The ghost of Thanksgiving past


This Thanksgiving Day, I was reminded of how we have celebrated previous Thanksgiving Days with our family. And by our family, I mean the Rodriguez family. That’s my father’s side of the family, which is very, very big. When my Uncle Simon and Aunt Maricela bought their first house, the Rodriguez family began celebrating Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve at their home. All the family tried to come to celebrate these holidays together. We usually had between forty to fifty people in the house. That included family members, friends, and neighbors for Thanksgiving.

I have many fond memories of Thanksgiving with my family. My aunt was such a great cook. I especially loved her baked sweet potatoes. And all those desserts she baked. I used to go with my parents, my brothers, and my sister until my parents got divorced. Then, my father would take us without our mother. Eventually, just my father and I would go alone.

I especially remember the last time I went there for Thanksgiving. Just my father and I went. I think that was the most people who went to this Thanksgiving dinner. There were lots of cousins and their friends.

I had just finished Marine Corps boot camp that week. I flew back to Chicago from San Diego on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which is always a very busy travel day. We flew a circling pattern all the way from St. Louis to Chicago. I was beginning to get nauseous. Luckily, we landed before I got really sick.

The next day I called my Uncle Simon’s house and asked if they were still having the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, they were! I didn’t actually talk to my Uncle Simon. My cousin Lulu anwered the phone. I don’t think their family really knew I had enlisted in the Marine Corps. When I told Lulu I just got back from boot camp, she said, “That’s great! Come on over! Wear your uniform!”

So, of course, I wore my uniform to the dinner. My father was so proud to present me to the Rodriguez family in my Marine Corps uniform! Lulu was happy to see that I had listened to her. The dinner went well, but since there were so many people there, we had to eat in shifts. But everyone ate. Then, my aunt brought out the desserts. I remember my Uncle Placido, who is a Roman Catholic bishop, looking at the desserts and saying, “All this and heaven, too!”

After dinner, my cousin told me we were going to Fat City, a bar where she worked. I really didn’t want to go to a bar in uniform, but she insisted. Well, I went, against my better judgment, but people I didn’t even know were happy to see me there. In fact, several people were buying me beers, which I didn’t realize at first. When the waitress brought me the first beer, I told her, “I didn’t order a beer.” She pointed to someone across the room and said, “This beer’s on him! He was in the Marines, too!” I got a few more beers that night.

I have to admit that that was my most memorable Thanksgiving dinner. And, the very few times I saw someone in a military uniform, I bought them a drink.

Confirmation


I actually wrote this on February 12, 2010. I was going through old drafts that I never finished or posted. This is one of them.

February 12, 2010

My son Adam was confirmed today. And I recalled many things past and present about being Roman Catholic.

The holy sacrament of Confirmation is usually the fourth sacrament that a Roman Catholic receives. A Christian baby is baptized soon after birth and then around the age of eight makes his or her Confession and receives his or her First Holy Communion. Then around age twelve or thirteen, usually, he or she makes a conscious decision to denounce Satan and become a Christian, unlike Baptism where an innocent baby has no choice but to be baptized a Catholic.

I am a Roman Catholic (or just plain Catholic). There were times in the past when I told people that I was an ex-Catholic or a lapsed Catholic. I was once hospitalized at St. Anthony’s Hospital and when I was asked my religion I said, “Catholic” just out of guilt. A Catholic priest then came to visit me everyday. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I was still Catholic and he told me that it was normal to doubt. Now, whenever someone asks me my religion, I say I’m Catholic. If I think about Catholicism very objectively, I realize that, once you go through all of my religious training, I will always be a Catholic and never an ex- or lapsed Catholic. That would be the equivalent of saying, “I used to be Mexican.”

Today, I tried to compare Adam’s confirmation to mine. But I couldn’t remember my confirmation because I was baptized in México when I was about two months old. When it came time for my class to get confirmed at Holy Cross, my mother told me that I was already confirmed. That was news to me! Whenever we had confirmation classes, Sister Cecilia would just look at me with disdain and shake her head. She couldn’t understand how Mexicans could confirm babies. That was so contradictory to the whole concept of confirming that one voluntarily and willingly wanted to be a Catholic. Well, I was an outsider during the whole confirmation process. I had to go to the Confirmation, but I couldn’t sit with the class because I wasn’t getting confirmed. I didn’t feel very Catholic that day. Or today when I tried to compare my confirmation with my son’s.

I was happy for my son, but this was an awkward day for me. Since the divorce, we no longer celebrate anything as a family. But such is life.

Mexicanos


Es difícil describir a los mexicanos que viven en Estados Unidos porque no son ni de México ni de Estados Unidos. Si son indocumentados, siempre viven con el temor de ser deportados. Si son ciudadanos estadounidenses, viven con el temor de perder su cultura mexicana. Cuando vuelven a México para visitar a la familia, todo mundo los reconoce como familia, pero ya no los consideran completamente mexicanos por su contacto lcon a cultura norteamericana. Así es la vida de alguien como yo que vive entre dos países.

