Uro’s father died in his sleep on the morning of the 25th. He was in his 80s and had been ill for some time. Butch was thinking of driving to Lucban, Quezon for the wake. “On the way there, we could stop at Ernest Santiago’s restaurant for lunch.” The restaurant had opened about a month before Ernest’s death.
“Great idea,” I said. “Two wakes on the same day, way to spend the holidays.” I never met Ernest Santiago, but I’ve heard many stories about him and the Cocobanana era. Joey Reyes recalled how Ernest used to turn away would-be customers at the velvet rope by saying, “Go away, it’s not your year.”
“And on the way back, we could go to Adrian Cristobal’s wake.”
“Making it three wakes on Boxing Day,” I pointed out. “The Road Trip of Death.” I had met Adrian Cristobal, but never got to know him, much to my regret. He chaired the board of judges for the English short story at the Palanca awards the year my story won. According to Isagani Cruz, Adrian had championed my story over the second prize winner, which was perfect, the more accomplished work. Adrian said my story “grabs you by the neck”â€”very apt description, as that is how I try to write. In fact that is how I conduct my relationships, which probably explains why most of them run shrieking for their lives. So Portents got the first, and at the awards dinner Adrian broke about twenty fingers of my right hand and boomed, “You don’t look old enough to know what portents are!” That was as good as it got for me at the Palancas; I joined a couple more times and got two thirds, then I decided to quit while I was ahead.
The car’s brakes were shot, so the road trip was cancelled. Instead we had lunch with Tina at Szechuan House at the Aloha Hotel, where David Byrne stayed when he was in Manila, in case you’re a fan. When Dick Baldovino the photographer was alive, we would visit the Norte and Chinese cemeteries after Christmas. It was the best antidote to the enforced gaiety of the season: the reminder that we were mortal.