PENMAN - Butch Dalisay () - July 19, 2004 - 12:00am
An eagle-eyed reader we’ll call Moonie spotted a possible problem in last week’s column having to do with Latinate English, in which I equated an "express exfoliation" with a "quick haircut." Wasn’t exfoliation something else, she said – something like, uh, skin peeling? Indeed it is, Moonie, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Chalk that down to my being a dumb guy (I know, in some quarters, "dumb guy" is a redundancy) who hasn’t been to an honest-to-goodness spa in his life, and whose only previous experience akin to exfoliation was at the casino, many years ago, when I lost my hide at 3 a.m. at the blackjack table.

I was about to argue that exfoliation surely had something to do with the removal of foliage (you know, leaves?), in which case leaves would metaphorically have more in common with hair – both being crowning glories of a kind – but, alas, none of the dictionaries I consulted bore out my reading. Webster’s Online Dictionary defines it most clearly: "The peeling off in flakes or scales of bark or dead skin." So, OK, Moonie, you win.

Incidentally, to learn more than you ever wanted to know about "exfoliation" and maybe a million other English words, check out http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/english/Ex/Exfoliation.html. It’ll tell you that "exfoliation" comes up an average of 12 times in a million words, and show you how to spell the word out in semaphore, Braille, and Morse code (you never know when you’ll need to tap out that desperate plea: "SOS, ship sinking, beauty salon closing, please send assistance, must complete exfoliation at all costs!"
* * *
Unlikely as it was for such an urban monkey like me, I hadn’t been inside the Araneta Coliseum in, oh, 30 years. That was why it didn’t take much for me to accept a ticket to attend the opening ceremonies and games of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) last weekend. I hadn’t been to a live basketball game in ages, either (discounting the one time I cut Shakespeare class in the States in the late ’80s to watch Michael Jordan make sausage of the Milwaukee Bucks).

I’m not sure how and why I lost my fancy for basketball, which I nurtured, like any self-respecting boy, through the ’60s. My father took me to an Yco-Ysmael game once, and I followed the exploits of Walt Frazier, Lew Alcindor (before his reincarnation as Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and Bill Bradley on our "color" TV ("color" because the blue, red and green came courtesy of a thick sheet of tinted plastic taped to our Zenith’s screen). I’m not tiny by Pinoy standards, but I realized early on that watching and playing basketball were two very different things, and my lifetime record officially consists of two points, from a jump shot made one balmy afternoon in 1967 in a high-school intramural game.

No one was more surprised than I was when that shot went in, and I can’t recall ever playing again – or maybe I did, but achieved absolutely nothing. My next trip to the hard court – at least to the sidelines – came a few years later when, as a college dropout being trained as a sportswriter for a metropolitan daily, I covered the MICAA tournament at the Rizal Stadium with such passion that my editor had to pull me back to my seat with this admonition: "Shut up! Sportswriters don’t cheer, sportswriters can’t cheer!"

But the Rizal Stadium was positively pedestrian compared to the Araneta Coliseum, which sat in Cubao like a heavenly object that had landed there by mistake and was now permanently moored in the suburbs. At showtime, it radiated an ethereal energy compounded of bright light and muffled roars suggesting titanic spectacles within.

In my novel Killing Time in a Warm Place, there’s this scene where the narrator recalls the Coliseum of his childhood: "It was a little after six and the lights were just coming on. An imported ice skating show was playing for the 17th straight year at the Araneta Coliseum, once the largest in the world and host to world junior lightweight championship bouts, Harry Belafonte, Herman’s Hermits and the ‘Beatles of the Philippines Combo Contest ’66.’ It was the ice that had fascinated me the most when, as a boy, I had first watched skittery machines brushing it smooth on the same floor used in summer for basketball exhibitions. The ice shimmered in the spotlights, and when the skaters glided out in columns that divided down the middle into mirror curls and loops and feathery trails, we felt ourselves transported into the hemisphere of our fairest imaginations, where the air was cool and all motions were light and sequins were common costume, a world that stirred to Disney music and retired behind the curtains pursued by bright applause. When we stepped out of the Coliseum all there was to see were the smoky lanterns of the siopao and balut vendors, and our feet returned to dumpling peels and duck’s egg shells."

When I returned to the Coliseum that UAAP Saturday – limping painfully up the stairs because of a sudden attack of gout – it looked renewed, with a smart coat of paint and stalls along the circular corridor hawking all kinds of food. Were the game an hour and not just minutes away, I would have sampled the popcorn and the fried chicken and the French fries; I settled for some takeaway chow. I located the UP section and entered the maw of the beast; it was standing room only in Upper Box A, and I was overcome by the distinct impression of how much smaller the place was in this refreshed reality, a sensation intensified by the surging, seething crowd. A UP fan, recognizing me and my plight, yielded his seat to me, and I took it gratefully, cradling my battlefield provisions in my lap – popcorn, hotdog, and soda pop.