¡Lamentablemente!

Comedian


Well, I’ve started going back to the comedy clubs after more than thirty-three years. Things have really changed since then. So many changes! I think the changes are for the better.

I was surprsed by how many comedians go to the so many available open mics in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. And the comedians are so supportive of each other. Of course, that’s not surprising because Chicago is one of the comedy breeding grounds for the U.S. If you are a new comedian, you may perform every night of the week, multiple times per day. And, there are no hecklers. I was very surprised by that. I remember always dreading my confrontations with hecklers. Some of my best shows, of course, were when I was able to handle the hecklers.

Gone are the smoke-filled comedy rooms since smoking was banned indoors, which is great for me since I have always been a non-smoker. But I sort of miss the ambience. However, I think the audiences are nicer now that they don’t smoke.

Back in 1986, I occasionally earned money as a standup comedian. Now, many clubs have a two-drink minimum for comedians who want to participate for the open mic. Yes, I understand that this helps keep the clubs open, but I remember getting paid five dollars and getting two drinks for performing at the open mic at the Higgins Street Cafe.

Back in 1983, all the open mics started at 9:00 or 9:30. Now they start much earlier, often as early as 6:00 PM. This is a much more convenient for aspiring comics who must get up early the next morning for work.

There are so many comics attending all these open mics. Yes, I’m one of them, too. Last night, I went to the Comedy Shrine and there were forty comedians signed up! And about half of them are very funny. Not only do I perform, but I also enjoy watch the other comedians perform.

When I started performing this go-round, I wrote all new jokes. I had my friend Vito look over my jokes and he contributed some very funny jokes, as he did for me back in 1983 and 1986. Most of the jokes went over very well. Afterwards, several comics would ask me, “How long have you been doing comedy?” I suppose you can take that both ways: 1. That I sound like I have some previous experience as a comedian, or, 2. You must be really new at comedy!

Well, I am finally overcoming my stage fright and getting more comfortable on stage. My new jokes are getting laughs at all the right times. Plus, I have been inserting my old jokes in there from time to time. At first, I was afraid to tell the old jokes, but I told one or two from time to time. Some of my biggest laughs come from jokes that are more than thirty years old!

I’ll keep working at standup comedy for the foreseeable future. I enjoy hearing the laughter. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think I finally found my true calling.

I’m back!


I’m back! At least, I think I am. Or, rather, I want to be. I have such a guilty conscience since I stopped writing blog posts. I could list hundreds of excuses for not writing, such as too busy, not enough time, I teach too many classes, I correct too many compositions and/or homework, etc, but I won’t list any!

I really have missed writing this blog, so now that the semester is almost over, I’m beginning to think about writing again.

Secrets


“A secret is something you tell one person at a time.'”
“Three can keep a secret if two are dead.”

I know how to keep a secret! A while back, my brother told me he was getting divorced after thirty-five years of marriage. He prefaced his announcement by asking me not to tell anyone. I promised not to tell anyone.

A few months later, my brother posted his plans to get divorced on Facebook. I saw the post and thought he phrased it in such away that blamed neither party for the divorce. My wife was surprised by his announcement. She asked me, “Did you see that your brother is getting divorced?” “Yes, I knew about his divorce. He told me a few months ago that he was getting divorced.” My wife was surprised I knew and then asked me, “Why didn’t you tell me?” “Because I promised him not to tell anyone. So I didn’t tell anyone.” She insisted that I could have told her because she was my wife, and she should have been privy to such information. Well, I did not–and would not in the future–tell her or anyone a secret someone shared with me in strict confidentiality.

I know how to keep a secret!

Thanksgiving Day


The other day in Spanish class, a student asked my how to say Thanksgiving Day in Spanish. I immediately said, “El Día de Acción de Gracias.”

Another student asked me if Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in Mexico or anywhere else in Latin America. I explained that Thanksgiving Day is an American Holiday. He then wanted to know why there was a Spanish name for Thanksgiving Day.

The main reason is that there are 41 million Spanish Speakers in the United States. Most of us are thankful to be in United States, therefore we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, or el Día de Acción de Gracias in Spanish.

The USA is a mixture of many cultures. And this is one further example.

Haircuts


“Did you get a haircut?
“No, I got them all cut!”

I have been getting haircuts my entire life. For as long as I can remember. I’m sure I even got haircuts before I was capable of remembering them. My mom was my first barber. I am reminded of my haircuts now because I just got a haircut.

Most of my barbers have been Italian, except for my mom, of course. I had two Italian barbers who were both named Aldo of Italy. I patronized both for about ten years each. My next Italian barber was at UIC, but I cannot recall his name right now. My present barber is Vincenzo who has a great sense of humor. My mother’s name is Carmen, and although she’s not an Italian barber, she does have an Italian name–except in Italian, it’s a man’s name.

I found my barber Vincenzo because of my present wife Beata, who also is not an Italian barber, nor does she have an Italian name. I was complaining to Beata about the long wait at the UIC barber shop because the two older barbers had retired and the youngest barber, but not so young anymore, told me after he hired a couple of twenty-something barbers, “I remember when I was the kid of the barbershop!” Tempus fugit!

