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And here’s something I wrote about belonging to my family.
Not A Turd
by Manuel L. Quezon III
( written circa 1998)
When the folks from In Style magazine asked me to write a column on my name, I was stumped. But finally I figured out I might as well let loose, so to speak, and this is what I wrote.
When Serge OsmeÃ¯Â¿Â½a ran for the Senate, people quipped that his posters shouldn’t have said “Sergio the III” because people would end up saying “Serge the turd.” Another sign of the difficulties you face when you have a famous name.
In Serge’s case he’s luckier because his family has stayed in the limelight all these years -most people, at least, aren’t surprised to find out that he exists. In my case, being the son of reclusive father whom most people lost track of somewhere in the 1950’s, people are rather taken aback when they run into me. Sort of like running into a dodo when everyone assumed all along they were extinct, I suppose. Here’s a bit of dialogue to give you an idea of the reception I sometimes get.
Let’s say I have to call up an office, any office. I pick up the phone, dial, and wait for a connection. Ring, ring…
Other end: “Hello?”
Me: “Yes, may I talk to X please.”
Other end: “Who should I say is calling, Sir?”(Sometimes they say Ma’am, because I haven’t been gifted with a booming voice, but that’s another story).
Me: “Manuel Quezon the-”
Other end: “Ha! Ha! Ha!” (hangs up phone).
OR, “Ows?” (and then not very discreetly cups their hand over the mouthpiece and yells to the office, “Hoy, prank caller nanaman!” [hah, another prank caller]
Occasionally I get a more combative response:
“Yah right. And I’m Jose Rizal,” followed by the sound of the receiver being banged down.
Anyway, so I have to call back, sort things out, and then, finally, I get to talk to the person I wanted to talk to. Only when Visayans answer the phone do I not have this problem, although there have been instances where the other end refused to take the call because, they would explain later, “I didn’t know any Manuel Quison.” Go figure.
There are other times when people mean well. At a party a few years back, an older alumnus of the high school I graduated from grabbed hold of me, offered me a drink, and promptly began to tell me just how much, pare, he admired my lolo.
“Thank you,” I said (well, what else can you say?).
“No prob, dude,” he said magnificently. “He’s the one who waded ashore with MacArthur, di ba?”
“Uh no,” I said. “He was dead by then. OsmeÃ¯Â¿Â½a waded ashore with MacArthur,” I added, helpfully.
“No, no! Pare, he was the one!” he insisted, and he would have kept on doing so, unless his girlfriend had shown up and taken him away.
Of course he was drunk, and he had the best intentions, but it’s the sort of thing that makes you squirm. Not as bad, though, as people who, upon meeting me for the first time, smirk and start digging through their wallets for a twenty-peso bill. Then with an air of triumph they hold up the bill beside my face and say “aba! kamukha,” or “ay, hindi kamukha.” Either answer leaves me with mixed feelings, because as my dad has observed, the picture of his father on the twenty-peso bill looks absolutely nothing like MLQ; not only that, it’s one of the ugliest representations of Quezon around (the next ugliest, if you wanted to know, is on a children’s book written by Carlos Quirino; the wax effigy by the late National Artist Guillermo Tolentino in the Quezon Memorial museum is pretty bad, too: makes him look like a Cro-Magnon with a horrible costume, to boot; one uncle once told me “Quezon wouldn’t have been caught dead in such clothes!”).
To tell you the truth, I have it a lot easier than my first cousins. I’m the youngest of them all, and many of them had to deal with members of the older generation who actually knew Quezon. Every little thing they did was compared to their lolo, and what those people think he would have done in my cousins’ place. At least in my case hardly anyone around nowadays actually remembers the man or his era, so the comparisons are less odious.
I do have one favorite story from my only girl cousin, though. When she was a little girl studying at the Assumption, she used to be taken to school by a little, old, wrinkled driver who had white hair and big ears. And every time the driver would show up to pick her up from school, her classmates would exclaim (with great excitement) “Look! Si Quezon! Si Quezon!” [Look, it’s Quezon! Quezon!]
Seriously though, people ask me what it feels like to have a famous name. I honestly can’t say. I think my answer depends on what age I am when you ask me that question. When I was a little boy, I would’ve answered “Okay, I guess,” because I didn’t really know who Quezon was, anyway. If you’d asked me that question when I was in my (very) rebellious teens, I would’ve told you it was a hassle, because I was impatient with all the sermons coming from my elders about the “the name, the name, the name.” Screw the name, I would’ve told you then.
Of course you have to take all those far-from-hilarious queso do bola jokes, but then my dad had to take them when he was in school, too. There was also an American classmate who came up with “Manyousmell Queerson,” which I think was rather clever, and at least he was smarter than another American friend who, for some strange reason, could never say “Manuel” -he always called me “Migwell,” which made no sense at all.
And today? I’d say having this name has its pros and cons, but it’s not too bad. Usually the people I meet have a good feeling about my Lolo and his era, and that’s nice to hear, for Lolo’s sake. And it makes me think twice about some of the things I’d like to do, but shouldn’t. After all, who wants to become known as a turd?
Oh, wait. And my nickname, Manolo: remember Manolo Favis? No? Good! Some things are better left forgotten.