Snow dibs

The view of my car from my front porch.

I woke up early this morning to shovel my sidewalks and dig out my car so I could get to UIC on time. This was the third time I had shoveled in twenty-four hours and I actually enjoyed shoveling! Since I don’t like to run in the snow because I’m afraid to twist my weak ankles yet again, shoveling snow is my alternate form of exercise on snowy days. I like to brag that I’m cross-training. I love shoveling snow about as much as I hate mowing the lawn. But those are responsibilities of a homeowner. So, I enjoyed shoveling  out my car and then returning home after school and parking in the very same place.

In many Chicago neighborhoods, people shovel out their parking spots and then place old chairs or other unwanted furniture that is worthless (just in case it gets stolen or thrown away by the City of Chicago) to reserve their parking spots. This is a time-honored Chicago tradition that I remember from the 1960s. This causes more arguments than perhaps even the White Sox vs. Cubs debate that is so quintessential Chicago. In fact, people have been shot for freshly-shoveled parking spaces.

Chicago Sun-Times, February 20, 2010

I have always shoveled out my parking space, but I have never placed junk on the street to reserve my space. I usually shovel my car out and when I come back I park in the same space that I shoveled if I’m fortunate enough that it’s still available. If it’s not, I shovel out a new spot and park there. One year, I ended up shoveling my whole block one parking space at a time and everyone on the block seemed very happy with the arrangement. In fact, my neighbors showed their appreciation by not shooting me.

When I came home today, I parked right in front of my house in the very same parking spot that I had shoveled out. I was surprised by my good luck to be able to park in the same place, so I just had to take a picture. Behold! I took this picture from the comfort of my front porch!

You suck!

Chicago Tribune, January 24, 2010

I saw this advertisement in the real estate section of the Chicago Tribune last Sunday. I remember when the word “suck” was a swear word! Perhaps I’m just on the verge of becoming a grumpy old man, but maybe that’s the reason I still remember when “suck” was offensive. So imagine my surprise when I saw this ad.

When I was growing up back in the 1960s, an age before political correctness had swept the land, people would purposefully insult each other. No holds barred. If someone had a physical deformity or a mental defect, that was exactly what the insulting party focused on. Racial slurs were not only permitted, but wholeheartedly encouraged.

But getting back to the word “suck,” most people who use the word today don’t even realize why they’re using it. Once, one of my students said, “Exams suck!” and many of the other students in the class agreed. She had a quizzical look on her face after she said it. Then, she said, “What does that even mean?” It seems no one knows what “suck” even means nowadays. No wonder I hear it on the radio and TV all the time. That’s because no one knows the history of the word “suck.”

But getting back to the 1960s, if someone wanted to insult you, they would–in so many words–say that you performed fellatio, back in an era when oral sex was frowned upon. The main offense was to insult someone’s manhood by implying he was homosexual. If someone did something stupid–and just about everything qualified as being “something stupid”–the person who didn’t like what you did would say, “You blow!” Sometimes people would hurl the insult to pedestrians as they drove by. Sometimes it was incorporated into everyday conversation: “Why aren’t you inviting Allouicious to your party?” “Because Allouicious blows!”

Somewhere along the line, “blow” received fierce competition from “suck.” Both words referred to the same sexual act of fellatio. The only point of contention seemed to hinge on the direction of air flow. But both terms were equally insulting in a homophobic manner. No one argued that! If you did, people would not only say, “You blow!”, but also, “You suck!” It was the great philosophical debate of my generation. Is it better to blow or to suck?

Well, flash forward to the present, and the people using the word “suck” are unaware of the history of the word “suck” whenever they use it. Just think about it. Can exams really suck? Who wouldn’t like oral sex to relax during a grueling exam. If exams literally sucked, students would love taking exams. And, then afterwards, the students would smile and say, “Yeah, that exam really sucked!”


On the road somewhere in the USA.

