Memorial for Vito


I would like to thank Noël for asking me to say a few words about Vito. He was one of my oldest friends and I have so many happy memories of the time we spent together. As you all know, his real name is Vytautas Jonas Vitkauskas. But we always called him Vito. Everyone called him Vito. Sometimes he would have to explain that he was a Lithuanian Vito. And not an Italian Vito.

It all started with chess. Vito loved playing chess until the very end. When my family moved to Marquette Park, I made new friends. Among my closest friends were Vito and Jim. First, I met Jim at Gage Park High School in physics class. I didn’t learn much physics because Jim and I always played chess during class. Then, Jim told me about the Mar Par Chessmen, a chess club at the Marquette Park fieldhouse. And there, we met Vito.

Our lives revolved around Marquette Park and the Mar Par Chessmen, which met at the Marquette Park fieldhouse every Tuesday evening. People of all ages came to play chess. There were two things we always remembered about playing at the Mar Par Chessmen. The first was Spans, an older gentleman who never missed a Tuesday night of action-packed chess matches. He was well-known for slamming a chess piece down and yelling, “Check!” at the top of his voice. Even though he lost every game, Spans got great satisfaction saying, “Yeah, but I checked you sixteen times!” We, too, would often imitate Spans when we played chess, slamming down the chess piece and shouting, “Check!”

The second, but not so fond, memory from the Mar Par Chessmen was playing chess in the winter. The fieldhouse was located next to the Marquette Park lagoon. So for three straight hours we were forced to listen to, “Danger! Thin ice! No skating!” Endlessly. Sometimes, when we were nowhere near the park, one of us would mimic the PA voice out of the blue: “Danger! Thin ice! No skating!”

Of course, Vito had other sayings he would often repeat. For example, if I mentioned that perhaps we should turn on the lights, Vito would say, “Light is for those who cannot see!” Or, just out of the blue, he would often say, “‘I see,’ said the blind man as he picked up the hammer and saw.”

We had so much in common, besides chess and living near Marquette Park. We also loved going to the movies together. When I started working and owned my own car, we went to the movies all over Chicago. If Jim or I started talking during the movie, Vito would shush us by saying, “Tyliac!”, Lithuanian for “Hush!”. He would even say it to total strangers who spoke too loudly in the theater. We especially loved comedies. We would always sit in the third row. And we would always sit all the way through the end of the credits. At some point, Vito would erupt into applause during the credits: “Let’s hear it for the key grip!” And I would tell him, “Tyliac!” To this day, I still don’t know what a key grip does.

We also loved going out for pizza, before or after the movie. And on a few occasions, before and after the movie. So every weekend we would go to the show and go out to eat pizza two or three times. On Friday night, I would call Vito and start telling him about my week and Vito would cut me off. He would say, “Stop talking right now. Otherwise, we won’t have anything to talk about when we go out.”

Vito was our activity planner. Because of Vito, I saw a few plays I would have never seen on my own. I went to a Sting concert because of Vito. We also went to see Larry Rand in concert for the last show at the Amazing Grace in Evanston because of Vito. As a side note, I am now friends with Larry Rand on Facebook because of Vito. Now that I think of it, I joined Facebook because of Vito.

As we matured, our interests broadened. We sometimes went running in Marquette Park together. When I started going to kung fu classes, Vito started going with me. On lazy Sunday afternoons, we would hang out at my apartment and read the Sunday newspapers. Vito had such a calming effect on everyone. He was a very nice person to have around.

I still remember our university days at Champaign-Urbana. Of the three of us, Jim was the only officially registered U of I student. But Vito and I would visit Jim on weekends. We still fondly recall our college days together.

I never knew when Vito and Jim would come over to my apartment unexpectedly and announce that we were going on a road trip. Well, I thought those road trips were over when my first son was born. However, Vito and Jim taught me otherwise. One Saturday morning, I’m home with my three-year-old son when I hear a knock on my door. Well, it was Vito and Jim announcing that we were going to Mount Baldy in Indiana. Like we used to. I thought I would get out of it by saying I had to watch my son. But, no! They said I could bring my son along. We had a lot of fun that day at Mount Baldy! Vito brought his camera, so I still have pictures of that trip.

Jim continued with his university studies. I joined the Marines. Vito joined the Navy, where he studied journalism. When I started writing for some local running publications, Vito gave me his notes from his Navy journalism classes, which really improved my writing.

