On the road

CD Book from the Chicago Public Library.

For someone who spends so much time on the Internet, I also spend a lot of time on the road. Since I’m on the road a lot, I feel like I’m wasting time I’m not on the Internet. True, I occasionally check my e-mail on my iPhone while I’m driving and I do study road maps while on the Internet. The best of both worlds! Years ago, I tried listening to books while driving. That was back when most of them were on cassettes. I quickly gave up because it involved too much work. So lately, I once again felt the need to occupy myself productively while driving. While studying Russian, I listened to the oral activities on an mp3 player via my car radio. But it just wasn’t the same as reading. I remembered the audio books. Most books are on CDs now and are much easier to manage while driving. The first one I heard was On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Because I imagined writing a blog entry, titled “On the road”! I also listened to Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but decided against writing a blog entry titled, “On the River Niger”! How would that be possible while driving my 2005 Pontiac Vibe?

I went to the library to check out their collection of audio books. I immediately gravitated toward Jack Kerouac because On the Road has been on my “To Read” list since the 1980s. I have always heard about that book and any book that constantly attracts my attention deserves to be read–at least in my book. I had no idea what it was about, but I knew I just had to read it. I was intrigued by the fact that it was written on one continuous sheet of paper. I tried to imagined how Kerouac could have written his book lugging his manual typewriter and roll of paper while driving all over the country. To think that I complain whenever I have to lug my laptop computer around with me! Anyway, the book was an interesting read because I was disappointed by its plot, but enticed enough by the writing style to continue listening to the end. The reader of the audio book made it very interesting in the way he acted out some of the scenes. He added so much to text. If I were reading the actual book, I would have finished reading it because it did captivate me in a way I had not expected.

Kerouac has this enormous vocabulary that occasionally upstaged the action of the novel. For instance–however, I don’t recall all the details nor the exact wording–in one scene Kerouac and his friends find themselves released from jail after a night of heavy drinking, carousing and fist-fighting. They have no money and they don’t know where their car is. Jack says, “whereupon we pondered our dilemma.” Somehow, the high diction added to the incongruity of their situation. Of course, I would never associate with such friends for very long, which is why I never wrote my own On the Road.

When I was in high school, I inherited a manual Underwood typewriter that was in the attic where my new bedroom was located. Since I was little, I wanted to be a writer, so this was my perfect opportunity. I spent a lot of time in my unfinished-attic bedroom typing away on that typewriter. I also found a roll of paper and inserted it into my typewriter. This was before I even heard of Jack Kerouac! Now I wouldn’t have to stop writing to insert a new sheet of paper! I can’t say what I wrote was very interesting since I spent most of my waking hours cooped up in that attic. I don’t know what ever happened to my manuscript(s) (Depending on how you count everything I wrote on the scroll), or if anything I wrote was very good. But I enjoyed my time as a writer, living in squalor in an unfinished attic, living the Bohemian lifestyle. Minus the Kerouac road trip and alcohol.

Pass me another CD.


Dr. D.'s unorganized picture collection.

I have had several readers comment on the blog pics. Or to put it better, the lack of pictures in my blog. For some strange reason unbeknown only to me, readers would like to see pictures on my blog. Well, I’ve been slowly, but surely been taking pictures and gathering them in order to post them fastly and furiously. But give me time. I now have thousands of pics, but I have to decide which are truly worthy enough to be posted. You shall soon see the results. But don’t rush me and don’t get your hopes up too high.


I just finished reading the Sunday Chicago Tribune. I used to really enjoy reading the Sunday paper from morning to early afternoon. But lately,–of course, the Internet has a lot to do with it–newspapers have been annoying me. I recently re-subscribed to the Chicago Tribune, against my better judgment. The telemarketer insisted that all the problems I had in the past would remain problems of the past. This reminded me of a phone call from an ex who promises things will be different now. Promises, promises!

So, I re-subscribed to the Tribune yet again. And they failed to deliver on their promises–yet again! They told me that this time I would receive the newspaper on my doorstep before I left the house for school. It hasn’t happened yet. Today, I thought I would save my favorite sections from the paper for last. But when I went to read the paper, not all the sections were there!

