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Monday, February 02, 2004

THE PROPER USE OF ELBOWS





1. Most of her classmates sold out and became telemarketers. Vicky was one of the few who took the high road and became a bum.
Her mother, however, did not share her world-view. “You haven’t left the house in thirty days.” Mrs. Giambattista was about to leave for the office.
“You’re throwing me out, is that it?” Vicky was rubbing her eyes, having just woken up.
“I’m telling you to make something of yourself.” Slam went the door.
Vicky was unperturbed, and began a conversation with her coffee and toast.
“I am making something of myself.”
The toast did not respond positively—it did not respond at all—so she bit it and turned to the coffee.
“I’m going to be a writer. No—a painter. Wait, scratch that. I’m going to be the next big star in television. Of the silver screen!”
As the coffee did not nod approvingly, Vicky drank her cup dry.
“Or maybe a singer? A dancer.” She got up towards the sink. “A mime!” She washed the dishes.
After doing so she brushed her teeth, turned on the CD player and went to take a dump and bath. Squatting on the throne she sang along with Paul McCartney, “In the vanilla sky…”
Vanilla Sky, she loved the musicality of the phrase. She owned everything related to the movie. VHS, VCD, DVD. Posters, mugs, the Spanish film on which it was based.
But with all things loved, there were objections. She disliked Tom Cruise, who supported the war against Iraq. She disliked Tom leaving Nicole for Penelope. And she hated Vanilla Sky’s ending. Sci-fi mumbo jumbo! The movie could have—should have—opted for a schizophrenic solution.        
Two hours later, intestines cleared, hair conditioned, legs shaved, with a towel wrapped around her body, Vicky decided to look for a job.
“Why not?” She opened the bathroom door and instead of walking out she turned to the mirror. “It’s just past ten. And have I not a résumé?” Her reflection agreed.
She flew up the stairs, decided against deodorants (“Not scheduled!”), and got dressed.
Facing the mirror, she saw that she had put on the same kind of dress her mother always wore: a brown tailor-made power suit. “Am I to become my mother?”
The mirror did not respond. 
Vicky grabbed her attaché case and was about to fly out her room when she caught a glimpse of her double, deep in slumber under a blanket.
“Don’t tempt me.”
Vicky’s double mumbled a reply.
“Dreaming?”
Vicky looked at her attaché case. She dropped it, took off her heels and stockings and pushed her double for space.
As she hugged her gremlin stuffed toy her mother’s parting words echoed in her head.
“After lunch. Promise.” She joined her double in dreamland.

2. Vicky met her double in high school, when she fell in love with a boy her mother said came from a bad family. “Drunkards and junkies.”
Vicky was in the library, staring at Janus, who was sitting across the room talking to his CAT clones.
Vicky had just gotten kicked out of the chic clique, being too flashy—she colored each nail a different color—for the cheerleaders.
She was alone, supposedly reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson,” but was instead sighing her heart out. She had been salivating over Janus for three hours.
“Read, read, read!” That was her mother dropping her off this morning.
Always Vicky was hearing her mother’s voice in her head.
“Okay, okay, okay,” Vicky thought. “Got to get good grades. Might even impress him.” She read the short story’s first words.
“Is anybody sitting here?” A voice as hard as hers came from her back.
Vicky, startled, turned around.
The voice belonged to a girl with brown skin like hers, big eyes like hers, long hair like hers—held by a brown clip like the one holding hers, Great Wall of China-glasses like hers, wearing the white skirt/blue blouse uniform of her Catholic school. Vicky decided then even before speaking, despite their superficial similarities, that they looked completely different from one another.
“No. None. Nobody.” She scratched herself. “Please—sit.”
The girl smiled, sat and stared at Janus.
Vicky did not know what to do, so she tried returning to Edgar Allan Poe.
But the girl beside her sighed.
“Vicky.” Vicky offered her hand.
“Really?” The girl’s eyes became as big as billiards.
“No, Vicky.”
They both laughed. The same sitcom canned laughter.
“What wrong with my name?” Vicky’s hand was still in the air, still unshaken.
“Nothing, it’s a beautiful name.” The girl blushed. “My name’s Vicky too.” Vicky shook Vicky’s hand.
Laughter.
“Well, what’s your last name?”
“Giambattista.”
“Spanish?”
