Dear Arizona

By Lalo Alcaraz

Dear Arizona,

I regret to inform you that I have changed my vacation plans for this summer. I will not see you again this summer even though I have enjoyed visiting you in the past. Nor will I be visiting Arizona anytime soon.

I’m sorry, but I will not be celebrating the Fourth of July in Arizona as I have in previous years. I really enjoyed your Independence Day celebration in Phoenix! I was amazed at the diversity of the throngs of people waving American flags and feeling oh so patriotic! As I recall, about 90% of the visitors to the park that day were brown and had black hair and brown eyes. Many of them spoke English, Spanish, and/or Spanglish. We were all there for the common purpose of celebrating the independence from imperialist England. Everyone was thankful to be living in America and no asked or cared if they were citizens (not even the authorities). It was a peaceful and joyous day of celebration. No one cared or even thought about the fact that Arizona was once part of México. Everyone was just celebrating America!

I wonder how your Fourth of July celebration will turn out this year, since I will not be there. How many people do you think will actually show up now? I wonder. I look forward to someday visiting you again. Hasta luego.

Patriotically yours,
David Diego Rodríguez

P.S. I once visited the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Is the London Bridge now a legal resident?


Chicago, Illinois

Sometimes I think my house is haunted. I’ll be sitting at home alone, and for some strange reason, I’ll hear someone walking up the stairs of my front porch. I’ll wait for that someone to knock or ring the doorbell. But no one does. When I look out the front door, there’s no one there! This has happened to me several times. Once, I hurried to the window when I heard the first footstep. I was so sure I would see whomever was coming up the stairs. But again, there was no one there. That was pretty scary! Of course, I’d probably get scared if I saw a the police or fire department at my house, too.

I tried to forget about the footsteps on my front porch. But, then, one day, my son told he was home alone and he heard footsteps on the front porch. He thought I was coming home, so he went to open the front door. But no one was there! He said he heard the footsteps on several occasions, but this was the first time he told me. He said it felt kind of creepy. He also told me that sometimes when he’s home alone on the first floor, he hears footsteps upstairs. I told him that sounded kind of scary, but I didn’t admit to him that I had also heard the footsteps upstairs. I’m beginning to believe my house is haunted.

I’m not a fraidy cat. Really, I’m not!  But sometimes eerie things happen around me. Things that scare me. Especially when I’m all alone, after dark. One night as I was sleeping, I was roused from my sleep by someone talking. Did I mention it was really dark? Well, it was so dark because the street lights were out, so I was really scared. As soon as I woke up, the talking stopped. I was beginning to theorize that the ghost didn’t want to talk while I was awake. But then I realized that I was talking in my sleep again. I got scared for nothing!

When I used to live in Marquette Park, I used to go running early in the morning before I went to work. Some mornings I ran at about 5:00 am. It was always dark when I ran. Running at that time was good exercise for me because sometimes the drunks coming home from the bars at that time would swear at me because they thought I was crazy for running so early in the morning. Sometimes, I got to do other exercises besides running. Some drunks were so personally offended by my running that they would throw beer bottles at me and I would have to dodge them. Needless to say, my morning runs were never boring.

But that wasn’t the spooky thing I wanted to tell you. Usually, there was no one out when I ran in the morning. Once in a while, I would see a family, a mother, a father, a son, and a daughter, all dressed up like they were going to church or a fancy party, waiting for the bus. I would only see them when I ran eastbound on 71st Street. They would be standing on the corner of 71st and Sacramento, waiting for the bus. I mean no one ever waited for the bus there at that hour dressed like that, especially not an entire family.

The very first time I saw them, I just caught them out of the corner of my eye. At first, I thought I was just imagining the family, but when I turned my head to get a good look at them, there was no one there! I had just imagined them! But, wait! When I turned my head forward again, I saw them out of my corner of my eye again. This really creeped me out, if you know what I mean.  I just kept running and tried to forget about the family waiting for the bus. And I forgot about them for a while, but then I saw them again. However, I never saw them when I looked directly at them; I could only see them out of the corner of my eye, and only when it was dark.

I told a few of my friends about my vision. Most of them laughed and said I was crazy. In fact, no matter what I told these friends, they always told me I was crazy. Some friends, huh? So why did I tell them in the first place? I just had to tell someone. I didn’t want to go to my grave withholding this secret from the world. Finally, I told someone who thought that maybe I saw the ghosts of a family who was killed on that corner, perhaps in a car accident. I thought it was possible, but I don’t really believe in such things. Of course, I wouldn’t rule it out, either. Just to be on the safe side, I never ran across the street near the bus stop where the family stood. Over the next few years, I would see this family periodically when I ran early in the morning. A couple of years ago, I saw them while I was driving eastbound down 71st Street about 5:00 am. I’ve just learned to accept their presence and move on with my life. I wonder if they’ll ever catch the bus they’re waiting for.

