Tuesday, August 24, 2010


He was born at a time when there was no more war left to fight. It was as if his mother premeditated his coming because when Alan came out, it was already 1987 and the Marcos regime seemed like a bad soap opera. Cory Aquino was already declared president. And despite several coup attempts, it was a time of rejuvenation for everyone. The telephone became in again. Television blared from all parts of the village. And private parties were rampant in the houses. He would sit under his father’s chair while Dad and his friends discuss the stores they had to close, the families they had to evacuate and the books they had to hide during the time of the revolution. Alan would steal away another bottle of Coke while drops of Dad’s Fundador dripped on his shoes, providing a kind of rhythm to their stories which became funnier throughout the night. ‘Remember the time we had to duck into a motel just to escape the curfew police?’ Dad asks with a teasing smile to Mom. Apparently, their friends found it hilarious too although Alan couldn’t understand why. The Coke was giving him a sugar rush.

In 3rd grade, Alan would draw doodles or play PANTS at the back of the theater room whenever teachers would let them watch this funny display of guns and rosaries he was told over and over again was a significant part of history. To Alan, they just looked like a strange action movie he’d seen so many times on HBO. The nuns who always chaperoned during these film showings would sing along to Magkaisa, letting all of them join in. Alan would sit there raising an eyebrow at the drama. In 6th grade, his teacher would for some reason quote his answers on the school bulletin board about how to show Filipino pride in these modern times. He would stare at his answer during recess and wonder how he could write so eloquently about something he did not care about other than it earned him an extra 20 points in Social Studies. By the time he got into high school, he had already won four interschool oratorical competitions, the most important of which was during the 15th anniversary of EDSA. The subject was ‘The Impacts of the Bloodless Revolution to Today’s Juan’. After the contest, Alan could barely remember what he said. He remembers just throwing around a lot of big concepts like unity, selflessness, sacrifice, courage and heroic culture in full volume without pause. What a joke. He wonders how he got away with it.

He could probably do it again. This is what Alan thinks as he walks to his first class in Mass Communications at a small school in Manila. He’d thought about going to bigger universities like UP. FEU wouldn’t have been bad too, but it would be hard to get attention in a pool of big fishes. Alan figured he’d have better opportunities of being noticed when the pond was smaller. He was told Broadcasting was a game of face. If you weren’t seen or heard right away, you might as well go directly to being a personal assistant for one of those noontime shows. Besides, he knew UP was an activist’s nesting ground, more so with his coarse. He really didn’t want to get himself involved personally. Leftists somehow scared him. Too many issues. Too much talk. He wipes his palms dry on his jeans before going in. The place was cramped and there was an overly giddy atmosphere in Room 264-B. Although this was the first day, people already clustered. The urbanites hung out in the back smoking without even bringing a pen or notebook. Another group of made-up girls stayed at the left side. The probinsyanos were so obvious to pick out. They sat individually or in twos, barely speaking a word for fear their accents would come out. They also carried the most things. Jansport Backpacks or huge body bags. They prepared for this day with well-coordinated outfits. He looks at his own pressed jeans and collared shirt and slouched just a little bit so people won’t think him too attentive. He was from Cavite but he didn’t really count as provincial, he thought. On his seat, someone had drawn outline figures of two penis news anchors. Beside it was one of those inspirational quotes he had eaten up during high school written in graffiti text. He let his hand move towards each word. “It is no use saying we are doing our best. You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”It was signed Winston Churchill and Dodoy Batungbacal. He half-listened to his teacher giving them an outline on what they’d be taking up for Introduction to Human Communication. Thin and middle-aged, he was trying to shock everyone by placing expletives all over the place, dropping Fuck and Shit as if he had a word requirement to consider. He introduced himself as Mr. Osorio. It didn’t seem to fit this reed thin man but maybe that was actually the point he was trying to make, scaring all the young blood who was giving him wry smiles, telling them not to underestimate his control. He forced everyone to introduce themselves and add a small factoid he might find interesting. He said he didn’t give a shit what their Major was, addressed mostly to Journalism and PR students who think one can hide in writing all the way up to 4th year. Sir Osorio rolls his eyes to those students who think they can get away with cutesy answers like what one classmate attempted. ‘Hi. I’m Jay Gutierrez and I can let my tongue touch the tip of my nose’. To Alan, he was sort of reminded of the nuns back in Cavite, the ones who always carried rulers and threw erasers at his classmates. Terror teachers who for some reason, never picked on him. He can ace this, he knew. Surely, he’ll have to up his public relation skills but broadcasting and journalism-related subjects were his area. It was just a matter of staying invisible from the right people.

