As a law-abiding citizen and patriotic American, I would like to participate in our fight against terrorism. I agree that we must stop the terrorists at the border.
I have crossed the border a few times, so I have an idea that may help. Sometimes the customs agents ask you questions to see if you’re really an American citizen. I don’t think they care how you answer the questions, but rather, they’re really just checking to see if you speak English. I heard a story of an American family who was trying reenter the United States, but all their luggage, credit cards, and passports were stolen from their hotel room. They reported the theft and then flew back home without passports. Customs refused to let them through without passports or some form of identification. The customs agent asked them a lot of questions. Finally, the mother lost it and shouted, “We’re Americans! We only speak English!” Well, that was enough for the agent to wave everyone through!
We have a cabinet in our UIC Spanish department where the exams are stored so all the instructors have access to them. The cabinet had a combination lock so we wouldn’t need to make thirty plus keys. Well, even with the combination, not everyone could open the cabinet. On occasion, I had to help other instructors open the combination lock. Then, I noticed a pattern. Only instructors who were foreign-born had trouble opening the lock.
I guess only Americans are familiar with combination locks. Combination locks are an American rite of passage. I was indoctrinated to the use of padlocks in high school. Combination locks were perfect for adolescents who lose or forget their key. Plus, the school authorities could open any combination lock in the school by looking up the combination or with a little key that fit into the back of the lock. Everyone knew how to open a combination lock or they would learn quickly enough out of necessity. Turn the dial twice to the right until you reached the first number. Then turn the dial to the left passing the second number once. Then to the right to the last number. It was that easy! After a while, I would forget the actual combination numbers. I would spin the dial absent-mindedly and the lock would mysteriously open. The locks created the illusion that your property was safe. All those combination locks did was keep the honest people honest.
So back to my fight against terrorism. One of the tests to test for citizenship and reentry to the U.S., in addition to all the previous ones that have been proven to be effective, would be to hand a combination lock to the person requesting to enter the U.S. Tell them the combination: 27 – 32 – 15. If they can’t open the lock, well, well, well! They will require more scrutiny! This will not pick out every terrorist, but it’s a step in the right direction. Don’t be surprised if terrorist camps begin offering training workshops on how to operate combination locks in order to circumvent the new security measures. But I’m just trying to do my part.
Reading has been my lifelong passion. I have always loved reading! Even when I went camping with my friend Jim, I took books along. He took this picture of me reading while I was so engrossed in reading.
I loved the first grade when we started reading. At that level, it didn’t matter that I didn’t know English. Our homework involved reading to our parents at home. My mother thought that was too much trouble for her after a long day’s work, so I would read to my abuelita. Unfortunately, not only did she not speak English, but she was also blind. But she loved it when I read to her. And I was grateful to have someone to listen to me read.
When I was a little older, I used to go to the library to read. I mostly read joke and riddle books, but that still counts as reading in my book. In the seventh grade, Divine Heart Seminary let me check out books from their library via the USPS. I only remember two of the books that I read. One book was about Father Damien who was a missionary on a leper island in Hawaii. And the other one was Fighting Father Duffy who was a U.S. Army chaplain during World War II. Now why would the seminary only send me books about priests? I’ve always wondered about that. Not!
I like reading at the library because I had more privacy. If mother saw me reading comic books or even books, she would criticize me for being lazy. When I finally bought my first car, I would drive to Marquette Park just to read in my car. When I would come home, my mother would ask me what I did. When I told her I went to the park to read, her blood would boil. Then she would tell me about other constructive things I could have been doing around the house.
In general, the uneducated masses don’t understand why anyone would want to read a book. When I worked in the peanut butter factory, I always carried a paperback in my back pocket. Whenever the production line stopped or I was on break or lunch, I would pull out my book and start reading, even if I had to stand. No matter who my boss was, he would come by and tell me to pick up a broom and start cleaning up my area. No one at the factory really understood why I liked reading so much.
Ironically, the books I chose to read were the books that I refused to read in high school. In high school, I spent most of my time reading chess books. For two years my life revolved around chess. But once the assigned books weren’t required reading, they piqued my curiosity. Why were they required reading in the first place? So, one by one, I read all the books I once rebelled against. Suddenly, I felt a certain sense of fulfillment.
In the Marines, I bought the Great Books set and I would read them every free moment. My fellow Marines thought I was a bit crazy, but that’s why no one started any trouble with me. That and I told everyone I knew kung fu. No one wanted to risk starting trouble with me.
