Gage Park Chess Team


Evergreen Park, Illinois

When Chicagoans hear the names Palermo’s, Giordano’s, Chesden’s, and Falco’s, pizza comes to mind. Delicious Chicago-style pizza. My thoughts turn to chess. Pizza always reminds me of my days as a high school athlete at Gage Park High School. Okay, I didn’t actually play any sports that involved physical activity at Gage Park, but I did letter in chess and our chess team was awarded athletic letters the athletes award ceremony. For some reason unbeknownst to me, chess was even covered in Sports Illustrated back then.

Dr. D. plays Jim Harmon as Ted Rafacz watches.

Anyway, I played chess on the chess team at Gage Park High School with Jim Harmon, Vito Vitkauskas, Dave Johnson, Bill Rozivics, Ted Rafacz, and Nick Polo. We were coached by Mr. Crowe, who also coached the hockey team. I suppose tenacity and mental toughness is required for both chess and hockey, so Mr. Crowe was the perfect coach for both sports. I think he liked the hockey team better, though. He used to brag about how smart the hockey team was. And he would tell us every time a hockey player got a college scholarship. The chess team was a bunch of slackers by comparison. One time, Mr. Crowe complained because two chess players were suspended and couldn’t play in an important chess match. Bill was suspended for low grades, even though he could recite the atomic chart from memory. And I was suspended for fighting. As a member of the chess team, bullies liked to pick on me, but I always fought back. I didn’t know you could get suspended for self-defense. To school officials, fighting was fighting and that warranted a suspension.

But back to the pizza. In order to inspire us to play better chess, Mr. Crowe promised to take us out for pizza every time we won a chess match. If we lost, we had to treat him to a steak dinner. We complained that this wasn’t fair because steak was more delicious and more expensive than pizza. But since he was the coach, we finally agreed with the arrangement reluctantly because he insisted that he was buying a meal for seven chess players while we were only treating one person.

I don’t remember how many matches we won or how many times Mr. Crowe treated us to pizza, but I do remember the one time we lost the match and we went to Chesden’s on Archer Avenue for Mr. Crowe’s steak dinner. We barely had enough to pay for his steak dinner, so we didn’t order pizza for ourselves. But Mr. Crowe was so kind as to keep asking the waitress to keep replenishing the bread baskets. All we ate was bread and water while Mr. Crowe savored a juicy t-bone steak. He insisted that he was teaching us to become better chess players!

The other memorable event of this day was the snowball fight afterward. As we were walking to Mr. Crowe’s car, we started throwing snowballs at each other. Since we were always very competitive, we chose up sides and began battling in earnest. Suddenly, Ted said that he lost his school ring while throwing a snowball. We must have looked for that ring for about an hour in the snow, in the dark, before we finally found it.

So whenever I think of pizza, my thoughts turn to my days on the Gage Park Chess Team!

Reading


Reading and camping in Wisconsin

Reading has been my lifelong passion. I have always loved reading! Even when I went camping with my friend Jim, I took books along. He took a picture of me reading while I so engrossed in whatever book it was I was reading. 

I loved the first grade when we started reading. At that level, it didn’t matter that I didn’t know English. Our homework involved reading to our parents at home. My mother thought that was too much trouble for her after a long day’s work, so I would read to my abuelita. Unfortunately, not only did she not speak English, but she was also blind. But she loved when I read to her. And I was grateful to have someone to listen to me read. 

When I was a little older, I used to go to the library to read. I mostly read joke and riddle books, but that still counts as reading in my book. In the seventh grade, Divine Heart Seminary let me check out books from their library via the USPS. I only remember two of the books that I read. One book was about Father Damien who was a missionary on a leper island in Hawaii. And the other one was Fighting Father Duffy who was a U.S. Army chaplain during World War II. Now would a seminary only send me books about priests? I’ve always wondered about that. 

I like reading at the library because I had more privacy. If mother saw me reading comic books or even books, she would criticize me for be lazy. When I finally bought my first car, I would drive to Marquette Park just to read in my car. When I would come home, my mother would ask me what I did. When I told her I went to the park to read, her blood would boil. Then she would tell about other constructive things I could have been doing around the house. 

In general, the uneducated masses don’t understand why anyone would want to read a book. When I worked in the peanut butter factory, I always carried a paperback in my back pocket. Whenever the production line stopped or I was on break or lunch, I would pull out my book and start reading, even if I had to stand. No matter who my boss was, he would come by and tell me to pick up a broom and start cleaning up my area. No one at the factory really understood why I liked reading so much. 

Ironically, the books I chose to read were the books that I refused to read in high school. In high school, I spent most of my time reading chess books. For two years my life revolved around chess.  But once the books weren’t required reading, they piqued my curiosity. Why were they required reading in the first place? So, one by one, I read all the books I once rebelled against. Suddenly, I felt a certain sense of fulfillment. 

