Love is …


Chicago Sun-Times

“Love is …”

I’m talking about the little cartoon that you see in the newspaper comic section. You know, the one with little cartoon couple that illustrate some aspect of love. I saw it today, but I didn’t even read it. I just kind of stared at the picture because I recalled the very first time I became aware of the cartoon way back when I was still in high school. All the girls used to like reading it. Some of them even clipped out the ones that they especially liked. I was your typical teenage boy who didn’t pay much attention to those cartoons. But then one day, I met Maria Pardo …

At Gage Park High School, I met a lot of interesting people that I still remember to this day. I’m still friends with many of them. Instead of staying in the assembly hall for the study period, I used to go to the library because I loved reading magazines or whatever book caught my interest. I never actually studied for any of my classes. I used to read U.S. News and World Report cover to cover. Occasionally, I talked to the librarian.

Then, one day, I looked up from my magazine and I saw her. Apparently, she had been sitting there for weeks, but I had not noticed her before. Actually, she noticed me first, but it took her two weeks to catch my attention. But that’s how I am. I’m frequently oblivious to everything around me once I start reading. When I finally took a good look at her sitting at the table across from me, she was smiling and signalling me to sit by her. She was beautiful! She had long black hair and brown eyes. She wore makeup even though most of the other girls didn’t. She even painted her fingernails. When I sat next to her, I smelled her perfume that just captivated me. From then on, I always sat next to her in the library. And somehow, she always managed to sit right next to me. She always read the Chicago Sun-Times, but she always read the horoscope first and then the comics. I always preferred brainy girls, but she was the prettiest girl I had met at Gage Park and she had asked me to sit next to her.

At first, I thought she was Mexican. I mean, she looked Mexican, very Mexican. But then she told me that she was born in Ecuador. I was surprised because I thought everyone who spoke Spanish in Chicago was either Mexican or Puerto Rican. She spoke English with this really very sexy accent. I loved listening to her talk, so much so that when she spoke to me in Spanish, I lied to her and told her that I didn’t know Spanish just so that she would continue talking to me in English with her sexy accent. But the highlight of the study period was when she would read the “Love is …” cartoon. No matter what it was about, she would always squeeze my hand and say, “Isn’t that so cute?” Frankly, I didn’t get it, but I played along. We got to know each other quite well that year. Or so I thought. When spring came, I asked her to the dance, but she said that she already had a date. At the end of the school year, I asked her what she was doing for the summer. She said she was getting married and moving back home to Ecuador. I was disappointed, but for a while, everyone thought I had the hottest girlfriend in the school!

Isn't this so cute! Love is keeping him company!

SNL


Sometimes when I think of funny TV shows that I used to watch, I remember them as being funnier or less funny than when I watch them again years later. I’ve been watching Saturday Night Live for many years ever since the show began airing in 1975. I’ve always loved watching comedy shows because I wanted to learn to be a funny comedian. I can’t say that I ever watched the show religiously because there were stretches when I didn’t always think it was very funny. I remember my friends telling me how funny it was, but I often disagreed, even when we watched SNL together. I liked everyone on the cast, but a lot of their sketches were just plain stupid. I’m sorry, but I just didn’t like them. The last few years, I started watching SNL again and I found it funny to be much funnier than in the 1970s. So, I wondered if I my memory was clouded by age. So, this week, as a tribute to George Carlin who died last Sunday at age 71, SNL decided to air their very first show that Carlin hosted. The format of the show was slightly different than that of the present show, but it was more or less the same type of show. It was a refreshing blast from my past. I still found George Carlin funny even though I had heard most of his jokes countless times. To me, he will always be funny. Andy Kaufman was kind of funny as he played the theme song for Mighty Mouse on a phonograph, although he was much funnier on later appearances. The skits weren’t that funny. But I did enjoy seeing John Belushi, Dan Ackroid, Jane Curtin, and Chevy Chase. Billy Preston and Janis Ian were the musical guests and wow did I ever have some wonderful flashbacks. Music always reminds of many episodes from my past. All I have to do is listen to the radio and my life flashes before my eyes. As I watched SNL objectively, I didn’t think the show was very funny, except for a filmed skit “Show Us Your Gun” in which people show their guns to a camera as it drives by. Women pushing baby strollers, little old ladies, and children show off their guns. Two mafia guys almost show their heaters, but then think better of it and keep them in their coats. Everyone seems to be packing, save the traffic cop directing traffic who seems to have forgotten or misplaced his service revolver–and he doesn’t seem to care. But overall, the show wasn’t all that funny. I started remembering some other scenes and realized that they weren’t funny back then, and they wouldn’t be funny now. Somehow, the show survived.

