Lockdown-not-lockdown, week thirteen

5 June, Friday

Most American television series - at least the ones on network television - usually begin with a thirteen-episode order. If the show is popular enough, or if other shows aren't doing as well as hoped, then roughly nine more episodes may be added to the season, unless if the show premiered in the spring, in which case, it can only hope for a longer second season. Of course, if the show hasn't captured imaginations, it may not air all thirteen episodes. Think of The Cape, just to tie that loose knot from a couple of weeks ago.

This is the thirteenth week of my lockdown-not-lockdown entries, and a part of me is thinking I should end this right here. I mean, most restrictions have been lifted, after all, and the streets outside this flat have been busier. Still no buses, and still a lot more beggars than before, so in ways it may feel better or worse. But then, we've been here for so long, it just feels like it's all we've had. I remember some expert (or was it someone on social media?) saying that it takes thirteen weeks for a particular behavior to become a habit. I guess, for one, this means we're already a mask-wearing society.

My parents have asked me, twice already, if I'm thinking of going home. Just today, my dad asked if I want him to pick him up after work. Of course I miss my folks, and frankly I need a change of environment after three months of being stuck in the same square kilometer. But transitions take longer than we think they should. Shalla's still working at home, and my laptop still has to do double duty. I think it'll be the case for longer, since commuting to work is still not an option if you don't have a car, and that, I don't have.

Also, I'm thinking of ending this week because, well, it makes sense. I can't help but feel this is the season finale of something. The overarching narrative isn't over, not by a long shot, but it feels like we've moved past several of the more urgent plot points: figuring out how to go out and about; holding on to whatever sense of normality we're allowed to have; not breaking down in the process. All that's resolved, somehow - and again, I have to acknowledge that this is not the case for everyone, before you all lynch me for not being as woke as your standards - and now we're going to have to face new plot points, ones that you usually hold for a second season when you're confident you're getting one. Plot points like, say, the weaponization of the so-called new normal, or the institutionalization of restrictions, or the consolidation of power for some shadowy, not-exactly-seen Big Boss.

So, a series finale? People aren't going down without a fight, it seems, so maybe not.

But, as a writer, I did not intend these entries to tackle those big issues. It's not that I want to avoid them entirely. It's just that I imagined these more as episodes of a slice-of-life anime series rather than from one of those sprawling sci-fi-slash-fantasy epics. There are big stories, but I choose to focus on the small ones, if only for my sanity. But, if you've been reading these for the past months, you'll know they're unavoidable, and at some point these will be about something else. And I say that because thirteen weeks is how long it takes for a habit to be formed. I might continue writing these, if only because it comes automatically to me now.

6 June, Saturday

I had a couple of pork steaks stuck in the freezer for longer than I wanted, so I decided to make some chicken-fried pork steaks out of them. It's pretty simple on paper: coat them in a seasoned egg wash, then dredge them in flour, then fry. Deep fry, if you can. I can't, at least not exactly, because I only have a shallow pan and I don't want to use up all my oil on this, so I settled for something in the middle: shallow pan, half an inch of oil.

In the middle of cooking, someone knocked at the door. We weren't expecting anybody. When I checked the door viewer and saw a security guard, I knew exactly what happened.

"Good morning, ser," he went.

"Good morning," I answered, sheepishly. "Pasensya na, nagluluto kasi ako."

"Wala namang problema, ser?"

"Wala naman. May sinubukan lang akong recipe."

"Ah, sige, ser. Balik lang ako, linisin natin 'yung smoke detector."

I've always thought about the smoke detectors in the flat, how they never flash a light and how it never goes off when I cook something that gets particularly smoky. Turns out I haven't really pushed the limits of that thing, or my cooking.

My pork steaks, at least, aren't burnt, but they're tougher than I wanted it to be. Once again, I am reminded that deep frying is not really going to be a thing I can do.

7 June, Sunday

My barber sent me a text message this morning. He said that the shop he works in isn't going to open just yet - maybe in two weeks, he said, but if I want, he could give me a haircut as he's in Alabang. Alas, I am roughly twenty kilometers away, without a car, and with no public transport in sight, it'd be difficult for me to go south and then go back.

Also, even if I was back home, how exactly would the haircut proceed? I don't live in Alabang, and there's no place for me there that can accommodate me and my barber for a haircut. Can we do it outside? In the parking lot at the Alabang Town Center?