“Italian. Half. Ala Assunta. Yours?”
“Lake.”
“A—”
“As in ‘big.’”
Vicky Giambattista blushed. She did not know what to say, though in her head she screamed, “What the hell kind of a name is ‘La—ke’?”
Vicky, the other Vicky, started whistling.
After a while, Vicky said: “Nice clip.”
“Thanks. Yours is cuter.”
Conceding that they had gotten as far as they could in the getting-to-know-you ritual, both girls turned to stare and sigh at Janus.
Vicky Giambattista was in her sophomore year then. She had no best friend—indeed, after the ass-kicking from the cheerleaders, she had no friend. But Vicky Lake came into her life, and she was never alone again.

3. Vicky screamed as dozens of Agent Smiths pummeled Neo to death while she, Trinity, could do nothing but watch.
She awoke.
Her double was sitting on the edge of her bed—lotus position.
“Nightmare? What kind of movie?” Vicky Lake was in an apron with nothing beneath—and the smell of flesh aroused Vicky Giambattista.
“Burgers?”
“And fries!”
“American junk.” Vicky faked a pout.
“You know you love them—imperialism and all.”
Vicky helped Vicky up. They flew down the stairs.
“Coke?” Vicky sat.
“I thought you hate American junk?” From the refrigerator Vicky brought out two ice-filled Vanilla Sky mugs.
Vicky Giambattista started wolfing down two burgers and a whole lot of fries, gulping the Coke, and staining her power suit. Her double, in contrast, delicately got a knife, eating only tiny bits while sipping—not drinking!—the soft drink. She, also, was reading.
“Was ist das?” Vicky leaned over and got her double’s knife.
Anna Karenina.”
Karenin.” Vicky started cutting the last remaining burger to pieces.
“Excuse me?” Her double glanced at the knife. Out of tiny bits of meat she just sipped.
“‘Karenina’ means wife of Karenin. In our nomenclature you drop the ‘a’ as Karenin is Anna’s last name.”
“Didn’t you go out with an Anna?”
“No—you did. Concert or something.”
“Sure?” Her double’s eyebrows were raised.
“Sure.” Vicky raised the knife high.
“Of course, yes, ah—now I remember.”
“You went steady, for three days?”
“A month. She left me for a DOM.”
“Truly?” Vicky wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Whatever happened to her?”
“Died. Bali—terrorists. Bombed to bits. They were supposed to get married there, damn shame.”
“Were you shocked?”
“Cried a river. Treated you to a movie.”
Vicky returned the knife to her double. “Be ready to leave in ten minutes.”
Vicky went to the mirror beside the refrigerator. As it was fractured from a plate-throwing contest with her mother, it didn’t help in showing Vicky the stains on her power suit. All she saw were multiple copies of herself.
And her double behind her.
“That call-center your mother recommended you to?”
“Yes.” Vicky remembered trying to cut her wrist with a shard from the mirror. She bit her lips to repress the memories of that night.
“I don’t want to go. I don’t want you to go. You don’t want to go.”
“You, me, we, haven’t left the house in thirty days.”
“But the pirate DVDs your mother bought us! Minority Report! Adaptation!”
“I hate Tom Cruise.”
“But you love Nicholas Cage!”
“American junk. Cultural imperialism. I need to make something of myself.”
“Telemarketer is not making something of yourself.”
Thirty minutes later Vicky and her double were waiting at the MRT Cubao station.
The train was crowded but fast. Soon the two were passing by the Shaw Boulevard station, minutes away from their goal—Ayala.
“Bet I can jump from the roof of Rustan’s and land on the train tracks.” Vicky’s double was wearing the same suit as Vicky—without stains, though.
They looked completely different.
“Why would you—or anyone—do that?” Vicky was looking at her reflection in the train’s walls.
“I won’t, but if I did I could.”
“But you wouldn’t, so how can we bet?”
Vicky’s double turned around and started making small talk with a yuppie, who looked a lot like them. Vicky looked at the people around her and saw that most of the women—indeed most of the men—looked a lot like her.
Back in high school this would have left Vicky disturbed, as meeting Vicky had already somewhat addled her brains. But entering college she found a lot of women—and yes, a lot of men—had looks similar to hers. In fact she met another double—a triple!—in her junior year. This time too a man was involved—Pres. Johnny Walker Blue himself.
