Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Callate en la iglesia/shush in church

I went with Dawn, Joey, their big brother Julian and his friend, and Dawn's buddy Gloria to St. Joe's 5:30 Mass on Sunday. Fr. Ed was up there playing a kazoo during the homily, but that wasn't enough to keep Dawn and Gloria from yammering. Gloria is pretty loud, too.

Sunday's gospel was one of the ones where Jesus expels an "unclean spirit." In this particular story, the spirit taunts Jesus and he tells it to be quiet. In Spanish, the command to be quiet translates as "callate." (There should be an accent on the first a, but I still have to learn how to make all those interesting marks using my keypad, sorry.)

So when I got really exasperated with Gloria, I whispered urgently, "Callate!" and she got a laugh out of it. BUt she and I both laughed at the antics of various chiquitos (little ones) playing hide and seek in the pew or trying to put their little brothers in headlocks, etc.

Joey was so bored he actually tried to read the Spanish version of the Eucharistic prayer for a while. He wanted to know where we were in the book a couple of times, maybe just to see how much longer it would go on.

Julian and his pal were too cool to sit with us. They stood in the back.

One thing I love about St. Joe is if I show up broke (which is likely to happen on Sunday afternoon, post Saturday night), it's no shame to put change in the collection basket. "Is there such a thing as a spinster's mite?" I asked myself while dumping the remains of my change in the second collection.

I have finally memorized more than half of the Our Father in Spanish. For a while I couldn't get past the third line. Now I've got seven lines down, just two or three more to go. Don't even ask me to attempt the Hail Mary yet. Guess I'll have to go to a novena to Guadalupe next December. That ought to be enough to pound it in for good.

We thought Dawn's parents, or at least her mom, would show up to church late or be in the back when it was over, but they weren't there. Dawn and Joey got their catechism cards signed by their CCD teachers and then we went home for dinner. Gloria wanted me to call her mom and tell her it was my birthday so she would let Gloria come with us, but I said no.

Dawn's mom made enchiladas. Two kinds: chicken and cheese. The cheese ones had salsa verde and the chicken ones had a kind of creamy yellow sauce. Usually I think enchiladas are OK, not great, but these were possibly the best enchiladas I have ever eaten.

While we were waiting for dinner, I was talking with Dawn's dad. He was telling me he only went to school through third grade in Mexico, and then started learning various trades: carpentry, plumbing, metalworking. He likes metalworking, which is what he does now. I can't remember how he said it in Spanish but it came through as clearly as English in my ears, "In Mexico we couldn't stay in school, and now that these kids can, they don't want to study."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Gunman on the Ashland Bus

About 9:45 a.m. I was reading Hoy on the Ashland bus, like I do many a morning. We were passing the Riverside Square shopping center, just south of Archer Avenue, when someone hollered and shook the back door to get off. I looked up at the noise, and there was a man at the back exit pointing a gun at the guy in the back corner of the bus!

The bus stopped and the gunman got off. The man in the back corner hollered, "I'm bleeding!" He went to the front of the bus, borrowed a cell phone and called the cops. "Yes, I was shot," he said into the phone. "I was shot. I'm bleeding." Apparently he'd been grazed in the head by the bullet.

The gunman must have been using a silencer because there was no noise. It was bizarre! I kept looking in the back for a bullet hole but couldn't see one.

"I wasn't even talking to him," the victim declared.

The bus driver, a middle aged black lady, handled the situation very professionally. She pulled over underneath the Stevenson, just before the Orange Line, and handed out cards so people could write up their eyewitness accounts. I had nothing to say--I couldn't even give a description of the shooter except maybe he had on a red and white jacket. I remember red and white, and a guy, and a gun. That's it.

"I don't know him, but I recognize him," the driver said. "He rides this bus all the time. Don't worry. He'll get caught."

Yeah, maybe, but I think I'll stay off the Ashland bus for a few days, anyway. Whew!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

La Cantina

Sunday night I finally went to the cantina with three of the guys from Su Casa. I had heard about the cantina a couple of times before from the workers at Su Casa, but I hadn't had the chance to join an outing.