Now that I’m playing at the UIC Chess Club, I’m starting to recall how I used to play chess. The last time I played chess seriously was in high school about thirty-two years ago. Somehow, my chess skills have gotten rusty! The chess atmosphere has changed a lot since then. I kind of miss the cigar smoke while playing chess.
These players in the UIC Chess Club are really into chess, but their attitude is completely different from mine. When I got into chess, I felt impelled to learn everything possible about the game. I learned the history of chess, the important chess players, the terminology, and the classic chess openings. As I played the last two Tuesdays, I tried to remember some of the terminology, but no one knew any of it–or even seemed remotely interested in learning terms like rank, row, file, or column.
One player, touched a piece and said, “I adjust.” I said, “You mean, ‘J’adube.'” My remark was met with a blank stare. Hmm.
One player asked advice of another and I never heard anyone talk about “control the center” or “castle early.” This was like culture shock to me. Later, a few players discussed the merits of learning book openings and the general consensus was that learning openings wasn’t necessary to become a great player. I was so rusty that I lost most of my games. I was surprised that I won any games at all. I would inadvertently give away pieces or set myself up for a knight fork. When I was playing chess, I used to open P-K4; now it’s E4. This will take some getting used to. My biggest surprise came when I had to take back a move because I was in check. No one says, “Check!” when they check your king. I’m so rusty that I didn’t realize that I was in check.
Well, I improved when I returned the next Tuesday. I try to be realistic try to evaluate just how well I played when I was high school. Even back then I made bad moves or gave up pieces. But I’m sure I will improve with a little more practice.
Well, last night I played chess again at the UIC Chess Club. It was my first time in about thirty years playing at a chess club. Yes, I was a bit rusty. And no, my moves didn’t suddenly come back to me. But I’m glad I went. I need some sort of intellectual stimulus to exercise my mind. I mean I go running to exercise my body, so I want my mind to be healthy, too. I actually enjoyed playing chess last night. I was easily the oldest one in the room. But I got along well with everyone there. I plan on playing chess every Tuesday from now on. But I’m promising myself not to get too involved with chess so that it becomes an obsession. That’s why I haven’t played chess for years. I’m afraid to become addicted to it–again!
I’m talking about the little cartoon that you see in the newspaper comic section. You know, the one with little cartoon couple that illustrate some aspect of love. I saw it today, but I didn’t even read it. I just kind of stared at the picture because I recalled the very first time I became aware of the cartoon way back when I was still in high school. All the girls used to like reading it. Some of them even clipped out the ones that they especially liked. I was your typical teenage boy who didn’t pay much attention to those cartoons. But then one day, I met Maria Pardo …
At Gage Park High School, I met a lot of interesting people that I still remember to this day. I’m still friends with many of them. Instead of staying in the assembly hall for the study period, I used to go to the library because I loved reading magazines or whatever book caught my interest. I never actually studied for any of my classes. I used to read U.S. News and World Report cover to cover. Occasionally, I talked to the librarian.
Then, one day, I looked up from my magazine and I saw her. Apparently, she had been sitting there for weeks, but I had not noticed her before. Actually, she noticed me first, but it took her two weeks to catch my attention. But that’s how I am. I’m frequently oblivious to everything around me once I start reading. When I finally took a good look at her sitting at the table across from me, she was smiling and signalling me to sit by her. She was beautiful! She had long black hair and brown eyes. She wore makeup even though most of the other girls didn’t. She even painted her fingernails. When I sat next to her, I smelled her perfume that just captivated me. From then on, I always sat next to her in the library. And somehow, she always managed to sit right next to me. She always read the Chicago Sun-Times, but she always read the horoscope first and then the comics. I always preferred brainy girls, but she was the prettiest girl I had met at Gage Park and she had asked me to sit next to her.
At first, I thought she was Mexican. I mean, she looked Mexican, very Mexican. But then she told me that she was born in Ecuador. I was surprised because I thought everyone who spoke Spanish in Chicago was either Mexican or Puerto Rican. She spoke English with this really very sexy accent. I loved listening to her talk, so much so that when she spoke to me in Spanish, I lied to her and told her that I didn’t know Spanish just so that she would continue talking to me in English with her sexy accent. But the highlight of the study period was when she would read the “Love is …” cartoon. No matter what it was about, she would always squeeze my hand and say, “Isn’t that so cute?” Frankly, I didn’t get it, but I played along. We got to know each other quite well that year. Or so I thought. When spring came, I asked her to the dance, but she said that she already had a date. At the end of the school year, I asked her what she was doing for the summer. She said she was getting married and moving back home to Ecuador. I was disappointed, but for a while, everyone thought I had the hottest girlfriend in the school!
