The pieces of friendly advice I gave to Willie Revillame in this column a week ago yielded a lot of positive feedback — to my extreme joy and relief. But I will be modest and keep those comments to myself.
What made me happy was the fact that I was able to reconnect with old friends who went out of their way to look for my number and got in touch with me.
There was young Red Cross governor Joanne Zapanta-Andrada, who I met through Red Cross icon Rosa Rosal. Joanne and I had always been just a text away from each other and I occasionally bump into her at social events.
I also got a text message from singer Von Arroyo, who now has his successful events company, V Factor. Von had clinched an endorsement deal for me in the past for a clothing line, Jewels. But we meet up only once or twice a year at the most.
The biggest surprise text came from Lollie Mara. Today’s generation should be familiar with her. She was the haughty doña in the cold tablet television commercial.
I’d like to think that Lollie and I started our careers at the same time. I was just a few months into journalism and she was widow who had to work to support her children (one of them grew up to be actor Lorenzo “Tata” Mara). She was hired by Hotel Mirador, which was off San Marcelino Street in Manila. I have no idea what happened to that hotel, but — along with Hotel Intercontinental — it was known then for mounting dinner theaters. At the price of P150, you had a buffet spread and a show. The political upheaval after that, unfortunately, screwed up the economy and today P150 is what I pay for a whole day’s parking in some malls in Makati.
I have no idea if Lollie felt the same way, but I sensed that we were both groping our way into our respective jobs. But she had always been maternal even then — and professional (young PR people can learn from her).
We lost touch after she left Mirador and one day I discovered that she was already a character actress on film and TV (she had always been a good-looking mestiza). And then I found out that she was already working in Malacañang — with Maria Montelibano’s communications group, I think.
I have no idea what she’s up to now, but maybe I’ll text her to find out and relive the glorious days when P150 could buy you a feast and a full-scale musical/comedy presentation.
Another text message I got that warmed my heart came from Ai-Ai de las Alas. Ai-Ai and I never had the chance to sit down together even just for coffee, but we know we are friends. The longest conversation we probably had was the time we hosted a company party where everyone were busy talking to each other and getting sloshed at the open bar.
This is one moment of my career that I will never forget: Annoyed by the rowdiness of the crowd (they were a pain), Ai-Ai told me — with the microphone on: “Hindi naman nakikinig sa atin ‘yang mga — expletives deleted — ‘yan, eh!” You know what? She was right. Nobody reacted to what she said because everybody just went on carousing with each other at the party — drunk. I also want to clarify that it wasn’t the foulest vernacular cuss word she uttered, but something less coarse.
Of course, Ai-Ai is noted for her onstage naughtiness. In private, I’ve heard colorful stories (all unconfirmed) about her love life. We were never close enough to each other though for me to have been privy to those.
What I witnessed all those years was her simple persona. I would also like to add helpful and caring.
In December 1992, when I was just four months into my job on TV, ABS-CBN put up a Christmas special and I was made to do a production number that required singing and dancing (all those who coached me in those areas shifted careers shortly after — I don’t understand why).
Mine was the fourth number and I was panicking when the show started (it was live) because while I was already wearing my tuxedo, my hair was still a mess. In those days, ABS-CBN only had one makeup room and very few people who were under Norma Calubaquib, who loved me like her son and I miss her (can anyone tell me where she is?).
Mommy Nyorms, which was how we called her, wanted to prioritize me, except that there were senior male celebrities who were there ahead of me. They, too, needed styling and were waiting for their turn. I was supposed to go to Bhoy Navarette, but traffic was hell in this part of Aurora Boulevard. To solve the problem of hair grooming, I later had it cut by Celeste Tuviera of Symmetria and I never owned a comb since then. Every strand now falls in the right place with just my fingers.
But going back to my hair dilemma back then. Ai-Ai saw me frantic and she summoned me to her corner and volunteered to blow dry my hair. We only needed gel. Luckily, Eula Valdes had a tube with her. Whew, Ai-Ai (and Eula, too) saved the day for me. Ai-Ai and I still joke about that incident to this day.
Unfortunately, that is one of Ai-Ai’s many facets (the genuinely talented has plenty of personalities) that people do not know about: Her basic simplicity and helpful ways. Through the years, in her interviews, I’ve noticed how she developed her sense of maturity (nothing like motherhood to do that for you) and I’m happy for her.
In her last text (we only text each other twice a year, comforted by the knowledge that we are just there for each other), I discovered how she had also become spiritual under the guidance of Bo Sanchez. No, she’s not flaunting that and I’m not sure if I should have published it, but she is clearly headed for the right and positive direction and that is good news. It’s so exemplary of her.
As I type this piece, I can’t believe how one column opened a door to the past to let in people I knew from way back when. Maybe it’s about time I got reunited with some of them and talk about the good old times.
It’s just a pity that our P150 in those days can now only buy us a value meal each — with nothing much left for extra rice.