Wednesday, November 29, 2006

La Chofera

I drove the red minivan for the second time today. Dawn, her mom, her little brothers and I all went up north so she could go meet my counselor. (She's ready for some counseling; long story for another time.) It was raining and miserable and traffic was slow. We were late and the gas tank was almost empty. Aurora's mom was beginning to worry we wouldn't make it to the office before we ran out of gas. Fortunately the BP and the counseling office are within steps of each other.

I let Dawn out and waited, double-parked, until she got in the building. Then we went around the block and ended up back at the gas station. I put in about half a tank of gas and left Dawn's mom with Joey and the new baby parked in front of the convenience store while I went over to the office to wait for Dawn to finish. I read the paper. My counselor keeps the music up pretty high so you can't hear, which is good, but I heard them laughing a couple of times. That seemed like a good sign to me. She came out and we went down. She liked him. She got homework--he gives me homework, too. I didn't ask what it was. I just hope she didn't lose it or leave it in the car.

Driving back was a trip and a half. The weather was miserable and it was smack in the middle of rush hour. The car radio was on, in Spanish, and the announcer said something about Oaxaca and then about Veracruz. I was pretty sure the gist of it was don't go to Oaxaca for vacation this year, try Veracruz instead. So I said, "Yeah, this is Veracruz's year. Only fools like me are going to Oaxaca now."

Dawn's mom laughed. She was trying to say something about only people who like problems would go there. I said, "People who like a dangerous life?" She laughed and said yes.

I leave for Oaxaca tomorrow night. Who knows what I'll find when I get there, if I can get out of the airport in Mexico City--protests are expected there Friday as Vicente Fox steps down and Calderon is supposed to take power. Meanwhile, narrow loser (some say victim of fraud winner) Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is setting up a parallel government and a massive protest at the Zocalo.

I've never been to Mexico before--at least it'll be an interesting visit. Even if it's interesting in the sense of the Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times"....

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Workings of the Spirit...or was that spirits?

Late this morning I heard the bumping noises out front that mean somebody, probably Joey, is playing soccer in my front yard. Around noon the bumping stopped and I heard a lot of talking. Eventually I looked out and found five kids, four boys and a girl, sitting on my steps. There were two young blonde coeds at the bottom of the steps, and two well-scrubbed young guys in coats and ties standing on the sidewalk outside my front gate.

Great. The missionaries, I thought. Probably Indiana church.

The First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana sends buses into poor neighborhoods on Sundays and takes kids off to their massive campground for kid stuff and indoctrination. I knew about them from the North Side, where a Mennonite friend of mine who runs a youth center warned me about them. The mission was very heavy-handed and often the food and games promised didn't live up to expectations, she told me.

So I came outside. The two guys cleared off immediately, but the girls, especially the curly blonde with way too much eyeshadow, were more persistent.

"You're coming tomorrow, right, Eric?" Eric, who is new to me, stayed quiet. "But you came before," Curly pressed. "If you don't come, I'm gonna cry."

To a littler one she said, "You like it, right?" giving him what she thought was a friendly poke in the shoulder. The kids were very polite. Too polite. Frozen, like deer in the headlights.

I just stood and listened for a bit, taking in the situation. The only kid on the steps I knew was Joey. A couple of these kids apparently were veterans. While Curly was definitely giving an emotionally manipulative hard sell, I didn't really want to just go in guns blazing.

Eventually I asked Curly, "What church are you with?"

"First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana," Curly said proudly.

She went on in the same vein a bit longer, promising candy on the bus ride to Hammond: "not just a Tootsie Roll, but a whole candy bar or a bag of chips or a pop, something like that."

Then she said something to Joey. That was the last straw.

"Excuse me," I said. "I'm Catholic, and he's Catholic. We already have a church we belong to. I appreciate what you're trying to do with young people, but I'd prefer you not proselytize in my yard."

"I'm sorry," Candy said. She and her sidekick split immediately.

All the kids looked at me with relief. Jose put his hands in the namaste position, like a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance.

"You're like our teacher," one of the other kids, maybe Eric, said admiringly.

"If they come back and bother you again, ring the bell and I'll come out and tell them to leave," I said, and went back inside to get the garbage and throw it out.

