Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Death Becomes Her

My mother has always said that one of the first clear signs that you’re getting old is not the ‘Aiyah!’ sound you make when you get up from a squat, but that you turn to the obituary pages first thing in the morning.
            “You should see my address book,” she told me once. “I’ve already scratched through so many names!”
            It says something about the whole idea of nurture versus nature that I immediately went “Awww, Mummy, that’s so sad for you!” while my sister Michelle said, “You still use an address book? Seriously?”
            My friend Alex’s father passed away recently. We never really noticed him much while he was alive. Whenever we visited Alex, his father sat quietly in his wheelchair in front of the massive plasma TV watching entire seasons of ‘Spartacus’. A maid sat by his side. When she wasn’t feeding him juice from a plastic cup or changing the DVD, she’d sit there with him and watch heads being separated from muscled torsos accompanied by dramatic hi-definition sprays of blood.
            “Isn’t that all a bit violent?” Saffy once whispered to me.
            “He seems to be enjoying himself,” I said.
But judging from the obituaries of Alex’s dad in the daily papers, he clearly didn’t always spend his time in front of the TV. In fact, he must have been more popular or more important that we’d known.
“Wow, look at this!” Saffy said one morning at breakfast. “His former company took out a full page obit for him…He was their CEO? That little old man who cheered when Spartacus got all oiled up for the arena? Huh!”
Three sets of eyes looked up at the ceiling as we tried to reconcile the image of the old man gleefully watching arms being hacked off with someone who had run a multi-national corporation for thirty years.
“It just goes to show,” Amanda said. “You can never tell about a person. Not even from their obituary.”
            “Especially these obits!” Saffy pointed out. “All they say is that he was a loving father and husband and that he has returned to God leaving behind a devoted wife, five children, two daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law and seven grand-children! They never say anything about what he was like as a person! What’s that all about?”
            Amanda frowned. “Wait. Doesn’t Alex have two brothers? So, one of them is still single? Is he that cute one? The one who works at Morgan Stanley?”
            As Saffy later said to Sharyn, “It’s just amazing that she could work out the family tree in her head and pin-point the one eligible bachelor in the family in about two seconds!”     
            Sharyn stared owlishly at Saffy. “She got years of practice, mah!”
            “That’s so mean, Shaz!” Saffy said primly, though she spent the rest of the night giggling for no apparent reason.
            Still the obituaries for Alex’s dad continue to haunt her. “They’re just so unsatisfactory!” she said the other day. “His whole life reduced to the number of offspring he had! That’s ridiculous! What if you have no offspring?”
            “And what if you are still single?” Sharyn said, gently fanning the flames of discontent. “Then, how?”
            “Then, it’ll be just my picture and nothing else on the whole page!” Saffy said, her fabulous bosom deflating at the depressing prospect.
            Amanda said all the more we should all write our own obituaries. “We might as well take control of the narrative!” she said sounding just like Olivia Pope.
            “We’re not dead yet!” Saffy said.
            “But when we are, all they need to do is to just print a ready made obituary,” Amanda told her. “And it’ll say exactly what we want it to say. Mine’s going to praise my fabulous fashion style!”
            Saffy pursed her lips as she gave the matter her full attention. “I guess,” she said after a while, “I guess I could talk about my numerous charitable causes and good deeds!”
            I blinked. “What charitable causes?”
            “An obit doesn’t have to be truthful, does it?” Saffy asked, every pore oozing perplexed dishonesty. “Who’s going to know?”
            “Your imaginary beneficiaries, for starters,” Amanda said, clearly regretting suggesting the idea in the first place.
            But Saffy was on a roll. The past couple of days, she’s been working on her obit. When she got up and went to the loo, Amanda sneaked a peek at her laptop and she says if she’d been sitting on a chair at the time, she would have fallen off it.
            “She says she went Harvard!” she told me indignantly. “First of all, who says they went to Harvard when they didn’t?”
