Monday, February 27, 2006

Storm Tracker

Latest Alberto update: I got home in the wee hours of Sat night/Sun morning and went to the kitchen. The good news was Alberto had cleaned the stove and the kitchen floor. The bad news? I opened the freezer door to take out some chicken to thaw in the fridge, and discovered a bottle of lemon cleaner in there!!

Dude, what's up with that????? I did ask him this Sunday morning but frankly couldn't make a great deal of sense of the answer. (Not sure if this was because of a real language barrier or a convenient language barrier....hmmm...) I gathered from a mumbled answer that he was in a hurry and the floor was wet and he stuck it there for lack of a better idea and forgot about it. I suggested the utility closet, which is far from the kitchen and away from the wet floor, would be the best choice, and even the dining room table would be an improvement.

Meanwhile, poor Junior's mom was worried about me because she hadn't seen me in so long. She and the boys stopped by last night. Unfortunately I was actually on the phone with a work-related call and couldn't talk long, but it was nice to see them.

Gracias a Dios, Alberto had a workshop to go to overnight last night. I had a lovely evening at home by myself and got a decent night's sleep. I'm not sure if he's back tonight or Tuesday, but I'm pulling for a Tuesday arrival.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fact or Fiction?

The doorbell rang at 5:30 this morning. At least three times, maybe four or five, while I was grabbing a bathrobe and debating whether to answer or not. Have to admit I was hoping Alberto might stick his head out the door. No such luck.

By the fourth or fifth ring I had decided to answer, with the phone in my bathrobe pocket to call 911 immediately if necessary. Guess who? Yup-yup, with a tale of two lovers, or a business transaction, unclear which.

"I saw a couple coming out of your back yard," he said excitedly. (He's almost always about that hyped-up. I assume it's crack.) "They were both black. I followed them." But he really had no further intelligence on them. Then he went on about how he was cold and he could really use a few bucks to get a spot in the house where the owner rents space by the night.

"If they're not burning down the house or trying to break in, wait until dawn to ring the bell," I suggested. But I paid him something, just to get him out of my hair. No, I didn't go back to sleep, but I kind of rested and didn't dwell too much on the whole thing until about 7, when I got up to take a shower.

I thought Alberto had left while I was showering, but he came downstairs while I was eating my oatmeal with pecans and blueberries. (It's only fair to have a special treat for breakfast after a rude awakening, right?) He hadn't heard anything, or maybe he had heard something but just assumed it was regular street noise. Yes, he's a heavy sleeper. I should have asked him about that before I let him move in. A heavy sleeper is useless as an additional night watch aide.

I even teased him about this. "I should have gotten a dog!" We both laughed at that.

Then I wasted some time speculating that Yup-yup had just made up the story to pick up a few bucks. If so, he certainly put some effort in it. I went out back on my way to the bus stop and found a used condom by the back stairs. More disturbingly, I also found a bunch of boards from the demolition going on next door, which made me nervous that someone might start a fire, on purpose or for additional warmth. So I did call the CAPS line and ask if they could send a squad car through the alley on late nights once in a while.

It's still entirely possible he made up the whole thing, or did his business himself back there and decided to tell me about in this fashion to pick up some cash. Great.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Haircut, etc.

Got home later than expected last night and decided to whip up some dinner. I could hear the whine of power tools from next door, so I called over to Julian, his dad and his uncle to see if they wanted something to eat. "Gracias," said Julian Sr.

So I made nachos for them and pasta for me (and Alberto, since it was still cooling on the counter when I left, I left a note saying "eat up if you're hungry.') I was late for my haircut appointment but Bella's niece was just leaving so I guess it all worked out OK.

Bella and I watched "Alborada," my favorite Mexican telenovela. Bella's husband Diego explained that the period is under Porfirio Diaz, so like 1915 or 1920. Diaz was a great admirer of France, which is why they are all running around in doublets and low-cut bodices. Diego thinks it's cheesy and "too emotional" but that's why Bella and Dawn and I like it!

After the show and the haircut I stayed around way too late watching television and chatting with them. There's another show, Ver para Creer, where they show all these believe it or not kind of things. Last night they showed a Peruvian girl who was born with both legs attached to each other, including the feet. She looked like she had a tail. Doctors were able to separate the legs up to above the knee, so she was able to walk. She's now 15 years old or something like that.

