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The past as prologue
December 23rd, 2006 posted by JB under Alumni Stories, Random Thoughts

(This is something I wrote a couple of years after I left the university. I’m just posting it here now because I think this might be relevant. The Philippine Star published this in July 2001).

The Jai Alai building has finally kissed its art deco gutters. Maan’s still (somewhat) reigns supreme. And my girlfriend’s octogenarian former landlady is either dead or missing—abducted by green-eyed aliens that came down through a shaft of light, neighbors say.

It is always nice to be welcomed back by these strange news.

Coming home to your alma mater and finding all these changes is like dunking your head in a tub of warm water. The changes all feel strange, even surreal: Is that pile of rubble really the old Sky Room? Has Adamson finally decided to hitch its star on the wave of the New Economy? Or am I the only one warped by time, trapped forever in notions that have gone extinct without notifying me? These days, it seems inevitable to somehow find more reassurance and “truth” in strange stuff like Borges’s and Kafka’s verbal nightmares, or even Jessica Zafra’s intellectual masturbations that border on the, well, twisted.

Maybe because I haven’t really left the university long enough for fragments of my memory to squabble among themselves and argue over which is about reality or not. It has only been a measly two years, half of that spent working for an Internet start-up that had its office within the university’s five-kilometer radius. Two years—yet now, I seem to have that certain air of superiority, the kind those old sages, with glazed eyes, tell the young ones, “There, there. It won’t really hurt. Imagine it’s just an ant biting you.”

After two years, I am now walking on the old Falcon Walkway with this freshman, a T-square on his shoulder, and I find myself stifling a compelling urge to tell him how it was seven, eight years ago—how we were in those distant, halcyon days. And quite pretentiously, because I’ve been through it all, I already am confident to “know” how we would be in the future. I wanted telling him that in the real world, as Laurence Fishburne would have said in The Matrix, people don’t use T-squares, buddy.

I’d be glad to tell this kid a story. After all, I spent six years weaving them, masquerading myself as an editor of the Adamson Chronicle, the student paper. I would have told the kid that I accidentally “found” Adamson University because I really had no idea about the academic reputation of institutions of higher learning. Or that I didn’t really care because right after high school, I was holding on to my adolescence and I refused to “grow up”—so subconsciously, my brain blocked my otherwise natural curiosity about how things stand under the sun.

I was walking along Taft after Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila disappointed me (I hated the school’s name because it didn’t sound “cool” enough, so I somehow botched up the entrance exam), and I was thinking maybe I should frankly tell my mother I’d rather plant camote back in Leyte than impose my little self on this overwhelming, hardly understood city—when I saw the interesting painted facade with the university’s name carved on it. For me, a 17-year-old kid in 1993, the word “Adamson” sounded good—it sounded like cold hard cash, fragrant things, pretty girls who would blush when you wink at them.

“Adamson” sounded like a nice, foreign country.

A year later, I would feel stupid for being taken in by the name. I would later learn about the university’s bloody reputation, about fraternity wars and murders, and professors selling out—all of this with the fact that Adamson was supposedly a Catholic institution.

But then I joined the student paper. Shortly afterwards, after getting imbibed on the paper’s “groove,” I decided, overnight, that I wanted to change the world—I began to have this idea of freeing the campus from all phantoms of corruption. I was sucked into the vortex of the prevailing culture: that to be an “activist,” no matter how politically incorrect or silly, was the new black. Publish not a single tirade in the paper and people would whisper among themselves, “He’s probably gay.” Or tuta. Folks my age then loved screaming the phrase “tuta ng pasismo” to all those we didn’t like, from Philippine presidents to nasty jeepney drivers. Never mind that nobody among us kids really knew what the hell fascism meant. Who knew? Maybe we really needed a tyranny, not an American-styled democracy. Maybe what we really needed was a true-to-the-bone fascist regime—after all, most countries that were fascist ones are superpowers now, while Third World countries that bought America’s democracy still find themselves uncertain about which lever to pull and where to run whenever shit hits the fan.

But in those days, I was really caught up in an intense self-righteous indignation. We wanted change, and those of us in the student paper felt that the only right thing to do was attack the representatives of decadence: the school administrators, the Vincentians. Some of my colleagues would take to the streets and join the fashionable activist crowd and buy those black t-shirts with the words “Serve The People” silk-screened in embossed textile paint, and feel good for being so brave and enlightened and young and, perhaps, selfless.

Sic semper tyrannis!

We were naive, yet we were sincere. We would spend nights foregoing sleep just to complete another piece of propaganda (in those days propaganda had a name; it was called “opinion”). We were convinced we were actually serving the people. We thought that the power that oppressed us was a great hydra, which would only be beheaded by our collective rage.

But now, in moments of dark honesty, I sometimes tell myself, “Well, we did it because we enjoyed it and we felt good for being ‘above’ everybody else.” That the powers-that-be was not even a hydra but an amoeba; the university president as just another jelly-filled pseudopod—reasonably powerless, confined in the little role he had to play. In rare moments of candor, I tell myself sic semper tyrannis my ass; it was not about saving the people, it was about me, me, me. Peanuts creator Charles Schultz once said it quite bluntly: “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”

But it’s part of growing up, in the same sense that the priest who now solemnly places on your tongue the holy wafer had, once in his fusty adolescent past, jerked off in his dank and dark room by the good grace of the almighty pornographic muse. The disturbing part, however, is to see these kids get sucked into the same vortex, believe in the same beliefs, and to finally realize that the world hopelessly runs on the proverbial treadmill.

But maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just something else. Some years ago I would be brazen enough to declare that I have the answer. Now the same finger that I once used to point at the faults of others recoils in hesitation. Perhaps the one who holds the truth has not even been born yet. Or he may have already been born, but a ten-wheeler truck had crushed him to pulp on San Marcelino the day before yesterday. Sometimes things arrive too late.

Meanwhile, there are memories. And despite or because of my disappointments or frustrations with the university (I never even attended my graduation rites), I’d still honestly say that, during those years of my stay, it cradled bitter-sweet memories I would probably never find anywhere else. The choice has always been mine to make. The freshman who walks with me now may soon find out that it is still his call; that wherever you may find yourself, you are still the one who calls the shots. The greatest risk, anyway, is not to take it.

Now the freshman is asking me about these huge buildings. So I patiently tell him, Well, to our right is the Saint Therese with its fin-de-siecle eccentricities (beware of the guards; they sometimes bite). To our left is the old Saint Vincent building, on top of which is the student paper’s Penthouse, a little room where cocky little teeners once wielded blunderbusses and peed on the terrace’s walls and scraped together a little student magazine they put out once in a blue, melting moon…

About the author:

JB has blogged 111 posts

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