            I didn’t dare tell her that Sharyn’s draft says she studied Latin at Cambridge and invented Post-its.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fruit Loop

Let it be said, and not for the first or last time either, that women are very strange. And by strange, I mean “get locked up in a padded cell and howl at a full moon” kind of strange.
            Saffy once shouted at an uncle in the MRT for ogling at her formidable bosom, completely ignoring the fact she was wearing a tee-shirt one size too small for her that said in lurid red letters, “I’m in asset development and these are two of my most lucrative investments.”
            The poor old man fled the train when it stopped at Dhoby Ghaut. “He is such a pervert!” she huffed to the auntie sitting next to her on the train. Wisely, the auntie averted her eyes and pretended to play with her phone, but you could tell she was just randomly tapping the screen.
            And then there was the time Amanda decided that she just had to have the new gold Apple MacBook but since it was completely sold out in Singapore, she hopped on a morning plane to Hong Kong to get it and came home that evening in triumph. If the woman had just won Wimbledon while delivering triplets, she could not have been happier or prouder.
            A few days ago, Saffy decided that the ridiculous Five-Two Diet she and Amanda are on is just not working for her.
            “I can’t not eat for two days,” she explained to me unnecessarily. “It’s just not natural!”
            “You don’t have to tell me!” I said.
            Saffy paused, eyeing me munch contentedly on my lunch of nasi padang from our favourite store down the road.
            “But I really do need to keep the weight off,” she went on, shifting her chair slightly away from me as an extra two inches was going to stop the fragrance of the beef rendang from wafting towards her. “So, we’ve decided that we are going to do a fruit diet!”
            Which, as it turns out, is exactly what it sounds like. All you eat is fruits. Like you were a monkey or something.
            “That’s so rude!” Amanda said when she joined us. “I’ll have you know Steve Jobs was on an all fruit diet!”
            I paused chewing and waved a fork on which was speared a peanut-sauced fried tofu at her. “And I’ll have you know the man is dead!”
            “He didn’t die from eating fruit!” Saffy said, her bosom inflating with newfound medical knowledge. She pulled out her phone and started tapping it.
            “You don’t know that,” I pointed out. “Who knows what he really died from?”
            “If I had to guess, I’d say he died from the stress of running Apple!” Amanda said.
            Saffy looked up from her phone. “Google says he died of pancreatic cancer! So there! No fruits were involved in his death, so you can just stop spreading malicious misinformation!”
            Leave it to Barney Chen to announce that as a diet devotee, the fruit diet is the stupidest thing he’d ever heard of.
            “What are you, monkeys?” he growled, his perfectly groomed eyebrows knitting together.
            I glowed. “Thank you, that’s what I said!”
            “You need some kind of protein!” Barney said. He flexed his absurdly sculpted biceps. “You think these babies happened from eating pineapple slices? Why torment your body with cow chow?”
            Amanda sniffed. “Don’t try to pull that one on me! I’ve seen what’s in your kitchen cupboard. It’s all nuts and grains and brown stuff. You eat nothing but squirrel food!”
            “Which is exactly the same as cow chow!” Saffy added, anxious not to be left out of a complex scientific nutritional conversation.
            Sharyn says she wishes she had brought up her children on a diet of fruits. “Wah, so much cheaper!” she told me yesterday, shaking her shaggy head of hair. “Imagine, hor, I just buy nothing but mango and papaya. Wah, save so much mah-ney! All day I can shop at Louise Wui-ton!”
            I said I’d read there was speculation that Steve Jobs had died because of all the strange diets he took.
            Sharyn’s eyes bulged. “Yah, lor, life already so short, why make it shorter with diet? Must enjoy life, mah! You look at me, I eat what I want to eat, got no ploh-blem, one. My doctor say I can live to ninety! What for sah-dun-ly die at fifty and your last meal was a star-flute? Chiam, ah!”
            “Tell that to Saffy,” I said.
            “If I was Steve Job wife, confirm today he still alive, one!” Sharyn went on. “And fat, some more!”
            Barney says Sharyn should write a diet book. “I’d be the first in line to buy a copy!”


