On the door of St. Petronille Church, Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Guadalupe is a common first name in Mexico. In Chicago, I have met both males and females who have this name. My sister’s middle name is Guadalupe. The adult nickname for Guadalupe is Lupe for both genders. Small children are called Lupito or Lupita, depending n their gender.

In Chicago, I knew a male Lupe who hated his name because non-Mexicans had trouble accepting his non-American name. They also mispronounced Lupe as “Loopy.” He hated this. But his name was Guadalupe Gonzalez, so he remained Lupe because he wanted to honor the name his parents had given him. He learned to not only accept his name, but also flaunt it, much to the annoyance of all non-Mexicans within earshot.

When I bought my house in Bridgeport, one of my tenants was named Guadalupe. she was a single mother with three children. As I later learned, only her youngest son was a U.S. citizen. I bought a four-flat because Derby foods was about to close down and move to Sylvester, Georgia. My plan was to rent out three apartments that would pay the mortgage while I was unemployed. All the tenants came with the building. Guadalupe lived in the second floor rear apartment.

Guadalupe spoke hardly any English, but she understood most everything that was said. Her daughters were seven and six years old. Her son César was one. César, coincidentally, was also the name of the previous owner of my house. In fact, I bought my house from him. Well, it turns out that the previous owner was in fact César’s father, but he didn’t even worry about his son’s wellbeing at all. Guadalupe had to go to the welfare office to fill out some paperwork for her son, but she needed a ride and an interpreter. I offered to help her because she was struggling to get by. At the welfare office, I translated the social worker’s questions, which Guadalupe answered. Finally, we get to the question, “Who is César’s father?” Guadalupe has a hard time answering. The social worker turns to me and asks, “Are you César’s father?” “No,” I said. “I’m just her landlord and I was trying to help her.”

One day, she told me she couldn’t pay the rent. She was already about six months behind, but I didn’t have the heart to evict her. Eventually, I told her that I would have to evict her. I just couldn’t afford the mortgage unless all my tenants paid their rent. She was packing up one day when a nun stopped by her apartment to ask for donations. Guadalupe told the nun that she was moving out because she wasn’t working and couldn’t afford the rent. The nun said that her church could help her with the rent and find her a job. The nun talked to me and asked me not to evict Guadalupe and her children. She promised that she would pay all the back rent and find Guadalupe a job.

Well, this was a very agreeable arrangement for all of us. When Guadalupe needed repairs or rooms painted, she would make dinner for me afterwards. She didn’t like that I was always in a hurry to leave, but I was always so busy back then. Once she told me that she wanted her living room painted again even though I had just painted it about three months earlier. I wanted to know why her living room needed to be repainted so soon. She told me that her son had written on the walls with a magic marker and she couldn’t wash the walls clean. I refused to paint again. She told me that if I didn’t paint she would move out. I didn’t paint and she moved out.

I saw her about a year later. she had moved about two blocks away. She wasn’t feeling well. She had another baby a few months earlier and she never fully recovered from the delivery. I asked her if she had gotten married, but she said no. The father of the baby was her present landlord. She was sorry she had moved out from my building. That was the last time I saw her.

Mount Baldy

Mount Baldy, Michigan City, Indiana

I went to Mount Baldy last Sunday just for old times’ sake. Jim, Vito, and I went to Mount Baldy regularly when we were younger. Jim was remarkably familiar with this part of Indiana since he grew up in Hammond. Whenever he was bored, he would stop by my house unannounced and say, “Let’s go for a ride!” There was no need to ask where because we always ended up in Indiana somewhere. I have always loved Indiana ever since I attended Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson. For a while there, I seriously considered moving to Indiana. So, I didn’t mind too much whenever we took a road trip to Indiana. We often went to Mount Baldy and its beach just for the fun of it. We never actually went in the water, though.

When I went last Sunday with Beata, we had a tough time finding a parking space at Mount Baldy. Jim, Vito, and I never had trouble finding parking before. I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I remembered! Jim, Vito, and I never went to Mount Baldy during the summer, during the tourist, beach-going, sun-tanning season. We never kept a regular schedule like normal people.  We always went late at night or long after beach weather had passed. Now that I think of it, we were often the only ones on the beach!

