Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Princess To Go It Alone

Well, the dreaded finally came yesterday in the on-going saga of Princess, our old Chihuahua, when my son, Fernando came to cart off her remaining three pups. They are up for sale now, on the Internet. The fourth one had been sold about a week ago and Princess had lamented that one.
The plan was to do it all in one fell swoop, to distract the mother while he stole off with the brood. I filled the kitchen sink with soapy water, while my wife carried Princess in for a bath. When the bath was over, my wife dried her off, and we let her into the backyard.
She ran nervously around the backyard, searching in vain for her pups, ears stiffly erect, and sat for a long time next to the gate, leading to the driveway. The final scents of her progeny must have settled there.

I tried to empathize with the incident in human terms. The pain, the loss, the helplessness of having your children stolen away in an instant. Princess had been the absolute mother, kind, loving, nurturing and protective. She licked and kissed her pups with adoration, all day long.
And they loved and cherished their mother in return, the consummate Mama'. It was a picture to see and hear the quartet suckle and Princess rolled over on her side in total bliss. They would pile on her, nibble on her ears and tail and she tolerated every moment patiently.

Over the last few days, I had tried in vain to distance myself from the pups, in a desperate attempt to lighten the blow I knew was immanent. But the pups, Blackie, Champagne, and Fake Eyes had absolutely endeared themselves to us.
They were precious, lovable and each time I cracked open the screen door to the backyard, or opened the gate to enter it, they raced to greet me with such immense joy that it humbled me.

So here I am, El Macho, un hombre que no llora (men don't cry), lamenting the loss of our pups.
What's this?? A tear on my keyboard?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Beautiful BMW: In Sickness and In Health

Almost 43 years ago I voiced the marriage vows to my Beautiful Mexican Wife (BMW) in Mexico City. The words were so easy to parrot: "Yeah, yeah, till death do us part and yeah, love forever, in sickness and in health, and all that stuff." I just wanted it over so we could get on to the serious business of honey-mooning in Acapulco.
Little did I know I would come to live out those vows in such a cruel and real manner.

Until a few years ago, my wife was a vibrant, hard working mother and home maker, who loved working in her home and the garden. We traveled, went camping, partied and lived life to the fullest.
Now, she spends most of the day in bed, living with unrelenting chronic back pain that no doctor seems to know how to ease. We've tried it all, chiropractors, acupuncture, rubs, recent spinal surgery, morphine patches, pain medicines whose side effects are as bad as the pain. She has undergone a dozen painful epidural shots to no avail.
People have prayed over her, and our own incessant prayers seem to go unanswered. People talk about faith in God. Just offer up your pain to God. There is a purpose to it, a plan. Oh yeah?
Easy to say. One day at a time, they remind us. The words ring hollow.
The worst part is my own helplessness; so little I can do to ease her pain and depression. I do all the shopping, I cook, I wash clothes, and half-ways keep the house clean, all the things she once so proudly did for me, I do meekly for her. It's my turn to take care of her. But such a poor caretaker she gets in return. "In sickness and in health"; the marriage vows ring loudly in my ears. They accuse me. They haunt me.

A couple of months ago I attended a local poetry workshop and the presenter told us to write something on a recent event in our lives that has been life altering and I wrote:

My wife's unrelenting pain as she writhes in bed
Is so very different than my own
which can only watch from a distance, helplessly.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Congratulations, Kudos, and Ajuas and Orales!!

Gonna brag a little about Patricia Madueno, Patti, my younger son's fiancee who last weekend graduated Summa Cum Laude, with a Bachelor's Degree in Education, from one of California's oldest and most prestigious universities, University of Pacific with all kinds of honors and accolades, and a 3.97 GPA, all because of a painful A- she got in one class! But no one's perfect and even yours truly here got a couple of C's here and there along the way.
Pictured above am I (in white Guayabera), behind her Fernando, her Fiancee, and to my right, Michaelangelo, my oldest son, and his stepson Ricardo. In the background, in blue is my Nephew, David.
She is shy, and modest about the whole thing but we all celebrated with a fest in their backyard with lots of food, Seviche (a fish/shrimp like salad with cilantro and diced onions), Birria (specially seasoned goat meat) rice, beans, and cactus salad (nopales), fresh from our backyard. Her mom and two proud younger sisters came all the way from Texas to be here, and her dad and more brothers and sisters from Ukiah were here too.
A couple of weeks ago, she was the keynote speaker in a ceremony for "Above and Beyond", students 25 and older, who return to college to finish their education, where she was honored with the Outstanding Student of her class award. All of this, while holding down a part time job as bus driver, a teacher's aide, and taking care of my son (who can be a burden at times), and her home.
A few weeks before that, she was one of a handful of students inducted into Alpha Sigma Lamda, national honor society in yet another ceremony at the University. Should I go on?
We are all so proud of her. Adelante, Patricia!!
P.S. Yes, you guessed it. I do need to add one more thing. Yesterday, Patricia was hired as a 7th grade teacher!!! Hijole!

Kicked In The Head By a Cow?? Como??