After a few trips in-and-out and a long stretch of indoor cleaning, I came back outside. The kids were still on the step, and one of the regular stray cats who hang out here was on the front walk below them.

"That cat's going to die in four years," Joey said.

"How do you know?"

"We're talking to the spirits," he said. The girl in the group had a notebook with various numbers written on the open pad.

"Oh, like with a Ouija board?" I asked. I don't know if they knew what that was. "Well, I don't believe in those things, but have fun."

Maybe we should have stuck with the missionaries!

Death to the Disciples!

Yesterday afternoon was full of vignettes. I'll start with the most disturbing one.

Friday dismissals in high schools are always the craziest time. The nasty fight I saw in my brief stint as a high school teacher this fall happened on Friday afternoon. Everyone remarked on how Fridays are often days when teens act out violently.

Yesterday at 2:45 I was home, for once, hanging out on my neighbors' front porch while Joey and some of his buddies were playing football in my front yard. In fact, they were playing American football with a soccer ball because they didn't have a football.

"That's pretty smart," observed one of the older boys hanging on the porch with me. He goes to Big Picture with Julian. Dawn, Julian, Julian's buddy and the buddy's girlfriend were all hanging out watching the pee-wee football, petting the stray cat, etc. Big Picture lets out at 2 p.m. every other Friday, I think for teacher meetings.

Meanwhile, Richards High on the east side of Ashland lets out at 2:30 or so, I believe. It was about 2:45 when a young man ran down 50th with four other young men hot at his heels. One of the pursuers was carrying a baseball bat. I whipped out my cell phone immediately and called 911.

One young boy, so fair I thought he might be white, stood in the intersection and hollered, "Death to the Disciples! Death to the Disciples!" before heading west to rejoin the chase.

All my neighbor kids were staring down the street.

A girl they knew went by. "What happened?" called Julian.

"Gang on gang stuff," she said. Well, we knew that already. Within a few more seconds, the pee-wees were back to football and the big kids were petting the cat again.

As far as I know, the police never came. I'm pretty sure Mr. Worrisome saw me make the phone call. Later on he was coming down the street with a guy who might have been in the fray, but I wasn't sure. He certainly looked too old to be in high school.

As they parted ways, Mr. Worrisome told his companion, "Stay out of trouble."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mr. Married Sighting

I saw my old friend Mr. Married on the street this afternoon, but not on Marshfield north of here, his last known address. Now he's south of 51st, a Mexican pioneer in African-American territory. He was washing his car on Wood somewhere beyond the pale. He looks terrible--he's aged even more than when I last saw him, and it looks like he's lost some teeth.

I rode down to Garfield Boulevard and was reminded that Chicago International has a charter campus right on that corner. About a year ago I was talking to the director of that network of schools and asked if she had any Latino kids yet. She said no. I said, "Get ready. They're coming." Mr. Married has a nephew who may be school age by now. I wonder where he's going to school.

Report Card Pickup I

Yesterday we went to get Joey's report card. It was literally take a number. Chairs were lined along both sides of the hallway and some young blonde was handing out slips of paper with numbers, like a homemade version of the deli counter. She estimated we'd be waiting 20 minutes. I took the number while Joey played soccer out in front of the building and his mom waited in their van with his new little brother. I saw School Lady with her daughters. She tells me she's not spending as much time at Chavez these days because Richards is eating up all her time. Her oldest daughter is sporting a little henna in her hair, I think.

Junior and Oscar and their mom were all there, too. We met them in the stairwell. Mom says Oscar's writing is terrible. I assume she means his handwriting, but if a teacher actually told her he needs to improve how he's communicating on paper, I'll be delighted someone was paying attention.

When Joey and his mom and I went in, all three of his teachers were there. They kicked off in English until I told them I wasn't a strong translator. One of them was, so she took over and repeated what had been said already. The basic message was Joey needs to do his homework, but his homeroom teacher has spent a good bit of time with him so far this fall and that is sparking Joey's interest in school. A good sign. I gave them my phone number and asked them to call me and explain the assignments to me when he has major projects or reports to do so I can help him more effectively. They seemed delighted by that.

Later that evening I stopped by Joey's house and he was on the sofa doing his math homework while his big brother had the baby on his chest, watching TV with Mom. Very cute.

Windy Citizen Share