I was stationed in California when I came back to Chicago for my first furlough from Marine boot camp. Of course, I had to visit all my family and friends. So, Vito and I drove to the north side for pizza. Even though I was watching the time, I got a ticket for rush hour parking. I looked at my watch again in disbelief. Vito finally asked me, “Did you set your watch to Chicago time?” I then realized that my watch was still set to California time. I was going to pay for the ticket because I would be back in California before the court date. But Vito volunteered to represent me in court. I insisted on just paying the ticket. But Vito insisted on representing me in court, and so he did. He explained to the judge that I was a U.S. Marine on furlough from California and that I had forgotten to set my watch to the correct time. He must have been persuasive, because the judge dismissed my parking ticket.

Over time, many of our interests changed. All of them except our love of comedy. Especially standup comedy. In the late 1970s, Vito, Jim, and I all started performing standup comedy. And all these years, we never lost our sense of humor. We even wrote a comedy skit based on the Marx Brothers. A parody of the Marx Brothers, if that’s at all possible. I was Groucho, Jim was Harpo, and Vito was Chico. I had forgotten all about it until Jim recently sent me a copy of the script. We really put a lot of effort into it and finished writing the skit, but we never actually performed it. But we were still proud of our accomplishment.

Last year, I decided to get back into comedy and I recruited Vito to help me write some jokes. I had used his jokes in the past. And they were usually funnier than mine. So, he helped me write some new jokes. He even told me about all the new comedy venues with open mics. It was just like the old days when Vito, Jim, and I were supportive of each other. He told me about this café called Kibbitznest where they had a comedy open mic night. I think he was more enthusiastic about me performing than I was. We actually had a lot of fun going to these open mics together. Despite me being nervous because of my looming performance, I really enjoyed performing and spending time with Vito. And I also enjoyed watching Vito enjoying himself. He recorded my performances and you can hear him laughing in the background. He took notes on a lot of the comedians. After each of my performances, he gave me lots of constructive criticism, which I have used to improve my act. Vito was tempted to also perform at a comedy open mic. He almost did. But I think he was just happier working behind the scenes.

A while back, I reminded Vito of my encounter with his father. Vito was happy to be reminded of his father. When Vito lived on the northside near Humboldt Park, I went to pick him up at his father’s house. I knocked on the door and Vito’s father answered. “Is Vito home?” I asked. “I’m Vito,” his father said. So, I asked, “Is Vito Junior home?” Vito’s father said, “I’m Vito Junior,” and he just smiled. “Okay,” I said, “Is Vito the third home?” And he said, “Well why didn’t you say so? Vito the third’s not home.” Vito was a lot like his father. Like father, like son.

When Vito met Noël, he couldn’t wait to introduce me to her. He told me that they were taking tango lessons. So, we said we would meet at an Argentine restaurant near my house. But in typical Vito fashion, he took Noël to a gun range first because she had never shot a gun before. Well, we had a very memorable meal together.

I will especially remember the last few times we hung out at Kibbitznest. We both worked really hard for my return to the comedy open mic scene. And we really had a lot of fun hanging out with all the comedians. And then we went to Jim’s house and Vito proudly showed the video of me performing at Kibbitznest to Jim and Ted.

Throughout our friendship, even when we were thousands of miles apart, Vito was never far from my thoughts. He was a different kind of friend. Vito was always honest, but never hurtful. He knew how to keep a conversation going, without making anyone feel pressured to participate. When I look back at our friendship over the years, I realize that he never complained about anything. He just accepted everything life dished out at him. He was never pessimistic. I always felt good when Vito was around.

I will always remember Vito. Vito will always be my friend.

Mount Baldy


Mount Baldy, Michigan City, Indiana

I went to Mount Baldy last Sunday just for old times’ sake. Jim, Vito, and I went to Mount Baldy regularly when we were younger. Jim was very familiar with this part of Indiana since he grew up in Hammond. Whenever he was bored, he would stop by my house unannounced and say, “Let’s go for a ride!” There was no need to ask where because we always ended up in Indiana somewhere. I always loved Indiana ever since I attended Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson. For a while there, I seriously considered moving to Indiana. So, I didn’t mind too much whenever we took a road trip to Indiana. We often went to Mount Baldy and its beach just for the fun of it. We never actually went in the water, though.

