On becoming a man


Are you a man?

If you had the (mis)fortune of being born a male, you know that you must endure certain rites of passage to manhood. However, no one ever asked me if I want to participate in these rites. They were not optional. But they were thrust upon me. Unfortunately, no manual exists for these rites of passage. Sometimes, I didn’t even know I was undergoing one of these rites until after I had passed it.

The real question about all these rites of manhood is, “Is there a defining moment when you pass from boyhood to manhood?” You know, one moment you’re a boy, then something, je ne sais quoi, happens, and suddenly you’re a man.

I bring this up because my friend Jim, according to his father, had such an experience. Let me explain. Jim and I met at Gage Park High School in physics class and he encouraged me to join the chess team. We soon became good friends. In fact, we’re still friends to this day.

Anyway, we would visit each other at home and occasionally play chess. I got to meet his entire family because I visited them so often. Once when they went to a family reunion in Kentucky, I got to tag along. Actually, I think they needed another car and I was willing to make a road trip with them. I really liked Jim’s mother because she always laughed at all of my jokes. And I do mean ALL of my jokes. So, naturally, I always enjoyed talking to her. Jim’s father, on the other hand, sometimes made me feel a little uneasy. He always exuded this high-testosterone manhood, even when he fell asleep on the sofa with a beer in his hand while watching TV.  He was a hard-working man who enjoyed a beverage or two (especially ones containing any amount of alcohol) after work. Sometimes, he would talk to Jim and I. He enjoyed telling us about his work history. He was truly a working man. He was never unemployed the whole time I knew him. He always worked and he took great pride in that. Once, he didn’t like how he was being treated at work, so he quit his job and found a new one the very next week.

When I started working at Derby Foods as a manual laborer, Jim’s father was so proud of me. He held me up as the ideal role model of a working man. Suddenly, in his eyes, I had achieved manhood by virtue of being a working man. I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t like to see Jim be put down by his father. “Jim,” his father would say, “Dave and I are working men. I hope I live to see the day that you work.” Despite what he said, I felt very much the same as before, like an overgrown boy, but I wasn’t about to tell Jim’s father. I was a working man and old enough, at age nineteen, to buy my own beer and wine in the state of Illinois. Jim’s father was proud of my manhood. He soon started telling Jim, “If you ever worked a full day’s work and then drank a six-pack after work, you’d probably drop dead!’ He really wasn’t happy until one day Jim was working at the same factory as his father. But he would not concede to the fact that Jim was now a man.

One day, I went to visit Jim and his father answered the door. I could tell that he was either hung over or drunk, or both. He was smiling like  never before. I had never seen him in such a mood. I asked him if Jim was home and he smiled proudly. Jim came down from his bedroom just in time to hear his father say, “Dave, you should be very proud of your friend Jim. Today, Jim is a man!” He then put Jim in a headlock that looked potentially fatal. Jim immediately freed himself from his father. “See!” his father said. “Jim is now a man!’ He tried to explain further, but neither Jim nor I could fully understand him. But I had never seen him so proud of his son before. He soon decided that it was time to go to bed. Jim thought it would be better if we left the house.

Later, he explained that the night before his father had gotten really drunk and he was looking for a fight. He started up with his wife and he was holding her so she couldn’t get away. So, Jim grabbed his father, which totally surprised him because Jim had never had a physical encounter of this sort with his father before. So his father turns to assault Jim, but Jim managed to throw him to the floor. Jim really thought his father was really going to tan his hide. At first, his father was angry as he got up, but then he realized that his son was no longer a boy. Jim then yelled at his father to go to bed and go to sleep. Surprisingly, Jim’s father obeyed.

For a few months after that, Jim’s father would beam with pride and tell me that his son was now a man. Jim had stood up to his father–who if you believed his father’s stories. he had never lost a fight–who was a real man. Jim had knocked him, a real man, down. For a while there, I really envied Jim. He was a man now!

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Milestones


Seated: Danny, Rick, Delia, Jerry. Standing: David, Diego, Joey.

Our lives are marked by many milestones. The most easily recognized milestones are birthdays. I don’t really remember any of my birthdays until I reached the age of five. Five was such a magical number for me. Just ask William Carlos Williams about the number five and you’ll see what I mean. Five was special because a nickel was worth five cents (obviously) and that would buy me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup when I was five. Then there was a long dry spell before I reached the next milestone of 10. It sure felt much longer than five years! Probably because I would tell people my age by half years: “You can’t talk to me like that. I’m seven and a half!” But when I turned ten, I had hit the double digits. I felt grown up. So grown up that I talked my mother into buying an electric guitar and amplifier that I promised to learn to play but never did.

