Further proof that I have become my father


Not that being like my father is an entirely bad thing!

I love to have my coffee in the morning. Nothing starts my day better than a good, strong cup of coffee! For this, I use a coffeemaker that I setup the night before I go to bed. I have to clean it out, put water in the reservoir, pour beans in the grinder, and set the timer so the this whole coffee-brewing operation occurs just shortly before I wake up. The coffee brews as I am waking up and I literally wake up and smell the coffee. I have to have a daily routine, which once again reminds me of my father. He had certain routines that he had to follow even when they were no longer practical. For example, he still carries a flashlight, screwdriver, and pliers everywhere he goes–just in case!–even though he no longer is a mechanic and he uses a walker to answer the door.

Anyway, one day, my coffeemaker needed cleaning. The compartment that holds the strainer/filter no longer opened freely when I pushed the release button and I had to jiggle the tray to open it. I cleaned it with hot water and a sponge, but there was no improvement in its operation. So I took out a flashlight that I had handy in one of the kitchen cabinet drawers and examined the coffeemaker thoroughly with that flashlight, just like my father. I was poking around with a screwdriver to see if I could duscover the cause of the malfunction. At that precise moment, I noticed a little screw that I believed held the tray in place. It was screaming, “Don’t even think of unscrewing me!” But I unscrewed it anyway! A little spring came flying at my face, but I knew that if I dodged it I would never find it again. Luckily, the spring hit my glasses and landed on my lap. I removed the remaining pieces from the coffemaker, but the filter tray did not come out! I found some coffee buildup and cleaned it out. However tempted I was to remove the remaining screws, I managed to control myself. So I attempted to put the coffeemaker back together again after cleaning it thoroughly.

It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. The spring that had attacked me, resisted returning to designated location. I suppose it flew at me in a rage because it didn’t want to be there in the first place. Yet, if I wanted my coffeemaker to brew coffee again, I had to force it back in there in that tight little space from whence it flew out. My sons asked what I was doing and I answered them honestly, “I don’t know.” I knew there was a way to get that spring back in there. I just had to keep trying. Just then it occurred to me that I had become my father!

I remembered a time when I was about ten years old and my father had bought a “new” used station wagon that needed some work. He had never bought a new car in his life. The rear door window was was in the backseat and my father wanted to install it before we went to bed that night. I remember helping him because “Sometimes you need three hands to do certain car repairs,” as my father would always tell me when he needed my help. Of course, I always hated helping him because he would never stop until he had finished what he had started, even if it took hours or days. Well, we started well before sunset. My father took off the door panel and inserted the window. “Mira qué fácil fue,” my father said, as if he actually believed that it was that easy. When he tried cranking the window down, it just slid all the way to the bottom of the door. He was extremely disappointed by his failure, but that only made him more determined to succeed and me more wary of what was in store for me. My father tried for hours, until well after sunset, to get that window to function properly. He tried every possible remedy: screws, nuts, coat hangers, duct tape. But nothing worked! I wanted to go in the house, but my father needed me to hold the window in place while he adjusted the coat hanger and duct tape. He was bound and determined to make that window work! Well, he finally did it, sometime after midnight. And he was quite proud of his accomplishment.

So there I was trying to put this spring back in my coffeemaker when I remembered my father trying to fix the window of his “new” used station wagon. I thought of getting a third hand–which would have come in handy–from one of my sons, but that spring went into a tight little space where I could barely put in three fingers. I thought I had put the spring in place on my very first attempt. But when I pushed the release button, nothing released. I realized the spring wasn’t in the proper place, applying the proper tension. I tried several more times and I failed over and over. I really wanted my coffee the next morning, so I thought of buying a new coffeemaker. But, no! I thought of my father not giving up with his “new” used station wagon window. I became as determined as my father and fixed that coffeemaker by putting that spring in place. Each attempt brought me closer. It was as if I was practicing to put in place, until I actually put it in place and the coffemaker worked like new. I promised myself to never take out that spring again!

The next morning, I had the best cup of good, strong coffee that I have ever had in my life!

¡Ay! I didn't just say that like my father, did I?

Lorenzo


Over the years, I have taught many memorable students in my Spanish classes, but some I seem to recall some students more often than others. One of these students was Larry, who on the first day of class already had a Spanish name that he preferred to be called: Lorenzo. When I first started teaching, I tried to give everyone in class a Spanish name since we are supposed to be speaking Spanish in class the whole time, in theory anyway. When I took Spanish in high school, everyone had a Spanish name. Mine was the same: David, but pronounced in Spanish. When I took French, I was Dave, pronounced in French. When I studied Spanish in college, everyone had a Spanish name. So when I started teaching Spanish at a Morton college, I attempted to give every student a Spanish name. However, I encountered so much resistance and resentment when I attempted to give students a Spanish name on the first day of class. So after I few semesters, I stopped trying to give students a Spanish name. Now, I have them fill out an index card that I use for calling on students at random. If they so desire, a student may write down a Spanish name he or she prefers to be called. Not many students want a Spanish name, especially the students who only take Spanish to fulfill the foreign language requirement.