There are barber shops nearer to the flat and, for the past few months, I've been thinking about what haircut I'll get when I finally get a haircut. The nice thing with having your own barber - of course, by that, I mean I've had the same guy cut my hair for years, not any further literal degree of possession - is that you don't really have to give him any instructions. When I had a bald spot (what you'd call a poknat) at the back of my head, he changed my haircut to cover it up. That's been my haircut for the past five or six years, and we haven't exactly codified that. When I get my hair done by someone else for the first time in, I don't know, eight, nine years, what exactly do you say?

8 June, Monday

It's been a weird weekend. I thought it'd be because it's felt like Saturday since Thursday, but of course that's not what really happened.

I checked. I, so far, don't have a duplicate blank account on social media, and neither does Shalla. But I know a lot of people who have found themselves with those so-called clones, and it's not necessarily those who use the critical hashtags and are more outspoken about this government.

There are many theories. Is it a state-supported effort to quash critics from the grassroots? (Those threatening messages from the clones to the accounts they're cloning somewhat lend credence to this.) Is it, as a senator posited, the other way around - an effort by critics of the anti-terrorism bill, which is only waiting for a signature from the president just now, to discredit the legislation? Is it just a glitch, as some investigators are claiming? What, are we already being taken over by robots?

To be honest, I don't feel like dwelling on it, not because I'm not affected, but because, well... you all keep talking about keeping your mental health in check, and at the same time assaulting anyone else who might be tired and taking a break with demands to arm up and join the fight. (For what, your image as someone who cares for what's going on?) And, as I said, all I want to write about here, ideally, are the small things. So here goes: it's been weird browsing my Facebook feed today and seeing many people change their names as some sort of countermeasure. At least two changed their names to translations of such in katakana or alibata. At least one changed his, or her, profile entirely to become that of his, or her, dog's. I checked, because I really didn't know who this Facebook friend was. Or was this someone snooping at me?

I did talk about mental health, right? A friend of mine - UP student, relatively outspoken - found clone accounts of hers, and admitted that she broke down in tears when she learned about it. Sometimes I feel the end goal is to really wear us down to submission. This pandemic is just an opportunity to pick up the pace. It does feel like this is all the calm before the storm. Or we're paranoid. Which we all should be.

9 June, Tuesday

The new normal: all events that you would usually do physically will be done virtually.

Thankfully I'm not in the wedding business, because that'd be all sorts of weird. I just do industry events, and that transitions nicely to online. We finally convinced the bosses to splash money on a Zoom license, and the plan is to be doing one of those webinars next week. Just waiting to pull the trigger on an actual announcement.

Today, though, it's another event, one that we're co-organizing, but one that I'm not running. I took the opportunity to observe and understand just how these things work. I know I studied television production thirteen years ago, but I know that that knowledge alone won't cut it, although it might help make the end result more polished. I guess that's what they pay me for. The flourish.

Online events mean you have to start on time no matter what. The worry of starting an event to an empty room - which did happen to us once, because the traffic was particularly bad that day - is gone. That also means everybody who does appear on screen has to be there on time. One of our speakers, however, had difficulty accessing Zoom - technical issues - so our host had to stall for a good ten minutes.

The stress of waiting for the connection to close was a familiar one, especially since I'm a guy who wants to stick to the timetable as much as possible. I don't miss it, but at the same time, I do. It tells me that what we're doing is going somewhere, even if it all hinges on this one connection closing the right way. The difference is, in the old days, I'd be pacing around the event venue wearing my Muji jacket and thinking of what goes next in the sequence in my head. Today, I'm pacing around the living room wearing a sando and shorts, with Shalla seeing me almost flail.

The event went smoothly, and the only feedback I got was that there wasn't enough time for questions. (Again, the downside with having to stick to a schedule.) But then I remembered that this technically isn't my event. We'll have to wait for next week. I haven't been stressed enough.

10 June, Wednesday

Back in elementary school we had a project where we had to write a diary. It was for English class; I don't think our teacher wanted to know about our deepest secrets.

I was excited for the project, but I realized that I didn't really have the attention span to write every night. I remember failing to write for two, maybe three, days. I remember trying to write one entry each for those days I missed. Inevitably I forgot about what really happened, at least in detail, so to compensate I wrote a phrase that makes me cringe today.

Today, I did a bouquet of things.

One, I walked a little further than usual today, to get a memory upgrade for this laptop. It's a long-pending update, one that was put on hold by financial concerns, and then by the lockdown. The shop's owner was one of my uncle's closest friends - it was his recommendation, after all - so we ended up talking about my uncle, and his friends (who I've met as a kid), and my mother (who he heard of but never met, because by the time they were in high school I was already born), and my nephews and nieces who are still keeping the place noisy to this day. He also told me I should've gotten an SSD upgrade if I really wanted faster performance. I told him I was looking to replace my laptop anyway.

