Thursday, September 12, 2013

Old Jolly Good Fellows

Well. The one doing the tally said our group is getting to be male and older. Except for one (me) who happened to earn a master’s in journalism (only because of a scholarship targeting poor, indigent journalists from the Third World), almost everyone had courses other than journalism: there was an accountant, a civil engineer, a business administration graduate, a marine biologist. Most dabbled with radio and the local newspapers; the oldest, 65, Tatay Charlie, covers the Cotabato, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat area: fair, shiny white hair brushed off to one side, fairly elongated, slightly aquiline nose, fairly well-groomed and looking good despite the years, fond of wearing black, body hugging cotton shirt; the youngest, 26, could be Karlos, whom I have to nickname the wild, wild horse because he works for numerous media outlets at the same time, he’s still out in Vietnam, lugging his camera, just as he did when he waited on the path of the killer typhoon Pablo in December. So, he wasn’t around when the editors from Makati came. He couldn't make it to this bureau meeting, someone said, sayang, the food is flooding all over the place. But if you talk about age, Frinston looked much younger because he, Frinston, is smaller; shorter than average and thin, too, which was more noticeable because of his skinhead; one Manila editor asked, what have we got here, are you still in the elementary school, boy? Frins mumbled something, rolled his eyes. Some more bits of demographics: 13 men against three women. I wonder why women could not last in this kind of job? Cecille and Ayan used to be active for a while but they went somewhere else, to a much more financially-rewarding NGO work because this work could not make ends meet, they wanted more to be able to raise their children, have a decent life, a home and a car, maybe, a vacation in Europe, once in a while. Perhaps, they feel they don’t have time for ego-tripping. Which made me really feel very, very guilty for staying because—look at my boys, how are they, trying to survive in the mediocrity of their elementary years on their own because I don’t have enough money to pay for the private school tuition. And yet, what a delight to be with the group. Singing the Beegees' How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, all eyes on the lyrics of someone’s iphone: Dennis, the fair-looking guy holding the microphone, has become stouter, lumbering the past years; Rich, who came all the way from Iligan, slightly-stretched upper lip exuding an air of contentment; and Frinston, dancing to the tune, trying to catch up with the rhythm; while Mr. X, watched from a distance, listening, eyeing them. He’s a quiet, sober type of fellow and a disciplinarian, at that. Health-conscious, never smoke nor drink, he delights in his muscled arms and the strength and leanness of his body. He doesn’t overeat, unlike most of us; me, especially when I’m angry. I wondered if X already survived all the threats for his life. He narrowly escaped Ampatuan, I remember with a shudder. I don’t want to think about it, don’t want to mention it; no, not anymore. C, the tall guy wearing a cap, walking to and fro and around the singing trio, just arrived from Qatar, where he worked to earn more money than what he was getting as a correspondent. “It would suit you here, Day, because we’re writing fiction, here, it’s your genre, Day, creative writing, because there’s no freedom of the press here, so, we have to be creative,” he wrote to me, once, while still in Qatar. I was surprised to see him. When I arrived, he was already taking lunch, mumbling about his Indian editors and their Arab financiers; the Arabs, who got money, knew no English, so they leave everything to the Indians, who knew almost nothing about newspapering, but still felt in control because of their close friendship with the Arabs. “I don’t want to work with the Indians, Day, they think we, Filipinos, are their slaves.” I did not tell him I got dandruff and boils all over my body for thinking so hard for stories that will bring in the next pay.

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