Qwertyman for Monday, April 24, 2023
(For this week, let me offer a little family drama about my favorite school, this being exam season, and before I get the usual calls from anxious friends.)
“HEY, UPCAT is back, they’re holding UPCAT live again!” Marides waved the newspaper in her husband Bong’s face. Bong was watching a car show on TV where they found old cars in barns and turned a bucket of rust into a gleaming, raging roadster. Somehow it gave him hope that, down the road when he became a senior and ached all over, they could ply him full of oils and sealants and make him go like a teenager again.
“What UPCAT?” At least the question proved he was listening. Marides had that godawful habit of intruding on his most blissful moments with some real-world problem, and then getting on his case when he ignored her. Twenty-five years of marriage, four kids, and she still didn’t know when to leave him be.
“UPCAT—the University of the Philippines College Admission Test, the same one I took and passed thirty years ago, which led to me representing UP and meeting and beating you in an inter-collegiate debate, remember? After which you got my number and asked me out and proposed to me three months later, remember?”
Bong hated it when Marides reminded him of that first encounter and its outcome, which became a given of sorts in their household—she was smarter than him, she had all the better arguments, and who knows what she could have become—a corporate genius, a Supreme Court justice—if he hadn’t saddled her with babies and insisted on working for the both of them. He was good with the money, she had to grant him that, because he was the agreeable type who made all the right connections and who could hustle his way out of a guilty verdict if he had to, as he more than once had to.
“So what if UPCAT’s back?” he asked for the sake of asking. On the TV, two mechanics were staring at a big hole where a Corvette’s engine should have been.
“Dondon is in his senior year. He’s supposed to be taking it soon. We need to make sure his papers are in order. Where’s that boy? Dondon! Come out for a minute, will you?”
A teenager with frizzy hair and a phone glued to his ear straggled out of his room and deposited himself in the nearest chair, across the room from his parents, still mumbling on his phone.
“You know UPCAT is happening, right? Have you filed your application yet?”
“Yes, Ma—mumble mumble….”
“Will you please put that phone down while your parents are talking to you? Bong, could you teach your son some manners—”
Bong: “Mumble mumble….”
“I’m serious! You two listen to me—our family’s reputation is on the line!”
“What reputation, Ma?” Dondon grudgingly put his phone aside, and Bong yawned and stretched his arms to acknowledge that he was in for a long spell.
“The one I started, by passing the UPCAT, getting into UP, and serving the people any way I could!”
“But, Ma, all you ever did was to bear us babies, and look what we became—Ate Glo is divorced in the States, all Kuya Jeff does is drive Papa around, and Kuya Milo thinks more tattoos will make him a better rocker. And all of them passed the UPCAT because you told them to!”
“Well—that was my service—to them, and to our people. I give you the opportunity, and what you make of it, well, that’s your business….” Marides started sobbing, and Dondon ran across the room to embrace her.
“Aw, Ma, that’s not what I meant. I just wanted you to see that getting into UP doesn’t guarantee anything.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying all these years!” Bong added. “We’ve been sending our kids to a school for communists, and they don’t even make good communists anymore!”
“No, they don’t,” Marides shot back, “because those communists took the top five places in the bar exams!” She sniffled and Dondon handed her a box of tissues.
“Don’t cry, Ma. It’s all right, it’s all okay. Applications are done online now and my school sent all my papers in last week. I just didn’t tell you both because—well, Papa wanted to explore other options—”
“Other options? Like what?”
“Like sending him abroad to a school of his choice. We have the money—”
“What, you’ll be sending my baby, our bunso, away for the next four years?”
“Or he can pick any other school here he wants to! UP’s not the only good school for engineering or science in this country—”
“I don’t want to be an engineer, Pa….”
“What? You’re a science high school scholar! You have to be an engineer—or a chemist, a physicist, do something with numbers, you don’t have a choice!”
“I never did, Pa, you and Ma chose my high school for me, I just took the exam. Maybe I should have just failed it.”
“So what the hell do you want to do with your life? Who’s going to take over the business when I’m gone?”
“Maybe you should trust Kuya Jeff more. Keep him in the backseat with you. Me, I want to draw, to paint, to design, do something creative. I know I’m good—you’ve seen my sketches, you just haven’t paid much attention to them.”
“We just want you to be happy, son,” said Marides. “We’ll support whatever you decide—won’t we, Bong?”
“Uhm—yes, okay, sure, if it makes you happy, but will you stop crying? I’ll make sure Dondon gets into UP, even if he fails the UPCAT—”
“I’ll call an old friend of mine, you know me, I know all the right people. He used to be a VP in Quezon Hall, I’m sure he can pull a few strings and get you in—”
“Pa, that’s not how I want to get into UP, that’s not what UP’s about—”
“Oh, you mean that guy who now writes a column about funny things like fountain pens and his wife Weng for a newspaper? Forget it. Chuchay called him last year to ask for the same favor, but he said sorry, no, he won’t do anything of the sort, that it’s just not done in UP!”
“Why, that useless jerk! Doesn’t he know how things work in this country? I’m sure UP’s just as full of jokers and crooks as Customs, Congress, the Palace, you name it! Don’t half the people in those places come from UP?”
“Maybe, Pa—but that’s why I want to go there, because it still has people like your friend who won’t let me in unless I pass the UPCAT! Don’t worry, Ma—I’ll do my best, I promise.”
“Oooh, my son’s going to be the next Amorsolo!” Starts singing: “UP naming mahal, pamantasang hirang….”
“I have a friend who owns a gallery….” Bong began.