Saturday, June 03, 2006

Fastfood (short story, english version)


by Rolando B. Tolentino

for Myra, or perhaps not

Blaring from a microphone at a conference: How do we account for the fastfood culture? On the one hand, this is a reality no longer new to us Filipinos. The streets bloom with stalls selling all kinds of fastfood-- skewered and barbecued chicken entrails; rice gruel, fried eggs, peanuts; ducks’ eggs plucked (from out of nests in the river shallows or from incubators at just that crucial stage when the dense globs of yolk begin to reveal the forms of feathers and beaks) and boiled; puto or steamed rice cakes, fruit, fishballs. All these to be had fresh if not pre-cooked, ready for reheating at a moment’s notice or at the approach of a customer, or kept warm until taken up and purchased by the hungry. All these, witness to Pinoy ingenuity in times of crisis. Food that teases, seduces with the promise of appeasement--- not completely sating hunger, not completely forestalling it either-- despite the fact that for many, it is all to be had by way of lunch or supper. On the other hand...

What you want is what you get at Mc_____d’s today!

Guard, open the doors to the kingdom.

“Good 1 morning1, sir. Good2 morning2, ma’am,” with an Americanized twang and a smile.

[Vocabulary Lesson I:

good1 - mabuti, masarap, maganda, magalang: pleasing, delicious, appealing, respectful; pagsang-ayon: tama, o.k., oo: agreement, affirmation: right, o.k., yes.

morning 2 - umaga: daylight, the clock’s hands sweeping from 9:00 till 11:59 a.m. (ante meridian); to the Pinoy’s whorled ear, accents suggestive of paglalamay, pagluluksa: the vigil over the dead, grieving, mourning.

sir - ser, ginoo, most respectful and dignified (elderly/affluent) man; to the British, the title for a knight ( as in Sir Gawain) or for a proud exemplar of empire (as in Sir Run Run Shaw).

good2 - sexy, rated ten, wowawow; whistlebait body, coca-cola shape.

morning2 - may be prefixed to sickness; may be fresh and clean, like a baby, or crisp, like pinipig, like toasted rice.

ma’am - abbreviated form of madam; young lady, missus, miss, missed, ms.

Choose the best answer:

a) Good morning, respectful sir.

b) Good morning-from-9:00-11:59 a.m., sir. (Note the double emphasis on the morning for amplified clarity and effect.)

c) Sexy baby, miss.

d) Wowawow morning sickness, ms.]

[The entire store was closed but the lights continued to blaze. The store mascot was dragged in to keep the guard company through the night. Last to leave would be the ‘Visor. Not until the inventory was done, however; not until an explanation could be found for why the night’s take was short, for why so many ounces of meat and spaghetti sauce could not be accounted for, not until the last stain was erased from the floor and the last handprint lifted from the mirrors could he/she leave.

The store was quiet. The guard began to peel off his/her outer shirt. The aircon had been turned off. On his/her last rounds, the ‘Visor absently twirled the keys together in his/her hands. He/she thought briefly of his wife/her husband, who would soon be there to pick him/her up, of the day’s stories they would share with coffee, and later, much later, of their shared embraces as they drifted down to sleep.

In another part of the store, two employees shivered in the cold of the storage freezer as they slathered chocolate syrup all over a cup of vanilla ice cream. “Hurry up,” said one to the other, saliva dribbling into the cup from anticipation. “Should I add some more?,” asked the syrup-pourer. “Yes, this is our chance,” replied his/her eager accomplice, plastic spoon poised in a hand that trembled slightly .

Brr, it’s so cold in here! Why of all things did we choose to trip on ice cream?”

“And what would we get out of coffee? Even granting it’s brewed coffee, we do have coffee at home.”

“Here, this is ready,” decided the sundae-maker, setting the syrup bottle down and with one swift movement taking the spoon from his/her companion’s hand. “Easy, easy,” chuckled the other, as he/she took a spoonful too, the syrup trickling downward from the corners of his/her lips to his/her neck. This was wiped off with a bit of shirt collar.

The ‘Visor was about to turn off the lights at the counter when he/she noticed the door to the storage freezer ajar.]

“May I take your order?”

