano Akiko, in her rich, sensuous and erotic lines of the ancient Japanese poetic form of tanka in the warnings that followed?

“Pat attention to forbidden finger hand and clothes insert moving parts.”

“Finger do not insert moving parts gap to so as to lead to danger.”

“Do not cover head and fan with plastic bag so as to lead to stifle.”

Here was accompanying literature that was really literature, and I don’t care if you find it inappropriate that it should be waxing poetic over a piece of plastic that promises to light up and play a melody when you push a button.

Yesterday, I finally showed this to my wife, what I’ve been laboring on for the past 10 months. She began reading the packaging. Then she started laughing. She didn’t stop laughing. She was turning red and gasping for air, laughing.

And I looked at her and I wondered whether this, here, wasn’t the real choking hazard.

SunStar Cebu
29 September 2005

Not so fast

Perhaps to make up for the shortcuts they have taken in order to make their food fast, fast food outlets have made ordering food a long and winding road. It’s like needing to get married – quick — and applying for a license without the benefit of a fixer.

That is not entirely true. At least, when you apply for a marriage license, the guy over at civil registry doesn’t ask you: “Would you like some fries with that?” They ask for the usual credentials, sure, but they don’t ask you if you’d like to “super size” your fiancée, for a few pesos more.

Not the chatty type, I have avoided fast food outlets for precisely this reason. (And just so my friends don’t bother with the punch line: It is along this line of reasoning that I have not been avoiding the civil registry.) I actually have a fear of fast food outlets: the noisy welcomes, the perky sales “crew”, the sales pitches, the cross-selling and the up-selling, the loud exchange between counter and kitchen that management feels it is our privilege to hear.

The other night, I tried to get over that fear by confronting it. Surely, I thought, another offer of French fries won’t kill you, if the fries actually will.

I can, I felt, stand my ground. “No, I don’t want fries with my French fries.”

If nature abhors a vacuum, fast food outlets abhor silence. There is this inordinate need to fill every silence – every space in conversation — with something they feel needs to be said. You cannot, for instance, pay for your order in silence. They assume you are either an idiot, or a sleight of hand magician: “I received P500, Sir.”

And if you so much as made the mistake of handing over a P1,000 bill, a whole production number is laid out for you. “I received P1,000, Sir.” You nod when deep inside you want to tell her “That’s amazing, because that’s exactly what I gave you.”

But that, apparently, is not enough. The “crew” member shouts, at the top of her lungs, “Large Bill!” You look to your left and to your right, wondering whether “Large Bill” isn’t the name of a bouncer who throws out insensitive customers who gobble up all the change. The manager marches in, solemnly, holding a key, holds the large bill against the light, opens the cash register, and walks away, leaving you wondering what that whole drill was all about.

I was prepared for all that when I walked in the other night. I ordered a burger, “not the meal, no drinks, no fries, and no upsizing,” and that sort of perplexed the girl at the counter, who appeared ready with her array of offers. Before she could ring up the register, I gave her the exact amount, to the last centavo, wondering what else she could possibly say, under the circumstances.

Fast food outlets abhor silence. “Thank you for giving me the exact change, Sir!” the girl chirpily cried out. “Enjoy your take-out!”

And just when I was about to walk away in defeat, she called out, for good measure: “Be happy!”

SunStar Cebu
Thursday, 15 September 2005

Three minutes

If you were wondering why the Constitution prohibited multiple impeachment proceedings in one year, Tuesday should have clearly demonstrated its quite charitable intent. Apparently, it is to protect the sovereign Filipino people from congressmen who have three minutes each to explain their votes.

That’s 690 minutes of speeches, and the framers of the Constitution must have thought that while this country was worth dying for, it shouldn’t be out of sheer exhaustion.

This is perhaps why congressmen call their leader “Speaker”. Even in primitive societies, to the leader usually was attributed the quality to which the herd aspired. For members of Congress, they call their leader “Speaker because that is exactly what they want to be, and preferably for longer than three minutes: the one speaking.

(For largely the same reason, Senators call their leader “President”.)

In fact, the only reason I stayed up early morning Tuesday until late in the afternoon was to see if congressmen could actually limit their speeches to three minutes. This is like “Starting Over”, I said, a reality TV show featuring people who are trying to kick a bad habit and become better persons.

I’m afraid it was too much to ask. Congressmen routinely ignored the three-minute limit as if it were the “No Left Turn” sign on the corner of D. Jakosalem and Sikatuna.

“I am winding up, Mr. Speaker.” By which they meant what a toy would have meant when it said it was winding up. I don’t know how many of them began with “History will judge us…” and then went on and on as if they were actually planning to go on speaking until history did judge them.

If I were the Speaker of the House, I would have gently reminded them that although their arguments were sophomoric, this wasn’t college, that a “Yes” or “No” answer was quite sufficient, thank you, and you didn’t get extra points for long-winded explanations that needed a lot of winding up.

And should members of Congress really show the whole nation that not only could they not agree, their subjects and verbs couldn’t, either? Has the “rule of law” amended the rules of grammar? And — on the other side — must we be so unforgiving of lapses in judgment, and so liberal with those of the grammatical kind?

And how many times can one repeat “rule of law” without sounding anal-retentive? And how many congressmen can claim Torrens title over the “search for truth” before you get the feeling that they’re being sanctimonious? I actually feared that the headline the following day would read: “Toilet training prevails; massive manhunt for the truth called off”.

And how could congressmen from opposite sides of an issue quote from the very same Bible, sometimes the very same verses? Does this mean that the Bible is neutral? If that is so, can we say that God, if called to vote, would have abstained or absented Himself?

But that would have put God in a tight fix. Pro-impeachment congressmen would have quickly accused Him of making a deal with Malacañang. Perhaps a relative of His has been appointed to a government post?

Considering how many government officials think they’re God, that is one accusation the opposition would have no problem proving.

SunStar Cebu
8 September 2005

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