LITERATURE

Read these excerpts from Jessica Zafra’s ‘Twisted: 25th Anniversary Edition’

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“Twisted: The 25th Anniversary Edition” compiles selected essays from the author’s first three “Twisted” books. Photo by DON JAUCIAN

Editor’s note: The following two essays are excerpted from the 25th anniversary compilation of Jessica Zafra’s Twisted series. The book compiles selected essays from the first three Twisted books: “Twisted,” “Twisted II: Spawn of Twisted,” and “Twisted 3: Planet of the Twisted.” The 25th anniversary edition acts as a portal to the ‘90s, filtered through Zafra’s sharp writing and incisive wit. And with these excerpts, it seems not much has really changed since. The opinions expressed in these essays are the author’s.

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Suffering Suffrage

Creep, bozo, slimeball. These charming epithets apply to many of the people who want your vote on May 8.

A quick perusal of the list of candidates reveals a motley assortment of reelectionists who did nothing in office but display their own mediocrity, and recycled — but not rehabilitated — criminals. While I do not discount the possibility that people can change their ways, these… people — and I use the term loosely — have not expressed an iota of remorse for the things they have done, or just as damning, have not done. On the contrary, they have repacked their corruption, violence, and incompetence, wrapped them up in shiny colored foil, and passed them off as achievements.

If these people are the best we can come up with, we are in deep shit.

They seem to think that the electorate is composed of drooling idiots who will vote for the first bozo who flashes his gold teeth at them. For way too long these people have believed that if they shake our hands, kiss our babies, sing pop songs, and dance like dorks on our stages, they will get our votes. Sadly, the past behavior of the voters indicates a marked preference for bozos.

Every morning I am awakened by insipid campaign jingles blasting forth from vans draped with candidates’ banners. One is a dumb rap about a candidate’s credentials, another attempts to convince me that the candidate is my personal friend. (Is there an impersonal friend?) Excuse me, but do I know you, so how can you call yourself my friend? Friend is a title I take with deathly seriousness; it is not to be bandied around as a campaign hook.

Election gimmicks have gotten slightly higher-tech, though: the other day I dashed out of the shower to answer the ringing phone, only to get a pre-recorded spiel from a candidate. “Why don’t you go take a flying (beep!) at a flying doughnut?” I quoted Kurt Vonnegut. “A pox on your house!” (Bud Shakespeare) “(Bleep!) you!” (Quentin Tarantino). Of course, it is pointless to scream at a machine, but I derived a measure of satisfaction from cursing the bozo who had caused me to track soapy water all over the floor.

Speaking of gimmicks, isn’t there some sort of ban on political advertisements in the media? I was at a late-evening sneak preview of “Outbreak” when I saw something which nearly caused me to rolf my Chocolate-covered Cherry Blizzards: the national anthem film featuring the mayor. Okay, nobody said “Vote for me,” but that was a political ad, alright — his face was repeatedly superimposed over the Philippine flag. My friend kept grumbling “Subliminal advertising,” but this was no longer subliminal — it was blatant.

Then there was the family name thing. By what leap of logic do candidates conclude that just because their fathers and grandmothers held public positions, they too are entitled to these positions? As far as I know this country is a democracy, not a collection of personal fiefdoms. Candidates must be elected on the basis of what they have done and what they can do, not what their antecedents have achieved. The family name should be incidental. If George Foreman were my father, would I necessarily follow that I, too, will be a heavyweight champion of the world?

"By what leap of logic do candidates conclude that just because their fathers and grandmothers held public positions, they too are entitled to these positions? As far as I know this country is a democracy, not a collection of personal fiefdoms."

The whole concept of political clans is — excuse me if I sound like Hans Mengle — genetically unsound. Say you’re a politician (Don’t barf, we are speaking hypothetically). You enjoy the perks of power, so you want your family to hang on these perks. You then raise your children to become politicians, too. So your kids marry people who would make good political spouses — charming, glib, and with just the right touch of phoniness to convince the poor schmucks whose sweaty palms they have to shake that they actually give a hoot — in short, people just like you. This goes on for generations — people marry people with similar traits. Barring the occasional offspring bearing recessive traits, you will have bred a homogenous lot, generations of virtual clones. Worse, this sort of dynastic planning could lead to the sort of inbreeding — cousins marrying each other — which leads to birth defects and mononism. (Look what happened to the Hapsburgs of Austria, whose offspring included an idiot who drooled continuously and muttered, “I am the emperor and I want my dumplings.”)

Then there is the sympathy vote, which is based on the premise that if you are a spouse, child, or sibling of a politician who has been killed, you should take his or her place. That way you get the votes that were meant for the dead politician, plus the votes of the people angered by the murder, I am appaled at the apparent ease with which politically-motivated murders are committed in this country — people shoot each other in broad daylight in front of scores of witnesses then deny having done it. (Hecklers get a happy hour drink — muriatic acid cocktails.) At the same time I do not think we should vote with our tear ducts; if we did, Mother Lily would be president. If these “replacements” possess the abilities required by the position, that’s great; their qualifications should go beyond bereavement. Sure, Cory Aquino became president because we were mad as hell over her husband’s murder and we weren’t going to take it anymore. But that was a different time, and we did what we had to do. Whether the Aquino government justified our faith is another story altogether. Don’t know EDSA ‘86 — we know what had to be done and we did it, it’s just so friggin sad that so many people have cheapened it and used it for their own dubious ends.

