First year high school, first day of school. An unremarkable day, for the most part. Oh, some first-day crinkles and jitters, to be sure ! But none that familiar faces from grade school didn't smooth and soothe.
Unremarkable, but for a buzz -- that we had a remarkable classmate! Ten years old (while most of us were 12), accelerated twice, graduated valedictorian. Read tons, wrote up a storm. Arguably, a child prodigy, though no one argued -- except perhaps the teachers, among themselves.
Unbespectacled, Rolando "Rolly" Lampa wasn't your typical bookworm ("nerd" was not yet a word back then, you see) . He was a mite too chubby, cheerful, and talkative to be one. He was as boisterous as the next boy could be. Laughed loud, talked fast, choking on the words -- almost as though his tongue was hard pressed keeping up with his thoughts.
We soon pinned him down to a word: rolypoly (not yet as hackneyed as it is now).
Shy and easy to intimidate, I steered clear from the rolypoly prodigy most of the four years we were classmates. Still, one couldn't help catching whiff of some of his quirks.
- Like how he devoured inordinate doses of Steinbeck, Hemingway and Buck (when my own reading fare didn't go much beyond Prose and Poetry and Diwang Ginto, our textbooks).
- Like how he hang out at the public library, blocks away from school, where he wiped out the fiction shelves.
- Like he would challenge what some teachers said in class (while I tended to swallow all, hook, line and fish) . He once reduced a teacher to tears and drove her to say: "You may be more intelligent than I am but not likely to know better."
- Like how he wanted to be President of the Philippines when he grew up.
- Like how he would first be a sportscaster while waiting to be President. I'd hear him regale other boys with his pre-pubescent basketball staccato: " ... steals the ball, dribbles, zigs, zags, goes for the basket, jumps, and converts!! He IS HOOOOOTTTT!"
In fourth year, the wall between us was breached. We both joined the Torres Torch (the campus paper) staff -- he as editor in chief, I as managing ed.
I wrote my own columns, wrote some of the news, contributed short and feature stories, but mostly did as he and Ms. Lozano, our adviser, bade.
Now, back in those days, I was soooo insecure about my writing -- and justifiably so. If Rolly was a walking dictionary, I was a twittering book of cliches. I couldn't write "bride" without adding "blushing." "Groom" without "dashing." "Baby" without "bouncing." "Live happily" without "ever after." Get the drift?
I loved it when we had to put our newspaper to bed. It meant being excused from class for the day, riding the school's rickety van to go to the printing press, being treated to a Chinese restaurant for lunch and Little Quiapo for halo-halo. But it also meant work, work, work (and some waiting for the printers to run our proofs). Last-minute editing. Proof-reading. And filling up unsightly white spaces in our paper.
I'd help fill up space with letters to the editor I'd sign my friends' and sister's names with.
One press day, Rolly wanted not just letters to the editor but a poem. I wasn't into poem writing then, but what the heck -- never say die! So I whipped up an inanity:
"Nina comes to school to take a test ... She's so confident she raises her head, and lifts her chin high up in the air ... The teacher comes, all are set ... Except poor Nina whose eyes are wet ... Poor darling Nina again forgot ... She studied a different subject."
Rolly wanted to call it "Anna's Folly." After looking up "folly" in the dictionary, I understood why. But I only half understood why I choked back tears.
At an inter-school writing competition, before we graduated, our team would have gone home empty handed but for Rolly's three golds and two silvers. During recognition day, he took a special award for campus journalism. He graduated with honors (as I did ... ahem). Then he went to UP to take a double degree in accountancy and law. He became a young bank executive until a premature heart attack compelled him to slow down -- and then to migrate to Australia with his wife -- also a lawyer-CPA like him -- and son.
Can you blame me for idolizing the rolypoly genius? When we started corresponding a month ago - I told him his e-mail messages made me feel almost exactly as I felt light years ago when I wrote my poetic folly.
And can you blame me for wanting to publish this mail I received from Rolly Lampa last week?
Anyway, I just have to send this in -- consider it fan mail -- having just completed your magnificent Magnificent Mommy Moments and the Spotty Mommy Record sequels. Annamanila, you write like Kirsten Dunst acts -- you always keep the audience guessing when that hidden impish twinkle might break out into a full teeth-baring grin. Isn't that great?
Seriously though, why aren't you doing regular columns for the xxxxxxxxxxxx (this part made me gasp for breath -- too much -- haha -- so I blue-pencilled it - anna).
Congratulations on your wonderful relationship with Ernie. Who would have thought you'd fall for the godfather of all macho writers? My personal favorite from Papa Doc is "The Old Man and the Sea" -- if you only lived nearby we could have endless coffeeshop debate on this and other literary favourites.
You have this mantra -- the best is yet to be -- right? Right. I see you after retirement taking your blogsite writings nationwide via print media and you'll be all right. You'll do fine. I suspect you'll never leave academe, ever, but part-time dabbling in newspaper feature writing should turn your life full circle, back to Torres Torch days. Wouldn't that be, as Jack Nicklaus wonders, as good as it gets?
(P. S. 1 - I know, I know -- this should have been subtitled Egotripping 101.
P.S. 2 - As I draft this, he sent me another letter that again made me gasp for air. But ... uhmmm .... enough -- or I might fly like a hot balloon.)