I love to read all the news about Chicago, but the Metro section was missing. I’m not really into sports, but I like reading about the Olympics, especially the track and field events. However, the Sports section was also missing. The Business and Perspective sections were also missing in action. I called the Tribune to complain, but I was mechanically greeted by their automated answering system. All I wanted to do was get the missing sections so that I could read them. But if I wanted to talk to a live person, I would have to call back tomorrow. By then I will have read the missing sections on the Internet! So why am I subscribing to the Chicago Tribune if they don’t deliver?

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! The Tribune fails to deliver.

Learning Spanish

Morton College, Cicero, Illinois

I don’t know why, but I always wanted to learn Spanish. Although Spanish was my first language, I wanted to study Spanish formally in school. I wanted to read and write in Spanish, too, in addition to English. Both my father and mother spoke Spanish, but they grew up in different regions of Mexico so they each spoke a dialect that was different enough from each other to sometimes confuse me. But I knew enough Spanish to communicate with just about anyone. When selecting my classes freshman year at Divine Heart Seminary, I picked Spanish I. The counselor looked at me suspiciously, which I didn’t understand why at the time. It never occurred to me that anyone would think I was trying to get an easy A. After the first Spanish class, Señor Mordini, the Spanish teacher, asked me why I was in Spanish I. I panicked, thinking that he wouldn’t let me take Spanish. I told him that I wanted to learn to read and write Spanish. He told me that I didn’t belong in that Spanish class. He was moving me ahead to Spanish II. I resisted. I told him that I wasn’t ready, but he insisted, and since I would still be in a Spanish class, I agreed. In my sophomore year, I enrolled for Spanish III and French I. No one understood why I wanted to study two foreign languages. I had always wanted to know many languages. I learned a lot of Spanish with Señor Mordini, more than enough to read and write in Spanish. Plus, I was learning French, too.

At Thanksgiving break, my mother finally agreed to let me leave the seminary; I never wanted to attend the seminary in the first place. However, she didn’t let me enroll in a private Catholic high school as I had expected. I attended a Chicago public school in the Canaryville neighborhood called Tilden Technical High School. Since I transferred in the middle of the academic year and from a private school to a public one, the counselors had problems scheduling classes for me. I insisted that I wanted to take Spanish. The counselor told me, “But you know Spanish!” I said, “But I can’t read and write Spanish.” I persisted and the counselor finally put me in Spanish IV. I was very disappointed the first day of Spanish class because the Spanish teacher taught verb conjugations that most high school students learn in the first year. This class was really behind. After the first Spanish class, the Spanish teacher took me down to the counselor’s office and said that I knew too much Spanish to be in her class. She was afraid I would intimidate the rest of the students. I insisted that I wanted to take Spanish. I even offered to go into a higher level class if necessary, but that was the highest level Spanish class, even though they were so far behind. I really wanted to learn to read and write Spanish I told them. They insisted I already knew Spanish. “No, I don’t,” I said. “Why do I have to take English?” I asked. “I already know English.” “You don’t know English!” the counselor told me. “That’s the same reason I want to take Spanish. I don’t know Spanish,” I said. Well, I lost that argument, but the counselor couldn’t figure out how to fill the void left by the Spanish IV that I wasn’t allowed to take. I said I wanted to take French. “But why?” the counselor asked in disbelief. “You don’t have to take a foreign language. This school doesn’t have a foreign language requirement!” “I want to take French,” I insisted. “I took French I this term at my last school.” Finally, the counselor looks for a French class. “You’ll have to take French III,” she said. “It’s the only French class that fits in your schedule.”

