Tools


When it comes to being useful around the house, I can do basic repairs. I come from a family of carpenters and mechanics, so I am fairly handy around the house. I used to be able to do basic auto repairs until the car started computerizing all their systems. I have the basic tools I need for around the house: hammer, pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches, socket wrenches, and assorted power tools.

However, if you do enough home and auto repairs, you eventually will need a very specialized tool that isn’t available on the market, or perhaps doesn’t even exist. For example, sometimes I would have to pry something open, but a crowbar or a screwdriver was too thick to squeeze in. However, a table knife, but not a steak knife, would do the job. Sometimes, a paper clip would fit right in a small circular hole that no other tool could. And, of course, there’s my favorite! A wire coat hanger! I’ve used it as a car antenna that received very good reception. A hanger is also good for reaching into places where your hand and arm won’t fit; you can shape it so it will go directly to where you’re aiming. Coins also help in some situations because they come in different sizes and I will find one that will my needs.

What other objects have you used as tools when an existing tool wouldn’t do the job?

Olympics


I don’t know why, but I’ve always enjoyed watching the Olympics on TV. So I’ve been watching them as much as possible these past two weeks. I’m not even a sports fanatic. However, Olympic athletes are often inspiring role models, especially when they have overcome overwhelming odds to reach the Olympic finals of any event.

When I went to Mexico City in 1965, I was surprised by how much Mexico was preparing for the 1968 Olympics. They even had garbage cans all over the city with signs that asked everyone to keep Mexico City clean for the Olympics

I began running as a boy because I was inspired by the Olympic track and field events. I even attempted to become the best runner I could be. I never reached world-class level, but I enjoyed improving constantly. I still run to this day because I enjoy running on most days. It’s relaxing and gives me some time to meditate about my problems. On those especially hectic days, nothing relaxes me more than a run through my neighborhood.

Where's my gold medal?

Cariño


The main difference between Mexicans in the U.S. and Mexico can be summed up in one word: cariño. I didn’t really notice until I went to Mexico with my sons. I guess I had noticed this cariño on previous trips, but I had forgotten all about that affection that Mexicans show one another more openly. Mexicans in the U.S. are very affectionate, compared to the typical American, but their display of cariño keeps diminishing with each passing year as they assimilate into American culture. I could tell my sons were surprised by all the cariño they endured first hand. They just weren’t used to it! Well, every time I go to Mexico, I have to get used to it, too. Once a Mexican finds out that you are his or her relative, you are guaranteed to be showered with affection. My cousins kept hugging and kissing my sons, which really embarrassed them. Especially when they also said things like, “My Baby!” My sons really blushed. Every time! After a while they realized that it was useless to try to avoid all this cariño. Wow! So that’s what I went through on our trips to Mexico when I was younger!

¡Dame un abrazo, mi hijo! También dame un besito.

Pemex


Pemex is the only gas station where you can buy gasoline in Mexico.

Pemex is the Mexican government-owned petroleum company that is a monopoly. They drill for oil, refine it, and then sell it in their own gas stations. When I drove to Mexico in July, Pemex sold gasoline for the same price as it did in December of 2007, the last time I drove down there. Meanwhile, gas in the U.S. practically doubled. This about the only case that I can think of in which a government monopoly actually benefited citizens. As soon as I crossed the border, I saved money on gas. If gas in Mexico practically double as in the U.S., the Mexican economy would suffer greatly. It has already undergone a significant downturn due to unemployment, the housing crisis, and rising prices in the U.S., thereby causing Mexicans working in the U.S. to send less money home to Mexico. So, I, personally benefited from the fixed prices of gasoline in Mexico by paying less at the pump.

Don't forget to send money home!

