Arturo was another one of my Mexican classmates at Holy Cross School. He looked like your typical Mexican. He was short and stocky with black hair and brown eyes. And he spoke English with a Mexican accent. There was no mistaking him for Lithuanian. He was very charismatic so he always had many friends and even more girlfriends. More girlfriends by his calculations. Any girl who talked to him was his girlfriend. But a lot of girls did talk to him because they liked the way he talked. In class, he usually knew the answer, but sometimes he mispronounced words like shoes. He would always “choes.”  He couldn’t make the “sh” sound to pronounce shoes correctly. He would make the “ch” sound instead. So words like “church” and “choose” should have been easy for him, but they caused him just as much trouble. I explained to him that all he had to do was reverse the sounds of ch and sh. I helped him practice, but he never got the hang of it. On Sunday, Arturo went to “shursh” because he would “shoose” to go. I once went with him to buy some shoes and he narrowed his selection to two pairs of shoes. For some strange reason, he thought I had excellent taste in choes, I mean shoes, so he asked me to help him buy some choes. Anyway, he holds out the two pairs of shoes for me to inspect and says, “Whish choes chould I shoose?” I said, “Choose? Which shoes?” He said, “Yeah, whish choes?” I was getting frustrated by our interchange because I usually had this kind of conversation with my father. Not about choosing shoes, but about how to pronounce words in English. My father had trouble pronouncing the word “world.” To this day, he can’t pronounce “world.” There were too many sounds in one word for my father. Arturo’s only problem was differentiating between two sounds: sh and ch. Now that I think of it, he couldn’t say chanclas, either. That typical Mexican word for flip-flops became shanclas.

Whish choes chould I shoose?

She knew it all

My mother had super powers, but no one ever believed me. They weren’t super powers like comic book heroes have. Rather, they were more practical super powers that made my childhood extremely unbearable. For example, just by looking at a new friend that I brought home after school, my mother could tell if he would be a bad influence on me or not. She could even predict if he would wind up in jail and in how many years. I never believed her analyses and I was sure she was completely wrong, but I couldn’t defend my new friends either. It was just easier not to bring them home anymore. Somehow, she knew everything that I did. When I got tired of my paper route, I quit without telling anyone. I rode my bike home about two blocks away in about two minutes. As soon as I went into the house, my mother was standing by the door waiting for me with her arms crossed and she was glaring at me as I stood there silently. Then she asked, “Why did you quit your job?” I never did find out how she knew I had quit, but somehow she knew! She could sense my every move no matter where I was. When I was little, I was only allowed to ride my bike around the block. By the time I was twelve, I was allowed to ride for about a two-block radius. One day, as I was about to cross my mother’s imaginary line that I was forbidden to cross, I heard her yelling at me. How could she know where I was? Anyway, she yelled, “¡David! ¿A dónde vas?” I looked behind me so sure that I would see her there, but she wasn’t there! But I had heard her voice loud and clear. She also had x-ray vision. Whenever someone sent me a card in the mail for my birthday or some other special occasion, not only did she know if there was money in the card, but she also knew exactly how much money was in the card. But the one thing we both knew for sure was that she would talk me out of my money. She would play on my sense of gratitude for her being my mother. She would remind me how she had raised me, provided me with a good education, and had also provided me with loving relatives who cared enough about me to send me money. She knew exactly what to say. I never kept any of my gift money. My mother also knew that my first girlfriend would make a fine wife. She could tell just by looking at her. I pointed out to her that she was wrong when I got divorced. Of course, she didn’t believe it. Somehow, I was entirely responsible for the divorce and proving my mother wrong.

¡David! ¿A dónde vas!

Family Guy

My sons think I’m a family guy because I watch Family Guy with them. And I get the jokes that they don’t. I’m usually the only one laughing. That’s another way that I like to bond with my sons. Watching Family Guy with them, in addition to professional wrestling. Let’s see, how many Family Guy shows have I watched with them on TV? Well, exactly one! Today! My son downloaded one on his X-Box 360 Elite last night and we watched it together today.

