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!

You know you’re Mexican if …

La Virgen de Guadalupe en Pilsen, Chicago, Illinois.

You know you’re Mexican if …

  1. Your whole family goes to the laundromat.
  2. You grow corn in your garden.
  3. You have a birthday party for your son or daughter and you invite more adults than children.
  4. You beep your horn instead of ringing the doorbell.
  5. You go to McDonald’s or Burger King and you bring your own salsa and jalapeños.
  6. You took Spanish in high school for an easy A and got a C.
  7. You take your family on un paseo through the car wash and tell them that the ride is called “The Tidal Wave.”
  8. You’re married, but your mother still hits you in public.
  9. The police pull you over and you pretend not to speak English.
  10. You have a statue of la Virgen in a half-buried bathtub in your front lawn.
This isn't spicy enough!

Mexican stereotype


Mariachi Sponge Bob by Burger King

When Americans think of Mexicans, one of the most prominent images that comes to mind is the Mariachi. There’s nothing wrong with that since the Mariachi does have positive connotations and reflects favorably on Mexicans. The Mariachi has become the epitome of Mexico even though Mariachis originated in the state of Jalisco. There are many more cultural facets to Mexico than just the Mariachis. As further proof, think of Hollywood movies that depict Mexicans. Okay, please try to block out Beverly Hills Chihuahua because it’s not representative of all Mexicans. I haven’t actually seen the entire movie, so I’m not qualified to comment on it. Okay, I did see the previews where they showed the Chihuahuas as advanced civilization similar to the Aztecs. When Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short made the movie The Three Amigos, they dressed like Mariachis. I once took my sons to Burger King and the toy in the Kid’s Meal was a Mariachi Sponge Bob. I often take Mariachi Sponge Bob to Spanish classes with me and the students love him so much I make I keep my eye on him so no one steals him from me.

Ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores.

Just click your heels

Deposit toilet paper in wastebasket.

“Wait! I have to go to the bathroom!” my son Adam shouted when we entered our room at the Days Inn Motel in Laredo, Texas. He pushed Alex and me aside and then ran to the bathroom. He immediately called us into the bathroom. “Watch,” he said as he dropped one sheet of toilet paper into the toilet and flushed it down. We watched it spiral downward until it vanished with a roar into the underworld of sewers.

My sons were glad to be back in the U.S. after spending two whole weeks in Mexico without all of the creature comforts to which they are accustomed here in Chicago. I explained that we would lack some of these American luxuries to them, but they were still unprepared mentally for what was in store for them in Mexico.

For example, I told them that in Mexico they only served Mexican food. They were surprised that even the McDonald’s and Burger King food tasted a little Mexican. I think going to the bathroom was activity that most struck home with them. They didn’t like the idea of putting the used toilet paper in the wastebasket next to the toilet instead of just flushing it down the way we do here.

Overall, I think they adapted well, but I don’t think they ever want to go to Mexico again!

More salsa

Peppers and salsa are a daily part of Mexican life.

I heard on the radio that salsa is the number one condiment in America! And I was glad to do my part to help. You see that pepper underneath this blog post? I did my part to publicize salsa over the years. So Mexico, or whoever it is who makes your salsa, can thank me whenever they have time. I’m following in my father’s footsteps. My father, who always carried a jar of salsa with him wherever he went, always had to have his salsa on everything we ate, from Burger King to Dunkin Donuts. This is such a happy moment in my life, even though I don’t eat that much salsa, thanks to my father. He always wanted me to put salsa on all my food. Once when I was about eight years old,  he made some salsa and wanted me to try it. At first, I refused. But then he told me to try a small cube of potato that he took from the salsa. He was happy when I did. But even the potato was spicy! It had absorbed the hotness of the salsa. It’s no wonder I don’t like to eat salsa very often.


My father loved his salsa. In fact, he always carried a jar of salsa in his coat pocket just in case of an emergency. By an emergency, I mean that rare event when we actually ate a non-Mexican house or restaurant that had never even heard of salsa, peppers, or even Tabasco sauce. My father was always at the ready with his jar of salsa. He was prepared for just about any disaster of this type. At Burger King, when they asked him if he wanted everything on his Whopper, he said, “Yes, everything. And salsa!” When they would tell him that they didn’t have salsa, he would say, “That’s okay! I brought my own!” And he would pull out his jar of salsa from his pocket. He loved watching their facial expression when they saw that he actually had a jar of salsa. Some days, he felt that one jar of salsa alone would not suffice, so he would also bring a jar of jalapeño peppers. He ate jalapeño peppers like some people eat olives.

At home, my father tried to instill in us the values of our Mexican heritage. Number one on the list was teaching us how to eat salsa or peppers at every meal with every food that we were served. We always put up an argument every time. He even wanted me to put salsa on my corn flakes once! He loved to make his own salsa, but no one else liked it, not even my mother. Once he made some salsa and I saw him put a spoonful in his mouth. He had made it extremely hot. It was too hot even for him. He drank a tall glass of water, but it took a while before he actually cooled off. Then, he offers me some. I said no, of course. But then he gave me the “What kind of Mexican are you?” speech and I felt compelled to try some of his salsa. My father had tricked me into tasting it by telling me that it wouldn’t be that spicy. I did taste it, but grudgingly. He told me to try a piece of diced potato that had been floating in the liquid of his homemade salsa jar. I think, how hot can it be? It’s just a potato. Wow! I bit into this potato and it was hotter than any jalapeño pepper I had ever tasted.