Spent the last couple of months writing, directing and staging a short skit for the area CRLA, California, Rural, Legal Assistance which provides free legal advice to poor agricultural workers. The skit, which we entitled "Asi Dice El Compadre Chuy" (According to Compadre Chuy), addresses typical labor issues of local dairy workers, wages, overtime pay, medical care, rest periods, and lunch breaks. We donned ourselves El Teatro: "Voz Del Valle" ("Voice of the Valley", for the performance.
The unfortunate husband, Juan (played by a former student Ismael Lara) arrives home for dinner in between two 8-hour shifts, has been kicked in the head by a cow as he desperately tried to eat his lunch, a bean taco, and milk the cow at the same time. He tries to pass it off as an accident due to a fall, but his fiesty wife Rosa, played by Marilu Isiordia, knows better. She reminds him of another time when the same thing happened. She demands to know why he didn't report it to the boss, and why he wasn't sent to the doctor. He, of course, is afraid of complaining for fear of lossing his job.

But it is when she asks to see Juan's paycheck that the milk hits the fan, when she shrieks "Is this all you got paid? What about overtime?" She reminds him they are late on the rent, the car payment, and how his two kids eat more and more each month! He shrinks into his seat, defeated and protests he is lucky to even have a job, in these rough economic times, and that others would gladly work for pennies, if he was fired.

According to Chuy, says Rosa, by law his boss must give regular 10 minute breaks, lunch hours and overtime pay!
When she shows him a business card with names and numbers of the legal firm who can help them, he is angry
"We are humble people, we can't afford a lawyer!"
In the end, she convinces him, but in the verbal contest,
his dinner has gotten cold, and he is already late for his second tour. When she offers to pack him a quick lunch of beans and freshly made salsa, Juan says in dismay, "What for?? So the cow can kick me in the head again!!" She softens the blow by offering his his favorite, a "Snickers" candy bar, and reminds him not to forget to call the legal center tomorrow. They hug and make up as he rushes off to work. In totally victory she thanks God, Mary, Jesus, and all the saints.
The two were awesome together, pure chemistry. The skit written in Spanish, was performed three times for the predominantly Spanish-speaking audiences. The audience was patient and mesmerized by the dialogues and action.
The whole thing took me back to the mid-80's when I taught Chicano Drama and directed many skits and full length plays at my college. What a difference to have worked with two dedicated and talented actors like Ismael and Marilu, in contrast to some of the unruly, untameable undisciplined students I often had to work with!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Miracle Cure For Snoring!!

Picking up the thread of my last post concerning my incredible nose for sniffing out a good deal, I happened by the 99 Cents store yesterday and spied this couldn't-pass- up-cure for snoring for 99 cents!
Though I have never heard myself, my wife insists that when I snore, I gargle like dirty water going down a half-stopped up drain, to the point she often edges off into the adjoining bedroom to sleep in peace.
Last nite, carefully following the instructions on the label I gargled a capful about 30 seconds before nodding out. When I woke up to urinate about an hour later, my wife was gone! I guess it didn't work. But what do you expect for 99 cents?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

El Cheapo: The King of Cheap and Frugality

Maybe it because we were poor Mexicans when I was a kid, but I have made a kind of profession out of bargain hunting. If it wasn't on sale, or a Goodwill bargain, I would pass it up.
Of course, I paid a price in the long run, with stuff collapsing, breaking, tearing, fading, or falling apart afterwards. But in the process I have made and continue to make a few good deals, of which I take pride. I have been frequenting restaurants that feature 50% off of a second meal or even a second entree free! Hijole, how can you beat that?
Lately, since my retirement, I have taken up the duties of shopping for groceries. I'm not a big fan of coupons and that kind of stuff, but I do look at the weekly newspaper ads for specials.
About two years ago I discovered the 99 Cents store and have been a loyal fan ever since. I go twice a week since their stuff is always changing and get some good buys on veggies and sundry items. Another fruitful discovery has been Grocery Outlet, which has rotating bargains on onions, fuji apples, avocados, tortillas, cheese, lunch meats and even wine!
Years ago, when I was a bohemian, my college buddies and I who usually drank cheapo wine at 99 cents a gallon, would splurge on something like "Blue Nun", nothing but class. After the military, I became a connoisseur of German Wines, especially Liebfraumilch and once found an incredible bargain at Long's ("long" known for its fine wines), for 99 cents a bottle! It was the best stuff I ever tasted! I even talked my wife into letting me buy about 6 cases, to stock up for rough times ahead. Should have bought more but who could have guessed then that times would get this damned rough?
On another occasion, when I lived in Oakland about 1968, a fellow employee gave me a bottle of Burgundy that he had purchased from an old Italian winemaker in Hayward, California and when I sipped it, I could not believe the taste!! I'm not a big fan of red wine, and drank the stuff only when I wanted to get drunk. But this stuff, this stuff, was unbelievable. After getting the address, my wife and I drove to the winery on the side of a hill overlooking Oakland.
An old man greeted us, and took us into his winery. Nothing fancy, just the basics. He asked if we wanted to sample wines, and we said yes. Finally, we came to his Burgundy. He said it had been in fermenting in barrels for about 10 years and now in bottles for another 10 years, and was the last of the batch. I pretended I knew nothing about the wine. His going-out-of-business price was $5.00 a gallon! He was retiring, had saved enough of his wines to last him for the remainder of his life, and he was selling all the rest.
I promptly purchased $75.00 worth and lamented the day I took the last sip from the last bottle. That was big-time cash in those days, too. Ah, but all good things must come to an end. Later, while casually leafing through a "Who's Who in American Wine Making" book, you won't believe it...there in fine print... was the name of this litlle old Italian winemaker! (can't remember his name so don't ask)
Anyway, the point of all this is that the other day I did it again!! Damn, there at the Grocery Outlet, were bottles of Blue Nun, in a keen blue bottle, for $3.99 each! I quickly bought 6 and when I went to the checkout, the lady there informed that my purchase of 6 bottles of wine qualified me for a special wine bag, that when returned for another purchase of any 6 wines, would get me a $3.00 discount. Guess what? I went back again.
PS: If anyone from Grocery Outlet reads this, this is an unpaid Ad for your business so I would appreciate another $3.00 discount the next time I make a purchase.

