The Brown Envelope
I guess I have the habit of depressing myself from things that have absolutely nothing to do with me. This is just another one of them.
There’s a difference between a “career” and a “job.” “Careers” are for the educated sort; they are for people who think they are entitled to a place in the corporate world, no matter how small or irrelevant it is. “Jobs” are of the menial sort; they are for people who offer hard work in exchange for a shot at survival. Career-seekers venture off to the Internet shop and prostitute themselves through verbose resumés in JobStreet. Job seekers knock on the door, ring on the bell, tap on the window to get their place in the world.
“Pakikipagsapalaran” is a cliché in the Filipino language: the irony of it is that yes, it is dehumanizing. It is often translated as “taking a risk,” but I think the irony is captured by the fact that most pakikipagsapalaran takes place when you give up your free will and judgment, throw everything out the window, and leave everything to the Fates that come your way.
I was hanging around Ayala Station last night to meet up with my brother, when a man tugged me at the sleeve and asked, “Ser, san po pwedeng mag-apply dito? Encoder po sana, kung pwede lang po.” I’ve been working for The Man long enough to know that you don’t look for jobs at six in the evening. I can sense the desperation – and the determination – in the man. He’s not the kind of snooty hotshot walking around Makati’s malls, pretending to be employed. I sense that he was one of those promising graduates of his province’s community vocational college, finished the secretarial course at the expense of the family carabao, risked it all like Dick Whittington, and realized that Ayala Avenue is paved with asphalt and chumps who walked in, and were immediately shown the door.
I had to say sorry that I can’t help the man, but then again, my eyes darted to the file of people making their way to the train station. I realized that Ayala is such a busy place not because of people looking to buy something at Glorietta, but because of people carrying brown envelopes to somewhere. It is a place where hope is cruel, where there’s no such thing as a place for anyone looking for a chance to prove one’s self. Every business district in Manila – Eastwood City, Bonifacio Global City, Ortigas Center, Makati – revolves around the “what is” and the “what isn’t.” “What is” is to be employed here, to be a cog in the wheel, to be an unwitting beneficiary and victim of a capitalist order that will swallow you whole, no matter how much you profess to your ideals. “What isn’t” is to be not employed here, to be rejected, to be like that man who is a nothing more and nothing short of a victim.
Unfair? In all senses of the word, yes. This man should not have been roaming the streets of Ayala had there been a fair chance for him to earn his keep to be at least part of what is a hallmark of “success” in this place: to work in a glass-paned skyscraper where you don’t know – or could care less for – what suffering and pretentiousness lies on what floor. This man should not have been tugging at sleeves asking for work had there been a fair chance for him to improve without even thinking of evil corporate empires, where development all over the country is a level playing field, that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. This man should have not clung his hopes to a faded brown envelope had there been something better out there.
Goddammit, but nothing in life is fair. I guess I’m depressed because whether I like it or not, as a cog in the wheel of this abyss of office buildings and cubicles, this has everything to do with me.