When I went last Sunday with Beata, we had a hard time finding a parking space at Mount Baldy. Jim, Vito, and I never had trouble finding parking before. I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I remembered! Jim, Vito, and I never went to Mount Baldy during the summer, during the tourist, beach-going, sun-tanning season. We never kept a regular schedule like normal people.  We always went late at night or long after beach weather had passed. Now that I think of it, we were often the only ones on the beach!

We would cruise along Lake Michigan with no particular destination or agenda. We just loved driving! Occasionally, when we were old enough to drink, we would stop for a beer at a bar that Jim discovered near Mount Baldy. Jim loved discovering new places of interest and then taking us there. I don’t know about Vito, but I wasn’t so excited about these places. But I liked to humor Jim because we did have fun on our road trips!

We often went to the beach long after the beaches were closed. We even went in the winter. One extremely cold winter, we went to the beach at Beverly Shores.  Danger signs were posted to warn everyone to keep off the ice. Those warning signs only work for normal, moderately sane people. To us, they were an open invitation to go on the ice as far as we could go. The smooth sheets of ice were broken up by warm waves of water and then frozen so they looked like waves that froze as they approached the shore. They looked dangerous and inviting all at once. As I recall, Jim and I went out on the frozen waves, but Vito urged us not to go so far. Despite Vito’s cautious approach, he was right behind us. I suppose he did this as a precaution, If the ice cracked and swallowed up Jim or me, Vito could safely go back to shore. Since the weather had been so cold, we went out pretty far out on the ice, far from the shore. We kept going until we could hear the ice cracking under our feet. So, we turned back and headed to the beach. Hey, we weren’t totally insane!

Dr. D. carrying his son up Mount Baldy way back in 1990.

We really had fun on our last road trip to Mount Baldy. I was home alone with my son at home in Bridgeport. Jim and Vito unexpectedly showed up early one Saturday morning. They wanted to go to Mount Baldy! But I had to go to work later that day! What about my son? They insisted that I take my son with me and that we would be back in time for me to go to work. I resisted with all my might. Finally, after deep determination and exertion of my strong will, I gave in. I was able to resist a whole minute before I agreed to go with Jim and Vito to Mount Baldy for old times’ sake. Little did we realize that this would be our last trip together to Mount Baldy.

Vito, as usual, brought his camera. He brought his camera everywhere, or so it seemed. I don’t know about Jim, but I found Vito’s camera very annoying back then. Now that I look back, I’m thankful that he took so many pictures to document our past good times!

Mr. Macala


Mr. Macala, 1976 Gage Park High School Yearbook.

When I think of influential people in my life, I don’t often think of teachers. Some teachers merely teach, but others offer valuable lessons that don’t sink in until much later in life. So when I think back to influential teachers like Sister Laverne at Holy Cross School and Enrico Mordini at Divine Heart Seminary, I also recall Robert Macala and would like to add him to my list of influential teachers. Whenever I recall him, it’s as Mr. Macala, as we were taught to address our teachers in high school.

I met Mr. Macala at Gage Park High School because he took my picture for the chess team and when I won a trophy at a chess tournament at the La Salle Hotel in downtown Chicago. I’m not sure how he found out that I had won the trophy, but he came looking for me with his camera and took a picture of me with the trophy. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that he called two girls walking in the hallway to come in and pose with me for another picture. I suppose to give me this aura of being a sexy chess player. I may just be imagining some of the details about the girls as I recall the incident. But it seems so real now as I imagine it. Forgive me if I have embellished the story. Lately, I’ve been recalling events that I have never experienced!

Anyway, Mr. Macala asked me to write a short description about myself and about the chess tournament and he would then publish the picture in the school newspaper. He asked me to write this with such great confidence that I would do it immediately. He just assumed that I was capable of such a simple assignment. But, alas, I never wrote the brief description and my picture never appeared in the school newspaper. He overestimated my capabilities, but I liked the fact that he truly believed I could do it.

I met Mr. Macala again in the summer of 1975 when I attended summer school at Kelly High School and he was the English teacher. I must admit that I had a very bad attitude that summer. I had just failed English in my senior year, so I didn’t graduate. I had to make up the English class during the summer. I truly believed my life was over. FML! That’s how I felt, long before the acronym was even invented.