Sticks and stones


Last weekend, I saw Tropic Thunder with my sons despite the protests against the R-word that was used in the movie. The R-word, for those of you living in a vaccuum, is retard. People with mental disabilities do not want the word to come back into use. And I can understand that. I’m not apologizing for the movie, which satirizes Hollywood and its movies, but the movie doesn’t really make fun of people with mental disabilities. It ridicules actors and their over-sized egos when using the R-word.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard the word used as an insult whenever someone did something that’s less than intelligent. When I was growing up in the 1960s, everyone called everyone a retard just out of habit. If someone pushed: “Hey! Watch it, you retard!” If someone tripped and fell: “Walk much, retard?” Worst of all was if you did something stupid and you’re name was Rick: “That’s the women’s washroom, Ricky Retardo!” Of course, being called a retard wasn’t as bad as being called a racial or ethnic slur. We were taught: “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But, if someone insults you, you’re still hurt by those words. Lately, the R-word was on course to be replaced by “DUH!” But the R-word is gaining ground on Duh!

Duh! What cha lookin at, retard?

Big Brother


So I’m driving around using the GPS function of my new iPhone and I’m amazed at how it’s tracking my movements quite accurately. Somebody or something is actually paying attention to what I’m doing. But I shouldn’t be surprised because I’ve often thought about the many ways that we leave electronic traces of our humble existence. Every time I make a credit card purchase, my presence is documented very precisely. I’m photographed every time I withdraw money from an ATM. In Chicago, we have cameras on most corners downtown and in many stores. We also have those police cameras with the flashing blue light in high traffic areas. We also have the traffic enforcement cameras that take your picture if you run a red light. Every time you make a cell phone call, your location is detected by the phone tower that transmits your call. All incoming and outgoing telephone calls on your land-line are listed on a database for billing purposes. If you pay for the toll roads using a digital transponder, your location, time, and date are recorded. And, they also take a picture of your vehicle. When I was driving to Mexico, while still in Texas, a camera took a picture of my car. When I returned to the U.S., the border patrol officer knew that I was using my passport for the first time. All of this information may be used against you. I often read in the newspapers about cases where prosecutors subpoena records from phone companies, the Illinois State Tollway Authority, banks, police cameras, and credit card companies in order to use them as evidence in court. Now with the internet, every keystroke is recorded. Just because you deleted the e-mail to your mistress asking her if she took her blue dress to the cleaners doesn’t mean it was actually deleted into oblivion. When you delete files on your computer, they’re still there. And it seems like everyone can access them except you. And they’re also archived on several servers that back everything up in case of a disaster. I wouldn’t be surprised if many e-mails are floating aimlessly through cyberspace, or even outer space in the form of radio or electromagnetic signals.

Then there’s the government spying on private citizens for the sake of the safety of the American public. Which reminds me. Once, my neighbor was arrested for allegedly having millions of dollars of drugs and cash, but no guns. I was absolutely floored by this. One morning as I was getting ready to go to school, I noticed plainclothes police officers conducted a raid next door. When I saw the news that night, DEA agents announced this major narcotics bust involving my neighbor who seemed like a nice enough man. We didn’t talk much, but we always said hello to each other. My son played with his son at their house. The DEA agents said that they found money lying out in the open, all over the house. If that were true, I’m sure my son would have mentioned it to me. Another thing that bothered me about the case was the fact that they didn’t recover any firearms. Everyone knows that the tools of the trade for drug dealers are firearms. I’m sure my son would have mentioned seeing guns if there had been any. Something was very wrong with everything about that case. Then to top everything off, I noticed that I’m being followed by DEA agents in unmarked cars for about a week afterward. Having 20-20 hindsight, I realized that they had been following me for a about a week before the raid. If they had framed my neighbor, what was to stop them from framing me, too?

Okay, who's watching me now?

Teaching


The answers to these riddles are hidden somewhere in this website.

I’m not exactly sure how I became a teacher, but believe me, I never planned on speaking before large crowds because they scare me. In fact, I become self-conscious and nervous when I realize someone is even remotely paying attention to me. I begin to stutter and lose my train of thought. So why do I teach college Spanish? Well, I’ll tell you. I don’t know! Ever since grade school, I wanted to have a Ph.D. Well, a Ph.D. in literature sort of locks you into teaching. I mean what else can you do with a Ph.D.? I mean, besides start your own website where you prominently display your full name followed by your pretentious degree. So somehow I ended up teaching college Spanish.