Thirteen was another important milestone because, suddenly, practically overnight it seems, I became a teenager. Being a teenager was cool! My sixteenth birthday meant I could take driver’s ed. I felt like I was really moving up in the world. I was sixteen and I had my driver’s license! Of course, I couldn’t drive because I didn’t have a car and no one was foolish enough to let me drive their car. I wouldn’t drive a car until I turned eighteen and I bought my own car. Eighteen was a very memorable milestone for me, too. I also had to register for the draft and I was sure I would get drafted and have to go to Viet Nam! So I enjoyed life as much as possible before I was drafted, even though President Nixon had stopped the draft and no one was actually getting drafted anymore, but I was convinced that I would somehow get drafted anyway. Nonetheless, I was an adult with voting privileges.

Nineteen was also memorable because that’s when the state of Illinois, in its infinite wisdom, lowered the drinking age to nineteen for beer and wine. Let’s just say that I communed with the spirits on weekends to unwind from the long week of work at the peanut butter factory. When state legislators realized they had made a mistake in lowering the drinking age, they raised it back up to twenty-one again. But not before I turned–Tada!–twenty-one! I take pride in having planned my date of birth so precisely. Twenty-one meant I was an adult for real. Even if I would never get drafted. You would think that there would be no more milestones after twenty-one, but then you would think wrong! As all male drivers under twenty-five know, surviving your own reckless driving habits to live to your twenty-fifth birthday grants you the privilege of seeing your auto insurance drop dramatically.

Then the milestones were no longer significant. Thirty? The big three-oh? Thirty was so anti-climactic after seeing my auto insurance rates drop. Forty? What a yawn! I celebrated by taking a nap. And don’t even ask me about turning fifty. So stop asking me already. I actually forgot all about my fiftieth birthday until my sons reminded me that we usually go out for dinner and the movie of my choice for my birthday. Do I know how to celebrate or what?

Now, I hate when people ask me my age. And not because I’m embarrassed about my age. I actually enjoy being my age and I never try to appear younger than I really am, but please don’t ask me my age. That involves math. How old am I? Let’s see. This is 2010 minus 1956, the year of my birth. That makes me … Oh, I hate doing the math. That’s why I majored in literature! After twenty-one, I stopped keeping track of my age. Age became just a number to me–an unknown variable that I didn’t want to calculate! Why do I need to know my own age anyway. If I go to the liquor store for a bottle of wine and the clerk asks me if I’m old enough to drink, I just hand him or her my driver’s license and say, “You figure it out.” Now that I think of it, why am I still be carded?

My next milestone–and one that I look forward to seeing–is my 100th birthday. Triple digits! I hope you read my blog entry on that very special occasion!

Cinco de Mayo


Catering to Gringolandia.

Cinco de Mayo is another Mexican holiday that our Mexican family never celebrated. I never even heard of it until I was old enough to drink alcoholic beverages. I think that it has become a beer company holiday in America, just as Hallmark appropriated Valentine’s Day into a holiday in order to sell Valentine’s Day cards. Beer companies would love to see Cinco de Mayo become a Mexican St. Patrick’s Day! Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of publicity about the celebration for it. Chicago had a Cinco de Mayo parade downtown on the same day as the Polish Constitution Day parade. Personally, I don’t understand why anyone would celebrate Cinco de Mayo. On May 5, 1862, Mexicans defeated the French at Puebla, just west of Mexico City. However, the Mexicans then went on to lose the war and were ruled by the French until 1862. Is this cause for celebration?

My father


José Diego Rodríguez Rosiles

My father is a very unique person who has his own way of doing things. He was a factory mechanic who could work wonders with duct tape. No matter where we were, he always had some tools in his pocket. He was proud of being mechanic. If someone had some sort of mechanical problem, my father would volunteer to fix whatever needed fixing. No problem was too small for him. A squeaky door? He carried an little oil can with him. Door knob keeps falling off? My father would attach it with his tools and extra screws that he always carried with him just in case. I should write a novel about him: My Father, the Super Fix-It Handyman. Or maybe make him into a comic book superhero who can fix any problem no matter how small. My father was always fixing bicycles, skates, skateboards, and automobiles for everyone on the block. He had just enough mechanical aptitude, talent, and expertise to keep him trapped in the middle class the rest of his life. And, it turns out that I’m not much different than him, although I’ll never be able to make repairs just like my father.