That's not even funny!

What a riot


2509 W. Marquette Road, Chicago, Illinois

When I lived near Marquette Park, there was a lot of racial tension. The neighborhood suffered from panic as the blacks moved closer and closer due to white flight. When my mother bought our house at 2509 W. Marquette Road, the neighbors said, with a sigh of relief, “At least you’re not black.” But we weren’t completely accepted.

No matter where you lived in Chicago back in the 1970s, there would be someone who resented you, regardless of your race. In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had marched in Marquette Park was greeted by whites who threw brick, rocks, and bottles at the marchers. We moved to Marquette Park in 1973 and people still talked about the Dr. King march. I was a typical teenager in that I wasn’t fully aware about the political events in Chicago or our neighborhood.

So, one Saturday in 1975, I was driving home from work at Derby Foods. When I got close to my house, all the streets were blocked off by the police and I couldn’t drive home. Helicopters flew overhead. I drove around until I found a side street that wasn’t closed. I managed to park my Firebird about four blocks from my house.  I had no idea why there were so many police officers in our neighborhood, nor why all the streets were closed.

As I walked home, I could hear people chanting in the direction of my house. When I reached Marquette Road there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people lining both sides of the street. Reverend Jesse Jackson had led a protest march, but I had just missed it. The street was littered with rocks and bottles. A black man and a boy drove up Marquette Road and people threw rocks and bottles at his car shouting racial epithets. The car sped off westbound where he was greeted by more projectiles.

I had a difficult time crossing Marquette Road in order to get home. When I got to my house, there hundreds of people standing in front of my house. I couldn’t reach my front door, so I watched until the march was over and most of the people left. My younger brother told me how he saw police officers on horses near California Avenue. Someone blew up a cherry bomb near the horse and scared it so that it stood on its hind legs. Someone kicked one of horse’s hind legs and the horse and police officer both fell down. The police immediately arrested the offender.

One of my friends told me he was standing on the curb watching all the action when a little old lady gave him a brick and said, “You throw it! I’m too old!” When I finally got home, my mother asked me where I was. I told her that I was at work and that I had a hard time getting home. When my mother asked my brother if he was at the march he swore he was at his friend’s house. My mother didn’t believe him. She didn’t want the neighbors to think we were causing trouble. Little did she realize that all our neighbors were out there throwing things. The next day, my mother punished my brother for being at the march and for lying to her. She had seen my brother on the news near where the horse was kicked down. They had more protest marches after that, but that was the only one I saw up close.

Neighbors


Marquette Park, Chicago, Illinois

Good fences make good neighbors. Words of wisdom by Robert Frost. Words I can live by. My neighbors who complain about me not mowing my lawn until Memorial Day also complained to me when the fence between our properties was blown over by strong winds. It was an old wooden fence and the posts rotted from the moisture. Well, her husband put the fence in my yard. They insisted it was my fence, but I didn’t know because the fence was already there when I bought the house. So I took the fence apart and slowly threw it away with the weekly garbage. The wood was rotted beyond repair. Since I didn’t have any small children or pets, I didn’t think I needed to replace the fence between our yards. But my neighbor would sneak up behind me while I was doing yardwork to insist that we get a new fence. I really couldn’t afford a new fence and I told her. But she insisted that we had to get a new fence and we would each pay for half of it. I said I wanted a three-foot chainlink fence because it would last longer than a wooden fence. I had a red cedar wooden fence at my old house and the wind blew it over after about five years. What a shame that I had replaced the thirty-year-old chainlink fence with a wooden one that didn’t even last five years! I insisted on a chainlink fence, but my neighbor ordered a six-foot wooden fence for privacy. And I was supposed to pay for half. I reluctantly agreed, but when I contacted the contracter in order to pay for my half, he told me that the neighbors had already paid in full. I just didn’t understand. Normally, I don’t get that inolved with my neighbors. If my house would have come with a good fence, I could have avoided dealing with my neighbors on this issue.

When I was in high school and we lived in the Marquette Park neighborhood, we had a nosy neighbor. There was a huge apartment building right next door to us with some wooden stairs and porch in the back. I had to go up to give some mail that was mistakenly delivered to our house by mistake. I was startled by someone sitting completely motionless, and seemingly unconcious. The very first time I saw this neighbor, I was mystified. This neighbor was obviously oh so very old. However, I couldn’t tell if he or she was a male or a female, black or white, or, even dead or alive! I thought I would have to call an ambulance, until she greeted me. As I later found out, she was very nosy. Once, a friend came looking for me when we weren’t home. Our nosy neighbor looked down from her back porch and told my friend, “They’re not home. They went to the beach. They’ll be home about ten.”

