En route to solid ground

Speaking of airplanes, I don’t really like to fly.

The past few years or so–going on about twenty-five years now, if you want to know the truth–I have gone on driving vacations. I really have no desire to fly if I don’t have to. I would fly if the right opportunity came along. All I have to do is forget my last flight from Palm Springs, California, to Chicago back in 1979. Whew! What a flight!

I remember waiting in line to board the plane and just by chance I was standing behind the two flight attendants for our flight. I expressed some of my concerns about flying, such as looking out the windows and watching the wings flex up and down during the flight. I also mentioned how I didn’t like when an airplane would hit an air pocket it lose altitude suddenly. The flight attendants reassured me that that was normal during a lot of flights.  When we boarded the plane I sat directly behind the flight attendants. I asked them to hold my hand if we hit an air pocket. They just laughed, but I was serious. They told me not to worry about a thing.

Anyway, we were flying what seemed a normal, uneventful flight, except when I looked out and saw the wings flexing up and down over the Grand Canyon. The flight attendants smiled at me and reassured me that the wings were designed to flex during flight. They probably thought I was a big baby. Later, we hit an air pocket and the plane fell a little. I tried to show the flight attendants that I wasn’t scared even a little bit during that slight loss of altitude. They just smiled at me again.

Suddenly, the plane started bouncing and the pilot announced that we should all put on our seatbelts. The flight attendants sat down in front of me, put on their seatbelts, and told me not to worry about a thing. Wow, did we ever hit some turbulence! The plane shook like the Millenium Falcon when it reached warp speed. Everyone on the plane remained calm, including me. Then we hit a major air pocket. The plane started falling and it felt like a roller coaster descending the first big drop. But it kept falling for much longer than a roller coaster. I wanted to show the flight attendants how calm I could be during this air pocket. Suddenly, both flight attendants started screaming. That’s when I began to worry and I looked out the window to see if the wings were still attached to the plane. I thought, if these two seasoned flight attendants are screaming like this, surely we will crash. I tapped one of them on the shoulder and asked her, “Does that mean you won’t hold my hand?” They were so embarrassed when they remembered that I was sitting behind them.

Well, needless to say, we landed safely in Chicago, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. And that was the last time I flew. But I’m not afraid to fly. Not really.

Is the plane falling out the sky?

Pobre pero honrado

That’s the thing about Mexicans. They have a different standard for measuring success. For as long as I can remember, Mexicans take great pride in being hard workers. Nothing else matters to them. And that’s why they’re destined to remain in the ranks of the middle class. Pobre, pero honrado means poor but honorable. So as long as a Mexican works hard, he or she is respected and nothing else matters. Through hard work, a Mexican will never starve to death. He or she may never get ahead in life, but at least these Mexicans are honorable. If they have two or three jobs just to feed and house la familia, so much the better. Whenever I met a Mexican girlfriend’s parents, they would be impressed by the fact that I had a good-paying factory job. They liked the fact that I was hard worker. However, I learned early in life that if my girlfriend’s parents liked me, that was the kiss of death for our relationship.

The greatest compliment you could pay to my father was: You’re such a great worker! Every time someone told him that at work, he would be sure to tell us as soon as he got home. My mother was also proud to be called a hard worker. In fact, she never rested. She worked a full-time job in a factory and then she would come home and work around the house. When my father came home, he would rest because he already did his work for the day. My mother would then call my father lazy and he would feel insulted. Saturday mornings, no one slept in. My mother believed that Saturday mornings were meant for everyone to sleep in until seven in the morning and then wake up to work around the house. Something always needed cleaning or fixing around the house. We couldn’t see our friends until every last chore my mother assigned us was done. She didn’t want anyone talking about how she had raised lazy children.

Growing up, I loved to read. I could read for hours everyday. This really bothered my mother because I would just be lying around the house doing nothing. What would her friends say if they came over now and saw me doing nothing? She was so embarrassed to have such a lazy son! All through high school, she insisted that I find a job after school. But no one would hire me because I looked like I was about twelve years old. My mother wanted to take me to different stores to find me a job. I told her that no one would hire me if I applied for a job with my mother. So she left me alone for a while.

When I was seventeen she found me a job in a peanut butter factory. You had to be eighteen to work in a factory according to federal labor laws, but the company made an exception for me. You should have seen my mother’s face glow whenever she told someone that I had a full-time factory job. She was so proud of me! Especially, since I earned more money than her. Unfortunately, I was still a junior in high school at the time and I had to work the midnight shift. I’d come home from work and immediately change clothes so I could go to school. I often fell asleep in my classes.

Finally, I told my mother that I couldn’t do both–work full time and go to school full time. She was so disappointed in me! I told her I wanted to quit my job so I could graduate from high school. She told me that if I quit my job, I couldn’t live with her anymore. I tried to do both for as long as I could, but I eventually dropped out of school. My mother was happy that I decided to keep my job. I would be pobre, pero honrado the rest of my life and that suited her just fine. She couldn’t understand why I would want to go to school. If I graduated high school, I would probably want to go to college. I couldn’t understand my mother’s point of view: Why pay to go to college when the factory will pay me to work for them? It was as simple as that, but I just didn’t get it back then. I still don’t.