La cantina is on 47th, east of Ashland. It's one of those joints you don't know it's a bar unless you know somebody. It has a plain brick exterior, no neon beer lights or signage, and a door you have to be buzzed through. Inside there's a pool table, a bar and a couple of TVs hanging in the corners of the ceiling, plus an amazingly loud jukebox. There are some fun Mexican movie stills tacked up behind the bar, plus the usual cheesecake blondes advertising beer. Unsurprisingly, there probably weren't a dozen people in the joint around 10 on a Sunday night.

It was the first time I had set foot in a bar in the neighborhood, except for El Tio, which is really a restaurant that serves drinks. I've never gone to El Tio on a weekend night, when they have music for dancing or show fights or other sporting events on TV. This is the kind of thing where the language and cultural barriers look pretty intimidating, especially when considering going alone.

I recently picked up The People's Guide to Mexico, which informs me that in Mexico, women don't ever set foot in cantinas. If they do, either they are prostitutes or don't mind being mistaken for prostitutes. However, it's OK to work behind the bar if you're a woman, especially if you're in the family that owns the place. But it's not cool just to go for a drink.

However, the great fun of being a gringa in a Mexican neighborhood in the U.S. is you can set foot in a cantina, as long as you have lots of company, preferably male. Three guys was probably the fewest escorts I'd go with, and usually Su Casa shows up in greater force than that. Which the owner, Cesario, appreciates. He bought us a round (our second, we got our own first round.)

One of the guys in our group was chatting in Spanish with the guy at the end of the bar, who invited us to a strip club. Steve bowed out for himself but checked in with us pro forma just to get some backup on the refusal. The guy at the end of the bar had assured him the women at the club "were really fine." I wondered if he'd even noticed me--I was a couple of yards away and probably hidden by two of the guys.

Our bartender was female and bilingual. She asked for all our IDs and I told her I was old enough to be flattered she asked. She laughed. Later she started telling me all about how she's been going to biker bars since she was young, since her friend's brother had a bike and would take her sister and friends along. She's friends with the owner and was just helping out by tending bar for the weekend. She tells me they do tai chi in the park at 30th and Halsted in the mornings. I'll have to go by there sometime.

We ordered Tecates and a Corona (me), and looked down the bar at some point and saw all the regulars drinking Bud and Miller Lite. Very funny. The bartender says Corona doesn't taste the same up here as it does in Mexico. "That's like Guinness," I said, at which she smiled. She grew up in Bridgeport.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

This week's roundup

Simply starts school: Word last night is that he didn't hit any snags at orientation and started classes yesterday. Still no word on his aid award, and he did get a bill for like eleven grand, but I told him to go see his financial aid counselor ASAP and explain that he hasn't seen his aid package yet. Apparently Loyola thinks it will be able to house him on campus after his parents sell their house in Chicago, and they will pro-rate the housing costs for this semester and not charge him until he starts living on campus. So far, so good.

Blockbuster Bust: The Blockbuster at 48th and Ashland closed its doors sometime between Christmas and New Year's. Since I don't even have a TV, I didn't notice until "the other white lady" made the point to me on the phone last night. She views this as a bad sign. I'm surprised they folded just as the condos across the street are actually selling.

City Services Blitz--There was a crew picking up trash not just along Ashland this morning, but along some of the adjacent blocks. I was taking this morning's accumulation of yard junk to the alley when one of the fluorescent-vested guys spotted me and said, "Keep that up and you can get a job with us!" He said they had started at 47th and were working their way "all the way down" Ashland. The street cleaner came by northbound while I was waiting for the bus. I don't think I've seen that much city effort on cleaning, ever.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Mexico meets Ireland

Last week I forgot to mention a particular favorite moment hanging with my little friends, because it happened post-pizza, pre-park. Somehow we got talking and they wanted to know what my grandmother looked like. I have photos of my mother's mother in the same album with my photos from Ireland in 2002, when I went to visit her sisters and other family for the first time ever. So I dragged out the album and showed them.

The album opens with a shot of the small house where my grandmother was born and where her sisters still live. You can see the roof used to be thatch--they updated to slate in the 1970s, I'm told. The house is at least 200 years old. My great aunts still use a turf fireplace as their main source of heat, supplemented these days with an electric space heater in the bedroom. It was chilly and damp there in May.

