Juan Goytisolo

Juan Calduch, Juan Goytisolo, and Dr. D. in 1999.

There are famous people and then there are famous people you never heard of.

As a graduate student in Hispanic Studies, I had to read a novel, La saga de los Marx, by Juan Goytisolo for a seminar on Modern Spanish (as in, from Spain) Literature. I had never even heard of Juan Goytisolo. Then the professor who assigned the novel assured the graduate seminar that he was world-famous. I just took her word for it. But I was suspicious of just how famous he was.

Well, regardless of his claim to fame, I began reading La saga de los Marx. I was captivated by Goytisolo’s writing. I couldn’t identify a protagonist or a setting. He inserted foreign languages sans translations. There was no storyline to speak of. Or standard punctuation, for that matter. He seemed to have studied grammar and stylistic rules only so he could break as many rules as possible. However, the writing piqued my curiosity and I read the novel in a mere two sittings.

When the class met to discuss the novel, only one other student said she had read the entire novel. But she wasn’t sure if she really liked the novel. I, on the other hand loved it! I immediately decided that I would write my seminar paper on this novel. I was intrigued by the postmodernist style.

As I was writing my paper, I decided to reread the novel to find supporting citations for my paper. Curiously enough, I enjoyed the novel even more upon reading it a second time. I loved it so much that I decided to write a letter to Juan Goytisolo, c/o of the publisher. Imagine my surprise when he wrote back! Usually when I like a writer that much, he or she has already been dead for a long time. Sometimes dying even before I was born. How rude!

Well, this paper inspired me to further my studies and become a doctoral candidate. I showed Juan Goytisolo’s letter to the seminar professor and she asked me to invite him to speak at UIC. He accepted the invitation and spoke at our university, with me as the guest of honor because he came on account of my letter and I was writing my doctoral dissertation on his novels. I was truly honored. I was also surprised at how many people came from miles around to hear Juan Goytisolo speak and plug his latest novel. He was a fascinating man, as I discovered while giving him a tour of the Chicagoland area.

Well, Juan Goytisolo truly is world-famous. Every year he gets nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of these days, he may actually win it. But to think I had never heard of him before that graduate seminar!

Professor Shipley

Required reading for the English major.

I will never forget Professor Shipley. I met him at UIC when I was taking English classes.

UIC didn’t offer any journalism courses, so I took creative writing courses and ended up majoring in English. I loved taking literature courses because I really felt that I would learn to be a writer by studying the great writers. During my second quarter at UIC, I took an interesting British literature course Professor David Spur where all my classmates and I would try to sit in the front row, in the center. Professor Spur made the class very interesting. I usually would beat everyone to the class and get to sit in the first row, although not always in the center. The class before ours would end promptly ten minutes before the hour and I would have time to sit down, review the assigned readings, and relax for a few minutes before our class began.

After I settled down to my pre-class ritual, I noticed that the professor, Professor Shipley, for that was his name, from the previous class was still there until almost the minute when our class started. Students would continue the class discussion with him for as long as possible. He was an elderly gentleman with distinguished gray hair and reddish beard with some gray. He wore a tie and earth-tone sport-coats with elbow patches. And he always put on his hat before he left the classroom. Occasionally, Professor Shipley didn’t have students detaining him with questions or comments about the class readings. But he would take his time to pack all his notes and books into his brown leather accordion briefcase. He always smiled and looked very friendly.

One day, I smiled as I watched him pack up. He smiled back. He wanted to know why I was so early for class. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that he was actually running late that day. After a while, we always greeted each other and we usually engaged in small talk. I asked him what he taught and he told me Swift, Dryden, and Pope. I was intrigued. I had read plenty of Swift and a little of Pope on my own, but Dryden scared me a little.

The next semester, I enrolled in Professor Shipley’s survey course of British literature based solely on my conversations with him. He was a very interesting lecturer who never bored me, or the class for that matter. He had such a friendly demeanor. In fact, everyone in the class loved him! He commanded such respect. And he was thoroughly knowledgeable about the British literature he taught.

