The gift was a 2010 calendar with pictures of hunky Aussie firemen--half-naked. Why me? I demanded to know, not very convincingly.
Tato happens to be the fire marshal in our province. The chief bumbero, in other words--the alpha male in that most macho of cultures, the tough, crusty, testosterone-y world of firemen. In high school, Tato was already into karate/aikido while we, the rest of his classmates, still made do with unformed, fleshy (or, in my case, bony) adolescent frames. He was smoking and drinking before many of us learned to, had his youthful share of wild, raucous adventures involving girls and brawls and booze, and, in the seminary where we spent six years together, broke as many rules as he could--including, at one point, pilfering ice cream from the priests' pantry with his bare hands.
All that, until he married the smart and lovely Agnes, one of our kababata, and became father to four kids. More, he morphed into something we didn't imagine him becoming, at least during our devil-may-care years together: a pillar of the community.
Before Tato was designated fire marshal of our hometown, he rose from the ranks to become the national spokesperson of the Bureau of Fire Protection. He would appear on TV for interviews and updates on fire incidents, spiffy in his navy-blue uniform, the camera belying his slight frame. Somewhere along the way, he acquired a gravitas and sense of authority that suited him well and made us his friends very proud. (Not bad for someone who, as a seatmate on the first pew during evening prayers, once pronounced “oblivion” as “oblivation.” Tandang-tanda ko pa!)
Imagine this accomplished, no-nonsense he-man, then, receiving the glossy calendar with page after page of topless hunks--firemen like him, but still. The gift came from Agnes' sister Ging who, on a trip Down Under, remembered having been asked by Tato to bring home samples of decals, buttons, brochures, flyers or any informational stuff the Australian fire department gives away to the public, which he could then replicate. The fire chief, serious about his duties, is always on the lookout for new ways to spread the gospel of fire prevention. Perhaps his Aussie counterparts had new ideas he could use?
Well, how about posing half-naked in a calendar--for charity? The Perth Firefighters Calendar, already on its second year, aims to raise funds for the burns unit of a local hospital and “to support the West Australian team competing in the 2011 World Police and Fire Games in New York.” It has the endorsement of the city's Fire and Emergency Services Authority via the message of its woman CEO on the calendar's first page, so you know these are real firemen and not porn stars or some blokes hired off the street.
Ging remembers walking around a mall and seeing a long line of people clutching copies of the calendar. Several of the featured guys were there to sign copies, and since they were also terribly good-looking firemen, Ging queued up and innocently bought a copy to be autographed for Tato. The firemen, perhaps aware of the natural constituency of their beefcake photos, then proceeded to write notes to the recipient that, when I read them, had me shrieking at the subtext--unintended or not:
“To Tato, stay hot!,” said Doug.
“Hey Tato, have a great Chrissy!,” wrote Scott.
Chrissy!? Who says “Chrissy” for “Christmas”? That's it, I told the clueless fire marshal, there's the proof your fellow firemen had mistaken you for, ahem, people like me.
More bemused than nonplussed--the guy's never one to be caught off-guard--Tato asked, a merry gleam in his eye: Ano kaya if I ask my men to do this, too--for charity din? At that, we his batchmates howled with laughter. His city firemen, if you must know, are regular Joes--plain, tubby, big-bellied (many of them), no doubt good and brave workers but nowhere near the ripped, spectacularly fit variety embodied by their Aussie counterparts.
Speaking for my choosy confederates--'Wag naman po, busy kami! Unless--wait--there's a diamond in the rough there?
Also, I wonder how this prudish country would react at real firemen baring for the camera, even for a good cause, and the civic establishment itself underwriting the project. The moral busybodies would be cluck-clucking endlessly, while probably snapping up their own copies of the hot calendar. Still, if you do have men in uniform this good-looking, it's not such a bad idea--and look at the photos, they're not prurient in any way. The Aussies, bless their matter-of-fact spirit, are saying there's a good-natured, non-malicious way of doing it, and for something worthy yet.
I for one have had my fill of buffed, tweezed, plucked, scrubbed and microdermabrasioned pretty male starlets clogging our sights for far too long now. How about real men, for a change? I promise to buy the calendar--for myself this time, not for the honorable Fire Marshal.