Diego told me a lot of the stereotypes about people from Monterrey, where my current Spanish teacher is from. They are supposedly very stingy. I'll have to tease him at class tonight. And I have to leave for class right now!!

p.s. the power of social networking--Bella and Diego say they know some friends who have 8th grade kids, so hopefully some application for the University of Chicago's new charter school will get into good hands.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hope Under a Roof

The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. --Barbara Kingsolver

Friday night Dawn and her family broke the big news. Dawn met me here at the office and told me she had a big surprise to tell me but she was saving it for the very end of the night. So I tried not to press too hard while we ate goat and chicken Puerto-Rican style at Casa Central and enjoyed a very funny play by Teatro Luna, an all-Latina ensemble, and even while we were freezing waiting for the train to get home. I only made a couple of guesses: you have a relative coming up from Mexico to live with you, did you buy a house??? She was very mysterious.

We were on the Ashland bus and I asked if she wanted to get off at 49th. "No, we can go to 50," she said. Hmmm... She got off and walked with me and we both took a left. I looked at the house next door to mine and all the lights were on.

"Did you guys buy...????"

They did. They bought the house for sale next door!! We went in and found them knocking down drywall and taking out walls to reconfigure the first floor. And yes, Dawn's mom is expecting. Wow, a house and a baby.

I drank a Bud with them to celebrate. "When you have a party, I'll call the cops," I teased.

"Then we won't invite you," her mom teased back.

"We're even!!"

They spent all day Sunday on demolition. Joey and his big brother came over covered in dust with some guy from down the street whose nephew was having an asthma attack. I got out a bag of ice and a friend who was over donated some Benadryl. As they were leaving Joey's brother said, "We're hungry."

So I made some more chicken (chicken breasts in lemon/brown sugar/rosemary sauce) and took over a big foil pan for them. "It's really good, Maritza," Dawn told me. I was teasing her and calling her an old lady since her hair was all grey with dust.

Yesterday you could hear them banging away. I've never been so happy to hear noise through the walls. This morning I found the Barbara Kingsolver quote among my emails and thought it was perfect.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Surprise Help

Last night I stopped at the Ashland Dominick's to pick up some groceries, got more than I had planned, and walked out with three bags hanging off each arm. While my half dozen blue Dominick's bags and I were waiting in the bus shelter south of Popeye's, a red minivan pulled up and a smiling young man inquired if I needed a ride.

"Hey, Sam!" I said. "How are you?" I met Sam a year ago in December at the Holy Cross rectory, at the inaugural meeting of the group for neighborhood college students. Sam hasn't been back to the meetings much, but I've run into him once or twice around the neighborhood. I remember best riding the Ashland bus with him early one morning (maybe 6:30 a.m.). He was surprised to see someone like me on the bus so early in the morning.

But now here he is in a shiny minivan, and I'm waiting for a bus that's not coming. I bundled up my bags and got in. Sam wanted to know how my writing was going, all about my latest stories, etc. I asked where he was coming from and he said Juarez High in Pilsen, where he had hoped to get in a swim, but they had a meet that night and the pool was closed. "Lucky for you," he said.


Sam thought I lived at 55th, but I directed him to my place, which is a little north. "You have the nicest house on the block," he noted.

"Yeah, I do."

I asked him what he was up to. He just started his first job out of college, as a social worker helping people get public aid in Humboldt Park. He's only been at it about a month. "It's overwhelming, you know, and if you're a nice person, people will try to take advantage of you."

I asked what he really wants to do, and he said, "I want to write. Like you."

"Well, let's figure out how to get you some writing exposure," I said. I was going to talk with him a little more about this, but...

Yup-yup arrived on the scene, weaving down the street and rather jumpy, apparently high or hurting for a high, and certainly desperate for cash. "Oh, I can carry your groceries!" he offered/demanded.

Sam smiled. "OK,"I told Yup-yup. "Sam, I'll talk to you later." We agreed we'd connect through church.

Yup-yup got himself a couple of bucks and a bowl of Wolfgang Puck's chicken soup with wild rice for his trouble. His review of the soup: "Scrump-diddly-umptious!"

Current Weather

Thanks to everybody, especially roommates past, who has offered me an ear while I vent and reflect on having taken on a roommate. Alberto was the first one home last night, got his shower done at a reasonable hour and we were both in our respective bedrooms by 10:30 or so after chatting over a cup of hot chocolate. And I got a decent night's sleep, for perhaps the first time since he moved in. This is more like what I was hoping for. So, signs of progress.

One thing that I didn't fully realize when I decided to give this a try is that it's really different when someone rents a room in a home you own versus when you share the rent on an apartment. There's a disparity of investment and ultimately a power differential here that I didn't really consider and I think he didn't either, since both of us have shared rentals with other people before, but I haven't had a renter in a space I owned and set up, and he hasn't ever been the renter in that kind of situation either. As a former roommate of mine pointed out to me, it's hard when a new roommate arrives and established routines have been set by the old one. The new one can feel like, hey, I live here too, and I split rent, don't I get some say in how routines work? The old one feels like, hey, this is how it's done around here.

