Mornings and Things, updated

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In March 2015, I was a newly married man, teaching Theatre part-time at an international school, and finishing up my academic courses as a graduate student in literature. One of the requirements of my final course was a “short” 8-page-minimum creative non-fiction piece.

What I ended up submitting is one of the funnest things that I’ve ever written. It was a playful way of indulging in my love for things—sometimes expensive, often beautiful, and ultimately trivial material things.  I’ve decided to share the piece with you in its entirety (minus the footnotes, which was basically just information about where to purchase some of the things I write about—very little essential or creative about them). It sounds younger, somewhat raw, and I cringe at some of the parts, but, I guess, it was me then. No use denying it. I’ve also decided to annotate some parts with updates from me now. In some weird way, it reinforces the strangeness and wonderfulness of ephemerality.

I’ll try my best not to try and save face by editing the parts where I cringe. Annotations are in boldface. Highlights within the original text are underlined. Also, consider the piece a State of Hurry up the Cakes Address, since it hits all of the points I usually talk about over here anyway.

So. Here I am, or was, on a weekday in March 2015:

My eyelids are half open. Everything is dark orange. Eyelashes obscure my— well, no, poor eyesight obscures my vision, and sleepy eyelashes obscure my poor eyesight. I glance over at the wall clock: 7:24. Six minutes until the alarm ruins the quiet.

I close my eyes. I have to pee, but I fall asleep anyway.

7:30. Beep beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep, beep beep be—

I have about an hour and a half before I have to take the hour-long drive to Las Piñas, where the school that I work in is. Class starts at 10:20 but I need to be there at 10.

I no longer work in this school. And I work full-time now. Days are 7:00am-4:00pm.

I look over at my wife. She’s still knocked out. She doesn’t have to get up for another hour. I kiss her on the cheek, sit up, slide down to the foot of the bed, and turn off the air-conditioner. I put on my glasses. Clarity. I see things. Also, I see things. My favorite things: my phone, my watches, my wallet, my key pouch, socks. A bag left on the floor sleepily the night before. A pair of fuzzy slippers.

I have decided that I do not like fuzzy slippers for home use because they always break within six months. Currently, my indoor slippers are sandals meant for outdoors: Rainbow Navigator Orthopedic with Leather Top Tapered Strap in Dark Brown. They are lovely and comfortable, but sometimes I forget that they are supposed to be indoor-exclusive, and I go out in them. So then I end up having to clean the soles again when I come home. This is not efficient or effective, and it is a problem I intend to solve. Any suggestions for a large flat-footed man?

I like things. I mean, I have a particular fondness for things. Well-designed things—by “design”, I don’t mean how the object looks, but how it works. Many of us take these things for granted throughout the day, when they become tools and instruments and assistants and clothes—fulfilling their purpose, sure, but undeniably reduced from the wonderfully designed things that they are in the morning. But I take it upon myself to appreciate these things—to honor them, even. They are often doomed to ephemerality—like shooting stars that inevitably fizzle out when nicer things are fashioned and demand to be purchased. In the mornings, I must see them shine.

7:33. I would sit here longer with you, but I have to pee.

After sweet release, I step out of the bathroom. I have enough time for breakfast and for coffee. My wife is a coffee freak—our tiny apartment can serve as a mini coffee shop because of all the beans, grinders, brewers, and coffee gadgets hiding in our shelves. …

This is truer than ever, but our apartment is bigger now. Also I am now a bigger coffee freak than my wife is.

… I reap the benefits of this as often as I can. Our current favorite is three little cuppies of Coffeemate liquid French Vanilla creamer with a shot of espresso from our Nescafe Dolce Gusto machine. It’s a bright red hub that’s about one foot tall—it looks kind of like a red, robotic turtle standing on its hind legs. It has a clear detachable plastic shell on its back that contains up to .6 liters of water. Its nose is a removable container for the cartridges of designer coffee you plop in. At the top of its head is a lever marked blue on the left side (for cold water) and red on the right (for hot). On its neck is a round button that shines red as it warms up, and green when its ready. Our machine is the Piccolo model, the cheapest version that we got at 50% discount at S&R late last year. This model doesn’t have an automatic measurement system—I still have to make sure I pour the right proportions of milk, coffee, and/or chocolate if I want to make a latte, a hot chocolate, or a cappuccino. The convenience cost of those kinds of drinks is one of the main reasons that our current favorite kind is plain old espresso—if I get the measurement right, it’s a perfect shot. If I pour a little more water than I should, it’s a Cafe Americano. Can’t go wrong. On regular days, one shot of espresso with three creamers is all I need to kick off my day. On “intense” days, like exam week at the school I work in, or the week in which I owe a writing assignment for graduate studies, I would need two shots of espresso with five creamers.