I was glad to at least have a chance to learn a foreign language. At first, I was afraid to say I wasn’t ready for French III, but then I remembered how far behind the Spanish IV class was. However, I wasn’t ready for what I was about to experience. The first day of class, I walk in and greet my classmates, “Bon jour!” My classmates stared at me with their mouths hanging open. It was as if I were speaking a foreign language to them. I soon discovered why. Our French teacher Mr. Hansen never actually spoke French in class. Ever! He didn’t actually teach anything, either. He was a rotund, middle-aged man with gray, balding hair who never had very much energy. He showed up to class on time wearing a suit and tie and sat at his desk at the front of the class while the class discussed everything going on their personal lives. If Mr. Hansen found the conversation interesting, he would occasionally join in. The students didn’t mind since he wasn’t a very demanding teacher. I started at Tilden near the end of November and in December, the students were worried about their French III grade because the marking period was rapidly approaching. Mr. Hansen reassured us that we were all passing. Then, he made the big announcement. After Christmas vacation, the teachers were going on strike, so we wouldn’t have classes for about a month or two. After the strike, Mr. Hansen planned to have his annual heart attack and he wouldn’t return to school until after spring break. And he kept his word, too. The succession of substitute teachers taught us French just as competently as Mr. Hansen even though none of them had ever studied French! When Mr. Hansen returned to school in April, he said he would have to test us in order to give us our final French grade. The class panicked. No one wanted to study. Then Mr. Hansen announced that in order to get an A, you had to bring in your French-English dictionary to class. I just happened to have mine with me–I always brought it with me just in case we actually studied French in class by some unexpected miracle–and all the class glared at me in disgust. Well, I had my instant A, but the rest of the class was worried. This was French III and no one had ever bought a French-English dictionary! Silly me! I bought mine immediately after the first day of French I!

Then, my mother bought a house near Marquette Park and I had to transfer to Gage Park High School the next year. When scheduling my classes, I knew better than to ask to study a foreign language. So I didn’t enroll for one. Some time during the end of the year, the Spanish teacher, Señor Martinez from Ecuador, came to one of my classes and asked me to step into the hallway. He was recruiting Spanish-speaking students for a special Spanish class that he himself would teach the next year. I told him about what had happened to me at Tilden and he reassured me that this class would be different. So, against my better judgment, I enroll in his class. The next year, I was actually excited to go my Spanish class because I would finally learn to read and write Spanish fluently. On the first day of class, I see a lot of my friends who are native Spanish speakers. The classroom is filled with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians, Filipinos, and others. Then, Miss Brewer walks into the classroom and announces that she is our teacher! What? She wasn’t a native speaker of Spanish. The entire class was disappointed. What happened to Señor Martinez? Miss Brewer repeated that she was our Spanish teacher and that was the end of the discussion. That would have been fine except for the fact that most of the class spoke better Spanish than her. But she insisted that she knew Spanish because she had spent a month in Puerto Rico the previous summer. Spanish was our worst class for most of us that year. Apparently, no one in the class knew Spanish, according to Miss Brewer. Hardly anyone got an A for the class and a few native Spanish speakers actually failed!

When I finally arrived at UIC, I was hesitant to take Spanish, but I told myself, “It’s now or never!” I took a Spanish placement test, which is multiple choice. I scored very poorly because I would choose the answer according to what I remembered hearing in Spanish. Apparently, much of what I had heard was improper usage. Then, I had to take another placement exam in the Spanish department. I was told to write in Spanish about why I wanted to study Spanish. It had been years since I had written anything in Spanish. I surprised myself when I wrote. Some things came back to me instinctively. I was placed in the first semester in a class for bilingual speakers. Finally, I would learn to read and write Spanish!

¡Yo quiero aprender español!

Daley and me

UIC, Chicago, Illinois

As I sit down to write this I know I won’t finish this blog post tonight. The cast of characters keep changing, but the title is always the same. I’m referring, of course, to Mayor Daley of Chicago.

Well, actually, Chicago has had two Mayor Daleys. For anyone who has lived in Chicago for as long as I have, you know that Mayor Daley and his clan are part of the fabric of Chicago politics. Mayor Daley was the only mayor, or Da Mare as he is known in Chicagoese, that I knew since I was in grade school until his death in 1976. And just when I thought the Daleys were out of my life, his son Richard M. Daley ran for Chicago mayor unsuccessfully. Eventually, we had a second Mayor Daley, henceforth referred to as Richard da First and Richard da Second, respectively. And I just have a feeling that someday we may have a third Mayor Daley when Richard da Second’s son Patrick Daley returns from the army after he fulfills his enlistment. Yes, we could possibly have a Richard da Third.