So anyway, this student named Larry, with what I thought was Russian last name, insists that I call him Lorenzo when I take attendance on the first day of Spanish 102. I was impressed! I thought, “At least I have one student who loves taking Spanish!” However, immediately after class, when the rest of the students had left the classroom, Lorenzo told me that he had never taken Spanish before. For the spring semester, the college did not offer the required Spanish 101 class that Lorenzo needed to take before Spanish 102. So I had to give him permission to allow him to enroll in my class if I thought he could complete the course with a passing grade. I was unsure whether or not to permit him to take Spanish 102 without any previous knowledge of Spanish. At a community college, the attrition rate is more than 50% for Spanish classes, so I was reluctant to let him take the course. I needed more convincing from Lorenzo himself, who hadn’t even bought the Spanish books yet.

Well, Lorenzo had two daughters in high school who studied Spanish and had won some kind of state awards for their proficiency in Spanish. He wanted to become more involved in his daughters’ Spanish studies. Although he had never studied Spanish or had paid attention to his daughters when they did their Spanish homework, Lorenzo decided he would now learn Spanish even though he was a typical American who only knew one language. Apparently he knew no Spanish at all.

Of course, I believe that you’re never too old to learn a foreign language, so I told Lorenzo he could take my class, but that he would have to study very hard by learning the material in the first six chapters of the book (we would cover chapters 7-12 in Spanish 102). I told him I would be just as demanding on him as on other students who had already taken Spanish 101. I wasn’t going to cut him any slack just because he had never studied Spanish or was the oldest student in the class. Somehow, I had a feeling that he would do well in Spanish 102. Well, after the first quiz, he scored somewhere around a 70% on some topic as difficult as the subjunctive and we were both surprised! After class, I told him he did well because he had done everything I had asked of him. He admitted that he did–plus, he practiced speaking Spanish with his daughters. I don’t remember his exact final grade, but I do remember that he got either an A or a B and we were both excited that he done so well in class because of all of his hard work. When I saw him the following semester at school, he greeted me in Spanish and we conversed in Spanish quite well. Obviously, he continued practicing his Spanish during the summer with his daughters!

¡Hola! ¡Me llamo Lorenzo!

Death and taxes


Well, I finally got around to filing my income tax returns. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said that the only in things in life that are certain are death and taxes. The IRS reminds us yearly that we must pay taxes. Luckily, death only taxes us once. But what a tax!

I do my own taxes. Some of my friends are amazed that I’m able to fill out my own taxes. To most people, the tax codes and the Internal Revenue Service are the great unsolved mystery. But all you have to do is follow all the lines on the 1040 form, and if you have any questions, just go to the little booklet that the IRS sends you and find the answer that you need. It’s that easy! People convince themselves that they cannot fill out their own tax returns, and therefore, have someone else prepare their tax returns.

My mother was one of these people. She religiously went to H&R Block every year. Her reason was that she owned a home and had extra paperwork to fill out in order to take advantage of all of her tax deductions. When I started working, she told me to go to H&R Block, too. I was going to, but I had a tendency to do the opposite of what my mother wanted. So I looked at the IRS booklet that I received in the mail and read it cover to cover. My mother was amazed that anyone would read the booklet, let alone understand it! Anyway, I filled out my own tax return my first year of employment. I believe that was the first year of the EZ Form, which was the form I was supposed to use according to the tax booklet. The Illinois state tax return was just as easy to fill out. I was about to mail off my return, but my mother knew I was up to something! She had this secret sense that all Mexican mothers posses. She stopped me at the door. “Are you going to H&R Block now?” she asked, but I knew she knew what I had done. “No,” I told her, “I did my own taxes!” My mother gave me a look that indicated that I could not possibly be of her own flesh and blood. “Let me see them,” she said and took my federal and state tax returns out of the envelopes to examine them. Luckily, I hadn’t sealed the envelopes or put stamps on them yet. My mother pored over those tax returns, much in the same manner as I imagine that archeologists first examined the Rosetta Stone. I nervously awaited her verdict. Finally, she said, “You’re not smart enough to do your own taxes! You’re going to H&R Block!” Obviously, she couldn’t check my calculations to see if I had actually did my taxes correctly. Those tax forms were as mysterious to her as hieroglyphics.