The colegiala was being a bitch. No sooner had they grouped together for a Speech assignment that she immediately went to work writing their names down in her frilly notebook, getting all their numbers and organizing their schedules so they can practice for their presentation. It was a minor subject, Alan pointed out, but the colegiala just gave him a sweet, somewhat annoyed smile and continued on bargaining for ideas for the radio show they were supposed to put up. The probinsyano who seemed to always have a grin on his face started talking like Mike Enriquez, reading their names and numbers to himself. The group just ignored him and let the colegiala boss them around. You’re in charge of the radio drama, she says. You, pointing to the shy girl with freckles, real freckles, on her face, can be in charge of the intermission numbers. You, to the guy with black cuffs and overgrown hair, can do the interview segment. And you, he points to Alan, can do the fake advertisements. She can do the news segments. Fine. Never mind that she was handing him a role that equaled to nothing. He reminded himself what he told her just a while ago. This was just a minor subject. The majors were what counted. Soon after, everybody started fidgeting as Colegiala started forcing them to give out ideas. Come on, she said, this isn’t going to work if she was the only one contributing.

The guy with the black cuffs suggested maybe they could do a rock show like one of those niche stations in the States. For some reason, Black cuffs was keenly interested at what Colegiala was saying and even bumped her bare knees twice as if by accident. Alan didn’t understand how he could be fixated with such a stuck-up. Even if she could scream like a banshee in bed and he doubted that she would considering how she must only be turned on by dominating weaker men, he would never touch her. Black Cuffs’ suggestion brought a frown to Colegiala’s face and then she went on to sermon about how the concept had to be more universal, more at tune to the times, not just to the interests of the individual. She says this while softening her voice and widening her eyes subtly as if she were reciting a psalm from the bible rather than telling Black Cuffs his idea just sucked. Then she goes on to give him the same sweet smile she used on Alan just to show there are no hard feelings. What a diplomatic fake. She looked at Alan and fidgeted slightly to signal it was his turn. How about if they took inspiration from the regional networks, Alan slowly shares, letting the idea build along. Maybe they could do a cultural mix of how radio shows work in different areas from Luzon to Mindanao. That way they could justify that relevance would be about Regionality rather than Universality which was too much to hope for anyway. Besides, they were bound to get a few laughs from the probinsyanos who missed listening to their own dialect. She bogged that down too. First off, she said, probinsyanos didn’t count much since they were minorities in the setting. Second, Alan seemed to miss the point that it was still Speech class and the teacher would be grading them for their diction too aside from concept. Then, Shy Girl who looked like she was meant more for the College of Education with her jeans, loose shirt, wireless glasses and cardigan, surprised him and everyone else huddled in the circle. Maybe it wasn’t necessary for their show to be up-to-date, she started. Everyone would be doing the same thing anyway, putting in the latest songs and researching on the freshest headlines. Maybe it was better to tackle in on the past. They could do a Noir-inspired radio show with 30s music, exaggerated accents and a sort of comedic skit about criminal investigations. Besides, when it came to relevance and acceptability, what could be more relevant than the past? She says these in severe hushed monotone as if bored with the concept herself except her voice didn’t falter. Her last words trailed down to a croak like her oxygen supply had just given away. Alan got the feeling she must’ve been preparing it in her head before she spoke. He was impressed though. She went back to lowering her eyes again. That’d be a great idea, Colegiala said, except that their audience didn’t seem sophisticated enough to understand Noir. In the end as she must’ve planned all along, they went with her idea. Nobody listened to it anymore. By the end, she was back to jotting down on her notebook the things they had to execute. She’d organize it herself just to be sure.