I suppose this all started when I was a little boy and my mother used to scare me so I would behave well. She would tell me scary things to prevent me from doing something I wasn’t supposed to do. I would actually hear my mother’s voice scolding me, even when she wasn’t around. Once, when I was riding my bike, I knew exactly how far I could ride my bike, but I decided I would cross that imaginary line. Immediately, I heard my mother yelling, “¡David! ¿A dónde vas?” So I turned around expecting to see my mother. But there was no one there! I had only heard her voice! And I was so sure that I had not imagined my mother being there.

Of course, my mother told me that if I stayed out after dark, I might not get back home. Alive. Ever. She didn’t want to have to worry about me coming home late, so she told me if I stayed out too late la llorona would get me and I would never come home again. La llorona, according to my mother, was a dead woman who wandered the land looking for wayward, disobedient children to take as her own; she had killed her own children, so she would never rest in peace until she found her own children. This was pretty scary stuff for a ten year old! Anyway, one day, I was at my friend’s house until after dark. I was scared because I knew la llorona would be looking for me. As I was walking home, I kept a watchful eye for la llorona. Suddenly, some boys who lived on my block ran past me, yelling, “Run! Run!” I was sure la llorona was chasing them! But I just froze dead in my tracks. Just then, I felt someone grab my arm from behind! I knew I was a goner. La llorona had caught me! I regretted not listening to my mother when I felt that cold icy hand grabbing my arm.

Then the grip on my arm tightened and I heard a male voice say, “Run! You were supposed to run!” I looked back and I was being held by a Chicago police officer. I was out after curfew. “Run!” he said. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to run when you see the police? Run!” So, I ran home and never stayed out past curfew again!

Mario’s Italian Lemonade

Mario, the owner of Mario's Italian Lemonade

I went to visit one of my old haunts today because I had a taste for Al’s Italian beef. While eating my Italian beef from Al’s Beef and trying not to drip on my shirt, I looked across the street and saw Mario’s Italian Lemonade. The sign wasn’t up yet, but I’ve been there so many times that I know exactly what frozen delectable delights this summer haven offers to the sweaty throngs on a hot summer day. People like me, with absolutely no will power whatsoever, will stuff themselves at one of the restaurants on Taylor Street and then go to Mario’s for Italian ice. So now that I’ve gotten myself all worked up, I can’t wait till Mario’s opens on May first.

And just for the fun of it, I thought I would cross the street and take a picture of Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand to post on Facebook before I went to teach my last Spanish class of the day at UIC. I took a couple of pictures with my iPhone and started walking back to UIC. Suddenly, I hear someone yelling, “Mr. Photographer! Mr. Photographer!” I look back, but I can’t locate who was yelling through the crowd on Taylor Street. As I’m walking back, I see a man in a blue shirt waving at me. I’m not sure, but I have this strange feeling that I’m about to walk into trouble.

The man asks me, “Did you just take pictures of my place?” “Uh, yeah,” I said nervously. “Are you from the newspaper?” he asked. “Uh, no,” I said, confused. He wanted to know why I was taking pictures of his place. I began to wonder, too.

Apparently, someone from some newspaper was coming out to take pictures of his Italian lemonade stand for a feature article and he thought I might be the photographer. I was flattered because this was the first time I was ever confused for a photographer. My faithful blog readers who have seen the pictures I’ve posted know exactly what I mean.

Well, I must admit that we had an interesting encounter. He introduced himself as Mario, the actual Mario in the flesh, owner of Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I can truly say that I was in awe as I shook the hand of the purveyor of Chicago’s best Italian ice! He was curious as to why I took pictures of the stand. I was too embarrassed to tell him that I was going to post the picture on Facebook. Then, right at that precise moment, a brilliant idea crossed my mind. I would write today’s blog entry about Mario’s Italian Lemonade! But I didn’t tell Mario! I still couldn’t get up the nerve to reveal my true intentions.

I asked Mario if I could take his picture in front of his stand and he agreed smiling happily. As we walked back, he asked me if I was Hispanic. When I said I was Mexican, he said he could tell. He said the secret of his success was his wife, who is Mexican. It turns out her family is from Guanajuato, México. He smiled when I told him my father’s family was also from Guanajuato.

He posed willingly. However, I think he was a little disappointed that I wasn’t a photographer from a newspaper. As I was taking his picture, I told him that his stand looked strange without people standing in line. He agreed and said he couldn’t wait to open up.

I can’t wait either. I need an Italian ice. Right now! I hope you like lemons if you go there. You see, no matter what flavor Italian ice you order,–watermelon, pineapple, whatever–they all have lemon inside. And that’s exactly what I love about Mario’s Italian ice!

In the Blood

UIC Theatre

I have never studied or trained to be a theatre (or theater) critic. And yet, I am about to review a play I went to see today at the UIC Theater. I saw In the Blood because I love going to the UIC Theatre to see plays produced by our university. Well, I’m on campus anyway, so it’s very convenient. And not many people I know like going to plays anyway. And the people I know who like plays never seem to be available at the same time as me. So, I always see the plays at the UIC Theatre alone. Well, not actually alone. I mean, there is an audience that includes other people besides me. Occasionally, I meet students I know and we chat a while. But otherwise, I go alone.

