“I THINK a man begins to lose himself when he forgets he once walked around with holes in his socks. It’s that kind of remembering that keeps us all earthbound, vulnerably human, and vulnerably happy. Frayed socks, empty rice bins, leftovers on the table, second-class movie houses, coffee in cheap restaurants, and so on. Want, or the memory of it, not satiation, keeps our nerve ends sensitive.
And happiness? Life’s innumerable complexities boil down to some cliche, bromidic, ho-hum, but true: money isn’t everything, a friend’s a friend, and God is love. You are what makes you happy—power, pelf, credit cards, custom-made shoes, a doorman’s salute, a hot line to the Palace, but how many of us want nothing more than to lock the doors and close the windows on a cold and rainy night with all the children safely in bed, turn on the radio to listen to an old song and implore the saints to keep love and life safe for a long long time.
Everyone’s trying to write off some ugly memory in his past—breakfastless mornings, jobless days, an untitled past, but if you succeed too well and wipe off everything, you might lose more than you wanted to. The human neck has muscles that one can use to look back; if you look back enough, perhaps it keeps the heart from getting too fibrous.”
—From Call Me Mister, one of the sixty-plus pieces in Author’s Choice, a collection of essays written by Kerima Polotan, the third edition of which is published by the University of the Philippines Press.
YEARS before September 28, 1968, the date when the abovementioned piece was published, Ms. Polotan regularly encountered a certain Sebastian, or Baste, as she called him. A former reporter whose command of the English language barely went beyond the third grade—or so she claims—Baste was public relations officer of a number of congressmen. Always friendly with the members of the media—of which Ms. Polotan was one—Baste distributed news releases of his clients and, using his charm, persuasion, and various other tools available to pulic relations people, ensured their publication.
But in the mid-sixties, when Baste turned big-time and became a Department Secretary, he changed: no longer was he Baste of old, he only responded to his national designation, which was Secretary.
Perhaps irritated by Baste’s newfound and inflated sense of self-importance, Polotan produces an unflattering portrait of an individual who makes it big despite having very little in the way of skills and intelligence.
At the same time, she also churns out an intelligent reflection of how people—especially mediocre ones—go from bad to worse especially after realizing that they’ve overtaken the proverbial Joneses.
While this essay is worth more than the price of the book in which it is included, it is just one of the many gems found in the said collection.
With subjects such as the Lapiang Malaya, political operators in the sixties, and the sugar barons of Bacolod, Author’s Choice is Philippine history, literature, and journalism all in one volume.
Go buy it and read it. It’s worth every word.