Thursday, August 27, 2009

Elect Jose Hernandez For President!!

Wait a minute!! On second thought I take it back!! Being President would only cause more problems.
For starters, birthers would begin to say Jose "was not born in the U.S."

Then, ultra conservative talk show hosts would suggest that any attempt at immigration reform would benefit only his fellow Mexican constituents and those illegally in the country, that he would tear down the fences, replace immigration officers with travel agents, and offer a free Corona to all his compatriots, crossing the border.

Opponents of any type of Government Health Care Reform would quickly point out that since Hispanics are at bottom of economic ladder etc. they would be the ones who would most benefit from it and that President Hernandez' intent would be nothing less than a thinly masked retribution for perceived injustices against Mexicans in the "Mexican War" (1846-1848)", and for the U.S. "annexation" of half of Mexico's territory, including California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
I mean, enough is enough. Us Americans are already the scapegoat for a host of perceived injustices against others!

Any mention of affirmative action would be a clear attempt to give under qualified Latinos an unfair advantage for jobs and promotions over us hard-working, patriotic white guys. Oh, you didn't know the Mexicans are "white?"

Oh yes, by the way, there is no "Mexican Race", as many people, including some Mexicans and prone to believe. We are officially classified as Caucasian. I feel better already.

Nah, maybe we can elect Jose, for Mayor, or something less threatening to others, but President? Forget it. Besides, us white guys are always color blind and you can always count on us!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pilgrimage: Left Our Heart In San Francisco

Yesterday, we dared a trip to our beloved San Francisco. Actually, it was more of a pilgrimage, since the my wife's miraculous recovery from chronic pain. As she lay in bed in agony these past years, she spoke often of taking a trip to the coast, or just to walk the streets of her beloved San Francisco, Chinatown, once again.

It begins with breakfast on the Embarcadero at one of our favorite haunts, "Red's Java Joe's", directly beneath the Bay Bridge. The view is stunning. We eat outside on their deck. The bridge, especially the span West of Treasure Island is so underrated, fogged (literally) by its dazzling brother, the Golden Gate Bridge.

A blimp hovers overhead. After, we drive the length of the Embarcadero, with its incredible cosmopolitan mix of tourists and colorful locals. Sightseers, cyclists, joggers, skateboarders, farmer's markets, and street people. Lines of tourists, dragging baggage, line up at piers to board Monsters of The Seas, off to who-know-where, Mexican Riviera or Alaskan cruises.

Past Pier 39, street musicians and performers galore, buses, trolleys, street cars, past the smells of sea food wafting from Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, the impossible contrast of the old and new buildings, Coit Tower, its head vanishing into the fog.

All the while, I click photos from my camera like a mad tourista! Odd, I have never done this before in the many years I have visited "Pantico", as my son Fernando used to call it, trying to pronounce "Francisco."

Am I getting old? Do I sense this may be the last time I get to see all this?

Continuing, we follow the train of cars snaking their way down the world famous Lombard Street, something I never tire of. All I can think of is "Do people really live here? I mean how can they dangle their lives on this impossible street with this impossible view? Do they work for a living? Do they ever get bored?

From there we drive along Columbus St. with its barrio of Little Italy Restaurants, some only a few feet wide, sidewalk cafes, past the infamous North Beach, it's stripjoints, and Vesuvio's Cafe, home of Jack Kerouac!

We park beneath Washington Park, brimming with Chinese old timers, Asian Comadres, shooting the breeze on benches, bundles of card players, seriously obsessed, men in groups, women apart, and huddled crowds of onlookers chirping in Chinese, as the games looms on.

I watch the joy on my wife's face, scouring it for a grimace of pain, a frown, a sigh, but she only smiles and repeats, "I feel good, me siento bien." I break from the group to shoot these impossible composititons of facades, people, signage and storefronts. Click, click, click. Oh, the insane concoction of shapes and color.

