Mr. Macala

Mr. Macala, 1976 Gage Park High School Yearbook.

When I think of influential people in my life, I don’t often think of teachers. Some teachers merely teach, but others offer valuable lessons that don’t sink in until much later in life. So when I think back to influential teachers like Sister Laverne at Holy Cross School and Enrico Mordini at Divine Heart Seminary, I also recall Robert Macala and would like to add him to my list of influential teachers. Whenever I recall him, it’s as Mr. Macala, as we were taught to address our teachers in high school.

I met Mr. Macala at Gage Park High School because he took my picture for the chess team and when I won a trophy at a chess tournament at the La Salle Hotel in downtown Chicago. I’m not sure how he found out that I had won the trophy, but he came looking for me with his camera and took a picture of me with the trophy. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that he called two girls walking in the hallway to come in and pose with me for another picture. I suppose to give me this aura of being a sexy chess player. I may just be imagining some of the details about the girls as I recall the incident. But it seems so real now as I imagine it. Forgive me if I have embellished the story. Lately, I’ve been recalling events that I have never experienced!

Anyway, Mr. Macala asked me to write a short description about myself and about the chess tournament and he would then publish the picture in the school newspaper. He asked me to write this with such great confidence that I would do it immediately. He just assumed that I was capable of such a simple assignment. But, alas, I never wrote the brief description and my picture never appeared in the school newspaper. He overestimated my capabilities, but I liked the fact that he truly believed I could do it.

I met Mr. Macala again in the summer of 1975 when I attended summer school at Kelly High School and he was my English teacher. I must admit that I had a very bad attitude that summer. I had just failed English in my senior year, so I didn’t graduate. I had to make up the English class during the summer. I truly believed my life was over. FML! That’s how I felt, long before the acronym was even invented.

I worked midnights at Derby Foods, the peanut butter factory, and then went immediately to English class in the morning. I had failed English because I worked and I didn’t sleep enough before my midnight shift. I often fell asleep during my classes. Plus, I didn’t do any of the reading or writing assignments. And, sometimes I didn’t show up to class. Was that any reason to fail me? Oh, yes, I also failed to write the required term paper!

So, I was greatly relieved in summer school when Mr. Macala announced on the first day of class that we wouldn’t have to write a term paper. The whole class breathed a collective sigh of relief! Perhaps the class wouldn’t be so bad after all. I don’t recall all the details about what was taught in class. But I do remember how Mr. Macala kept the class’s attention by straying from the lesson. He did teach us English, even though I don’t remember exactly what, and he also gave us writing assignments. I still have a book report and a couple of assignments that I wrote for Mr. Macala. I was so happy with the class that I actually saved some of the assignments instead of throwing them away as I did with all my other high school classes. Occasionally, he read student papers aloud and I was surprised he read mine. The assignment was to write a letter that you would like to receive. I tried to be funny and apparently he thought it was funny because he read it to the class. No one had ever read my writing to the class in high school before.

What I remember most are the lessons that were not part of the curriculum. He told us stories to entertain us. Some were works in progress, I’m sure, that he was perfecting for future use. He once told us a mystery story. “It was a hot summer day. We ate some apple pie, but there was still once slice left in the pan. We put the pie pan away. I took a nap and when I woke up–the last slice of pie was gone! I never did figure out what happened to it!” Perhaps this doesn’t sound like much of a mystery story to you, gentle reader, but Mr. Macala had a way of telling stories that kept you hanging on his every word.

The story that fascinated me the most was the one about how he started a backgammon club. He loved to play backgammon. Someone suggested that he start a backgammon club. So he put a flyer up at the local supermarkets asking backgammon players to send money to him to join a backgammon club. He was surprised when many people actually sent him money to join. He had to actually follow through with the club. Soon, he was holding backgammon tournaments with prize money. This proved to be a very profitable venture. I learned a very valuable lesson about capitalism, but I had never had the initiative to do anything comparable. I didn’t capitalize on this knowledge.

He also inspired me academically. He told us he wasn’t a very good student in high school, but discovered he was intelligent once he started college. I would remember this fact years later when I contemplated going back to school. I never thought I was a good student either. Ever! I recalled his words when I went back to school. I told myself to do all the homework for all the classes and study for the exams. My goal was to try to get at least a C in every course. Once I applied myself, I discovered that I was a much better student that I had thought. Eventually, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Thanks in part to Mr. Macala’s story of his student days.