Well, this last semester was full of surprises for me. For some reason, students opened up to me a little more than usual. Partly because I’m very friendly and partly because I encourage them to express themselves, but I do maintain control of the class for the most part. I always encourage students to study for all their classes. I tell them that if they cheat, they’re only cheating themselves. A university education teaches them how to think. If they cheat, they are depriving themselves of a valuable education. However, one student told me that this semester that all he learned was how to cheat. He really believed that graduating only involved passing courses, and that could easily be done by cheating. I told him that he was cheating himself because he wasn’t developing valuable cognitive abilities, but he didn’t seem to care.
When I was a student, I only cheated three times in my entire life. The first time was in eighth grade. We were doing an English grammar quiz in which we had to match columns. I was almost done except for two answers. I was very sure that the rest of the answers were correct. My friend Robert Kurpis who sat in the next row looked at my paper and shook his head. He lifted his paper so that I could copy his answers, but I shook my head no and looked away. He insisted that I copy his answers, so I did because I didn’t want lose him as a friend. I wanted him to think I was as cool as him. Well, it turns out that I changed my correct answers to his wrong answers and I failed the quiz. I had learned my lesson and I didn’t cheat anymore. I realized then that I was much smarter than I thought I was.
My parents always taught me to second guess my intelligence. But I after that, I never cheated again. Until high school. I didn’t do my homework in physics class and I was failing the course. Toward the end of the year, Mr. Wlecke said I could pass the course if I made up the homework. However, when I tried to do the homework, I couldn’t because Mr. Wlecke never actually taught us physics, and on those rare occasions when he did, I was too busy playing chess with my friend Jim Harmon. So, I talked to my friend Bill Pappas who had done all the homework. He lent it to me and I copied all of it. I passed physics with a C, although I still feel guilty about it to this day.
In college, I only cheated once because we received a take-home final exam for Latin American literature class in Spanish and I didn’t have time to answer one question before the due date. My friend Ernesto Mondragon let me read his answer and then I wrote my own original answer. When classmates tried to copy off of me, I would always cover my paper and not give them my answers. I had studied very hard. Why should I help them out? I only helped one student once, but we were very close friends. We were in a literature class that focused on the works of James Joyce. I believe I was the only student in the whole class who actually read Finnegan’s Wake in its entirety. Well, we had a take-home final exam and one of the questions was on Finnegan’s Wake. Daniel Buckman couldn’t find the passage in the novel that we had to analyze for the final. Well, since I had read the whole book, I was determined to find it. And I did! I had to help my friend out, so I told him on what page the passage was. He was so grateful to me and I was so proud of myself for having found it in the first place. He did go on to publish several books.
When I attended Divine Heart Seminary, Latin was no longer the required language for freshmen and sophomores, so I studied Spanish. My sophomore year, I continued to study Spanish, but I also took French as an elective. I was the only sophomore in the class and the rest were juniors and seniors who had abandoned Latin. There was a certain mystique to study French ever since the seminary hired Miss Lundi to teach French, who was partly responsible for me enrolling in her class. Ever since I was little, I had this desire to be fluent in at least ten languages. So, there I was anticipating studying Spanish and French. However, when I returned to the seminary from summer vacation, I heard the rumor that Miss Lundi would not be returning to Divine Heart Seminary. The details of the rumor were sketchy, which made it even more salacious! The previous year, Miss Lundi had found a teacher’s pet who was an all-around varsity jock in his senior year. He was tall and muscular and as hairy as a caveman. Rumor had it that their friendship blossomed into a full-blown romantic tryst. But for the fact that he was already eighteen years old, no crime had been committed. However, Miss Lundi was not asked to return to the seminary.
Well, we were all abuzz wondering who would now teach us French. We also wondered who would be lucky enough to become the French teacher’s pet. We were all full of hope and elevated expectations. On my way to my first day of French class, I could sense that there was a lot of excitement in the hallway. In fact, a couple of upperclassmen rushed past me to get good seats in the classroom. In the process, they bumped into me, and my glasses fell off my face. Another student ran past me and accidentally stepped on my glasses. I picked up the pieces and put them in my pocket since I could no longer wear them. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I would soon learn. Well, when I walked into the classroom, the class was staring at the new French teacher. The whole classroom smelled of expensive French perfume. She was hot! Only I couldn’t really be sure without my glasses. I was judging her based on the reactions of my classmates who were so painfully obvious as to how they felt about her. She had long black hair, blue eyes, a svelte figure, and beautiful legs. Oh, yes, I am a leg man! I may not have learned much French that year, but I did learn that I am a leg man! Much to the dismay of the students in the front row right by the new French teacher, she immediately assigned desks by alphabetical order. As luck would have it, I was stuck all the way in the back row in the corner at a desk with horrible sight lines. She immediately began the class by introducing herself in French and the entire class of adolescent boys just melted, this author included. Actually, “melted” is not the most accurate word to describe our physical reactions as teenage boys with an over-active libido, if you know what I mean.