Old St. Mary's Church, a dinosaur shrouded by towering white skyscrapers in a modern mode. We gawk at the trashy tourist trinkets, the incredible treasures of art, bronze and wood carvings worthy of temples, priced from $1.95 to $95,000. for a pair of hand carved ivory tusks, on sale yet.
Languages of the world encircle us. We speak in Spanish, just to fit in.

From there, time fleeting, we head for Golden Gate Park, to a favorite spot, the lawns in front of the exquisite Conservatory of Flowers, to nibble of fresh fruit, beer and wine, and sandwiches of San Francisco style bread and cheese, in the midst of tall pink and lavender, Larkspur, and artistic flowerbeds, of yellow, white, purple, white and red flowers.

The euphoric moment is acutely interrupted by the visage of a shadowy man, dark, heavy, mechanically pushing a shopping cart, stuffed black garbage bags tied to the sides and front, hair matted, bearded, dirty faced, wearing a heavy soiled nylon jack and filthy jogging pants, looking like he has just surfaced from the depths of the ocean. The almost sweet Rhine wine I sip on turns tart.

He makes his way to the nearby dumpter, opens it, dives headfirst, halfways in, deftly sifting the glass bottles from the aluminum cans. He is working today. As he drifts into the distance, I feel guilty. I feel useless. I feel almost ashamed. He pauses to toss something into a bed of flowers.

I sense it is a gift of bread crumbs for the insects and birds.

It's getting late. We reluctantly pack and head for the pickup and load up for the trip back to the hot valley. As we pull out of the park I tell my son "Turn right. Let's take a trip down Haight Street. "This was the hippie capital back in the middle of the 1960's", I tell Stephanie who probably has no idea what a Hippy is! Yup , the streets still brim with street bums, left-overs, 2009 wannabes.

"Dad, where's Pacific Street?" My son asks. "It's a few blocks that way", I point left as we continue down Haight St. "Wanna take a drive before we leave?" "Yeah, let's go". We turn left on Pacific Street. And there we are in Pacific Heights, and there they are, the army of Victorian homes, huddled one against the other, competing for attention, these Ginger Bread masterpieces, ornate and and painted in brilliant almost gawdy combinations, highlighted in gold leaf.

We reach the top of the hill and turn right onto Broadway St. and slowly descend, and there, there perched atop a magificent cliff, are magificent homes, with a magnificent views, one with a tennis court in the backyard. Far below them are the roofs of houses and apartments extending to the bay, and in the distance shrouded in fog is Alcatraz Island, and far beyond that the shores of the East Bay, UC Berkeley and the Berkeley Hills. I could easily wake to this each day.

Who are these people who live here? I would die to know someone who knew someone who lived in one of these, and who invites me to dinner! How is it possible to have acquired these homes? Fate? Destiny? Luck? The great Mandela? How is it one man winds up diving into trash bins in Golden Gate Park and others wind up living here?

As we descend into the hot valley, it is about 10 PM. and we are exhausted but renewed. My wife thanks us all and we know in our hearts that today was special, a gift, and we are grateful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Summer Salad: Savory Bliss

Summer in the San Joaquin Valley, for my my wife and I, means savory tossed salads. It is local tomato and produce time, and we love to toss in every veggie we can think of. Prices are great this time of year too, in the stores and Farmer's Markets.
To boot, there is fresh lettuce, Romaine and Iceberg, spinach, tomatoes, regular and cherry [had a bunch of "volunteer plants" from last year's crop sprout up by themselves!], purple cabbage (for color) red onions, some basil, and a spice we recently discovered in our yard [which I thought was a weed] and Mexicans love, "Ipazote", which has an incredible aroma and taste, and maybe a dash of cilantro.
Sometimes, we use radishes, mushrooms, and always some celery. We love experiment, on occasion cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and bell peppers. The new red and orange ones have incredible flavor, an excellent way to clean out your "refridge"!
We experiment. Tossed some white grapes in one time and wow, a delight. Staple dressings are olive oil and vinegar and then to each his own! For lunch, we will open a can of Tuna and mix in some Ranch and stir it around. A nice touch is to shred some boiled egg over the top.
I suppose a big part of this feast is simply the textures and colors, Being an artist, the salad above was really a work of art, and I rushed to photograph it before it was spoiled by a fork.