I worked midnights at Derby Foods, the peanut butter factory, and then went immediately to English class in the morning. I had failed English because I worked and I didn’t sleep enough before my midnight shift. I often fell asleep during my classes. Plus, I didn’t do any of the reading or writing assignments. And, sometimes I didn’t show up to class. Was that any reason to fail me? Oh, yes, I also failed to write the required term paper!

So, I was greatly relieved in summer school when Mr. Macala announced on the first day of class that we wouldn’t have to write a term paper. The whole class breathed a collective sigh of relief! Perhaps the class wouldn’t be so bad after all. I don’t recall all the details about what was taught in class. But I do remember how Mr. Macala kept the class’s attention by straying from the lesson. He did teach us English, even though I don’t remember exactly what, and he also gave us writing assignments. I still have a book report and a couple of assignments that I wrote for Mr. Macala. I was so happy with the class that I actually saved some of the assignments instead of throwing them away as I did with all my other high school classes. Occasionally, he read student papers aloud and I was surprised he read mine. The assignment was to write a letter that you would like to receive. I tried to be funny and apparently he thought it was funny because he read it to the class. No one had ever read my writing to the class in high school before.

What I remember most are the lessons that were not part of the curriculum. He told us stories to entertain us. Some were works in progress, I’m sure, that he was perfecting for future use. He once told us a mystery story. “It was a hot summer day. We ate some apple pie, but there was still once slice left in the pan. We put the pie pan away. I took a nap and when I woke up–the last slice of pie was gone! I never did figure out what happened to it!” Perhaps this doesn’t sound like much of a mystery story to you, gentle reader, but Mr. Macala had a way of telling stories that kept you hanging on his every word.

The story that fascinated me the most was the one about how he started a backgammon club. He loved to play backgammon. Someone suggested that he start a backgammon club. So he put a flyer up at the local supermarkets asking backgammon players to send money to him to join a backgammon club. He was surprised when many people actually sent him money to join. He had to actually follow through with the club. Soon, he was holding backgammon tournaments with prize money. This proved to be a very profitable venture. I learned a very valuable lesson about capitalism, but I had never had the initiative to do anything comparable. I didn’t capitalize on this knowledge.

He also inspired me academically. He told us he wasn’t a very good student in high school, but discovered he was intelligent once he started college. I would remember this fact years later when I contemplated going back to school. I never thought I was a good student either. Ever! I recalled his words when I went back to school. I told myself to do all the homework for all the classes and study for the exams. My goal was to try to get at least a C in every course. Once I applied myself, I discovered that I was a much better student that I had thought. Eventually, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Thanks in part to Mr. Macala’s story of his student days.

After high school, I lost track of him. Jim, Vito, and I often remembered Mr. Macala. We all agreed that he was a little wild and crazy. But that’s what appealed to me about him. He was intelligent and a little eccentric. One Saturday night, Jim, Vito, and I were on Rush Street for a night on the town. Picking up girls, the way we always did. That was our joke. Picking up girls the way we always did. Actually, we weren’t very good at picking up girls at all. On Saturday night, one of us would ask, “What do you want to do tonight?’ “I don’t know” “Why don’t we pick up girls!” “Yeah! Let’s pick up girls. Like we always do!” We never managed to pick up even one girl! If a girl fell unconscious in front us, we couldn’t pick her up. Not even if we all lifted at once.

Anyway, we were on Rush Street picking up girls as per usual. Suddenly, we see a man standing at the entrance of a night club, actually called a disco back then. This man was flirting with every woman who walked by. He made comments to every passerby. He started telling us something when we approached him. We all recognized him immediately. “Hi, Mr. Macala!’ We were surprised to see him there. Now that I think back, it makes perfect sense that he’d be there!

Well, of all the teachers who greatly influenced me, Mr. Macala is the only with whom I still communicate. In fact, we are friends on Facebook! He now lives in Florida and he asks me questions about Spanish all the time. The roles seem to have reversed.

Friends


Dr. D. in Michigan City, Indiana

When you reach a certain age (Yes, my age!), you tend to look back to the past more often than you look forward to the future. I always recall my friends and some of our adventures.

I was going through my old pictures when I saw this picture of me. My friend Vito took this picture of me. Vito, the photographer who claims he doesn’t like posed pictures, asked me to pose for this picture. So I did.