In the 1960s, Chicago was very much a segregated city. Neighborhoods were categorized by race and/or ethnicity. When people moved to Chicago, they pretty much stuck to their own kind. This was in an era before anyone could foretell the coming of Political Correctness and everyone called every race and ethnic group by their corresponding slur. Sometimes, people would be offended by such name calling, but oftentimes, most people merely accepted it as part of life in Chicago. Those neighborhood boundaries could only be crossed when going to work or when shopping, as long as no one over-stayed their time where they didn’t belong. No one ever commented on these inequities back then. That was Chicago, that’s all. When I lived in Back of the Yards, no blacks ventured there except to go shopping at the stores on Ashland Avenue between 45th Street and 51st Street. There was name calling and such, but basically there was never any trouble.

When I lived at 4546 S. Marshfield Avenue, there was a Sinclair gas station, whose logo was a green dinosaur, on the corner across the street. It had one gas pump that was directly in front of the building on the sidewalk. Whenever I needed air for my bicycle tires, I went across the street for it. As a ten year old, I often needed help fixing my bicycle when my father wasn’t home, so I would go to the gas station where Max would help me. Max had the reputation for being the very best mechanic around, not just in our neighborhood, but anywhere. Everyone respected him for his mechanical skills and brought their cars to him if they needed repairs. Max also dispensed free mechanical advice to anyone who asked for it. After a while, no one even noticed that he was black. That’s right, a black man was working at our gas station beyond the allowable shopping district boundaries. But it was acceptable because he was at work. However, Max was accepted amicably by all the neighborhood residents. He was a hero to all my friends and me because he could fix our bikes no matter what was wrong with them. And he never charged us anything. I used to like to hang out with him when I had nothing to do. He just seemed like the wisest man on earth because he could fix just about anything anyone brought in. I would ride my bike over and sit on his bench and watch him fix flat tires. He explained everything he did to me every step of the way. I was always fascinated by the machine that removed the tires from the rim. It was loud and menacing, but Max had tamed it to obey his every command. When business was slow, which was rarely, he would sit next to me on the bench and we would talk small talk. “How’s it going, buddy?” “Great! How are you, Max?” We were buddies. Then all Sinclair gas stations started giving out free passes to the Riverview amusement park with a gas fill-up. Since we were buddies, Max gave me enough passes for my entire family and my father took us to Riverview several times. Max was really popular with all the boys after that.

There was an older boy on the block that I often avoided. I always afraid of this boy because he was rotten to the core and he often scared me. He had that look that threatened physical violence to anyone who returned it. Then one day, he told me that Max was black. Looking back, I’m not even sure if I ever even noticed. He was just Max the mechanic at Sinclair to me. He was a very nice guy and he was always very helpful to me. Anyway, this boy told me that Max was a “nigger.” I didn’t understand what he was talking about. He explained to me that Max was inferior to us because of his skin color. We rode our bikes to the corner and Max was standing in front of the gas station. The boy told me to call Max a “nigger.” I refused because Max was my friend. We stopped our bikes directly across the street from Max and the boy insisted that I shout “nigger” to Max. I just couldn’t. I knew that Max could hear our conversation, but he acted as if he were oblivious to us. Then the boy said he would beat me up if I didn’t. He punched me in the arm really hard, he gave me his patented menacing look, and said, “Then call him a Fudgecicle!” I refused at first, but then I was afraid to get beat up. So I half-heartedly said, “Fudgecicle.” Max didn’t betray any form of acknowledgement that he had heard me. I felt so bad. I was sure my friendship with Max was over. But I didn’t get beat up.

The next day, I felt too guilty to visit Max as I usually did. After a few more days, I went back to the gas station and I tried to act as if nothing had happened. Max greeted me as he usually did. And we had our normal conversation of small talk. As if nothing had ever happened! Max was such a great friend!


Mi abuelita en México.

I remember when my abuelita came to live with us in Chicago back in the 1960s. I liked having my grandmother living with us because she used to take care of me when both my parents went to work. She even protected me from my mother when she hit me a little too hard or a little too long.

I remember once for homework in the first grade I was supposed to read aloud from our reader to one of my parents. My father wasn’t home, so I went to my mother. She said she was too tired from work to help me do my homework. I told her that all she had to do was listen to me read. The reader was quite simple: “See David. See Ann.” And so on. I didn’t even know that much English at the time.

