My two incredible talents

The green limousine!

I have two incredible talents: 1. I can easily remember totally useless information for no apparent reason, and 2. I always attract people into my life who will complicate my life way beyond my personal management skills. As far as my ability to remember trivia, go ahead. Ask me a question. Do you know the chief export of Bolivia? Well, I do! It’s tin. What is Ulysses S. Grant’s middle name? It’s Hiram! Why does Homer Simpson say, “Doh!”? I know that, too. Well, Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, used to watch the Laurel and Hardy comedies when he was a boy. Whenever Stan would get them into a predicament (with these movies, if there was no predicament, there was no movie), Ollie would get frustrated and say, “Doh!” So Groening pays tribute to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy by having Homer Simpson say, “Doh!”

My second incredible talent involves me, a shy, quiet, nice guy, who wants his life to be as boring as possible, getting more action than he had counted on. I don’t want too much excitement in my life. I don’t get bored if I’m not in imminent danger. In grade school, I was an altar boy; in high school, I lettered in chess; my idea of a fun vacation is to stay home and read novels for a few weeks. You know how they say that every time you leave your house you risk your life and expose yourself to certain death? Well, that’s the story of my life! I have always lived under the sword of Damocles!

Let me give you a few examples. When I was in high school, I had entered a chess tournament at the La Salle Hotel in downtown Chicago. Now how exciting is that? Most people would consider a chess tournament boring, but I was excited and looked forward to playing the tournament. Anyway, as I was about to board the bus to go downtown, someone ran off the bus and almost knocked me over. When I got on the bus, a man was leaning against the fare box stopping the bleeding in his leg. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I knew enough to mind my own business. I told people at the chess tournament what I had witnessed, but no one believed me. When I returned the next day, a few people saw the incident reported on the news. Apparently, the two men were arguing on the bus and then one pulled out a gun and shot the other. The gunman pushed me aside and ran past me! Doh!

Once, as I was driving away from my apartment near Marquette Park, 3006 W. 64th Street, I saw someone whom I thought was a friend of mine. He was tall, lanky, shirtless, had scraggly, dishwater blond hair, scrawny arms, and was staggering a little. He looked exactly like my friend Porky (I never did find out how he got his nickname or what his real name was). Since it was hot out and my car had no air conditioning, I had all my windows open. He was standing on the corner and he said hi to me. Then, he jumped into the front seat of my car. Only then, did I realize that he wasn’t my friend Porky, but rather a total stranger who strongly resembled my friend. He began to talk to me as if he had known me for a long time. I was fine until he pulled out one unopened beer can from his each of his front jeans pockets and put them on my dashboard. Plus, it was only then that I realized that he was drinking a beer as he walking. Then he pulled out a gun from his waistband. I thought he was going to rob me. But then he put the gun under the front seat, “Just in case we get pulled over by the cops.” I was glad to drop him off where he was going, and he told me, “We’ll have to party again real soon!” Apparently, he thought he knew me from somewhere. It wasn’t until much later that I realized what kind of danger I was in. Doh!

When I was a police officer, I also had a brush with death. But, wait! It’s not what you think. I was working inside a building at the Alternate Response Section answering telephone calls. I loved this job because I was away from the dangers of working the mean streets of Chicago in a patrol car. I took calls from citizens who were crime victims and I would determine whether to send a squad car to their house or have them make out a police report over the phone. How safe is that job? Even if someone didn’t like me, they couldn’t shoot me over the phone. I felt very safe. Then, one day, I noticed my fellow officer who worked right next to me–one with whom I had talked for hours over several months–was conspicuously missing. I asked where he was and I was reluctantly told that he had died–of tuberculosis! And I had been breathing the very same air as him for months! Well, everyone in the building had to document their contact with a communicable disease for the police department and then take a TB test. Luckily, we all tested negative. I realize that throughout my life I have always been in constant danger. Doh! However, I’m convinced that I am Laurel and Hardy combined. Doh! I can honestly say, “I’m lucky to be alive!”

Wait, I don't even know you! But I'll remember you forever!!

Napoleón Dinamita

Vote for Pedro!

I love the movie Napoleon Dynamite with Jon Heder so much that I’ve seen it at least twenty times. I saw it for the first time because my oldest son wanted me to rent it from Blockbuster. I thought I would end up seeing it all by myself as when I’ve rented other movies for him that he really, really wanted to see, like the Lords of Dogtown–and I ended up watching it alone, which I really loved by the way!

