12/21/2013
A field day for extortionists

I couldn't unlock the car. I tried pressing the unlock button so many times but it just wouldn't work. Then I looked inside the car and noticed that, for the past four hours, the car's engine was running.

There's one problem with keyless cars. The "key" - the car has to detect that device before you can start driving - will often be in your pocket, and you will tend to forget about it. Well, not me, because I'm not the one driving. I'm just the guy who went to the vehicle to get a box of giveaways.

So I opened the door, shut off the engine and opened the trunk. There were several boxes there. I went through them, looking for the box I'm supposed to get, when a group of male teenagers came up behind me. One had a guitar. One had a tambourine. Oh my, I thought. I have been cornered by carolers.

I hate carolers. Well, I hate the idea of caroling. I don't hate Christmas carols, although maybe I do. Okay, I kinda do, because these songs don't make sense outside Christmas, and they're just so full of clich├ęs. But I hate the idea of caroling more, at least the Philippine idea of caroling, the idea that anybody can go house to house, sing a song half-arsedly, and get loose change for it.

Of course, if you're at home, you can dodge it. You can not react, pretending that nobody's home, or if you're like me, pretending that you're the only guy home and you're seated on the toilet doing a number two. Or you can always scream "patatawarin!" at the earliest opportunity.

I used to relish saying "patatawarin!", mostly because I was always the guy whose television viewing was interrupted to give five-peso coins to whoever's singing outside. But lately I cringe whenever I think of saying that. I can imagine the kids singing their aural middle-finger. Tenkyu, tenkyu, ang babarat ninyo, tenkyu! And you feel judged by the gates of heaven, and you feel damned to eternity.

And it's not as if I can say that to the boys singing me a surprisingly different Christmas carol, perhaps one they made up. What, I say "patatawarin!" and risk being mobbed by a bunch of guys? That would be a hoot. A guy gets beaten up at Kapitolyo. His eyeglasses are shattered. His face is swollen. Maybe he has a stab wound, but who cares, right? He dared say no to a bunch of guys who only want to bring the Christmas spirit to his cold heart. He must die.

I actually had too many coins that I was more than willing to give. But then I had to listen to their entire song.

I hate the idea of caroling, at least the Philippine idea of caroling, the idea that anybody can go house to house, sing a song half-arsedly, and get loose change for it. And they feel entitled to loose change. "Tao po! Namamasko po!" I heard that a lot this week, in the street I walk in, the final stretch of my commute home. "Tao po! Namamasko po! Tao poooooo!" Like, hey, we sang for you, now give us money! but they're actually worse than William Hung. And William Hung got rich off his bad performances. Well, not rich. But he got money off it.

I'm not sure if I would have approached it that way when I was little. I had a relatively vocal wish of being able to go door to door, caroling with friends and maybe getting money. There would've been a lesson or two there. Learn to accept rejection. Learn to work nice with your peers. You have to give your all to everything that you do. I probably would've given it my all. I'm not a good singer, but I will sing the hell out of "Joy to the World", because I am a kid and that is all that matters. Maybe not anymore.

The burden gets heavier when it's the adults who go house to house. Groups of ten people, maybe twelve, wearing white; one has a guitar; everyone is armed with vocal harmonies. They rehearsed, they obviously did. Hark the herald angels siiiing.

When you hear a choir sing outside your door, you cannot feel happy. You cannot feel, oh, these are good singers! You cannot just drop everything that you do, run out of the house, and visibly feel fuzzies. You actually cringe because you now feel obligated to give a fifty-peso bill. They will probably give you an envelope, with a long letter detailing who they are and what they do and why they deserve your fifty-peso bill. But it's night time, and my eyes are bad, and I am not supposed to read in the dark. Here's your Quirino.

You slowly see the table nearest to your door pile up with envelopes, with "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" scribbled on it. One's from the garbage collectors. One's from the guy going door to door with your mail. One's from... I don't know. Why am I exactly supposed to give you money?

And that's what I hate about Christmas. The marketing people bleat on about this being a season of giving, but I wish they'd specify what they really mean. You're not supposed to give to everyone, right? Not everyone is entitled to receive anything, right? It's about you and your loved ones, right? If you want to give to other people, sure, but that's all up to you, right?

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not that much of a scrooge. Some people do deserve a little extra. I gave fifty bucks to the barker who gets my money before I ride my shuttle on Friday. I mean, I see him most nights; he knows he should give me a twenty because I'll always pay him P105. That's all right. But when the guard house in your subdivision doesn't usually have security guards at six in the morning, except for today, when they are all out in force, holding a box with Christmas wrapping all around it, shaking it, as if they're paid to do that and only that, well...

And your responses...

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