Friday, December 21, 2012

The Oddjob Journeyman Chronicles 01: Vitreous

Oddjob: Journeyman Chronicles is all about work-- my work. I decided to write about the gigs I get myself into. If anyone gets anything useful out of what he finds here, great. If my gentle reader gets nothing more than a good laugh, though, I'd consider that a win.

I'll be rating the experience according to "Oddness" and whether I got "Shafted." Oddness answers how far the gig's taken me from my comfort zone and how different the experience is from a desk job; "Shafted" is a measure of how cheated I feel at the end of the gig. 

Dateline: 21 December 2012

Prior to Christmas of 2012, I answered a friend's call for help. Her family was in the stained glass business and one of their artists just ...quit. Flaked. The result was that my friend's mother was left in the lurch in the middle of an important  project.

I have been on both sides of this often enough, so I'm not going to pass too harsh a judgment on the guy or his employer (my friend's mom). Artists, by their very nature, tend to be flaky: part of what makes them artists is a wild, self-indulgent streak that keeps them from being satisfied with one type of activity for long. Too, artists are often treated as artisans only and paid a pittance for the blood and sweat and sleepless nights they put into their work.  Said work, because of its decorative nature, is not perceived by the public-at-large to put copious amounts of food on the table, a roof over one's head, and a mate in one's bed.

All that said, there is something --often something in the category of "really not good"-- to skipping out on a project. It tells the world you're callous, or careless, or incompetent, or pathologically preoccupied, and that you can't be depended on to get anything done even if someone paid you. If you let this happen enough times to enough people, you will develop a new appreciation for the phrase, "the Mark of Cain."

The long and short of what happened: Dex said "yes" to the universe and was suddenly tapped to work practically non-stop from ten in the morning to around five in the morning the next day, painting what approximated wheat on an endless conveyor line of glass plates.

What was involved?

The word of the day: vitreous. 

I don't know how it is for most people, but I like a word not only for its meaning or how it falls on the ear, but also for how it looks. "Vitreous" is one of those words that appeal to me on all of these levels ("Gangrene" is another, as is "sepsis." I know, I'm strange.)

The word is balanced from a typography-and-design standpoint, but not boringly so. It looks Latin and sounds like it could be used in some form of incantation or Roman Catholic intercessory prayer. The real meaning isn't so imposing: vitreous means glass-like.

The dyes used for painting on glass were vitreous, meant to have a glassy translucent effect after the whole process was over and done with. Contrary to my old ideas of stained glass work, you didn't just stain the glass, cut the sucker into parts that fit the jigsaw wrought-iron frame that you'd had someone else make to match your original design. (Strangely, I don't know where I got that idea. An old art class maybe? A review of techniques used by Renaissance artisans that I half-slept through?). The current staining process was tedious, but only because of the number of panes I had to paint.  

I'm writing this a considerable amount of time after my day at the sweatshop, and the hasty notes I could take understandably didn't involve the nitty-gritty of the process. I was more focused on just getting the panels done and done right. My later research wasn't sufficient to give me answers I could be sure of, and I didn't want to have to go back to my erstwhile employer and subject her to the discomfort of being asked about her business secrets. All I can reasonably remember was there were vitreous pigments, there was (possibly) a binding agent that looked like ash. In the best of circumstances, the painting would be done on one glass pane and get painstakingly reproduced on another. Then the whole thing was fired in some kind of kiln. There's an unsurprising similarity to glazing ceramics here.

Of course, this is Dex you're reading, so the narrative doesn't describe "the best of circumstances."  I get the most interesting jobs.

Achy Flaky Art

The artist had flaked, leaving the employer in the lurch. There had already been some kind of back-and-forth between them that could only have worsened the delay. By the time I was brought on board, the panes were due for delivery to a church under construction, and situated out of town... on the very next day.

No time for any kiln firing and no way this journeyman would get to see it. There was only time for a briefing and a light snack before I could sit down and get to it.

Wait, no, that didn't quite happen either.

There simply wasn't much room. I couldn't really sit, not without having to paint on a surface that was almost as high as my chest. I'd had to stand and stoop to paint. The workshop only looked like the pic on the right before the desks started to take on stacks of glass panels.

When I wasn't painting simulated wheat, we were constantly moving panes around, almost tiptoeing, because we didn't want to break anything.