Anyway, I knew I had to own Napoleon Dynamite on DVD! When it first came out on DVD, it was only available at a clothing store called Hot Topic. Once I bought it, my twins started watching it repeatedly because they loved the movie, too. Well, I couldn’t walk by the TV without stopping to watch Napoleon and his misadventures. So, I watched it repeatedly along with my sons. Once we watched the movie all the way to the end and I told my sons not to start it over until I had read the credits; I don’t why, but I like to read the credits to see who the key grip is. (This goes back to the days of my youth when my friends Jim, Vito, and I would go to show and sit through all the credits so we could applaud for the key grip.) So, after the credits were completely over–yes, I read them all–there was another scene in which Kip marries LaFawnduh! My sons and I were pleasantly surprised!

Of course, this made me wonder what other surprises were in store for us on the rest of the DVD. Surprise, surprise! Not only does the DVD have subtitles in Spanish and French, but the movie is also dubbed in Spanish! I started watching it with Napoleon speaking Spanish, but my non-Spanish-speaking-Mexican sons wouldn’t watch it in Spanish!

Anyway, sometimes the topic of the movie Napoleon Dynamite comes up in Spanish class because the new student Pedro at Napoleon’s high school is Mexican. I often tell my students that they should watch the movie in Spanish someday. I was planning to watch it all the way through in Spanish one day. Since I’m always open to suggestions in Spanish class, last week, a student recommended that we Napoleon Dynamite in Spanish. I agreed if we didn’t use the subtitles. They resisted, but I insisted. Then, we reached a compromise: We would watch the movie dubbed in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Since the students were fourth semester Spanish students and most had already seen the movie, I knew they would understand the action and plot development of the movie. I was amazed at how much the students laughed!

Napoleon Dynamite is much funnier in Spanish, especially when Napoleon says, “¡Idiota!” I was wondering how they would translate words like “liger,” which is half-lion, half-tiger. Well, Napoleon says that he’s drawing his favorite animal, “el legre,” which is “medio león, medio tigre.” However, lost in the translation is, “But my lips hurt really bad!”, which is translated as, “Pero mis labios están resecos” and Pedro’s “Maybe I’ll build her a cake or something.” The Spanish used is standard Spanish and doesn’t really capture the slangy colloquialisms of high school teenagers.

Also, the subtitles don’t always match the Spanish dubbing. In the beginning Napoleon says, “¡Rayos!”, but in the subtitles, we read, “¡Cielos!” Obviously, there were two translators at work. Overall, the Spanish captures the feel of the original movie. I would recommend for all Spanish teacher to watch this movie with their high school or college students in Spanish. It was definitely a very entertaining way to reinforce some of the Spanish lessons learned in class.


Vote for Pedro

From my DVD collection

In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, we see Mexicans in, of all places, the state of Idaho! As an added bonus, you may also listen to the movie dubbed in Spanish. The first time I saw the movie, I thought, “But there are no Mexicans in Idaho!” Then I met a Mexican name Irene from Idaho. So I guess there really are Mexicans in Idaho after all. In the movie, Pedro the Mexican is viewed as a foreigner by the high school principal who tells Pedro on his first day of school, “You do understand English. This isn’t really that complex.” And Pedro just stares at the principal, so the principal asks Napoleon Dynamite to show Pedro where his locker is. Pedro is the only boy at the high school with a mustache that Napoleon admires.

Napoleon and Pedro become friends because they’re both outsiders in this cliquish world of jocks and cheerleaders. They get along so well because they complement each other very well. Napoleon accepts Pedro for what he is and Pedro listens to Napoleon’s stories and lies without questioning them. Pedro speaks English, but sometimes it’s not perfect. For example, Pedro plans to ask to ask the cheerleader Summer Wheatley to the dance. When Napoleon asks how Pedro will get Summer to go to the dance with him, Pedro says, “I’ll build her a cake or something,” with a heavy Mexican accent. When Summer says no, Pedro asks Deb, Napoleon’s prospective date, to go to the dance. So that leaves Napoleon without a date. Pedro offers advice and Napoleon follows it. Napoleon is on his home turf in that high school, but Pedro seems to exude more self-confidence than Napoleon throughout the movie.

Pedro even has the courage to run for school president. Napoleon uses his skills to help Pedro for the school election. Later when Pedro runs for school president, Napoleon tells a kid who is being bullied, “Pedro offers you his protection.” When one of the school bullies tries to take that kid’s bike, Pedro’s cousins, listed as Cholo #1 and Cholo #2 in the final movie credits, show up in their low rider that says, “Vote 4 Pedro” on the door, and they gesture to the bully to stop. The bully runs away without the bike. Of course, Pedro’s cousins look like the stereotypical gangbangers from East L.A. who would beat up the bully if necessary. The two cholos merely shake their head and the bully gets scared and runs away. The movie purposely plays into these Mexican stereotypes.

