19 October 2016

The Swimming Incident In Highschool

Because I had taken swimming lessons that summer; because a classmate of mine informed our homeroom advisor that I had taken swimming lessons; because our homeroom advisor designated me as our class rep for the 400 meter freestyle swimming competition despite my protests, I found myself one cold morning standing at the edge of the pool with seven other swimmers from different sections as the entire high school population --- the jocks, the nerds, the queers --- loudly cheered us on.

“Swimmers, on your mark.” The crowd went berserk. A Mexican wave was brewing.

“Get set.” Too late to back out now.


Whereas the other swimmers executed elegant, swooping dives, I flung myself into the pool, hitting the water chest first, creating an obscene splash. The water was freezing, frostbitten. I scissor-kicked my feet and swam free-style. The race was on.

And then I bumped into a floating lane divider. I stopped, looked up, and saw that, despite my wild paddling, I moved no more than fifteen meters from the starting block while the others were nearing the fifty meter mark. Uh-oh.

I swam harder. However, I couldn’t swim in a straight line even if my life depended on it. I kept zigzagging inside my lane and hitting the floating dividers. When I reached the twenty meter mark in my crisscrossing fashion, everyone was already sprinting to the end. At that point, I began regretting my very existence.

Five minutes after the race had started, the swimmer in lane four (Chinito with hairy abs) touched the wall first. Following him were the swimmers from lanes three, five, two, six and one. The swimmer in lane seven (that would be me), however, was still at the seventy meter mark. Just a hundred thirty to go. I felt like a tadpole swimming making its way across the English Channel against the current.

I so wanted to get out of that godforsaken pool, go home, and get into a fetal position. If it was possible, I’d even crawl back inside my mother’s womb, revert into an embryo, a zygote, a sperm cell. (But then I thought, I’ll never be conceived again because the other sperm cells would beat me to my mother’s ovum).

At the hundred meter mark, my legs were numb. I couldn’t swim anymore. I just grabbed the floating dividers and tugged on them to move forward. Then I heard it over the loudspeaker: “Will the swimmer in lane seven please hurry up? We have other races to finish.” Laughter from the gallery. I realized then and there that some people have absolutely no empathy for their less fortunate brethren.

A couple of eternities later, I finally emerged from the pool, grabbed my towel, and sprinted to the locker area. From that experience, I learned my three biggest lessons in life: (1) Thou shall never compete in a swimming competition ever again; (2) Thou shall shall never compete in a swimming competition ever again; and (3) Thou shall never compete in a swimming competition ever again.

(This entry is my participation in Blogie's meme game, Funniest Childhood Memory. Thadie, and Makoy, sorry guys, I'm tagging you to do this.)

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17 October 2016

The Fall

‘So how did you sprain your knee?’ asked Jeff, my physical therapist, as his hairy arms pulled and stretched my left leg like pizza dough. ‘A basketball game?’

No Jeff, I wanted to say. You couldn't be more wrong. I don’t play basketball. Matter of fact, I can’t dribble a ball even if someone else's life depended on it. During P.E. class, I was always in the bleachers with the nerds, the loners, and the glee club members, listening to Rick Dees on the radio and scanning the court for glimpses of armpit hair. This sprain has nothing to do with basketball.

But do I tell Jeff the true cause of my accidental injury? Where do I even begin?

I could start with a brief description of Ms. Olga Gorayeb, our Filipino III teacher: half-woman, half-vulture. Has a surly demeanor that could put most suicide bombers to shame. The alleged girlfriend of the head high school librarian, Ms. Vivian Tengco.

One day, an unusually perky Ms. Gorayeb announced in class that our final project was to produce a short film based on a few chapters of Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo. This, she emphasized for the seat-fillers at the back row, is thirty percent of your final grade. ‘You guys better wow me,’ she demanded.

I took her challenge to heart. This was the perfect opportunity to impress everyone with my directorial skills and assert myself as the next Akira Kurosawa. Someone from Hollywood would eventually get a copy of my work and not before long, I’d be tearfully thanking the Academy, my parents, God, Jose Rizal, and --- wait, orchestra, just one more --- Ms. Gorayeb.

With a surfeit of inspiration and ambition, I took my ragtag cast, which included girls from Poveda high school, to Nayong Pilipino to shoot my opus. I was an exacting taskmaster, commanding countless retakes of scenes until perfection was achieved, cursing and throwing things at people if necessary. ‘Ow, that hurts,’ Anthony whined after I hit him in the eye with a crumpled script. ‘Flub that line once again and I’ll show you hurt,’ I prophesied.