[Vocabulary Lesson II:

may - permitted, allowed; the month of May

I - me, myself; by ear, the eye; i (say ‘e’ in English)

take - to get, to fetch; how many times something is done (as in ‘take two’); to pause (a break, as in ‘take five’)

your - iyong; what you own; your thing.

order - something you can eat or drink at a restaurant; a title or form of rank (think of polarities

like ruler/ruled, man/woman, white/brown that delineate the ideological contours of a problem: for example, what slots do we assign to the bourgeois worker supporting strikes?

gays and lesbians? Chinese? Aetas?)

Choose the correct answer:

a) May the eye take your food and drink?

b) May “e” the month of May how many times something is done your thing title or rank?)

[He/She had been named the store’s model employee. A model working student depending solely on his/her earnings at the fastfood store but managing consistently to be on the dean’s list at his/her college. Model employee for the first quarter of the year.

His/her back to the model employee’s picture on the announcement board, the Supervisor paced to and fro. On several occasions the number of bags of chicken left over from the day’s sales refused to tally. The unaccountables were charged to the ‘Visor’s salary, but he/she did not suspect the model student employee because he/she was good-natured, charming, sensible, helpful, hardworking, decisive, respectful-- so good. The ‘Visor himself/herself had recommended his/her transfer as a representative at the chain’s Brunei branch. The pay was in dollars. It had to be remembered that many Pinoys worked for the Sultan of Brunei.

[According to the Guinness Book of World Records, 1993 edition, “Much of the wealth of the world’s monarchs represents national rather than personal assets. The least fettered and most monarchical is HM Sir Muda Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzadin Waddaulah (b. 15 July 1946) of Brunei. He appointed himself Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Home Affairs Minister on 1 January 1984. Fortune Magazine reported in September 1991 that his fortune was $31 billion.” Hadn’t even Cory Aquino been unable to refuse the Prince’s visit here, purposely for his coming-into-manhood ritual? And who were these “Brunei Beauties”? Escort girls, “hostesses”; only, but of course, the most high-class prostitutes.] ]

When no one was looking, the model employee stuffed a bagful of fried chicken into his/her knapsack. At closing time, he/she diverted the guard’s attention. To elude the obligatory inspection, a bright little joke. Quickly, as the guard threw back his/her head in laughter: a smile, a quick and friendly tap on the shoulder; a hurried “’bye, see you tomorrow”.

The ‘Visor, from his post, waved to the guard, gesturing at the model employee’s retreating figure. The guard raised his/her whistle to his/her lips. The smile vanished from the model student employee’s face.]

“So: that’s: One cheezeburger, one1 Coke medium, one2 french fries large. Is that all, sir/ma/am?”

[Vocabulary Lesson III:

so - in summary; in the attitude of the arched eyebrow, ‘so what’?; the fifth note in the musical scale, or as Julie Andrews would say, ‘a needle-pulling-thread’.

that’s - therefore; referring to the daily t.v. show of Kuya Germs (a.k.a. German Moreno), as in

‘That’s Entertainment’.

One - just one; unified; whole; the one and only, unique; an ‘organic entity’, as Aristotle would say; Jesus Christ Superstar.

cheezeburger - tsisborger; a hamburger with cheese; ground beef shaped into a round patty and

fried, upon which has been heaped a slice of cheese, which can also be thought of as milk

that has curdled and coagulated.

one1 - one portion

Coke - ‘the real thing’; slang for cocaine.

medium - midyum; just the right size; a means for widespread technical communication (as in radio

and cinema); a bridge, a link (as in spirit mediums).

one2 - one packet, one bagful

french - pertaining to France (but due to widespread usage, the term may now be spelled with

a lower-case ‘f’)

fries - potatoes sliced lengthwise into strips to differentiate them from ‘chips’, and then deep-fried.

large - humongous, large, dakota

is - ‘connecting verb’; not the letter ‘s’, you idiot.

that - iyon, yon; that thing over there; (dat? tuldok?) a dot, a period.

all - lahat; everything .

sir/ma’am - refer to Vocabulary Lesson I

Choose the correct answer:

a) One cheeseburger, one medium Coke, one large french fries. Will that be all sir/ma’am?

b) The one and only, unique cheezeburger/hamburger with cheesek, one portion of Coke/the real

thing , one bagful of large french and deep-fried sliced potatoes differentiated from chips. ‘Is” · ol, ser/mam?

c) Organic entity (Jesus Christ Superstar), one (cocaine), one whole (sliver the lips) fried potato,

‘S’ dat all tuldok lahat, (refer to Vocabulary Lesson I)? ]

[The brownouts had become a regular part of life in Manila, like the heaps of uncollected garbage and the perpetually tangled traffic. Succumbing to the hopelessness of complaining, people simply created routines that accommodating the power shortages-- one more item admitted into the realm of “normal” experience.