Vicky Giambattista and Vicky Lake met Peñafrancia Purificacion at a rally against Erap’s second SONA.
Vicky convinced her double that being militant was being cool and they, in their twin Miriam College uniforms, shouldn’t get left behind. Mrs. Giambattista had told Vicky in her freshman year that activists had rotten brains.
“Omigod omigod omigod! That guy on top of the fire truck, he’s drowning the rallyists!” Vicky covered her eyes with her right hand—fingers spread apart so she could peek. Her left fist was in the air.
“This is fun!” Vicky’s double was sweating like a guilty suspect at the witness stand, but grinning like one who had the highest-paid lawyer on her side.
“Omigod! They’re beating that guy!”
“Oh cool—blood!”
“Must they use truncheons?”
“This is exactly like Survivor!”
Vicky stared at her double with coño eyes that said: “Well, hell. Now everyone knows you’re stupid.”
“No it isn’t.” Vicky heard the words in her head, then realized they did not come from her mouth.
Vicky and her double did an about-face and came face to face with the source of the insult.
Vicky gasped—it was like looking at her reflection look at a mirror.
Vicky and her double were stunned tongueless—the girl had brown skin like theirs, big eyes like theirs, and a grin that said, “Hi, my name is Vicky Giambattista. Or Vicky Lake.”
The girl was in stereotype activist clothes—dust covered sandals, pants filled with holes, Che Guevara t-shirt, red bandana. It was her hair, however, that marked her different from her comrades. It actually looked shampooed.
“This is not Gladiator dears,” the girl said, “and you’re not in the movies. Might I suggest moving some kilometers away from the action? Why don’t you go to a mall?”
“Why don’t you go to hell?” Those were Vicky’s words, but her double said them first.
“Look, Miriamite…”
“How dare you call me that! Boxing me, stereotyping me, reducing me. I have a name—you communist!”
Vicky was about to butt in when she felt a horse hump her ass.
The police were pacifying everyone.
“Omigod—G! Your panties!”
“Jesus Christ! Help me help her up.”
The girl and Vicky’s double hoisted Vicky up.
“Are you hurt?” The girl seemed sincere, and her arms were the only things keeping Vicky up.  
“My legs. And ankles.”
“Jesus Christ.”
“Miriamites and rallies don’t mix.” The double’s defense.
“I have a car.” Vicky’s eyes invited the girl.
“I have a fascist to fight.”
The three of them were about to argue when they saw another girl activist—this one was sliding belly up across the asphalt.
“Which way?”
They were all bumps and bruises by the time they got to Vicky’s car. The anti-rally squadron used everything: water, truncheons, rude gestures, name-calling. It was a carnival.
“So what do your friends call you?” Vicky Lake was at the wheel.
“France.” Peñafrancia Purificacion sat beside Vicky at the back seat, massaging Vicky’s left foot.
“Wherever did you get those earrings?” Vicky was trying really hard not to laugh. Her feet were particularly ticklish.
“France.”
“Visited the Tower?”
“Althusser’s grave, actually. My parents’ idea.”
They left the rally at the right time. News reports would later show that violence escalated even more as the SONA got underway. Around fifty activists, mostly students, were injured, and one, a grease person, innocently wandering, got killed.
Vicky, however, did not know this and was ashamed of herself for running away like a dog. Her double, however, was perky, and infected everybody, so the triplets were one happy bunch by the time they got to the Giambattista residence.
There they watched TV, drank alcohol, ate chocolate cake, watched gay porn, drank alcohol, ate dinner—pizza and tacos, watched Being John Malkovich (“Malkovich? Malkovich!” Vicky Lake kept joking), drank alcohol and decided to undress to compare the similarities of their bodies.
They were standing in front of the half-wall-sized mirror at Vicky’s sala when Vicky’s mother, dead from work but happy to be home, opened the door and caught them comparing asses.
“Jesus Christ.”
Mrs. Giambattista was shocked—not at her daughter’s nudity but at her daughter’s companions. Vicky since high school was always talking about her double. Mrs. Giambattista first dismissed this as a fantasy (her daughter was introverted and daydreamed a lot), became curious when Vicky showed her a picture, was almost convinced by the sound of Vicky Lake’s voice on the telephone, but surged back to doubt then to disbelief when she saw not her daughter’s double when she went to her daughter’s graduation.
