In lieu of an effigy, burn this
“We Keel Aswang”: Spot cartoon by the late Benjo Laygo, which appeared in the January 1987 issue of PTYK, ang jaryong komiks published by Nonoy Marcelo

In lieu of an effigy, burn this

ZOETROPE - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - August 3, 2020 - 12:00am

Months of lockdown have seen the passing of some friends and acquaintances not necessarily due to coronavirus, and quarantine and travel constraints prevented us from paying our final respects, such that send-offs must be mostly virtual these days.

Sometime April the teacher and writer Edel Garcellano went on ahead, a little over four years after his old haunts, the UP Faculty Center, burned down. At the FC during a launch of a volume of Caracoa poetry journal in the ’80s, he was sipping some hard stuff from a plastic cup, and after the contents were consumed he placed the cup on the walkway and kicked it as if it were a football.

There were the occasional visits to their professor along Maginhawa Street, along with his ladylove Chato as well as their bosom buddies, philosopher poets Edong Orozco and Doming de Guzman, the gang inclined to further inebriation if not already solved with novels of Dostoevsky.

Once he told me that one of his grandsons had the same name as me, which somehow rang a bell. In 2013 during a trip to Singapore Art Fair, came across the work of his daughter the painter Lyra, a large canvas occupying a good part of a wall in the air-conditioned gallery.

Was a time he shared third place for essay with a famous writer at the Palanca awards, and they couldn’t be made to shake hands, lest one call the other communist.

In May it was the visual artist and chess player Benjo Laygo’s turn to pack up, the longtime artist in residence of Graphic magazine leaving an emptied bottle or two of pale Pilsen at the corner of Pasong Tamo and dela Rosa.

Before Graphic, however, there was Manila Chronicle, part of a posse of illustrators and the odd writer who tried to push Nonoy Marcelo’s car to jumpstart it, back and forth in the Port Area parking lot late in the evening, with a taong grasa nicknamed Rambo watching amusedly nearby. It was Benjo who illustrated an essay in the Sunday edition of that paper, titled “Vagabond Salad,” about similar homeless wide awake under the sky.

His favorite question, whenever I went to Graphic to drop off a music column for sister publication Mirror, or on special occasions at the office where there was always beer and lechon, was if I had attended the Antipolo rock gig in the early ’70s, indeed the local version of Woodstock. Seemed like he had a treasure trove of anecdotes about the concert, a few no doubt apocrypha, including impromptu lovemaking beneath the stage while a band played Smoke on the Water, antecedent of the wild pairs doing it in the bushes of Mount Malasimbo during the annual music festival at Puerto Galera.

Krip Yuson has already written a worthy tribute to his old friend, the director Peque Gallaga, who also passed in May. It was the image of the director strumming Ramona on a guitar in the family hacienda in Bacolod that stands out. As a footnote, someone has also written that a vinyl copy of Bob Dylan’s soundtrack of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid once saved vacationers there from so-called cultural wipeout.

Mama, put these guns on the ground, can’t shoot them anymore, but Peque I had interviewed for Midweek magazine post-EDSA revolution, following release of the cult erotica Scorpio Nights, and after merienda at his place on Doña Hemady he slipped to me some stills from the movie, including one of Anna Marie Gutierrez sucking on the fingers of Daniel Fernando, now governor of Bulacan, knock knocking on heaven’s door.

And after the opened floodgates of tributes, really don’t know if there’s anything more to add to the death on July 21 of Jingle magazine founder and editor Gilbert Guillermo. Except to say that he gave me my first break in journalism, allowing an out-of-school youth to channel wayward energy to something creative however gonzo.

Doing the rounds of the city with a rundown tape recorder and a notebook of teen questions, from the eskinitas of Raon for rare LPs to the press conferences of foreign bands in plush hotels to overnight trips to Olongapo’s Magsaysay dives, we learned the value of the word in a rush, and felt the rush itself.

Sometimes, too, Gilbert would bang his hands on the table of his desk to emphasize a point, during one of those stream-of-consciousness narratives whenever he held fort before the magazine artists and writers. To say we were in awe was beside the point, because the trip was strange as it was good. Walang basagan.

Of course during those days we had a lot of time on our hands, not in the least noticing if a State of the Nation Address had been delivered or not, or even if anyone bothered to make an effigy for burning. Burn this instead, and let the flames and smoke say a prayer of thanks to the departed.

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