Friday, July 13, 2007


… from my usual preoccupation with food and eating to pay tribute to a man. I am not at all given to honoring men. The only man I have ever honored is my father. No other man has been special enough to merit the affections of my heart and the attentions of my pen.

But that changes, if only for today. Today I honor another man.

He went by the name Fredegusto David. F.G. for fashionably short. Sir David, we called him. He taught us, his students, at the Department of Psychology in the University of the Philippines – Diliman. He was short, bald, and handsome, looking like a quirky cross between the Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns and Sting. He had a love for words and a propensity to sound like a dictionary. He studied English Literature in undergrad and was a poet. One of his poems hangs, framed, on one of the walls of the Department Office. And one of his last major peeves, it seemed, was the war in Iraq. How a young, upstart regime can wage war against and ruin a great, ancient civilization was beyond him.

Yesterday, Sir David had a stroke. Today, he is gone.

I mark it in the calendar of my mind: 13 July 2007, Friday.

If you believe in superstition, you would say that today is certainly an unlucky day. But if you studied statistics under Sir David, even if you did believe in superstition, you would have to say that the unluckiness of today is not certain, because nothing ever is. You would say that we can never make statements of certainty. We can only make statements of probability. So you say that today is an unlucky day, the unluckiness of which you can be reasonably certain within a 0.01 margin of error. After all, to demand more than 99% surety is to exercise hubris. Or to be an Atenean, as Sir F.G. used to say, making jocose reference to our brothers and sisters in that Jesuit institution in Katipunan Avenue.

To be an Atenean meant to invoke faith as the wall against which surety rests, a heinous crime in a field that fancies itself a science.

Today, against everything that F.G. tried to teach me in my undergraduate biopsychology class and my graduate statistics classes, against his assertions that “the only universal constant is c2, the speed of light”, but in honest, heartfelt tribute to him, I say… I am only 99% certain that today is an unlucky day, especially for his kin, his friends, and his colleagues and students at the UP-Diliman Department of Psychology. But I am 100% sure, the surest I can ever be, that it is a sad day, for me and everyone else who was ever taught by this man.

I gladly and willingly invoke faith. It is the wall against which our sadness rests.

I do not honor this man because he was a great man. I only knew him as my teacher, after all, and therefore, cannot make such global judgments.

I honor him because he was a man who taught. A man who had a desire to teach more than what was covered by the syllabus. A man who seemed to take it so personally when his students flunked his exams. A man who still went to class even when he was so obviously sick that the class ended up getting canceled anyway and his students had to take him home.

He was a man who taught. For this alone, I pay tribute.

Monday, July 09, 2007


… when you cross a good thing with another good thing? Well, sometimes you get a bad thing, an awful thing, what puritans would call a disgusting abomination, an unpredicted and unpredictable freak that makes the Punnett Square look like a useless heuristic. Like the animals in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Or the Cockadoodle. This is why our parents always tell us, “Don’t mess with a good thing.” Actually, my parents have never told me this. But someone’s parents must have said this at one time or another.

The point is this: sometimes it’s not good to mess with a good thing, or two good things.


Sometimes, though, when you cross a good thing with another good thing, you get a brilliant thing, a wonderful explosion of goodness, something marvelously unpredicted—like all serendipities—but predictably marvelous. A thing of wonder that makes you write awful prose in tribute to it.

Last month, my sister brought home from her month-long honeymoon in Estados Unidos a big jar of roasted almonds and a pack of Kraft caramel candies. Roasted almonds are a good thing. They’re crunchy, and nutty, and salty. They make you thirsty like the proverbial man in the desert, crawling across the sand, croaking out, “agua… agua…” Then when the water comes, it’s so good as it goes down your parched throat. (I’m pretty sure this is a scene from Sesame Street).

Kraft caramel candies are a wonderful thing. And not just because I have a sweet tooth the size of Regine Velasquez’s fake molars, but because they stick to your teeth and gums and it takes a lot of chewing and mashing to get them off, and when you swallow, you feel your throat muscles working, clenching and unclenching, to get that sticky thing through your esophagus and down to your stomach. And you don’t feel guilty about basically eating sugar (literally!) because your mouth, your jaw, your throat, your whole face feels like you just worked out at the face gym, if there’s such a place. It’s wonderful! Awesome! A gift from God, courtesy of Kraft.

You don’t need to know what I was doing or not doing when this bit of cross-pollination occurred. All you need to know is that I was working my facial muscles, working out the caramel in my mouth, when I spotted the big jar of roasted almonds. I looked at it as I chewed. And I thought, in the spirit of experimentation and curiosity and Frankenstein’s monster, what the hell…

I took another caramel candy and popped it in my mouth. Then I took a couple of roasted almonds and popped them in my mouth. Then, I chewed…

And, suddenly, angels were singing in the background. And I saw Moses sitting at the right hand of God. He was eating caramel candies and roasted almonds too!

I was in heaven. (Forgive the Judaeo-Christian bias. I would have said I was in Nirvana, but since Nirvana is an “undifferentiated and undefined state of bliss,” attempting to differentiate and define it would have been missing the point. And I do so hate to miss the point.).

Heaven only lasted as long as it took me to chew and swallow this new sweet-salty confection I had invented. In about five seconds I was back on earth, specifically my living room, armed with new, celestial knowledge, another mini-epiphany to add to my ever-growing list.

Caramel candies and roasted almonds are a great pair. The crunch of the almonds cuts through the sticky caramel, and the salt somehow makes the caramel sweeter. You don’t lose one flavor over the other. You can still taste both, only at the same time. So you’re chewing and your tongue makes clicking noises against the roof of your mouth. But now you also hear the crunch, and you taste the nuttiness. It’s a marriage between equals. It is well-defined bliss.

I’ve decided to give my invention a name like those one-named celebrity pairings. I’m thinking of calling them Caramonds. Or Almamels. Hmm… I think Caramonds sounds nicer.

Caramonds. They’re a good thing.