We finished the last of the panes-- there were so many, even the boss had a brush in her hand-- at almost five in the morning. Once the last of the plates dried, they'd be loaded onto a truck for shipping to the church site.

We were all hopped up on coffee and little sleep, but the atmosphere was relaxed, mostly because we were exhausted. My boss was also resigned to the idea that this project was one of the ones that fell horribly short of the goal. My heart went out to her: she'd still have to deal with an irate customer. Sensing the end of my time with her, my employer decided to talk to me about Jesus while her daughter prepared my check.

I think the sun was rising when I left the workshop. I was upbeat, because I could stave off some expenses.

Oddjob Ronin Rating    

Odd? Yes: Harold Sakata throws five hats at James Bond, and three of them hit.

I wouldn't have gotten this job if the circumstances weren't so desperate for that particular company. While sweatshops-in-all-but-name are common, this setup with my friend's mom doesn't count. In an ad-man's world, this situation could be compared to crunch time for a presentation.

Similarities to other jobs: think old-time sign painters for movies (given scope and volume of work), illustrators and painters on a leash.

Shafted? No.

I was asked what my daily rate was, and I gave it. Granted, I couldn't have known what kind of situation I'd be facing, but I was paid for my work in the end, with exactly the amount I'd specified.
The work was a positive learning experience. I learned a little about contemporary methods for staining glass. I tested my endurance and my artistic ability. I wound up thinking about my own failings as an artist and an artisan, and the situations of employers and artists in general.

Would I do it again? Probably not for the same pay. I would like to see the panes get fired, though, very much.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dear Maya,

As this week is "catching up with business that I had to delay last week week," I'll be going out today to render unto Caesar (and all the other jokers in the Senate). While I'm out, will you please render unto Dex the damned .avi file? Properly, this time?



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Reason I Hate Lesson Plans

It turns out that there probably is no money forthcoming from my last shirt deal. Currently unknown if I can recoup my losses and make my other commitments.  It occurs to me that I now have much to write about, and as usual, I am too close to these events to properly write about them.

But back to lesson plans.

I don't dislike them per se. They represent, to me, a level of commitment and competency involved in a job that requires lesson plans. Whatever my qualifications, my gifts, it's hard to come into a job that requires commitment and competency, when the only thing I can give to said job is one of them, and that grudgingly.

My parents want me to go back to teaching. I'd hoped there would be a way around it, but given the pressing needs of the household-- with which my relationship will soon gain another complication-- I'm forced to seriously consider the option. It would be alright if I didn't feel like a total fraud, or if my previous experiences with teaching were financially fruitful and truly emotionally satisfying. It would be alright if I felt as if I took the job because I wanted to, and not because I'd had to take it to help pay for a service that was foisted on me-- the goodwill, concern and worry behind such a foisting notwithstanding. That's my central issue.

Sadly, brute economics is no great respecter of my feelings, and teaching is the only job my mother can more or less secure for me. And there lies the crux of my resigned anger and discontent. Everything--literally everything-- I'd started or tried for myself has ended in tears, shame and (currently) bankruptcy. (Or at least it certainly feels that way.) At best, I could describe my more successful endeavors as "eking." Credit or blame whatever quality or circumstance, the bottom line is that time and again "eking" has been the best I could do, even with help. And I've always needed help.

I can't live without some kind of support system, but neither can I really live knowing that my successes, meager as they are, can be credited only to the hard, hard work of my parents-- who moved heaven and earth to open doors for me, who charted everything (or tried to) and half dragged me (sometimes willy-nilly)      into insane business startup ventures because they were afraid I'd grow old without money. My part in this is patent too: someone had to get his picture taken, to sign his own papers, to go along with whatever harebrained scheme was current. (Happily, I walked into the shirt venture with my full consent and awareness. Even if it didn't pan out the way I'd wanted it to, I'm proud of it. I've little reason for regret there-- a small victory in what feels like an ocean of failure).
I'm angry because my talents can only flourish in a social network, and I can't really depend on social networks. When was the last time I was really paid for a major gig with my friends? Once, maybe twice. And for each of these, I was truly happy, truly alive. Again, small personal victories that don't really count for much against the power an economic recession.