As if that weren’t  quite enough, this year, I became part of the university bureaucracy. As a teacher, I always savored the fact that I could complain about institutional policies. In other words, I liked sticking it to the man. This semester, however, I am the man. What to do? Well, I hate having anyone tell me what to do, but I especially hate telling others what to do. I could do without giving orders to anyone about anything. Hopefully, my administrative duties will only last this academic year. I think I would prefer just teaching to shuffling paper. But I will do my job to the best of my abilities. I will grumble under my breath about my position, though.

Help me!

iPhone


I hope I don't drop it in the toilet!

I haven’t had a cell phone in about three years, but I finally bought one the other day. Yes, I bought an iPhone 3G. I wanted to have the latest technology. And I wanted to look cool. Actually, my trip to Mexico greatly influenced my choice of cell phone models. While there, I didn’t have a cell phone, but my sons did. I liked the fact that they were able to call home in the U.S. because of the roaming feature and we easily called my cousins in Mexico. There were a couple of times on my December trip to Mexico that a cell phone would have come in handy. There were times that I was worried about having car problems or a car accident and I wouldn’t be able to call anyone because I didn’t have a cell phone. It’s nice to be able to tell relatives that I’m on the way to their house so they can wait at home for me. A cell phone is useful for little things like that.

Anyway, I kept seeing all these iPhone ads all over the place. On billboards, in the malls, on storefront windows. In Mexico, it was called iPhone G3–that’s Spanish for iPhone 3G. If you know Spanish and a little about noun and adjective placement, you know exactly what I mean. Many Mexicans had cell phones. Some didn’t even have a phone at home, but yet they had a cell phone. They just kind of leapfrogged the land-line technology went straight to the cell phone technology. Well, the iPhone was released in Mexico at about the same as in the U.S.

As I was planning my next trip to Mexico, I was thinking about how everyone liked looking at the vacation pictures that I took. I’ve been printing them up and putting them in photo albums, but that’s a lot of work. Then, I realized that I could load all my pictures on my new iPhone! And it’s actually quite easy, too. Even I was able to upload pictures on the first try. So lately my life revolves around preparing myself and my iPhone for my next trip to Mexico. I’ve invested a huge chunk of my life on preparing my iPhone for my next trip to Mexico. I’ve been spending way too much time learning how to use it. I’m actually enjoying, though. That’s the way I am. When I really get into something, I really overdo it. I do nothing in moderation! I’m putting phone numbers and addresses of everyone I know in Mexico. On my next trip, I’ll be able to wander around a little more with my new iPhone. I’m still learning how to use all the features. I have always hated having a cell phone because it was so clumsy and awkward, but the iPhone is so sleek and cool and it reminds me of using a computer rather than a cell phone. In fact, I get to plug it into my laptop to synchronize all of my files! By now, gentle reader, you’ve probably noticed that I spend an unnatural amount of time on the computer. So, I don’t mind preparing my iPhone for my next trip.

Can you hear me now?

Flat tire


The tire repair shop that save my life!

