By: ROMEO MORALES
SOME forty-four years ago, or maybe even more, looking back into those restless and carefree high school days when fun and games were norms and acting goofy was essentially cool, a torrent of images rush back to me like a time machine. Then I realize I still got that impish grin of my youth.
“Ah, youth…wasted on the wrong people!” the Man on the Porch would tell George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Damn! All gates are closed. It was flag ceremony time and that means trouble to those outside the fence. Some of us who didn’t make the time were scurrying over the walls on Doroteo Jose Street (now Tomas Mapua Street) to get inside the school quadrangle.
One of those was Salvador Villanueva, who climbed the wall. He had already made it inside when one of his fingers caught up with the barbed wire. We saw the bones of his finger still protruding from his hand…and skinless! Somehow we, the young kids, still saw it as something funny despite of the horrific gore that it was. They say kids will always be kids, but we were no longer children then. And there was blood to frighten us, but still our mischievousness got the better in us. We just laughed at the grisly tragedy that happened to Salvador.
The Arellano High School in the 60’s, or the Manila North as it was known then before us was, and still is, not in an awesome locations. The school was or is it still in a tough neighborhood—Teodora Alonza, Lope de Vega, Doroteo Jose, Claro M. Recto, Rizal Avenue, Miserecordia, Jose Abad Santos, Bambang, and Ongpin? During our days, there were different gangs vying for recognition—the Sigue-Sigue Sputnit and the OXO—gangs that could give you trouble anytime you encounter them innocently. We also had our own school gang—the Sneakers—where we painted our Elpo or Converse rubber shoes with any color—black, red, green white, etcetera.
The place were our school was and still is, is a little bit scary to those not familiar with the place as there were suspicious individuals always hanging around on corner streets. Those were bullies, pickpockets, hold-uppers, and extortionists and when you do bump into them, you’re in for a not-so comfortable fix.
And that’s what happened to me and my friends one mid-afternoon as we were taking our snacks in a corner store along Lope de Vega and Teodora Alonzo Streets. A toughie mingled with us and all of a sudden announced with his threatening voice that we form a single line in front of him. He ordered us to place a ten centavo on our head. Being familiar with tough guys appearing every now and then in the area, we didn’t resist. We followed like obedient children.
As I recall that particular incident, I couldn’t believe how stupid we were then for not fighting back. On second thoughts, maybe that was the best thing we could have done in that situation to save our skin from needless harm.
Further looking back, I could still see the basketball court right on the middle of the street on Lope de Vega sandwiched by the almost dilapidated school building and the residential homes across the street, where during recess time, we would play basketball. One time as we were retrieving our bags and books that we placed under the basketball court, it surprised us to find out that some of our books and belongings were missing. Immediately, we hurried to Claro M. Recto where we thought our books could have been sold. Some of us were lucky; they were able to retrieve their books by snatching them back from the guy who stole them before they could be sold. Though, I was not lucky; I lost everything.
In some afternoons, after classes, a bunch of us—Manny Villarba, Salvador Villanueva, Artemio Meriales, and I guess even Dario Pagcaliwagan, if I were not mistaken had also joined us in one or two occasions; Benjamin Ng, Alex Ongtong, Ernesto Valencia (these three guys had already passed away) would go to the National Library and the Luneta Park where we would play until we were wet with perspirations. We would ran up and down the not so high wall fence surrounding the monument of Jose Rizal, running here and there, nobody trying to stop us until the famous Manila Bay sunset would have gone down on us completely. Young and strong, we have so much energy then and it didn’t seem we would ever stop playing. Our playtime would only end when we went on separate ways back to our respective homes.
Of course, there were the girls that I remember too—Elisa Sawal (now a nun), Teresita Ramos-Sunga, Violeta de Leon, Florian Paguia-Tan and Amelita del Mundo, whose white and green uniform seemed to be fresh all day, no creases, no folds as if it had never been worn. I wonder how they did it. And there were the gymnast too—Helen Oaks, Lida Jose, Aida Villarama, Josefina Quiambao and (I forgot her name), whom we always wanted to see in their body hugging attire whenever they practiced or performed. We always routed for them.
There is one person, I would never forget. He was one heck of a guy. He was good when he needed to be one and he could be bad when the situation called for it. He was with us when it was time to be together and he was against us when he felt he had to be. One time, hell broke loose during our biology class when he had a scuffle with Ernesto Cunanan. The whole class had to pay for the microscope that had been destroyed in their struggle. In another incident, he had an encounter with Rosauro Cayetano, who hoisted him up like a piece of meat and was about to throw him like dirt had cooler heads not prevailed. And yet, despite these, he would be the best classmates we ever had. He excelled in class exams even when he was absent for several days. He topped any writing contests among inter-schools when he would not even prepare for such competitions. He was loved and hated, revered and reviled in equal measure. He was understood and misunderstood. His best writing piece, which up to this date, I would consider the best he had ever written was “Babysitting Bojie.” I did try writing a piece too, like him, about my boots. Unconsciously, he was the one who provided me the appetite to write when one time, after I had removed my pair of boots as we were doing press work for the Chronicler, he hid one of them. It was a friendly prank he played on me and because of that I was able to come out with an article of my own. Ernesto Valencia ended up writing a column for the Daily Express; I became a newsman for the Philippine Journalists, Inc. and a stringer for the Associated Press.
Yes, I remember I had crushes, too, with my classmates and schoolmates and I had a lot of them. Arellano High School had many beautiful and equally intelligent students. Yet, I never had the courage expressing my feeling to any of them I supposed. Or did I? I had been attracted to Vivien Rous, Alicia Arellano, Erlinda Hernandez, Minverva Ella, Dorothea Montales and certain Tita, whose last name, I couldn’t remember anymore but I had the fondest memories of her. It was Junior and Senior Prom on the rooftop of the National Science Development Board along Taft Avenue and Herran Street, when I bravely approached her for a dance. She knew I had a crush on her; she obliged. We danced. It was a sweet dance. But I was trembling so hard that as I held her close to me, I was literally shaking her whole body. She looked at me with disbelief but still projecting a friendly and understanding smile and it relieved me from further embarrassment when she suggested that we better sit down. Every time I remember all those incidents, all my funny bones make me shake…with amusement and laughter, that is.