The climax of my production --- its crashing chandelier (Phantom of the Opera), its helicopter landing (Miss Saigon) --- was Maria Clara’s death. For this pivotal scene, I envisioned Maria Clara gracefully jumping off from a church tower to her tragic end. ‘See that?’ I told Kathy Cruz, pointing at the eight-feet tall replica of Cagsawa bell tower beside Mayon Volcano. ‘As Maria Clara, you are going to climb that and then jump off.’

‘You’re shittin’ me right? Do you want me to die? Do you know that I’m not even being paid to do this?’ Kathy asked.

I didn’t appreciate the unprofessional timbre of her voice. I demanded that she do as she’s told right away because we’re fast losing light. She called me a tyrant and I called her a slut for blowing the track team last summer, a fact known by the entire student body and scribbled on toilet cubicles. The primma donna cried (her best performance to date) and left in a hurry, taking all the girls with her.

Without any so-called actresses left, I had to improvise. I handed the video camera to my trusted friend, Dickie, gave him precise instructions, changed into Kathy’s costume, put on an itchy wig, and expertly climbed up the bell tower. Looking down, I began having nauseating doubts about the safety and sanity of my stunt. But then I heard Dickie shout ‘Action!’ --- Maria's cue to commit suicide. The sun is setting. Too late to back out now.

I jumped.

The next second, my left leg was in a galaxy of pain. My group mates howled in convulsive laughter. But it didn’t matter. Instant replay showed we got the perfect shot.

So there. That’s how I got injured. Now, do I tell Jeff all this?

Thinking things over, I said, ‘Yeah, it was a basketball game.’

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Oh Note Divine!

We were two gladiators locked in a fierce battle. “OK, your turn,” Dickie said after inflicting minor injury to my ear. Finding inspiration from Braveheart (“… they may take our lives but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!”) I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply and, in a high-pitched falsetto commonly associated with Chinese opera, warbled:


Despite all the effort I put into it, the sound I made mimicked the dying yaps of a Chihuahua with a marble lodged in its trachea. That wasn’t my intention, of course. I was aiming for the long, gravity-defying whistle note Mariah Carey unleashed in her rendition of “Oh Holy Night”, that part in the final chorus where she trilled like an angel in the throes of multiple orgasms. For almost an hour, Dickie and I have been on the phone, competing to see who could come closest to that note, the sonic equivalent of Mt. Everest’s summit.

Why, you might ask, would two seemingly sane individuals engage in such a contest and risk laryngeal bleeding? For one, Dickie and I love to pit ourselves against each other. Competition is one of the four marble pillars of our enduring friendship, the other three being our passion for music, our contempt for certain talentless celebrities and our propensity to follow stalk attractive guys at malls. Over our four-year stay in high school, we competed to see who could design the best Olympic logo (me), who could run faster (him), who could fake a cheerful demeanor towards unpleasant people more unconvincingly (him by a mile), and so on.

For another, Alvin was able to hit that note. Alvin was a gangly sophomore and a member of the school’s much maligned chorale group. One time, during an a capella performance of “If I Ever Fall in Love” at the auditorium, Alvin woke the audience up by hitting the perfect Bb6 whistle note. Dickie and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, our thought bubbles reading: “If this dweeb can do it, so can we.” Hence, our sing-off.

After seventeen attempts to hit The Note, Dickie was, so far, the over-all leader with his uncanny vocal imitation of a heart monitor flat line beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep, which trumped my simulation of squeaking windshield wipers. Nonetheless, I was confident in my ability to come from behind and snatch victory in my next attempt. I could almost feel the whistle note surging up my respiratory system, eager to escape and shatter glassware. I cleared my throat. I opened my mouth. I sang.

Meanwhile, three houses away, Mrs. Francia, a retired piano teacher and stray cat collector, decided to make a phone call. So she picked up the receiver, placed it on her ear and, due to her random misfortune of sharing a party line with us, heard:


It was the sort of soul-piercing noise one would hear in a serial killer’s dungeon: the muffled shrieking of a gagged victim who had been subjected to helium gas and was now about to be skinned alive. Not exactly the dial tone Mrs. Francia had expected. The death-scream caused Mrs. Francia to utter an obscenity (“Ay puta!”) and slam the phone, which, in turn, caused Dickie and I to explode in a gas of laughter as only two best friends could.

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