Sad, but in our political exercises, our choices boil down to whom we should not vote for rather than whom we should. We don’t have a choice among the best and the brightest; we are reduced to picking our way through the rubble to find the least slimy, the least loathsome.

A lot of people, myself included, view elections as pains in the butt. Trudging to the vite center. Falling in line. Filling out the ballots. Yes, voting is a pain, but if you don’t do it, you let the creeps, bozos, and slimeballs win by default. (Of course, they could also win by cheating. I don’t know what to say to that.)

This is your chance to say, “No way. You don’t represent me. I am not like you. Sod off.” Use your head. The future belongs to you; don’t give it away.

— 28 April 1995

Big Bad Marsha

Twenty two years ago yesterday, there were no classes. There was nothing on TV either, and for some reason my mother was glued to the radio, constantly turning the knob and listening for announcements. I had no idea what was going on but I wasn’t complaining — I was happy not to be in school. I was terrified of school, and had in fact dropped out of nursery for a month. It was not so much the teachers who scared me, although Sister Leticia in prep had the basilisk’s talent of turning children to stone with a single look, or the lessons, which I actually nerdily enjoyed, but the games. I was spectacularly awful at games: always the first to be hit in “touching ball,” always the first to fall in Chinese garter. But the game that really caused my teeth to chatter was a seemingly innocuous one called “Open the basket.”

The mechanics of “Open the basket” are as follows. You form groups of three, and in every group two players are the Baskets, and one player the Chicken. The baskets form a circle by holding hands, and the Chicken stands inside the circle. The one Chicken left without a Basket is designated “It.” She screams “Open the basket!” whereupon the Baskets let go of each other’s hands and the Chickens dash to other Baskets. The It runs inside a Basket, leaving another Chicken, usually the slowest and the clumsiest, Basket-less. The newly Baskeless Chicken screams “Open the basket!” and so on. You have no idea how traumatic it is to be the perpetually Basket-less Chicken. It was not until my late teens that it occurred to me that I was not cut out to be a Chicken in the Basket. I realized that I was destined to be an alien, and have been comfortably alien since.

But that’s enough of my personal epiphanies. Going back to the fateful day in 1972, I did not see anything unusual in the sudden suspension of classes. In the preceding months, classes had been suspended often — the reason had something to do with law and order and Plaza Miranda. On this day, I overheard my mom talking to a friend on the phone. She was using her “Keep your voice down, I don’t want to scare the child!” tone, which always succeeded in scaring me. She looked worried, and she uttered the words “martial law.” Then she looked out the window, as if she were expecting a tank to rumble down the street.

I was six years old at the time. I thought that the object of my mother’s anxiety was a Chinese woman named Marsha. I wondered who this Marsha was and what she looked like. Since she was discussed in hush-hush tones, I figured that she was either a powerful being like Gigantor, or a horrifying crone like the evil aunts Etanang Discher played in those old movies on TV. I had a great fear of Etang Discher — I thought if she saw me she would try to drown me.

"I would ask a perfectly harmless question like 'What’s martial law?' or 'Why does everyone have to be home before curfew?' and my parents would look alarmed, say 'Sssh,' and change the topic."

That is all I remember of the day Marcos declared martial law. For the next 14 years Big Bad Marsha lived in our house, and even if we couldn’t see her, she was a constant presence. Sometimes she seemed to possess my parents in much the same way the demon possessed LInda Blair in “The Exorcist.” I would ask a perfectly harmless question like “What’s martial law?” or “Why does everyone have to be home before curfew?” and my parents would look alarmed, say “Sssh,” and change the topic. Apparently, the immediate effect of martial law was to make my parents paranoid.

My recollections of the early years of martial law are vague and disjointed. I’m not even sure the memories are mine — I could’ve read them somewhere and filed them as my own. I remember some big to-do about an assassination attempt on Imelda Marcos: someone had attempted to stab her, and for some time afterward, she had her arm in a cast. I remember the Madame’s plan to force feed the City of Man with high culture by way of “Renaissance Theater.” On Wednesday nights, all the TV channels would air cultural programs — ballets and such — and we were expected to view them as avidly as we would “Combat” starring Vic Morrow and Rick Jason. Most of all, I remember Apo Makoy butting in on all my morning cartoons to deliver yet another looong and boooring speech.

I was one of the lucky ones: my parents had neither political nor economic interests, and like most members of the middle class, their abiding concern was not to rile anyone in power. We were not openly harassed or persecuted. We proceeded on our orderly way, quite unaware of how Big Bad Marsha was screwing with our minds.

There was a vast gulf that separated the people who grew up in the sixties with martial law babies. The sixties kids had freedom and experimentation and a sense that they could do anything. We had “Sssh” and restrictions and the word fear that we would disappear for no reason at all. Most of us were not arrested or tortured or thrown in the slammer, but there was no need to: we were already being programmed into a generation of zombies.

Incredibly, I hear people talking fondly of the martial law years: how clean the streets were then, how organized things were, how manageable the traffic. They conveniently forgot that these things were achieved by scaring us shitless. We’ve been through all that, for crying out loud. Screw us once, shame on them, screw us twice, shame on us.

— 22 September 1994

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Signed copies of “Twisted 25” are available on Shopee. If you prefer in-person shopping, get your copies at Cibo restaurants and at Mt Cloud Bookshop in Baguio. Find the author on @jessicazafrascats on Instagram.