When I was growing up there were people starving all over the world, but our parish and school decided to collect alms for the starving children in Biafra. They showed us pictures of these Biafran children who were basically nothing but skin and bones with bloated stomachs. On the one hand, these children so evoked our sympathy for them that we donated our candy money to feed these starving children in Biafra. On the other hand, some boys soon forgot about the starving Biafran children and invoked the name of Biafra for other purposes. In fact, they started calling the skinniest boy in the school Biafra. Biafra, I mean the skinniest boy in the school, happened to be in my class. And whenever someone wanted to poke fun at this skinny boy, he would go up to the Biafra collection can on the nun’s desk, drop a coin in the can, and say, “This is for Biafra.” Of course, he would then take a long look at the skinniest boy in the school. I’ll never understand why the skinniest boy in the school just took it, instead of exploding and just start pounding someone. Anyway, back to my father and his salsa. Nice segue, no? Sometimes my father would cook our food and put the salsa in it while he cooked, as if we wouldn’t notice the flavor of salsa in the food. And as a diversion, he would put a big jalapeño pepper on the plate, too. One day, my brothers and I were just sitting there staring at our food on our plates. We were starving, but we couldn’t eat it. Then my father got angry at us and said, “You should be grateful you have food to eat. There are starving children in Biafra!” I said, “Well, why don’t you send the food to them?” But then I realized that no matter how hungry someone was, he or she wouldn’t eat my father’s food anyway. I tried to imagine a skinny boy in Biafra receiving my father’s care package and seeing my plate of food with a big jalapeño pepper on top of the food. How hungry would he have to be in order to eat my father’s spicy cooking? No, I never could imagine a Biafran boy eating my father’s food.

And what did I learn from all this? Well, I learned a valuable lesson that I sometimes share with my own sons. It’s part of our family tradition. So when my sons are sitting around the table complaining about the meal, sans salsa, that I cooked for them, I tell them, “You don’t know how lucky your are! There are starving children in Africa who would like to have an X-Box 360 Elite!”

Le hace falta un poco de salsa.

Spanish students

Traffic crash scene at the corner of Clark and Randolph.

Oftentimes, I will meet one of my present or former Spanish students unexpectedly. I’m always happy to see them again, but I usually meet them long after I’ve forgotten their names. Once I was at the McDonald’s Playland near Midway Airport with my twin sons when they were about four years old and one of my former students greeted me with a loud and friendly, ¡Hola! I was happy to see her again, but this time she was with her young son and she was happy with her life.

Once while I was on duty as a police officer working in a patrol car, I was assigned to park my squad car with the blue lights flashing so other cars wouldn’t crash into a car that had crashed into the Cook County / City Hall building downtown. This must have been a slow news day because all kinds of cameramen came by to film the car that had crashed into the building while I just sat there in my squad car watching everyone come and go.

Then, I noticed that one cameraman was looking at me as he walked past. I couldn’t help but notice him, too. Then, we both recognized each other! He was in my Spanish class at UIC! He also recognized me. We kind of looked at each other with a look that could only mean, “This is what you do for a living?” I never imagined him as a cameraman. And he definitely never imagined me as a police officer.

Another time I was downtown where an employee of Dunkin Donuts was a theft victim. As I walked into Dunkin Donuts, one of my students saw me. We greeted each other and that was about it. However, I realized afterwards that he saw me in full police uniform walking into a Dunkin Donuts. How cliche! I was actually responding to a radio assignment, but I appeared to be acting like a typical cliché police officer going for coffee and donuts.

Last Saturday, as I was leaving the Burger King in Mount Greenwood with my twins, I saw a former Spanish student in the parking lot. We said hello to each other and then I noticed that he was with Mark Pera who is running for Congress so they gave me a flyer and asked me to vote for him. I responded that I would think about it. When I got home, just by chance, Mark Pera’s campaign office called me and asked me to vote for him. I told the caller that I had just seen him, but she didn’t believe me.


Señor Jalapeño is everywhere.

I just drove through the McDonald’s in Pilsen and was I ever surprised! You can now buy jalapeño peppers for 25 cents each at McDonald’s! Where were those jalapeños when I was little. Whenever we ordered at McDonald’s or Burger King, my father would invariably ask for salsa or jalapeños, depending on his mood. Of course, they would always tell him that they didn’t have salsa or jalapeños. And my father, being my one and only father, would say, “That’s okay! I brought my own!”

Spanish in Burger King

Burger King in Mexico City

Last night, I was in Burger King with my sons. A Mexican family was standing behind me in line. I joked around with the cashier who took my order. We spoke in fluent colloquial English and I have a Chicago south side accent. The father of the Mexican family then ordered his food in broken English. Later, while I was waiting for my order, the father spoke to me in Spanish about his son who had just learned to walk the week before. I was surprised! I’m always surprised when total strangers speak to me in Spanish! I told a Mexican friend about this and she said, “But you don’t even look Mexican!”

As a boy, my father would take us to Burger King a lot. We would order our food and I dreaded waiting to hear my father’s order. After completing the order, my father would always ask, “Do you have hot peppers?” When the cashier would say no, my father would say, “That’s okay. I brought my own!” He would then pull out a jar of jalapeño peppers from his pocket. My father had hundreds of ways of embarrassing me in public.

That's okay. I brought my own peppers!