Never Late, Never Absent


Our vampiric hours prevented us from viewing awesome sunrises like this, photo courtesy of Ms Luna Zamudio 🙂

[ Note : Don’t let that title above fool you, it was a golden ideal with which we flirted throughout our so-called life but which remained an unreachable norm, but it never hurts to dream right? ]

Dear batchmates kabayan & friends :

30 MINUTES. That’s all it took me to get ready for school, an eternity ago. And I’m not talking about getting ready, less the morning rituals, number 1’s (and 2’s), victuals and other pre-journey stuff. I mean, from the time I got up, to rushing the final 100 meters by half-past, I almost never set aside more than half an hour to attend Hogwarts daily.

Trouble was (as is usually the case), reality has a way of seriously cramping the elegance of your theory. First, we’re assuming I didn’t go back to sleep, get tempted to catch a more than a few bites of breakfast; second, the driver wasn’t late himself, in which case it became a madcap bus & jeepney adventure for me, and finally that the weather cooperated and I remembered to bring some (climate) protection.

Otherwise, as you might imagine, I was usually on the wrong end of the Gates of Mordor come 7:30, and on the business end of 20 push-ups in Camp Gelido, never mind that overlord Fr Tchou was in the background giving all late-comers the Evil Eye for good measure.

[ Note: we mean no disrespect to Fr Tchou, bless his soul, it’s just that it was the way things were those days, instant punishment for even minor transgressions, justice swift is justice done, and with impunity too ]

My talent for extra slumber and creative procrastination assured that I would get “times tardy” in the high 20’s (for the year) and exasperated snorts from whoever owned First Period, usually Mrs Zaballero of Trigo, Mr Aluning of Physics, or Ke Lau Shi in Chinese History. Yes, quite a lovely way to start the day, too.

I lived for the weekends. Then I could sleep to my heart’s content, in double-digit hours, miss breakfast lunch and merienda all in the name of zzz’s. Presciently and prophetically, Mother said that my somnolence and indolence would never amount to anything, but grimly I soldiered on, determined to surpass the limits of my inactivity.

In university i was so apathetic to my own cause that once my watch disclosed that I was more than a quarter hour late for my first class, I quickly abandoned plans to head for school, an hour’s commute away. What was the use?

Attitude and perspective took a dramatic 180 degree turn after I bumped rather unceremoniously into fatherhood, needing to unlearn my lethargic way of life and reinvent myself. In so many words, I had to find work, imbibe a new work ethic (for reference, pls read above e-mail title) not only to keep body and soul together but to support 3 mouths including my own, and a creature that was growing before our very eyes.

After years of drowsy, easy brunch-mornings, dragging your body out of bed in time to greet the crack of dawn was literally an awakening. Air is cooler / mind is clearer / soul is purer. You redefine yourself with the rebirth of each new day.

** ** ** ** **

A few reincarnations later, things had improved a bit when I joined a gig as a paralegal at one of those monolithic Makati law firms, a shallow notch above rank-and-file. It was then and there when we saw all the stenographers, pool secretaries, typists and legal assistants coming to work on our old log-in time, ika-pito at kalahati ng umaga (n.u.) or chit tiam pua to beloved kabatch of Fujianese extraction, and we cast a wistful eye on the beeline for the bundy, and recalled braving early morning showers, and crisp dawn chill just to beat the clock. I had gone half circle, on my way to full, and my body clock was set indefinitely to a 6:00 alarm. My daybreak calluses had not yet begun to soften.

** ** ** ** ** **

Catching the first FX to Makati from Taytay didn’t do much for me though. For one thing, it was one of the busier hours of FX tulisan, holduppers, and assorted baddies plying their trade (your money/celfone or your life) on the artery linking Imperial Manila and the outlying satellite towns on Rizal, Laguna and elsewhere.

Another point, it didn’t earn any pogi points from anyone, least of all lawyers who were pulling in all-nighters and staff who wanted the office all to themselves. In fact, such a consistent and early-bird

Home of the call center, although Alabang and QC are sprouting their own.

Ortigas Center at night

regimen only made the change more radical and dramatic when I signed up for red-eye and graveyard shifts at one of the larger call centers in Ortigas Center.

Instead of evacuating the catacombs at the crack of dawn, I now had to recalibrate my springs and locks so that my workday would end at the cock’s 3rd crow, just when most sleepyheads were getting up. Coupled with constant reminders to meet our call quotas, near-freezing temperature and resorting to unending cigarette breaks, it was an episode in our proletarian life that we would rather not revisit in the near future.

 But if waking and turning in at ungodly hours at different times in my life prepared me for anything, I wasn’t to know about it until I tried my luck overseas, by accident rather than by design. An extended vacation became an invitation to become an indentured First World slave, something I contemplated from time to time, what with the Caucasian universe made virtual and near via Hollywood, TV and DVD.

** ** ** ** **

To repeat, I’ve been at times a slacker, an early riser, a ghoulish nite owl, sweaty paper-pusher, coffee swiller and back to nine-to-fiver. This was as good a preparation as I could get for rotating shifts in a mill that ran 120 hour workweeks. Squash your circadian rhythm, roll with the chameleons and morph between rooster and owl, and zip around the 24 hour clock every week of the month, NOel.

Now, if we could only pick up the work ethic needed to make all of this work.

We can’t very well say we’ve gone full circle ; life is still full of surprises, and we could be back home in the wink of an eye. But we’ve learned enough to say that work completes you, work legitimizes you, and work makes it possible to fill your tastes and color your dreams. Without the pride and the attitude, your talent and energy will keep work available, but for how long?

Never late, never absent is hard, but worth chasing.

Thanks for reading !



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