Looking back on all this after so many years, I’m actually not at all bitter about having to work in the factory for twelve years and not going to college until much later in life. When I compare myself to some of my friends, I find that we’re all in about the same place in life. I now fully understand the value of working hard and being pobre, pero honrado. Actually, I’m quite happy with my life now. 🙂

I couldn't be president. I already have three jobs!

My father

José Diego Rodríguez Rosiles

My father is a very unique person who has his own way of doing things. He was a factory mechanic who could work wonders with duct tape. No matter where we were, he always had some tools in his pocket. He was proud of being mechanic. If someone had some sort of mechanical problem, my father would volunteer to fix whatever needed fixing. No problem was too small for him. A squeaky door? He carried an little oil can with him. Door knob keeps falling off? My father would attach it with his tools and extra screws that he always carried with him just in case. I should write a novel about him: My Father, the Super Fix-It Handyman. Or maybe make him into a comic book superhero who can fix any problem no matter how small. My father was always fixing bicycles, skates, skateboards, and automobiles for everyone on the block. He had just enough mechanical aptitude, talent, and expertise to keep him trapped in the middle class the rest of his life. And, it turns out that I’m not much different than him, although I’ll never be able to make repairs just like my father.

When I was a boy, my father often embarrassed me. He always liked to attract attention to himself by telling jokes in his broken English. I was afraid to bring home friends when my father was home because then he would want to get in on the conversation with them and he didn’t speak English very well. So most of the converstation would involve a lot of repetition because he didn’t understand everything that was said, but he wanted to show that he was eager to learn English. It’s now forty years later and he still does this. He has never stopped trying to learn English. If I talk to him in Spanish, he still insists that I speak to him in English so he can learn English. In fact, if I talk to him in Spanish, he doesn’t understand a word I say.

Another thing about my father was that he was always so Mexican. He could just stand there silently and everyone would know that he was Mexican because he always stood there looking so Mexican. He was about 5’6″, thin, with black hair slicked back with vaselina, brown eyes, and a Cantinflas mustache. Plus, you could see the tools bulging from his pants pockets, along with a small jar of salsa or peppers, just in case.

Whenever we did something together, he would always preface it by saying that he used to that activity in Mexico when he was a boy. When we played basketball in our backyard at 4405 S. Wood Street in Back of the yards, he told us that he always played basketball with his brothers in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. When I was eight, I actually thought that basketball was a Mexican sport. While playing, my father told me that once I stopped dribbling the ball, I couldn’t dribble it again. I had never heard of such a rule. I told him, “I don’t want to play the Mexican way.” Of course, I didn’t know any better at the time even though there is a rule against double dribbbing.

For breakfast, my father would prepare this concoction that he learned to make from his father in, you guessed it, Mexico. He would pour some Mogen David grape wine into a glass, put in a raw egg, and mix it up together.  He would drink the first glass to show me how it was done. Then, he would hand me a glass and I would force myself to drink it. At first I didn’t like it and I told him that I didn’t want a Mexican breakfast, but I eventually learned to like it. I also learned to eat raw eggs right out of the eggshell by poking to holes at either end of the egg. I learned from my father because this is how he ate breakfast in Mexico. This was long before I had ever heard of salmonella. I guess God does protect children and idiotas. 🙂

Here and now


Gameworks, Schaumburg, Illinois

I have always believed that I am very adaptable and that I could survive anywhere in the world. In fact, I’ve always fantasized that if you flew me anywhere in the world blindfolded and pushed me out of an airplane, I would somehow live and prosper because of my survival skills. Since I have never gone skydiving, you would have to blindfold me and you would have to push me very firmly to get me to jump out of a perfectly fully functioning, flying airplane. Not jumping out of airplanes is one of my innate survival skills that I highly value. I have never had the urge to go skydiving. When I was in the Marines, a few of my friends wanted me to go skydiving, but I am afraid of heights, so I went to the library instead. And, thus, I live to tell this tale!

Anyway, despite knowing that I’m very adaptable and can get along with just about anyone, just about anywhere, I always get this vague feeling that I’m always in the wrong place and the wrong time. I often feel that I do not belong right here where I am right now, if you know what I mean. It’s an eerie feeling that’s difficult to describe. No matter where I am, I feel as if I should be somewhere else. As a boy, I truly thought that I was born into the wrong family. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be born to a Mexican family because I certainly didn’t fit in. When I was in Mexico, I thought I should be in Chicago, until I returned to Chicago where I felt that I really belonged in Mexico. I wasn’t born in the right era either. I should have been a medieval scribe of some sort. Or, I should have been born in New York City in the early 1900s. If I’m with my friends, I feel as if I should be with my sons and family. If I’m with my sons, I feel as if I should be with my girlfriend, but when I’m with her I wish I could be with her, and my sons, family, and friends. As I write this, I feel guilty for not working on my tax return or correcting Spanish compositions. When I’m teaching, I think about how nice it would be to stay home. Now, that I’m on spring break, I miss my students. What should I do? Maybe I should jump out of a plane.