Soon after the first day, Sir Osorio stopped being so flamboyant in his classes. There was even a clipped tone about him. He required everyone to do some heavy reading on books he highly recommended, and learn the rest by themselves. He keeps on mocking them, Jump and Fly, Peacocks. Jump and Fly. According to him, sometimes you just have to cut through the bull of semantics (he assumes they know about this by now) and just deliver. It seems Sir Osorio was infamous in many ways. Alan learns little by little of his colored past from higher year students who warn him about his unpredictability. Blame it on undiagnosed ADHD, they say. They also say he was too smart for his own sake and this caused him to go a little crazy. He hears stories of his younger years of how he roughed it on the mountains of Benguet to document the diaspora of the indigents and how he never came out of it the same way since or how he wiled away his early employment years working at a prestigious advertising agency here in Manila. Then when he was promoted to head of Accounts after sacrificing a few years being overworked, he just all of a sudden quit placing boredom as his reason in his resignation letter. Most of his fellow Faculty members didn’t like him and merely tolerated all his drama because he was known to be the most learned. More than anything, they were intimidated because they knew where theoretics were concerned, he could beat them with his eyes closed. On T-TH, Alan left his boardinghouse ten minutes earlier to make sure he’d never be late for Sir Osorio’s class. Sometimes, he’d prepare in his head the way he was sure the intellectuals did in his class on what to ask Sir Osorio about issues on communication. A good question would make him raise an eyebrow. But an intelligent one would make him utter out an expletive that to Alan, was more golden than open praise. ‘Pucha, Henario! You’re finally thinking, ah.’ Sir Osorio would say, and would proceed to open a tirade of references, Powerpoint presentations and corporate experiences to prove or disprove his own answer. Sometimes Sir Osorio would lock eyes with Alan and then proceed to question other students as if through Alan’s looks alone, he knew the answer would be reserved and uninteresting. Alan wanted so bad to impress him but none of the acts he used before were working. He was more diligent than others but this didn’t seem to move the teacher. Once, during an ongoing debate when Sir Osorio asked the class about the degree of ethics on delaying news, Alan raised his hand because finally he had a strong answer to relay. But what came out was a shrill speech almost as if he were hyperventilating when making it. He was reminded of his old high school when after an oratorical contest, half of the lower year girls, mostly those who didn’t think he was gay because he had a way with words, would surround him and would shout in unison when he shook one of their hands. He reminded himself he could still conjure up that boy now. By some uncharacteristic politeness as if he too were embarrassed for his student, Sir Osorio had just nodded and continued on to the next opinion. That was one of the last times Alan had ever answered in his class.

He was always late for Speech Class on Saturdays. He would make it a point to move out of his bed only when the sun was already apparent through his windows. After the whole debacle about the radio show where Colegiala just got all his parts without permission because according to her, he just didn’t seem all that prepared during practice sessions, he just didn’t feel like attending anymore. Alan wonders how many chances he had left before his teacher drops him. The good thing about being late though was that he had the chance to talk to Shy Girl more often. She was usually late too with the class being at 7:30 in the morning, way too early for a weekend. They would usually sit at the back where beyond the dark glass of the speech booths, the teacher could not notice them too much. He learned that her name was Vanna and that she was a Journalism student. Upclose, she was more mestiza-featured than he first thought. Her freckles gave away some hint of ‘foreigness’ to be sure but she also had eyes with a really light shade of brown hidden behind the glasses she always wore. He liked how she seemed to listen to him even though he knew she didn’t want to get into trouble with the teacher. She was always polite, telling him to ‘Hold on a sec, please’ while she took down notes or ‘Oh really? That’s nice.’ even when she looked like she was thinking of something else. Alan told her she was so lucky. She didn’t have to be actually seen in her profession. She didn’t have to own her statements if she didn’t want to. She could have the gift of anonymity. But she tells him the point of writing wasn’t to be anonymous. It was to be seen, just in a different way. When they couldn’t talk because there was a test going on, they would just pass messages between their booths. She always wrote long messages and he saw how a stickler she was for punctuations even when they were just writing casually. He would sometimes place in double messages or small hearts in his replies just to see how she’d react. He wondered if he was one of those girls who kept a guy hanging, although she could probably just be too nice to consider this game of theirs tantamount to flirting.

After Speech was over, they would see each other in corridors and shared a few other minor classes like PE. She looked really good with the required uniform on, short shorts and a casual shirt with the school logo on the front. Pre, she would call out like a guy when they accidentally saw each other at some place or other, which he found cute especially with her mousy voice. Pre, he’d answer back, tousling her shoulder-length hair just to get an effect of closeness. Alan wonders when he’ll ever get a chance to make his move.