When I was a boy, sometimes Richard the first would show up in our neighborhood unexpectedly. If we had award ceremonies for our park district tournaments, Mayor Daley would be there to pass out trophies. As I grew older, he was always in the news. His name was on just about every sign in the city of Chicago. One day, I was at the library at St. Xavier University on the south side of Chicago. I looked out the stained glass window when I noticed a little plaque underneath. The window was donated by Richard J. Daley in memory of his father. I often went to the library at UIC to study. Then one day, they changed the name to the Richard J. Daley Library. Just like that.

Cuentistas de Chicago

Chicago fiction en español

I just finished reading a book of short stories in Spanish that mostly take place in Chicago: Vocesueltas: Cuatro cuentistas de Chicago written by Raúl Dorantes, Bernardo Navia, Fernando Olszanski, and om ulloa (Chicago: Ediciones Vocesueltas, 2007). You get a real taste of Chicago in the stories of Dorantes and Navia even though they write about their adopted city in Spanish. I really enjoyed reading Dorantes and Navia the best of the four. Olszanski and ulloa didn’t particularly focus on Chicago as did Dorantes and Navia. My favorite story in the book was “Duelo de sur” by Bernardo Navia. I could truly visually the subway stop that he described. The story breathed and smelled of Chicago despite being written in Spanish.

Of course, my enjoyment of this story was based on personal reasons. I personally knew, and still know, Bernardo Navia. I’ve known him for years after first meeting him at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Bernardo was the first graduate student to receive a Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies from UIC. We were enrolled in several classes together, he as a graduate student and I as an undergraduate.

One class in particular that I remember was a 20th century Latin Amrerican literature class in which we read Jorge Luis Borjes, Alejo Carpentier, Nicanor Parra, Julio Cortázar, among others, with Professor Klaus Müeller-Bergh. I really enjoyed this class thoroughly. I still vividly remember some of the class discussions, particularly the one about “El sur,” a short story by Borges.

Well, in Vocesueltas, Bernardo updates “El sur” by placing the action of “Duelo de sur” in Chicago in the present. The story is even dedicated: A Dahlmann, the protagonist that Borges toys with in his story. I enjoyed how Bernardo even notes similarities and differences with “El sur.” For example, instead of someone throwing crumbs, Julián notices that someone has thrown a tooth at his feet. And then he notices another and another, before he finally sees a molar. We know that Julián is in a hospital, as was Dahlmann, but in the end he remembers that at least someone gave Dahlmann a knife to defend himself. For me, this was certainly the best story of the anthology.

New Year’s Day

Coins in a fountain in Toluca

Well, I didn’t do much of anything today to start out the new year on the foot. But I haven’t broken any New Year’s resolutions either. Of course, the whole trick is not to make any resolutions at all. Last year, I said that I would write a Blog entry each and every day of the year. Well, gentle reader, if you’ve been reading all along, you noticed some exceptionally long gaps between blog entries. Sometimes I get too involved with my life that I forget about everything else. So this year, I won’t promise anything, but now that I have adjusted to retirement, I will write more regularly. And I will work on my website some more. I really have to organize it and put some actual content in there.

I promise not to make any more New Year's resolution. I promise!

Allow me to traduce

Mercy Hospital Emergency Room, Chicago, Illinois

Be careful with those translations! While I was still a police officer, I would have to take people to Mercy Hospital for medical treatment. Of course, that meant I spent plenty of time waiting in the triage area of the emergency room.

Since I love to read, I would read everything in sight. One notice to patients who were signing in always bothered me. In English, it read: “Attention. Please take a form from the basket and fill out completely. When finished place face down in completed basket.” Okay, the notice wasn’t exactly written in perfect English, so perhaps that’s why the translator had difficulty translating it into Spanish. However, no matter how many times I read the Spanish translation, I could never make any sense of it. And no one ever bothered to correct it.

Finally, after reading it for two years or so, I wrote it down: “Atención. Por favor tome un formulario en blanco de la cesta y llénese completamente. Cuando en el lugar terminado confronta en la cesta completada.” How, I wondered, did the translator arrive at this translation? And, what were the translator’s qualifications?