Today is an intense day.

The Dolce Gusto is no longer my favorite coffee at home. That would be the “sweet and easy” Hario V60 pour-over recipe:

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I eventually decided that the Espresso pods don’t make enough coffee for me to last the day (because, obviously, they’re Espresso pods), so I ended up switching over to Grande Intenso pods—but I am not satisfied with them. Even if they’re strong throughout the higher volume drink, they are not as robust in flavor as the Espresso, and the coffee is nowhere near as good with flavored creamer. That, combined with the knowledge that there is no convenient way for me to recycle Dolce Gusto pods in Manila, has made me repeatedly look at the really pretty Nespresso machines every time we pass by Nespresso boutiques. We’re taking a trip to Japan in a few days too, and I fully intend to go shopping for coffee-related things. I’ll be sure to write about it if there are any significant updates.

8:03. Shower time. I already shampooed the night before, so all I need to do now is soap up, rinse off, and shave. I pump thrice on the bottle of Messy Man Hair+Face+Body Wash, squirting the stuff on to my palm. I lather up my skin and inhale—the fragrance is that perfect clean smell that doesn’t smell too masculine (like Irish Spring), nor too soapy (like Safeguard). It’s like a tempered combination of aloe vera and menthol. It also has a cooling effect, so I enjoy a nice, tingly, cool feeling, which is especially nice on certain crevices. I don’t use it as a replacement for my facial wash or shampoo and conditioner (I am not a barbarian), but it’s nice to know that I can in a pinch. This makes it my favorite body wash at the moment (body wash is to me as coffee is to my wife), and at only Php180 for a 500ml bottle, it won’t break the bank at all. It’s likely to sit at the top of my list of overall best body washes for a long time.

Update: 500ml bottles are now Php280. Still the overall best body wash, though. As for fancy body wash, I prefer Crabtree & Evelyn Nantucket Briar Body and Shower Gel.

I turn the shower on again. The parts of me that are cool are the parts of me that are clean, are pure, are holy—and at this point, everything is cool. The water rinses off the lather, and the last dregs of sleepiness and yesterday slide off with it. Now it’s time to shave.

I use my facial wash and I lather the lower half of my face with Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Cream Shave. This shaving cream is the one I use, but I’m not completely content with it because it’s not as economical as its more contemporary counterparts (from Gillette, Nivea Men, etc.). It’s great, though, because it comes in a tube that you squeeze like toothpaste (which means the container doesn’t rust), and it’s actual cream, not a strange gel that transforms into a foamy paste. I love it, but it’s not the star of the shaving ritual. The main attraction is my Gillette Fusion Proglide 5-blade razor.

Shaving is a therapeutic, almost sacred experience, and it’s a delight to do it with the Fusion Proglide. Despite being an integral part of Gillette’s evil affordable-starter-set-but-expensive-refill-cartridge consumer abuse system, the Fusion Proglide is simply the best shaver in the market today. The four blades in the front empower me to have the closest shave I can possibly give myself, and the smooth Proglide strip keeps shave bumps and ingrown hairs to a minimum. The kicker, though, is the shaver’s fifth blade, at the rear of the cartridge—a single “trimmer” precision blade that I use to shape the edges of my sideburns and beard. This allows me to extend the the time between trips to the barber, because I can look relatively clean even if my hair grows thicker than I would like.

I now use the Braun Series 3 3000s Rechargeable Electric Shaver for Men for my daily shave. Occasionally, I will still need to the precision of flexibility of a manual shave, and the Proglide remains the best manual razor. I have a newer handle now, the one with the flexball. But I’ve also decided to experiment switching Watson’s 5-blade razors because Proglide refills are just so damned expensive, and these ones have practically the same features.

But I have to admit that it is a failed experiment: I would accidentally nick myself almost every time I shaved manually for the past few months (which would be about once a week or so). The savings probably aren’t worth the cuts, and I just miss having that nice, smooth, perfect Proglide shave—especially since I only do them once a week anyway. Maybe I’ll buy a bunch of refills in Japan. I hear they’re big over there.