After high school, I lost track of him. Jim, Vito, and I often remembered Mr. Macala. We all agreed that he was a little wild and crazy. But that’s what appealed to me about him. He was intelligent and a little eccentric. One Saturday night, Jim, Vito, and I were on Rush Street for a night on the town. Picking up girls, the way we always did. That was our joke. Picking up girls the way we always did. Actually, we weren’t very good at picking up girls at all. On Saturday night, one of us would ask, “What do you want to do tonight?’ “I don’t know” “Why don’t we pick up girls!” “Yeah! Let’s pick up girls. Like we always do!” We never managed to pick up even one girl! If a girl fell unconscious in front us, we couldn’t pick her up. Not even if we all lifted at once.

Anyway, we were on Rush Street picking up girls as per usual. Suddenly, we see a man standing at the entrance of a night club, actually called a disco back then. This man was flirting with every woman who walked by. He made comments to every passerby. He started telling us something when we approached him. We all recognized him immediately. “Hi, Mr. Macala!’ We were surprised to see him there. Now that I think back, it makes perfect sense that he’d be there!

Well, of all the teachers who greatly influenced me, Mr. Macala is the only with whom I still communicate. In fact, we are friends on Facebook! He now lives in Florida and he asks me questions about Spanish all the time. The roles seem to have reversed.


End of the line

My antique telephones.

Sometimes milestones become tombstones. And so I say good riddance to my home phone! We have reached the end of an era!

Would you like to call me at home? Well, you can’t! At least, not on my land-line. You see, I finally cancelled my home phone service now that I totally rely on my iPhone for all of my telephone communications–not that I make or receive that many phone calls in the first place. This archaic device is slowly disappearing from homes across America. I reluctantly surrendered my land-line, but I knew I must. I have cut my umbilical cord. I am no longer tethered to my home. I am now free to roam about the world!

I’ve been paying for my home phone service for years now even though the only people who call me are telemarketers and collection agencies. And they are persistent! I still don’t understand why the telemarketers called if I never answered their survey or bought their products. Equally annoying were the collection agencies calling for Calvin Thomas or Thomas Calvin. Apparently he gave my home phone number as his and everyone believed he lived with me. I always told the caller that he didn’t live here, but they always called back.

I must admit that I never was much of a phone person in the first place. I hate talking on the phone and I hate being on the listening end of a long diatribe even more. The best way to contact me is via e-mail or Facebook. I dread the sound of a ringing telephone. Usually, it rings at the most inconvenient time, like when I’m in the shower or otherwise busy. When I had my apartment in Marquette Park, I went for about a year without a phone. I really enjoyed the privacy. If someone wanted to talk to me, they would have to physically visit me at my apartment. The advantage of this arrangement was that I got to see who my true friends were.

Unfortunately, everyone demanded that I have a home telephone in order to conduct business with me. My job, my bank, my credit cards, the utility companies, and even my newspaper. No phone number, no service. So I caved in and got a phone with minimal service. Yes, it killed me to pay five bucks per month to Illinois Bell for a service I didn’t even want in the first place. When the federal government broke up the Baby Bell monopoly, my phone bill immediately doubled for the same service I didn’t want in the first place. So how was the monopoly bad? I still don’t get it.

Well, I’m not exactly happy with my cell phone service either. It’s more expensive than a comparable land-line, where all incoming calls were free. Now I’m charged for all outgoing and incoming calls! And I pay much, much more just for the basic service. How is this progress? Thank goodness for the vibrant competition among the phone carriers! Who knows how much more I’d be paying otherwise!

So, everyone seems to be accepting this shift from land-lines to cell phones. When I conduct business, everyone asks for my cell phone number. They don’t even care if I have a land-line or not. So, I now only have a cell phone. But please don’t call me. E-mail me!



I’ve been using facebook for about three years now. I’m not really sure how I joined, but I did. Of course, I had no facebook friends at the time. One day, my friend Vito asked me to be his facebook friend. So, for the longest time, I only had one friend on facebook. Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen Vito since we became friends on facebook. Little by little, I accumulated friends. And now I really like facebook. I like it because I can keep up with my friends without having to actually see them in person. Not that I don’t want to see them, but some of them live so far away. We grew up in Chicago, but everyone seemed to move out the suburbs. I stayed put because I love Chicago so much. My friends think that I spend way too much time on facebook, but I don’t. It only seems like I do because I only spend a few minutes per day, but I am very efficient. facebook sends me a message when someone has commented on one of my comments or pics, and I immediately respond. I strike immediately and then immediately crawl back under my rock. You just never know how I may respond. As they say, leave sleeping dogs lie. (Whoops, dogs don’t sleep under rocks!) So, anyway, facebook is a great way to keep in touch with friends I avoid in real life! Would you like to be my friend on facebook?

Will you be my friend on facebook?