My memory of the class is very hazy now when I try to think back to those days. However, two events do stand out from memories of that class. The first one involved a paper we had to write. I don’t even remember the topic. Sometimes before class, we would sit on the floor in the hallway discussing the readings. Some students would get there at least thirty minutes early and we would have some very good discussions. One day, we were talking about the paper that we were about to turn in that morning. Suddenly, one classmate jumped up and said, “What? There’s a paper due today?” He had forgotten all about it. He told us to leave him alone so he could write the paper before class started. We all stared at him in amazement as he scribbled furiously into his spiral notebook. When everyone turned in their neatly typewritten papers, he asked Professor Shipley if he would accept his paper even if it was  handwritten. Professor Shipley was nice enough to accept it as is. The next class, Professor Shipley returned our papers. Occasionally, professors like to read from a student’s paper that demonstrates exemplary writing and critical analysis. Well, he read from the only paper in the class handwritten on lined paper ripped from a spiral notebook. My classmates and I were all amazed at the high quality of the paper because we watched him write it while he was sitting in the hallway before class. He received a well-deserved A.

The other incident I remember always makes me laugh. We were reading Dryden’s “The Dunciad” in class and he really taught me to find the humor and satire of the poem. One day, Professor Shipley announced that he had a special treat for us. Well, we were all excited because he totally caught us off guard. He had never given us any sort of special treat before. So, he opens his brown leather accordion briefcase and pulls a small book in a plastic baggy. He announces, “I have a first edition book of poetry by John Dryden!” Maybe most of the class was a little nerdy, but we all looked at that book in awe. Professor Shipley slowly opened the bag. With tenderness, he took out the book and carefully opened it. Suddenly, the books started falling apart–actually it was disintegrating! I was reminded of the scene from the movie The Time Machine when they find the last existing books on Earth and when they open them they disintegrate. Professor Shipley stared in disbelief. “Oh!” he said and put the remains of the book back into the baggy.

Mario’s Italian Lemonade

Mario, the owner of Mario's Italian Lemonade

I went to visit one of my old haunts today because I had a taste for Al’s Italian beef. While eating my Italian beef from Al’s Beef and trying not to drip on my shirt, I looked across the street and saw Mario’s Italian Lemonade. The sign wasn’t up yet, but I’ve been there so many times that I know exactly what frozen delectable delights this summer haven offers to the sweaty throngs on a hot summer day. People like me, with absolutely no will power whatsoever, will stuff themselves at one of the restaurants on Taylor Street and then go to Mario’s for Italian ice. So now that I’ve gotten myself all worked up, I can’t wait till Mario’s opens on May first.

And just for the fun of it, I thought I would cross the street and take a picture of Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand to post on Facebook before I went to teach my last Spanish class of the day at UIC. I took a couple of pictures with my iPhone and started walking back to UIC. Suddenly, I hear someone yelling, “Mr. Photographer! Mr. Photographer!” I look back, but I can’t locate who was yelling through the crowd on Taylor Street. As I’m walking back, I see a man in a blue shirt waving at me. I’m not sure, but I have this strange feeling that I’m about to walk into trouble.

The man asks me, “Did you just take pictures of my place?” “Uh, yeah,” I said nervously. “Are you from the newspaper?” he asked. “Uh, no,” I said, confused. He wanted to know why I was taking pictures of his place. I began to wonder, too.

Apparently, someone from some newspaper was coming out to take pictures of his Italian lemonade stand for a feature article and he thought I might be the photographer. I was flattered because this was the first time I was ever confused for a photographer. My faithful blog readers who have seen the pictures I’ve posted know exactly what I mean.

Well, I must admit that we had an interesting encounter. He introduced himself as Mario, the actual Mario in the flesh, owner of Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I can truly say that I was in awe as I shook the hand of the purveyor of Chicago’s best Italian ice! He was curious as to why I took pictures of the stand. I was too embarrassed to tell him that I was going to post the picture on Facebook. Then, right at that precise moment, a brilliant idea crossed my mind. I would write today’s blog entry about Mario’s Italian Lemonade! But I didn’t tell Mario! I still couldn’t get up the nerve to reveal my true intentions.

I asked Mario if I could take his picture in front of his stand and he agreed smiling happily. As we walked back, he asked me if I was Hispanic. When I said I was Mexican, he said he could tell. He said the secret of his success was his wife, who is Mexican. It turns out her family is from Guanajuato, México. He smiled when I told him my father’s family was also from Guanajuato.

He posed willingly. However, I think he was a little disappointed that I wasn’t a photographer from a newspaper. As I was taking his picture, I told him that his stand looked strange without people standing in line. He agreed and said he couldn’t wait to open up.