One of my great-aunts looks especially like Grandmom, and they saw a lot of pictures of her and her sister. We were at the lake, we were in the country hills, we were at the church at Knock Shrine, we were at the Famine Museum. Then they got to see my grandmother visiting her daughter's family in Delaware in the early 1970s, about the time they were taking the thatch off the roof back in Ireland and maybe before the space heater. We have pictures of Grandmom and Granddad with my mom, me and my sister and brother in the driveway with our two cars and our two-story suburban house, built @1965. The boys liked seeing the pictures of me as a little kid. They said I looked like some girl they saw in a movie but I don't know who they meant.

The last half of the album is pictures of the island of Inishmaan, the least touristed of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. It's shockingly quiet there and the birds fly right at you, completely unafraid. The few hundred locals who live there mostly speak Irish as their first language.

The boys saw photos of potatoes growing and cows grazing and rocky cliffs and blue water. They liked the horses and ponies and dogs the best. They were telling me how their cousin sold her cows to raise the money to come to the U.S.

They were very enthusiastic about Ireland. "It's like Mexico!" said one.

"Yep," I agreed, "just colder and wetter."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Loyola Acceptance!

Simply, one of the basketball stars from last summer's face-off at St. Joe's, stopped by my house last night to inform me he was accepted to Loyola University two days ago!! Yahoo!!

However, it was quite a process getting him there. Last spring he intended to go to UIC but had a problem with financial aid and was unable to start in September. This fall he applied to Loyola, but it was quite a struggle to get the paperwork together, and the Loyola admissions office didn't come out sounding the most clueful about tracking information. Simply's test score sheet got lost in the office (he's dead certain it got into the sealed envelope before he went to the post office), so about two weeks after he submitted his application he got a note saying that information was missing. When he called, he told the secretary his test scores were on the second page of his transcript. She put him on hold to speak to a counselor, then came back and said she would call back in an hour or two.

Simply was in Indiana, sitting with his earpiece in his ear, his cellphone perched on the window (the only place in his parents' new house where he could get reception), for an hour before he decided to chance it and go eat a bowl of cereal. He was so stressed he thought he heard the phone ring, dropped his spoon and ran, but there was no call. After two and a half hours he called back to find out everything was OK. Sheesh.

He spoke with an admissions counselor two days ago. She told him, "You've been approved."

"Approved? Please say accepted."


Now we just have to figure out whether they can house him on campus this semester and how much financial aid he's getting. Keep your fingers crossed. Simply had a 3.75 at Curie and wants to study psychology. He's too smart not to go to college.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Translation Exercise

Junior's mom called me last night. She came over with the boys and with two bottles of medicine for her ears. She got an antibiotic in eardrops from Cook County (where she waited like seven hours for it or something), and some over the counter earwax loosener. The directions on both were in English, so she needed a translator. I tried to explain them in Spanish on my own, complete with pantomime like tilting my head to the side to put the drops in. But it seemed to work better when I gave the instructions simply in English for Junior to translate. Oh, well. Maybe someday I will actually be able to speak intelligibly in this language.

They told me they pumped up the soccer ball. They want to play tonight. Maybe we will.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Saturday in the Park

Might as well keep up the string of bad song references, right? And hey, this one's even Chicago-related. ;-)

Saturday I had two of my little neighbor fellas over for a pizza party. This year's pizza was much more prefab than last year's. Since I knew these two guys had no interest in watching dough rise, I got pre-made pizza crusts at Dominick's, pre-shredded cheese and pre-cut pepperoni. Then I discovered I had to whip up tomato sauce, since all the sauce in my house was veggie-friendly and these guys aren't. I didn't think they were up for red pepper and pesto or spinach and cheese spaghetti sauce. I was out of sausage and mushroom or the burgundy/steak one. (Yes, I'm a yuppie, and proud of it!)

So I chopped an onion, opened a can of crushed tomatoes, and cooked up pizza sauce in 20 minutes. Then I called my fine young carnivore friends and we put the sauce on the pizza, laid the cheese on thick, and made smiley faces with the pepperoni slices.

Winter is hard. Their parents are broke. Christmas was "boring" this year, the older one told me. He got OK presents but not as good as last year. Their dad isn't working right now--he's seasonal--and their mom's boss is being mean and cheated her out of some money. She asked me for work. I hooked her up with a neighbor to clean the house. I'd have had her clean mine but somebody else asked me already.