Dredge the chicken parts in flour, deep-fry until rosy with the flush of changed color, drain, serve on styrofoam “for here” or pack into boxes “to go”. The art of deep-frying chicken, explained the ‘Visor, was a highly subjective affair. Only through experience, through constant practice, would one cultivate the kind of penetrating gaze that immediately divined doneness by the color of chicken flesh as it cooked; in other words, this was something that could not be assigned definite cooking times. Everything was a matter of shrewd calculation, skill, and the employee’s vast store of experience.

Additional rules to observe: During normal hours of operation: dredge the chicken pieces in flour, deep-fry to a rosy brown, drain, serve. During rush hours: dredge the chicken pieces in flour, deep-fry to a rosy brown, serve. He/she was in charge of frying the chicken, on all the days that chicken was served to the hungry horde frequenting the branch. King/Queen Chicken, they called him/her.

Kokoko-ok. It seemed the very folds of his/her bladder were drumming him/her to attention. But he/she had to wait out ten more minutes, the time he/she calculated it would take before the batch of chicken now frying would be done. After the pieces were fished out of the oil, he/she assigned someone to relieve him/her. Time-out. He/she needed to pee so badly. The stove was turned off, the timecard taken to the ‘Visor for signature. He/she descended to the basement, where the mall’s CRs were. “Employees must wash hands after using rest room,” and he/she dutifully complied.

The brownout was on as scheduled, but the megamall’s generator, unfazed, hummed efficiently into action.

King/Queen Chicken was back at work. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour, deep-fry to a rosy brown, drain, serve. This ran like a refrain through his/her head as the ‘Visor signed his/her timecard again. “Clean up your area,” he/she was ordered. He/She looked at the timecard and at his/her wristwatch: “eight minutes”. “If I didn’t have to wash up, if this branch had its own washrooms, if I didn’t need to pee, if people didn’t have to have bladders, if the bird was in the hand...”

He/she swept his/her designated area clean and, because the ‘Visor was watching, decided to do the kitchen as well. Drenched in sweat, he/she asked of no one in particular, “Is the brownout still on?” but no one replied. Hunting for a piece of cloth to wipe the counters with and finding none, he asked, “does anyone know who used the wet rag last?” Someone called out, “Why, it’s right there on top of your frying machine, King/Queen Chicken.” He/she smiled, he/she who was the fastest deep-fryer in all the branches of this fastfood chain. Reaching for the rag, he knocked the food tongs into the frying machine. Drops of dark, red-hot oil hissed and splattered up along the sides of the machine. “Thank goodness it wasn’t the rag that fell in,” he breathed.

The ‘Visor continued his steady surveillance. He/She slipped off his/her watch and quickly dipped his/her hand into the vat swimming in cooking oil. Putakputak. Angry drops, seething hot. He/She screamed from the tearing pain; everyone in the store turned in surprise and agitation. The ‘Visor stood openmouthed. The smell of fried flesh rose up in a sudden vapor. King/Queen Chicken’s hand had ballooned grotesquely , from fingers to wrist to forearm, past the elbow, as though from a watery, intravenous overdose. Raw skin, taut and gleaming, red.

“Would you like some ----- pie, sir/ma’am?”

[Vocabulary Lesson IV:

would - perhaps, it may be; kahoy, wood?; Victor Wood

you - ikaw, kayo, all of you addressed collectively; the letter ‘u’.

like - wanting, desiring; ‘trip’, ‘feel’, ‘type’

some - just a few, a fraction, a shred; what you get when you add two things together, as in ‘2 is da

sam op1 + 1’

pie - a sweet oven- baked pastry; a term in math and science, having the value of 3.14...

sir/ma’am - refer to Vocabulary Lesson I

Choose the correct answer:

a) Would you like a shred of sweet oven-baked pastry, ser/mam?

b) Is your ‘trip’ a fraction of 3.14..., ser, mam?

