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Ode to the Bagumbayan Boys and Farewell to Mar Ocampo

There was a low wall at the corner of Bagumbayan and Ateneo Avenue in the late 60s and 70s. A group of young men appropriated that wall and the history of Naga from that corner was never the same again.

For these boys, their territory began from the corner, with that wall, and ended with the Nabua home. In between were the homes of the Reytas and the Brazals.

Perched on that wall were the boys who dreamt big and fun, dreamt crazy about films and plays, literature and societies, protests and religions, and arts of all persuasions in their own trenchant way. Let us call them by their first names – Minio, Pidon, Aton, Melo, Bebot, Ing, and Mar. Our home then at No. 40 Ateneo Avenue was properly represented by Manong Pempe who became “Pemps.” There was no roster of membership. The prerequisite was only the ability not to take oneself seriously and the heart disabled enough to face any failure. Thus, other young men from other places could drop by anytime, and leave anytime. Name them: Ben or Bantu, Abe, Mario (I remember three of them), Jeffrey, and many more.

Unlike Humpty Dumpty, they were not afraid to fall from that wall. But when Martial Law came, some of them became like Humpty Dumpty whose fall attracted all the king’s horses and all the king’s men (With the rest of the nation, we all fell under the dictator).

But let us leave out the politics from these reminiscence.

I would rather think of these young men and their street-corner and their wall in the manner of memory, following John Irving, as a monster. The writer says: “Your memory is a monster; you forget – it doesn’t. It simply files things way. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you – and summons them to your recall…”

And summon these memories I do now.

That place was a rite of passage for everyone, even for those who did not go and stay there. It was from that corner where these boys/men learned how to drink, and how to mix drink. Coca Cola, Beer, Gin and god knows what else. Sometimes, they also mixed thoughts about the future.

In that gathering was developed the humor and the irreverence that marked the Bikol play, Octavio Series. This was the play that was based on a radio commercial about a battery. Dramatizing the heroism of Octavio rescuing people from distress, the commercial was called, well, “Octavio Series.”

But let this column be one of the memories filed away, that of Mar Ocampo.

Mar was special to Manong and me for one material reason, Mar’s vast collection of LPs or long-playing records (this generation has resurrected them as “vinyls”). It was not owned by Mar but Mar’s father, a music aficionado. Mar himself was a music buff, a mean guitarist who helped us serenade our father when he was feeling bad, when, on his birthday, no one among us bothered to come. We were then “hiding” in the home of Carlo, my brother, practicing a Bikol song called “Isipon mo Sana.” Aton took care of the harmonizing.

From Mar, Manong would borrow these LPs and they had all kinds – blues, ballads, and singers from Vic Damone to Johnny Mathis, big band music from Artie Shaw to Benny Goodman, tango music from Malando to Mamaril.

Manong would do this on one condition: that I would wait up for him whenever he was coming late from a drinking party. There was another condition that we would keep the LPs not more than three or four days. This last condition made me suspect Mar’s father did not know he was lending out these well-preserved LPs.

Mar Ocampo is gone. He died in Georgia, far, far from Bagumbayan.

Many of us have not been to Bagumbayan. The last time I was there was when I dropped by the home of Aton Nabua to deliver a Mass Card. Aton’s death preceded the death of our Manong Pempe. That afternoon, in the living room of the Nabua home, I stood in front of the saddest afternoons of my life. That afternoon, Manong was already gravely ill.

Let us not be sad though; let our memories be like Irving’s monster. It should be about things that are just filed away, only to be summoned when we wanted to feel good about the past.

And the past is about the Newtown boys. It is about the persistence of memory in that store set up by Melo Reyta’s family, the “Newtown Mini Mart.” The past is about that wall with no ruins. On that spot, now, is this convenience store open for 24 hours, a schedule that would have pleased those boys/men who borrowed that time and space with their own dreams, desires, and imaginations.


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