She sashayed back and forth across the classroom as she spoke. All eyes followed her back and forth as if watching the French Open. Within minutes, she began writing things on the blackboard in French. While her back was turned some of the students silently made irreverent and obscene gestures, but they stopped immediately when she turned to face the class again. She told us to copy what she had written on the board. Without my glasses, I couldn’t read a word. I asked her if she could read the board aloud. She gave me a quizzical look and I explained that my glasses were broken and I couldn’t read the board from the back of the room. She immediately moved me to the desk in the front row directly in front of her desk. The student whom I displaced was relegated to my desk in the back row and hated me for the rest of the academic year. To this day, I’m afraid that I will bump into him in some dark alley for fear of how he might avenge himself on me for the loss of the best desk in French class.
I took my glasses to the optometrist for repairs, but I wouldn’t get them back for two weeks. Two weeks! For two weeks, I sat in the front row of French class, and I still couldn’t read the board. I would copy the questions from the board and ask her if I had copied them correctly. She would stand at my side and bend over to read my notebook. Well, she had spent the previous summer in Paris and done a little shopping at many boutiques, so she had quite a wardrobe of the latest Parisian fashions. She wore low-cut dresses with high hemlines. She said that her dresses were décolleté, which if I remember correctly is French for, “I think I’ll show off my breast today!” So, when she bent over to check my notebook, I was exposed to quite a scenic view. Soon, the rest of the class was asking her to check their work, too. Every boy vied to become the teacher’s pet. But she was too wise for them and soon stopped checking everyone’s work.
When I finally got my glasses back, our assigned desks were ours for the rest of the semester! She never even noticed that I was wearing my glasses now. When I finally got a good look at her with my glasses, I felt as if I had been blind until then. What I had imagined her to look like from a distance without my glasses correcting my nearsightedness paled in comparison with her actual beauty. She truly looked like a runway model who had walked of the pages of a French fashion magazine. Why was she teaching French at a Catholic seminary? Well, rather than question God’s infinite wisdom, I decided to enjoy my newfound vision that felt like the superpower of a comic-book hero. The beauty of the whole situation was that she spent most of the class sitting on her desk directly in front of me. Her dresses were marvels of fashion design. Like a good French composition, they were long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting. When she sat on her desk, her dress reminded me of the tidal movements of the ocean. Just as when the ocean causes a high tide on one shore, the waters will recede on another. So, too, her dress would emulate tidal movements. And I had the best seat in the house! If she wriggled too much while sitting on her desk, her skirt would recede up her thighs. If she pulled her skirt down too far, she would expose too much of her breasts. But the absolute highlight of the class came when she sat on her desk and would forget that she was sitting in front of twenty libidinous adolescent boys. She would actually cross her legs at the knees. As I sat right in front of her, I could see the color of her panties. After class, everyone would surround me and ask me what color they were. I was the pride and envy of French I.
That was the best French class I ever took, but I never did learn to speak French! Other than, “Je ne sais pas.”
My sons often ask me what video games I played when I was growing up. They cannot conceive of a world or a childhood without video games. So the next question is something along the lines of, “Were you bored?” or “What did you do all day?” For fun, I told them, we played board games, but they heard “bored” games. They never play games like Monopoly because they think they’re boring. That’s because they’ve gotten so used to video games.
On the other hand, they can’t understand why I don’t play video games with them. I just can’t get into video games. I never played them when I was little. The only video game I ever played was Pong! And that was in high school. Pong was so boring. I preferred to play chess, another board game (not bored game!). But my sons also like to play an occasional game of chess with me.
Some people think that video games are bad because they make the players lazy and they don’t get enough exercise, but they do develop a different kind of intelligence as recent research has proven. Grand Theft Auto is supposedly bad for children because of all the violence. People criticize me because I allow my sons to play every video game that they like regardless of the content. Well, two of my three sons played GTA and the one who didn’t play the game had the lowest grades in school. The two sons who played it eventually lost interest in the game. Perhaps because I allowed them to play and didn’t criticize them for it.