The plot was vaguely familiar. I predicted to my sons what would happen next. They asked me how I knew. I explained that I once saw a Woody Allen movie named Play It Again, Sam! that had a very similar plot. They told me the name of the episode was Play It Again, Brian. The shows often allude to the 1970s and 1980s, which I happen to remember vividly. So, I’m able to explain many scenes from the show to them.

It seems that I’m the perfect age, and probably about the same age as the Family Guy writers, to understand all of the allusions from the 1970s and 1980s. We usually watch clips together of Family Guy on and I explain the allusions to them. They were amazed, in a good way, that I know what the show was referring to.

One time Peter was doing a rap parody singing, “I’m M.C. Escher. Going up the stairs. Going down the stairs.” I laughed so hard when I saw this scene. My sons thought it was funny to see an older man singing rap, but when I explained to them who M.C. Escher was and his famous painting of the monks that are going up and down the stairs simultaneously in an optical illusion, my sons laughed all over again. This was my golden opportunity to introduce them to M.C. Escher.

Another time, I was listening to the soundtrack to The Music Man. They laughed when they heard the song Shi-Poo-Pi. They said it was the stupidest song they had ever heard. Okay, it probably is pretty stupid, but I like it anyway. About two months later, they told me to watch a scene from Family Guy on The Family Guy parodied the song Shi-Poo-Pi on the show. We all had a good laugh together. There are countless other episodes that have brought us closer and made me look like a genius in their eyes. I guess Family Guy makes me realize that I really am a family guy.


But sometimes there is a valid excuse.

Whenever I think of all the excuses that students have given me, I always think of Renee first. She was in my Spanish III class with five other students. This college didn’t have a college requirement, so all the students were in the class because they truly wanted to learn Spanish. I remember when I gave them the midterm exam, the department head asked me how the students did. I said that everyone got an A, but that I wasn’t surprised because they all studied very hard. Well, the department head didn’t like my answer. She said that she found it hard to believe that the entire class got an A. She said that department expected the grades to form a bell curve. I said that if a student earned an A, I could only give an A to that student and nothing else. At the end of the semester, I assigned every student an A. That was my last semester there.

But back to Renee. She was very pretty, but not extremely beautiful, in a plain sort of way. She had light brown hair and hazel eyes. She was thin and of average height. Whenever we had to act out a dialogue from the textbook, she really poured her heart out into it. Oh, yes, she was a theater major. We also had student named Joe who was studying to be a broadcaster, so he would always read the directions for the grammar exercises in his deep, well-modulated voice. Sometimes he would act as the narrator for our dialogues. He would announce such things as, “El día siguiente,” or whatever else needed clarifying. In one dialogue, Renee played a tourist at a restaurant in Spain. She’s asking the waiter what different meals on the menu are. Apparently she can’t find anything that she would like to eat. She’s getting flustered by all this. Finally, the waiter says that do have something that they serve to most Americans who eat there: Hamburgers! Well, for a simple dialogue that most Spanish students wouldn’t take all that seriously, Renee memorized the lines in about a minute and then demonstrated a wide range of emotions that added tremendously to the performance. We all had fun with this simple little dialogue. I really enjoyed this class.