C'est la vie.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Unwelcome Interlude

When I wind up making your name a verb; or when your name becomes something I blurt out at random times but more frequently when I am upset, angry, surprised or when I'm not focused on a specific task... then you have probably hurt me deeply at some point in my life. I have probably scarred you too. It makes sense, then, that I call us quits, wish you well and hope to Santy Claws I never see you again. It means that deep down, I probably still miss you in that peculiar manner of mine... the manner that involves symptoms from shaking, fever, lassitude, auditory and olfactory hallucinations to physical pain.

It's unbecoming of me to return to this topic-- that last poem was your final gift to me; that last letter, my final gift to you. It's just that there are some things I just don't get over. That you are among them is indicative of how special you are.  

Recurring Worries

The problem we're facing is that we're operating, in essence, like Culture Crash Comics in the early 2000's.  The product is great, the people are nice, but if something doesn't happen soon, the story will end the same way it always ends whenever I believe in something bigger than myself: egg-sucking disappointment. This isn't the first time I signed up to serve in Camelot. I've seen it fall twice, and I would like to see this one turn in a profit (just a little, but more than "just enough") while it changes the world.

Friday, August 17, 2012

If It Ain't One Thing...'s another, followed by something else equally annoying and inconvenient.

First, the newly upgraded computer conks out. Quite possible that the video card and/or the RAM chips are fried. My business goes into cardiac arrest.

Then typhoon Gener blows into town bringing that nameless monsoon (I'm calling it Voldemonsoon or simply Voldemort) in tow. The Metro area sinks; large swaths of Quezon City are suddenly left without power or potable water; my room is flooded. During a lull in the deluge, my uncle flatlines in the middle of a dialysis and is dead for eight minutes. The doctors manage to resuscitate him. He dies again, permanently, the following day. My business has been in the ICU for weeks; doctors begin to advise me of the advantages of pulling the plug.      

Tonight, I've just returned from taking my sister to the hospital. It doesn't look like anything serious...not yet.

Life is just... just nuts.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dear Tito Luis

You're not reading this. At least I don't think you are but these words need to be said.[1]

You were a very loving man, very generous man. The people who came to your wake all say the same thing. If there were notable weaknesses in your personality, these were weaknesses that were unknowingly fostered out of love for you, love that you often inspired.

Yes, I wish we'd spent more time together, even if it was just for talk. I'm sure your wonderful daughters are one with me in that wish. Were I at death's door I could hope for no more devotion than what they showed in your final days. There are few people in this world in whose company I would feel safe enough to die.

I wish you'd stayed longer-- no, not as an old man hooked up to a dialysis machine, nothing so undignified. An old man, perhaps, with his faculties intact, enjoying in the company of  his friends, his daughters and grandchildren.  

I didn't dare cross that distance between us that last time I saw you hooked up to the iron lung and the dialysis device. You were hopped up on all sorts of medication and there were doctors and such around you. I guess there were times recognition of me and my dad and Lola Bibing Taba would be evident in your eyes and in how you may have tried to speak then. But the words I wanted to have with you were not for doctors' ears, not for anyone. I still clung to some hope that I would hold your hand or touch your arm, and reassure you that everyone would miss you, in case the life support failed, but that we'd be alright.    

Your life had meaning! at least it did, to us. Unlike this hippie who can't seem to earn enough for his needs and the needs of his then-live-in partner, you and Tita Emma raised worthy children, competent professionals  who anyone would be proud to claim as "daughter," "sister," or "wife." To my knowledge you committed no crimes, and any of your peccadilloes and venal sins, you were likely sorry for. You inspired a lasting love in your wife  (and likely many funny romantic vignettes involving who would carry whom into the bedchamber, the shared toothbrush, and how you liked your fish).

I say all this now to celebrate who you were, to make up for that missed opportunity, and to wish that you could see or read this. Thank you, Tito. Thank you for your generosity, thank you for you. We love you. We will always miss you.           

[1] and thus do we come to the heart of why I, an agnostic atheist and a secularist, can't completely discount the human act of prayer

Monday, August 13, 2012


I suppose that this is my case of confirmation bias, but the universe seems to bend over backward to bring me what I want... at least initially. I found myself seated next to my cousin's friend. Yes, the same young lovely whose smiling disposition I could not easily shake off. Were I still a praying man, I would have attributed all sorts of motives to the insensate concatenation of fortuitous events that led to our sharing a meal. But, again, these turns of events are best taken at face value, and this occasion was a damn wake.