[ These products are thoughtfully tailored to Pinoy tastes. Tang is sweeter here because Pinoys like sweet drinks. The Pinoy is said to prefer sweet things. You’d think, for instance, that here spaghetti could be served as a type of dessert. You’d think Pilipinos want nothing better in the world than to acquire diabetes, whether it be from drinking Coke or eating spaghetti.

Take a clump of spaghetti noodles, smother with sauce, sprinkle with grated cheese. Making spaghetti, continued the ‘Visor, was an exact science. The vat where the noodles were cooked had a timer that told you when they were done-- that is, not doughy, not stringy, just right. The forked tongs were designed to hold roughly 35-38 noodles. The sauce was pre-mixed, from the commisary; each ladleful was equivalent to 250 grams. A teaspoonful of grated cheese. Based on these measurements, it was possible to predict how many orders of spaghetti one could prepare per batch. From long experience in the older branches, ideal numbers were churned out: an ideal serving based on the weight of noodles or sauce, even the amounts of cheese grated out. This system guaranteed customers that wonderful sense of familiarity and security; it meant that whatever branch one entered for a meal, one could rely on a menu of the same, comforting flavors.

Additional rules: During regular stor hours: prepare spaghetti only as ordered; the noodles

bruise easily. During rush hours: have at least eight spaghettis always at hand.

Even during brownouts, the megamall generator remained efficient and unfazed.

“Clean up your area,” ordered the ‘Visor.

He/She swept the area clean and, conscious of the ever-watchful gaze of the ‘Visor, swept the kitchen too. Bathed in sweat, he/she asked no one in particular, “Is the brownout still on?” and received no reply. Looking for the perennially missing dust cloth, he asked, “Does anyone know who used the wet rag last?”, and someone, trying to be funny, answered, “There it is, sitting right on your sauce”.

He/She reaches for the sorry piece of cloth, which gets tangled up with the food tongs. He/She catches the food tongs but misses the rag, which plops into the iron vat.

The vat is full of sauce. One hundred servings, according to the estimates. This is the first time such a thing has happened; how much would they take out of his/her salary? The amount corresponding to a hundred servings, or only the basic cost? Was there a record somewhere, stating the exact monetary value for this much sauce? What manual held this information? Would headquarters know? Had anything like this ever happened before?

The employee hunched over, broke out into more sweat as he/she leant forward slightly forward to draw the lid over the vat. He/She was at a loss as to what to do. Out of the corner of his/her eye, he/she saw the ‘Visor moving in slow motion towards him/her. Beads of sweat multiplied in clusters on the surfaces of his/her body. He /She felt them begin their slow descent: from armpit to groin, spreading over both palms, the soles of both feet. He/She turned to meet the ‘Visor’s stern face. A few drops of sweat fell into the sauce, leaving in their wake a few red stains on his/her apron, before the ‘Visor turned his attention to the sauce and the rag that now floated in it.

And to think the vat was full up to the brim, with what must be one hundred servings. This was the first time anything like this had happened, how much would be deducted from his/her salary? The amount corresponding to a hundred servings, or only the basic cost? Was there a record somewhere, stating the exact monetary value for this much sauce? What manual held this information? Would headquarters know? Had anything like this ever happened before?

“What are you waiting for? Take it out before anyone sees you!”]

“One hundred pesos. You gave me one hundred pesos, your bill is fifty pesos.”

[Vocabulary Lesson V:

One - refer to Vocabulary Lesson III

hundred - daan; 100; syento, one hundred; referring to grades, a perfect mark

pesos - Philippine currency (tell me the name of the president whose face appears on a hundred

peso bill); the ‘black market’ and the legal financial system assign different values to the dollar vis-a-vis Philippine currency

you - refer to Vocabulary Lesson IV

gave - binigyan; past tense of ‘give’: really grooving, getting into it, as in ‘give na give, feel na feel’

me - ako, I; pronounced ‘me’, an abbreviated form of ‘mayroon’, having; the third note in the musical scale, or as Julie Andrews says, “a name to call myself”

your - refer to Vocabulary Lesson II

bill - the cost you need to pay, something you owe; the ‘check’, ‘chit’; a bird’s beak; short form for


