My Desolation

Desolation [noun] {de-su’ley-shun}

  1. The state of being decayed or destoyed
  2. A bleak and desolate atmosphere
  3. Sadness resulting from being forsaken or abandoned
  4. An event that results in total destruction


  • Bareness
  • Bleakness
  • Devastation
  • Forlorness
  • Loneliness
  • Nakedness

In the 20 odd years I have been eking a living in the city, this is probably the time and place that will require my most inert survival skills to come out and then dig deeper for more.  Compared to the semi permanent habitations this body has occupied over the years, specially during college when my preconceptions of urban living has been shattered, a veritable culture shock, thankfully came early in life, today is something like Mark Watney went through on Mars, but with less resources and even fewer funding.

So I did what he did – science the shit out of this gig – to paraphrase his point.

Oh yes, to digress a bit. I was watching The Martian last night and it came to me that being left on a planet without someone to turn to but yourself bears the analogs of where I am today. Though I could have wished for a HAB and some prepacked food, among other provisions, my family and a few real good friends serves as my HAB. Don’t believe the hype, city living is not glamorous. Nor is it even fulfilling. I may fallen in love with Metro Manila, but the relationship has gone sour and all the effort today is to make it through the next payday, earn enough and get back to the country side. This transient life may have been my own for quite sometime, but all I want to do now is go home.

Kinda like Watney? You bet.

Now, while I am still on the lookout for freelance jobs and other projects, I have found myself in this charming place, but with a few roadblocks. The room is affordable enough (read that dirt-cheap) and I am eternally gratefull for my new landlord. But the room is actually a storeroom for unused cloth and garment from her dressmaking shop. Ample ventilation is from three windows, one glass louvered window faces the East, which is what I prefer, overlooking an empty lot with some trees and lots of fighting cocks, a tin roof with rotting wood and cat poop, and some empty plastic gallons, stringed together by my neighbour , who’s obviously looking to sell. The other window faces directly to that neighbour’s concrete wall, and the last one, well is my own personal picture window, bare and open, that serves as my clothes drier when I have laundry to do. Also, as my default spot to throw out used water, early morning garglings and the rare spittle.

March was, and is, the hottest month in this country, and I believe there are a few days in April that can come close to it. Any given day can come up to about 32 to 37 celsius. Given that my neighbour does cooking, tin roof on one part, and the general lack of wind, this room maybe registering  about 37 to 39 celsius. That’s about the normal warmth for a human body with a fever. Now with the sacks and plastic bags of cloth, approximately 90 kilos of mixed cotton, rayon, nylon and a host of other textile types, my dilapidated laptop and my own body heat (yes I still think I am warm blodded, despite my reptilian behavior), this room, even with the door open on a hot day maybe registering 40 celsius, so to diminish that problem, I opened up the bags, sorted and pressed them down, retied the knots, stacked and arranged them at the farthest, darkest part of the room. Paper conduct heat, so my books must be located where air can pass through freely, so I got them where I want them. The electric fan I placed near the door, which has a line-of-sight proximity to the big open window at the landing, making for more possibilities of redirecting air into my room when turned on. The clothes hanger (open closet my butt) I relocated close to the partial partition that encases the cloth bags I mentioned before. This way even with the stillness of any warm day, there is nothing to block air movement to and fro.

I can type now and work on my stories without turning the electric fan on. Of course by the middle of the day I would have to be down to my briefs to continue anything – drawing or writing – and that is not a beautiful sight to see. If someone happens to come up the stairs, which directly faces my room, the sight of a bearded 47-year-old man all sweaty and almost naked will surely be the stuff of nightmares.

Fortunately, I was raised in a household where going around topless is frowned upon. And I’m not really  comfortable with going shirtless.

Heat problem solved.

Taking a bath is easily addressed. A common toilet and bath, with the bowl that is always defiant, leaves you no other choice but tdo the math. I have observed that a 78Kg body mass  can be clean and cool with just 30 litres of water. Going number two, you may have to squeeze in between scrubbing yourself. Or the next best thing – the mall comfor rooms. Conveniently, I am located in the vicinity of Cash & Carry. One aspect of urban living and hygiene solved.

Now comes – wait for it – The Laundry.

Paying to get the laundry done is out of the question. Yes it would smell good, and fluffy, but I have some serious issues with the whites. Besides, I can barely pay for my food, so paid laundry services is out. Drinking water is solved by  having my 10 litre gallon, at Php18, and will keep me rehydrated for 2 or three days, depending on how much coffee I make.  At Php5 I get a 30 litre container of water. So to avoid letting my hamper pile up, I set my laundry duties with eight pieces of clothing at a time, throw in a couple of underwear and facecloth with 60 litres of water.  A regular powedered detergent, not the perfumy kind mind you, and what I try not to use, fabric conditoner, also the least flowery kind. What I do is divide the first 30 litres into three basins, one for soaking, scrubbing and rubbing, another for the rinse, and the last one for the second rinse. After handwashing, I squeeze the water out and let the clothes hang dry a bit, to let the elements do their thing. Detergent deteriorates when you expose it to air, so by letting them hang a bit, I am actually doing the first stages of rinsing.

Why not do the laundy somewhere else? Dude, read my last post. There’s not enough room in this place to even park a bike.

Yes I am doing all of this inside my room. It’s really a versailt piece of space.

After a while, when I’m done doing something else, folding clothes, writing, or drawing, whatever task was there at the time, usually I put on music. A song can run from 3 minutes to 7, depending on what genre I am listening to at the time. If I put on Tom Waits’ Mule Variations, that would amount to an hour of good music.I go back and see if the laundry has dripped or dried enough and go to water rinse. It’s systematic.

Now my clothes aren’t that dirty or soiled enough to warrant a thorough handwashing and scrubbing. Just dust and sweat. I rinse them and it goes straight to the water with fabcon and let it stand for a while. No, do not believe that some types of fabcons are better than others. AntiBac, perfumed all fabcons in the market does the same thing, negate the soap or detergent retained by the garment in washing and coat the darned things with softener ingredient. About three songs ought to be enough. By then all I have to do is lovingly wring the clothes after soaking in fabcon, hang them rag like by the open widow, in single plastic hangers and wait till hey are not dripping anymore so I can hang them properly from my er, open closet.

Give or take a few, I’d say I reduced my water consumption for my laundry by 60%. Annd of course, 60 litres is a broad approximation, the washing all depends on the cloth weight. Cooton uses up more water than  more modern cloth types, specially those meant for athletes. A triumph for the Save the Earth crusaders, and respite from my depleted funds.

Take that, Lumen.

And by the way, you can do wonders for your laundry with just dishwashing liquid. It cuts, oil and grease, dissipates easily and leaves you garments smelling clean. Not flowery. But clean.

And of course, the water with fabcon in it, I mop the floor. Economize and optimize.

How many sols did it take Watney to leave Mars? 500? 600?

It doesn’t matter.

One problem at a time.

Solved some. Move to another.

The target is to go home.

Being alone does make you creative.


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