I like the auto thief (in real life) who attempted to use GTA as a defense for his having stolen multiple automobiles. GTA made him steal the cars. Verdict? He was found guilty of auto theft! What a poor excuse for lack of self-control.
When my sons played GTA, they never asked to drive a car, much less attempted to steal one. My sons also like to play World of Warcraft, which they first discovered from watching South Park. I like WoW because it occasionally involves reading and writing. I haven’t played it all, but I like to look on.
The players can IM each other about the game or anything else they like. I like when they dance like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever even though they’re supposed to me in the Middle Ages. What I like best about WoW is that the game hardly has any bugs or glitches. In fact, I have a very, old obsolete Pentium III computer that I have upgraded several times with a bigger hard drive, more memory, and a better graphics card, but it’s too slow to even check my e-mail. However, WoW runs quickly and smoothly on this computer. They must do all the graphics and computer processing on their servers. These people really know how to deliver a product!
I’m enjoying my summer vacation from teaching so far. I get up whenever I feel like. I have a cup of black coffee while I rub the sleep from my eyes. I more or less kill time and stall before I go out my front door for my morning run before it gets too hot out. Lately, I’ve been slowing down on my runs. I’m not sure if it’s due to age and/or allergies. Of course, I’ve had these experiences before, even when I was in my twenties. I have been running, on and off again, since high school. I first started running when I was at Divine Heart Seminary when I joined the cross country team. For some reason I wanted to be on a school team because I thought it would be cool. My first race was the Marshall County Cross Country Championship in Indiana. Since I didn’t know any better, I ran alongside the lead pack right from the start. After about a mile, I suddenly slowed down to a crawl, or so it seemed to me. I’m not sure where I placed, but I received a ribbon. I have one run that I will never forget: I was running on some backwoods road in Camp Pendleton when I felt someone running alongside me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a coyote. At first, I was startled, but I continued running as if this were normal. The coyote and I ran together for about five minutes before we went our separate ways. Well, enough stalling! I am now going out for my morning run.
When I was in high school, I met my friend Jim Harmon in physics class. We really didn’t learn much physics because Mr. Wlecke the teacher didn’t really teach much in the way of physics. He would sometimes make a half-hearted attempt at teaching us something, but then he would lose his focus and stop. My friend Jim always carried a chess set wherever he went. So one day, after Mr. Wlecke inexplicably stopped teaching, Jim challenged me to a game of chess. I accepted, but explained that I only knew how the pieces moved and that I wasn’t very good. We played anyway and Jim won–of course. From then on, we always played chess in physics class and at lunch sometimes. Once Mr. Wlecke missed class and the substitute teacher was surprised to see Jim and I playing chess in class. I told him we played chess in class everyday, but he didn’t believe me. I slowly but surely improved my game of chess. Jim later talked me into joining the chess team. I later learned that Jim was the best player on the chess team.
I became obsessed by chess. I loved playing on the chess team! I studied the chess books that the chess coach Mr. Crowe had lent us. I even bought chess books of my own. When I decide to dedicate myself to something, I go way above and beyond the call of duty! I really improved as a chess player. I wanted nothing less than to be first board on the chess team. Eventually, I played well enough to play first board, but then I lost my game at the match and I never played first board again. This failure only drove me to study chess even more diligently!
Soon after joining the Gage Park H.S. chess team, we went to the La Salle Hotel downtown to play in chess tournaments sponsored by the Chicago Chess Club. I really wanted to win a chess trophy. All my brothers had various trophies for different sports, but I was the only one in the family without a trophy of any kind. So I spent every free moment studying and breathing chess. I won more and more of my practice games. I even beat my uncle at chess even after he stopped letting me win. One day, I did win my division in a tournament. I was the 1974 Northern Illinois High School Novice Unrated Champion! I know this is the exact title because I’m looking at the trophy as I write this. However, as luck would have it, the trophies were not delivered to the tournament on time because the trophy factory had burned down the previous week. These eerie coincidences have happened to me throughout my life. I’m used to them now. None of my friends went to that tournament, so no one believed me that I had actually won a trophy. Especially my mother! She almost didn’t give me the $6 for the then astronomical entry fee to enter the tournament. I was told I would receive my trophy in the mail within four weeks, by February of 1974. Well, it didn’t come until May! And then, finally everyone believed me that I had actually won a trophy. And it was bigger than any of the trophies that my brothers had won. Even my mother had to believe me then!