In the Marines, I bought the Great Books set and I would read them every free moment. My fellow Marines thought I was a bit crazy, but maybe that’s why no one started any trouble with me. That and I told everyone I knew kung fu. No one wanted to risk starting trouble with me. 

J’adube


 

I’ve worked really hard on my new blog. Actually, it’s my old blog, but I’m updating it a little bit. I never did like my old title of David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D. It just seemed too vain and oh so pompous. But that’s also exactly what I liked about that title. With this new blog, I wanted a new title, so I changed it to Estados Unidos Mexicans. At the top, I have place a picture of my Mexican passport. I like the ambiguousness of the title the United States becomes Estados Unidos in Spanish. Since I was a boy, I have always known that the official name of México is really los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. In the U.S., it’s just Mexico, without an accent mark. So, I like the title because I like to write about mexicanos in los Estados Unidos, and that includes both countries. 

If you think this blog is schizophrenic, I will correct you and insist that it’s multifaceted! Yes, I know that it’s titled Estados Unidos Mexicanos, but then it’s located at chicago60643 at wordpress.com. Of course, the four categories of this blog have a tenous relationship to each other. You’re probably wondering how Life 101, Chicago, Mexicans, and Spanish Lessons are all related to one another. Actually, I have written several blog posts that could fall under any one of the four categories! 

However, I have a confession to make. I don’t like the new title, either! But I can’t think of a good title for this blog. Perhaps one of my longtime readers may have a suggestion or two. Please be gentle! Part of the problem is that I write about whatever comes to mind, regardless of its relevance to reality or current events. Well, my blog ID does locate me in Chicago on the South Side. And I’m damn proud of that! All the other good IDs I wanted were already taken. I’m surprised I was able to get this ID. I mean, who wouldn’t want chicago60643 for a blog ID? So I snatched it up! 

For a while, I toyed with the idea of having several blogs, one for each different category about which I generally write. But then the logistics of maintaining several sites became unbearable. I want my blog to be fun for me. I don’t need another burden in my life. In fact, now that I think of it, I use my blog as therapy. This is a place where I can kick of my shoes, let down my hair, and soak in my imaginary beauty bubble bath in order to disseminate my innermost thoughts to the world. Whether they asked for them or not. I feel a renewed psychic cleansing with new blog post. I really can’t speak for my readers, though. I enjoy writing, so I don’t worry that much about whether or not anyone actually reads my blog. 

Lately, I’ve been going back to previous entries and categorizing, tagging, and editing them. This is a very time-consuming process! But, all the same, it’s also very therapeutic. And I am such a perfectionist, too. My students accuse me of having OCD. If it doesn’t come out right the first time, I repeat the process repetitively, redundantly, and repetitively. So get used to it! I mean the repetitiveness and redundancy. I’ll do it over and over again. There I did it again! 

Oh, yes, the title. I used to play chess religiously in high school. Even though I no longer play chess, I constantly think in chess terms or strategy. Or I just plain think about chess. So, I want to say to all my readers: J’adube. Meaning, I say, “J’adube,” as in I’m adjusting a chess piece and therefore I am not required to moved it. J’adube! I’m adjusting my blog. But I may or may not move it in the future. It’s my move. You’ll just have to wait to see what I’ll do! 

I'll get it right this time!

Chess memories


I bought this chess set in high school.

Now that I’m playing at the UIC Chess Club, I’m starting to recall how I used to play chess. The last time I played chess seriously was in high school about thirty-two years ago. Somehow, my chess skills have gotten rusty! The chess atmosphere has changed a lot since then. I kind of miss the cigar smoke while playing chess.

These players in the UIC Chess Club are really into chess, but their attitude is completely different from mine. When I got into chess, I felt impelled to learn everything possible about the game. I learned the history of chess, the important chess players, the terminology, and the classic chess openings. As I played the last two Tuesdays, I tried to remember some of the terminology, but no one knew any of it–or even seemed remotely interested in learning terms like rank, row, file, or column.

One player, touched a piece and said, “I adjust.” I said, “You mean, ‘J’adube.'” My remark was met with a blank stare. Hmm.

One player asked advice of another and I never heard anyone talk about “control the center” or “castle early.” This was like culture shock to me. Later, a few players discussed the merits of learning book openings and the general consensus was that learning openings wasn’t necessary to become a great player. I was so rusty that I lost most of my games. I was surprised that I won any games at all. I would inadvertently give away pieces or set myself up for a knight fork. When I was playing chess, I used to open P-K4; now it’s E4. This will take some getting used to. My biggest surprise came when I had to take back a move because I was in check. No one says, “Check!” when they check your king. I’m so rusty that I didn’t realize that I was in check.