Back then, Vito took his camera everywhere and I always found it annoying. Now when I look through my old pictures I realize that I have many pictures of me with my friends and family that Vito took and later gave to me  unexpectedly. Of course, I now truly believe the annoyance was worth it. I can’t thank Vito enough for all the pictures he gave me. If you see an old picture of me in this blog, chances are that Vito took it.

I vividly remember taking the trip in this picture. My friends, Jim and Vito, stopped by my house unexpectedly one day, without even calling me first. We used to do that to each other back then. Just stop by someone’s house unexpectedly. Actually, I always enjoyed those surprise visits. Nowadays, no one has time for such frivolous visits. We also had more fun because these visit were a bonus no one expected.

So, anyway, one day, Jim and Vito stopped by my house and demanded that I go for a ride with them. Jim enjoyed going out for a ride ever since he got his driver’s license and his own car and he would drag along anyone who couldn’t come with a good excuse not to go with him. Since I had no plans for that day, or the next week for that matter, I went along for the ride. All three of us have always been drawn to Indiana for some strange reason, so we usually went to that strange, foreign land of Indiana. Generally, we stayed near the coast of Lake Michigan, much like the Portuguese sailors who never lost sight of the African coast lest they fall off the edge of the earth.

We enjoyed the sand dunes, so we usually went to the beach at Mount Baldy. When we were old enough to drink, we went to bar that was right across the street. After that, we usually just wandered around aimlessly for the rest of day. That explains why we ended up in Michigan City in front of Jaymar, the Sans-a-belt pants outlet! And just to commemorate this momentous occasion, Vito took my picture for the sake of posterity. And a great picture such as this deserves a great dedication. So, with much fanfare a few weeks later, Vito presented me with this picture that had the following dedication on the back:

He is the man …
… the superman

AND –yes– he shops at Jaymar!

Jaymar … downtown Michigan City
the duct tape capital of the world!

MAR 87

As I recall, I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes when Vito first gave me this picture. I’m sure I even laughed when I read the inscription on the back. I recalled how we used boast about how we had wasted our time that day. However, when I saw this picture in my photographic archives (actually, it’s just a cardboard box), I was in awe of that oh so awesome trip we took. I wish I could take trips like that once again. All my friends are now grown up and don’t have time for such nonsense. My sons refuse to take too many of those trips with me because they are more grown up than me.

Now I long for those useless, pointless trips!

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 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 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!

Al’s Beef


Little Italy, Chicago, Illinois

I went to Al’s Beef with my sons today. Why? Because my sons asked me to take them. Why? Well, I was wondering the same thing myself. They heard about Al’s Beef from the Travel Channel, a restaurant TV show, that showcased Al’s Italian Beef. When they first mentioned going to Al’s Beef, I said okay, nonchalantly. They probably thought I wouldn’t take them because I didn’t sound that enthusiastic. They even doubted if I had even ever heard of Al’s Beef. But, nay, I had stories to tell them about Al’s Beef. And told them, I did. Hesitantly. I really thought they would cut me off. But they didn’t. In fact, they kept asking me for more details. This was the longest we had talked in a long time. Luckily, it was about a subject that was near and dear to my heart. Chicago food!

Ah, the memories! I have been going to Al’s Beef since the 1970s, but I couldn’t tell you the exact date. They may be getting a lot of television exposure now, but Al’s Beef is a veritable ghost town in comparison to when I used to go in the 1980s. The place used to be packed, especially in the summer. I remember going there with my friends Jim and Vito. Sometimes I went with my running friends after track practice. We would eat in the parking lot and go across the street to Mario’s Italian Ice for dessert. Then, we’d sit in the parking lot drinking beer! Those were the days.

Al’s Beef is a little different today. It’s the same building. It still has the same charming decor. And, for as long as I can remember, they always have someone working behind the counter who speaks Spanish. It is a universally acknowledged fact that Italian beef tastes better when it’s served by a Spanish speaker. I remember my friend Jim had a crush on a Mexican girl who used to work there. As single men, we often ate at restaurants. But when he discovered this Mexican girl at Al’s Beef, we ate there at least three times a week! I must admit that she was pretty and she had this really cute Mexicana accent. I asked Jim, “If you married her–” “Do you really think I have a chance with her?” he asked me hopefully. “Let me finish! If you married her, would you really enjoy her coming home smelling like Al’s Italian Beef?” He smiled so I could see a sweet pepper stuck in his teeth and said, “That would be like dying and going to heaven!”