I finish, rinse, and look at myself on the shower mirror. The post-shave smile is my visual signifier that I am ready for the day—finally, my face is awake. Good morning, world.

8:31. I have to be leave by 8:45, which means I have 14 minutes to dress up. It takes another ten minutes to take the elevator down, walk over to the building where I park my car, take another elevator, enter my car, and drive off to work.

I dress up. Everything is on. I’m wearing my “dark loden” Nike Roshe Run shoes …

These Roshe Runs are still alive, but I don’t wear them anymore. Currently on my rotation: Nike Air Huarache Ultra triple white, Nike Sock Dart Breathe triple black, and Nike Aptare SE in black/white.

… and the watch that goes with it is my favorite: my Nixon 51-30 Chrono Raw Steel. I absolutely love this watch. It was a gift from my mother three birthdays ago. Well, no, technically, the original gift was the Ingersoll Golden Age 45mm with an elegant rose gold face and classy brown alligator leather band. My mom was shocked that a rose gold face automatic watch was available at a mid-range price point. Sure it was just gold-plated stainless steel, and sure the watch movement was Japanese and not Swiss, but still! Automatic! It was an instant buy. Unfortunately, the “toughened mineral” glass face broke after purchase, twice. I then opted to replace the watch with another at the same price point. I decided on the Nixon.

I fell in love with it instantly. It is a hulking, unrefined stainless steel colossus of a watch—the thematic opposite of the formal Ingersoll. At 51mm, it looks like it would eclipse a regular-sized wrist, but it looks right at home on mine (when my dad saw me wearing it, he quipped that its size was “absurd”). The watch crown is placed at the 9:00 side, so that when I would flex the wrist on my left hand, it wouldn’t bite into my skin like other watches would. After a year and a half, one of the stainless steel buckles broke, so I had to replace it a rough brown leather watch band with a huge matte steel buckle that matched the watch face. The cowboy brown/steel grey combination makes me feel like a bad ass every time I put the watch on. Also, it tells the time.

I still love this watch, but I have used the Apple Watch almost every day since I got it in June 2015.

8:42. Three minutes. I have to pack my bag and run.

I pick up the backpack leaning on the corner of our room: my Herschel Supply Company Little America backpack. My wife hates this bag. She thinks that only little boys should use backpacks, and that men my age should opt to use classy messenger bags and attache cases. I used to agree with her, until I started to consistently have left shoulder pains. So I figured, for the benefit of my health and so that my wife wouldn’t have to expend so much energy flattening the knots on my shoulder, I should go buy a backpack. I did my research and decided that the Herschel Little America was the best one. It is designed for laptop computers but it doesn’t look like a laptop bag. With two straps buckling it secure, it looks like it’s built for mountaineers. The bag opens up at the top via drawstring, which is revealed after you unsnap the buckles and fold over the canvas lid. The inside is lined with the familiar Herschel red/white candy cane pattern, and the laptop compartment is lined with fleece that I love feeling with my fingers. And the bag itself has a lot of room—23.5 liters of room, in fact. The model I chose is the black/black rubber one—the dark hue subdues the potentially pretentious “I’M A MOUNTAINEER” character of the bag, and the rubber straps are sure to last longer than the leatherette of the more traditional models, and make it more affordable than the high-end leather strap models. I beamed with delight when I finally found the bag at the Bratpack branch beside the DLSU St. Andrew Gonzalez building. I called my wife to tell her that I found it, and she suggested that I wait ’til we get to the States this summer because it’s cheaper there. But I couldn’t resist. I didn’t tell her I bought it, so when I got home with a backpack in tow, she became visibly annoyed with me for part of our evening date.

I still have this bag, and I still use it occasionally, but my current daily backpack is the Pacsafe Metrosafe LS450 Anti-Theft 25L Backpack in beige. I love the anti-theft features, and the two stretch pockets for water bottles, coffee tumblers, or foldable umbrellas. Also, zippers are 100x more convenient than two-latch lids and a drawstring—and more secure. I failed to consider this when I would take the Little America with me to shopping malls, and the security guards would demand to fake-inspect your bag upon entry.

I’m currently lusting after the Boundary Errant backpack and the North Face Access Pack (even if it doesn’t have a water bottle pocket), though.

She can’t be annoyed with me now, though. She’s accepted that I love the bag and that my shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore. Besides, she’s still asleep (she “snoozed” her phone alarm multiple times already).

