A star was here

When Rodney died part of us went with him. I lost a colleague in the Ormoc Historical Society where he was the secretary. He would have written the life story of Ormoc’s ‘Camay’ girl whose silhouette appeared on soap bars. I also lost a Toastmasters critic who could mimic the manners and voice patterns of our club members. He impersonated me as the shifty eyed public speaker needlessly adjusting eye glasses on the podium and pedantic with my forefinger used as baton stick to stress a point. Most of all, my wife and I lost a friend, brother, constant house visitor and singing companion.

To say the man was talented is to state the sun is hot or ice when held long enough blisters the skin. His many talents were his charm, and downfall: for is not high talent a source of pride and complacency while simultaneously courting jealous remarks from non-accepting colleagues? As philosopher Santayana puts it man’s great difficulty is not so much choosing good from bad as good from good. If you sing like Jack Jones (‘Love Boat’), Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis all rolled into one and strut like an overweight Michael Jackson you are something, and not just in small town Ormoc. But Rod does not just sing. He woes and cuddles the audience with measured antics, throws the mike on air, turns, catches it and tap dances. He was a performer nonpareil, a Christmas tree lit all over by firecrackers. He was also a choreographer, public speaker with impeccable—if overemphasized—pronunciation, artistic director, actor, composer of its ‘Ormoc for Me’ song, couturier (made me two Indian inspired shirts), landscape artist and ukay-ukay expert who knew where to pick the right suit making one look chic and not just a blast from the 60’s. With this barrage of talents, one can become hard put which one to attend to first: In Rodney’s case he juggled them in one personality to the delight of those close to him, and irritation and envy of those who refuse to appreciate.

Early morning of February 26 a phone call reached us telling our friend was ‘no more.’ The news took time to coagulate, and up to now difficult to comprehend. When my wife and I went to the funeral parlour he was just there at the preparation table. Hands clasped, blondish hair streaks brushed to the sides and oxygen tube attached to his nose. He looked like he was going to walk anytime with his trademark swagger and we felt like nudging him from sleep. Days before, we practiced for a contest and I could see how pleased he was with the speech’s new title ‘Meditations of a Solitary Man,’ suggestive of a newly attained ‘humility’—his.  We also agreed to go for authentic gestures that naturally dramatize the message. Then, we gobbled the barbecue and laughed like our days won’t end beside the lazy flow of Malbasag river. At the stalls one may notice the reflections of distant houses and the ‘hasag’ of ‘manonolo’ fishermen wading through waist-deep waters at the bay while thrusting portable nets.

Rodney told me he converted the movements of these fisher folks into dance forms. So with the kangkong gatherers of Anilao river and tartanilla drivers at the pier waiting for M/V Don Ramon’s arrival. He would mimic their motions:  at once familiar yet novel, simultaneously universal and vernacular. What a pity such sparks could not bloom beyond amateur attempts: to be performed, enjoyed and be the city’s pride in terms of artistic and cultural heritage.

Tomorrow is our friend’s 9th day of the novena. I suggested his mother serve egg curry since that was his new favourite. We ate that during the joint Ormoc-Tacloban Toastmasters meeting a month before his passing. That was also when he delivered what everyone agreed was his best—a textured and subtle—speech: ‘Lo, the speech and the speaker are one!’  That night he wore his sweater sprinkled with tear-shaped pearl beads. Two weeks before his death our group was at Don Quixote lounge. There Rodney sang our requests. His last song—a Jack Jones and Nora Aunor favourite—was dedicated to us, his friends: True Picture. Afterwards, since that was two days before Valentine, he said something about love and hinted that while others may think he was ‘superficial’ but when it comes to love, ‘my love is never superficial.’ That was vintage Rodney, as we have always known him, our friend and star!

Gil is a Ph.D. in Law student at Macquarie University doing research on ‘Environmental Migration and other Forced Migrations in the Pacific.’ He may be contacted at gil.tabucanon@mq.edu.au


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