We would cruise along Lake Michigan with no destination or agenda. We just loved driving! Occasionally, when we were old enough to drink, we would stop for a beer at a bar that Jim discovered near Mount Baldy. Jim loved discovering unfamiliar places of interest and then taking us there. I don’t know about Vito, but I wasn’t so excited about these places. But I liked to humor Jim because we did have fun on our road trips!

We often went to the beach long after the beaches were closed. We even went in the winter. One extremely frigid winter, we went to the beach at Beverly Shores.  Danger signs were posted to warn everyone to keep off the ice. Those warning signs only work for normal, moderately sane people. To us, they were an open invitation to go on the ice as far as we could go. The smooth sheets of ice were broken up by warm waves of water and then frozen so they looked like waves that froze as they approached the shore. They looked dangerous and inviting all at once. As I recall, Jim and I went out on the frozen waves, but Vito urged us not to go so far. Despite Vito’s cautious approach, he was right behind us. I suppose he did this as a precaution, If the ice cracked and swallowed up Jim or me, Vito could safely go back to shore. Since the weather had been so cold, we went out extremely far out on the ice, far from the shore. We kept going until we could hear the ice cracking under our feet. So, we turned back and headed to the beach. Hey, we weren’t totally insane!

Dr. D. carrying his son up Mount Baldy way back in 1990.

We really had fun on our last road trip to Mount Baldy. I was home alone with my son at home in Bridgeport. Jim and Vito unexpectedly showed up early one Saturday morning. They wanted to go to Mount Baldy! But I had to go to work later that day! What about my son? They insisted that I take my son with me and that we would be back in time for me to go to work. I resisted with all my might. Finally, after deep determination and exertion of my strong will, I gave in. I was able to resist for a whole minute before I agreed to go with Jim and Vito to Mount Baldy for old times’ sake. Little did we realize that this would be our last trip together to Mount Baldy.

Vito, as usual, brought his camera. He brought his camera everywhere, or so it seemed. I don’t know about Jim, but I found Vito’s camera very annoying back then. Now that I look back, I’m thankful that he took so many pictures to document our past good times!


Bob Bloom Roofing

The south side of Chicago

So I was at the gas station at 55th and Ashland this morning filling up my tank. The first thing I thought of was how this used to be my neighborhood on the outer boundary of Back of the Yards. I used to wait on this corner for the bus whenever we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. Sometimes we would eat at the Burger King on the corner there. I used to deliver newspapers in that neighborhood. Then, the neighborhood changed and it became the “bad side of town,” but when I hear that I have to laugh because it was also called that when I lived there in the 1960s. So I’m getting gas there this morning and I’m getting dirty looks from people who think I shouldn’t be on their turf. I just smile at them, knowing they don’t know that I feel comfortable right there on their turf because it’s still my turf.

The second thing I thought of was Bob Bloom Roofing. You see, I was pumping gas when I looked up at the roof in front of me, when I wasn’t watching my back. I saw the black tar that repaired a once leaky roof. When I owned my house at 1018 W. 32nd Place, my roof started leaking. At first, I was in denial because I couldn’t afford to get a new roof. I talked to my brother Jerry the fireman because it is a well-known fact that all firemen  have a side job because of their work schedule that gives them forty-eight hours off after working twenty-four. In fact, my brother is a also painter on the side who will paint apartments, houses, and just about anything else on his days off. In college, he majored in art. So he’s overqualified to paint your house, just in case you’re interested.

Anyway, I told my brother about my leaky roof. Yes, it continued leaking despite my denial. Jerry recommended Bob Bloom Roofing, a fireman who worked with him. Off-duty firemen seem to gravitate toward jobs that involve ladders. Jerry gave me his phone number and Jerry promised to talk to him before I called him. This is how Chicagoans take care of each other. They recommend a contractor who is trustworthy and then they’ll call him up and tell him to take of his brother, or whomever.