When Pedro makes a piñata of Summer Wheatly and the students break it, the principal calls Pedro into his office “Look, Pedro. I don’t know how you people do things down in Juarez … Smashing in the face of a piñata that resembles Summer Wheatly is a disgrace to you, and me, and the entire Gem State.” But Pedro doesn’t understand why not since they do it in Mexico all the time. Pedro and his family represent the foreign element in the otherwise homogenized American society of Idaho. Pedro really stands out at the high school as being an outsider because he hasn’t assimilated yet.

In the end, there is a school assembly for the presidential candidates Summer Wheatly and Pedro Sánchez to address the school. In Summer’s campaign speech, she promises two new pop machines in the cafeteria, new cheerleader uniforms, among other things, and then asks, “Who wants to eat chimney-changas next year? Not me! With me, it would summer all year long. Vote for Summer.” Of course, Summer, too, uses the Mexican stereotype for the purpose of fear mongering. For his speech, Pedro promises, “I think it would be good to have some holy Santos brought to the high school to guard the hallway and to bring us good luck. El Santo Niño de Atoche, is a good one. … If you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true.” Pedro doesn’t change his speech despite the fact that Summer Wheatly made Pedro look like an undesirable foreigner.

In the end, Pedro wins the election and becomes school president with the help of Napoleon’s skit. Well, the students accept Pedro and Napoleon for being themselves. Pedro’s family celebrates by having a picnic for Pedro. Of course, there’s a cake with red, white, and green stripes that says, “Presidente Pedro! Felicidades!”

I think this movie illustrates how people have accepted Mexicans without realizing it. Until the immigrant marches last year, Mexicans were largely invisible. No one saw them as individuals doing landscaping, housekeeping, working in factories, among other jobs. And they seemed to accept Mexicans exactly for who they were. Whether America admits it or not, a lot of people are voting for Pedro.

Vote for Pedro and Napoleon!

Barrel of Laughs


2509 W. Marquette Road

Last night, I went to a comedy club for the first time in a very long time. I went to Bill Brady’s Barrel of Laughs in Oak Lawn, Illinois. I remember Bill Brady from when he was at the Comedy Womb. I can honestly say that Bill Brady is just as funny today as he was back then. I had meant to write my own standup comedy routine in order to perform it last night, but I never actually finished editing my act so I went to observe the new talent on Open Mic Night and hopefully learn from them. Well, I’m not sure if I learned any practical lessons since all these comedians reminded me of my past experiences on stage. At least, I observed that the performing standup comedy sure has changed for the better! The atmosphere was actually very congenial and conducive for training new comedians. They actually had a sign on the stage that prohibited heckling the comedians! Now that’s what I call coddling the comedians.

Since I was a very young boy, I have had this secret desire to be a standup comedian and I’m trying to get my nerve up to go on stage again after a brief hiatus of about 21 years. I’m not sure what ever attracted me to standup comedy in the first place since I stuttered and spoke broken English until I was in high school. Whenever I saw comedians on television, I always watched them with affectionate laughter and listened to their every word, memorizing their jokes so I could repeat them later. Since I live in Chicago which is a breeding ground for all kinds of comedians, I eventually tried my hand at standup comedy with mixed success. My main problem was my stage fright that always hindered me from being comfortable before a large crowd, but not painful enough to prevent me from performing. I worked at improving my comedy act and eventually performed on some cable TV show no one had ever heard of, including me until they asked me to be on the show.

Before I ever actually performed standup comedy, my friends Vito, Jim, and I went to some comedy clubs to observe the comedians. We planned everything for our first performances. We tried working together as team at first, but we were too much of individuals to work together as a team. Eventually, we each wrote our own act that we would perform individually. We did help each other writing jokes for each other and polishing each other’s act. This was all fun and nerve-racking at the same time! Although we never mentioned it to each other, I know we really dreaded our first time on stage. We memorized, rehearsed, and then performed our acts to each other before our debut. We didn’t actually all perform for the first time on the same night because we performed when we had managed to control our stage fright enough go on stage. I believe Jim, the bravest of the bunch, performed first, followed by me and then Vito. Needless to say, we each made a disastrous debut! But we were extremely proud of ourselves for following through with our plan and actually going on stage.

Now that I think of it, I’m starting to not only feel that same fear again, but also that same hunger for success again. That’s why I plan on going on stage in the near future. But first I have to fine tune my jokes.

These three guys walk into a comedy club ...