Blessed be God, for this abundance and Daily Bread!

Thought I'd toss this out, for what it's worth. Double click the image for full effect.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Orale, Chicanos In High Places!

Jose Hernández (astronaut)Image via Wikipedia

Who woud'a thought it. First a Latina U.S. Supreme Court Justice, then a Chicano Astronaut! Dios mio!!

Jose Hernandez of Stockton (son of a migrant farmworker) will see the world not from the top of a ladder, but the window of the International Space Station.

Jose, who attended local Franklin High School, and University of The Pacific, will blast off on Friday, August 28 (?) for a 13-day sojourn into the heavens. UPDATE: Keep getting scrubs!! Will they ever get the thing up?

He will be Flight Deck Engineer, a job rarely given to first timers into space, and doing robotics both on the shuttle arm and the space station arm and helping "suit-up" fellow astronauts for three scheduled spacewalks.

Feels good to see Brown faces in High Places (no pun intended). He will be passing over Stockton every 90 minutes waving at the many Brown faces of his home town looking up.

Anybody, join me in a shot of tequila toast for Jose? Vaya con Dios.

BAIKONUR, KAZAKHSTAN - OCTOBER 12: In this han...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

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University of the PacificImage via Wikipedia

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vaya Con Dios, Les

Les Paul died yesterday at 94. As a kid I loved hearing his songs with his wife Mary Ford, Les' exquisite guitar, and their incredible harmonies. I was a big fan of hits like "Mockin' Bird Hill", "Tennessee Waltz", "Lady of Spain" and "Hummingbird".

But my favorite had to be "Vaya Con Dios" (Go with God). The story goes that in the Spring of 1953, Capitol Records had just cut a half-million singles of "I'm A Fool To Care", when Les called demanding "Stop the presses! I've got a killer song I want to release instead!"

Luckily, Capitol owned the rights to the song "But it's a dog", they warned. "It was a dog" answered Les, "I've changed the lyrics". Instead of "May God be with you, my darling", which didn't sound right to him, Les had changed it to Spanish "Vaya con Dios". The people would figure it out in time, he assured, or "put it in fine print and let the disc jockey tell them."

It would in time become a #1 hit, and Les was absolutely right, "we did figure it out." Sometimes, things do sound better in Spanish. Cesar Chavez was fond of saying "English is the langauge we do business with, Spanish is the language of poetry." (Something like that)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

For Better Or For Worse: A BIG 43!!

Today marks our 43rd Anniversary. Who woulda' thunk it? The kid who at 25 vowed he would be a perpetual bachelor!
That all changed in 1965 when I met my beautiful wife Chela in Mexico City when my mom and I had gone there to pay a "Manda" (vow) to visit the Basilica of the Virgen of Guadalupe which she had made while I was off in Europe in the U.S. Army.
She had made the promise that the two of us would make a pilgrimage there in thanksgiving for my safe return from Europe. I fought her all the way because I really didn't believe in all that stuff, and I had much more important things to do like partying, carousing, and catching up on a 3-year absence from the Real World. However, once there I decided to visit an old college buddy of mine.
Ironically, Pepe had married and had moved to San Miguel de Allende but the family graciously received me, along with Pepe's five sisters. One stood out. Our eyes met, and the rest is history. Needless to say I asked my Mom to extend our stay, and three days later I asked Chela to marry me. We married a year later in a small but beautiful cathedral not far from her home.

My mom, of course, attributed all of this to the Virgen: "Gracias, Virgen de Guadalupe por este milagro!! For years she had prayed to God and all the saints to find "a good Mexican woman" for me, her last and Prodigal son. "Mexican women know how to take care of their men", she said. And she was absolutely right.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The New Red Scare: Here We Go Again!