“She’s poor you know, couldn’t afford the graduation fees, you know the situation.”
“I just don’t understand.” Mrs. Giambattista kept jumping looks from Vicky to Vicky to France.
The triplets didn’t understand too, so the four of them spent the night drinking.
It was three thirty in the morning when, sitting on the couch, Mrs. Giambattista declared: “If you think about it, everyone looks like everyone else, somehow—a little bit. There are lots of people like me who have big boobs. Others share my porcelain skin. Still more have the same tiny eyes. You three just happen to have similar attributes grouped together in those bodies.”
As Vicky, her double and her triple were all away dreaming, nobody contested Mrs. Giambattista’s theory. She stood up and fell asleep.
Vicky Lake and France stayed for lunch.
Before she left for work Mrs. Giambattista invited her daughter’s friends to her sister’s daughter’s wedding.
“Count us in!” This was France.
“Food?” And that was Vicky.
After the wedding, which was held later that month, France took Vicky’s hand, led her to the reception hall’s garden’s grass labyrinth, shook off Vicky’s double who kept following them like a voyeur-stalker, and sat Vicky on a stone bench beside a fountain at the center of the maze.
Vicky was screaming in her head: “Omigod—this is it. Lesbian sex!”
France’s eyes were grim.
Her lips determined.
“Vicky, I’m going up the mountains.”
“Well, that’s not really roman—oh. You mean, underground?”
“Yes,” France took Vicky’s hands. “In the weeks that I have known you, you’ve done more than anyone to convince me of the need for social change.”
“So you’re saying my Miriamite, coño life makes a good case for revolution?” Vicky was crying.
France smiled, caressed Vicky’s hair, whispered softly in her ear and walked away. Vicky waited fifteen seconds before following.
She would not lose her.
No!
Vicky found France at the buffet table.
Three days later, she was gone.
Vicky never heard from France again, she was the biggest what-if of her life.
Vicky learned, after graduating from college, that France died in a military raid. It was early in the morning, she was supposed to go to her first job interview later that day. Her double shoved an Abante up her nose. 
France was shot in the back. Her dead picture in the tabloid prompted Vicky to think, “I’m reading news about my death.”
Vicky did not go to the job interview.
France’s last words to Vicky were, “I shall never forget you, Vicky.”
“Vicky? Vicky?”
Vicky Giambattista turned to Vicky Lake, who said, “We’ve arrived.”
The two stepped off the MRT Ayala station and Vicky, getting shoved and caressed by the mob rampaging towards the only escalator, forgot about France.

4. Vicky’s double’s father died last month, in an apparent suicide after their house burned down in the latest squatters crackdown in Kamuning. Having never met her mother, her parents separated when she was still a baby, Vicky’s double was left with nothing. Her uncles, aunts and godparents suddenly couldn’t recognize her anymore. This was how she came to live at the Giambattista’s residence.
Vicky’s double was a hard person—scientific, calculating, pragmatic. She knew that her staying at Vicky’s house wasn’t for free. There was a price, which was to suck Vicky’s ass continually. Act the clown, the nerd, the psycho, the psychologist, the friend, the lover, the fool—according to Vicky’s needs. Today, it seemed to Vicky’s double, Vicky needed a philosopher.
They were at the waiting room at Tejano International Telemarketers, in line for Vicky’s interview, with some seventeen people ahead of them and some twenty more behind. Some of them looked a lot like Vicky. Some, like her double.
“Time and the experience of time,” Vicky’s double began, “can be deceiving.”
Vicky wasn’t paying attention. She was eyeing a fat bald guy standing at the head of the line.
“Take a kiss, for example,” Vicky’s double continued, “Your fist kiss, say. In real time, measured in seconds, it didn’t probably last for long. But the experience, the orgasm of the sense, the saliva production, the living of it—hours, days!”
Vicky turned to her double. “And standing in line for a few minutes feels like months. And every second as a telemarketer will feel like years. Yada yada yada. Can you at least be subtler when you’re insulting me?”
“I was trying to be profound.”
“You were being annoying.”
“Well sor—”
“Deliberately.”
All the people in the line were giving them dirty looks.
“What has gotten into you?”
“If you didn’t want to come—”
“I’m the one who lost a father here…”
“At least you had a father.”
“Quiet!” It was the fat bald guy.
Vicky and her double fell silent.
