By Pennie Azarcon Dela Cruz, Executive Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine ONCE I hit the mid-20s, the pressure began to build up. Subtle as a sledgehammer, Nanay would nag, “So get married already. What are you waiting for? Baka mahirapan ka nang mag-anak,” she warned, like I were an aging septuagenarian about to croak. College friends, saddled with one or two kids by this time, hinted broadly about my missing out on what they slyly described as “luto ng Diyos.” But I had just come from a month’s tour of Europe, having won in a travel essay writing competition sponsored by this airline, and suddenly, I saw the world out there. The castles! The swans gracefully circling placid lakes! The majestic Alps! The Swiss chalets like I imagined from the pages of “Heidi”! Marie Antoinette’s excesses at the Versailles! I was the frog in the well who had leapt out of the fetid waters, saw that the world was more than just this piece of sky crowning the mouth of hell, and wanted more of it. In the end, bowing to convention and my parents’ near panicked attempts to marry me off (quick, before The Boyfriend recovers from Ativan and comes to his senses!), I marched down the aisle looking strangely serene for my normally high-strung self. No, it wasn’t so much resignation that in lieu of Venice, I’d be looking out on the floods of Malabon that brought on the oddly calm demeanor. Alright, it was Valium and no, I’m not telling where I got it, just that it was my last hope for a bit of sanity in our rapidly disintegrating household. Think back to that scene with the bridesmaids from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” only ten times more chaotic, and you got it. The neighborhood beautician had been summoned, but I had like 10,000 assorted cousins, aunts and sisters who needed a manicure, pedicure, make-up and hairstyle, and they all wanted to go first because a) one had to follow up on the church arrangements; b) another had to fix my room to make it look photogenic for the wedding-gown-on-the- bed picture, not easy since the soot marks from a house fire of two years back couldn’t be coaxed out with chlorox or cleanser, and c) this other cousin had to meet the hordes of relatives at the bus terminal, direct them to the church and the reception area, and quickly apportion among assorted relatives the crates of livestock and vegetables they had lugged in, bayanihan style, before the house reeked like a talipapa. It didn’t help that there was an unseasonal squall; this was late December for Chrissakes! but solid walls of water threatened to turn our newly washed floors into a roiling creek, so everyone was scurrying about, snatching everything off the now water-slicked floors. Between the chickens squawking, Nanay screeching and my cousins squealing, I had this mad urge to dance to that Broadway tune, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” Instead, I quietly halved the Valium, washed it down with water and took to bed. It was 2 a.m., the curlers were flying and the strong smell of acetone competed with the stink of the setting lotion. I gratefully surrendered to the descending void. Before I knew it, it was 6 in the morning and Nanay was rocking me awake, surprised that I managed to sleep through the night before my wedding. The church rites were at 9 a.m., so I was hustled off to the vanity table, my hands and toes grabbed by the beautician’s assistants and my hair quickly rolled up in curlers for that Princess Di flipped bangs, which was all the rage that year. I quietly popped the remaining half of the Valium. By this time, the wedding photographer had come, sending Nanay on another wave of panic. She had intended for the house to bloom for this photographic moment and had meant to distribute the Quiapo-bought bouquets at strategic corners, but the rains had busied her with other chores. Time for Plan B, thought of just at that very moment: simply plunk the entire twine-tied blooms into a crystal vase and move that vase wherever the photographer was aiming his camera. And so there she was, my mother in her stiff ‘do and wedding finery, dashing off like Wonder Woman from behind the photographer. Faster than a speeding bullet, she’d zip in inches away from the camera, to land the prized vase on every surface that the photographer happened to fix his gaze. “The Tale of the Teleporting Flower Vase,” I had silently labeled the pictures even as Pie the photographer, the husband of a college pal conscripted to do the job, tried his best to keep a straight face. It was a fairly simple wedding, us being firm believers of living strictly within one’s means. My gown was an off the shoulder affair that cost P600 hecho derecho from a costurera in Sampaloc, and would be used two more times by my cousins before disintegrating. Some