There lay Manny, looking as relaxed and casual in death as in life.
None of the formal and redundantly stiff barong Tagalog for him, but instead, a red jacket over casual T-shirt and, I presume, shorts.
No one but Manny would be caught dead underdressed for his heavenly arrival.
But then that was our dear Manny, breaking all the rules as only he could, with class and aplomb.
How could anyone have expected him to stop joking just because he had stopped living? And so, there, written on cards stood against the lid of his coffin, were some of his jokes, presenting themselves to all who cared to peer for a last look and who, as Manny would have surely wished, ended up in stitches instead of commiserating. For our dearest Manny, there simply was no inappropriate time for a good laugh, and no chance to be missed either to crack friends up.
And, like the natural comic he was, he did not laugh at his own jokes, although possibly also because he didn’t want to trigger a smoker’s cough, a symptom precisely of what brought him here, six months shy of his 80th, on August 14.
He did quit smoking, but by then other complications had set in, and it was doubtful if it would have turned things around for him.
Dr. Tids Jamora, the famous pulmonologist, would probably have given him the same explanation he gave my mom whenever she complained why she still got emphysema in spite of having quit 25 years before she herself, at 85, went on, peacefully, during a morning nap: “We may have put out the fire, but the house was already burned.”
Jokes, to be sure, were not all Manny was famous for. Oya, one of his two children, both girls—the other is Ina—had displayed his winning photographs by his coffin.
“My father,” she posts, “lived by the principle that anything worth doing is worth doing well. So, he excelled in almost anything he set his mind on, because he pursued them with a sort of obsessive discipline—work, student journalism, chess, darts, backgammon, billiards, photography.”
“Dad,” she continues, “took up photography simply because he wanted to capture my and Ina’s growing-up moments. And true to form, he quickly won a string of photography awards, and became the first Master Photographer of the illustrious Camera Club of the Philippines.
“He had an extraordinary eye for beauty, color, composition—and shoes.” Not a dandy, at all, but he was surprisingly very particular about his shoes.
Surprise for Gilda
Oya reminds us about one of the tricks he played on good friend Gilda Cordero Fernando, and just imagining how it must have gone gets me giggling. Oya retells it: “For years, he organized surprise birthday parties for Tita Gilda—on days that were not her birthday.”
I can almost hear the conversation between Manny and Gilda on those non-occasions.
Gilda: Hindi ko naman birthday, ah.
Manny: Eh, kaya nga surprise!
Come to think of it, Peng, with the connivance of their two daughters, had successfully pulled off a surprise birthday party for him on his 75th. But the surprise must have impacted more on his party-attired guests. The honoree appeared in his red jacket, T-shirt and shorts! He seemed most pleased not to have had to dress up for his own party, and all the others did, and were, therefore, out of place!
Manny was best friend to the late Onib Olmedo, who was just as funny and who continued to live in the eternal affection of a group of ladies who called themselves Las Viudas de Onib. Reluctant to let Onib go, they clung to Manny for Onib memories and for laughs. Peng, of course, was only too happy to indulge her friends.
In one of Onib’s early death anniversaries, Vergel and I were part of the group celebrating Onib’s life, genius and friendship. Vergel himself was a special friend to Onib and Manny, going back a long way.
That night, Manny was, as usual, a continuous source of Onib stories and jokes. He was seated to my left. I never laughed so much in one night and could hardly recover my poise between jokes.
Suddenly, my cell phone, on the table, rang. The caller was identified as Manny, who clearly had not touched his phone all night. We all stopped laughing for a while, until it was unanimously decided that the call must have come from the other jokester, Onib, the honoree, making his presence felt that night, using Manny’s phone.
To this day the mystery remains unsolved, but I guess not to the two now-united-in-heaven best friends.