When I was driving on the highway in Mexico, I suddenly noticed that my tire pressure warning light came on. This handy little invention saved me from changing a flat tire twice before. But now, on the highway in the middle of nowhere–or so it seemed in my panic when I saw the warning light–I knew I had little time to get to a gas station to check the tires. I didn’t want to have to change a flat on the highway, especially since it had been miles since I saw anything resembling a shoulder where I could pull over. Luckily, I saw a Pemex gas station a few minutes later. I had the attendant check my tires and he told me that my front driver’s side tire was low on air. Suddenly, I remembered driving into a pothole that swallowed my entire tire in Celaya. Then he pointed out a hole in the sidewall. When you go to the tire shops in the U.S., damage to the sidewall automatically means that you have to buy a new tire. I asked the attendant if there was a tire repair shop nearby. He told me to keep going a couple of more blocks until I saw the sign that read, “Vulca.” As I pulled up, I didn’t see any new tires. I pointed to the hole in the sidewall and asked the vulcanizador if he could repair it. He nodded and immediately jacked up my car and removed the tire. He took the tire off the rim and patched the hole from the inside. He repaired my flat in about ten minutes. And he only charged me thirty pesos, which was about three dollars. I was so grateful to have averted changing a flat tire that I tipped him twenty pesos. We were both extremely happy by the transaction. Well, I drove more than two-thousand miles on that repaired tire. I’m still driving on it! That makes me wonder about all those previous new tires I bought because I was told that sidewall damage couldn’t be repaired!

I can fix any flat tire!

Kung Fu Panda


How did all these kids fit into two cars?

I don’t know why, but I really loved Kung Fu Panda! And I got to see it at the movie theaters three times! It got a lot of pre-release publicity because Jack Black starred in it. The early previews at the theaters didn’t exactly make the movie look all that good. Then, I saw Jack Black plugging the movie on the Jay Leno show. I laughed when Jack Black, with a serious face, announced that the movie was based on a true story. When the movie was released, my sons wanted to see it, so I took them. I really wasn’t expecting much. But I loved it! I laughed throughout the movie because it was genuinely funny. And it was about kung fu. I still love martial arts movies–dating back to my high school days when I went to the movie theaters downtown to see four martial arts movies for a dollar. Even though Kung Fu Panda was merely a cartoon, it was historically and culturally acurate in many respects. However, since it was a comedy and a cartoon, you had to suspend belief about many events or you wouldn’t enjoy it.

Well, we saw the movie in the U.S. when it opened. Then we went to Mexico. In Celaya, my cousins Carmen and Ignacio took us to the mall, which was newer and much nicer than the malls by my house. I was surprised to see that they had a multi-screen movie theater there. My sons wanted to see a movie there. I had warned them earlier that the movie might be in Spanish only, and perhaps they might have English subtitles. I had not been to a movie theater in Mexico for about thirty years. Well, some movies were dubbed in Spanish and some were in English with Spanish subtitles. Most of the showings sold out. We ended up seeing Kung Fu Panda. It was dubbed in Spanish with no subtitles. My sons didn’t really like watching the movie in Spanish because they didn’t understand much of it and they didn’t remember all of the details from when we saw it in English.

I enjoyed watching it in Spanish because it had been a long time since I had seen a movie in Mexico. And the translation was done very well. Of course, Jack Black was no longer play Po, the kung fu panda. It was a famous Mexican comedian whose name I no longer remember. He was very funny as Po. The audience really loved the movie and laughed at the same parts as American audiences. I guess that’s the test of universal humor. It translates well. My favorite translation was in the scene where Po enters the training room with the sparring equipment and we see the five kung fu masters training and avoiding getting injured or killed by the machinery. Then Po ends up on this machinery, and by sheer luck and naivete, he survives. At one point, his legs are split wide open and is about to take a shot to the groin (in a PG movie!). Po says, “My tenders!” and the audienced laughed uproariously. So in Mexico, when this scene was coming up, I wondered how they would translate it. Well, instead of saying, “My tenders!”, he says, “¡Los panditas!” Well, in Spanish this was actually much funnier than the English version. Los panditas translates to something like “the little pandas.” Po is actually referring to his future progeny: My babies! Even the children laughed at this joke.

Well, while in Celaya, I met three of my uncles from the U.S. My Uncle Manuel decided to take all the children to see a movie. There were fourteen children and twelve adults who went to the mall to see the movie. And we all piled into four compact cars! We all waited while Uncle Manuel bought the movie tickets. Guess what movie we saw. Kung Fu Panda! This time my sons wanted me to sit between them so I could translate for them. My sons enjoyed the movie a little more when I translated for them. The movie was still funny the third time around.

I love kung fu!