P 50.00 - 5 ten peso bills or fifty pesos, singkwenta; referring to grades, a passing mark (the teacher

took pity on you)

Choose the correct answer:

a) One hundred. You gave me 100 in Philippine currency. Your bird’s beak is five tens.

b) 100. Your 100, I really groove. What you owe (damn you) is 50 (close-up smile). ]

[The ‘Visor was privy to much knowledge: the sayote used in the apple pies before the prices of apples went down with import liberalization; experiments with ground entrails and sweetbreads for the hamburgers; making sure air pockets were liberally mixed in with pie fillings, making sure there was more brown sugar than fruit filling; recycling the buns and patties that had carelessly fallen to the floor, the sauce that involuntarily received the accidentally dropped (dirty) wash cloths and rags. He/She knew all this, but said nothing. That was whe he/she was Supervisor.

A responsible official. Rrrrresponsible official. Rrrring!

“Yesterday we were short by P 225.43. Have you traced this?”

“No. But...,” and the ‘Visor broke off in mid-sentence.

“Well? You’re going to have to cover for this.”


“What about the bread deliveries? Have you tracked these down?”

“What’s the matter, are they missing?”

The voice on the other end of the line was incredulous. It barked at the ‘Visor, “What do you think you’re doing? Your house is going up in smoke and you don’t even know about it!”

“How many cases are missing?”


“How much?”

“Two hundred fifty.”

“Take it off my pay.”

“Two hundred fifty each.”


“Sir, my feet are swollen from standing so much the whole day. I can see even the veins on my thighs . You know my condition, I’m in my ninth month of pregnancy... It’s not that I want to go on leave. I can do the regular ten-hour shift, but can’t I be allowed to sit down?”

“Sorry, you have the wrong number.”


With a shrinking sensation, heart pounding, the ‘Visor raised his head. The vein on his temple slowly constricted. Gingerly lifting the receier, he sensed, all the way from the tips of his fingers’ capillaries, the arrival of bad news. Not realizing his voice had sunk into a near whisper, he said, “Hello?”


“Fire him/her.”

“But this is his/her only job,” said the ‘Visor, swallowing what felt like a glassful of saliva.

“He/She shouldn’t have done what he/she did.”

“Yes, I agree with you. But isn’t it too much if he/she was fired?”

“I can’t do anything about that. He/She would set a bad example.”



“I’m sorry too,” said the employee, “and I hope you die early.”


“P 50, your change, sir/ma’am.”

[Vocabulary Lesson VI:

P 50 - refer to Vocabulary Lesson V

your- refer to Vocabulary Lesson II

change - money back, small change, loose change, coins; in political science, social transformation;

according to the Marxists, revolution; reform or liberalism; to be born again, for the born- again

sir/ma’am - refer to Vocabulary Lesson I

Choose the correct answer:

a) Half of a hundred, your social transformation, ser/mam.

b) Five tens, your revolution or birth again, ser/mam.]

[Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Negro. Who owns this place?

The Chinese looked around before pressing the automatic controls for the garage door. Then he knelt by a pail of sudsy water and commenced scrubbing the wheels of his car. He started out slowly, but his hands moved surer and faster and the scrubbing became more pronounced. His agitation caused the foamy water to soak him thoroughly, and sting him in the eyes.

He never did such a thing back in the Philippines. Now he was in Vancouver,the holder of an investor’s visa, cold and half a world away from the Philippines.

He had wanted to leave because of the threat of Chinese being singled out as kidnap victims. He knew many, some who had paid ransoms and yet been killed; the rest were under surveillance by Vice President Estrada’s crime agency, but fell victim and died anyway; the rest paid ransoms and fled for their lives to other countries. Why should he wait for his death, why wait to be kidnapped?

[ [In an April 1992 National Geographic interview with a Vancouver resident: “Dough looks back with longing at a Vancouver that was for him a small town. “We used to be a WASP city,”...leaning back in his sofa...but today the foreign elements don’t mix as well.

“I’m not a racist,” Dough hastened to add. “But I’m very aware; let’s put it that way. I’m very aware. The early immigrants were more docile. They didn’t jump ahead in a queue. The new immigrants

are brassier.

“I belong to a pretty good golf club and we have a lot of Asians. We also have some who were born here: super people--doctors, lawyers, everything else, most of them quite well to do. They’re members of the club.

