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A Richness of Embarrassment


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DAVAO CITY — Should every story have a moral? My childhood tells me yes, my post-modernist friends tell me no. Between the two, I am inclined to believe the former. The point, I suppose, is to stumble upon the right moral. Some stories have morals so obvious you deliberately have to go out of your way to miss them; and some stories…well….

Last week, a series of events happened to me, and I’m sure there must be a moral somewhere, I’m just not sure which. There are the obvious ones, but I’m not quite sure they’re the right fit. I’ll just tell you the story — actually, three stories, depending on how you look at it — and I’ll let you decide.

* * *

I was to fetch my fiancee Emily from her business meeting at a local mall. I left the car in the parking lot and met her at a coffee shop. We decided to stroll around for a while, looking at this and that, until we both got tired and decided to call it a day.

We walked back to the car in the parking lot. Absent-mindedly, I whipped out my key fob remote and pressed the button. I saw the car lights blink in greeting. Ah, car remote: what a neat invention! So high-tech and so personal at the same time, yet so common that we take them for granted. I’ve done this so many times I do it without thinking. My girlfriend walked on ahead to the passenger side.

Approaching from the rear, I sidled into the gap between my car and the one beside it. I saw a girl — young and attractive — entering the gap from the front. I backed away to let her pass, but she had backed away, too. She walked round the other side of the car.

I shrugged, opened the driver door, and got in.

Now, I usually place my books and other stuff on the front passenger seat when I’m driving alone. The first thing I do when I enter the car and I have a passenger is clear out my things. What should I see now but a…bridal magazine stuck between the seat and the center console?

At this point, I enter into bullet time. Everything is happening so slowly. I can actually catch every detail that I see and every thought as it plays in my mind.

“What’s this magazine doing here? It’s not my magazine. It must be Emily’s. But we didn’t come over to the car to drop anything off.”

The passenger car door opened. I looked up. It was the pretty girl from earlier. We stared at each other.

I gasped.

I held on to the steering wheel. The grip felt different. I took in a deep breath. The car smelled different, too.

My hands went down and felt the seat under me.

“Why is this seat leather? Don’t I have corduroy seat covers?”

A beat.

Oh, shit. I’m in the wrong car.

“D’oh! I’M SORRY! I’M SORRY! I’M SORRY! I got into the wrong car!” I clambered out hurriedly and backed away to the rear.

Emily ran to meet me.

“Yours is over here!” she said, pointing to the car — my car — parked right beside the pretty girl’s car.

“I know! I know!”

In case you need some explanation: said girl and I both clicked on our key fobs at the same time. And our cars were both white, and roughly of the same make.

I rolled down the window and turned to the girl whose car I had almost hijacked by mistake. “Sorry, miss! Wrong car!” She looked flustered, but it seems less from my accidental intrusion than from my state of panic.

“It’s alright,” she said.

I rolled the window up.

“Do you know who that was?” Emily asked.

“Uh, no.”

“That’s the TV host from ABS-CBN!”

“You know her?”

“I did a cake for her once.”

“Shouldn’t you go out and explain?”

“Are you kidding? I’m embarrassed to show my face.”

“Okay, right. Let’s just get out of here.”

For the next fifteen minutes I had to drive very slowly and very carefully. I could hardly see the road from the tears streaming down my eyes amid my uncontrollable chuckles. I had never heard my fiancée laugh so hysterically.

* * *

You might think that, after an incident like that, I’d have learned my lesson. Or at least, let it guide me until such time the memory had faded. Oh, no: I came back for an encore the following morning.

Our dogs had been having another bout with the fleas for the past week. Back when my sister still ran a pet store, we could easily get vials of the Frontline anti-flea medication from her (note: she just reopened recently). This time around, though, we had to get it straight from the supplier.

Unfortunately, my sister had no idea where the supplier’s offices were. It wasn’t that easy to find, either, tucked away as it was somewhere in the Buhangin area. My sister gave me their phone number so I could order ahead and ask for directions.

“We’re located near Orange Grove Hotel,” said Anne, the rep from the supplier. “Over to the left, at the opposite end of the hotel, near the ukay-ukay used goods store.” She explained that I had to go past the intersection, then make a U-turn. “Just ask the people at the ukay-ukay.”

“Don’t you have a sign?”

“No, afraid not. But we’re by a green gate, so we should be easy to find.”

“Okay. Please get our order ready as I’m in a hurry. I have a class at 9:00.”

Mom and I drove over as per instructions. We got to Orange Grove Hotel, crossed the intersection, made a U-turn, and headed back, all the while keeping a sharp lookout for the ukay-ukay.

And what do you know, we can’t find the place.

I decided to park the car and search for it on foot. I retraced my steps and asked people where I could find the place. Eventually, I spied a small ukay-ukay shop. “Ah,” I said, “I must be close by.”

I walked on a little further and I came upon a small old house with a green gate. Pacing around the garage area were four of the most robust German shepherds I had ever laid eyes on. Three young men, the dog handlers, were about doing various chores. One of them looked my way.

“Is this Cam Marketing?” I shouted over the loud barking of the dogs. “Is Annie around? I placed an order.”

The young man stared blankly at me for a while, then sort of nodded. He called the others to put the dogs away. One of them went in, then came out. “Wait,” he said to me curtly.

I waited impatiently. By my watch, it was already 8:30. I didn’t want to be late for my appointment.

“Has she got my order?” I asked. Again, the look of bored non-understanding. I was getting antsy. “Look, man, I’m in a hurry.” He relented and opened the gate for me.

Inside, the house was as ordinary as it could be. I guessed that this supplier must have been running a home-based business.

“Where is Annie?” I asked.

“Upstairs,” the young man said. I wasn’t sure if he was comprehending me properly.

“Can you get her?”

He went up, knocked around, and hollered: “Still in the bathroom!”

I wanted to pull out my hair. “Dammit! Could you tell her to hurry? I already phoned in my order an hour ago.”

Finally, a door opened, a pair of legs appeared on the staircase. A pair of bulky, hairy legs. And the owner? A big, burly man with a moustache.

“Uh…you’re not Annie,” I observed.

He shook his head.

“And this is not Cam Marketing?”

He shook his head again.


Fortunately, the gentleman did know where Cam Marketing was. My sister was right: it was hard to find. It was another quarter kilometer from where I was…located in a sprawling compound and complete with a big shiny building and several delivery vans. Oh, and a *gray* gate.

* * *

This story, believe it or not, has an epilogue.

Last weekend, Emily and I were invited to a wedding reception. Very posh, with the creme de la creme of local Chinese society in attendance.

Over at the next table was a familiar face, a very familiar face. Emily and I walked over to her. I smiled sheepishly.

Emily nudged me to speak. I nudged her back. The woman eyed us curiously.

“Ah, hi, June,” Emily said, “You know about last Monday….”

The woman’s face lit up. “IT’S YOU!” she shrieked, and then she giggled.

“I’m sorry about that,” I mumbled.

“No, no, it was quite all right,” she said. Then she turned to her boyfriend: “You know about last Monday….”

And we all had a good laugh about that. At least, I think, we made a friend out of
that incident.

I think I’ll go look up the man with the German shepherds next.

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