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Bad News

A couple of weeks ago, Sharyn gave Amanda a DVD box-set of ‘Breaking Bad’.
            “DVDs?” Saffy said. She picked up the box and turned it around. “What is this, 2002? Do we even have a DVD player?”
            Three pairs of eyes swiveled around to look at the hulking 24-inch screen hanging on our wall.
            “That’s what I said, but Sharyn says we can just stream it from my laptop,” Amanda murmured.
            “What does that even mean?” Saffy complained. “Honestly, that woman is like some kind of freaky tech genius!”
            More to the point, I said, the show was notoriously addictive. Did we really want to embark on another mega show again, so soon after ‘24’, I asked.
            “Oh my God, ‘24’!” Saffy moaned. “How many years of my life did I lose watching all eight seasons in three weeks?”
            A brief silence descended on the room as the question struggled with embarrassment.
            “What’s it about anyway?” Amanda asked finally. “For years, it was all anyone in the office could talk about but I was never really interested.”
            “It’s about a high school chemistry teacher who gets cancer and becomes a crystal meth dealer!” Saffy said.
            Amanda lifted a perfectly drawn eyebrow. “How do you get from one to the other? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Saffy shrugged, the action causing her meloned bosom to rise several inches in a way that would’ve caused accidents if she had been standing on the side of the PIE. “Apparently, it’s riveting. I know because every time I caught up with Sharyn, it was all she could talk about.”
            The idea that Sharyn, a working mother of three (or four, I can never remember) and wife, might find time in her busy schedule to be addicted to a television show is beyond me. I consider it a triumph of time management if I manage to get out of bed and into a cab for a lunch appointment.
            “Aiyoh, it’s so good, I tell you!” Sharyn said later that evening when she came over to hook up Amanda’s laptop to our TV. Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she prattled on. “They got one character call Jesse Pinkman. Wah, he, hor, so han-sum, cannot tahan! I tell my husband, why you not got such beautiful blue eyes as him? OK, your HDML is hook up or-redi and your CD player all set up. Ay, pass me the TV remote, please, Jason.”
            “You are so wasted working in HR, Sharyn,” I told her.
            “Yah, lor, but what other job I can be kay-poh into udder people business and shake leg half the time?”
            Saffy later said it was lazy employees like Sharyn who give hardworking HR staff like herself a bad name.
            “I should fire her,” she mused, “but then who would I talk to all day?”
            “OK, I have now pushed the CD into the CD player,” Amanda muttered as she peered at the detailed list of instructions she’d gotten Sharyn to write down on how to operate the TV from her laptop. “I press HDML 2…OK…press play…and…oh my God, it works!”
            “I really hope this is a lousy show,” Saffy said as she settled down on the sofa next to me with a big bowl of popcorn. “But just in case it’s not, I’ve put Bradley on notice that he may not see me for a while.”
            That was a week ago. In that time, both Saffy and Amanda have taken, between them, five MCs just so they can stay home and watch ‘Breaking Bad’.
            “Oh God,” Saffy moaned at one stage, “how many more seasons are there to go? This show is so good!”
            “I’m going to brew some more coffee,” Amanda said as she struggled off the couch.
            “What time is it?” Saffy asked.
            “In the morning?” Saffy’s voice cracked. “Wait, we’ve been watching since ten this morning? Yesterday, I mean! What? Really? How did…”
            “We’re almost done with season three!” Amanda called out from the kitchen. “We have two more seasons to go! We’re more than halfway through!”
            Of course, Sharyn is triumphant. “You see, lah, I tell you, you don’t listen. Very good, right?”
            When she finally showed up in the office, Saffy cornered Sharyn in the ladies’ loo. “I seriously want to have Jesse Pinkman’s baby!”
            Sharyn looked smug. “I know right? So han-sum for an ang-moh!”
            “You’re such a racist, Sharyn,” Saffy said automatically.
            “Where got! There are ten ang-moh in this office, which one is good looking, you tell me?”
            Amanda is convinced some kind of HR law is being broken in Saffy’s office.