2009 Chicago Auto Show


2009 Chicago Auto Show

Last year, I wrote about going to the Chicago Auto Show. This year I actually went to it. I wrote about how my father used to take my brothers and I to the Chicago Auto Show. This year, my oldest son dragged me along against my will. I find this amazing because my son doesn’t even have a driver’s license. He’s nineteen and he’s never taken driver’s ed. I gave him the Illinois Rules of the Road book to study twice with the promise that if he studied I would take to take the written test to get his driver’s permit. But he never studied and he still doesn’t have his permit. He’s just not that interested in driving or he would have gotten his driver’s license by now. Which reminds me of my friend Vito who has never–to my knowledge–ever had a driver’s license. My life would have been so different if I would have never gotten my driver’s license. I can’t even imagine how could exist without one.

Anyway, the Chicago Auto Show was fun even though I didn’t really want to go. I enjoyed it vicariously through my son who seemed to enjoy looking at the expensive cars that I cannot afford and probably wouldn’t drive even if I could afford them. I took some pictures of the cars. And then I took some more pictures of some more cars, but this time my son was in the pictures because he insisted on being in pictures with him in some of the cars. Of course, he offered to take a couple of pictures of me, for which I posed begrudgingly because I don’t really enjoy being photographed. One thing I did miss was the celebrities that used to come and sign autographs. And they no longer had beautiful models in evening gowns posing for amateur photographers near the new cars. There were plenty of workers continually wiping fingerprints off cars and keeping them shiny. But overall, I did have fun and was glad I went.

How I became an interesting person


Jim Harmon, Will Clinger, and David Diego Rodriguez

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.

Nova no va


Dr. D. and his faithful Chevy Nova

This picture was taken sometime in the 1980s. I’m not sure when. But that’s not important now. I only posted the picture because my 1976 Chevrolet Nova is behind me. Vito and his ever ubiquitous camera were also present that day in front of Jim’s house in the Gage Park neighborhood. Vito always annoyed me by always lugging around his camera and stopping everyone so he could take a picture. As I look through my box of old photographs, I see that I couldn’t have been too annoyed by his paparazzi ambitions because I seemed to gladly pose for many pictures. And, without my asking, Vito would give me some of those pictures.

Oh, wait! I meant to write about my car! My Chevy Nova. A car that didn’t sell well in Spanish-speaking countries because its name sounds too much like “No va,” or “It doesn’t run.” But that’s neither here nor there, either.

I bought this shiny, black car, brand new in 1976. But by the time I returned from California with it, it was no longer new nor shiny. I’ll explain why in a moment. Remind me to tell you in case I forget. This Chevy Nova and I were in a relationship for more than thirteen years! This is perhaps the only object with which I developed a personal relationship, if that’s at all possible. I still have fond memories of this special car. Oh, yes, I called my car Felicia! Don’t tell me you never named your car!

Anyway, I had only owned one car before this one. A brand new 1975 Pontiac Firebird that was very sporty and flashy, red exterior with white interior that was extremely difficult to keep clean. But it wasn’t very practical because it only seated four and the trunk was very small. I think some of the girls I met only liked me for my car. I think this car deserves a separate post, so you’ll have to look for it.

So back to my Nova, which actually ran very well despite its name in Spanish. I special ordered the car so I could get all the options I wanted. Of course, I couldn’t afford very many at that time, so I deliberated carefully and prioritized my wish list. Number 1 on the list? You better sit down before I tell you. Okay, are you ready? An AM/FM Stereo Sound System with an 8-track player! No other option would matter as long as my new car had an 8-track player. I still get shivers down my back recalling driving that car down the open road with my 8-track player blasting! I mean, who wouldn’t? I must have had about fifty albums on 8-track that I listened to while I slept and now I could listen to them while I drove, too!

Everyone was shocked when I bought my Chevy Nova because I went from racing around in a flashy Firebird to driving a mundane family sedan. I never regretted the change because my Nova was more practical and more reliable than my Firebird. Sure it wasn’t as fast as my Firebird, but thanks to my Nova, I’m still alive today. I probably would have killed myself in a fiery car wreck because I felt like I had super powers behind the wheel of my red sports car! Fast cars produce fast drivers. I had a few close calls.