of our elders were scandalized: What? No flower girl and wedding cake? No champagne, no doves and giveaways? Why, they could have sprung for it if we had only told them ahead. Well, we were famously broke but also stiffly proud so we merely smiled away the well-meaning offers. What we lacked in amenities and frou-frou, however, we more than made up for in drama. Or dramedy. This was still the martial law era (so I’m ancient; sue me) and we had written our own missal, the liturgy spiked with solemn vows of serving the masses and earnest songs often heard in street rallies. Held in an obscure church outside Manila, our wedding was easily a graphic representation of the incredible gap between social classes in the Philippines. On the one hand were our elders, dressed to the nines, this being a much-anticipated, much-awaited and heavily nudged on event, the couple in question (us!) having been college sweethearts who had managed to stick it out for eight years. Then there were our friends, not exactly fence sitters or Marcos cronies, but UP dropouts or overstaying students for whom semi-formal meant wearing socks and a T-shirt with a collar. But hey, as a choir they were unmatched, sounding quite heavenly as their voices soared with both commitment and good cheer. Needless to say, this was a low-profile affair and nobody wanted to call undue attention to the occasion. When the officiating priest’s tiny car was found to be blocking the bridal carriage, the menfolk from both parties hitched up their sleeves, took a deep breath and carried the offending vehicle to a side street. Throughout the wedding rites, assorted relatives took turns leaving their seat to peer out the windows and doors, hawk-eyed and vigilant, for any suspicious character with a buzz cut, gatecrashers whose notion of partying might include an invite to any of our young guests. Another aunt-in-law went around collecting our homegrown missal, making sure it remained exclusively ours. At P28 per plate, the lunch we served was ample if not luxurious. And if the bride were any gauge, a grand time was had by all. Twenty-six years later, it still feels that way. For more on how to have the best bridal memories, check out the Sunday Inquirer Magazine’s June 29 issue. Free with your copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
June 2008 Archives
By Ruel S. De Vera, Associate Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine BELIEVE it or not, I decided on my wedding photographer long before I decided to get married. I was assigned to do a cover story on an up-and-coming actress; the cover photo would be taken by Patrick Uy. I had heard of Patrick before; my former boss Alya knew him and had written about his vibrant career as a wedding photographer as well as the unfortunate fire that razed his studio even as he was on the clock at a wedding. But I had never met him nor seen much of his work until that assignment. His new Pacific Light studio could be found on Annapolis, Greenhills, atop an incongruous escalator. The studio was tastefully minimalist -- and floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall full of gorgeous wedding photographs. Patrick himself was an extremely amiable guy. Good thing, too, because the actress was three hours late for her shoot. Patrick kept his cool the entire time, even when the actress arrived shockingly unapologetic, and hungry. I wound up springing for the food even as her handlers breezily informed us she still had a pictorial after this (imagine how late she was going to be for that one). Patrick was the very soul of professionalism during the pictorial, managing to put together one awesome image after another. While we were waiting for the actress, I got to see all of the photographs hanging on the studio walls and leafed through Patrick’s wedding portfolio. Over five years before my own wedding, I was sold. I promised myself Patrick would be my wedding photographer -- once I decided to get married. Cut to about five years later, and I was lucky enough to find someone who actually would marry me. My then-fiancee Joysie and I plotted our wedding down to the last possible detail, bringing in a professional planner only in the month before the ceremony itself. When it came time to choose the wedding photographer, I enthusiastically recommended Patrick; Joysie didn’t know him or his work -- yet. So she kindly agreed to accompany me to Pacific Light -- and the hanging photos had the exact same effect on her as they did on me. Sold. It helped that Patrick is a lively, charming worker. On the day of the wedding itself, he was smooth and unflappable, a spot of poise and laughs when we were frazzled and dazzled. He was patient, he was creative; he understood us and what we were going through. The wedding was a year and a half ago (I know, I know, I need to get cracking on that album) but Patrick’s impeccable manner and powerful vision remains one of the vivid memories of that hallowed, harrowing day, a detail eclipsed only by my bride’s stunning smile, which, thanks to Patrick, I can look at as much as I want to. For Patrick Uy’s best bridal shots, as well as those of other top wedding photographers Mel Cortez, Pat Dy, Eddie Boy Escudero and Edwin Tuyay, check out the June 29 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
