See ya later, Dahrrling!
- Alfred A. Yuson () - May 3, 2004 - 12:00am
Wednesday night, on open ground overlooking a creek in Barangay Vergara in Mandaluyong, where Recah Trinidad is de facto Kapitan, Mayor and kingpin rolled into one, old friends toasted in advance to his birthday, as well his departure for the Manny Pacquiao fight in Vegas. Gathered round the long table set in a marvelous, breezy al fresco setting – buzzing flies and all beating nearly arthritic fingers to the grilled pla-pla, prawns, white cheese, red ginger, soon joined by assorted sushi and ebi tempura —- were the usual suspects Danny Dalena, Sonny Yñiguez, Pepito Aguila, Erwin Castillo, Jimmy Abad et moi. Hovering about, too, was the overachieving host, glued to a cellphone through which, imaginably, all manner of political candidates sought his blessings. The music player blared fine oldies from Roy Orbison, Harry Belafonte et al.

Someone raised his glass of Torres brandy to toast to the memory of Wilfrido "Ding" Nolledo. Glasses of red wine and Jack Daniel’s clinked together. "To Ding! To Ding! To remember and to sing!"

Little did we know that hours later, we would congregate anew to do the same for Uncle Nick, who was also our dear "Dahrrling" Dad.

An awful April, one would agree with Thomas Stearns E., as magnificent friends leave us. Cruel, cruel month. The text messages are rife with bad-bear news. The elegiac eulogist must strike time and time again.

Nick Joaquin never texted. He never even got to work on a computer. It was a trusty old faded blue typewriter that served as his medium in the production of literature as beloved as the man.

Thursday morning, the first SMS came from Isagani Cruz – no, not the former SC Justice, but the Dr. Isagani Cruz of De La Salle University, the Philippine Star on Thursdays, and Manila Critics Circle. His message was brief, and which we hoped instantly to be as suspect as urban legend: "Nick Joaquin died today."

Praying to San Miguel, we sought confirmation. Before it came, four other writer-friends – two from Dumaguete, one from Cagayan de Oro and one from Quezon City – texted something like say-it-isn’t- true. But a few minutes later, the loving brigade received and exchanged confirmation.

Yes it’s true. – Marra PL. Lanot. Nick Joaquin died this morning, Was 86. – Recah Trinidad. Our friend and guide NJ is dead. Long live! – Erwin Castillo Foremost National Artist (Literature) Nick Joaquin died in his sleep this morning in his San Juan residence. He was 86 years old. Sad news was relayed by his niece Cecile Joaquin Yasay… I’m in Davao now and will do my best to be back in Manila ASAP – Billy Lacaba

A gentle way to go. Santuario Forbes Park 2nyt. Cremated na mamaya. – Marra

Oh, no What irreplaceable loss. But Death be not proud. – Jimmy Abad

Uh oh. We’ll hurt our arms hoisting mugs in his memory. – Ricky de Ungria in Davao

An era passes away. Had to be quiet for some time before I could go back to what I was doing. – Karina Bolasco

May kausap uli si Caloy dun.
– Emily Altomonte Abrera

It’s a summer of whammies. Could use a single malt break. – E.G. Hizon in Davao

– Rio Almario

Tulad din ni erpats, huebes.
– Juaniyo Arcellana

Oh my, sorry to hear that. I can pride myself in having had beers with Nick Joaquin… that was in 1994, here at the Mactan airport, with Ka Andy Cristobal. He called me dahrrling. – Carlos Cortes in Cebu

Wednesday March 10 (was that last time we saw him, at CCP). Feel like he just gave me the gift of a book launch before he went. It’s an honor. – Beaulah Taguiwalo

Sad news. Here with Mom Edith (Tiempo) right now. She’s asking for details. – Ernie Yee in Dumaguete

Please give his sister Mameng our condolence. – Tony & Joy Enriquez in Cagayan de Oro

First met Nick in April, here, 41 years ago. – Sawi Aquino in Dumaguete

Tahimik ang gubat at pipi ang langit nagluksa ang tala bulong ng ibon may higanteng pumanaw
– Charlson Ong in Davao

That 10th of March, seven weeks ago, we last had the pleasure of Nick’s company. He rose from his front-row chair at the CCP Little theater lobby, in barong and khaki purontong shorts, to deliver a characteristically zestful speech in his booming baritone. The occasion was Anvil Publishing’s triple launch of new editions of his second novel Caves and Shadows, his short fiction collection Tropical Gothic, and the essay collection Culture as History. The last had illustrations and graphic design by Beaulah Taguiwalo that drew lavish appreciation from Dahrrling Nick.