When I drove my four-door Chevy Nova family sedan, I actually became a much safer driver. I suppose it’s like the difference between wearing running shoes and high heels, not that I ever wore or wanted to wear high heels. I became more responsible in my personal life, too. But that could have been just because I was maturing, even though I resisted.

When I was transferred to 29 Palms, California, from Marine Corps boot camp, I drove my Nova back to the base and I was the envy of all my colleagues because I had a car. They did kid me that I was driving an old man’s car, but they always wanted me to take them on weekend trips to such exotic places as Arizona, Mexico, and Disneyland. They didn’t car what they looked like driving in my car. A car is a car!

In the Mojave Desert, my Felicia was subjected to extreme heat and sun. Once it was so hot and sunny that I burned my fingers by touching the ignition switch that was subjected to the scorching sun. From then on, I kept a towel over the steering wheel and ignition. The sun also made the black paint fade a little. We were warned at orientation about the extreme heat. In fact, they told us that if our cars had air conditioning we should remove the fan belts that connected it to the engine because the car would overheat and stall if you used the air conditioning. A few skeptical Marines didn’t heed the warning and sure enough they stalled in the middle of the desert! We were also told to carry plastic gallon jugs of water in case we got stranded in the desert. We were also warned about all the poisonous creatures of the desert. There were scorpions, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, Black Widows, and a lot of other poisonous creatures that preferred to be undisturbed by human beings. In the morning, we would always shake out our boots to make sure nothing had moved in overnight because scorpions like to sleep in combat boots. We were told that if we were bitten by a Black Widow, the only way we would survive would be if we fell into a helicopter just as were bitten and immediately taken to the hospital. Needless to say, I never looked for pets in the desert.

I once drove through a sandstorm and a flash flood that occurred unexpectedly and simultaneously. People warned me that the weather was about to turn for the worst, but I didn’t listen. I drove out on a nice sunny afternoon because I didn’t believe the weather forecast. Suddenly, as I’m driving back to the base, the sky darkened and rain started pouring down on me and my Felicia. Soon the rain stopped, but the sky remained dark and a fifty-mph crosswind blew sand across the desert and into my car. I could barely see, but I felt I would be safer if I tried to drive out of the storm. So, I continued driving without putting my foot on the gas pedal. I idled forward at about five mph. I couldn’t see the road, but at least there were no other cars on the road. I could feel when I started hitting the shoulder of the road and I would edge my way back into my lane.

I can honestly say that the visibility was zero. When I looked out the windshield, I only saw sand hitting the glass. I couldn’t even see my hood or my headlights shining on the sand. But at that point, I thought my best chance for survival was to drive out of the storm by going to a higher elevation. When I finally reached the drive riverbed with the warning sign about flash floods, I knew I would make it home. However, the dry riverbed was now a raging river of about eight inches deep and six feet across. Against my better judgment, I decide to drive across. In Chicago, I had driven through standing water that deep before and my car didn’t stall. The whole secret was to go slowly enough not to splash water on the engine and its electrical components.

Eventually, I made it back to 29 Palms, or you wouldn’t be reading this post, where it was sunny and dry. I inspected my car for damage. My poor baby! The car’s paint job had been sandblasted by the storm. Ditto for all the windows.

I always remember my driving adventures in my Chevy Nova fondly!

facebook


facebook.com

I’ve been using facebook for about three years now. I’m not really sure how I joined, but I did. Of course, I had no facebook friends at the time. One day, my friend Vito asked me to be his facebook friend. So, for the longest time, I only had one friend on facebook. Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen Vito since we became friends on facebook. Little by little, I accumulated friends. And now I really like facebook. I like it because I can keep up with my friends without having to actually see them in person. Not that I don’t want to see them, but some of them live so far away. We grew up in Chicago, but everyone seemed to move out the suburbs. I stayed put because I love Chicago so much. My friends think that I spend way too much time on facebook, but I don’t. It only seems like I do because I only spend a few minutes per day, but I am very efficient. facebook sends me a message when someone has commented on one of my comments or pics, and I immediately respond. I strike immediately and then immediately crawl back under my rock. You just never know how I may respond. As they say, leave sleeping dogs lie. (Whoops, dogs don’t sleep under rocks!) So, anyway, facebook is a great way to keep in touch with friends I avoid in real life! Would you like to be my friend on facebook?

Will you be my friend on facebook?