(In deference to Dean Martin)
SOME forty-four years ago, or maybe even more, looking back into those restless and carefree high school days when fun and games were norms and acting goofy was essentially cool, a torrent of images rush back to me like a time machine. Then I realize I still got that impish grin of my youth.
“Ah, youth…wasted on the wrong people!” the Man on the Porch would tell George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Damn! All gates are closed. It was flag ceremony time and that means trouble to those outside the fence. Some of us who didn’t make the time were scurrying over the walls on Doroteo Jose Street (now Tomas Mapua Street) to get inside the school quadrangle.
One of those was Salvador Villanueva, who climbed the wall. He had already made it inside when one of his fingers caught up with the barbed wire. We saw the bones of his finger still protruding from his hand…and skinless! Somehow we, the young kids, still saw it as something funny despite of the horrific gore that it was. They say kids will always be kids, but we were no longer children then. And there was blood to frighten us, but still our mischievousness got the better in us. We just laughed at the grisly tragedy that happened to Salvador.
The Arellano High School in the 60’s, or the Manila North as it was known then before us was, and still is, not in an awesome locations. The school was or is it still in a tough neighborhood—Teodora Alonza, Lope de Vega, Doroteo Jose, Claro M. Recto, Rizal Avenue, Miserecordia, Jose Abad Santos, Bambang, and Ongpin? During our days, there were different gangs vying for recognition—the Sigue-Sigue Sputnit and the OXO—gangs that could give you trouble anytime you encounter them innocently. We also had our own school gang—the Sneakers—where we painted our Elpo or Converse rubber shoes with any color—black, red, green white, etcetera.
The place were our school was and still is, is a little bit scary to those not familiar with the place as there were suspicious individuals always hanging around on corner streets. Those were bullies, pickpockets, hold-uppers, and extortionists and when you do bump into them, you’re in for a not-so comfortable fix.
And that’s what happened to me and my friends one mid-afternoon as we were taking our snacks in a corner store along Lope de Vega and Teodora Alonzo Streets. A toughie mingled with us and all of a sudden announced with his threatening voice that we form a single line in front of him. He ordered us to place a ten centavo on our head. Being familiar with tough guys appearing every now and then in the area, we didn’t resist. We followed like obedient children.