When I was a boy, my father often embarrassed me. He always liked to attract attention to himself by telling jokes in his broken English. I was afraid to bring home friends when my father was home because then he would want to get in on the conversation with them and he didn’t speak English very well. So most of the converstation would involve a lot of repetition because he didn’t understand everything that was said, but he wanted to show that he was eager to learn English. It’s now forty years later and he still does this. He has never stopped trying to learn English. If I talk to him in Spanish, he still insists that I speak to him in English so he can learn English. In fact, if I talk to him in Spanish, he doesn’t understand a word I say.

Another thing about my father was that he was always so Mexican. He could just stand there silently and everyone would know that he was Mexican because he always stood there looking so Mexican. He was about 5’6″, thin, with black hair slicked back with vaselina, brown eyes, and a Cantinflas mustache. Plus, you could see the tools bulging from his pants pockets, along with a small jar of salsa or peppers, just in case.

Whenever we did something together, he would always preface it by saying that he used to that activity in Mexico when he was a boy. When we played basketball in our backyard at 4405 S. Wood Street in Back of the yards, he told us that he always played basketball with his brothers in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. When I was eight, I actually thought that basketball was a Mexican sport. While playing, my father told me that once I stopped dribbling the ball, I couldn’t dribble it again. I had never heard of such a rule. I told him, “I don’t want to play the Mexican way.” Of course, I didn’t know any better at the time even though there is a rule against double dribbbing.

For breakfast, my father would prepare this concoction that he learned to make from his father in, you guessed it, Mexico. He would pour some Mogen David grape wine into a glass, put in a raw egg, and mix it up together.  He would drink the first glass to show me how it was done. Then, he would hand me a glass and I would force myself to drink it. At first I didn’t like it and I told him that I didn’t want a Mexican breakfast, but I eventually learned to like it. I also learned to eat raw eggs right out of the eggshell by poking to holes at either end of the egg. I learned from my father because this is how he ate breakfast in Mexico. This was long before I had ever heard of salmonella. I guess God does protect children and idiotas. 🙂

Rudy


South Side, Chicago, Illinois

Rudy was the consummate pitchman. The last time I met him, was at his mother’s funeral when we were both adults. He was telling about his job as a brake pad salesman and I was thoroughly impressed by his knowledge of brake pads.

However, I shall always remember how he tried out as pitcher for the Chicago White Sox every spring. He was a south sider, after all. The coaches always told him to keep working out. In the traditional Chicago fashion, Rudy always reassured us with the words, “Wait till next year!” One of the main reasons he never made the team was because he focused more on spending time with his drinking buddies.

He was a great storyteller who always attracted the attention of everyone within hearing range. He was a very likeable guy who was fun to have around. We spent much more time in bars than on the baseball field. Although he lost interest in his workout plan for much of the year, he never lost the hope of making the team. Come springtime, he would get all worked up again for the open tryouts. After a few years we lost touch, but I always kept watching baseball with the hope that I would see him on the mound someday.

When I saw him again at his mother’s funeral. He still had not lost the hope of playing in the pros even though he was well past the age of the rookie pitcher. He had planned to try out with one of the Texas teams where he was now living. He was a great brake shoe salesman due to his outgoing personality and doing quite well working on commission. After explaining the virtues of his brake shoes in comparison to the competition, I was sold on his. Then I recalled why I always believed he would one day become a Major League Baseball pitcher. He could make you believe in whatever he was pitching.

Alva


Don't even think about saying anything bad about Texas!

Laredo, Texas

I don’t even remember his first name. But I always think of him whenever I play chess and/or drink a beer.

I met him when we were in the Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. He was your typical Mexican from Texas. A true Texican. Everyone called him Alva. He was short and stocky, what would be called husky in the boy’s department. He was particularly handsome. In fact, he had one eye a little bigger than the other, his teeth were crooked, and he always had a bad haircut. What he lacked in looks, he made up for in personality. He was always the joker and he always had everyone in the shop laughing.

