Riddle me this


Riddles Comedy Club, 5055 W. 111th Street, Alsip, Illinois 60803

I often try not to think about comedy clubs. Then, suddenly, Riddles is put in my path. Why is there a comedy club here? I usually drive up and down 111th Street. A very mundane experience. I know all the usual landmarks by heart: Beverly Arts Center, Burrito Station, the fire station, Mount Greenwood Park, the  Oak Lawn Dolphin Club. All the usual landmarks that I begin to not see after seeing them so many times. But then one day, I see the Riddles Comedy Club! And I can’t avert my eyes. I’m staring at it with my mouth gaping.

Just a few years ago, I visited the Riddles club in Orland Park with the hopes of performing at their open mic night on Thursdays. I wrote some jokes. And you better believe that they were very, very funny. So funny that I was afraid that someone would die laughing. I went to Riddles a few times just to check out the ambience. My very first night there, I was told that I wouldn’t have to pay a cover charge if I was an open mic performer. As tempting as this invitation was, I politely declined. Okay, I admit it. I was afraid to go on stage! I had flashbacks to when I actually did go up on stage.

Anyway, when I was finally comfortable with the club, I decided to perform. I wrote some more killer jokes. I thought about rehearsing, but I was afraid to sound too rehearsed. So, I didn’t rehearse. But believe, I was ready! Oh, yes, I was! Or so I had fooled myself into believing When I get to the club and tell them that I want to perform for open mic, they tell me that open mic has been cancelled. How disappointing! Well, not really. What I really meant was, “What a relief!” Especially, since I was invited to stay to watch the show without paying a cover charge. Well, open mic night was cancelled because the starring acts had arrived a day early and want to perform in order to warm up for their weekend performances. I must that I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I was also greatly relieved that I didn’t have to perform.

Whenever I get the urge to perform again, I get really motivated. But then, I lose the urge when I realize that I would have to leave the house about 8:00 pm and return until after midnight. I used to enjoy that, but I didn’t have to get up early to go to work. I would usually wake up at the crack of noon, go running, and then relax before I went to the comedy clubs. I have become such a homebody lately. I really enjoy staying home! Of course, I occasionally leave the house. I not exactly a shut-in.

I plan on going to Riddles very soon. As a spectator. Luckily, they don’t have an open mic night. Yet!

Pilsen


Pilsen, Chicago, Illinois

The first place I ever lived in Chicago was Pilsen. I hate to admit it, but I’m not a native Chicagoan. I have always regretted not being born in Chicago because I love Chicago so much. Yes, I’m not happy to admit that I’m a foreigner. I was born in Perth Amboy New Jersey. We moved to Chicago when I was about one and a half. We moved into my grandparents’ house at 977 W. 19th Street. We lived in the second floor rear apartment that didn’t have its own bathroom. There was no back door either. There were wooden stairs leading downstairs to the backyard from our rear window. I’m sure this didn’t meet the Chicago building codes, but it was very practical. My brother Danny and I always went down the back stairs to play in the yard. We lived there until we moved to Back of the Yards shortly before I started the kindergarten at Holy Cross.

I still drive through Pilsen when I go to UIC because it’s an interesting neighborhood. I’ve been taking pictures of the neighborhood for years now. Every time I take a different route I find something I have never seen before, like the mural in the picture above. I’ve driven on 16th many times, but I only recently noticed this mural of the Aztec calendar. I know this mural has been there for at least twenty years. Parts of it are slowly fading away into obscurity. I plan on walking through Pilsen and taking more pictures.

Hollywood Marine


2509 W. Marquette Road

I don’t know why, but I always wanted to join the Marines since I was little. The Marines, the few, the proud. They were real men. As boys, my friends and I always talked about how tough the Marines were with great admiration. So, I eventually enlisted at age 22, much older than the normal age of eighteen or nineteen. My father was afraid that I would get killed in action, even though there was no war at the time. My mother was so proud of me! But I’m not sure why since she was so disappointed when I left the seminary and didn’t become a priest. Perhaps she would have been happy if I had become a chaplain in the Marines.

U.S. involvement in  Viet Nam ended in 1975 and I joined the Marines in 1978. That means that I didn’t see any combat action. I trained at MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) in San Diego for boot camp. That made me a Hollywood Marine. After boot camp, I went to 29 Palms, California, where I studied electronics for a year and a half for my MOS. By the time I was trained as a telephone and switchboard technician, I had already served more than half of my three-year enlistment. However, I could not serve any time overseas because I only had a little more than a year left of my enlistment. No one was sent overseas unless they had at least two years of service left.

