Well, I must admit that I am a news junkie. I try to keep up with most current events, but with my busy schedule, sometimes it’s difficult. I used to keep up with the news when I was a newspaper delivery boy, and I would read the newspapers as I delivered them. Then I stopped following the news in the 1980s when I returned to Chicago from the Marines. That is, until one day, I went grocery shopping and I tried to buy a gallon of milk, but the grocery store refrigerators were empty. Apparently, there was a salmonella outbreak that contaminated bottled milk and I didn’t know about it because I didn’t keep up with the local news. Many people became sick from the salmonella because the grocery stores kept stocking the milk and people who didn’t watch or listen to the news didn’t know about the salmonella outbreak and bought the milk anyway. Well, that really scared me into keeping up with the news. I didn’t want to die needlessly if watching the news could perhaps save my life. Not that I ever feared death, but why die stupidly?
However, when I watch the news now, I always think that everything will affect me personally. If I see or read a news story, I think it will affect someone I know in that area. So, while I watched the news about the fire at 3034 S. 48th Court in Cicero, Illinois, I immediately thought about my aunt Concepción Rodríguez Molina and her son Peter Molina, my cousin. Normally, news stories do not involve anyone I know. But this time was different. My aunt and cousin lived next door to the house that started on fire and killed seven people. She smelled smoke and so they both ran out of their house grabbing only a laptop. They are lucky to be alive! The village of Cicero temporarily put them up in a motel, but they’ll have to find a new place very, very soon. I will help them out in any way I can. But I still can’t believe this happened to someone I knew!
I saw this advertisement in the real estate section of the Chicago Tribune last Sunday. I remember when the word “suck” was a swear word! Perhaps I’m just on the verge of becoming a grumpy old man, but maybe that’s the reason I still remember when “suck” was offensive. So imagine my surprise when I saw this ad.
When I was growing up back in the 1960s, an age before political correctness had swept the land, people would purposefully insult each other. No holds barred. If someone had a physical deformity or a mental defect, that was exactly what the insulting party focused on. Racial slurs were not only permitted, but wholeheartedly encouraged.
But getting back to the word “suck,” most people who use the word today don’t even realize why they’re using it. Once, one of my students said, “Exams suck!” and many of the other students in the class agreed. She had a quizzical look on her face after she said it. Then, she said, “What does that even mean?” It seems no one knows what “suck” even means nowadays. No wonder I hear it on the radio and TV all the time. That’s because no one knows the history of the word “suck.”
But getting back to the 1960s, if someone wanted to insult you, they would–in so many words–say that you performed fellatio, back in an era when oral sex was frowned upon. The main offense was to insult someone’s manhood by implying he was homosexual. If someone did something stupid–and just about everything qualified as being “something stupid”–the person who didn’t like what you did would say, “You blow!” Sometimes people would hurl the insult to pedestrians as they drove by. Sometimes it was incorporated into everyday conversation: “Why aren’t you inviting Allouicious to your party?” “Because Allouicious blows!”
Somewhere along the line, “blow” received fierce competition from “suck.” Both words referred to the same sexual act of fellatio. The only point of contention seemed to hinge on the direction of air flow. But both terms were equally insulting in a homophobic manner. No one argued that! If you did, people would not only say, “You blow!”, but also, “You suck!” It was the great philosophical debate of my generation. Is it better to blow or to suck?
Well, flash forward to the present, and the people using the word “suck” are unaware of the history of the word “suck” whenever they use it. Just think about it. Can exams really suck? Who wouldn’t like oral sex to relax during a grueling exam. If exams literally sucked, students would love taking exams. And, then afterwards, the students would smile and say, “Yeah, that exam really sucked!”