By Ruel S. De Vera, Associate Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine IT'S a Filipino thing: playing in the streets as the sun goes down. The very names of the games played speak to their exotic and mesmerizing nature: tumbang preso, patintero, and so on. It's a siren song; when the mothers start asking their children to come home because it's getting dark, the need to play becomes so much stronger, like a mild muazzin. Every second of play becomes all the more precious, even as the mothers' voices grow shriller. But not everyone thrives in the streets. Those who are neither fast nor athletic nor well-liked literally don't play well with others. Truth is, they don't play with others at all. I was one of those. I never learned to ride a bike; I tried, it didn't go straight -- or well. I was not only a weakling, I was an annoying weakling prone to holding grudges and getting ticked off. But I found a refuge in the library, be it at home or in school. I know, I know, it seems so contrived, but I enjoyed playing inside my own mind much more than I did outside with the others. I liked watching events unfold even if I knew what was going to happen. And we had amazing books at home because my parents bought all the books they could. We had encyclopedias, Reader's Digest Condensed Books (those were awesome), hardcover classics, and the holy trinity of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins. They were my companions, my playmates. I worried after Ivanhoe and Rebecca, knew that nothing good would come from Lancelot making goo-goo eyes at the Queen, disliked Bess, found Chet Morton annoying though found his hobbies fascinating and while the Bobbseys were predictable, the places they traveled to were not; Greece and London were the best. And it never, ever occurred to me that I was learning. Countless suns have set. Endless games have ended. But I have never regretted not spending my time in the sun. The ultimate games were those found in the cool places between a book's pages, each shadow stretching into forever. Check out the June 22 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
By Pennie Azarcon-dela Cruz, Executive Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine LOOKS, some people say, is nature’s way of giving you a good hand. Excellent genes help, but are no guarantee. What if you have some recessive genes that suddenly decide to make an appearance three generations later? Which explains how two people of normal height can sometimes be blessed with a midget child. Being born to wealth might give you an edge when you decide on cosmetic surgery later, but good looks are never a monopoly of the rich. In fact, a sociologist friend once pointed out, the reason beauty pageants are so popular among the urban poor is that they consider good looks a singular blessing, a sort of sign from above that they’ve been given a rare opportunity to better their lot so they should go hop to it. If you can’t engineer good looks and they suddenly land on your lap via a fair and tawny-headed daughter, doesn’t that say that the gods have smiled on you at last, and your luck just might change for the better? Why not expose the girl then to beauty pageants where any number of rich unattached guys might be on the panel of judges and on the prowl for their girl de jour? Again, says this sociologist friend, it’s not only the colonial mindset that makes fair skin and skin whitening creams a winner. It’s aspirational. Among the poor, fair skin unblemished by insect bites, wounds and scars is kutis-mayaman, the skin of the privileged lot, and isn’t that what most people aspire to be? These days, with shelves stocked full with skin whitening creams, unguents and lotions, and with scores of botox and lipo clinics even at the mall, it’s almost a crime not to look good. Of course for those of us who have never been beauty queen material, the bigger crime is not realizing what we had until it was gone. Let me explain: There we were, college friends flushed with memories of the lean old days when making tusok-tusok the fishballs passed for lunch, and our svelte figures showed how we could have made a fortune of this enforced streetfood diet had we only marketed it under some fancy scientific-sounding name. “Look, look at that waistline,” Rina