Each year in August, my friend Rsti Santiago sends me an astrological forecast that helps me understand and accept both the good and bad the coming year brings. I stopped reading newspaper horoscopes in 1985 after working on the horoscope page for a Sunday magazine. Once, when the resident astrologer failed to meet his deadline, I informed the editor that we would have no horoscope that week. She pulled out a file of old copy from a filing cabinet, placed it on my desk, and asked: “What’s your zodiac sign?” When I replied Leo, she pulled out one random horoscope reading from a stack of old horoscopes, asked for the dummy, and stuck it on the box for Leo, saying: “Now, that’s your horoscope for next week, fill up the rest!” I was stunned. After that, I did a word count of each horoscope and studied its structure. All the predictions were vague, open-ended, and aimed to give readers a positive vibe.
Why pay the astrologer whose copy I had to rewrite each week when I could write all this myself? I thought. One day, I hid the astrologer’s copy and replaced it with my own. Well, it wasn’t my lucky week, because the editor who never looked at the horoscope decided to give the page a last look, and was shocked to read hers: “On Tuesday you will choke on a chicken sandwich.” “What’s this?” she asked. I replied that Mercury and Saturn would collide and that it was to be a bad week. After reading the rest of the entries on death and mayhem, she confronted me: “Did you write this?” I replied: “Don’t eat chicken next week.” She glared and said: “If you don’t produce the horoscope now, you’re fired.” That was the beginning and end of my astrological career.
I inherited my interest in fortune-telling from my mother, who consulted a whole lot: astrologers, tarot card readers, psychics, etc. But unlike her, I went just for fun. My mother always suspected that my father had a mistress somewhere, that he fathered other children before his marriage. This may explain why my father never had bombshell secretaries or associates. Come to think of it, growing up, I remember that the engineers and architects in my father’s orbit were all old men. My sister claims a fortune-teller/mangkukulam gave our mother ingredients for a love potion that she mixed with my father’s breakfast juice—an assortment of leaves and herbs, including a piece of paper with incantations that was dipped into the juice shortly before it was served.
Fortune tellers bore me because they say the same thing: Life would be easy and marked by good fortune, wealth, and overseas travel. Some would take one look at my palms and refuse to read further, saying there was nothing more I needed to know. I have consulted a lot: One read my fate from the shape of my face, another from the location of moles and pimples, and another saw my future in letters and numbers in my name. Some read generic bicycle playing cards, others scary tarot cards. I’ve been to tea leaf readings and have yet to have my fortune read from mahjong tiles. Astrologers, using the exact time from my birth certificate, have charted the position of the heavens on the day and place where I was born. Their most amazing insight was that if you turned it upside down, it closely resembled Jose Rizal’s chart. Having lived way beyond Rizal’s 35 years means I won’t get a bullet in the back.
Three fortune tellers stand out. First, a little old lady who entered the Bangkok restaurant where we were having lunch and declared: “You will make a living with your mouth.” That was rather rude, but our Thai host retranslated it to mean that I would earn a living by lecturing or teaching. Second, one who claimed she saw an old man with white hair in the vintage Mercedes I inherited from my mother. She accurately described my office at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, saying that I had instinctively protected myself from the angry spirits spewing out of a portal opened when the foundations for the building were dug. She warned me to leave; I did so and never regretted it. The third fortune teller predicted I would die, or rather be killed in a red car. While she advised that I avoid red cars because the future could always be changed, she looked at me sadly and said: “On that day you will forget.”
What does the future bring? Hopefully, an end to the pandemic and a welcome change of administration in two years’ time.
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