Years went by and finally it was Vicky’s turn to be interviewed. Her double sat on the floor directly in front of the door.
The interviewer (“Whatever is his position?” Vicky racked her brains) was an old man with white hair and white skin, dressed in a white suit. The room was full of TVs—three! Vicky saw that one was on CNN, another on the stockmarket channel and the third was on MTV.
The man in white motioned Vicky to sit.
Vicky sat. The chair was large and ate her.
The man in white started walking around the room. Then he spoke: “You’re probably thinking, why the televisions?”
Vicky was shocked—that was what was on her mind. All she could do was nod.
“Two to bring worries, one to calm the nerves.”
The man paused, as if waiting for a reply. So Vicky said: “Yes, MTV can be soothing.”
“I was talking about CNN.” The man in white laughed. “All that politics and violence. It helps one… forget.”
Embarrassed, Vicky decided from then on to just nod.
“You are Vicky Giambattista?”
“Yes sir.”
“Betty Giambattista’s daughter?”
“Yes sir.”
“I knew your father, Benny.”
“Yes sir.”
“You start our seminar tomorrow. That’s for two months. Even though you wouldn’t technically be working, we’re already going to pay you twenty thousand a month. However,” the man in white stopped pacing, “you can’t quit. If you do, we will take back the money we gave you. And you can’t tell us you’ve already spent it.”
The man in white stood tall and made a decapitating gesture with his pointing finger and neck. “We have ways.”
Vicky nodded.
“Go to Marie at the reception desk, she’ll tell you what to do.”
Vicky stood up, and they shook hands.
“Are there still some to follow you?”
Vicky nodded. “Yes sir, around ten.”
“Tell them to go home and come back tomorrow.”
The man in white turned to the television sets, which in a mad coincidence were all showing the same “Wow—Philippines!” commercial, and Vicky turned toward the door.
Her double was on the other side, grinning.
“Well, was it Veni, vidi, vici? I expected as much!”
But Vicky paid her no attention, did not tell the other applicants to go home, did not go to Marie at the reception desk. Her double followed and the two were silent until they reached the MRT Ayala station.
“You’re right. Telemarketer is not making something of my self.”
“Oh come on!” Vicky’s double was red with guilt and shaking from the fear of getting kicked out by Mrs. Giambattista. “I haven’t tried it. You haven’t tried it. Maybe it’ll be fun!”
“I’d rather die than live like the walking dead.”
“Vicky, don’t talk like that.”
And they were silent again.
Until they reached the MRT Shaw Boulevard station. At the last minute Vicky got off the train and her double almost got halved by the doors trying to follow her.
“Vicky…”
“I’m calling your bet! We’re going to the rooftop of Rustan’s.”
“Vicky!”
But minutes later they were on the rooftop. Some five security guards were pounding on the only door that led to it.
Vicky stood on the edge, calculating the distance to the MRT tracks.
“Just like Anna…” Vicky’s smile was limp. She bit her lips.
“You haven’t committed adultery.” Vicky’s double was crying but she knew she could do nothing.
“Just like in Magnolia. That kid who jumped from the roof but got shot on the way down…”
“That’s a fucking movie!”
“Based on real life!”
“All made up! It doesn’t make sense.”
“I jump from here, instead of dying from the fall I smash into a train.” Vicky Giambattista did a Kate Winslet on the Titanic.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Sigmund Freud analyze…” But Vicky did not finish the joke, seeing that the security guards were finally able to break through the door.
“If you jump, I jump.”
Vicky jumped, knowing her double wouldn’t.
The moment lasted for years. Vicky saw her childhood, her mother losing her at the mall, her high school, crying when she first got her menstruation, her first kiss, in college, and her mother, and her double, and France.
Vicky’s vagina geysered.
“Damn,” she thought, “and me without a napkin.”
She had seconds to consider how embarrassing it would be, for her, for paramedics to find her panty stained with menstruation.
She missed the station by a good seven meters.
She slammed into the pavement.
She did not die.
But along came a bus…

5. Mrs. Giambattista was crying, the TV flashing her daughter’s brains, when Vicky opened the door.
She said, “I got the job. I start tomorrow.”
Mrs. Giambattista hugged her.
“I hope you’re happy.”
And the two of them, mother and daughter, ate dinner and watched the HBO special—Multiplicity.

Philippines Graphic
February 2, 2004