said, pointing to a mid-‘70s picture that we had spread out on the dining table. We had brought pictures from our college days for this school paper reunion that we were planning to attend, ostensibly to provoke nostalgia and help us identify friends and classmates missing in action. Deep in our scheming hearts however, we thought the pictures were a handy shield against the inevitable joshing about weight gained and cheekbones lost, the cruel prattle that fill in the first awkward moments when we turn virtual strangers into familiar faces again. Yup, we wanted to reprise that Winston Churchill- haughty English lady encounter we once read about. Haughty Lady, turning up her nose at the liquor-sodden Churchill: “Sir, you are drunk!” Churchill (with a drunken slur): “And you, my dear lady, are ugly. Tomorrow after I sleep this off, I shall be sober. But you’d still be ugly!” Similarly, what we wanted to say as we bandied around the ‘70s shots that showed us in the full glory of youth was: “Sure we’ve gained a few pounds, but as these pictures will show, we’ve always had good bone structure, smooth skin and slim ankles. A few sessions at the gym and we’d be as good as new.” Should make us feel better, right? Well, not exactly. Because, looking hard at the pictures, it suddenly occurred to us that yes, once upon a time when we were young, we looked good. Probably not movie star gorgeous, but hey we were no Ugly Betty. Probably because we were single and didn’t have to worry about the mortgage, tuition or the leaking radiator, we had unfurrowed brows, unfettered smiles and the clear-eyed look of the young who think that the world was just waiting yonder, for us to tame and claim. “Why, why didn’t someone tell us we had the figure to wear a bikini back then?” groused Ida, whose most daring swimsuit these days is a cap-sleeved t-shirt paired with loose puruntong shorts. “Sure we couldn’t afford a bikini back then, but at least, we could have flaunted that it was only modesty -- not layers of subcutaneous fat-- that prevented us from showing more skin,” Rina added. “Talaga naman, no justice in this world,” she added with a heavy sigh. “When we had the figure to gorge on sweets and rich foods, we couldn’t afford it. Now that we have the money, we also have grout, uric acid, diabetes and high blood.” As for me, reviewing the pictures where I might have passed for a Miss Talipapa runner-up only made me appreciate my mother’s wisdom belatedly. Whenever we wanted to hurl our newly-developed pictures against the wall because we spotted a double chin or a grimace, the good woman would caution us: “Itago ninyo yan. Balang araw, gandang-ganda na kayo dyan! (Keep those pictures. Someday, you’d realize just how good you look in those shots.”) Alas, that day was upon us that prickly night we inventoried our past and decided that, given such natural forces as gravity, it would be downhill from hereon. Whipping out our trusty digical, we toasted the night, laughed away our decrepit fears, and clicked the shutter. “There, we must remember to keep those shots,” Rina said. “Oo nga,” agreed Ida. “Balang araw, gandang-ganda na tayo diyan.” But of course, I said. “At least ngayon, me ipin pa tayo!" Check out the June 15 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
By Eric S. Caruncho, Staff Writer Sunday Inquirer Magazine IN THEIR song "Betamax," Sandwich configures ancient history as the time before MTV, MP3, DVD, cellphones and the Internet, when there was only "Betamax". But there are those among us who remember even further back. Watching Quentin Tarantino's and Robert Rodriguez's "Grindhouse" films ("Death Proof" and "Planet Terror") with my popcorn in the air-conditioned comfort of the local cineplex, I couldn't help but wonder how many of the kids in the theater knew what a "grindhouse" was? How many of them could even imagine what it was like in these illicit dens of sin? The quaint term for them was "second-run moviehouses," but my parents called them "Sine Surot" (my mother even convinced me that was what the revolving neon "S"s around the theater marquees stood for). They existed in most towns, decrepit buildings with noisy old projectors that showed double features of foreign movies that had shown months, sometimes even years before, in first-run cinemas. I grew up in Pasig, where the local fleapit was called Leleng (the town's other theaters were Elma and Victoria, go figure). There was always a thrill of the illicit going there because, unlike the other theaters that were on main street, Leleng was tucked away behind the butcher's section of the old public market. As a result, the street in front of it was always muddy, the stench of blood and offal hung in the air, and occasionally you could hear the death squeals of a pig being slaughtered. How's