Gage Park Chess Team

Evergreen Park, Illinois

When Chicagoans hear the names Palermo’s, Giordano’s, Chesden’s, and Falco’s, pizza comes to mind. Delicious Chicago-style pizza. My thoughts turn to chess. Pizza always reminds me of my days as a high school athlete at Gage Park High School. Okay, I didn’t actually play any sports that involved physical activity at Gage Park, but I did letter in chess and our chess team was awarded athletic letters at the athletes’ award ceremony. For some reason unbeknownst to me, chess was even covered in Sports Illustrated back then.

Dr. D. plays Jim Harmon as Ted Rafacz watches.

Anyway, I played chess on the chess team at Gage Park High School with Jim Harmon, Vito Vitkauskas, Dave Johnson, Bill Rozivics, Ted Rafacz, and Nick Polo. We were coached by Mr. Crowe, who also coached the hockey team. I suppose tenacity and mental toughness is required for both chess and hockey, so Mr. Crowe was the perfect coach for both sports. I think he liked the hockey team better, though. He used to brag about how smart the hockey team was. And he would tell us every time a hockey player got a college scholarship. The chess team was a bunch of slackers by comparison. One time, Mr. Crowe complained because two chess players were suspended and couldn’t play in an important chess match. Bill was suspended for low grades, even though he could recite the atomic chart from memory. And I was suspended for fighting. As a member of the chess team, bullies liked to pick on me, but I always fought back. I didn’t know you could get suspended for self-defense. To school officials, fighting was fighting and that warranted a suspension.

But back to the pizza. In order to inspire us to play better chess, Mr. Crowe promised to take us out for pizza every time we won a chess match. If we lost, we had to treat him to a steak dinner. We complained that this wasn’t fair because steak was more delicious and more expensive than pizza. But since he was the coach, we finally agreed with the arrangement reluctantly because he insisted that he was buying a meal for seven chess players while we were only treating one person.

I don’t remember how many matches we won or how many times Mr. Crowe treated us to pizza, but I do remember the one time we lost the match and we went to Chesden’s on Archer Avenue for Mr. Crowe’s steak dinner. We barely had enough to pay for his steak dinner, so we didn’t order pizza for ourselves. But Mr. Crowe was so kind as to keep asking the waitress to keep replenishing the bread baskets. All we ate was bread and water while Mr. Crowe savored a juicy t-bone steak. He insisted that he was teaching us to become better chess players!

The other memorable event of this day was the snowball fight afterward. As we were walking to Mr. Crowe’s car, we started throwing snowballs at each other. Since we were always very competitive, we chose up sides and began battling in earnest. Suddenly, Ted said that he had lost his school ring while throwing a snowball. We must have looked for that ring for about an hour in the snow, in the dark, before we finally found it.

So whenever I think of pizza, my thoughts turn to my days on the Gage Park Chess Team!




Domino's pizza

I had some pizza with my sons the other day and I remembered how difficult it was finding food for them to eat in Mexico. It’s not that they don’t have good food in Mexico. It’s just that my sons didn’t like Mexican food made by Mexicans that wasn’t like the American Mexican food that we usually eat in Chicago. We went to Pizza Hut in Celaya and the menu listed many of the same combinations available in the U.S. Of course, they also served pizza with jalapeño peppers. I would have been surprised if they didn’t offer jalapeños. This is a country that always adds some sort of condiment to whatever food is served. If you sit down to eat, you are expected to put red or green salsa on just about everything you eat. So, I was surprised by what I saw at Pizza Hut. People put catsup (in Mexico, it’s hardly ever ketchup) on their pizza. I tried explaining that the sauce on the pizza was made from tomatoes, but everyone said that pizza didn’t taste right without catsup. Well, the surprise was that they actually ate a food item that wasn’t spicy!

Please pass the catsup


Yet another chihuahua with a Napoleon Complex.

My uncle named one of his chihuahuas Chispirita. But none of the family children could pronounce Chispirita. All the children called him Cheese Pizza instead.

Translated to English, Chispirita is the English equivalent for a common name for a dog: Sparky. I have known of several dogs named Sparky in English, but this was the first Sparky I knew of in Spanish. Chispa means spark. Adding the diminutive “-ita” or “-irita” to “chisp-” makes the name Sparky or Chispirita, a term of endearment.

All the children in the family loved Chispirita, even though he was a moody chihuahua. When my twin sons were three years old, my uncle warned me that Chispirita would bite them. Although I warned my sons, they still petted Cheese Pizza, and of course, Cheese Pizza bit them. But my sons laughed as Cheese Pizza bit them and they told me to let Cheese Pizza bite my hand. When my uncle saw that Cheese Pizza was about to bite me, he came running over and said, “Watch it! Chispirita bites!” But, alas, Chispirita started chomping down on my fingers with his tiny mouth and I started laughing because my sons were right. Chispirita’s bite didn’t even hurt. Cheese Pizza’s bark was certainly worse than his bite. My uncle picked up Chispirita to put him in the house and told me, “I hope you learned your lesson!” I couldn’t believe the pain I experienced from laughing so hard with my sons!

Hot dogs, chop suey, pizza, and burritos

Yet another Taco Bell that I did NOT patronize!

Hot dogs, chop suey, pizza, and burritos. What do all of these apparently different ethnic foods have in common? They are all American foods! As American as Mom, apple pie, and the Fourth of July. And while we’re on the topic of American foods: just how Italian is spaghetti? Marco Polo brought the noodles to Italy from China and there were no tomatoes in the tomato sauce until Columbus sailed to the New World.

My friend once returned from a vacation to Mexico and complained to me that Mexican restaurants in Mexico didn’t sell burritos. “I thought burritos were Mexican food!” he complained. Actually, burritos are just another American popular fast food that you can order to go and eat while you drive. Because real Mexican food is extremely messy to eat and must be eaten with your fingers at a table. Just try to imagine someone attempting to eat a chicken tostada while driving. It’s not a pretty sight, is it? By the way, if you ask for a burrito in Mexico, you will get some strange looks. A “burrito” is a small donkey and they’ll wonder what you plan on doing to that burrito. My point is that you won’t get a burrito in Mexico. So don’t order a burrito unless you really want a small donkey.

When I teach my college Spanish classes, students are amazed by the photograph of the Mexican dinner table in the Spanish textbook. They are shocked! “Where is the basket of tortilla chips?” they ask. Well, mis amigos, you will only see a basket of tortilla chips in a Mexican restaurant in the U.S. The last time I went to Mexico to visit mi familia, no one ate tortilla chips, Tostitos, Fritos, or Doritos! When mi familia visits me from Mexico, I never say, “You must be hungry for some real Mexican food. Let’s go to Taco Bell!” Because Taco Bell does not really sell Mexican food. However, Taco Bell has opened restaurants in Mexico and is planning on expanding there. I just wonder if they claim to sell authentic Mexican food in Mexico?

Where are the tortilla chips? Yo quiero Taco Bell.