This reminds me of my Spanish student Elwood Chipchase who one day began telling me about July Churches. He was going on and on about July Churches and I had no idea what he was telling me. Finally, I had to ask him, “What are you talking about?” Well, it turns out that I didn’t understand him because he had translated the name of the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias into English!

¡Ask a Mexican!

The politically incorrect guide to Mexicans.

I recently read the book ¡Ask a Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano. Even though I consider myself to be of the Mexican persuasion, I learned so much about Mexicans! I didn’t realize how little I knew about Mexicans despite the fact that I am Mexican. Well, after reading this book, I underwent another identity crisis about my being American and mi mexicanidad. I am fully fluent in Spanish and English, but I don’t feel that I speak either language like a native speaker! Perhaps that’s just me being me whenever I read about Mexicans writing about Mexicans.

Anyway, this politically incorrect book provides “questions and answers about our spiciest Americans” such as: Why aren’t there Mexicans on Star Trek? Will Mexicans eat anything without  hot sauce? How come so many Mexicans send their money to Mexico? Why do Mexicans swim in the ocean with their clothes on? What part of illegal don’t Mexicans understand?

I really enjoyed reading the book because I learned a lot of new swear words in Spanish that only Mexicans use because they invented them. Mexicans are known worldwide for using the most profanities of all Spanish speakers in their everyday speech–I really should learn this new vocabulary so that I may curse fluently the next time I go to Mexico. Actually, there’s a very good chance that I’ll probably meet a Mexican before I come back home tonight, so I should memorize these words immediately. I find it ironic that people who don’t speak Spanish listen to the busboys, landscapers, or laborers swearing at each other and then think that Spanish is a beautiful language. I’ve listened to these Mexicans “communicating” and at least every fourth word is a profanity! However, the language does sound beautiful and elegant because they are speaking a romance language.

Bathroom graffiti

C'est une pipe

I have seen a lot of graffiti in public bathrooms over the years. Normally, I try to avoid public bathrooms altogether, but sometimes, nature calls at the most inopportune moments. I’ve used a lot of public restrooms over the years. Let’s just say that I’m a regular guy. Since I’m a voracious reader, I even read the graffiti while I’m sitting there. I remember a few gems more so than others.

I still remember, “Kilroy was here!” along with the drawing of Kilroy peering over the wall. I haven’t seen Kilroy in bathrooms in years and I really miss him. I always loved, “After every job, there’s always a little paperwork.” Another memorable piece of graffiti was the poem, “Here I sit / Lonely hearted / Tried to shit / But only farted!” Poetry doesn’t come any better than that! I still see this poem on bathroom walls from time to time. However, as a purist of bathroom graffiti, I hate when someone tries to improve on this classic poem. Anyone remember this poem scrawled over the urinal? “No matter how much you shake and dance / The last few drops are for your pants.” Where are the bathroom poets of yesteryear now?

Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico

I read a lot of graffiti in the Lincoln Hall bathroom at University of Illinois at Chicago. Once, above the toilet paper, I read, “Get your UIC diploma here.” When Wayne Gretsky was really popular, beneath “Jesus Saves” someone wrote, “But Gretsky gets the rebound and scores!” Years later, in the same bathroom, I read, “The graffiti isn’t as good as it was 1978. It turned out my friend Vito had written that when he returned to college–again.

Once I had to go really, really bad. So I was sitting down in a public restroom reading the graffiti on the wall. I heard someone enter the stall next to me. I read, “Tap foot for blowjob.” Only then did I realize that I was tapping my foot! I stopped tapping my foot immediately and hurried up out of there. Phew! That was close!

When I was a police officer, I witnessed a wonderful exchange among a series of bathroom graffiti artists. Someone wrote “Bob.” Then, underneath, someone else wrote “Bill.” Then, someone else put a plus sign between Bob and Bill: “Bob + Bill,” implying that they were a romantic item. But another bathroom poet who didn’t understand the nuances of subtlety added the obvious: “Bob + Bill are lovers.” The next addition, however, was a stroke of genius! I assume either Bob or Bill penned the following masterpiece of a conclusion so that the finished text read: “Bob + Bill are lovers of all God’s creatures great and small.”