I can’t wait either. I need an Italian ice. Right now! I hope you like lemons if you go there. You see, no matter what flavor Italian ice you order,–watermelon, pineapple, whatever–they all have lemon inside. And that’s exactly what I love about Mario’s Italian ice!

In the Blood

UIC Theatre

I have never studied or trained to be a theatre (or theater) critic. And yet, I am about to review a play I went to see today at the UIC Theater. I saw In the Blood because I love going to the UIC Theatre to see plays produced by our university. Well, I’m on campus anyway, so it’s very convenient. And not many people I know like going to plays anyway. And the people I know who like plays never seem to be available at the same time as me. So, I always see the plays at the UIC Theatre alone. Well, not actually alone. I mean, there is an audience that includes other people besides me. Occasionally, I meet students I know and we chat a while. But otherwise, I go alone.

Well, In the Blood is loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter that I had to read in high school but didn’t because I too busy rebelling as an adolescent. But I did read it years later, on my own and again in college as part of my English major. For some reason, I still remember the story well. The play I saw today merely took the principal elements of The Scarlet Letter and juxtaposed them in our era. The updated Hester Prynne becomes an African-American single mother on welfare. And she also has a child out of wedlock. Five times. With five different fathers. Much to her disgrace! The father of her fifth child is an African-American minister who is afraid the scandal would ruin his success with his flock who have just constructed a new church. Shades of Pastor Arthur Dimmesdale indeed!

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I’m not really sure whether or not I liked the play. I spent most of the play recalling The Scarlet Letter in order to make a connection with In the Blood. There were enough allusions to Hawthorne to keep me interested. And there were also enough original ideas and controversial topics to keep the play engaging. I did enjoy the set that suggested the ambience of the residence of the homeless who lived under a bridge. The set was vaguely reminiscent of the homeless when they lived on lower Wacker Drive years ago. But the play could take place in just about any large American city.

Combination locks

Security against terrorists

As a law-abiding citizen and patriotic American, I would like to participate in our fight against terrorism. I agree that we must stop the terrorists at the border. 

I have crossed the border a few times, so I have an idea that may help. Sometimes the customs agents ask you questions to see if you’re really an American citizen. I don’t think they care how you answer the questions, but rather, they’re really just checking to see if you speak English. I heard a story of an American family who was trying reenter the United States, but all their luggage, credit cards, and passports were stolen from their hotel room. They reported the theft and then flew back home without passports. Customs refused to let them through without passports or some form of identification. The customs agent asked them a lot of questions. Finally, the mother lost it and shouted, “We’re Americans! We only speak English!” Well, that was enough for the agent to wave everyone through! 

We have a cabinet in our UIC Spanish department where the exams are stored so all the instructors have access to them. The cabinet had a combination lock so we wouldn’t need to make thirty plus keys. Well, even with the combination, not everyone could open the cabinet. On occasion, I had to help other instructors open the combination lock. Then, I noticed a pattern. Only instructors who were foreign-born had trouble opening the lock. 

I guess only Americans are familiar with combination locks. Combination locks are an American rite of passage. I was indoctrinated to the use of padlocks in high school. Combination locks were perfect for adolescents who lose or forget their key. Plus, the school authorities could open any combination lock in the school by looking up the combination or with a little key that fit into the back of the lock. Everyone knew how to open a combination lock or they would learn quickly enough out of necessity. Turn the dial twice to the right until you reached the first number. Then turn the dial to the left passing the second number once. Then to the right to the last number. It was that easy! After a while, I would forget the actual combination numbers. I would spin the dial absent-mindedly and the lock would mysteriously open. The locks created the illusion that your property was safe. All those combination locks did was keep the honest people honest. 

So back to my fight against terrorism. One of the tests to test for citizenship and reentry to the U.S., in addition to all the previous ones that have been proven to be effective, would be to hand a combination lock to the person requesting to enter the U.S. Tell them the combination: 27 – 32 – 15. If they can’t open the lock, well, well, well! They will require more scrutiny! This will not pick out every terrorist, but it’s a step in the right direction. Don’t be surprised if terrorist camps begin offering training workshops on how to operate combination locks in order to circumvent the new security measures. But I’m just trying to do my part. 