By the second semester, a guy had started to come and fetch her after PE class, a bum who always looked like he’d just gotten out of bed with messed-up hair and mountaineering sandals in tow. He later found out he was a Fine Arts student from UP, one of those radicals who girls went for because they seemed insouciant to the norms even if they were just keeping up a front as well. He would see them walking hand in hand, him carrying her bag even if he looked quite gay with it. And her, listening to his philosophies about art, politics and the tempura down the kanto. Alan would check them out at the side while he unlaced his tennis shoes and feel a gnawing anger that would start at the bottom of his stomach then move to his chest. And stay there.

Considering how much they were putting up to keep him, including hate mail from parents and lawsuits from berated former students, Sir Osorio took a good chunk of subjects, so that by the time 3rd year came, he was handling two of Alan’s Major classes. He still can’t seem to please him. Most of his grades during Sir Osorio’s classes were just enough to pass. They talked about the different styles of today’s current reporters. When Colegiala proclaimed she’d always had this fanatic obsession with Christiane Amanpour, Sir Osorio snapped at her for following the dictums of foreign rubbish, and went on to snidely comment, ‘I’m sure you loved Barbie as a child too, didn’t you, Tan?’. The next few days, Sir Osorio became tenser than usual, the brunt of his anger he usually passed on to his classes, slashing off one assignment to the next. He made a habit of letting them read excerpts from their writing and editing assignments, and then cutting them off midsentence for being too safe, bad, or just plain rubbish. ‘Fucking Lambs, all of you! These are all too cautious!’ he would shout to no one in particular. These days, it was getting harder and harder to speak out than Alan first expected. For some reason, someone always beat him to his point. Someone would always be more eloquent to share the same opinion as his. Alan had just sunk into one of those holes when speaking out was just too tasking. We often just watched his classmates compete with each other, looking for a different angle, finding a loophole on a current affair, which would then garner some form of approval from Sir Osorio. He had never openly praised them. Most of the time, they were just satisfied with a small grunt from him. That was better than the times when he would actually react violently. He was set off by the most unusual things. When one of his classmates actually had the guts to tell him, ‘Well, Sir, it’s factual. Isn’t that what this class is all about?’, justifying a documentary piece he did about the ParaƱaque slum areas. Sir Osorio simply took him by his collar and led him out the door without explanation. To those remaining in the class, he said, ‘Factual doesn’t make it right, you fucks. You’re supposed to find the truth. That’s what matters.’ Then he walked out and was absent for a week. When he came back, he was not his usual self. He was actually more somber than anyone had seen him. Students have been listening to the news all week that even the passives who only watched for assignments’ sake started tuning in. Alan couldn’t watch because he had no TV inside his rented room but he heard from his classmates and even from Vanna. They were calling it another EDSA, the third or the 4th (he’d lost count) sparked by several groups when Gloria Arroyo declared a State of National Emergency after a supposedly botched coup d’ etat by militants. The morning of the 23rd, a bomb made from lacquer thinner had apparently went off in front of the MalacaƱang causing Gloria to declare a suspension to all protests. Already, people had started getting flashbacks of the previous dictator’s familiar attempts of taking away the write of habeas corpus, and large demonstrations on EDSA were once again active led by different schools like UP and De La Salle. ‘Pre, punta ka’, Vanna says, touching his shoulder, and sharing that she’d be going with her boyfriend. See, the boyfriend had opened her eyes to the corruption happening all around her, about how the current administration was slashing off human rights as if it was just an accessory, about how the tatsulok was becoming more apparent by the day. She recited this as if hypnotized by some magnetic force in front of her. He wonders what a privileged, pampered, child like Vanna would know about poverty and hunger firsthand. Did she really love him so much that she even imbibed all his principles for her own? She probably did. And he answered numbly that maybe he will be there, weather-weather lang. He watches her leave and he notices she’d started dressing differently. High heels and cardigans were replaced with flats, wrist bands and ripped jeans. He can no longer recognize her from the back like he used to. In class, there was also a tense atmosphere mostly due to Sir Osorio not speaking. He just kept staring at the class and them at him until ten minutes before the bell rings, he lets out a loud dramatic sigh.