I was transferred to Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, California, where I became a real Hollywood Marine. I actually spent a lot of time in Hollywood watching movies! The people who watched movies in Hollywood really loved movies! I didn’t see any combat except in the movies. The closest I ever got to the battlefield was watching Apocalypse Now! at the Pacific Cinedome in Hollywood.

Another memorable movie that I watched in Hollywood, and I still vividly remember, was Monty Python’s The Life of Brian at Mann’s Chinese Theater. My brother Danny and I saw it together because he was also in the Marines and stationed at the Tustin Marine Air Base. Luckily, we went early in the afternoon to buy tickets. The next two showings were sold out and we couldn’t get tickets until an evening showing. We actually had time to see another movie and eat dinner before the Monty Python movie. Everyone loved the movie! I had never experienced such great enjoyment of a comedy movie before, or since. There was a long line to enter the theater, so I told my brother we should sit near the front. In 1979, before the era of surround sound, the only speakers were located behind the silver screen. And it’s a good thing we sat close to the front because the non-stop laughter continuously drowned out the movie soundtrack!

When I didn’t go to Hollywood to watch movies, I would go to Newport Beach, California, to watch movies. There was a movie revival house that always showed classic movies. I used like reading books and then going to see the movies based on them. I remember reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and then seeing the movies versions of those novels. Unfortunately, the Marines didn’t award me any medals for my deployment to the movie theaters. Nor did I get any medals for my reconnaissance missions to Disneyland! Oh, the long lines I had to endure

Long after I completed my enlistment, I received an application in the mail to join a group called the Veterans of Foreign Wars. All I had to do was check the box of the war that was ongoing while I was serving in any of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. As luck would have it, there were no wars while I was in the Marines. I’m not complaining, in fact, I feel very fortunate, but I couldn’t join the VFW! Viet Nam ended in 1975, long before I enlisted. The next eligible conflict was the Beirut barracks bombing in 1983, which occurred two years after I was discharged. Of course, I don’t deserve to belong to the VFW. I was a Hollywood Marine!

Vosotros


España

Sometime during the first week of every semester, my Spanish students always ask me if they have to learn the vosotros form for verb conjugations. No high school Spanish instructor seems to teach the vosotros form. Now that I think of it, Señor Mordini never made us learn the vosotros form at Divine Heart Seminary. And Señor Mordini was from Spain! I didn’t have to learn it in college either.

Now as a Spanish teacher myself, I find this truly amazing since there are more than forty million Spanish speakers who use the vosotros form. If you’ve ever watched Penelope Cruz movies, surely you’ve noticed that her character always calls her friends and acquaintances vosotros. So for the sake of Spanish cinema fans, I always teach the vosotros form even if the students won’t be tested on it. Every Spanish student should at least recognize the vosotros form when they hear or read it so they’re not totally lost. Like I was in the days of my youth.

When I was a boy, our family often went to mass in Spanish. Jesus, Jesucristo in Spanish, always spoke to his apostles using the vosotros form. I was puzzled by what he was saying when he did. For example, Jesus told his apostles, “No penséis que he venido para traer paz a la tierra” on one occasion, and on another, “Id por todo el mundo y predicad el evangelio a toda criatura,” which confused me. I asked my father what Jesus had told his apostles and my father explained to me that in Spain they used the vosotros form. I found it hard to believe that Jesus had ever been to Spain! But I didn’t dare question my father.

So what exactly does vosotros mean? It means “you” plural. When you translate “you” into Spanish, you choose from tú, vos, vosotros, vosotras, usted, or ustedes. In Spanish, you must also choose between the formal and the familiar. If you are speaking to someone you don’t know personally or they are in a position of authority over you, you must call him, her, or them usted or ustedes. Family members, friends, or acquaintances whom you know well you call . If there are more than one , you are supposed to use vosotros or vosotras. However, in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, everyone uses ustedes instead of vosotros(as). So, if I’m speaking to my cousins or my friends, I call them ustedes instead of vosotros, as they would do in Spain.

So, ustedes could be used for both formal and familiar situations. Sometimes, this results in absurd situations. For example, people who own a cat will call it . If they own more than one cat, they call them ustedes when vosotros would be more appropriate in this situation. Someone from Spain will laugh if they hear you calling your pets ustedes!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream


UIC Theater, 1044 W. Harrison Street, Chicago, Illinois

I went to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the UIC Theater today. Our university has a theater department, so I like to go see plays that they stage. I usually go to the afternoon performances because I like going to the theater in the afternoon. That’s not the usual time to go see a play. Unless you’re going on a school field trip. In fact, the theater is usually filled with students who come on school field trips. And they usually enjoy the plays presented. I’m not sure if they actually like the plays or they’re just happy to be away from their school. I enjoy the plays because I get to stay at UIC a little longer.