Well, I improved when I returned the next Tuesday. I try to be realistic try to evaluate just how well I played when I was high school. Even back then I made bad moves or gave up pieces. But I’m sure I will improve with a little more practice.

UIC Chess Club


My high school chess set

Well, last night I played chess again at the UIC Chess Club. It was my first time in about thirty years playing at a chess club. Yes, I was a bit rusty. And no, my moves didn’t suddenly come back to me. But I’m glad I went. I need some sort of intellectual stimulus to exercise my mind. I mean I go running to exercise my body, so I want my mind to be healthy, too. I actually enjoyed playing chess last night. I was easily the oldest one in the room. But I got along well with everyone there. I plan on playing chess every Tuesday from now on. But I’m promising myself not to get too involved with chess so that it becomes an obsession. That’s why I haven’t played chess for years. I’m afraid to become addicted to it–again!

Free time


Barack Obama's house in Hyde Park.

Now that it has become quite apparent that Barack Obama will not select me has his presidential running mate, I realize that I will have a lot of free time on my hands. I’m not taking this political snub personally, B.O., because I understand that that’s how presidencies are won or lost. I don’t want to hold you back, B.O.! That will be my contribution to your presidential campaign. Trust me. My personal support for you is worth much more than my personal assets. That’s why I was kind of hoping I could be vice president. I could contribute a lot to this country as vice president, but since you have already chosen Joe Biden, I guess you’ll just have to make the best of the hand you were dealt–as will I. As election day rapidly approaches, I get this nagging sensation that John McCain won’t pick me as his running mate, either. I wish them both the best of luck with my name conspicuously missing from the slate. And, I am absolutely convinced that the independent candidate (Rafael Nadal?) doesn’t even know that I exist. Because of all the free time that I will now have from not hitting the campaign trail and pressing the flesh, I have decided to start playing chess again. Some students at UIC are starting a chess club and I am their faculty adviser. Perhaps our chess playing will help American interests at home and abroad. That’s the kind of guy I am! I always try to improve the world in my own little way!

Cheating


Cheating may be hazardous to your health

Well, this last semester was full of surprises for me. For some reason, students opened up to me a little more than usual. Partly because I’m very friendly and partly because I encourage them to express themselves, but I do maintain control of the class for the most part. I always encourage students to study for all their classes. I tell them that if they cheat, they’re only cheating themselves. A university education teaches them how to think. If they cheat, they are depriving themselves of a valuable education. However, one student told me that this semester that all he learned was how to cheat. He really believed that graduating only involved passing courses, and that could easily be done by cheating. I told him that he was cheating himself because he wasn’t developing valuable cognitive abilities, but he didn’t seem to care.

When I was a student, I only cheated three times in my entire life. The first time was in eighth grade. We were doing an English grammar quiz in which we had to match columns. I was almost done except for two answers. I was very sure that the rest of the answers were correct. My friend Robert Kurpis who sat in the next row looked at my paper and shook his head. He lifted his paper so that I could copy his answers, but I shook my head no and looked away. He insisted that I copy his answers, so I did because I didn’t want lose him as a friend. I wanted him to think I was as cool as him. Well, it turns out that I changed my correct answers to his wrong answers and I failed the quiz. I had learned my lesson and I didn’t cheat anymore. I realized then that I was much smarter than I thought I was.

My parents always taught me to second guess my intelligence. But I after that, I never cheated again. Until high school. I didn’t do my homework in physics class and I was failing the course. Toward the end of the year, Mr. Wlecke said I could pass the course if I made up the homework. However, when I tried to do the homework, I couldn’t because Mr. Wlecke never actually taught us physics, and on those rare occasions when he did, I was too busy playing chess with my friend Jim Harmon. So, I talked to my friend Bill Pappas who had done all the homework. He lent it to me and I copied all of it. I passed physics with a C, although I still feel guilty about it to this day.

In college, I only cheated once because we received a take-home final exam for Latin American literature class in Spanish and I didn’t have time to answer one question before the due date. My friend Ernesto Mondragon let me read his answer and then I wrote my own original answer. When classmates tried to copy off of me, I would always cover my paper and not give them my answers. I had studied very hard. Why should I help them out? I only helped one student once, but we were very close friends. We were in a literature class that focused on the works of James Joyce. I believe I was the only student in the whole class who actually read Finnegan’s Wake in its entirety. Well, we had a take-home final exam and one of the questions was on Finnegan’s Wake. Daniel Buckman couldn’t find the passage in the novel that we had to analyze for the final. Well, since I had read the whole book, I was determined to find it. And I did! I had to help my friend out, so I told him on what page the passage was. He was so grateful to me and I was so proud of myself for having found it in the first place. He did go on to publish several books.