I'm sure I feel that even more strongly in this situation than in a roommate transition, since I set up the house by myself and have always been the only one living here. Plus, we're not splitting equal amounts of rent--he's putting in less than 20 percent of my mortgage. I still think I could be in this house for 30 years; he might be here anywhere from three months to three years max. It really creates a different mindset for me in terms of what say he gets about what the common areas look like, especially since I just spent $1000 decorating the first floor. I'm not at all used to this in myself, which probably doesn't make it easier for me to set ground rules and expectations.

To his credit, Alberto is really rolling with this, probably better than I would if I were in his shoes. Yesterday morning at 7 a.m. (about 20 minutes after he woke me up playing the downstairs radio--he didn't have it on that loud, I'm just a really light sleeper and the house carries sound), I informed him that the carpets he had put down last week to provide a runner all the way to the back door were ugly and would have to go as soon as I had time to get a runner that matches what I have already. Perhaps it was a moment when he didn't understand exactly what I said, but he got the point. I got home last night and the rugs had disappeared. During the day I had been thinking OK, they can stay there and wipe up snow until spring, but I felt so much better when I saw they were gone I've decided not to say anything but thank you for moving them.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hurricane drops to tropical storm

The National Weather Service is pleased to report that Hurricane Alberto's rating has been reduced to Tropical Storm Alberto, now that his stuff has been somewhat contained.

What a sense of karmic revenge we have here. To all the people who have lived with me over the last 20 years or so, thanks for all your patience with my lack of spatial organization, awkwardness with mechanical objects and inability to control my stuff. It is so ironic to see all these traits in another human being and to be irritated by them even as I empathize and recognize them in myself. I never thought I'd be the Felix in the Odd Couple, but here's my big chance to be as anal-retentive as I want to be. Whoo-hoo!

So, my cortisol levels dropped Saturday night after Alberto and his former roommate got the godawful bookcase out of the front entry and upstairs into his room. Sunday afternoon, Alberto got almost everything that didn't belong in the kitchen and dining area into appropriate storage and, at my request, moved my baking ingredients out of one pair of cabinets and into an almost empty one, so he would have a place to store dry food, spices, etc. I had to reorganize my own stuff afterwards and just shook my head in amazement at how he couldn't get it all to fit--a few turns of the boxes would have solved most of the problem (thanks, Carol, for teaching me better spatial organization by example!), but it wasn't too hard to pick up the pieces. And I even cleaned the refrigerator, a chore I hadn't ever done in the year and a half I've lived in my house. (Truly, I am no saint as a housekeeper and there is a plus to having another human being around--it's a great prod to tackle those long-undone chores.)

As the chore-fest wound down and Alberto prepared to leave and take a few more excess items away to be donated, I said, more to myself than anything else, "Man, I just swept the floor and I'm still stepping on stuff! I guess next weekend's task will be mopping the kitchen floor." I went out later with a friend and got back around 11 p.m. When I walked in the house I smelled cleaner. "Did he clean the bathroom?" I wondered, and then went back to the kitchen. He had mopped the floor.

We still have to get his ugly carpets out of the dining room and a few other things like that, and I'm not sure he's totally clear that he doesn't get to put his stuff anywhere he thinks it should go, but we have made great strides. And he's on a month-to-month lease. I made it very clear that I'm not sure I'm ready for a roommate (sort of the "it's not you it's me speech" in roommate-speak) and that I'll be checking in with him at a couple of points to let him know whether it's working for me. So, God bless him, he's still trying to impress me, even if it means he mops the floor but fails to empty the compost bucket I told him we wouldn't be able to use until spring, when I get the lead out of the back yard.

As the Weather Channel says, stay tuned for more updates on Tropical Storm Alberto.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Hurricane Alberto hits my house

...OK, how did my house get hit by a hurricane in February? When it's a metaphorical hurricane, silly.

I just looked up the top 30 worst tropical storms of the last century to hit the United States. Hurricane Alberto was at or near the bottom of the list. Alberto struck in 1994.

"Alberto" is the code name I will use for my new roommate, who moved in Wednesday afternoon. He's a grad student at one of the innumerable seminaries sprinkled around Hyde Park, and he comes from one of those Latin American countries where political strife sent thousands fleeing some years ago. I was putting the word out at my holiday party that I needed a roommate, and he informed me he needed to get out of student housing. We originally met through Su Casa.

Well, he showed up a week earlier than expected--we said "the middle of February" and he was a week early. Plus, he has a *lot* more stuff than I expected. I discovered large chunks of it littering my first floor when I got home way too late on Wednesday night, and frankly was furious. I realize he's just moving in, but he does not get to invade my house with his crap! ;-)

Fortunately, I was staying overnight with a friend Thursday, so I left a note saying "you really need to get the stuff out of the living room and away from the front door before I get back Friday night." When I arrived last night, everything was gone except the bookcase right by the light switches at the front door, which was the thing I most wanted out of there. Alberto tells me he's going to move the bookcase today with a friend. Let's hope it's gone by the time I get home today, or there will be hell to pay.