Of course, I also love Shakespeare! I had just seen the movie version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream a few weeks ago. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, this live performance topped the movie! Watching actors perform in the flesh is always much better. These actors were very professional and delivered convincing performances.

I loved the music they added to the performance. It was fitting because they conveyed the dream theme. From the Eurythmics to Lady Gaga. The Flower Duet by Leo Delibes was also very well-placed. They also played Louis Armstrong, Nessun Dorma. I really can’t remember all the songs they played, but I really enjoyed them in the context of the play.

They were true to the Shakespeare’s words, but they used modern gestures to express themselves, much to the audience’s delight. My favorite was when Oberon hit Demetrius and then does the Sammy Sosa post-homerun celebratory gestures. The audience roared  at this! I loved how director Karen Kessler focused on the comedy aspect of the play. This updated version was hilarious and the audience laughed in all the right places. I laughed so loud and so hard that I was glad my sons weren’t with me to tell me, “Dad, you’re embarrassing us”!

Driving lessons


My father's camioneta

When I recall that I learned to drive from my father, I consider myself very lucky to still be alive. I took driver’s ed at Divine Heart Seminary, but I only got to drive the minimum required hours. My father loved teaching everyone how to drive. The only one who ever refused to take lessons from him was my mother. She didn’t like him telling her what to do. Especially, since she knew his every bad–and dangerous–bad driving habits. My father had some very dangerous driving habits that he tried to teach everyone he taught. Including me! Since I was only sixteen, I had to follow his instructions carefully or risk never driving again. I had a permit and I wanted to drive!  

I was a very poor driver in driver’s ed. The first car I drove was a 1971 Pontiac Firebird with a manual transmission. We were all excited about driving a sports car! I stalled the engine every time I drove. The instructor told me I would be fine once we started driving the Chevy Caprice with an automatic transmission. Everyone was happy about the automatic transmission because the engine stalling stopped. Until I got behind the wheel. Somehow, I still managed to stall the engine! But that was the least of my worries. I didn’t know how to yield at yield signs, and from years of watching my father drive, I didn’t come to a complete stop at stop signs. I thought stopping was optional. My father never came to a complete stop at a stop sign. Now that I think of it, he never completely stopped at red lights either! Whenever the light turned red, he would slowly stop a couple car lengths from the intersection and slowly creep forward until the light turned green.  

I was surprised that my father wanted me to drive his brand new lime green 1971 Ford Maverick. He was so proud that he was teaching his oldest son how to drive!  I was even more surprised at some of the driving maneuvers de demanded of me! For example, he would tell me to take short cuts through alleys. When I came out of the other end, he wanted me to lay on the horn in case any car or pedestrian was at the mouth of the alley. He taught me about lane position when making right turns. If you make a right turn, my father told me, you have to get in the right lane. Then, when you get close to the intersection, you swing out wide to the left before you turn! I almost crashed the very first time I tried my father’s technique. My father always made his right turns like this. I’m surprised he didn’t have more accidents.  

He also told me to use a turn signal when changing lanes. But sometimes, it was better not to let the other drivers know your intentions. I’m not sure why. I never really understood his explanation. If you got to and intersection without any traffic controls and the other driver signalled you to proceed before him, my father told me to never go. He just wanted to crash into you. To this day, I always give the other driver the right of way.  

My father always had trouble staying in his lane. On the expressway, in the right lane, he would exit on the right if he didn’t focus on staying in his lane. Before I started driving, I thought staying in your lane was probably the most difficult driving feat possible. My father would make everyone be quiet whenever we approached exit ramps. In the picture of my father’s station wagon, you can see the result of his not staying in his lane. he was driving northbound on Damen Avenue at 47th Street. That was the site of the infamous Damen overpass in Back of the Yards. The left two lanes took you over the overpass. However, the right lane allowed drivers to veer right and avoid going on the overpass. Well, my father was in the right lane when the exit lane pulled him to the right. Unfortunately, he crashed into the concrete barrier dividing the lanes despite the flashing yellow warning light and warning sign. Luckily, he was alone while driving.  

He parked for about ten minutes to calm down from the trauma before he came home. I was the first one to see him and his fender damage. I was sorry I asked him what had happened. It took him about five minutes to explain this two-second traffic crash. Then, he told me to get in the car and he took me back to the scene of the accident. He did a reenactment of the accident. I was riding shotgun, not wearing a seatbelt because back then no one wore seatbelts because most cars didn’t have seatbelts. As he was showing me his path before the accident, he almost crashed into the concrete barrier again! That really shook him up and he had to pull over for a few minutes to calm down before we could drive home.I still have some of the driving habits that my father instilled in me. And that’s why I say that I’m lucky to be alive!