After a year in college my father thought that I was not really getting anywhere and suggested that I work as a printer’s devil in a small printing shop that he had a minor investment in. After being confronted by some of my inadequacies I just had to scale down my aspirations and flopped back to earth shelving the dream to be a media celebrity like my older siblings.
The prospect of having spending money was an attractive one and so I agreed with my father to work in Guaranty Press which was located in Buendia a few meters away from Taft Avenue. I half realized that most of the things I will be doing in a small printing press were menial ones. Cutting huge stacks of paper in a manual cutter, cleaning the printing presses, preparing the stencils and working as part of the crew delivering the printed products to clients’ offices were among the items in the job description. The only cerebral endeavor in the place was proofreading the types set in the stripping department.
It was too late to back out. The job was okay and bearable except for the dirtied hands and ink indelibly lodged in the fingernails that could not be removed no matter how long you scrubbed. It was only then that I understood the frustration behind Lady Macbeth’s pining “out damned spot! out I say!”. I didn’t shake hands with new acquaintances for as long as I was with the printing press. On the positive side I always had money. I rode in my Dad’s car to work and brought packed lunch that my mom prepared. The only expense I had was jeepney fare from work to school. When I didn’t have packed lunch for some reason I would go with the rest of the workers and have lunch with them in the roadside carinderia.
One experience that cured me from squeamishness was when I was having lunch and the soup that was served had this big greenish fly doing a backstroke in it. I complained about it and without any hesitation the carinderia lady scooped the fly off with a ladle and admonished me for not doing it myself. I was also introduced to the exquisiteness of canine cuisine when I shared lunch with my coworkers.
Friday was payday and it was also “happy” time. After having worked five days like a devil, a printer’s devil that is, it was a day of reward. I would skip school and join my coworkers to sample the delights of the Santa Ana Cabaret. The Santa Ana Cabaret was at that time Asia’s largest dance hall. It had two bandstands each with a big band blaring incessantly at each other. I think it was Toots Dila’s band on one end and Anastacio Mamaril’s band on the other, blaring a reply to whatever Toots dished out.
It seemed like there were thousands of “ballerinas” or penny dancers all eager to take on anyone, that is, anyone who had tickets. The tickets were being sold at twenty centavos each and you surrender it to your partner at the end of each dance number. If a girl catches your fancy you can give her an extra ticket that would guarantee you a closer body contact and be allowed other uncivil liberties during the next dance. A neat trick that the boys at work taught me was to buy a long link of tickets and wear them like a garland to make me look every bit the big spender. This was a surefire attraction to the ladies who would come and surround you allowing you a chance to have the best pick.
I think my father soon realized that my stint in the printing press was a cruel banishment. Besides he didn’t look kindly at my making Santa Ana Cabaret an established haunt. By that time I was developing a blackhand complex (I just gave it a name…case histories of these are unknown). Keeping my hands always in my pant pockets manifested my paranoia. I had to hide my hands when in front of the girls not only in school but also from the Maryknollers and the Assumptionistas in our Loyola Heights neighborhood. How can one explain such disgustingly black stained hands? Had I hidden my hands in the fold of my shirt across my chest my dementia could have been mistaken for a Napoleonic complex. After a year of this I was paroled from my exile and was reinstated the status of full time student. I bade my friends in the printing press goodbye a little heavy of heart for I knew that I would not be seeing them again. I have grown older. From then on simple but earnest friends like Pepe, Pol, and Tony would be hard to come by. I likened my stay with them as an opportune meandering that left me with lessons, important lessons on relationships; respect for people from all stations in life and it made meaningful the cliché on the dignity of labor.