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The Last Dandy





What happens to people when they die
What happens to us they leave behind
And does it bother them that we cry
Over memories we have enshrined
Yet have faith they’re in a better place
It’s for us here that we pray for grace

So my friend is gone, but not really. He’s just around or it feels like it.

I guess this is exactly how George Sison wanted it. He got his wish. He always did. He was one of those enlightened souls, whose faith was beyond religion, whose spirituality, even when he was grounded on earth, material and physical, did wonders.

A friend, one of his soulmates, said he caught some major disease like a bug—leukemia, I believe. But with George, the whys and wherefores were such a bore. He left for a place that was as magical as his imagination, for which even his physical body would prove enough of a burden that, at last, having explored it to the full by making wise and fun use of his time on earth, he had decided to discard it. His last instruction was—and I’m imagining this in George’s fashion—“No one is to know about what ails this body and when it finally succumbs, burn it and scatter the ashes to the winds.” As always, the universe complied. “By George, your wish is my command,” it said and so, like many others, I didn’t know he had died until Saturday night, arriving from Europe on a late flight, when his passing had been four days before. He died while I was in Berlin, immersed in the beautiful regrets of its vile and vicious past and, though I would associate George more with Oscar Wilde‘s London, Charles Baudelaire‘s Paris, AndyWarhol‘s New York, or Salvador Dali‘s Madrid, I suppose he would like the grit of Berlin because he was a style aficionado, but to him authenticity was the ultimate style. He avoided anything fake like the plague.

But George is gone and what a departure, as though, like Harry Kellar‘s The Vanishing Lamp, he just vanished into thin air!

But as soon as he received his diagnosis, like Diana Vreeland as she went blind in those years before she died in 1989, George withdrew completely from the swirl of Manila parties in which he used to appear now and then like a blast from the past because, to the very end, he dressed like a gentleman, a dandy even, his suit always cut close to his frame, always in a standout shade, lately wearing a cravat, his pocket square often silk, but sometimes linen in a puff, or very seldom cotton if only to allow for fancier folds.

Oh I miss George! I loved him before I met him because he was BFF to the late ElviraManahan, my favorite of all society darlings because, self-deprecatory and defiant of society stuffiness, she was as funny as she was stylish, her voice a drawl, her laughter bold and loud, her style inimitable because it wasn’t put on. It emanated from a personality that was inextricable from her Ramon Valera gowns.

In many cases, she was like her friend George, who taught her to recognize the power of visualization. Once, as Elvira was complaining about putting on weight, he told her, “Cut up a photo of your desired body shape from a magazine, replace the face with yours, and post it on your head board. Every day, look at it and remind yourself about the body you want.”

“Dear George!” exclaimed Elvira a few days later over a phone call. “You’re right. I did everything you told me and now I’m losing one pound a day.”

Elvira and George were friends through thick and thin. Before she passed on, she developed a liking to the phrase “like a hole in the head,” using it every chance she got, like “I need another TV show like a hole in the head” or “Those days were so much trouble but I miss them like a hole in the head.”

“Stop it,” warned George. “Or you will end up with a hole in the head.”

More than a warning, it was a premonition. In October 1986, Elvira did end up that way, with a bullet hole in the head.

But why are we back to death that, in the grand scheme of things, as George saw it, is only a fine print in our life’s contract, so let me steer our conversation back to life.

I don’t remember exactly when I last saw George. I didn’t even recall that he was at the launch of my book Manila Was ALongTimeAgo at Manila House last October, until I was reminded by my book collaborator Love Marie Escudero, who told me in reaction to news of George’s passing, “I’m so sad. His kind won’t come around anymore. They don’t make them like that anymore.” In his Philippine DailyInquirer column, in a review of my book he called “From De BuenaFamilia to Buinenasna Familia,” George used one of my stories “Whatever Happened to Ines del Prado” to lament how the new rich had eclipsed the original “Manila’s 400” to anonymity, poking fun at social climbers, a favorite pastime of his through which he got to sharpen the blades of his sardonic wit.

My last sitdown with this ebullient personality, who will remain more alive in my memory than some people I know was at Sala at Greenbelt at a dinner organized by Duday Tuason, with George’s best friend Mario Katigbak, and it was just the perfect last hurrah with someone like George. There was no occasion, just friendship, and, though they were all dressed for the evening, dinner jacket and all, the mood around the table, mostly courtesy of George, was typical of his company, the kind that could have you snork, the wine spilling out of your nose while you were rolling on the floor laughing.

I’m going to miss George, one of very few people in this age of easy, convenient, impersonal, and perfunctory connections who would every now and then, out of the blue, neither out of need nor occasion, give me a call just to share with me some hilarious anecdote about current goings-on or discuss with me in his world-wise fashion the talk of the day or the personality-du-jour.

But George isn’t really gone. He’s just around the corner, mortifying, scandalizing, horrifying the angels with his irreverent humor while Elvira, her arm in his, is laughing her throaty laugh. With hope, he’s not trying to see which undeserving soul made it to heaven. He had a knack for that.

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