Well, In the Blood is loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter that I had to read in high school but didn’t because I too busy rebelling as an adolescent. But I did read it years later, on my own and again in college as part of my English major. For some reason, I still remember the story well. The play I saw today merely took the principal elements of The Scarlet Letter and juxtaposed them in our era. The updated Hester Prynne becomes an African-American single mother on welfare. And she also has a child out of wedlock. Five times. With five different fathers. Much to her disgrace! The father of her fifth child is an African-American minister who is afraid the scandal would ruin his success with his flock who have just constructed a new church. Shades of Pastor Arthur Dimmesdale indeed!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m not really sure whether or not I liked the play. I spent most of the play recalling The Scarlet Letter in order to make a connection with In the Blood. There were enough allusions to Hawthorne to keep me interested. And there were also enough original ideas and controversial topics to keep the play engaging. I did enjoy the set that suggested the ambience of the residence of the homeless who lived under a bridge. The set was vaguely reminiscent of the homeless when they lived on lower Wacker Drive years ago. But the play could take place in just about any large American city.

Harold’s Chicken

Harold’s Chicken, 6843 S. Ashland Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

One of my favorite fried chicken places in Chicago is Harold’s Chicken.

The first time I ate at Harold’s was about twenty years ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t even remember which one I went to the first time. It was somewhere on the south side, perhaps around 71st and State. I ordered the 1/2 chicken dinner. They literally gave me half a chicken. When they asked me if I wanted hot or mild sauce, I asked for the mild sauce because I wasn’t sure how hot the hot sauce would be or if I would even like it. I watched as they prepared my order. I got my half chicken with French fries on a slice of white bread and a small Styrofoam cup of cole slaw that was warmed by the chicken–I’m used to eating my cole slaw cold. Then the cook put the mild sauce on the chicken, the fries, and the bread with a two-inch paintbrush. Yes, the kind you and I use to paint your house. I suppose it’s sanitary if they only use it for putting hot or mild sauce on chicken. I loved how well chicken tasted that I often went back to Harold’s Chicken to eat. I think the paintbrush added that je ne sais quoi.

The first time I ate at Harold’s, I thought the slice of bread was a rather peculiar addition to the meal. I mean, it was underneath the chicken and the fries, so the sauce dripped all over the white bread. But when I ate the slice of white bread, it was delicious! Now, I look forward to the slice of white bread.

Over the years, I have eaten at other Harold’s Chicken restaurants. And I always order the  half-chicken dinner with fries, warm cole slaw, and the one slice of white bread. When I taught at Columbia College Chicago, I often ate at the Harold’s on Wabash and Balbo. You could actually sit down and eat there, but it was always so crowded and homeless people would always ask for money. After a while, they just ignored me–probably because I just ignored them. My only real complaint about this Harold’s Chicken was that they didn’t put the mild or hot sauce on the chicken with a paintbrush.


Chiquita banana sticker

Everyone is a walking advertisement. Corporate America has managed to increase its visibility even in our most intimate settings. Now even bananas are advertising Wii. Imagine my surprise when I saw Wii advertised on a banana. Sure everyone associates bananas with healthy eating. And sure, Wii Fit is great form of exercise. But will advertising Wii on bananas sell more Wii systems?

Chiquita banana with Chiquita banana sticker

Nowadays, every advertises some product on a t-shirt or a hat. When I was a boy, corporations would give away free things with their name on them. We never bought anything that was made expressly to advertise a product. Sure some products came with a label such as Levi’s, Louisville Slugger, Converse Chuck Taylor, but no one sold a product that was principally an advertisement. If I wore someone’s trademark, I got it for free. I still remember going to the Chicago White Sox Games for those promotional games when they gave aways baseball bats, hats, or helmets. I proudly wore my White Sox helmet for years. And I didn’t even have to buy it!

Our t-shirts were white and blank (sans trademark or logo) and were designed to be worn under a dress shirt. But some time in the 1960s, people started writing messages, such as political opinions, on them and selling them. Soon after that, t-shirts became concert souvenirs. People pay big bucks today to buy clothing that advertises someone else’s product.

O, the genius of corporate America who turned the advertising tables! Instead of giving away t-shirts or other goodies with their company logo, they market them as designer clothing or must-have items while making a huge profit. People will pay outrageous prices to buy items with the company logo of their favorite products. I once even saw a woman driving a Nissan Murano with a vanity license plate that read MURANO! She paid extra money for this license plate stating the make of her car, probably to express her loyalty to this corporation, even though the make of the car was posted next to the plate in chrome letters. Go figure!

And this exploitation of consumers will continue until there is no more profit to be made.  Or consumers wise up.