Anyway, my wife has a half-Yorkie, half-Shi-Tzu dog named Pluto that needs regular haircuts at the dog groomer. So, one day, she comes home after dropping Pluto at the grooomer and tells me, “I found a new barber for you!” The barbershop was right next door to the dog groomer. Since I didn’t like the wait at the barbershop at UIC, I went longer intervals without haircuts, which annoyed my wife because she liked me better when my hair was short.

The next time Pluto needed to be groomed, Beata took Pluto and I for a ride. We dropped Pluto off a the groomer and then she walked me next door to the barbershop. This was a real barbershop, a man’s barbershop for the macho he-man. Vincenzo didn’t introduce himself to me, nor did I. He swept his ope palm to the barber chair where I sat down. My wife sat right across from me, as if I would try to bolt out before getting my unwanted haircut. Vincenzo asked me, “How do you want your haircut?” I pointed to my wife and said, “You have to please my wife.” Without missing a beat, Vincenzo said, “No! You have to please your wife!”

My wife laughed, I laughed. Vincenzo laughed. Vincenzo has been my barber every since.

El velorio


Nadie llamaba de México a menos que fuera una emergencia. No entendía mucho entre los sollozos de su mamá. Sólo sabía que su papá se enfermó la semana pasada, pero sólo lo supo por una carta que apenas llegó esa mañana. Por fin, su mamá dejó de llorar y le explicó a Carmen que tenía que ver a su papá ahora mismo. Sería la última oportunidad. Toda la familia estaba al lado de su cama donde agonizaba. En el fondo, oyó una voz débil, “¡Tienes que venir! ¡Tu papá pregunta por ti! También quiere ver a su nuevo nieto.”

Inmediatamente consiguió boletos para volar a México y su esposo la llevó al aeropuerto. Tenían que despegar de Newark, pero cuando pidieron direcciones al aeropuerto, el vecino puertorriqueño se equivocó y les dio direcciones para el aeropuerto en New York. Nunca oía la diferencia entre Newark y New York.

Cuando llegaron a la puerta de embarque, el agente les dijo que estaban en el aeropuerto equivocado. Corrieron al coche y se fueron para el aeropuerto en Newark. Llegaron justo cuando se despegó su vuelo. Carmen empezó a llorar. Ahora no vería a su papá por última vez. Su esposo trataba de calmarla, pero lloraba aún más. Un hombre la vio y le preguntó que pasaba. Le explicó que perdió su vuelo para ver a su papá que estaba a punto de morir. Por casualidad, el hombre volaba a Texas por avión privado. Le ofreció llevarla hasta Texas y de allí le arreglaría cómo llegar a México.

Cuando llegó a Celaya, ya era de noche y vio la luz por las ventanas de la recámara de sus padres. Miró adentro y vio velas por todas partes. Tocó a la puerta y el perro ladró. Pero nadie le abría la puerta. Se acercó a la ventana de la recámara encendida y lo vio rodeado de su esposa y sus hijas. Tenía una foto de Carmen en sus manos. Todos rezaban.

Carmen fue a tocar a la puerta de nuevo. Esta vez, la puerta abrió y vio a su hermana Laura con una charola con tazas de café para todos. Cuando Laura vio a Carmen con su hijo, gritó “¡Ay!” y dejó caer la charola de café. El perro le ladraba a Carmen que ahora tenía miedo de entrar. Laura corrió a la recámara donde todos estaban, pero no regresó por el susto que sufrió. Volvió la mamá a la puerta y empezó a llorar. Abrazó a Carmen y a su hijo. Les dijo a los demás que vinieran a la puerta para saludar a Carmen y a su hijo. Todos la abrazaban y lloraban.

Por fin, Carmen les preguntó, “Pero ¿por qué lloran? ¿Ya falleció mi papá? Es que llegué demasiado tarde, ¿verdad?”

“No, todavía no,” dijo su mamá. “Lloramos de alegría. ¡Creíamos que estabas muerta!”

Laura dijo, “Me asusté porque creía que vi tu fantasma.”

Carmen les dijo que no entendía lo que pasaba, pero estaba contenta de ver a todos.

Finalmente, su mamá le dijo que cuando fueron por ella al aeropuerto, les dijeron que se estrelló su avión y que todos los pasajeros murieron. Creían que Carmen y su hijo habían muerto. Pero no era así. Y Carmen pudo despedirse de su papá antes de que falleciera.

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Sirius XM in México


Before I drove to México earlier this month, I searched online to see if I would be able to listen to Sirius XM in México. I guess not many people with satellite radio travel to México and then post whether or not Sirius XM will work in México because I found exactly zero results. Well, I am now posting that I went to México and I was able to listen to Sirius XM in México while I drove all the way to México City. There were some bad reception areas, but overall the quality was very good. This certainly made my driving experience much more enjoyable. So, now you know, in case you ever want to drive to México City and want to listen to Sirius XM down México way.