College students love facebook! I’ve been on facebook for a few years now. Okay, I admit it. I, too, got caught up in all the excitement of being on facebook and being able to keep in touch with my friends and students without actually having to be with them. I love virtual reality! I love being informed when someone’s birthday is coming up, so I can wish them a Happy Birthday without actually seeing them and having to buy them a present. I also like how everyone posts pictures to their profile I and can view them anonymously. This is a fair exchange because I also post my pictures for everyone else’s voyeuristic pleasure. I guess it’s in all of us. The strangest part for me is sending these virtual drinks to one another. I’ve sent my fair share of drinks to my facebook friends. And I must admit that I also enjoy receiving them even though I prefer actual drinks. I also enjoy the status messages, reading them and writing my own creative messages. I try to change mine every couple of days. I used to change them everyday, but then everyone falsely accused me of being addicted to facebook.

This past semester was quite unusual, though. I mentioned to the class that the Spanish 104 syllabus was posted on my website. One student was so amazed by this tidbit of information that he said in disbelief, “You have a webpage?” I repeated that I had a webpage where the syllabus was posted. Then he asked if I was on facebook. Of course, I was. He was in total shock. Then, he asked, “Would you be my friend on facebook?” His question through me offguard for a moment, but then I said, “Sure! “I’ll be your friend on facebook.” Later that day, Ryan and I were friends on facebook. I wasn’t sure what to think of this whole situation. The next day, I said to the whole class, after I was sure every single student was paying attention, “I have a very special announcement to make. Ryan and I are now friends on facebook!” The entire class was impressed by my announcement and they said I was so cool. Of course, then other students asked if they could also be my friends on facebook. I said, “Sure!” As usually happens, some students wanted extra credit for becoming my friend. I said there would be no extra credit. This would be a strictly voluntary activity. Our friendship would be its own reward. Everyday, one or two more students would become my friends, and when they did, I would announce to the class that I had new friends on facebook. I’m not sure why, but the students looked forward to hearing their name announced in class. Well, facebook added an interesting dimension to teaching Spanish. Perhaps because it had nothing to do with Spanish class!

Your professor's on facebook? Cool!


My Spanish study group!

Last night, I went to Vain, a night club at 2354 N. Clyburn, for a birthday party for one of my Spanish students, Binh. This is a really nice club with really good music. Two of my Spanish students insisted that I go to this birthday party and few other students in the class said they would also go. Well, I had a lot fun, with exception of waiting in line for a half hour just to get in. The bouncer carded me even though I have gray hair. I just rolled my eyes and let out a sigh of exasperation as I handed him my ID. At times like this, I wish that I had a fake ID with the name McLovin on it. I’d like see how a bouncer would react to that. Anyway, my students were very surprised that I even showed up. And they laughed at me when I was carded. I mean, look at my picture at the bottom of this page! Well, I was the oldest one at the party, but many were UIC students, past and present. I was surprised to learn that everyone at the party knew who I was Binh’s Spanish teacher and most of them greeted me enthusiastically and spoke to me for a while. I even have the pictures to prove it! You can see them on Facebook. A few students said that they tried to get into my Spanish class, but it was already full. I met a couple of former students from four years ago. Anyway, we had a lot of fun at the club. I gave the birthday boy Binh a birthday card in Spanish and a Tatiano Bolaños CD for his birthday. Hey, I am a Spanish teacher, ¿no?


Morton College Spanish Class

The other day, one of my Spanish students asked me if he could be my friend on Of course, I said yes. And we are now friends on Facebook. I’ve always gotten along with my Spanish students. That’s because I love my students. But not in the sexual harassment civil lawsuit kind of love. I’ve been teaching college Spanish for about twelve years now, so I remember a lot of students from over the years. Some students kept in touch with me for a while after taking my class and then eventually disappeared from my life. Other students occasionally run into me by chance. Some I will never forget.

Elwood Chipchase, Morton College, Cicero, Illinois

I remember Elwood Chipchase and his wife Grace took Spanish 101 and 102 with me at Morton College. He was a minister in Cicero, Illinois, and his congregation was mostly Mexican. He was seriously studying Spanish so could better communicate with his parishioners. Both he and his wife were the students most dedicated to learning Spanish. At first, he didn’t tell me that he was a minister or why he was learning Spanish. One day he asked me why when he asked Mexicans about their mother they kind of paused before answering. Sometimes they gave him a pained look, as if they were offended. I asked Elwood how he asked them. He would greet them, ask them how they were, and how their spouse was in Spanish. Then he would ask about their mother, “¿Y tu madre?” I thought about it a while. Why would they hesitate to respond? Elwood’s Spanish was clear enough to understand. Then it dawned on me. But I felt uncomfortable explaining my theory to him since he was a minister. The problem is that all Mexicans refer to their mother as mamá or mami. They only time they use madre is when they swear at someone, as in, “Chinga tu madre.” Well, he was grateful for my explanation and said he would change his choice of words. The next week he reported that everyone responded more warmly to his inquiries.

¿Qué dice de mi mamá?