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Viva El Cinco De Mayo!!

Mexicans will take about any excuse to turn it into a fiesta or a holiday. Take Cinco de Mayo, for instance. Just 40 years ago no one I know ever even heard of it. Before this, the event was sporadically celebrated in Mexico, but the Chicanos of the late 1960's needed something to boost their pride and heritage so they kidnapped the occasion to create a holiday which would allow them to cry "Viva Mexico!" and wave Mexican flags without being considered traitors, or un-American.
The event celebrates an obscure battle fought in Puebla, Mexico on May 5, 1862, when a small army of French soldiers, landed on Mexico's gulf coast, demanding payment for overdue loans by the Mexican government.
They were simply one of a long list of foreign creditors expecting payments from a corrupt, bancrupt and inept Mexican regime. However, they met a hardy and feisty Mexican contingent in Puebla, led by Ignacio Zaragoza, who bravely defeated the superior French soldiers.

Ironically, a year later the French would defeat the Mexican army in Mexico City, and Maximilian I, who was duped into believing the Mexicans would welcome a noble European as king, was declared "The Emperor of Mexico!! When the French learned that governing Mexicans was no easy task, they withdrew in 1866-67, and Maximilian was captured by Benito Juarez, Mexico's first Indian President, and promptly executed. His wife Carlota, went insane and was shipped back to France.

Long story short, this is why we sip Margaritas and Corona beer and dip our tortilla chips into guacamole, and clack our Folklorico dance heels on streets and stages, and Save Mart has "Cinco de Mayo" sales on beer, chips and avacados. Seriously, the victory of Zaragoza's troops shows that Mexicans, are fighters, and will not roll over easily for any foreigner.

But the French did leave one legacy behind for Mexicans: Bolillos (French Rolls) which Mexicans love to make their "tortas" (sandwiches) in and fill them with beans and hot chile.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Update on Princess and Her Brood

My Chihuahua's four pups are about five weeks old now and peeing and crapping all over the place. They are a handful for her and there is little more than a skeleton left of the poor mom, as they deplete her of energy and milk daily.

She is such a good mother, constantly grooming and permitting them pile on top of her, and nibble on her ears and tail all day long.

The whole thing has been a somewhat blessed event, as my wife and I watch the beauty of nature take its course right in our living room.

When we enter the room unexpectedly, or the door bell rings, they bark and growl already. I am almost dreading having to get rid of them in a few weeks, but ay Chihuahua, they are becoming a pain to look after!

DMV: A Debilitating Moving Violation?

Don't know if the same rings true in your state or part of the country, but here, in California, in Stockton going to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) offices is a debilitating experience. Thank God that most transactions, like typical renewals etc. can be done on the internet. But woe to those without computers!

First, the parking lot was full, so I had to circle the offices for several blocks to find a parking place on the street. I crossed one street just in front of a funeral procession, and found a spot about two blocks away.

There was a line about 15 deep outside the doors, and another 15 deep inside. These were the poor souls with no appointment. I had to fight my way through the door which was blocked by one huge white man and a black lady, and those pushing their way to get out. Luckily, I had the sense to make an appointment on their website before I went. The place inside was packed with nearly every seat taken by desperate looking people.

I elbowed past the mob to the desk for "Appointments Only", and gave my papers to the lady at the desk. I was given a slip of paper marking my place in line: A 005 and sat down.

About two weeks ago I had received a letter from DMV telling me I had to go to the offices to renew my licence, take a new photo, get a vision test, take a written test, and get fingerprinted, the works! You'd think I was registering for the FBI or the CIA! I mean, I could see getting the vision test and a new photo, but finger printed? A written test? Do we grow new finger prints at age 69? The questions on the written test were not easy, and you had to read each over carefully. I feel sorry for those who are not native English speakers. I barely passed the test with the maximum three wrong answers allowed. I guessed at all the rest, just like my students used to do on their exams.

Actually, I have to hand it to DMV because my wait was less than 10 minutes, and was treated cordially and efficiently by the staff. I even smiled this time, and opened my eyes on the new photo!