Enjoy CapitalismImage by Jacob Bøtter via Flickr

One would hope that the Red Scare (note the color red here) was history, past, gone away but it seems conservatives are at it again as the the "S" word is being pasted onto Obama, The Bailout and increased government involvement in our lives, now Health Care Reform.

I used to tell my students to tell me whether Democracy or Communism is good or bad. And naturally, they mechanically trumpeted: Communism is evil and Democracy good. Of course.

Then I would ask "What if corrupt people run a Democracy, and good people run a Communist system?

Vladimir Ilyich LeninImage via Wikipedia

Is the system good or bad, or do those who run it make it good or bad?" Kind of a rhetorical question.

I believe the much ado about the glories of Capitalism should have been settled once and for all with the debacle over Wall St., the banks and the collapse of the housing market. Bernie Madoff?

So who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Maybe a little Socialism would be good for us? Can't be much worse than the brand of Capitalism we've seen lately, que no? The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Unsung Heroes: Nordine, Feiffer & Rose

One day when I told my Mom I wanted to be an artist when I grew up she said "Why? Artists only get famous after they're dead!"

This past weekend while rifling through my record collection (Yes, I still own records and from time to time play them on my "stereo system!") I came across an old album by Ken Nordine and played it.

I was flooded with memories of sipping wine at my pad in the late 50's and listening to this master of "Word Jazz" And then it struck me. Too many artists never receive the acclaim they deserve. Mom was wrong!

It simply is not fair that the Michael Jackson's of this world are lauded with halos, wreathes and adulation when others like Ken Nordine (How Are Things In Your Town?" 1957-60) slide by relatively unnoticed! I mean a bunch of "monsters" or "zombies" suggestively gyrating to Thriller doesn't thrill me much! (sorry I do like Michael honest but give me a break!). But Nordine is a prophet, a trail blazer and the incredible pathos, dark humor, satire and tragedy in his poetry encapsulates the transition from a pre-1950's conformist mentality to one of real free thought. His poems, come to life backed up by Jazz riffs, solid bass runs and masterful sound effects. How could he have escaped America sans superstar power? (Just saw his records for sale on E-Bay!) Of course, you will need a "turntable" to play them! What is a turntable you ask?

Another is cartoonist Jules Feiffer (See his book Sick, Sick, Sick 1957-60). Not only is he a master cartoonist, but the themes and messages of each delves deeply into the "hung-up" American Psyche, of a generation before the Sexual Revolution of the 60's; it is a satirical exploration of America's preoccupation with fitting in and the phobia over daring to be "different". Relatively speaking, he too has prematurely died by the wayside!

A third prophet is perhaps the least known, Biff Rose (See his record A Thorn in Mrs. Roses Side 1968). His song "Gentle People" is just that, sweet and gentle and poetic. He has a helluva voice too, one you won't soon forget.

The point of this I suppose is that for each Superstar, there are nine others who are just as good, and maybe even better that fall into the thorny bushes of obscurity. Thus is the world of the Muse. Maybe you too could name three unknowns who should'a been knowns. Let the world know and maybe together we can resurecct them from the dead?

All these three artistically capture that bitter, sweet, frightening transition from an innocent and conformist society before the 50's and 60's into one of social revolution and self knowledge, in a way we can almost laugh at, like a Sick Joke, sort of. It just hit me: this was the era of Mad Magazine!! What, Me Worry?

Friday, August 7, 2009

I Have Been Awarded The Manly Guy Blogger Award!

Schwarzenegger: Most muscularImage by d_vdm via Flickr

I humbly accept this award from my manly Blogger buddy, Dad #167, (Please read his Blog) though I have worked so hard to keep my manliness in check. But sometimes it is not so easy to hide. It has been a bit like Clark Kent in the phone booth leaping out when least expected.

