ADRIAN Cristobal could have written the great Filipino novel.
Unfortunately, his social, political, and journalistic engagements arguably prevented him from doing so.
After all, everybody needs to earn their keep, a lesson not lost on Cristobal, who, despite having occupied the helm of the Social Security System (SSS) during the Marcos regime, emerged as one of the Philippines’ highest paid and most versatile literary artists.
His early fame and eventual fortune did little to destroy nor discourage his abilities, allowing him to produce a lecture that dealt with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, formulate a preface to an imaginary Philippine literature anthology (in the tradition of Stanislaw Lem and Jorge Luis Borges), and compose I, Suliman, a short story reminiscent of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius and Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian.
Meanwhile, his pieces for dailies and weeklies were as well-written as those produced without a regular deadline, reportedly prompting a female sex therapist to make a flattering but nevertheless risqué comment about his writing style.
He even wrote in Taglish at least twice for his column in a local English language daily. The first was intended to poke fun at the colloquialisms of a certain presidential daughter while the second was to underscore the confusion plaguing the national government’s language policy.
Although he freely admitted that the pieces he wrote for newspapers were “perishable,” Cristobal later agreed to have them published in Pasquinades, a collection of columns for the defunct Sunday Globe Magazine.
When the book was launched at the Manila Hotel’s Champagne Room in September 1993, Cristobal was, during that period, teaching at the University of the Philippines.
However, unlike lesser mortals, the college dropout never asked nor demanded for a teaching slot.
Cristobal was invited to teach by the state university’s English department, hoping that he would boost its writing program, which, like UP’s coño kids and communists, was not taken very seriously.
To ensure the invitation’s acceptance, Cristobal was offered full use of a small library as his classroom. Named after National Artist for Literature Francisco Arcellana, the room, at that time, was one of the few department facilities that was airconditioned.
While what UP offered was a small consolation—and the pay even smaller—Cristobal agreed to teach in the same institution whose Board of Regents he was a member of decades earlier.
In June 1993, Cristobal began to meet his dozen or so students, which he immediately christened the X-Men, after a group of comic book superhumans whose adventures he followed when a grandson convinced him to read about it.
As a result, his students—mostly English and Mass Communication majors—were instructed to name themselves after any one of the group’s characters.
Shortly after the class adopted the names Storm and Cyclops, among others, Cristobal, not to be outdone, proclaimed himself as Professor X, also known as Charles Xavier, who headed the fictional group.
During the first few meetings, Professor X asked his underlings what they expected from class.
An English major, who adopted the name Bishop, said that he wanted to write like the professor.
“Just having half your wit would be enough,” he said, trying his best to flatter the man of letters.
The professor tried to hide his amusement.
“If that happened,” he replied, “what would that make you?”
The class suddenly fell silent, recognizing that the situation was ripe for a razor sharp one-liner.
“You’d be a half-wit, that’s what,” the professor said, smiling.
The student laughed and took it in stride.
It was, after all, a put-down that could come from the one and only Adrian Cristobal.
This was published in the January 2007 edition of Personal Fortune, the monthly magazine of BusinessMirror.