Reading the newspaper just isn’t what it used to be. I get the Sunday Chicago Tribune and it’s very thin now. I remember when it was two inches thick. Now, every section contains fewer articles. I used to spend at least four hours reading the paper on Sundays. Now, there’s not much left to it. And most of the stories I read, I discover that I have already read them on the Internet the previous day. Even the sales inserts are very skimpy. So I was surprised to see that Dollar Tree had a sale insert today. Was the Tribune so desperate for advertising dollars that they reduced their advertising rates to attract dollar stores? But why would Dollar Tree, or any dollar store, have to advertise when all their products are sold for one dollar? Why do they need to advertise at all? What’s the point? Won’t everything still cost one dollar even with the sale? If they reduced the price to 99 cents, they couldn’t call themselves a dollar store! So I inspected the sales paper and … everything costs one dollar!
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!”
Once upon a time in Chicago, a long, long time ago, I decided I wanted to become a standup comedian. So, I started going to comedy clubs with my friends Jim Harmon and Vito Vitkauskas. Eventually, I took theater classes and attended the Players Workshop of Second City. I think Jim attended the workshop first, so I became interested in it. Will Clinger was in Jim’s class, and they went on to do two plays together. One was Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party and I don’t remember the other one. Jim eventually rejoined the real world of the working people and left theater altogether. Will, on the other hand, continued in theater and I would occasionally see his name in the entertainment section of the newspapers. Since I loved Chicago so much, I enjoyed watching Wild Chicago because the show featured interesting people and places of Chicago, one of my most favorite places on earth (But you probably know that if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time). One day, I was surprised when I saw a segment hosted by Will Clinger. It’s nice to see a familiar face on TV once in a while.
Jim and I have kept in touch on and off over the years. We’ve been friends since high school. That’s one of the things that I like about not having moved away from Chicago. I always run into old acquaintances when I least expect it. Once, when I lost track of Jim for a few years, he suddenly e-mailed. He had Googled my name and found my blog. Anyway, we met for lunch one day, exchanged stories about our children, and then I told him about how I had seen Will Clinger on Wild Chicago. Anytime I saw Will in the newspaper, I would tell Jim. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the Chicago Dramatists advertising a play starring Will Clinger titled How I Became an Interesting Person. I sent the e-mail to Jim just to let him know about Will’s latest theatrical endeavor. Jim responded by saying we should go see the play. I didn’t even think of that, even though I love seeing plays at the theater.
So last night, we saw Will Clinger in his play. I really enjoyed the play because it had been a very long time since I had seen a very funny play that made me laugh out loud. I would recommend the play to you, but you have to see it by Sunday because that’s when it ends. Of course, we had to meet Will after the play was over. He recognized Jim but couldn’t quite place him. Will then looked at me and I said, “You don’t know me.” Jim finally had to say, “We were in The Birthday Party together” and then he remembered Jim. But Will still didn’t remember me since he never really knew me in the first place.
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!
I’ve reached a juncture in my life where I am very happy and content. I go to bed whenever I want. I get up whenever I want. If I feel like, I do a little writing, a little reading, or nothing at all. I really don’t have to be anywhere until the middle of August when the semester begins. I’m looking forward to my road trip to Mexico City with my sons who are now twelve and actually a lot of fun to have around. They stay up late and get up late, so I actually have some time to myself in the morning. Today, when they woke up, I announced, “We’re going to Starved Rock!” I was waiting for a resounding, “Hooray!” But I was greeted by silence. However, whenever I suggest outings they go willingly because we always have fun on these trips. And today’s trip was no exception. I like just getting in the car and driving somewhere–anywhere–with my sons.
I have to admit that this is where I wanted to be in my life for the longest time. I really don’t have too many obligations to complicate my life. I get up in the morning, drink my coffee, read my paper, and then go running. After that, the rest of my day is a blank daily planner. I can do whatever I want. Literally. And I often do. My only personal goal at the moment is to write a blog entry everyday until I go to Mexico. Then, I’ll have to take a little break. I’d like to finish editing my play that I’ve been writing for more than twenty years, but I always manage to put it aside for yet another day. And I don’t feel at all guilty about it. I’m happy to have gotten to this point in my life because not many people get to theirs. I’ve been very fortunate and I’m grateful for it.
