7/31/2013
"Second floor, humanities, please come in..."

"You didn't have to!" I'd always tell Rainy. "No, really, you don't."

She's giving me a book. $#*! My Dad Says. It wasn't the book she was supposed to give, though. For a month, so the story goes, she waited for an online delivery of a David Rakoff book - his second compilation of essays, Don't Get Too Comfortable - but when it arrived it took her a while to get her hands on the book, what with people not bringing it to where she is, or her forgetting about it, I don't know.

One day, her pet dog decided to enter her room and rummage through her things. Apparently, he got one of her books; he brought it to his cage and lied down on it and. eventually, peed on it. As it turns out, it's the book she was supposed to give to me.

"But I'm a gift-giving kind of person!" she'd always tell me.

It was an unopened copy of Don't Get Too Comfortable. The first edition.

I knew Rainy loved giving gifts. Before we were a couple, I remember being thrown off by one of her early suggestions. "Let's have a Christmas gift exchange," she said. We agreed to keep it under P250 and to swap presents on the second Saturday of December, because it was a convenient date.

I didn't know what to give her, so I gave her a notebook and an origami set, and for good measure, three animal refrigerator magnets that was given away on one of the exhibits I attended. It was pretty convenient timing, since I was doing my own Christmas shopping at the time, but it felt odd to me that I was falling in line to have my gift for her wrapped, alongside my gifts for the rest of the family.

In hindsight, it was a pretty terrible gift. I was only going with the fact that she loves to write and that she likes a bit of Korean music; she'd later tell me she isn't any good with folding things, and the graphical instruction sheet proved to be a bit hard to follow, something I myself found out when I attempted to do a Christmas star.

She gave me a Rilakkuma plushie in an orange Tigger suit. She knows it's a useless gift; she was only going with the fact that this blog is orange.

The next day, we became a couple.

And so began a string of given gifts, faces gushing over said gifts, and in my case, a constant stream of "you shouldn't have!" Not that I don't want Rainy to give me anything - I love my gifts myself; I get tired of always getting articles of clothing over the holidays - but I believe something along the lines of "only when you absolutely have to". After all, she'd be cutting it too close with her salary and I don't like it when she despairs over not having enough money to go to work for another week.

"But I'm a gift-giving kind of person!" she'd always tell me, which explains the Rilakkuma plushie and the cheesy keychain and the orange scrubbing gloves and my copy of $#*! My Dad Says, a book I wouldn't normally buy because, you know - I'm being pretentious here - it's popular in a viral kind of way.

And it also explains why I find myself enjoying the thrill of finding gifts for her. Whenever I go out of town I try to buy her something. The only exception was Cebu, and only because I really didn't have the time. But I got her a bracelet in Legazpi (which she turned to an anklet) and another bracelet in Banaue (which she used as, well, a bracelet this time). And when I went to Hong Kong for our company outing, I found myself wandering Disneyland alone, not riding any of the rides, looking for something very, uhh, very Rainy.

So there I was, on a Saturday, inside a very crowded store, just walking back and forth, passing the jewelry and the plushies and the shirts and the candy. Oooh, candy. Will she appreciate Mickey Mouse-shaped candy? This will break my budget! Perry the Platypus. Perry the Platypus. No. There's nothing. Dammit. Stitch. Stitch. I'm lucky that she's also into Stitch - the first time I went to Hong Kong Disneyland I got myself a Stitch shirt and a Stitch keychain. He's that Disney character who's both adorable and marketable. And dammit, why am I overthinking this?

I ended up giving her a Stitch keychain, a Scrump plushie, and for good measure, a Bic Runga CD, because she likes her and she could never find her CDs here. And some chocolates. And some more Rilakkuma stuff.

"Ang dami naman nito," I think she told me, and I made some math in my head and realized I spent almost half my pocket money on her.

And so, in the coming months, we dated, we went to movies, we went to restaurants, we made a fool of ourselves in public, we talked and talked to the point of me almost having to pay so much on my phone bill - and occasionally, when the element of surprise is there, we get gifts. Well, she does, and I don't. Don't get me wrong. I can be a bit of a tough spender - I really am afraid of being an impulsive buyer, and trust me, I've been there - but I really just want to make it count. Special occasions. Her birthday's coming up in November. I've been planning things. Can I get this on time? Will I have enough money for this? Should I look for alternatives?

Yesterday I was at Fully Booked, and slightly anxious, I went to the customer service counter and asked if they have a certain book in stock.

"Come again, sir?" the lady in the counter, who spoke a certain kind of slang, something in between American and Assumptionista, said. "Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish?"

"Yah."

We both share a love of David Sedaris, but we both only have one book of his in our possession, his essay collection When You Are Engulfed In Flames. (Okay, scratch that. I have two of his books; a colleague gave me Holidays on Ice during our company Christmas party, an easy give-away since she always asked me about what kind of books I liked. "Nonfiction," I'd always say. I haven't opened the book because I have a lot of things to read and, well, she told me to read it during Christmas season, because it's a book about Christmas.) Yes, I have gone a long way from being clueless when Liz observed that I write like him, but that's mostly because I also listen to This American Life, which has shaped my interest in books more than anything, which led me to David Rakoff and his being Dr. Seuss on WireTap and his final story for TAL, where he ruminates on his impending death - he had cancer at a young age, it returned two decades later, he lost use of his left arm after surgery severed his nerves - and his hopes to dance for one last time.

And then he died - the Friday after this one marks a year since - and I heard the tributes and got interested in reading his essays, which led to Rainy trying to find me one of those books, because for some reason, Fully Booked doesn't have them (and, according to her, the staff kept her waiting, and climbing stairs, even). But I knew he wrote one last book, his first work of fiction, a novel in anapestic tentameter, and he finished it, and the accompanying audiobook, (which he recorded despite being very, very sick,) weeks before he died. And Rainy and I had this discussion when we went to the Ransom Riggs book signing, mostly about why I prefer non-fiction and why she prefers fiction. And I flick through my planner, which has more of Rainy's free verse than my appointments. And I go, I think I have the perfect gift for her on her birthday.

But will it make it to the Philippines in time?

"It's in our system, sir," the lady at the counter said. "And I think... I think we have it here. Hold on one moment." I watched her pick up a two-way radio, while thinking of when to give the gift - definitely this week, no longer on her birthday, so much for planning, right? - my face lighting up, figuratively, of course, I'm certain.

"Second floor, humanities, please come in..."

Then she waited.

"Sir, I'll go up and check if there's a copy, okay?"

"All right. I'll wait here."

And she - a cute girl whose accent, it has to be said, doesn't match her face - left and walked up the escalator.

Five minutes later she returned with the one copy that Fully Booked branch had - that one copy of David Rakoff's final book. First edition. I hoped a dog wouldn't pee on it.

"You've just made my girlfriend very happy," I told the lady, and we exchanged thank you's, and I left for the cashier. And then I wondered if she knew about this book existing in the first place. And then I realized that she didn't, that I deliberately withheld the whole thing from her to keep the element of surprise. I went off to pay.

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