Of late, much of my social life has been dominated by visiting wakes of departed friends. Like countless of his friends and admirers, I joined in grieving Angelo Castro’s passing with much sorrow.
There is a Latin saying, “Di mortus nil nisi bonum,” whose message continues to overlay the pall that followed his death. It means, don’t speak ill of the dead. Though the tributes run the risk of raising the condolence level to a hagiography of sorts, they are nonetheless a fair measure of the man’s remarkable life and popularity.
I’m writing this piece not to honor Angelo, or Jun to his old friends, in the same familiar vein of admiration and respect he nonetheless deserves. He was a journalist of the sternest stuff whose calling made him appreciate the diversity and symmetry of life, one whose earthly journey could be summed up as a richly textured life he shared graciously with others.
That being said, I go back in time to when we first met as high school students in short pants.
Jun belonged to a class one year our junior in the University of the Philippines (UP) High School, circa late ’50s. Despite the slight differences in class ranking and age, we had shared moments of mischievous fun and naughty games. He had a nicely chiseled chin that went well with his pubescent good looks, and he was all brashness and energy-packed in a slender frame.
He and his classmates occasionally joined us on yosi breaks at recess time, which could be in the toilet or at the Balara drugstore—far from the radar range of our overly stern principal. At the time, cigarettes were dirt cheap, and five centavos got you two sticks. Filter tips like the menthol Spud and Snowman were still novelties, while the non-filter regulars went by the names of Fighter and Golden Coin.
It’s probably safe to say that Angelo’s addiction to cigarettes started in UP High environs, but who cares? The devil in him might as well have said, “Hell, I’ll die for my smoke anytime!” Reckless words he would live and die for.
Humane to hematoma
In college, he applied to join the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity, a few years after I became a member. Coming from a family with roots in the Upsilon and sister sorority Sigma Delta Phi, he didn’t escape the harsh initiation rites that ranged from moderate to morbid, from humane to hematoma.
Word had it that on the first novice day, where intimidation was the name of the game, a master demanded of Angelo: “Why do you want to be an Upsilonian? Matalino, mayaman, mayabang at gwapo ka ba?”
His unflinching reply was, “All of the above, master.” For that chutzpah, he received three vigorous slaps that corresponded to each word of the fraternity appellation.
He was active in stage plays and cavalcades, where his cool and confident voice found its place. For one who had no scholarly pretensions, he hung out in the Capitol Hills and Eagles Nest, where occasional off-campus scrapes and skirmishes were commonplace. While he had that rakish air and bluster, he was affectionately kind and helpful to his “brods” and friends, even to strangers who were in dire straits.
After college, we took different paths but eventually ended up with the same employer: the Lopez media empire. Angelo was a pioneer broadcast figure in ABS-CBN, while I became a reporter and desk editor of Manila Chronicle. It was a neat reprisal of roles. His father was a famous radio announcer of his time, while I stepped into the same footprints of my father, who was a founding editor of the Chronicle.
When I returned from an 18-year deployment overseas as a rebel against the Marcos dictatorship, it was inevitable our paths would cross again. In fraternity get-togethers where he was a frequent emcee and in his resto-bar across the ABS compound, he was still the same old Angelo of decades gone by, puffing endless sticks of Marlboro and venting his usual purple prose while nursing a beer bottle or a whiskey glass.
I regretted not being able to join him in his Sinatra moments as much as I wanted, for I was a late bloomer wannabe Ole Blue Eyes. But the one time we blended voices was when we alternately crooned stanzas from a Sinatra song that I instinctively felt was made for Angelo. It went, “The cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces/ An airline ticket to romantic places/ Oh, how the ghost of you clings/ These foolish things remind me of you…”
At the Upsilon final rites for Angelo, the Castro residence had little remaining elbow room for the bereaved brods—spanning generations from their 20s to their 80s—who came to pay their last respects.
I arrived too late. The Illustrious Fellow was banging the gavel to declare that the final rites for the brother now resting in the bosom of The Most Senior Noble Fellow of the Universe were over. For if I had to speak my succinct tribute, I would bid them listen, “Farewell! evening voice, one-of-a-kind romancero, irresistible rake. When I meet you in the sun, I shall tell you much.”