Where am I going? Where did I come from? Where do I belong?


Kim was another memorable Spanish student. She had pierced lips and eyebrows and she always wore these heavy metal concert T-shirts. She was a very good Spanish student who always got A’s on every exam. I especially liked the fact that she always laughed at my jokes. Even though she gave the appearance to rebel against any authorative figure, she always did as she was told in class. She always excelled on the Spanish compositions. The one composition I do remember involved her telling a story about something that their family did together. Well, from her composition, I learned that her family was really into heavy metal rock, which I kind of assumed by Kim’s concert T-shirts. Kim told about how her parents really like Ozzy Osbourne and so they took the whole family to Oz Fest. The whole family enjoyed their day together. She told the story quite nicely in Spanish and I could tell that the family enjoyed each other’s company. When the Day of Dead came, Kim painted her face like a skull! She looked really cool like that. All the students in the class like her skull. My only regret is that I didn’t have a camera to take her picture.

¡Hoy es el Día de los Muertos!

Bridgeport welcome

Bridgeport, Chicago, Illinois

Bridgeport is a neighborhood unlike any other in Chicago. Actually, there are two Bridgeports: the mythical, political Bridgeport that every Chicagoan hears about since starting school and the earthy, gritty Bridgeport that contrasts sharply with the mythical, political version.

In grade school, we learned all about Bridgeport, which is the birthplace of five Chicago mayors, including the present Mayor Richard M. Daley (Richard da Second). Bridgeport didn’t invent machine politics; they merely perfected machine politics, reaching its apogee in Mayor Richard J. Daley (Richard da First). Bridgeport is also very near the geographical center of Chicago. Many south siders often went to the White Sox games at Comiskey Park in Bridgeport. When I was a student at Holy Cross School, no school field trip would be complete without first driving past Mayor Daley’s bungelow at 3536 S. Lowe Avenue. Bridgeport was the Mecca of the south side. Every Chicagoan made a pilgrimage to Bridgeport at some point in their life.

When I told my mother that I was planning to buy a house in Bridgeport, she cringed and told me that I would regret it. For some unknown reason, I was drawn to Bridgeport. Besides, this was the location of the only house I could afford using the GI Bill. But before I bought this house, I checked out the neighborhood first. I drove past the house several times, at different hours of the day and night. Every time I drove past my future home, the block was extremely quiet. I never saw any movement in this vicinity at any time. I was sure that I was moving into a good neighborhood. After all, this was Bridgeport. So I bought the house, much to my mother’s disappointment, and I moved in.

This was when I saw the earthy, gritty side of Bridgeport for the very first time. You don’t really know a neighborhood until you move in and you live there 24/7/365. It was only then that I saw the seedy side of Bridgeport. My house was situated next to an alley that ran alongside the length of my house, an alley that everyone in the neighborhood used as a shortcut. I always heard whomever walked through the alley talking, at all hours of the day. Then one day, I noticed that Bridgeport had a gang problem and my house was right the border between two gang turfs. My neighbor always tried to start a fight with me by pointing to my camoflage shirt, a remnant from my Marine Corps enlistment, and tell me, “Hey, man! The war’s over!” I would ignore him and walk past him quickly. It was about that time that I learned that there were two sides to Bridgeport. And I lived on the wrong side of Bridgeport! I lived on the side where the public housing projects were located, the only white projects in the whole city of Chicago!

While I lived in the Marquette Park neighborhood, I had developed certain habits and I thought I could continue them when I saw all the stores, shops, and restaurants that were available in Bridgeport. I really thought that I would enjoy all these places that were within walking distance of my house. I went to Lina’s Italian restaurant that was less than one block from my house because they served authentic Italian food. Or, so I thought. When I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by Lina herself. I asked for the beef ravioli because I love authentic beef ravioli. Lina said, “It takes too long to make.” I said, “That’s fine. I’m not in a hurry tonight. I brought a book that I can read while I wait.” “Well, I’m not going to make ravioli just for you. Why don’t you order something else?” So I did. But I went back a few times hoping to eat ravioli, but she always refused to make it.

I once needed a button sewn on my winter wool coat, so I went to a tailor on Halsted Street. The tailor said, “You want this button sewn on? Why don’t you buy yourself some needle and thread and sew it on yourself?” He didn’t understand that I didn’t want to sew it on myself and that I was willing to pay him to sew the button on for me. He continously refused, so I left.

I went down the block to the barbershop that appeared to be in a continous state of disrepair, since at least the 1960s, judging by the newspaper clippings on the wall. There were no customers in the store, so the barber was sitting in a chair. When I entered, he stood up and said, “How may I help you?” I told him that I wanted a haircut. Well, he wasn’t giving haircuts that day. So I left.

Then, I went to the 11th Ward Office because I needed garbage cans for my house. They refused to give me garbage cans because I didn’t appear as a registered voter within their ward even though I had just moved there. I left without garbage cans. This was certainly a fine welcome to Bridgeport. I eventually adjusted to life Bridgeport. You just had to learn not to have too high of expectations.