Two, I bought Tim Hortons again. My dad was coming over to bring some more clothes, so I decided to get them some donuts - just Timbits, sadly, since Grab doesn't deliver dozens, for some reason. Unfortunately we all somehow forgot that there was going to be some maintenance on the building this afternoon, so when I had to claim the food all of the elevators were off. I decided to walk down the stairs - twenty-four floors down - and I decided Shalla should go with me, because I figured I should go straight to the laundry and so she should bring the food up. I think our legs will hurt tomorrow. In my case, more so, because I also did that long walk earlier.

Three, the laundry was fuller than expected, so I didn't get to dry my clothes on the higher dryers. (I only prefer those because I'm a tall guy.) Just as I was going to get my clothes, two idiots - a couple who had a lot of laundry - figured they should get theirs, too, so they blocked my dryer. Worse, since all but one of the folding tables were occupied, they decided to fold their fucking laundry in front of the fucking dryers. And, again, that was a lot of laundry. And, again, again, there is an unoccupied folding table.

Four, the building maintenance seems to have thrown a lot of people off. Some thought there was a city-wide outage, even. No, it's building maintenance, but it got delayed, so instead of ending at three, it should end at four. (We do have generators, but I think they were in the middle of switching back to the power grid.) There was a longer line than usual at the elevators, lengthened by the condominium deciding to drill down on the four-persons-per-elevator rule. I was third, with my unfolded laundry (because those fucking idiots), when a mainlander cut me in line. I'm sure he's a tenant, but he can't even tell the security guard which unit he stays in, despite the latter's repeated question of "Unit? Room? Number?" Or maybe he was using that language barrier as a weapon to get his way.

Five, Shalla and I decided to rewatch Bob's Burgers. We love that show, but I stopped watching when life got in the way. It's weird how we revert to old habits because life gets unbearable, or something.

Turns out I remember more than I thought I did.

11 June, Thursday

After almost fourteen weeks, I finally got a haircut.

I booked an appointment at a barber shop a few days back. To be honest, I was surprised I managed to do so pretty easily; I was expecting that I was way back in the line. But then, I assume more people lived near a barber who found himself with no income for three months and had to do impromptu haircuts to neighbors.

That's exactly what the guy that did my hair today did. He's lucky, he said, if he did three to five haircuts in a week. At least it's income straight in his pocket. Otherwise, he'd be in line for aid at the designated government office, waiting for nothing. He told me he only got aid three times in the past three months. He definitely waited more times. Imagine falling in line, thinking about how you'll buy milk for your baby (he has one, and three older children) and getting nothing.

I'll say my barber is very happy to be able to cut hair again. Sure, government regulations mean barber shops can only do the most basic of services (although I got a shampoo, which toes the line) and that they can only operate at 30% of their capacity, meaning staff only work three days a week. But at least it's guaranteed income. It's less than usual, but it's guaranteed income. That said, the ripple effects of this lockdown will definitely last, especially since the government is bent on conditioning everything going back to how it was to a vaccine that I'm pretty sure they will not be able to distribute to every single person in this country.

Okay, Niko, you're getting too political again. Small stories. Observations.

There's a bit more bureaucracy this time, of course. Before you can get your haircut you have to sign a health declaration. Have you traveled to a place with local transmission of COVID-19? Well, technically I live in a city with a number of cases. I live in a barangay with a number of cases. But apart from essential tasks I haven't really left this flat. What exactly do I answer?

Also, instead of putting cloth over you to catch the hair, they put large sheets of paper. One sheet has a hole where my head goes in. Another sheet would be stapled to it. Everything gets thrown away afterwards. Here's an after effect I never thought of: everything suddenly is treated as medical waste, and I'm not sure if we have enough facilities for that.

The barbers have face masks and those face shields on, and I have to keep my face mask on. Just when I was pondering if that was really doable, my barber - his name, I think, is Tres - accidentally cuts my mask. We laugh it off, and I had to hold the mask to my face throughout the haircut. I felt stupid for not realizing it sooner. I should've brought an extra.

Haircuts are much more expensive these days. I paid almost five hundred bucks for mine, and that excludes the tip. We're paying for the privilege of knowing our barber has PPEs and won't be doing more than a haircut and a shampoo to make sure we are safe. I mean, there are no warm towels to my face. But who am I to complain? At least I don't feel my hair shake when I nod more vigorously than usual. I feel fresher. I feel, well, lighter. Walking to the hardware store to buy some light bulbs and (finally) a cheese grater literally felt like a breeze. Too bad the mall was empty and not many people were there to see it. But then, it's a Thursday, and also, nobody really cares at this point. We've all gone through this. What makes you so special?

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