Dangerous pics

My dashboard, as seen through my iPhone

As I was crossing the Mississippi River, I suddenly got the urge to take a picture of the St. Louis Arch at seventy miles per hour. What you see above is my failed attempt of that picture. I’m lucky to be alive! But the image is foreboding. If I don’t change my ways, I will surely hurt myself.

Ever since my blog readers requested pictures, I have been trying to take more pictures. However, I’m sure they didn’t mean for me to risk my life in the process.

Some people don’t like when you sneak up on them and take their picture. But if they’re in public, they’re fair game. Sometimes they look at your strangely if your request to take pictures of their personal items. For example, I once went to the offices of all of my colleagues at UIC  to take pictures of their computers. They gave me the strangest looks when I asked permission to photograph their computer. I supposed I would react in a similar fashion if someone came to my office only to photograph my computer. Occasionally, when I go out with my friends to eat, I tell them, “Wait! Before you dig in, let me take a picture of your food!”

For a while, I was taking pictures of interesting license plates. But it seemed that I only time I saw interesting license plates was while I drove on the highway in excess of sixty miles per hour. This didn’t stop me from trying to take pictures. They say that talking on the phone while driving doubles your risk of getting into an accident. And texting increases your risk by eight times. But no one said how much the risk of getting into an accident is increased while trying to take pictures. I think it increases a lot more than eight times. I have had a few close calls, so I can vouch for that.

Once while I was driving to UIC, I saw a license plate that read CHITOWN. I had to take a picture of it! I attempted to get my camera out and take the picture before the SUV bearing that plate turned. There was snow on the ground and the street was slippery. I had to get a picture of the plate! But it wasn’t just any CHITOWN plate. It was a Kansas license plate! I risked crashing my car and I took a couple of pictures. I was overjoyed by my success. When I got home, I noticed that the license plate was unreadable in both pictures. I risked my life for nothing! What were the chances of me seeing this Kansas SUV in Chicago again?

Miraculously, I saw the SUV again about a month later. Again I took pictures as I drove north on south Ashland Avenue. The pictures didn’t come out clearly again! But I figured out that whoever drove the SUV was bound to come down Ashland Avenue again. And sure enough, about a month later, I saw which way it turned and I followed it. I was hoping the driver would hurry up and leave the vehicle so I could take a picture of his license plate. But, no, he took his sweet time gathering his things. I was in a hurry to get to UIC, so I got out of my car to take a picture of his license plate. The driver gave me a very suspicious look, so I told him I only wanted a picture of his license plate. He silently consented, but he eyed me cautiously. Well, I’m used to always getting strange looks anyway, so I took the picture and left. But it turns out I was too far away and the plate was too blurry to read.

Well, I knew the driver with the Kansas plate and I had similar schedules, so I would look for his vehicle in the same parking spot another day. A couple of weeks later, I saw it again. This time I parked right behind it. And I took several pictures to ensure that one of them would be readable. Just then, I noticed a man in a nearby vehicle reaching down under his seat and eyeing me suspiciously. At first, I was sure he was reaching for a gun, but I managed to convince myself that he was merely getting pen and paper to write down my license plate number. Regardless, I left as quickly as possible. Below, thanks to my persistence, you see the fruit of my labor. Behold!

CHI-TOWN on a Kansas license plate

I’m lucky to be alive! 

Mayor Daley

Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago

As a lifelong Chicagoan, Mayor Daley has always been part of my life. And by Mayor Daley, I mean both Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley. As a boy I lived under the reign of Richard Da First. In Back of the Yards, everyone knew Mayor Daley because his name always appeared on some of our neighborhood programs and in daily conversation. At Holy Cross, the Lithuanian nuns told us how Mayor Daley went to mass every day and therefore a good Catholic and Chicagoan. Mayor Daley was a man of mythic proportions.

When Mayor Richard J. Daley died in 1976, I, along with many of my family and friends, were in shock. Mayor Daley was the only man we had known as The Mayor of Chicago. The last time I had such a feeling was when President Kennedy was assassinated. There was a period of alienation for Chicagoans during the interregnum until the next Mayor Daley was elected.

All true Chicagoans rejoiced when Richard M. Daley was elected mayor. The present Mayor Daley (Richard Da Second) is always highly criticized and panned for his politics and poor diction (like father, like son), but he always gets reelected, in part because of his father’s fame and reputation as good Chicagoan.

