pandora’s (music) box

Not too long ago, a few friends were gushing about the internet radio site created by the Music Genome Project called Pandora. I’ve visited the site once or twice before, but never really got around to exploring because of the erratic internet connection.

Wanting to fill my hot Saturday afternoon with soothing music (and after the radio features of Yahoo! Messenger and iTunes have refused to cooperate with me), I paid a return visit.

And I’m glad I did. The site’s design is clean, sans bells and whistles (in stark contrast to other internet music sites that have album covers all over their home page). The idea behind Pandora is simple. Acting as your “personal DJ,” Pandora plays the kind of music that you like. Cool! But how does it know what you like? Well, the site prompts you to enter a song title or an artist’s name. It then uses this bit of info to create a “station” for you that plays similar and related songs from its vast database of music.

I was in the mood for good mellow melodies, so I typed in “Josh Groban.” Naturally, one of his songs was the first on the playlist, followed by others that Pandora thinks is “genetically” similar to Groban’s songs (including “You Raise Me Up” in almost all its incarnations).

Much to my delight, I stumbled upon newfound artists that caught my fancy, like David Phelps, Russell Watson, and Adam Watkiss. My music library hasn’t had an infusion of new tunes in quite a while. So I took down the names of the interesting artists and made a mental note to hunt for their music.

Of course, Pandora’s musical ESP is not fool proof. I’ve had to click on the “Next” button a few times to skip a song that I didn’t feel like listening to (Sorry, Barbra Streisand – perhaps another day?). I expected an abrupt end to an unwanted song after I clicked “Next”, but Pandora accepted my rejection with class by fading out the song and smoothly fading into the next. Ah, I feel the love 🙂

There’s a “Guide Us” button on the Pandora player. I’m assuming this is for getting feedback from users as to why, in their opinion, a particular song does not belong to the “station” the Pandora system has created. I haven’t clicked it though.

Pandora has other cool features that I haven’t tried out yet. I’m hoping to spend more time exploring the site. Meantime, it’s good enough for me that it’s playing just the kind of music I want on this Saturday afternoon that has found me reading and writing.

Give it a try. You just might find some delightful treasures in this Pandora’s (music) box.

the taxi files

His hoarse voice reminded me of Inday Garutay, the gay impersonator of the late showbiz icon Inday Badiday. But nothing about this taxi driver was remotely effeminate or funny. In fact, he confessed, not without a hint of virile pride, that he has kept eight live-in partners (even siring a child with one) through his 38 years of cab driving. He bragged about his womanizing all the way to my apartment building’s red gate.

Like any city-dweller, I have encountered some interesting taxi drivers, including Manong Chickboy above. When I’m in the mood for interaction with a stranger or when I just want to make sure my taxi driver does not snooze on the wheel, I strike up a conversation. It usually doesn’t take much to get these guys talking. But sometimes I regret presenting an opening in the first place.

One morning, running late for work, I decided to hop into one of the cabs that lined the street near my apartment.

“Manong, MRT Quezon Ave lang po… May bagyo ba? Maulap tsaka mahangin eh.”

“Ay *toot* na PAGASA ‘yan! Di na tumama! *Toot* Babagyuhin daw tayo nung isang linggo. Kinansel na ang klase pero, *toot*, ang taas ng sikat ng araw! *Toot*... *toot*… *toooooooot*”

Outside the sky was gray and tree branches swayed back and forth. Inside the cab, I soaked in a full-blown storm of profanity and government-bashing. I theorize: Manong Toot, due to nonstop exposure to AM radio, has channeled the personalities of the opinionated announcers—sometimes even modulating his voice to mimic Mike Enriquez’s rapid-fire monotone. Unfortunately, he’s yet to learn journalistic self-censorship. Worse, there was no commercial break to provide reprieve. My ride took only 10 minutes, but it was 10 minutes too long. After I alighted, Tagalog curse words of every kind rang in my ears. Please nobody step on my toes in the train…

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For someone who has been enduring arthritic knees since age 12, I’m a pretty good runner—albeit on a different track. Of late I’ve been catching myself on the run. The sweating and the panting are never outwardly evident; but when I pause and reflect, I find my heart’s pulse rapid and my spirit’s limbs cramping. There is no mistaking it—I’m sprinting. Like crazy.

Escaping is the more accurate word, really.

But, escaping from what? A lot of things—most of which I can identify with certainty, while some remain phantoms, perceptible only through the anxiety they inflict. These unwanted “things” seem so many that the escape route from one could be the shortcut to another. I turn my back to run away from Point A only to screech to a halt when I realize I’m headed straight to Point B (where I’d also rather not be). In panicked self-preservation I change course and aim for Point C—but who knows if Point C is any safer? It could well be another destination to avoid, to escape from…

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holy joy

When I was a young boy, elder people would chide me for laughing during Holy Week. Laughter was carnal—exceptionally sinful during the three summer days when God was “dead.” Holiness, my young mind concluded, must mean wearing a somber face; rarely smiling, if at all; always appearing contemplative of things more heavenly than the sticky discomfort I felt from not taking a bath at Lent.

In short, holy is boring.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. From what I’ve observed, one luminous mark that characterizes the holy is joy. The godly men I have been blessed to know up close and personal all exude lightheartedness. Regardless of temperament, they are wont to smile and hospitable to spontaneous laughter. And yet this disposition doesn’t come across as giddy silliness or sheer comedic deftness (quite the opposite sometimes, as the godly are by no means spared from being corny!) Rather, it strikes me as childlike glee over both the mundane and the profound; a happiness that radiates from the heart that delights in God.

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Meet Bogart.

The entity that has somehow attached himself to my midsection in recent years. The flab that shrouds my six-pack abs. Thanks to Nalani’s sister, my unflattering tummy will not go the way of nameless, unsung fat. It has been christened with a name, and quite a manly one too: Bogart.

In the beginning though, there was no Bogart. I was reed-thin for the longest time, my bones making their presence obvious wherever they could. Fearing my malnourishment, my mother saw to it that I got my daily dose of appetite-inducers, from Nutroplex to Flinstones chewables, to whatever the pediatrician recommended or the concerned mother on TV ads gave her underweight child. Once my father imposed that I first gain ten pounds before he’d let me go to summer camp. In college I wore loose shirts to hide my bony elbows and pronounced collar bones.

That was light years ago.

Today, I play host to Bogart. I wouldn’t have minded growing a belly with a nickname if not for (well-)mean(ing) friends who make sure I know they notice the rotund protrusion. And the media’s ubiquitous images of guys with flat, washboard abs aren’t helping me feel chummy with my tummy either.

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