When I was in Holy Cross School, I had several paper routes and I really enjoyed delivering newpapers. My best friend in the fourth grade was Patrick McDonnell. One day he asked me to help him deliver newspapers on his paper route. One of his older brothers had the paper route, but when he got tired of delivering newspapers, he gave the paper route to his brother Patrick. In those days, it was almost impossible to get a paper route on your own. True to Chicago tradition, you even needed clout to get a paper route.
I helped Patrick deliver his newspaper, The Chicago American, for a few days. One day, he asked me if I knew who all the customers were. Of course, I did! “That’s good,” he said. “Because you can have the paper route!” He had gotten tired of delivering papers and couldn’t quit the paper route until he found a replacement. Well, I was extremely happy to be his replacement because I loved delivering newspapers and I especially loved having some spending money. I’m not sure how long I had that paper route, but it was long enough to see the Chicago American become the Chicago Today. I loved reading the newspaper as I walked door to door delivering it. Then one day, the Chicago Today folded and I was out of a job. But it was fun while it lasted.
Months later, my friend Patrick asked me to help him with his paper route again. He had found another paper route and again he was tired of delivering newspapers on his bicycle. He immediately thought of me as his replacement. This route had many more customers than the other one and you needed to deliver the papers on a bicycle because this route covered our entire neighborhood. This paper route was the most memorable one for me. Paper route number 9! I really learned a lot about life while delivering newspapers on this route. And, I also truly learned a lot about the Back of the Yards and its residents. On this route, I delivered the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Zgoda, and the Chicagowski, the last two were newspapers published in Polish. I tried to read the Polish newspapers, but they seemed be written in a foreign language to me. And most of the Polish subscribers hardly knew English, but we always understood each other.
There were two facets to delivering newspapers. One was the actual delivery of the newspapers. Some subscribers wanted it delivered a certain way. Folded without a rubberband, or with a rubberband. On the front porch, or on the back porch. Between the screendoor and the door. There were considerate customers who didn’t mind if I just rode past on my bike and threw the paper on their front porch. And my aim was true, most of the time.
One day, as I was approaching a house next to the alley, I was about to throw the newspaper on the porch when suddenly a car sped out of the alley. I was shaken a little and when I released the newspaper, it broke the glass on the storm door. I was so scared that I kept riding and delivering papers. When I returned to the newspaper agency, the subscriber had already reported me to my boss, Ernest Pressman. I swear. That was his real name. She knew it was an accident and she only wanted me to pay for the broken window. I remember I had to pay about four dollars for a new window, roughly my weekly salary before tips.
Sometimes delivering the newspaper could be downright dangerous. One customer wanted the paper delivered in the rear hallway. What I didn’t know was that somethimes she kept her German Shepherd there. One day, I open the hallway door and saw the German Shepherd lounging at my hand that was attempting to drop the newspaper in the hallway. I quickly shoved the newspaper in his mouth and slammed the door shut. I was waiting for another reprimand from Mr. Pressman when I returned to the newspaper agency, but I was never reported for this.
The second facet was collecting the money for the subscriptions. Collecting money from some customers required an excellent memory, ruses, and strategems. All this just to collect a measly fifty cents! I had to remember what day they got paid so I could go collect the money that day before they squandered it away on rent, food, utilities, and other such nonsense. And I also had to make sure I had enough change so they could pay and I could give them change. They wouldn’t pay unless I gave them correct change.
One woman once asked me if I had change for a five. Of course, I did. So then she upped it to ten dollars. I told her I had change for a ten, too. Then, she said for a twenty and I said yes. She then told me she had a fifty dollar bill and I showed her that I had enough change. I was ready for her because she had tried this before. She then paid me in exact change and gave me a nickel for a tip. I mean I got to know all of my customers very well. One woman told me to collect the money on Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. and then wait for about ten to fifteen minutes until she opened the door. Not a problem, I told her. All I wanted to do was collect my money, and hopefully, a small tip. The reason she wanted me to knock on her door so early was that I was her Saturday morning alarm clock. And she took so long to open the door because she went to the bathroom first. I always hoped she washed her hands.