I never actually met Bob Bloom Roofing until years later. To this day, I still think of him as Bob Bloom Roofing because whenever we spoke on the phone, he always, but I mean always, called himself Bob Bloom Roofing. He was always advertising his company. And that’s why I still remember him, I mean his business, all these years later. Anyway, I called him up and explained my roof leak to him. We couldn’t find a mutually convenient time to meet in person at my house because I was busy every day and evening for the next two weeks, but I really needed the leak fixed. Bob Bloom Roofing suggested that he could go check out my roof on the way home from the firehouse. He left me a message saying that it would be an easy repair and he would only charge me about $150. I agreed and within three days my roof was repaired. I mailed the check to Bob Bloom Roofing’s home and we were both happy with our business transaction.

A couple of years later, another section of my roof leaked and we went through the same process to repair my roof. I never actually met Bob Bloom Roofing until one day my brother had a party at his house and he invited a lot of his firemen friends. As I wandered through the party, I would introduce myself to the firemen, who are not exactly known for being polite guests. Eventually, I introduced myself to one fireman who responded, “Hi, Bob Bloom Roofing!”

You gotta love Chi-Town!


Gate to the Union Stockyards, Chicago, Illinois

Canaryville is a neighborhood that is south of Bridgeport and southeast of where the Union Stockyards used to be. I spent a few years there visiting friends who lived there. I was from Back of the Yards, so not many people from Canaryville knew me. I was risking life and limb everytime I went, but I liked the sense of danger I experienced every time I visited. When I left Divine Heart Seminary, I had to attend Tilden Technical High School at 4747 S. Union, right in the heart of Canaryville. As luck would have it, the school had a lot of daily racial fights between blacks and whites. But that was my school and I was stuck attending it. I made the best of a bad situation.

I lived about a mile and a half away from school. After the first snowstorm, I was too cold to stand at the bus stop to wait for the bus, so I started walking to school in order to stay warm. I planned on getting on the bus when it eventually showed up. However, I walked all the way to school without ever seeing the bus. I didn’t mind walking at all since I used to walk seven and a half miles to town every weekend when I attended Divine Heart Seminary. The next day was even colder, so I left the house a little earlier and walked all the way to school without looking back over my shoulder for the bus. I ended up walking to school the rest of the year because I was able to spend the bus fare on magazines and books. A few months ago, I was talking to my cousins about high school and it turns out that they also walked to school so they could keep the bus fare for spending money.

I never had any trouble with anyone until I got near the school. Someone, they would either be white or black (I was an equal opportunity crime victim), would ask me for money, implying that I should comply with their request or they would use physical force if necessary. I never gave anyone any money. I always had a response for them. “If you need money, you should get a job!” Or, “If you want my money, you have to take it from me.” I would then give them my crazed look that implied they might get the money, but they would be sorry they did because I would inflict some pain on them in the process.

Surprisingly, no one ever accepted my invitation to take my money. Although I did get close once. Two Canaryville residents on their way to school saw me and told me to give them my money or they would beat me up, only not in those words. They looked like they were really going to beat me up but good. I collected myself and focused deep within. I clenched my fists and gave them a deranged look that I hoped would scare them off. Suddenly, they looked at each other, and as if by silent agreement, they walked away from me. They continued looking over their shoulders at me as they walked away. Then a police paddy wagon passed me from behind. They had walked away from me because they had seen the police! The police asked me if the boys had threatened me. I said that we were friends. I don’t think the police really believed me, but I stuck to my story. Those boys never bothered me again. In fact, they were so grateful that I didn’t rat them out that they even protected me on a few future occasions when I really needed some help at school.


Simba as a cute puppy

After Duke, the best dog I ever had, I never had another pet for as long as I lived alone. When I had my own apartment, I liked living alone so I never had a pet. Now that I’m living alone again, I have no pets. I guess I enjoy the solitude between visits from my sons.

However, when I was married, my wife and four-year-old son insisted that we get a dog. I kept making excuses at our first house in Bridgeport that the house wasn’t big enough, the yard wasn’t big enough, or someone would probably steal our dog. After a few years, I moved next door to my brother Jerry whose neighbor sold the house to me for a discounted price since he didn’t use a realtor. I enjoyed living next door to my brother for the most part–except that he always had some home-improvement project in progress and sooner or later he would call upon me to help him.