The opening ceremonies were suitably impressive, complete with fireworks and confetti and pretty young things cartwheeling on the floor. I felt glad to have been dropped into this jungle, inhabited by Falcons, Tigers, Bulldogs, and Tamaraws, and to be seated among some of its wildest denizens – normally pensive UP students who knew all the cheers and all the moves, and who didn’t mind a potbellied, gout-ridden man munching a hotdog in their midst. When those drums started thundering, I felt a lump in my throat, and it wasn’t a chunk of wiener; an old fervor, suddenly remembered, welled up within me, seeking release in a lusty roar: "Uh-nibersidad! Ng Pilipinas!" I got to my feet and sprayed the girls in front of me with, well, chunks of wiener.

Sad to say, my display of unabashed enthusiasm did little to help our team, which emerged on the short end of a 68-54 drubbing from the Adamson Falcons. The Maroons played with a lot of heart, but we were undone – can I say "exfoliated"? – by poor shooting from the free throw line and by butterfingered ball handling. We lost – but strangely enough, I hobbled out of that place feeling every inch a wiener, I mean, winner.
* * *
I received a letter from Ms. Pettizou Tayag, vice president of the Quiz Bee Foundation, seeking some publicity support for the foundation’s activities, which have been running these past many years largely as a labor of love. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the National Super Quiz Bee, a competition that begins at the grassroots level in both public and private schools, and involves about 1.2 million schoolchildren. Unlike other such competitions, there are no cash prizes for the Quiz Bee champions – just trophies, medals, an encyclopedia, a computer, and maybe a scholarship grant – but it’s a much sought-after honor, one that involves brains in a society otherwise enamored of singing and dancing.

For over two decades now, the Quiz Bee has been sustained by the personal efforts of Rasty and Gay Tayag, who have dipped into their own pockets to keep it going. The QB hit a peak in the 1980s when Asean and World Quiz Bees were held, even a QB for the Handicapped.

But the sponsorships have dried up, and it would be a terrible pity if this 100 percent -Pinoy-initiated project were to wither away, while corporations pour their money into the most inane commercials and promos. "Last year, in desperation, we solicited financial assistance from every congressman/woman," Pettizou wrote. "We generated a grand total of P4,000 for that effort. The process of writing, sending and following up the letters was more costly. This year, on Quiz Bee’s silver jubilee, we seem to be in the same dilemma. We started marketing the project as early as November of last year to prospective sponsors/ advertisers and still, we received very little financial support. We also contacted government agencies like Pagcor and PCSO and received nothing. A multitude of school students will be disappointed if we stop the Quiz Bee, most especially those who come from the public schools. This is one of their few chances to be pitted against private school students as co-equals for their intelligence and hard work. They do not compete for the sake of financial gain but for academic excellence and brotherhood."

This sounds to me like a perfect opportunity for, say, a major cell phone company to step in and be the white knight of a million schoolkids. (Speaking of which, instead of just selling ringtones, why don’t these companies send out quiz questions and give prizes – like a P100 load – for the first 100 right answers?) I’m sure that my PR pals Mon Isberto of Smart and Jones Campos of Globe can think of something like the Smart Super Quiz Bee or the Globe Quiz Whiz in support of the Quiz Bee.

I was in high school well before the Quiz Bee started, but I have a soft spot for projects like this because I’m a huge quiz-show fan, an armchair Jeopardy champion (in my own mind, of course), and Trivial Pursuit addict (favorite categories: history and geography). It isn’t so much the accumulation in one’s head of what may be pooh-poohed as trivia that ultimately matters; it’s all the reading you have to do to learn something new, reading that will serve you in good stead well after the competition. Indeed, you can’t ever lose from reading, even and especially about places you’ve never been and wonders you’ve never seen.

If you can help in this worthwhile effort to fill our kids’ brains with something other than the deathless lyrics of "Pamela One," please call Pettizou Tayag at 0917-8922560, or e-mail her at ptzou@edsamail.com.ph.
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And while we’re on the subject of charitable deeds, a quiet but talented artist named Manny Ongpauco (BFA, UP ’73) is scheduled to undergo a quadruple heart bypass at the Philippine General Hospital soon, and needs all the help he can get from his friends. If you’re a friend of Manny’s (or can be one), please call his wife Tess at 0917-7469267, or make a direct deposit to PNB Savings Account No. 291-511-94 in the name of Teresita Ongpauco. Why don’t you make this your random act of kindness for the week?
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Send e-mail to Butch Dalisay at penmanila@yahoo.com.

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