The greatest writer we’ve known signed copies of all three books for half-an-hour after the rites and remarks, then sat down with his beer bottle between his literary manager, the young Billy Lacaba, and steady date Elena Roco. He enjoyed long minutes bantering with novelist-composer Renato Madrid, aka Fr. Rudy Villanueva of Cebu City, while we tried to feed him his usual French fries.

He asked us along for a nightcap "and real food" in Ermita, along with Greg and Baby Brillantes. We repaired to the resto-videoke-bar at the former Tower Hotel. Nick was silent for the most part, but kept nodding and urging everyone to order from the menu. We pushed a small plate of pancit before him, and finally prevailed on the dear man to take a few spoonfuls, "for luck and long life," at Elena’s prodding.

Billy and I moved off to another table to smoke, as Nick broke his silence and started singing along with the videoke feature. Billy said that on the long drive that evening from San Juan, he was surprised when Nick told him they needed to talk to a lawyer soon regarding his last will. The man we loved as a father had not been going out as often as he used to, said Billy. He seemed weaker, and evidently getting much thinner. He hardly ate. Mostly it was just San Miguel and sinigang soup.

Nick was working on a biography of a business tycoon. We also recalled how we had managed to inveigle him to contribute the lead essay for the coffeetable book Jollibee: A 25-Year Love Story with the Pinoy. And after that, another essay as a personal recollection of what has become his hometown, for the forthcoming book on San Juan, to be designed and published by Marily and Joe Orosa’s Studio 5. But Nick had pulled a fast one on us again, suddenly ending the memory piece with a retelling of a scene in the late ’60s when we first met on a jeepney ride down Blumentritt St., and he had pulled us down to have our first beers with him at a nightclub called Pelican.

The essay, titled "Remembering San Juan Before the Ortigas Era," begins thus:

"We moved to San Juan circa 1950, when the half of it that’s now Ortigasville was wasteland – a wasteland of talahib, swamp, junkyard, shanty-town and jungle, all the way from Calle Pinaglabanan to Highway 54. The San Juan across the highway was level meadow for miles and miles around, empty save for the newly built Lourdes Church, convent and prep school.

"Our new home was in Barrio Once. No, it wasn’t called that because the folks there were fond of "oncehan" one another. When all this side of San Juan was opened as a subdivision, this particular barrio was marked on the map as Area Number 11 – and the name stuck…."

And it concludes:

"Memorable for me was the only big nightclub San Juan ever had: the Pelican on Blumentritt, only a couple of blocks from my door and therefore very convenient to bring my guests to. It was also a mystery place…. My crowd was the only genuine bistro customers: we (Ding Nolledo, Recah Trinidad, Baby Manzano, Pepito Aguila, and that poor your poet always escaping from the loony-bin) really went there to drink and dine (the Pelican’s hamburger steak was superb) and hear the combo and its fine singers. An occasional guest I took there was a young San Bedista I kept bumping into on jeepneys: he was a great fan of mine. Young chap called Krip Yuson."

Billy said we’d have to find the right time to ask him for an additional paragraph. Perhaps over lunch and another beer binge at Kamayan on Edsa, another Nick favorite for its cumbanchero trio that knew the Spanish songs he’d request.

Okay, we said. We turned around and looked at Nick, singing his heart out. He was remembering. He was happily practicing his vocation, right in Ermita, in the heart of his Noble and Ever Loyal City of Manila.

Now it is up to us to remember him. With "Dahrrling!" affection, with so much love and admiration.

Viva Nick Joaquin!

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