Qwertyman No. 22: The Boss

Qwertyman for Monday, January 2, 2023

(This week, our story deals with two security guards chatting between Christmas and New Year about money, power, and ambition.)

“RUDY! YOU’RE thirty minutes early. My shift doesn’t end until two.”

“Nothing much to do at home, Oca. My wife keeps nagging me about our Christmas bonus—”

“What Christmas bonus? The one we never got? Haha!”

“She thinks I’m keeping it to myself—or worse, spending it on another woman.”

“Which is what you would have done if you got it—”

“And why the hell not? What’s a bonus for but for, uhm, something special? But damn, it’s almost the New Year and I’m not only broke, I’m in the hole by five thousand, which I borrowed from Pedring for noche buena. Of course I had to put something on the table, or Marita would’ve complained even more.”

“Five thousand? That’s a lot of food.”

“Couldn’t be just food, you know how it is…. I tried to see if I could pay it off right away with a few bets at the races, but I swear those horses hate me. At least I had enough left for some small presents for the kids, for Marita, a bottle of perfume, you can get these from Daiso for a few hundred, and I got some pancit and roast chicken and pineapple juice. Everybody was happy, even Marita, and she smelled good, too, all night long, so good I couldn’t believe it was her lying next to me—until she woke up in the morning and asked me for more money, and I had to confess that I’d just borrowed some from Pedring. So she got mad because you know how Pedring is—if you don’t pay up in a week, he or his boys will come over and grab your TV or cellphone or whatever they can get their hands on, or they break your bones to teach you a lesson—”

“Didn’t you use to be one of Pedring’s boys?”

“Yes. I was. No need to remind me, Oca. It was a bad time in my life. Some days, it still is.”

“At least you now have a real job. The both of us. I don’t know what I’d be doing myself if the agency didn’t take us in.”

“Yeah, the both of us. But the big difference is, I have six mouths to feed, and you don’t. You get to keep all of your salary, and to blow it on whatever you want.”

“I’m just not there yet, but who knows, I’ll want a family, too.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking for, Oca. Me, all I ever wanted was to be a boss.”

“Like Pedring?”

“Why not? I’m smarter than Pedring. But I want to be something way bigger than Pedring. I want to be a big boss, like Cong Mando—”

“You want to be a congressman? Representing what? You told me that there are people in your province who would kill you if you ever showed your face there again!”

“Party list, man, don’t you know what a party list is? I can represent people like us—security guards. If not for us, where would people like Cong Mando be, huh, you tell me that. We keep the world safe for people—”

“Even people like Cong Mando, right?”

“Yeah! You and me, Oca, we put our lives on the line every day and every night so he can go to bed with his starlet of the month without worrying about his political enemies—”

“Or worse, his wife!”—”

“Barging through the gate, haha! Over my dead body—our boss should know that, how brave and loyal we are. You know, pards, if Cong Mando was really smart, he should have hired us directly, instead of going through the agency.”

“It’s cheaper for him to pay the agency, which his brother owns.”

“But we could be his bodyguards. We should be the ones with the Uzis, not that idiot Gardo and his gang. Why are we even carrying these silly .38s? We could show them and show the boss what security really means—whap, bak, bam! Bababadabadap!”

“I’m happy I’ve never had to shoot mine. I wonder if it still even works.”

“We deserve real guns, Oca. Like the ones the boss has in his arsenal. I heard he uses them for target practice back in the province. I even heard—don’t tell anyone you got this from me—I even heard he used them on some people he didn’t like. Tied them up to coconut trees and shot them from the hood of his Range Rover. That’s real power, pards—to do that, and to get away with it.”

“So that’s why you want to be a congressman? To show people how powerful you are?”

“That’s the problem with you, Oca—you don’t think big, you’re happy being small and meek and being ordered around. You don’t know how to command other people. That’s why you’ll never be a boss!” 

“I guess not.”

“You need to be more assertive, or people will think you’re a patsy and push you around. That’s why I want to be Cong Mando’s bodyguard and carry some real firepower, so I can get even with people like Pedring who make life difficult for people like me…. Oh God, if I don’t pay him back the five thousand by Friday, he’s going to kill me. You know he’s capable of doing that, Oca. I’ve seen him do it. I’ve helped him do it. I just wanted to get out of that but it seems I can’t, ever…. Can you help me? I’m sure you’ve saved up a bit, you hardly spend on anything—I’ll pay you back as soon as I can—”

“So that’s why you came early tonight? To ask me for some money which both you and I know I’m never going to see again?”

“Since when have I ever let you down, pards? I know I owe you a couple of hundred here and there but what’s that between friends? Come on, Oca, you’re the only decent person left that I know.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m signing the logbook and I’m going home.” 

“For God’s sake, Oca! It’s only five thousand. Come on, I know you have the money, You said you were saving up for a new phone— what kind of a friend are you? Going home to watch porn and jerk off by your lonesome while—”

“I’ll give you the money, Rudy.”