What have I learned?

Again, that whoever wrote Tina Turner's 1984 material was right.

I recognize how slaved I am to the classes and sub-classes of women who populate my head. I have a "type" --several, in fact-- and woe betide you if you fall under any of them.

This isn't to say that I can't develop any kind of affection, trust and devotion for you, but what I'm caring about at this stage isn't you. Just the bits of you that my subconscious fits with great facility into its many shoe-box ideas of the women I should care for. I will be sometimes fatally blind to all those other bits of you, in the same way you're currently blind to all the other bits of me that you simply can't live with. The nearness --the newness-- of you is a delightful diversion from the sameness of my life.

Still, I'm thankful for it. That I know that nothing will come out of it is no barrier to appreciating the gift when it arrives.


Sunday, August 12, 2012


Dear Cebu,

You're weird and you're interesting. You remind me of the women who I fall hard for. More often than not, they're not stunners, at least not at first glance. They'd have their share of obvious imperfections covering up or downplaying qualities that, over time, delightfully surprise me.

I don't profess much love for you--generally. You're a tourist trap. There are way too many people enjoying your nightlife for my taste. There's far too much noise in your nightspots, and far too much heat in the afternoons.  As liberal as I am, I get eerily upset at seeing the seemingly large number of our native girls adorning the arms of white dudes who seem to be as old as their fathers. Granted, my complaints are self-serving. I haven't completely outgrown the desire to be that old dude (sans the whiteness) waking up to the sight of the (legal-aged, preferably vision-impaired) waif  who regularly warms his bed, as love also blossoms in a marriage defined by need and expedience-- her body and his potential heirs for a roof over her head, and strong arms to keep out the cold.  

But there's something about you that I can't place, something that keeps me looking in your direction and admiring how your hair falls over your bare shoulder, the coyness of your smile-- and its promise of the best kinds of sensuality for the man who unlocks your heart. But you're also high maintenance--or at least you seem to be-- and I have a problem with high maintenance women.

For now, you've been a welcome respite from the impotence that has characterized my work these past two months. You've also allowed me and my mother to come to a proper compromise. You've also provided me with potential business, and with another place to run to, should my traditional refuges break from the strain of so much forced  modernity (yes, you have your blight of call centers, but here, no one knows me and I am free to reinvent myself with you should the need ever arise-- but will you let me, though?).

Yes, Cebu, for now, at least, I have my eye on you. 

Occupational Hazard

First, a gripe about my smartphone:

Dear Swype, I hate you. I just lost a composition because your predictive text capabilities and my fat fingers have erased five paragraphs of text. Digression over.

 As I Swype, I'm looking at my cousin's friend, a young lovely with a perpetual smile and seemingly no conception of a life past college (that could be my ageist, elitist aspect talking. I don't know her beyond her smile and her preoccupation with whatever ladies her age concern themselves with today). I find myself wondering what it would be like to sweep her of her feet and shower her with kisses. I find myself imagining what it would be like to enjoy her attentions, her care. I find myself angry that I am subject to these thoughts here, now, when my uncle is at death's door.

The hospital is not a place for thoughts of cupid. Too, any friend speaking to me over the last three years will know of my new-pledged disdain for thoughts of cupid. It's well-known among my friends that I believe cupid owes me for years of unnecessary grief.

It's her innocence that I miss and envy. More than the diminishing possibility of my ever having mutually enjoyable sexual activity with someone my age or younger, someone full of sensual promise; more than experiencing love in that furtive, explosive, singular, new, manner of teenagers and people a little above twenty years of age:  In the face of the grief I feel, and the pity and the outrage, I feel the desire to flirt, to make meaningful social and sexual connections-- much, much to my shame.

I've always felt that it isn't necessarily wrong to feel this way for someone. I've loved women younger than myself-- often leading someone out of innocence is in itself one of the highlights of such a love. The problem is that it's all too easy to be attached to the perks of any new love, especially new love with someone newly come into sensual potency.

For convenience's sake these thoughts and stirrings are shoved aside as they bubble up, whenever humanly possible. In the long term, attaining any of my goals is not helped by the prospects of romantic entanglements, and I would be wise to remind myself and interested parties of this always.  

This is one of the larger occupational hazards for men who want to make something of  the little time they have left on the planet before they become too infirm to do so.