My life has crossed paths with the Daley family on many occasions. And I’m extremely thankful for that connection. Even when I’m not thinking about the Daleys, they remind me of their existence in some surprising way. Of course, there are all the signs at the Chicago airports to which Mayor Daley welcomes you. Then when I least expect it, I see another reminder somewhere totally unexpected. Once, when I was studying at the Saint Xavier University Library, I went to admire a stained glass window. I then noticed a small plaque that dedicated this window to Joseph Daley, father of Richard J. Daley who donated the window.

By good fortune, I was assigned to guard the home of Eleanor “Sis” Daley, the widow of Richard J. Daley, when I was a police officer. No police officer wanted to work the detail because it was perhaps the most boring assignment on the job, so as the rookie, I was assigned to sit it front of the house. I was attending UIC and I used to study while in the unmarked car. No one complained because I was always alert and awake and actually guarding the house. Sis once asked me if I was bored out there, so I told her I was going to school and the guard duty allowed me to catch up on my reading. When I finally graduated, somehow I made it into the Chicago Sun-Times for a Chicago profile. Sis saw my profile and asked me to come into her house. She told me that she was proud of me. She said that her husband wanted to build a university in Chicago for students just like me and that was why UIC existed. She said that UIC was Mayor Daley greatest source of pride!

I thought it was a momentous occasion when Mayor Richard J. Daley’s writings went to the UIC library and the library was named after him. Yet another way that Mayor Daley impacted my life!


Plátanos fritos

One thing I love about teaching Spanish at UIC is the food! Students will use any excuse to bring food to the classroom. Spanish students learned to bring food in high school, and they keep right on bringing it in college. I love it! If I could, I would design a Spanish course dedicated solely to comida de la cocina hispana.

My Spanish 104 class had to do oral presentations last week and some students found a way to prepare a dish that would highlight their proyectos. Of course, I never complain! I usually teach in the morning and most students are very hungry when they come to class. Okay, I’m hungry, too. So, the food is always a very welcome visual aid for the student presenting. I’m looking forward to the next set of proyectos!



UIC student t-shirt

T-shirts with messages always attract my attention, especially if they have an intriguing message. So how does a clothing item that was originally an undergarment come to demand so much attention? Well, I’ll tell you. No one seems to know. If you wear a t-shirt with text, I will read it. If the message is partially obscured by a sweater or jacket, I will ask you to let me read it. If for some reason your message truly intrigues me, I will ask you to let me take a picture of your t-shirt. I hate it when I ask the wearer of a particularly mysterious message to explain the significance of the message and they don’t know. How can they not know? Well, usually the t-shirt was a gift. Well, I wouldn’t wear a t-shirt to disseminate a message that I didn’t understand. Yet, many people do. I just don’t get it!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

UIC Theater, 1044 W. Harrison Street, Chicago, Illinois

I went to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the UIC Theater today. Our university has a theater department, so I like to go see plays that they stage. I usually go to the afternoon performances because I like going to the theater in the afternoon. That’s not the usual time to go see a play. Unless you’re going on a school field trip. In fact, the theater is usually filled with students who come on school field trips. And they usually enjoy the plays presented. I’m not sure if they actually like the plays or they’re just happy to be away from their school. I enjoy the plays because I get to stay at UIC a little longer.

Of course, I also love Shakespeare! I had just seen the movie version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream a few weeks ago. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, this live performance topped the movie! Watching actors perform in the flesh is always much better. These actors were very professional and delivered convincing performances.

I loved the music they added to the performance. It was fitting because they conveyed the dream theme. From the Eurythmics to Lady Gaga. The Flower Duet by Leo Delibes was also very well-placed. They also played Louis Armstrong, Nessun Dorma. I really can’t remember all the songs they played, but I really enjoyed them in the context of the play.

They were true to the Shakespeare’s words, but they used modern gestures to express themselves, much to the audience’s delight. My favorite was when Oberon hit Demetrius and then does the Sammy Sosa post-homerun celebratory gestures. The audience roared  at this! I loved how director Karen Kessler focused on the comedy aspect of the play. This updated version was hilarious and the audience laughed in all the right places. I laughed so loud and so hard that I was glad my sons weren’t with me to tell me, “Dad, you’re embarrassing us”!