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Tropical apocrypha: 100 years of NJ

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Opinion

By Juan EY Arcellana

HAVING BEEN invited to speak by one of the Graphic editors at the Nick Joaquin literary awards on the birth centennial of the national artist, some two-minute spiel or anecdote about the man occasions this short piece, being unsure of making the trip across town for the event as I had a separate paper to help put to bed at Port Area.

BW FILE PHOTO

In 1974, weeks before leaving for the US as a Youth for Understanding scholar, I was sent by my father to go along with Nick – godfather of my elder brother Joey – to a tailor and have my teenage self fitted for a suit, or Americana as it was called in those days. Linea Italiana in Cubao was owned by an Indian, the shop located near the New Frontier theater. And what frontiers awaited on an afternoon with NJ.

After the tailor’s (who in no way looked like Thomas Mann), there was a movie to be taken in where we got our first glimpse of peaches in the early morning sun, a quick greasy but tasty meal at a panciteria on one of the side streets of old Cubao, and finally a few beers at the a-go-go joint Alibangbang across EDSA, right underneath the overpass leading to Mt. Arayat street where the jeepneys back to Philcoa were.

It was not yet evening and at the already darkened table the girl’s name was Olga, same as a high school crush.

Years later, NJ of course would be proud to proclaim that the first time this writer got drunk was under his auspices. At Philcoa when he was about to deliver me back to my dad, I left him unloading his bladder by a street post like a guardian angel, and boarded a tricycle along with a female passenger as the beer worked its way in my young system, thinking that like one of Joaquin’s characters Candido, I might go for lost in an unplanned apocalypse beneath a drizzling sky.

Another fast-forward and with my wife pregnant with our first child, I was sent on an extra assignment by a Sunday magazine to interview Nick at his hangout along Padre Faura, the Calle 5 where an all-girl rock band was delivering the goods such as “Wooly bully” and “Till there was you.” He was with his best friend, Elena Roco, and I told him that I had just been dropped off at the corner by the Dumaguete-based writer Cesar Aquino who was on his way to the pier to board a ship headed south.

Huwag na huwag mo isasama yung impakto na ’yon dito,” he said, roughly meaning I should never tag along that terrifying phantasm to his fave haunts.

That became a standard line among writers who don’t want to get too close or familiar with other phantasms, or impaktos – let them get lost.

As in that other line, which am not sure if this is apocrypha, where at an art gallery a Tagalog writer approached NJ to tease him to order drinks all around, “Nick, magpainom ka naman!”

To which the national artist deadpanned, “Painumin mo titi mo,” let your cock have a drink, sure looks thirsty.

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