Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I celebrated by eating shamrock cookies with green icing that an Irish student brought to Spanish class. I love when students bring food to class. I once had some green beer to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with some Irish friends, but I didn’t like it. So I switched to Guinness instead.
I met Patrick Fahey when I attended Tilden Technical High School in Back of the Yards. We were very good friends, but only when we were in school. I’m not even sure when and where I met him. He just somehow materialized at school and we often sat together in cafeteria or the library. Sometimes when I walked home from school, I would walk over to his apartment because he only lived two blocks from the school.
His apartment didn’t have very much furniture and no one was ever home. Patrick was Irish with brown hair and freckles. He was tall and thin. His face wasn’t exactly symmetrical and it kind of reminded me of Pablo Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. I often found myself staring at the dimensions of his face, but he never said anything. Perhaps he never noticed since he always seemed to be off in his own little world. He didn’t have a girlfriend that I knew of, other than his imaginary ones. Sometimes he would show me a model in a magazine ad and say, “I wouldn’t kick her out of bed.” But I couldn’t even picture him approaching any girl even to say hello to one since he was so painfully shy. I didn’t think he would ever attract a beautiful girl like the models in the magazines, or any girl at all for that matter, because of his extreme shyness.
But, one day, as I was putting my books in my locker between classes, I closed my locker door and I suddenly saw a girl standing there, smiling nervously. We were both speechless for a moment. She looked Irish to me. She was pretty in a plain sort of way and pleasantly plump. I finally said hi. She said hi, but then the bell rang and we went our separate ways. The whole incident was mind-boggling. I couldn’t fathom why this girl would be standing by my locker.
I forgot all about her until the next day when I saw her by my locker again. “Do you know Patrick Fahey?” she asked. “Yes,” I responded feebly. “Do you talk to him a lot?” “Yes.” Then, the bell rang and we went to our respective classes. I told Patrick about the incident, but he didn’t even acknowledge what I had told him. That was actually quite normal for us because we didn’t always talk to each other. We often just sat there in the library, just reading. We were kind of like Pedro and Napoleon in the movie Napoleon Dynamite, only I didn’t have a mustache then. Now that I think of it, we spent a lot of time together, but we hardly ever talked, even when we walked to his house together.
A few weeks later, the girl was at my locker again. This time she talked and talked so much that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Her name was Maureen and she was in a history class with Patrick. She said she really, really liked Patrick, but he would never talk to her. So, she approached me to help her. I said I would talk to Patrick. When I saw him, I asked him if he knew Maureen. He did. But he wasn’t interested in her. End of conversation for the day.
I would see Maureen by my locker regularly and she would ask me for progress updates. Actually, what I gave her were more like lack-of-progress updates. Patrick just wasn’t interested in her, not even as a friend. I eventually broke the news to her gently, but she was in denial and only tried harder. Finally, it was the end of the school year and it was time for the spring dance. Maureen came to my locker asked me if I was going to the dance. Then, she asked if I knew if Patrick already had a date for the dance. I knew he didn’t because we both confessed that we weren’t going. Maureen then told me to ask Patrick to take her to the dance. She stood there by my locker, the epitome of woeful lovesick misery, so I agreed to talk to Patrick for her. Patrick immediately said no. When I saw Maureen again, I told her his response. She cried and said, “But I love him!” She begged me to talk to him again. To ask him to please take her to the spring dance. I felt uncomfortable because she had her arms around my neck and everyone in the hall was staring at us.
I told Patrick everything that had transpired between Maureen and me, but he was unmoved. He said he wouldn’t go to the dance with Maureen. He just wouldn’t. Just because. For me that wasn’t a good reason. Somehow, I felt that I had to help Maureen. And by helping Maureen, I was also helping Patrick. “Just take Maureen to the dance!” I finally said. “I can’t.” “Why not?” “Because she’s fat!” “That’s not true!” Suddenly, I felt that I had to defend Maureen since I had gotten to know her a little better with all the time she spent talking to me by my locker.
Besides, to a Mexican, she wasn’t considered even remotely fat. “She just wants you to take her to the dance,” I said. “She’s not asking you to marry her.” Well, this seemingly sad tale eventually had a happy ending. Maureen, with all of her perpetual persistence–with a lot of help from me–, eventually went to the spring dance with Patrick. Afterwards, he wouldn’t talk about the dance or Maureen. In fact, Patrick acted as if the spring dance had never occurred, as if it were some sort of void in his life. But I knew they were happy together because Maureen would constantly update me on their relationship on her regular visits to me by my locker. I don’t know whatever happened to Patrick and Maureen because I transferred to Gage Park High School the next year. I like to imagine that they’re still together, happily married with children. Only Patrick doesn’t tell his friends about her.