“What? Really? You’re not kidding me? Oh, you’re such a good man, Oca!”

“On one condition—“

“Sure! I know how this goes. Look, I’ll pay you six thousand in one month, I promise….”

“It’s not the money, Rudy. I just want you to do something for me.”

“Name it!”

“I want you to kneel in front of me, and say, ‘Thank you, boss’.”

Penman No. 352: My Sweet Engraveable You

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Penman for Monday, May 6, 2019

 

THAT’S PROBABLY what Jay del Fierro, who goes by the handle “Jay the Engraver” online, hums whenever he sees a gun, a knife, a lighter, a pen, or pretty much anything with a smooth metal side or surface.

There aren’t too many other people in this country who can do what he does, to the degree of skill and dedication that he has. I met Jay in an online forum a year ago, when he offered his services to anyone brave enough to entrust their pens to him. I had a 40-year-old Sheaffer Targa in stainless steel that I thought I could sacrifice to the gravure gods, just to see what this Jay the Engraver could do.

We met up in a mall down South—he had come all the way from Bicol, where he hails from and is now based—and I was pleased to see a modest, middle-aged man who was clearly imbued with an uncommon passion. It’s a spark I’ve seen in other excellent craftsmen (see my column-piece a few weeks ago on “The Master of Commandante Street,” Gerald Cha, who repairs and restores vintage typewriters in his shop in downtown Quiapo), the likes of whom I’m always glad to meet and to draw some well-deserved attention to. (Note to self: do writeups on book and paper restorers Loreto Apilado and Josephine Francisco, and fountain pen nibmeisters JP Reinoso and John Raymond Lim.)

I turned over the Sheaffer to him, and we worked out my preferred design—I asked for bamboo stalks and leaves, for a distinctly Asian appeal—and about a month later, I received the finished work with much delight.

Our connection went beyond that job, because Jay knew that I, too, did a kind of engraving a long time ago, when I was active as a printmaker with the Printmakers Association of the Philippines. The PAP had a studio and workshop on Jorge Bocobo Street in Ermita, and in the early 1970s, I learned and practiced printmaking there, which became an important source of income for me then, fresh out of martial-law prison. (Not incidentally, that’s where I met my wife-to-be Beng.)

I was practicing mainly two kinds of printmaking: etching and drypoint. Etching involves the use of acid to cut lines into the metal to produce the design, while drypoint comes closer to engraving, with the artist employing a pointed tool or burin to scratch out fine lines directly on the plate. With engraving, the artist uses an even sharper and harder graver to cut deep grooves into the metal. For a printmaker, these grooves serve merely to hold ink to transfer onto paper, but for an engraver, the patterns he or she cuts into the metal could be the artwork itself—unless, of course, one is engraving plates for banknotes, or for art prints such as those produced by the German master Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). Indeed, for centuries, engravers did by hand what photographers and graphic designers would do in the 20thcentury for practically anything in print: illustrations, maps, social cards.

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The skill requires a clear eye, a steady hand, loads of energy and persistence, and the right tools. And the medium is unforgiving; if your hand slips, not only could you cut yourself badly, but a mistake on metal won’t be that easy to mend. (Today, automation has taken over much of the menial labor, with computers and printers doing the cutting, but some traditionalist holdouts still do things entirely by hand.)

Which leads one to ask, why would anyone—especially in this digital age—want to undertake anything so arduously analog? Jay studied mechanical engineering, and worked at his profession for a few years after graduation. He seemed to be on track to succeed at what he had signed up for, landing jobs with leading companies. But something was missing, and Jay realized what he was when he chanced upon an engraver at work on YouTube. “I’d always liked to draw,” he says, “and Fine Arts would have been my second choice in college.” He felt drawn to engraving like a moth to a flame, and soon he was watching as many instructional videos as he could, and trying out what he saw.

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He soon became an entirely self-taught engraver, and began taking on jobs from clients looking for a more personalized flourish on their “everyday carries” or EDCs and their trophies. For some clients, those trophies could include fearsome .45s (there’s a huge market for firearms engraving in America—not surprising given their gun culture—and “master engraver” titles are bestowed by the industry for gunwork; see pic above from shotgunlife.com). For others, Zippo lighters, knives, and even spoons could fit the bill. “The most challenging job I’ve done so far,” Jay says, “is a Series 80 Colt .45, featuring English scrolls with arabesque relief on bead-blasted areas. Mind you, I insist that every gun I work on has to have full legal papers.”

Preferring pens to pistols, I show Jay a 1970s Sheaffer with a machine-pressed grapes-and-vines motif that I’ve admired for the past 30 years. “I can do that,” he tells me, and I believe him. (You can get in touch with Jay directly at jay.engraver@gmail.com. That’s him below with his daughter Ella.)

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