“The new breed, they belong, but they play with each other, and they talk their own language. Consequently they’re not true members. It’s not the same as it once was, let me put it that way, Dough says sadly.”] ]

He went over each of the four wheels one by one. Another type of soap and a different brush were used for the top and sides of his new car. He turned the tap on at full, and the suds dissolved rapidly in the gush of water. He was thoroughly soaked.

He never did this in the Philippines. Sobs tore suddenly from him, and he pressed both hands close upon his lips to stay them. Soapsuds trickled from his elbows and the water continued to spurt from the hose. He remembered with a start that he still had to vacuum the inside of the car, apply Turtle Wax to both sides, spray on some shield protector and wipe the windows clean.]

“Thank you, sir/ma’am. Have a nice day.”

[Vocabulary Lesson VII:

thank - salamat, the expression of gratitude

you - refer to Vocabulary Lesson IV

sir/ma’am - refer to Vocabulary Lesson IV

have - hopefully, to possess , to be affluent; affluent/male/white, vis-a-vis the ‘have-nots’, the


a - learning the alphabet, a is por epol

nice - may refer to a number of things-- to anything, for example, ‘cute’, ‘pretty’, ‘great’

day - araw, daytime; from 9:00 a.m. to 5:59 p.m.

Choose the correct translation:

a) Thanks to you, ser/mam. May you hopefully have a ‘cute’ day.

b) Thanking you, ser/mam. May you hopefully be affluent a ‘nice’ 9:00 a.m. - 5:59 p.m.

[Hers was a wrinkled face. The dry skin held faded traces of tattooes. Her tapis (wraparound skirt) was grimy but bound neatly around her midsection. Barefoot, she entered the store.

“No beggars allowed,” barked the guard. She did not seem to understand. She only smiled. She made as if to take another step. “Granny, no beggars allowed here,” said the guard, enunciating each syllable distinctly. She did not understand what the guard was saying. She didn’t know what it meant. She took a step backward, and smiled. The guard pushed her gently aside because other customers could not get past her. She waited, stealing glances at her companions who sat, on no particular ceremony, at the outer edge of the store; waiting, they fanned themselves in the heat.

Again she made as if to enter, coins jingling from within the folds of her tapis. Again the guard blocked her entry. She was still smiling, even as the guard began to drag her a few steps away from the entrance. Her companions were on their feet now. She was no longer smiling. She struggled against the stranglehold on her arm. A crowd began to gather.

The Supervisor emerged, made inquiries. The guard hastened to explain, “She was begging inside the store.” The old woman smiled at the ‘Visor, groped around in the folds of her skirt and fished out a handkerchief full of coins. Wordlessly, she undid the knots and thrust the coins and crumpled bill before the ‘Visor. The ‘Visor understood. “Did you want to buy something here?,” he asked. She nodded. The ‘Visor led her gently in as the guard swung the doors open for both of them.]

Jaguar*, shut the door.

The guard whose duty it is to open and shut the door is mute, has become mute. When will automatic sliding doors be purchased? The one who opens/shuts the door loses the ability to speak. The one who opens and shuts the door does body searches, inspects bags and other belongings of customers and employees, signs for and receives supplies, hands over to couriers any outgoing materials for the branch, greets. Becomes mute from the number of tasks he/she must dispense. Has a voice--because he/she has a thorax, vocal chords, etc.--but none of these are required for the job. Crushed by the weight of all he/she must do, on top of his/her true calling, which is to guard the premises.

The model student employee: Goodbye, Brunei. Curse this place. Goodbye, raiders of the Freezer. You were outdone by your love for sweet things. Goodbye, Skin. Everything you’ve ever saved will be used up while you await the arrival of your replacement. Goodbye, wash cloth, dirty rag. You shall be tossed without ceremony onto the deep drifts of refuse and garbage, despite your unflagging willingness to remove all traces of spills and dirt. Goodbye, old woman. I hope your friends enjoyed the hamburger. Goodbye, respectable Sir and Owner of this fastfood branch. I hope you have a peaceful journey.

Sarap Pilipino mula sa J___bee!

* * * * *

Translated from Filipino by Maria Luisa A. CariƱo

*colloquial for security guard

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