He retained the rank of private because he was always getting into trouble and so he would never get promoted. Drinking was at the root of all his problems. I never saw him sober even once. He was always drunk or suffering from a hangover. When we stood in formation, he would always teeter during inspection. I’m surprised that he never fell over because a few times he was leaning more than the Tower of Pisa. Despite all his flaws, he had a girlfriend whom he had met near the base. That is, until he got into a fight at the club and wasn’t allowed to leave the base for months. So he would drink at the club everyday, only leaving to check in with the sergeant.

One day, he went to the club to watch Monday Night Football and later returned emotionally distraught. He told us that the game was interrupted for a special announcement: John Lennon had been shot! None of us could believe it. But Alva was the one who was the most depressed by Lennon’s death. Alva seemed to drink less after that shocking assassination.

Our superiors really came down hard on Alva. They controlled every aspect of his duty hours. We all thought they went beyond the call of duty. Finally, he told our commanding officer that he was tired of being harassed and he wanted everyone to leave him alone. He wanted to everything to go back to the way it was. He even told the CO that he had written his congressman. Why did Alva feel harassed? He would have to check in with the sergeant every hour just to make sure he was still on base.

It was during this time that I learned about his special talent. He could play chess. That was surprising because he wasn’t the type of person who exuded intelligence of any sort. One day, he challenged all comers. He walked into the radio shop where we worked and announced, “Who’s the best chess player here? I challenge you to a chess match!”

Somehow he had heard that I used to play chess. It might have been from me because I used to like to tell people I used to like to play chess. I might have said that I used to play when I first arrived at Camp Pendleton and Alva remembered. He had a good memory. At first, I didn’t want to play because I hadn’t played since high school and I was afraid that if I started playing again I would get addicted to play chess again. But I couldn’t control myself and I accepted Alva’s challenge. Anyway, Alva won every game easily.

Eventually, I played chess with Alva regularly and he always beat me easily. To add insult to injury, he was always very drunk when we played. Okay, I was hooked. I wanted to beat Alva at chess. We played chess everyday in the shop. Whenever he made a particularyly good move, he would say, “Don’t mess with Texas!”

I never beat him until I finally figured out his strategy! He had no strategy! He was always so drunk that he would only play the best move for the position. With each game we played, I improved my game. Finally, I figured out that if I planned my strategy at least five moves ahead, his best move for the position wouldn’t help him. Eventually, I was beating him on a regular basis. He wasn’t used to losing even though he never studied or practiced chess formally. He was truly amazed that anyone could beat him. And I was surprised that anyone so drunk could play chess so well. Oh, yes, and Alva’s congressman called up our commanding officer and Alva was no longer on restriction.

I challenge you to a chess game!

Man date


Men mourning a break up

Man date. Sometimes you are the giver and sometimes you are the receiver. But this is one date to avoid if at all possible. I’m not talking about one man going out with a male friend to see a movie and there are plenty of seats to leave an empty one between you so no one thinks that “you’re together” as in you two are an item–if you know what I mean. I’m talking about you buying two tickets to a concert for a singer or band that only your girlfriend, fiancée, or wife would want to see. And you bought the tickets because you wanted to make her happy, for at least one night. But for some unexplained reason, she no longer wants to go to the concert with you. It could be for any number of reasons. She has a headache, she just doesn’t want to go to the concert anymore, or she broke up with you.  So now you have two concert tickets for which you paid good money! You can’t sell them on such short notice, so you call around and finally find a friend who is desperate enough to go to this concert with you because … well, just because. No real man will admit he wants to go to a concert with you. So you go to this concert with your friend because he once took you on a man date when his girlfriend dumped him and he had two tickets to Sting, but you feel guilty tonight because you’re only taking him to see Barry Manilow. You see the concert and make the best of a bad situation. Unfortunately, you have assigned seating and you two must sit right next to each other. You’re driving home and you realize that this wasn’t so bad after all. But then you wonder, should I take him straight home? Will, he be offended if I do? Should I take him out for a drink and then take him home? Will I look desperate if I just drive him to a bar without asking him if he wants a drink? All I want to do is talk about my female problems. But he also has female problems or he wouldn’t have gone to a Barry Manilow concert with you! Instead, you drive him straight home without saying a word. He doesn’t say anything either as he leaves the car. Both of you secretly hope that you’ll never have to go on a man date ever again!

May I take you out for a drink? Pretty please!