Anyway, my mother didn’t want to be bothered by me. I kept begging her to listen to me. Finally, my abuelita said that I should read to her. I wasn’t sure if she could help me to read this book. At first, I hesitated because not only did she not know English, but she was also blind. One of the reasons she came to Chicago was to get eye surgery.

I remember we would all go to Cook County Hospital and wait for hours until the doctor finally saw her. After her surgery, she no longer had her eyes. I remember my parents struggling to put her glass eyes into her eye sockets and my grandmother complaining about how much pain she was in. Eventually, my mother learned how to put them in herself. My mother wanted my abuelita to stay in Chicago and live with us. Abuelita didn’t like the weather in Chicago. It was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. She thought our fair city was ¡una Chicagada! A rough translation of this word would be “Shitcago.” I couldn’t help myself and I laughed out loud. I’m sure my mother would have smacked me if abuelita wouldn’t have been so close to her.

Bumper stickers

Please use bumper stickers responsibly!

I enjoy reading so much, I’m glad someone invented bumper stickers! Now I can also read while I drive. The other day, I saw this bumper sticker as I drove: “Bumper to Bumper / Butt to Butt / Get Off My Ass / You Crazy Nut.” Well, that was a very lame bumper sticker as far as bumper stickers go. I thought back to the glory days, the actual Renaissance of bumper stickers. I remember reading some excellent bumper stickers long ago, in the Golden Age of public expression.

Yes, like many American cultural icons, bumper stickers were born about the same time as t-shirts with messages, way back in the 1960s when everyone seemed to have something important to say. Once, long ago, t-shirts were essentially underwear, something that men wore under their dress shirts with a collar. And there were no bumper stickers then; bumpers were still bare and naked. Their sole purpose was to protect the car and its occupants in case of a collision. In the 1950s, juvenile delinquents, JDs, began wearing white t-shirts as outerwear and car bumpers got bigger and brighter chrome, but alas, neither took advantage of all the possible attention that be showered upon them in the 1960s. Then, someone viewed the white t-shirt as a blank canvas intended for artistic expression. And, Voila! The message t-shirt was born, and riding on its shirttails, was the bumper sticker.

Some of the messages were exclusive to their medium, but most messages expressed themselves equally as well on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker: “If I told you that you had a beautiful body / would you hold it against me?” However, I prefer bumper stickers. T-shirts have long ago reached their saturation point and we’re now seeing the reemergence of plain white t-shirts. I mainly prefer the bumper stickers because I love to read and they allow me to read while I drive. I wax nostalgic as I recall some of my favorite bumper stickers! I can still see them, like my family and friends gathered round the holiday dinner table! Let me recall a few for you.

I remember there were political messages: “No Nukes,” “Save the Whales.” And there was a religious message: “Jesus Saves.” And then some genius, in a stroke of absolute brilliance, penned this magnificent treasure: “Nuke the Whales for Jesus”! I was amazed that this author didn’t win the Nobel Prize for literature.

When the Born Again Christians bragged, “I Found It,” National Lampoon offered the rebuttal: “I Lost It!” For a while many station wagons and minivans boasted, “My child is an honor student at …” Suddenly, there were some bumper stickers that read, “Your Kid’s An Honor Student / But You’re A Moron” and “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student.” To “If You Can Read This / You’re Too Close,” someone replied, “If You Can Read This / Thank a Teacher.”

Then there those bumper stickers that expressed a variety of feelings: “Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beer Holder.” “Insanity Is Hereditary / You Get It From Your Kids.” “Ex-Husband In Trunk.” “Don’t Hit Me / My Lawyer’s In Jail.” “How’s My Driving? / 1-800- EAT SHIT.” “Gas, Grass, Or Ass / No One Rides For Free.” “If This Van’s A Rocking / Don’t Come A Knocking.” I saw an old clunker sporting this bumper sticker: “My Other Car Is A Rolls Royce.” Then I once saw a Roll Royce with this one: “My Other Car Is A Lear Jet.”

As much as I love reading bumper stickers, I have only ever had one bumper sticker on all of my cars: “USMC.”

How's My Writing? 1-800-BLOG DDR