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Pink pearls of wisdom

Just launched at this year’s Manila International Book Festival is the book It’s Like This: 100+ Abundable Thoughts by Boy R. Abunda Jr., Ph.D. Its subtitle is “[thoughts] that will make you think and rethink what you’ve always thought about your life.” It comes from the imprint of ABS-CBN Publishing Inc.

As the title implies, the book has more than 100 thoughts shining like pink pearls throughout the coated paper of the book. Dr. Abunda’s short, pithy, and funny essays are interspersed with the nuggets of words.

The author does not photo-shop his early days of poverty. “The truth is, I have always wanted to blend in,” he said in the introduction. “in Borongan, Eastern Samar, my hometown. I was afraid to be different…” The young child who didn’t want to be different was bullied on his way home on Royal Street, hankered for stitching and sewing in Home Economics instead of carpentry. Later, he went to a seminary for his high school education and “behaved,” graduating as valedictorian.

Thought #10 sums up his high school days: “There were bullies in the seminary and I saw one of them recently. Karma must have been in touch with him. He looked miserable. I believe bullies go to hell even before they die.”

After high school, he took the scholarship exams at the Ateneo de Manila University – and passed. So the young Boy went to the school that, as his father (a bus conductor) said, “The school where Rizal studied. This is where you will study, too.”

Filled with telling details and the color of memory are the vignettes on his first day at the Ateneo, when along with his parents he took a “fabulous” De Dios Bus from Pasay to Cubao, then a jeepney from Cubao to Katipunan, and finally a tricycle from Katipunan that brought them to the green expanse of the university. There, the students were driven  to school in Toyotas and Corvettes, “their mothers wore makeup with hair coiffed like thick seaweeds and they spoke [English] with a different twang.”

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And how were his college days at the home of the Blue Eagles? “Thoughts #17 and 19 sum them up. “Tatay was right about! Ateneo was the best school. It was not easy inside and outside of the classroom. But I sharpened my fangs!” And this precious one-liner, apropos being surrounded by rich and fair-skinned classmates: “At the Ateneo, I realized that I could be a first-rate social climber.” There he met Nini Santos-Borja, who was kind when some were not, and who remains a devoted friend to this day, almost 40 years after they first met in school.

But Boy’s father died young, and his beloved mother brought up Boy and his sister Manay Fe on a public school teacher’s salary. His father’s death left a hole in his heart that has not quite been filled. He plunged into work to make both ends meet – and to forget his depression.

“I sold encyclopedia sets, fire extinguishers and hair care products. I worked in the kitchen, opened restaurant doors and guided noisy tourists. Every day, no matter how bruised and broken I felt, I was moving on and moving forward.”

His life changed when he strayed into the Metropolitan Theatre and met Conchita Sunico, the doyenne of Manila’s crème de la crème and head of public relations at the Met. Charmed by Boy’s motor mouth and the fact that he could think quickly on his feet, she hired him as her PR staff. And when Boy, who was already walking down the grand stairways, returned and asked her what one did in PR, Ms Sunico answered: “I will teach you.”

And so she did. But Boy did not only work at PR, he also appeared in the plays as part of the choir, begging the director if he could utter a one-liner like “Mabuhay ang bagong kasal!” or “Tayo na, mga kababayan!”

But like sponge soaking it all, he learned talent management later because of his PR training, and mastered talk show hosting because of theater. Not a second was wasted in the post-Ateneo education of Boy Abunda.

The book is also filled with sharp observations on Philippine gay life. Thought #56 says: “Gay love is equal to all forms of human love.” Thought #58 gives us advice on how to deal with gays who wish to remain closeted. “It is the choice of a gay person to stay in the closet. It is a right that must be respected by hecklers and bullies. Bullies perish.”

This book is also an homage to his father and mother, who loved him unconditionally even if he were gay. Both parents being born poor, they knew the value of education for social mobility.

His mother taught Boy to have courage and determination. Thought #64 recalled that “As a child, Nanay used to run 24 kilometers to and from school. In her sturdy, tiny hands, she would protectively hold her pair of wooden bakya [clogs] that she would only wear as soon as she reached the school gate.”

This steely determination he uses as a prism for his insight on show business. Thought #73 said that “the biggest star is not always the best. He or she is the one who lasts.” The essay called “How to Manage a Public Figure” is filled with sharp observations and barbed wit. At first, the bewildered talent just follows. But when the talent becomes the boss, why then, the power relation changes.

“Fame changes the celebrity’s world. Fame is toxic. It can be deadly and poisonous. It is seductive. It changes people. To a certain extent, fame defines the hierarchy of relationships in show business.”

These observation apply not only to show business but also to politics, especially in this day and age of Fake News when hundreds of thousands, or even a million, followers in social media make bloggers think they are already famous. But for how long?

Comments can be sent to danton.lodestar@gmail.com

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