‘Look, I can’t tell you what to do. God knows these people I’m embarrassed to call my peers have been training you long enough to be simple transients of the news rather than to be a part of it. All I know is there comes a time when you just have to jump in than just watch from the sidelines. History is often lived for those people bold enough to participate in it. Jump and fly, peacocks. Isn’t that what I always tell you? ’

He makes this speech in a tired, dispassionate way as if he’d just been through a lot the past couple of days. Nobody had seen him in the building much. People always wondered what his activities really were outside of class although he was sometimes seen drinking with other activist professors in one of those kantos popular only to their kind. Sir Osorio takes a look at all of them one last time and dismisses the class. Alan swears he might’ve looked at him a little bit longer than the others and he hears the teacher’s order to another student once, reverberating over and over again in his mind, ‘Make a fucking move, Dominguez! Make a fucking move!’. Maybe he will just to prove Osorio wrong.

Alan had never been to a rally and he had never imagined himself in one before this moment. But here he was, in the cramped streets of EDSA, sitting with a bottled water on the sidewalk. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. Everyone around him seemed to be moving in one direction or other. He thought of texting Vanna just to show her he was actually here but the place was just too cramped. He just didn’t want to do anything else other than be there. They say a few minutes earlier Randy David from UP and a certain Atty. Argee Guevarra was arrested in this spot. But he was just a little too dizzy to grasp the gravity of the situation. He had always pictured rallies like how they portrayed it on television or from pictures he saw in the newspapers, loud and unifying. Somehow, in the news, people knew what to do, where to go and what to do with their arms unlike Alan’s whose arms were lying limply to his side joining in a chant he barely understood. The reality was rallies were a little bit divided. There were bystanders from the slum areas eating bread and breakdancing on the side. There was a small group of students playing their guitars and singing on the top of their lungs. There were those covering themselves with a towelette and the rest listened to speeches coming from different people on different sides of EDSA. Alan mostly just followed what his friends did and when it served him convenient, he volunteered to be errandboy, getting flaglets and tarps to sway, carrying bottled water and packed lunches for his classmates. He mostly just chewed candy bars or bought oranges from opportunistic vendors who littered the streets. Between moving from EDSA to Makati to attend the 20th Anniversary of People Power 1, Alan thought he saw Sir Osorio moving with the crowd in the front row, beside the rallyist who was holding the megaphone. That was the last time he saw of him. When the rally dispersed at 8 in the evening, Alan was just bone tired and altogether confused about everything what just happened.

Sir Osorio was never seen in school again. Rumors had it that someone must have tattled about him inviting students to join his militia for the rally. His classes were taken over by a woman who was God-fearing, repeating over and over again how all parts of the media process boiled down to ethics and responsibility towards the viewers. Alan wondered if she’d actually ever worked for a real company before. She seemed one of those teachers who just got everything from books and who became Faculty members even before they even had the experience to back it up. The good thing was his grade seemed to improve and the teacher seemed to have found a liking to him. After the formal sessions, he would summon her chosen ones, him included, and let them borrow from her stash of self-motivation books. She personally hands Alan a copy of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Alan hope she wasn’t expecting to discuss these as he never really planned to read them.

He had one more year to go. Soon after graduating, maybe he could find a local job in Cavite, one that would be near all his former friends, those who remembered him from high school and who still idolized him for his public speaking skills. Alan walks through the gardens behind the Mass Comm. Building. Some of the younger students were shooting something near the gumamelas probably for their Video Editing class. He walks past the smokers’ tambayan where cigarette burns and full ashtrays were still stashed behind big plastic trash cans in case someone from the Admin came by. Past the overgrown shrubberies were where lovers often found their way for some midday groping and lying around in the grass. Once, about a year ago, Alan thinks he saw Colegiala with her boyfriend there. She was being pushed down on the grass for what would probably be her last form of resistance before his hand moved up on her ribs. He wonders now how they could keep it so quiet especially with the night air carrying all kinds of sounds along. But then it was easy to keep quiet in this place. You just had to hear everyone speaking and forget that you have a voice. When his smoke finally gave out, Alan went back to the third floor to continue his script. He sees Vanna on the steps sitting with UP guy, their knees playing back and forth against each other, in the middle of some lively conversation of some sort. Vanna sees him, waves and sends a soundless Hi in his direction. Once in a while he would linger enough to imagine what it’d be like if he was the one beside her. They would probably barter messages like they used to. He remembered how thrilled she was that a guy felt a connection with her through writing when all else couldn’t even understand. They would laugh at their teacher’s pronunciation of easy words like ‘dif’ for deaf and ‘igs’ for eggs. Maybe they’ll just hold hands the way he wanted to do so many times before in that Speech laboratory with the booths dividing them. He’d be happy with just that.

Maybe that’s how it felt when you had something worth fighting for.

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