Really, I'm much more mellow about this in person. It even made me laugh when he showed up at 11:30 p.m. carrying a couple of boxes of stuff on Wednesday night, except for the fact I had to get up at six the next morning for work. Tomorrow afternoon I'll have to lay down the law. I told someone yesterday I think this is going to be like dog training. There's a reason I don't have a dog.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Home Depot Outing

Sunday afternoon I arrived at Su Casa just as three of the workers were headed out to the Home Depot at 72nd and Cicero. So I jumped in the car and went out there with them. They had a gift certificate or something that was only good at that location, so we couldn't go to our local one at 47th and Western. I expect to be checking it out very soon.

Getting there was a bit of a challenge. We went out 71st but it dead-ends into an industrial park at Pulaski, so we turned around and went south to 76th, just south of Daley College. That takes you to the back of the Ford City Mall shopping superplex, which never fails to astonish me in its size and complexity. I used to teach out that way, and Ford City was just an ordinary sort of mall then. Nowadays it's expanded and other retail has grown up around it to the point where I see how easily you could get lost in the consumerist shuffle. We took a parking lot safari to get to Cicero Avenue. Fortunately we could see the Costco from the parking lot and even got a glimpse of that nasty orange logo before we had to decide which way to turn. So, we made it, despite our best efforts to get lost.

I got my window screen fixing materials and Aaron got light bulbs, a cool screwdriver, and some other household goodies. He says he will help me replace the wire netting in the screen. (Yes, I am totally incomptent in all matters mechanical.) I looked into window treatments for my upstairs front bedroom but they all seem quite expensive. We'll see.

Su Casa is tracking their mileage on the car. Aaron said he'd check into helping me with the four-hundred-dollar brake job. I was hoping it would only be half that much. Let's hope those brake hold up for a good long while. But they are all so happy to have a functioning car it's pretty well worth it. And it got me to do an errand I'd put off for more than three months. Victory all around.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Su Casa Gets a Car

Yesterday morning we got the Su Casa Car back from Castro and Sons auto repair. The brake job cost $400. This is why I don't want to own a car, but I said I'd pay for insurance and repairs on their Ford Escort in exchange for occasional use of it.

The Castro son who runs the place now is a good guy. He had surgery last week and was supposed to be at home, but he can't stand lying around the house so he went to work. He showed us the nasty worn-out brake pads they replaced. Whew! Now the pedal doesn't go all the way to the floor when you push on it. That made for an interesting trip getting it over there, the morning after our last snowfall. Well, nobody got killed or even scratched in the process.

I'll be taking the car to Home Depot on Sunday to get a screen to replace the one that got cut up in the burglary attempt. Now you all know I'm not quick on the draw when it comes to some aspects of house maintenance.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Learning Spanish

I haven't written much about this here, but most of you reading this have heard me discuss my efforts to learn Spanish over the past year and a half. They have certainly been interesting.

First, a little background. I took a few months of Italian in junior high, then two years of Latin, then a lot of German in high school and college, to the point where I was really starting to get it. I even took a literature class for a semester beyond the language requirement. But then I got busy and that was the end of that. No further language study until I ran off to France in 1994 (a long story best saved for another time), with virtually no French. In six months of living there and taking a community college class I went from nothing to an introvert at a dinner party. It was where I learned how to function when you don't have much command of the language, which is at least as important as learning the target language itself.

When I came back to the states I tried to hold on to my French and to be bolder about speaking the little Spanish I did know. The French faded fast but teaching in Humboldt Park helped me get a little braver about saying basic things in Spanish. Later I took a beginner class in hopes it would push me to learn, but still to no avail.

Part of the reason I moved to this neighborhood was that I've learned I won't internalize a language unless I'm forced to. I do feel more pressure to learn Spanish than I ever have, but it's still easy to wimp out and let the kids translate. I read a lot--the papers, the local literary journal (a bit--it's a little advanced in its language for my understanding)--but I'm still pretty shy about speaking.

From April through December I was getting lessons with a tutor, which helped a great deal, but that got very complicated and I decided it was time to take a real live class. So now I'm studying downtown after work, at the extension campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. They think I'm a genius because I can talk, however halfassedly. And they see I have a head for grammar. So they've put me in a class that is pretty advanced, and in the first two weeks I've been hit with two new verb tenses I'm having trouble assimilating. Whew!

Here's the university's web site. Its Spanish acronym is UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico): (in English, about their Chicago campus)

In Spanish--main site:

More later...back to work...

Windy Citizen Share