I delivered the Daily News to a bar on the corner of 43rd Street and Wolcott. When the bartender paid for the subscription, he would tip me fifty cents and tell me to take a bag of Mrs. Vitner’s potato chips, any candy bar of my choice, and a pack of gum. One customer I never saw. She left me a note on her door in the rear hallway saying she would leave the money hidden in a crack in the wall. I was pleased by this arrangement because this mystery woman tipped well.
One little old Polish lady always wanted me to deliver both the Zgoda and Chicagowski directly into her hands. So I had to get off my bike, go knock on her door, she would say something in Polish that I didn’t understand, I would say I was the paperboy, and then she would open up the door. I did this everyday! Actually, I didn’t mind doing it, either. Of course, she wasn’t a big tipper, either, even though she considered herself extremely generous. On the day I had to collect the money for the subscription, she would tell me to enter her apartment and lock the door behind me. She would give a crisp brand new dollar bill to pay for her bill of 99 cents. I would then give her her change of one cent, which she would give back to me immediately as my tip and insist that I put the penny in a different pocket because that penny was for me and not the newpaper agency. Most subscribers would tip a nickel or a dime and that was extremely generous in all reality. But I really loved going through this weekly ritual for my one cent tip! Sometimes I had to run out of the apartment so she wouldn’t hear me when I couldn’t contain my laughter anymore. I really loved this little old Polish lady!
There was another little old Polish lady on paper route who received the Chicago Daily News, the Zgoda, and the Chicagowski. Her bill was about $1.50 per week. She wasn’t as demanding about her delivery, either. When I went to collect the money for her subscription, she would tip me 100%. I told her that $1.50 was way too much money for the tip, but she insisted. Well, being the polite Mexican boy that I was, I would pocket the money, in a different pocket, of course, so the Mr. Pressman wouldn’t get my tip. Sometimes, she would feel really guilty about the tip and slip me an extra nickel or dime before I walked out!
In Chicago, we have newspaper Hoy that is published in Spanish by the Chicago Tribune. I enjoy reading the news in Spanish because it provides a different perspective. Sometimes Hoy has articles that wouldn’t appear in other local newspapers because they deal with local Hispanic interests. I also subscribe to the Chicago Tribune, but I read Hoy first. Some articles appear in both the Tribune and Hoy. When they do, the articles seem to have been written in English first and then translated into Spanish for Hoy; they contain the same information in the same order. There are many more typos in Hoy than in the Tribune, but I still enjoy reading Hoy.
I have Hoy delivered to my house. Would you believe that this subscription is free? I believe that if you live in the delivery area for the Chicago Tribune, you may subscribe. Here is their telephone number in case you’d like to subscribe: 312.527.8467.
Anyway, I also have the Chicago Tribune delivered to my house. When I ordered Hoy, I started having problems with my newspaper delivery. I’m not sure what happened, maybe the delivery person didn’t think I could read both English and Spanish. I would either get the Tribune or Hoy, but not both. I really couldn’t complain about not getting Hoy since I didn’t pay for the subscription. However, I was paying for the Tribune subscription and I wanted to read the news. I called to complain and now I get both newspapers regularly, more or less. A couple of weeks ago, instead of receiving the Tribune and Hoy, I received the Korean Daily! I can’t read Korean! I wonder how the Korean Daily subscriber reacted when receiving Hoy!
Last night I went to a Fourth of July celebration in Phoenix, Arizona. Most of the spectators were of Mexican descent. There were also a few whites and Native Americans, but most of the people were minorities in this sea of humanity. There were several stages were a variety of current music was played. We sat by a stage that featured two bands that covered American Pop songs. As I listened to the bands, I read a newspaper in Spanish, La Voz. No one criticized me for reading a Spanish-language newspaper. I loved the bands, even the one that covered Metallica. The crowd applauded all the bands equally. People were even dancing in front of the stage, although there was no mosh pit. Some spectators were actually singing along to many songs. This was truly an American event, despite the ethnic appearance of the spectators. Thousands of Americans came out to celebrate America’s birthday. I brought my sons to this celebration to instill the importance of patriotism to the USA. You could feel American pride throughout the crowd. We were all proud to be Americans!