that for atmosphere? Inside there was always a gaggle of the local wastrels, many of them stripped to the waist because of the heat (yes, there was no air-conditioning), smoking cigarettes and fanning themselves. The air was stale with sweat and tobacco. The floor was sticky with unmentionable substances. But the movies! I must have been in the third or fourth grade when I first went to Leleng. School chums playing hooky, someone mentioned going to the movies, and before I knew it I was at the till, coins clutched in a sweaty palm. The first movie was forgettable, but the second one I can still remember, down to the theme music. It was "War of the Gargantuas," a Japanese rubber monster movie from the late '60s, and for days afterward it was all we could talk about at school. I was hooked. Occasionally my parents would take me to see the blockbusters of the day: "How The West Was Won" and "The Sound of Music" at the Roman Super Cinerama "downtown," and later at the New Frontier when it opened in Cubao. But my regular movie fix I got at Leleng. These were the prime years for genre films: I saw scores of secret agent movies, spaghetti westerns, horror films, samurai and kung fu flicks, blaxploitation films and softcore erotica. Clint Eastwood in "Hang 'Em High," Lee Van Cleef in "Sabata," Franco Nero in "Django." Pam Grier in "Foxy Brown" and Tamara Dobson in "Cleopatra Jones." Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi, the blind swordsman. And unforgettably, Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as his nemesis Dr. Van Helsing in the Hammer vampire series. I also began to frequent the Lion theater in Marikina, my mother's hometown, then just a short jeepney ride away. It was a bit more upmarket than Leleng, being on main street, and my film viewing experience was greatly enhanced by the absence of meat stench and pig squeals. I remember three films in particular: King Hu's "Come Drink With Me" with Cheng Pei Pei, the first modern wuxia (Chinese martial arts) film; Akira Kurosawa's kidnap thriller "High and Low," and "Die, Monster, Die!," Boris Karloff's last film. This golden age lasted through my high school years, culminating in the "Bomba" era, when movie houses started screening softcore flicks with "singit," unrelated hardcore sex scenes inserted between reels. Leleng began screening movies such as "The Ribald Tales of Robin Hood" while Elma and Victoria showed Tagalog films with titles like "Nympho," "Nympha," "Saging ni Pacing," "Ang Magtatalong" and the notorious "Batuta ni Dracula." By then I was old enough to venture downtown by myself, where I also frequented sleazy palaces of decadence such as the Times and Esquire cinemas in Quiapo (famous for their Bruce Lee marathon screenings) and the Podmon, Roxan and Galaxy theaters on Avenida when I wanted to treat myself to a first-run movie. (Sadly, only the Times remains, grimly hanging on in the heart of Quiapo’s DVD district). Unknown to me at the time, the local grindhouses were on their last legs. The first multiplex cinemas were starting to emerge, cutting into their already narrow profit margins. Ironically, the death blow to the grindhouse came with the advent of the Betamax and video rentals. Too late for me, though. I was scarred for life: my cinematic tastes formed for better or for worse by all those afternoons at the grindhouse. Once in a while, I'll run across a DVD reissue of a film I first saw at Leleng or Lion, and those grindhouse memories come flooding back. Check out the June 15 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
By Ruel S. De Vera, Associate Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine LOOKING in, the trouble with beauty is that its very idea is impossible to define; it is relative and self-evident, timeless and fleeting, why she even walks in it, according to Cummings. A bigger puzzle is how people can be in such agreement (celebrities) and conflict (beauty pageants) about it. So is it really within? Why then do we spend so much time working on and being obsessed with the without part? Additionally, what women and men see as beautiful is apparently not in harmony, perhaps has never been. Additionally, individual "taste" has been much maligned, heck, even ridiculed, often ironically, by whomever they're dating at the moment. Putting aside the fact that personalities are not usually immediately quantifiable, then the eyes have it. I don't mean we look at how the eyes fit with the rest of the face, or even the rest of the person. No, I mean the eyes by themselves. There are small eyes and big eyes, smart eyes and duh eyes, playful pupils and scary stares. Eyes can be night black, burnished brown, sparkling blue and striking green. Red eyes always have a story to go with them, of heartbreak or deadlines or illness. But