After my parents’ divorce, I spent a lot of time with my father. Sometimes he would pick me up just so I could accompany him to run his errands and translate for him. He spoke broken English and he was painfully self-conscious about it. So I would be his translator, although at that time my English wasn’t much better than his. When we spoke to each other, I spoke English and he spoke Spanish; when I first started attending school he insisted that I speak English so he could learn to speak English, too.
In order to do all his errands, he would find parking somewhere near 18th Street, Loomis Avenue, and Blue Island Street. That meant we would either pay his telephone bill, go grocery shopping, eat at a Mexican restaurant, or go see a Mexican movie in Spanish at Teatro Villa. If he managed to find a strategically-located parking spot, we could walk to all these places without moving the car. Sometimes he would drive around for fifteen minutes looking for this ideal parking spot. Now that I think of it, we passed up some good parking spaces that were only a block away and I would tell my father, “Just park already!” But he always insisted on the finding the closest parking space.
After my father was done with all his errands and we ate at a Mexican restaurant, we would buy are tickets to see a movie at Teatro Villa. All the movies and previews were in Spanish. My father loved coming to this theater because it reminded him of Mexico. We would enter the theater regardless of when the movie started. We usually sat down in the middle of the movie and didn’t get to see the beginning until after seeing the entire second movie and the previews. I had fun trying to figure out what had happened prior tp the scenes we were watching. Once the beginning of movie came on again, I liked to see if the movie had foreshadowed the ending. So my father’s unorganized habits had actually helped me to become a better writer.
There was one movie that we saw that I never quite understood even though we saw it twice; when we returned to Teatro Villa the next week it was showing again, but we decided to see it again. I don’t remember the title, but it took place in downtown Mexico City sometime in the 1960s. This movie was also in Spanish. Anyway, people are being mysteriously murdered one by one. No one can figure out who is murdering them. I forget all the details, but eventually we discover that there is a secret society that still practices human sacrifice following the Aztec rituals. These are businessmen who enter through a hidden door in their office and descend to an underground cave where there is an Aztec pyramid with a sacrificial altar. The murder mystery is then solved and the murderers are arrested. But the movie did emphasize the importance of Aztec culture in Mexico even to this day.
We saw many movies together over the years at Teatro Villa. I remember seeing a lot of comedies, but my favorites were with Cantinflas, also known as Mario Moreno. He always made me laugh. Cantiflas was a poor Mexican who never caught a lucky break. He was so poor that he always wore raggedy clothes and survived day to day by his natural wherewithal. His poverty was only surpassed by his ineptitude. No matter what job he worked, he performed it incompetently, even disastrously. When the boss asked him if he had done his work, Cantinflas would begin a longwinded explanation that would distract the listener, but he never fully explained if he actually did the job. His boss would finally ask, “Did you do your job?” And Cantinflas would say, “Pues, allí está el detalle” and explain how didn’t do it. He was always incompetent, but extremely lovable. I always laughed at Cantinflas because I could relate to him. I think because he reminded me of my father in some ways. In fact, after leaving a Cantinflas movie, my father would start quoting Cantinflas. Sometimes my father talked like Cantinflas even when he wasn’t imitating Cantinflas. My father told me that Cantinflas got his name from the saying, “Cuando entras la cantina te inflas.” Meaning that when you go into the bar, you get full of hot air. My father also told me “Cantinflas” was a combination of the verbs cantar and inflar combined. Cantinflas was the master of talking and talking without really saying anything.