I gave a lot of homework, but since there were only six students, I corrected everything they did. The students complained, but since I actually read and corrected everything, no one complained. Then, Renee missed a whole week of class and she didn’t notify me in anyway. When she showed up to class the next week, she said she was sick. She would explain everything to me during my office hours. Well, she said, she missed class because she was very sick and had to go to her doctor in Champaign, who used to be her mother’s doctor. She didn’t tell me her illness and I didn’t press her to tell me what it was. She started missing class more frequently. She finally came to my office to explain her situation. She closed the door behind her and told me to sit down. She sat down, but then said nothing. I asked her what she wanted to tell me. Finally, she said, “I have cervical cancer.” She explained how her mother had died of cervical cancer, so she went to her mother’s doctor who regularly tested Renee for cervical cancer. “I’m only twenty-two!” she said. “I don’t want to die!” She hugged me and I hugged her back as she sobbed uncontrollably. I told her that she should worry about getting healthy more than anything else. She was graduating that semester and she was suddenly struggling with all her classes. She came back to my office a couple weeks later explaining how her doctor was going to give her a hysterectomy in order to save her life. She cried because now she would never have children. I comforted her the best I could. The surgery was scheduled for a couple of weeks later, after the semester ended. Well, she made up all the work and got an A on the final exam and an A for the final grade. I told her to call me if she ever needed to talk. I never knew how her surgery turned out. And I never heard from her again, either.

I don't want to die! I'm too young!

More salsa

Peppers and salsa are a daily part of Mexican life.

I heard on the radio that salsa is the number one condiment in America! And I was glad to do my part to help. You see that pepper underneath this blog post? I did my part to publicize salsa over the years. So Mexico, or whoever it is who makes your salsa, can thank me whenever they have time. I’m following in my father’s footsteps. My father, who always carried a jar of salsa with him wherever he went, always had to have his salsa on everything we ate, from Burger King to Dunkin Donuts. This is such a happy moment in my life, even though I don’t eat that much salsa, thanks to my father. He always wanted me to put salsa on all my food. Once when I was about eight years old,  he made some salsa and wanted me to try it. At first, I refused. But then he told me to try a small cube of potato that he took from the salsa. He was happy when I did. But even the potato was spicy! It had absorbed the hotness of the salsa. It’s no wonder I don’t like to eat salsa very often.

Medieval road trip

Evanston, Illinois

One of the most memorable Spanish classes I ever took was a Medieval seminar on Spanish literature at UIC. There were only four students in the seminar. The professor, Reinaldo Ayerbe-Chaux, taught the course with great enthusiasm. So much so that I wanted to write my doctoral dissertation on some Medieval text. One of our writing assignments involved transcribing a Medieval text written on parchment into Spanish. I don’t know why, but I was truly fascinated by this project. The language of the parchment was archaic but comprehensible. The alphabet was moderately different from the modern Spanish alphabet. Some parts of the text taxed my brain in order for me to decipher the writing and then comprehend what was actually stated. Little did I realize that this was good training for me as a Spanish professor when I would have to decipher student compositions with  illegible handwriting before I could intrepet the student’s intended message. But, hey, I love puzzles!

Well, the highlight of our seminar came at the end when we went on our field trip to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Their Spanish department had the largest collection of Medieval Spanish texts in the world. However, most of them were on microfilm. Professor Ayerbe-Chaux said we just had to go to the university and see the collection for ourselves. I offered to drive our class to Madison, Wisconsin, in my minivan, which he thought was a good idea. Of course, UIC paid for my gas.

Professor James Compton, who is now retired, also wanted to go with us since he had graduated from there. Maybe I’m just too easily amused, but I had a lot of fun on this trip. I enjoyed looking at all the Medieval texts even if they were only on microfilm. Professor John Nitti gave us copies of two of their publications, which I shall someday read. But the highlight of the trip for me was meeting the faculty. Professor Compton was happy to see his dissertation adviser Lloyd Kaston once again. He was now professor emeritus, but he still had an office in the Spanish department and he still was actively transcribing Medieval texts. When we went to his office, he just happened to be napping. He was ninety-something years old, so he was entitled to nap whenever he wanted! Well, I got to see four generations of faculty in the same room!

I will always remember this seminar because Professor Ayerbe-Chaux gave the entire class, all of us, copies of a book by Don Juan Manuel that he had published. He had read the original texts by Don Juan Manuel and then transcribed them. He was even gracious enough to autograph the book for me!