what fascinates me about eyes is depth. I love eyes that you can look into and get lost in. For hours. Forever. It takes great effort to look into such eyes because you have to get real close and you have to look for a long time. Even more that than, the person whose eyes you're looking into have to be looking back at you. This is neither easy nor maybe even polite. Many people don't like looking into other people's eyes at all, much less for an extended period. Also problematic is the common usage of colored lenses. If those are not the actual color and depth of your eyes, then it's worse than wearing a mask; it's akin to switching identities completely. Getting lost in someone's eyes (hello Debbie Gibson) is a bit disarming. You literally feel like you're getting sucked into those depths and it actually feels like a special effect in a movie or TV show. Cue "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls. It even reminds me of those time-travel bits on "Doctor Who," whether it be Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant, take your pick. This is also the reason why the common appearance of eyes in horror movies is a clever, affecting subversion of the eyes as a beautiful element. There are so many clichés attached to the ideas of eyes that further discussion threatens to unleash the whole lot. Eyes are the windows… Urk. Almost got me there. Most of all, it takes an extraordinary pair of eyes for one to even contemplate staring into them for the rest of someone's life, in those rare moments before sleep prevails. It takes a pair of eyes that glint of possibility without the danger of deceit, eyes that offer honesty instead of connivance. These are the eyes that obliterate the memory of all the other eyes that might have been seen before. Now, take another look. Closer. Deeper. What do you see? Check out the June 15 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
By Pennie Azarcon-dela Cruz, Executive Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine I ONCE read this item in a newspaper about the IgNobel Award, a spoof of the Nobel Prize, which was given to the silliest, most useless, and ridiculous invention or idea of the year. At that time, it was conferred to this inventor of artificial testicles for neutered dogs that he called, and I swear I’m not making this up, Neuticles! I remember that the Nigerians were given an honorary IgNobel for coming up with a creative literary form that publicly begs decent people to help ousted dictators, military strongmen and corrupt politicians launder their ill-gotten millions via e-mail. Well, after reading and editing the stories for this Sunday’s Inquirer Magazine -- on the provocative theme “Sex, Vice and Discipline on Campus -- I thought there should be a local counterpart to the IgNobel Award in our schools. After all, some of the silliest, most useless and ridiculous rules I’ve ever encountered emanate from the cerebral cortex of our august academicians. Consider how one teacher-training institute thought it could discourage gay mentors by barring effeminate students from sporting long hair, earrings and make-up inside the university. Curiously however, ostensibly masculine students are allowed to wear long hair, earrings and even foundation inside the campus. How weird is that? An all-boys school, meanwhile, used to have a rule that was probably meant to weed out would-be pederasts from the student body. To be admitted to this school, student applicants must first pass a masculinity test devised by a panel of school officials and faculty members. Hmm, I wonder how that test went: “Let’s see, we have here two calendars that we’re giving away to every prospective enrollee. This here has Katrina Halili in the altogether, and this one, Piolo Pascual in the buff. Now, choose!” On the other hand, I believe some school rules are put in place precisely to pick out from the dumb driven horde the most creative student who would then try to go around the rule. Back in our elementary grades in this dinky Catholic school, the pupils all looked forward to recess. No, not just because we could all have a feeding frenzy and make as much noise as we could. The rule then was that the school bell rang twice to mark the end of recess. When we hear the first bell, we would always be reminded on the first day of school, we were to stand perfectly still, no blinking, no breathing, no smiling. The second bell would release us from this evil spell, and allowed us to form a line going back to our classroom. That rule gave us the most fun we ever had in our primary grades. On the second day of school, every boy on campus would try to outdo each other in the stunt department, timing their most daring and uninhibited poses just seconds before the first bell. And so, for a full 30 seconds