Last night, I went to Moher Public House, 5310 W. Devon Avenue, Chicago, IL 60646, 773.4671954. This is an Irish bar whose name refers to the Cliffs of Moher in County Claire, Ireland. I’ve been there a few times already, always with my friend Mike who is half-Irish, half-Polish. I’ve known him for more than twenty years. I like all the pictures on the wall of Irish writers such as James Joyce and W.B. Yeats. If you like watching sports, there are plenty of TVs. The last time I went, we watched the White Sox and the Cubs play on side-by-side TVs! All the pub patrons seem to know at least one person because this is a neighborhood pub where everyone hangs out. Our waitress even spoke with an Irish Brogue. The sign on the woman’s room read, “Mne” and the one on the men’s room, “Fir.” I received a receipt for the beers I bought when it was my turn to buy a round. When I got home, I finally noticed that it had a message in Gaelic, “Go raibh mile maith agat / agus / Slan abhaile,” which translates to “Thank you very much / and / Safe home.” The food is supposed to be very good there, but each time I went, I had already eaten before I went there.
When I returned to Chicago after three years in the Marine Corps, I moved back to Marquette Park. I lived at 3006 W. 64th Street for six years before I moved to Bridgeport. I loved living so close to the park because then I could go running everyday. While in the Marines, I began running seriously after I ran a marathon in California. I thought that if I trained well enough, I could become a good runner. I joined the Marquette Park Track Club after running the Roy Bricker Memorial 5 Mile Race where I placed third in my age group. Roy Bricker was the best runner that the club ever produced. All thanks to Coach Jack Bolton whom all his runners adored. The club would meet every weeknight at 5:30 p.m. rain or shine, snow or sleet. Jack never missed a practice.
Jack Bolton came from Ireland many years before, but he never lost his Irish brogue. We all loved it. Some of the runners imitated him lovingly. He was a world-class miler back in Ireland and when he came to the U.S. he coached high school teams in Chicago. He always had great runners running for him.
When I first joined the club in 1981, all the practices began with six laps (one mile) on the cinder track at Marquette Park. Jack would lead the pack and everyone had to stay behind him. This was a group warmup. Jack’s philosophy for this warmup was twofold. 1. Runners learned to run in a pack and 2. Runners learned to run at someone else’s pace, as sometimes happens in a race. In later years, Jack’s ankles gave out on him and he didn’t run the warmup with the club anymore.
Jack especially loved working with younger runners. He was known for the female runners that came out of his club system. In fact, some high school girls would join Jack’s club in order to develop as runners and qualify for running scholarships at the universiiesy of their choice. Most girls achieved their goal. Of course, many boys also received running scholarships, too.
What everyone loved about Jack was his eternal optimism. He always believed that one of his runners would win the race outright, no matter how overwhelming the odds. I once entered a race and learned at the starting line that Jack had predicted that I would win. I wanted to live up to his expectations, but I had a bad day and faded halfway through the race. But Jack was always touting some up-and-coming runner from his club. He was usually right, too.
Click here to read an article that I wrote about Jack Bolton for the CARA Finsh Line the January/February edition of 1985:
I have confession to make. My sons are Mexican! Why wasn’t aware of this all along? There are some things that I just never think about until someone points them out to me–like the fact that I’m also a great-uncle. I never felt that old until my brother Jerry pointed out that I was now a great-uncle when his grandson was born. I have two younger brothers who are already grandfathers and I’m not. So maybe I’m not that old.
So I was at the birthday party for my grandnephew when my brother Rick, the grandfather of the birthday boy, says to me, “You are the only one in our family who has Mexican sons.” I had never thought about this before, but it’s true. My brother Jerry married an Irish girl, Rick married a Polish girl, and Joe married a German girl. So all their children are only half-Mexican. Yes, I’m the only one with 100% Mexican children. So how did this occur? I’m not sure. I guess just because I love Mexican girls.
Accents are a funny thing. An accent separates or distinguishes you from another person or group when you speak. For as long as I can remember, I have always had an accent. In kindergarten, I spoke broken English since I only spoke Spanish at home. So I had a Mexican accent. But when I went to Mexico, I had a gringo accent when I spoke Spanish. Then, I met my friend Patrick McDonnell in the second grade and I spoke with a little bit of an Irish brogue. Since I attended a Lithuanian Catholic grade school, I picked up a few Lithuanian words. In high school, classmates made fun of the way I talked, so I only talked when absolutely necessary. I remember reading books aloud to practice on my pronunciation. I was trying to eliminate any trace of an accent. Unsuccessfully, I might add.
When I enlisted in the Marines, I met people from all over the United States for the first time in my life. It was the first time someone told me that I had a Chicago accent. I was surprised when I met someone new and he said he knew I was from Chicago because I had no accent. My accent adapted unconsciously so would fit in. And I did fit in. During my enlistment, I had spoken with the accents of Brooklyn, Texas, Queens, Boston, Virginia, Oklahoma, and California. But I didn’t do this on purpose. I just somehow blended in with everyone around me.
When I began teaching Spanish, I also unconsciously adapted the accent of the people around me. So depending with whom I spoke, I would speak like them. I’m not sure what my true original voice sounds like anymore. A colleague once said, “I was trying to figure out what dialect you were. Now I know you’re Mexican because you said, “Mande.”
I suppose if I listen to myself carefully, I hear all these different accents in my voice in different places.