Anyway, once we settled into our new house, my wife and son started talking about getting a dog again. All of my previous excuses were no longer valid and I was too tired to invent new ones. So, we immediately went into negotiations. I knew we were getting a dog one way or another. And despite promises of my wife and son that they would be walking, feeding, and generally taking care of the dog, I knew that eventually the dog would become my sole responsibility. I insisted that I get to choose what kind of dog we got. I got my wish and chose a chow chow. Was I ever sorry! But not immediately.

I had a friend who had not one, but two chow chows. Whenever I would visit him, the dogs would look me over and then I would pet them and then they’d go away. So I pitched the idea of getting a chow chow to my family. They weren’t too enthusiastic about a chow chow. We saw one at the park and we went over to talk to the owner. He let us pet his chow chow and he was very friendly. My wife and son were then sold on the idea of getting a chow chow.

Well, we bought a six-week-old chow chow puppy and he was the cutest little fur ball that you ever saw. The woman who sold him to us said that if we ever changed our mind about having him, we could take him back to her farm in Indiana. My wife, son, and I had more negotiations over naming the new puppy. I insisted on naming him Beowulf, but my wife and son out-voted me and named him Simba, after The Lion King. My niece Bridget came next door to our house everyday to feed and play with Simba. He grew so fast and he wasn’t cooperating with the house training. He was almost full-grown and he was still relieving himself in the house. I would put his nose in it and hit him with a newspaper so he wouldn’t do it again. This had worked with other dogs that we had previously had. One day, I was about to punish him for pooping in the house when suddenly he turned on me and tried to bite me. Well, I had to show him that I was the master, so I picked him up and he kicked the wall and we both fell to the ground. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t afraid of him so I wrestled him to the ground. He bit my hand and forearm, but I took him back to his mess and hit him with the newspaper. When I let go of him, he growled at me and walked away giving me the evil eye. My wife and son were watching and they were both pretty scared by what they had just seen. I knew something was wrong with this dog because I never heard of dog biting its master before.

I also learned that chow chows are very territorial. My niece Bridget would come and go to house at will before we had Simba, but afterwards she came to visit him a lot. She really loved that puppy. Until, one day, Simba was sleeping by the side door of the house. She came into the yard to pet Simba, but he woke up and started biting her. As she ran out of the yard screaming, he bit her behind repeatedly until she was out of the yard. I really didn’t understand his behavior at all because Bridget took care of Simba since he was a puppy and she was like part of our household. I didn’t realize how vicious Simba was until then. There were a few more incidents where children walking by would see Simba in the yard behind the chain-link fence wagging his tail. When they tried to enter the yard to pet him, he wouldn’t growl or bark, he would continue wagging his tail. After they entered the yard, he would bite them. I put up a six-foot wooden fence around the whole yard to protect the neighborhood children from Simba.

A boy and his dog!

Simba never bit my wife or son, but when the twins were born, he bit Adam when he was about one and a half. Adam walked by Simba while he was eating and Simba bit him. I risked getting bit, but I punished Simba for biting my son. Most dogs don’t bite small children for something like that. I wanted to take him back to the farm where we bought him, but my wife said no. She insisted that we keep Simba. This dog was a real monster. If he didn’t like someone on the other side of the fence, he would start chewing on the wooden fence. I had to replace some of the boards on the front gate because he had chewed through them. Another time, my sons and I were going to a little league game. Simba was in the yard and I opened the garage door and the minivan side door for my sons. Simba ran and jumped into the minivan before my sons. He wanted to go for a ride, but we couldn’t take him with us. I told him to get out, but he wouldn’t. I told him a few times. So I reached to grab his collar, but he bit my hand so hard that I thought he had broken some bones. I started yelling at Simba like a maniac and tried to grab his collar again. He was so afraid of me that he ran out of the minivan. For two or three days afterwards, he would run away from me. A master and his dog should not have to live in fear of each other.