I knew I had done my taxes correctly because I had checked and double-checked. But I was only eighteen and I was supposed to listen to my mother because–well, because she was my mother and I was only eighteen years old and still living under her roof. So, I went to H&R Block without my version of the tax returns I did because my mother didn’t want to be embarassed when the tax preparer saw how wrong I was. Of course, my mother was sure that I was beyond feeling any shame for my boldness to think that I could actually understand the tax law. Well, the tax preparer used the same EZ Form that I did and came up with the same exact figures that I did, only I had to come back in a week after someone else had checked his work and made copies for me.

When I showed my mother the H&R Block’s and my tax returns side by side, she still wouldn’t believe me that I had done them correctly. I never totally convinced her that I was right. She was glad that I went to H&R Block because, “At least, you know they did your taxes right!” She always taught me to second-guess myself. I wasn’t smart enough to do anything right, according to her. But at least I knew I was right, although it took me years of second-guessing myself before I developed enough self-confidence to believe in myself. Nowadays, I have plenty of self-confidence! I think.

Death, Taxes, the IRS, and Mexican mothers!

Nothing in moderation


95 degrees and humid!

When I do something, I go all out or I don’t do it all. That’s the story of my life. When I decide to do something, anything, I go all out and dedicate all my energy to doing it, whatever “it” is. I do everything in excess. And I only do nothing in moderation. Wait, now that I think of it, I do nothing in excess, too. I can fully indulge in doing nothing for hours, days, nay, months at a time. Moderation is only an entry in the dictionary to me. If I do so something, I must do it in excess. When I trained to run a marathon, I ended up running thirteen. If something is worth doing in moderation, it’s even more fun to do it in excess. I think Nietsche was on to something when he said, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”

My kind of tonw [sic], Chicago is


Chi-Town on a Kansas license plate

Chicago, our fair city, has many nicknames. Such as the Windy City, the City of Big Shoulders, Chi-Town, and the City That Works. But now, Chicago now has a new nickname thanks to tattoo artist Sam Hacker who inadvertently misspelled Chi-Town as Chi-Tonw, as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, March 13, 2007. Hacker showed the final imprint to the customer, who approved the design, before he started the actual tattoo. However, neither one noticed the spelling error. End result: a tattoo that said “CHI-TONW” and a lawsuit against the tattoo artist.

But, wait! The story only gets better! And this could only happen in Chicago. As a show of support, a fellow tattoo artist is now sporting a CHI-TONW tattoo on the front of his neck! Bridgeport Tattoo is offering free tattoos of CHI-TONW and about 20 people have gotten them already. Before you know it, thousands will have this new tattoo and Chicago will have a new nickname! I love Chicago! I envision signs at our airports that say, “Mayor Richard M. Daley Welcomes You to CHI-TONW!”

You misspelled Chi-Town!

Nostalgia in the future


Passionate about nostalgia on the radio!

I have reached that age where everything reminds me of the past. Listening to the radio, I remember what I was doing when I heard the song the first time years ago. It reminds me of how I used to be and who I wanted to be, but somehow I realize that I haven’t changed all that much, and in some ways, I’m still the same boy deep down inside. When I hear an old song on the radio again, I still like (or hate) the song as much as I did back then. I recognize some songs after only three or four notes.

My sons are amazed that I recognize those old songs on the radio. I told them, “You know how you listen to some songs over and over again? Well, I used to do the same thing when I was your age!” And that’s why the songs remind me of my youth. And that reminds me of a Led Zeppelin song whose title I can’t recall: “In the days of my youth, / I was taught what it means to be a man,” which in turn reminds me of my first car and my first “real” girlfriend of that time period and how I almost lost my virginity while listening to Led Zeppelin. But that’s a blog post for another day.

My present didn’t quite turn out the way I expected. Perhaps, I should start creating some good memories now so that I may have some good nostalgia in the future. When I recall my past memories of how I expected I would be now, my nostalgia sure hasn’t lived up to my expectations, in the past or now. I should have thought of my past for the future in the past and not now in the present where I regret not having created better memories for my future in the past. I wish I could go back in time and do things focusing more on the future. But that’s all water under the bridge now. There’s no use crying over spilled milk.

Sometimes when I wax nostalgic, I wonder why no one uses the word “wax” (as in “to increase in size, numbers, strength, prosperity, or intensity”) anymore. I also wonder why when I refer to the waxing and waning of the moon, I get some strange stares. In fact, the other day I was waiting in line at the supermarket when I was thinking about the cycles of the moon and I accidentally uttered, “I enjoy the waxing and waning of the moon” out loud. Suddenly, I was all alone in the front of the line facing a nervous cashier! They probably didn’t know what I meant by “wax.” I should be more careful when and where I wax nostalgic.

In the future, I would like to recall the past with fond memories of my present “present.” In the future, no more regretting the past and loathing the present. Because today is the first day of the rest of my life!