The boys helped me take some old clothes to the Salvation Army around the corner, and then we went shopping. We found a glow-in-the-dark soccer ball for less than $2.50. I thought that was a worthy purchase, so we got it. After I paid, the littler one asked, "Are you mad at me?"

"No, why would I be mad at you?" I asked back.

"Cause it's 'spensive."

I told him it was OK and not to worry. We took the ball to Cornell Park and played on the tennis court, because the fields were too muddy. The ball needs air but we had fun kicking it around anyway, until the younger one tried to steal the ball from his brother. His foot slipped off the ball and he fell and banged his elbow.

"I didn't make him do it," big brother announced.

"I know."

We took him home and got some ice. His brother told me about the time he went swimming in the park pool and some of the black kids started messing with him and he got in a fight. Now he doesn't go to Cornell Park much.

Later that night, after those two went home, Peter Pan from down the block brought a slightly different crew of Lost Boys to play soccer out back, including two black guys. First integrated soccer game in my yard-whoo-hoo!! The boys asked me to play to keep the teams even, so I played goalie. The neighbors were very nice about letting us jump the fence or run around to get the ball. Our team lost the first game and won the second 15-14.

After game two, I threw them out with lots of high-fives for my teammates. They left still high from all the running. Their post-game trash talk wafted back as they disappeared down the sidewalk. Sad to report, I was sore the next day. At least the old grey mare can still block a shot once in a while.

Streetlights II

The streetlights came back on Friday night, a week after they went out. That seems long to me, even with New Year's in the way.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Streetlights, People??

Yes, I am referencing the Journey song "Don't Stop Believing," because I don't want to stop believing the city might fix the streetlights on Marshfield, which have been out since New Year's Eve.

I ran into my neighbor who used to fly the Irish flag out of his window. He was walking his dog to the corner store as I was coming home from Su Casa last night. I could see a bunch of shadowy figures at the corner and decided to hang out and watch his dog for him rather than get hit up for money by some of my lowlife pals (or not such pals--I couldn't tell for sure who was over there). Anyway, Mr. Irish Flag told me he'd been calling 311 since Saturday night and asked if I had called. Mea culpa, but I hadn't--between New Year's revelry and trying to clean my house, it totally slipped my mind.

I went in the house (after a hi from my pet pimp pal, who was on the corner--he was eating something so he had the grace not to ask me for food or cash in that moment), and called right away. We'll see how long it takes. At least I believe we had garbage pickup this morning--the city took off yesterday.

Holiday Party

Sorry, all, for the long delay in posting. Sunday December 18 was my holiday party. It turned out to be a much larger bash than expected. Seventy people showed up over the course of seven or eight hours! Whew!

The most shocking thing was that some of them arrived early. Gracias a dios, I had unexpected backup from two nice neighbor ladies--one from the CAPS triumvirate that staged the unsuccessful coup, the other is on the NHS board with me--who arrived early to see if I needed help. I did. I was up til about one in the morning making turkey chili and had cleaned the house in the morning, but hadn't made much dent in setting up the food table. So they got to work on that. Five minutes later, 45 minutes ahead of official start time, three families from Su Casa showed up. Holy cow! Latino people arriving early for a party!! We were all joking about this later.

Ms. Ribs came and she didn't have to do anything, although she was having a good time bossing me around for hostess slip-ups like having a bag of ice cubes frozen together. I took it outside and dropped in on the front steps to break it up. She came early (but not too early) and stayed until the Bears came on around 7 p.m.

My north side friends mixed in nicely with my south side friends. One of them was learning Christmas carols in Spanish from my Su Casa pals. I was really happy to see lots of interaction across age, language and culture. There were plenty of babies and little kids around, which is always a great icebreaker.

There's one particularly cute and cuddly little boy that all the guys had to sit on their laps. I told him he was the king of the uncles, el rey de los tios. He had his Tio Alejandro, Tio Kevin and Tio Jorge, among others.

We ran out of turkey chili around 6 and I had to whip up some more out of cans in a hurry. Ms. Ribs was kidding me about that and reminding me to hide the evidence.

Dawn's family came late and were the last to leave. They helped me clean up. We were all joking about El Diastro hitting my house--it was Katrina without the water. Dawn's dad found my CD of music from Michoacan and was teaching Dawn how to dance to it.

Lots of people raved afterwards about what a good time they had. Peace on earth, on the block, for a few hours anyway.

Windy Citizen Share