Saturday, September 17, 2011

Inky past

CAN you read?

For someone who devoured books, I had one of the worst pick-up lines: check the sentence before this.

This is exactly quoted from a boy I pounced on to read my radio script. That he happened to have the cutest shorts running around the soccer field of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu was only his secondary asset.

It mattered more that he did not mangle English. After haggling with the gods, I had a radio talent-slash-news assistant-slash-boyfriend weeks after my victim first cleared his throat and read the lines thrust at him after stepping out of the men’s CR.

In the 1980s, Communication Arts students in UP Cebu took up writing and specialized in broadcasting. This was because our fiercest professors were stalwarts in radio and TV. Our part-time lecturers often stumbled to class late or never after putting the newspaper to bed at unholy hours.

Perversely, I loved writing and faced the bleakest future in broadcasting. The countdown leading to the “On Air” sign flicking red in the radio lab drove away my words like startled birds driven to seek refuge in a pre-9/11 sky.

Broadcasting depends on technology. Technology means equipment. Aside from requiring money this state scholar didn’t have, equipment has odd fetishes, such as plug the cord, fiddle with a button or check out the battery. What genius can remember all these?

Exempted from my phobia was the typewriter. You know where you stand with this invention. My father’s Underwood was gargantuan and immovable; till now, I create and compose best at a desk facing familiar walls.

A light, portable typewriter may have been more convenient. Yet it smacked too much of the libertine, this shifting, shiftless hopping from one desk to another.

Not only did the pounding of keys required by the family Underwood tone my arms, the noise provided orchestral emphasis that writing is mutable but serious. Not all mistakes can be covered up. Writing and rewriting is instinct, a reflex at the level of breathe in, breathe out.

This was the prosaic setting of my college romance: from writing by hand, I tangoed with the typewriter and later explored the printing press. After getting over the exasperatingly sweetish muck of infatuation, my boyfriend-not-MU (mutual understanding) and I settled down to timing our dates with my schedule at the press that was printing our infamously progressive, unread student paper.

From the coy challenge of “do you read,” I was now asking the poor fellow, “can you strip?”. To this day, I’m not sure if he got a kick from checking the grammar of the overwrought essays and turgid poems our editorial team decided was the proper dose for bourgeois stupor.

Perhaps he just felt it his duty to stay with a girl stuck for hours in a room full of men who stripped to the waist whenever the air-conditioning unit quit (often). More ambrosial than virgin paper was the smell of chemicals from the dark room where the lay-out was shot and turned into a negative image. In the stripping section, we worked with cutters, slicing out the paper and daubing maroon paint to expose only the parts of the negative to be printed on the plate.

Sound is everything. Any lovemaking couple, a woman giving birth, a pornographer will attest.

No less primordial is the sound of the presses running. Printing is not unlike a couple testing out their compatibility. There’s an experimental run to check if the fluids are flowing, check; colors bright, check; pages aligned, check.

The run- stop-check tedium is messy but requisite, foreplay to somebody shouting to let her rip until the final seminal outburst: a set of pages printed, awaiting cutting, binding, reading. From the impatience of waiting for the run to start, to the panic of imagining the uncorrected errors being printed, and the near hysteria when the press stops, the silence echoing with the unimaginable until one smells before sees the freshly printed sheets—no wonder one of my college romances fizzled.

The other endures till now, the start of the 17h Cebu Press Freedom Week.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 18, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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