When my wife and I were getting divorced, we agreed on everything except what to do with Simba. I told her she could have him since she was the one who wanted a dog in the first place. Besides, Simba had never bitten her. She didn’t want him. I was stuck with Simba. When I was selling the house, I knew I had to give Simba away, but no one would be able to take him because he was too vicious. He even scared me and I was his master. Eventually, I had to take him to the Chicago Animal Control Center. But I didn’t know what else to do with him. Well, they probably had him put to sleep because he would probably bite anyone who tried to befriend him.

Now, my sons keep asking me to get a dog, but I keep making excuses. I’m afraid to get another dog! If I ever do, I’ll probably get a mutt.

Modern Bookstore

Translated into Spanish, published in Moscow, Russia

When I moved from Marquette Park to Bridgeport, I really missed having a bookstore a mere block away. Bridgeport had the reputation of being the center of city politics, rather than being an incubator of intelligence. So, needless to say, Bridgeport had no bookstores at all! Even their Salvation Army lacked a book section!

One day in the early 1990s, I was shocked when I saw an empty storefront on the 3100 block of South Halsted Street open as Modern Bookstore. For a neighborhood bookstore, it was very big. I was there the very first day it opened. The woman who greeted me let me browse for a while. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this bookstore, especially for one in the heart of Bridgeport. Imagine my surprise when I saw that most of the books were about socialism, communism, and labor unions. The woman asked me if she could help me find something. I asked to see the fiction section, but there was none. Then, even though I was sure that she would say no, I asked if they had a foreign language section. I told her I was interested in buying books in Spanish. Would you believe it? They did have a Spanish section that was actually bigger than most of the others in Chicago bookstores I had visited. And they actually had books by authors and biographies of political figures that I had actually heard of.

I bought a poetry anthology by Nicolás Guillén. Later, when I read the book, I discovered that the book was published in La Habana, Cuba, and probably shipped to the U.S. violating at least one embargo law. But wait, I also bought biographies about Diego Rivera, Benito Juarez, Benardo O’Higgins, and a few others that were written in Spanish. Much later, I realized that the books were written by Russian writers and later translated into Spanish. All these books were published in Moscow, Russia. I wondered if there would be any trouble if our local politicians had actually visited the Modern Bookstore and realized what kind of books the bookstore was selling there. But then I realized that’s why there wasn’t bookstore in Bridgeport in the first place. No one in Bridgeport reads!

Bridgeport welcome

Bridgeport, Chicago, Illinois

Bridgeport is a neighborhood unlike any other in Chicago. Actually, there are two Bridgeports: the mythical, political Bridgeport that every Chicagoan hears about since starting school and the earthy, gritty Bridgeport that contrasts sharply with the mythical, political version.

In grade school, we learned all about Bridgeport, which is the birthplace of five Chicago mayors, including the present Mayor Richard M. Daley (Richard da Second). Bridgeport didn’t invent machine politics; they merely perfected machine politics, reaching its apogee in Mayor Richard J. Daley (Richard da First). Bridgeport is also very near the geographical center of Chicago. Many south siders often went to the White Sox games at Comiskey Park in Bridgeport. When I was a student at Holy Cross School, no school field trip would be complete without first driving past Mayor Daley’s bungelow at 3536 S. Lowe Avenue. Bridgeport was the Mecca of the south side. Every Chicagoan made a pilgrimage to Bridgeport at some point in their life.

When I told my mother that I was planning to buy a house in Bridgeport, she cringed and told me that I would regret it. For some unknown reason, I was drawn to Bridgeport. Besides, this was the location of the only house I could afford using the GI Bill. But before I bought this house, I checked out the neighborhood first. I drove past the house several times, at different hours of the day and night. Every time I drove past my future home, the block was extremely quiet. I never saw any movement in this vicinity at any time. I was sure that I was moving into a good neighborhood. After all, this was Bridgeport. So I bought the house, much to my mother’s disappointment, and I moved in.