before the second bell rang, the school grounds would bloom with odd little creatures straight out of Darna’s nightmare. Our classmate Elpidio was the best of them: he would suddenly morph from this chinky-eyed punk to a wide-eyed acrobat perched on the school fountain, one hand clutching the spout, another pressed on his tummy, like that drink of water was pure poison now working through his system. Sometimes he would be a ballet dancer with a frozen grin and gnarled fingers, a hunchback trying to fly, a prostrated serpent on the floor with glazed eyes staring at the sky, or a very fat glutton choking on his sandwich. The other boys approximated all manner of graveyard statues and wax museum figures that even the Crypt Keeper would be horrified to encounter in a dark hallway. It was with supreme effort that us girls stifled a smile, the boys’ objective being to crack a giggle from us and get us on the monitor’s discipline list. That meant standing and facing a corner of the classroom until the end of the day, a particularly humiliating exercise if you happen to be a girl. To this day, I cannot fathom what logic lies behind our school’s two-bell tango, except perhaps to prefigure the mutant characters of the "Star Wars" saga through the delightful imagination of little boys. For more rules on campus -- silly, useful, funny or weird -- read the June 8 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, FREE! with your copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Ruel S. De Vera, Associate Editor Sunday Inquirer Magazine I WAS never the most enthusiastic person when it came to the first day of school. I was largely a bad student who only studied when I was fascinated by what we were taking up, which wasn't often for most subjects, and never, when it came to math. I was also a kid with a history of being virtually impossible to drag away from the TV (I was a true-blue afternoon section guy), even if the school bus (ah, the immortal service) was already idling outside. But there were things to love about the coming of school and most of it had to do with the new stuff we brought. There were the basics, like the stroller bag that went really fast. Those dismissal-time stroller races needed the swiftest strollers, after all. Everyone had new shoes but very few had new uniforms (usually reserved for Friday) so that was a wash. It all boiled down to the glory of school supplies. From those days, I still carry with me an exultation that comes with staring at office supplies. Back then, it was all about the conspicuous stuff. Those were the 1980s, the heyday of the Trapper Keeper, those monstrous plastic-and-Velcro contraptions that were actually not very useful (too big, too bulky, way too noisy) but man, were they ever distracting. Mead (manufacturer of those Trapper Keepers) remains the grand poobah of binder construction today but has toned down the colors and dimensions to make tasteful and utterly practical wares. Pencil boxes or pencil cases were a big deal too. The height of cool was those Japanese-manufactured boxes with magnetic latches on both sides, hidden foldout sections and even a built-in pencil sharpener. Today, they still make pencil boxes that look like those (check 'em out in Sanrio, no kidding) but it's just not the same. Back then, the boxes were decorated with our robots, our comic book heroes, while today's boxes call on nostalgia with design but their decorations are faceless, generic. The ballpoint pens were all the same. Bic, Kilometrico, Stabilo, Paper Mate, a ball pen was a ball pen. Pencils were tools of the trade, not badges of honor. Everyone used Mongol No. 2s, except when art class required the blue-and-black HB charcoal pencils. There were high-end tools we recognized: Corona notebooks and paper, Orion transparent rulers, and so on. But the greatest joy of a new school year was the lunchbox syndrome. This was before we had to grow up and use those black plastic containers that held everything (rice, entrée, etc.) in their own containers, keeping them warm all the time. These were the days when Aladdin ruled lunch. The Aladdin lunchboxes were glorious, coming in either metal (classic but kinda impractical) and plastic (awesome in every way). Outside were perfect images of our TV and comic book idols and inside was a Thermos with the same images. These were the images of our TV time: "Battlestar Galactica" classic, "CHiPs," "The Dukes of Hazzard," "The Six Million Dollar Man." It was a great experience, eating lunch surrounded by the visage of our favorite characters, hinting of a time away from school when the TV is on and the first bell is impossibly far away. For more school day capers, check out the Sunday Inquirer Magazine this weekend. Out June 8 with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.