Hey! Where did my fence go?

UIC IBM vs. Mac


Dr. D. hard at work!

When I was a student at UIC, I wrote all of my papers on computers. I tried to do most of my writing on my own computer at home, but whenever I had free time between my classes I would use a computer in one of the few computer labs they had at the time.

I did a lot of writing on typewriters and then eagerly progressed to personal computers because of their word-processing capabilities. I was definitely an IBM aficionado since I couldn’t afford an Apple or a Macintosh. Our high school didn’t even have computers when I was a student.

Anyway, UIC had two types of computer labs: IBM or Macintosh. At first, no one used the IBM lab, so I had the lab pretty much too myself. Everybody was really into Macs at the time, although I’m not sure why. Supposedly, they were better than IBMs. Then there was a sudden shift in computing at UIC and I could hardly ever find an open IBM computer. Perhaps it was when IBM compatibles started using Windows, which was definitely inferior to the Mac operating system. I never did like those early versions of Microsoft Windows and stuck to MS-DOS 5.0 for much longer than most normal humans could endure.

Well, IBM’s were no longer readily available when I was. So being the adaptable person who I am, transformed myself into a Mac user. I have convinced myself that I can survive anywhere in the world, under any conditions. So, I sat down at a Mac computer for the first time in my life and started typing. When I looked at the screen, I couldn’t make heads nor tails of what I had written. You see, I can touch type and, when I put my fingers on the keyboard, I felt for the little bump in order to find the home keys. All electric typewriters and IBM keyboards always had those little bumps on the F and J keys. Mac, however, had the little bumps on the D and K keys. So my fingers were off by one key.

Macintosh always tried so hard to be different. Also maddening was waiting for the Mac to execute a command. Instead of the little hourglass to represent the waiting, a dialog box would appear that said, “Please wait. The computer is doing something real complicated right now.” So how was this better than an IBM computer? Well, I continued using IBMs and Macs, depending on which was available. To this day, I can go on any strange computer do some strange writing.

Nicknames


When my oldest son was born, my wife insisted on naming him David Diego Rodriguez, Jr. I was against this for many reasons (I’ve already written several blog entries on this topic). She won the argument. When our surprise twins were born, she insisted that I name them whatever I wanted. I was very surprised by her decision, but I immediately started thinking of names. Adam immediately came to mind because one of my best friends in grade school was named Adam. I also gave him the middle name of Luis because my brother Joe’s middle name is Luis and both my father-in-law and brother-in-law were named Louis. Of course, I had to use the Spanish spelling of Luis and the French. The other twin I named Alejandro because the name was at once biblical, historical, mythical, and popular. I liked the Spanish version of the name because I had been reading several history books written in Spanish in which they referred to Alejandro Magno, or, Alexander the Great, as a major influence for Charlemagne and his descendent Carlos V of Spain. For his middle name I chose Daniel because I have a both a brother and brother-in-law named Daniel. In addition, I have known many Daniels in my lifetime who were good friends. Thus, the twins were named Alejandro Daniel Rodriguez and Adam Luis Rodriguez, but wife and I called them Adam and Alex. And so did most people.

Behold! Adam and Alex! 

However, somehow they acquired some nicknames that I didn’t particularly like: Coco and Squeaky. My in-laws contstantly called them by these nicknames and I would always point out that they should be called Alejandro or Alex and Adam. Coco and Squeaky were totally unacceptable. This went on for a few months and I never let up on correcting anyone who called my sons by those nicknames. My inlaws started hating me, but I looked as my actions as a way of protecting my sons from schoolyard abuse based on their nicknames. Every time they called my twins Coco or Squeaky, I would correct them and we occasionally got into shouting matches. I knew that nicknames were trouble for boys when they played with other boys. I had seen it happen when I was a boy and with my older son when he started school. Not that I was against nicknames, but only if they were good and had positive connotations. Eventually, everyone called the twins Adam and Alex. Twelve years later, I don’t think anyone even remembers those nicknames.

When my oldest son was about 11 and the twins were four, my older son’s friends noticed that Alex had the same name as a certain very famous, very skilled professional baseball player. Once, I introduced the twins to his friends as Adam and Alex. One friend, thought about it for while and then pointed to Alex with a look of amazement on his face. He said, “His name is Alex Rodriguez! He has the same name as A-Rod!” That had never even occurred to me because I had never even heard of A-Rod when the twins were born in 1996. When the twins started school, all their friends started calling them A-Rod and soon my oldest son became D-Rod.

You mean his name is A-Rod!