But my machismo, manhood and masulinity is so obvious in my posts and I feel I am truly deserving of this bestowal (I am not humble) Please read Dad #167's entry to view the demanding qualifications for this award. I mean nowhere on my blog will you find songs like "Somehwere My Love" instead you'll hear "Warm Beer and Cold Women" by Tom Waits or "El Rey" (The King) by Vicente Fernandez! "I my haven't a throne or a queen, but I am still The King!" He boasts.

My further qualifications are "urinary hesitancy" and "flatulence" and I learned the Mexican mantra fully: "Los Hombres No LLoran" [Men do not cry] (says nothing about whimpering).

Again, my profound thanks to Dad #167 for this prestigious bestowal and DavidC, the founder of the award! and I send them and all the other Manly Bloggers out there "Un Abrazo" (a hug) but watchout - don't squeeze too hard!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Arriba Sonia!!!

Wow, Sonia Sotomayor was finally confirmed as Supreme Court Justice! Now, that's real Justice. Not more than 150 years ago Mexicans in California were not even permitted to serve on a jury! You've come a long way, baby.
Of, course this was after promising she would not nationalize all illegal aliens, vote against abortion, or use Spanish in the courtroom, (or the bathroom) and refrain from any more comments about a "wise Latina". She promised.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

O Ye of Little Faith: Anatomy of a Miracle

Some time back I posted an entry titled "BMW: In Sickness and in Health" (please see), where I bemoaned the health of my wife who for several years has been in chronic back pain and debilitating depression. She often spoke of ending her life.
"Pray, have faith, ask God for a miracle", we were constantly told by friends and well-wishers. "You are in our prayers." Yet not prayer, not numerous and painful spinal injections, not a recent spinal surgery, nor drugs could relieve her pain. "Things happen for a reason" rang hollow to us. "God has a plan." We could not see it, much less believe it.
Close friends beseeched us to go to local Healing Masses, but we were always quick to find excuses not to go, not withstanding 2 or 3 hour masses with her sitting on hard wooden pews. We knew that these services were conducted by "Charismatics", who we had tended to shy away from in the past.
Well, Saturday last we finally went to a Healing Mass at a local parish. I already had another commitment at exactly the same time, performing at our local library, but I figured I could attend the mass, after I finished. Secretly, I had hoped the ceremony would be over when I arrived but a text message from my son assured me "Dad, the healing rites have just started".
When I arrived, they were about third from the front of the line, and I joined them. At our turn, we asked for the healer, Bob, who had been highly recommeded to us. He asked my wife what ailed her and she began her litany of complaints, back, neck, leg pain, deep hopeless and depression. He layed hands on her and began praying invoking God, Jesus and the Saints to renew this broken body and restore her faith, often speaking "in tongues". I don't think I have ever prayed so hard.
Bob then asked my son and I to ease my wife to the hardwood gymnasium floor on her back and we did so. He continued to pray over her and we held her arms tight, but he told us to release her. He then told her to stand and to leave her cane (which she always used to walk with), raise both hands over her head, and to walk around the hall! I started to go with her, fearing she might stumble, waver or fall, but Bob signaled me to let her do it alone. She walked with a gait I have not seen in years. When she returned he told her to walk around again, this time lifting each knee into the air as she walked and she did it perfectly. Tears of joy flooded my cheeks.
As we sat on a wooden bleacher my wife said: "I feel so good. I feel so light. I feel as if a giant weight has been lifted off my back." On the way across the parking lot, me walking our usual slow gait, she actually tugged, urging me to walk faster.
It has been a week now, and she is about 95% pain free. Her beautiful smile has returned. Her depression is completely gone and we still have not tired of telling our family, friends and anyone who will listen that there is a God and the He cares. That miracles are real. That there is power in prayer, power in faith. Maybe God just got tired of hearing our ceaseless prayers?

"O ye of little faith! If you had the faith of a mustard seed, you could say to that mountain 'move' and the mountain would move."