This was when I saw the earthy, gritty side of Bridgeport for the very first time. You don’t really know a neighborhood until you move in and you live there 24/7/365. It was only then that I saw the seedy side of Bridgeport. My house was situated next to an alley that ran alongside the length of my house, an alley that everyone in the neighborhood used as a shortcut. I always heard whomever walked through the alley talking, at all hours of the day. Then one day, I noticed that Bridgeport had a gang problem and my house was right the border between two gang turfs. My neighbor always tried to start a fight with me by pointing to my camoflage shirt, a remnant from my Marine Corps enlistment, and tell me, “Hey, man! The war’s over!” I would ignore him and walk past him quickly. It was about that time that I learned that there were two sides to Bridgeport. And I lived on the wrong side of Bridgeport! I lived on the side where the public housing projects were located, the only white projects in the whole city of Chicago!

While I lived in the Marquette Park neighborhood, I had developed certain habits and I thought I could continue them when I saw all the stores, shops, and restaurants that were available in Bridgeport. I really thought that I would enjoy all these places that were within walking distance of my house. I went to Lina’s Italian restaurant that was less than one block from my house because they served authentic Italian food. Or, so I thought. When I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by Lina herself. I asked for the beef ravioli because I love authentic beef ravioli. Lina said, “It takes too long to make.” I said, “That’s fine. I’m not in a hurry tonight. I brought a book that I can read while I wait.” “Well, I’m not going to make ravioli just for you. Why don’t you order something else?” So I did. But I went back a few times hoping to eat ravioli, but she always refused to make it.

I once needed a button sewn on my winter wool coat, so I went to a tailor on Halsted Street. The tailor said, “You want this button sewn on? Why don’t you buy yourself some needle and thread and sew it on yourself?” He didn’t understand that I didn’t want to sew it on myself and that I was willing to pay him to sew the button on for me. He continously refused, so I left.

I went down the block to the barbershop that appeared to be in a continous state of disrepair, since at least the 1960s, judging by the newspaper clippings on the wall. There were no customers in the store, so the barber was sitting in a chair. When I entered, he stood up and said, “How may I help you?” I told him that I wanted a haircut. Well, he wasn’t giving haircuts that day. So I left.

Then, I went to the 11th Ward Office because I needed garbage cans for my house. They refused to give me garbage cans because I didn’t appear as a registered voter within their ward even though I had just moved there. I left without garbage cans. This was certainly a fine welcome to Bridgeport. I eventually adjusted to life Bridgeport. You just had to learn not to have too high of expectations.

Wing Yip

Wing Yip in Bridgeport

For the finest Chinese Food, you must go to Bridgeport on Chicago’s south side. Wing Yip Chop Suey, 537 W. 26th Street, 312.326.2822, is a cozy, family-owned Chinese carry-out restaurant. If you dine in, don’t expect a fancy ambiance. In fact, don’t even ask to use their public restroom. They don’t have one!

I have eaten at this Bridgeport establishment since the early 1980s, but I’m not sure what it was called back then because I don’t remember the restaurant ever having a sign outside with its name on it. This place doesn’t look like much from the outside–or the inside, now that I think of it–but the food is delicious and they serve generous portions for a more than reasonable price.

As you wait for your food, you may read the Chicago Tribune or Sun-Times that someone left behind after reading it. The carry-out customers are Bridgeport residents and people who work in the neighborhood. Everyone in Wing Yip is very friendly. People often meet other acquaintances, friends, or family members by surprise when they go there. But strangers greet each other, too. The loyal customers love this place so much that anyone who patronizes Wing Yip has something in common with all other customers who walk in. So it’s not that unusual for total strangers to greet each other and start up a conversation.

As a police officer, I used to like to eat lunch there because everyone respected the police there and I would meet other police officers whom I hadn’t seen in years. This is also a great police restaurant because the service is fast and cheap. I sometimes go out of my way just to eat there now that I’m a retired police officer. I like the fact that they know me by name because I’ve spent so much time in there over the years. If you go there, you just may see me sitting in the corner doing the crossword puzzle.

New Year’s Eve

Making tamales with TLC

I have many fond memories of New Year’s Eve beginning in my childhood when our entire family would go to my Uncle Simon’s and Aunt Mari’s house. The party always involved eating a lot of  Mexican food and real hard play among cousins. At midnight, everyone, I mean children, too, toasted with a glass of champagne. That was the only time of the year I drank alcohol–until I became an altar boy and my friend once talked me into taking a sip of altar wine before mass.  But I only indulged that once because I felt so guilty and sinful afterwards.