Before I tighten the drawstring, I go and look for my Marshall Monitor headphones. There they are, on my bedside table. My headphones are an essential part of a work day that includes the reading of essays, the checking of papers, or extended writing sessions. Our office is an “open office” room—no cubicles, just desks with no partitions in order to encourage collaboration and camaraderie. I can often be sociable, but admittedly, this set up doesn’t make much sense. Teachers’ work is often solitary—making lesson plans, checking papers, avoiding students—and politeness can get in the way of efficiency far too often in an open office. Headphones are my way out of this problem, and the Marshall Monitor cans are excellent ones. They are lined with the same material as the classic Marshall guitar amplifiers (the ones that “go up to 11”), and the ear pads are soft memory foam which fit over my ears, ensuring comfort even for long listening sessions. The detachable 3.5mm audio cable’s plugs are gold-plated, and the cable itself is anti-tangle coiled rubber. The design of the headphones is such that you can collapse them inwards so that they can fit inside a lovely black canvas pouch with the word MARSHALL printed in black shiny font—the protective pouch is why I can recklessly plop the headphones into my bag.

The day’s playlists: some Swell Season, some U2, maybe some 90’s hip-hop—all ready and waiting on my phone. Which playlist I choose depends on the essays I have to read, and the papers I have to write.

The Monitors have since bitten the dust after the ear cups started peeling and I found that having them replaced would cost me over USD40. They have been replaced with the far-superior Bose QuietComfort 35s (version 1) in black, for serious headphone time, and, of course, AirPods, for every other time.

8:46. I’m supposed to be out the door by now, but I haven’t packed my water yet.

I rush to the kitchen and grab my Tiger Sahara 1.5L bottle. My mom was the one who introduced me to the wonders of Tiger water bottles. Without exaggeration, cold drinks remain cold in them for more than 24 hours. And not just cool cold, but actual cold—as in ice cubes remain ice cubes even two nights after filling up the bottle. She and Tito Benjie discovered the one liter bottles in one of their trips to Hong Kong, and now they swear by them because they were able to have cold water all day, which they desperately needed because they only walked to get around the entire city. Now I swear by them too, but one liter is not enough for me, for I am large. I opted for the biggest one they have for cold drinks. The 1.5 liter bottle is about 15 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter, and has a matte dark gray stainless steel finish with a black plastic pop-open nozzle at the top, with a safety lock so that water won’t spill everywhere when it’s stowed. It is one of my favorite pieces of technology—I love it almost as much as my MacBook Pro with Retina Display, my iPad Air, and my iPhone 6 Plus—simply because it contains in large amounts and for an extended period of time something that is so easily taken for granted: cold refreshing water. Far too often in a busy work day, I would suffer from severe bouts of grumpiness caused by dull headaches, hunger pangs, and slight dizziness; a few seconds alone with my beloved Tiger Sahara, though, and smiles and energy come rushing back through me. I feel like the world would be a kinder place if everybody toted water bottles with them.

Ever since my stupid Tiger bottle broke my stupid iPhone 6 Plus, I’ve had a little disdain for the Sahara. I now use a 64L Klean Kanteen Insulated Classic bottle in ocean blue, with a Sport Cap 3.0. It doesn’t quite keep water cold for as long as the Sahara does, but it is much easier to drink from when driving or in bed.

Also, as of July 2018, my gear includes the 2014 MacBook Pro with Retina Display, 1st generation 12.9″ iPad Pro in space gray, and iPhone 7 Plus in black.

I fill up my Sahara, screw the top on, and pop open the lid. One gulp, two gulps, three gulps, four. It’s time. I slide the bottle into my bag, tighten the drawstring, and snap the buckles. I strap Little America over both of my shoulders. My wife mumbles, “Have fun today. I’ll see you later.” While we were dating, one of the things she used to always tell me is that she believes in investing in experiences rather than things. Sometimes, she thinks that my love for well-designed things is in direct opposition with that principle. I disagree—my favorite things often in and of themselves are, and contain, experiences that delight me through my days, like watching shooting stars on a rooftop. I think she’s slowly getting it. She recently mentioned wanting to buy a new iPad because hers already slow.

I give her a kiss on the cheek and the forehead. “I love you,” I say. “See you later.”

8:51. I’m going to be late.

She got an iPad mini 4 Wifi+LTE in gold for Christmas that year. But I still don’t think she gets it.

Also, I now give my son Maximus a kiss on the forehead, too.

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