Once, we were in Mexico for New Year’s Eve and we celebrated by making tamales and eating them. In Chicago, my mother made the masa during the day and then made buñuelos at midnight as a way of ringing in the new year. I think that New Year’s Eve wasn’t as exciting once we stopped going to my aunt’s and uncle’s house. I don’t really remember too many of those later celebrations now. When I was married, I was content to stay home with my wife and son and watch the festivities in Chicago on TV. When I lived in Bridgeport, I used to take my oldest son to the attic window at midnight where we could see the fireworks downtown. When the twins were born, we moved farther away from downtown, so we could no longer see the fireworks from the window. But we watched them on TV, although not quite as dramatic.

Later, after my divorce, my Mexicana girlfriend decided that we would make tamales for New Year’s Eve. She bought a giant pot for the tamales and lots and lots of masa. We would make tamales together, just the two of us. Actually, I enjoyed making the tamales. In Mexico, I only got to watch the women of the family make the tamales; males weren’t allowed to touch the masa. My girlfriend showed me how to mix the meat into the masa and stuff the masa into the corn husk. She had made tamales a few times and actually knew what she was doing. We even made some sweet tamales with raisins. We had about six different kinds of tamales. We literally did this for at least two hours and the giant pot was still only half-full. However, she insisted that we fill the pot all the way to the top. We filled the pot at about 3:00 a.m. And I was exhausted! But wait! She put a penny at the bottom of the pot where there was boiling water to steam the tamales. The flame underneath had to be at just the right temperature and you could tell if the temperature was just right because the penny would keep making noise as the boiling water moved it. The only time I really saw tamales made was in Mexico as a boy, but my mother and aunts cooked the tamales over a bonfire. Well, I went to bed about 6:00 a.m. because I couldn’t stay awake anymore. She stayed up to keep adding water and ensuring that the tamales cooked properly. I didn’t realize they would involve so much work. She woke me up a few hours later when they were done. She had stayed up the whole time! We then ate the tamales and they were so delicious! We ate them later that day. And the next day, too. There were so many tamales that she put some in her fridge and froze the some in her freezer. And there were still some tamales leftover! So I took some home and put them in my freezer. We ate tamales until the Fourth of July! And we never got tired of them. We loved them!

¡Happy New Year! ¡Próspero Año Nuevo!

Please! No more tamales!


South Side, Chicago, Illinois.

Once, while traveling in the country, Mark Twain saw a sign that read, “Junk bought, antiques sold.”

To my mother, junk wasn’t merely just junk. To this day, I realize that there’s junk, and then there’s Mexican junk–there is no Spanish word for junk, although I did see a sign that read “Yonke” in my travels through Mexico). My mother managed to salvage just about everything she found in the alley. No chair was so splintered, no dresser was missing too many handles or drawers, no bed frame was so rusty or bent that they could not be repaired, refurbished, or rehabilitated with a little paint, elbow grease, and TLC. If my mother found something that was too heavy or bulky for her to bring home, she would come home to get me and between the two of us we would put it into the back of her red Volkswagon Squareback station wagon.

My mother always knew some Mexican or an entire Mexican family who had just come from Mexico and needed furniture. She would help them set up a home by giving them whatever furniture she had found. She genuinely loved to help people and she would never ask for any money in return. Occasionally, someone would offer money, but she would refuse it saying that they could repay her when they were settled down. People would come from Mexico and look for my mother because they knew that she would help them.

When I bought my four-flat house in Bridgeport, I attempted to help Mexicans on a smaller scale than my mother. I only helped my Mexican tenants and a few of their friends. When my brother lived in one of my apartments, he wanted to get rid of his living room set, but didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know anyone who needed furniture at the moment, so I told him to put it out in the alley only he didn’t want to throw it away. I explained to him that if we put it in the alley early Sunday morning, the Mexicans going to church would see it and take it home with them. Sure enough, all his furniture was gone within an hour.

When I got divorced and I needed to refurnish my new house, I got most of my furniture from my brother and sister. Sometimes I feel so Mexican!