Mount Baldy


Mount Baldy, Michigan City, Indiana

I went to Mount Baldy last Sunday just for old times’ sake. Jim, Vito, and I went to Mount Baldy regularly when we were younger. Jim was very familiar with this part of Indiana since he grew up in Hammond. Whenever he was bored, he would stop by my house unannounced and say, “Let’s go for a ride!” There was no need to ask where because we always ended up in Indiana somewhere. I always loved Indiana ever since I attended Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson. For a while there, I seriously considered moving to Indiana. So, I didn’t mind too much whenever we took a road trip to Indiana. We often went to Mount Baldy and its beach just for the fun of it. We never actually went in the water, though.

When I went last Sunday with Beata, we had a hard time finding a parking space at Mount Baldy. Jim, Vito, and I never had trouble finding parking before. I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I remembered! Jim, Vito, and I never went to Mount Baldy during the summer, during the tourist, beach-going, sun-tanning season. We never kept a regular schedule like normal people.  We always went late at night or long after beach weather had passed. Now that I think of it, we were often the only ones on the beach!

We would cruise along Lake Michigan with no particular destination or agenda. We just loved driving! Occasionally, when we were old enough to drink, we would stop for a beer at a bar that Jim discovered near Mount Baldy. Jim loved discovering new places of interest and then taking us there. I don’t know about Vito, but I wasn’t so excited about these places. But I liked to humor Jim because we did have fun on our road trips!

We often went to the beach long after the beaches were closed. We even went in the winter. One extremely cold winter, we went to the beach at Beverly Shores.  Danger signs were posted to warn everyone to keep off the ice. Those warning signs only work for normal, moderately sane people. To us, they were an open invitation to go on the ice as far as we could go. The smooth sheets of ice were broken up by warm waves of water and then frozen so they looked like waves that froze as they approached the shore. They looked dangerous and inviting all at once. As I recall, Jim and I went out on the frozen waves, but Vito urged us not to go so far. Despite Vito’s cautious approach, he was right behind us. I suppose he did this as a precaution, If the ice cracked and swallowed up Jim or me, Vito could safely go back to shore. Since the weather had been so cold, we went out pretty far out on the ice, far from the shore. We kept going until we could hear the ice cracking under our feet. So, we turned back and headed to the beach. Hey, we weren’t totally insane!

Dr. D. carrying his son up Mount Baldy way back in 1990.

We really had fun on our last road trip to Mount Baldy. I was home alone with my son at home in Bridgeport. Jim and Vito unexpectedly showed up early one Saturday morning. They wanted to go to Mount Baldy! But I had to go to work later that day! What about my son? They insisted that I take my son with me and that we would be back in time for me to go to work. I resisted with all my might. Finally, after deep determination and exertion of my strong will, I gave in. I was able to resist a whole minute before I agreed to go with Jim and Vito to Mount Baldy for old times’ sake. Little did we realize that this would be our last trip together to Mount Baldy.

Vito, as usual, brought his camera. He brought his camera everywhere, or so it seemed. I don’t know about Jim, but I found Vito’s camera very annoying back then. Now that I look back, I’m thankful that he took so many pictures to document our past good times!

Mr. Macala


Mr. Macala, 1976 Gage Park High School Yearbook.

When I think of influential people in my life, I don’t often think of teachers. Some teachers merely teach, but others offer valuable lessons that don’t sink in until much later in life. So when I think back to influential teachers like Sister Laverne at Holy Cross School and Enrico Mordini at Divine Heart Seminary, I also recall Robert Macala and would like to add him to my list of influential teachers. Whenever I recall him, it’s as Mr. Macala, as we were taught to address our teachers in high school.

I met Mr. Macala at Gage Park High School because he took my picture for the chess team and when I won a trophy at a chess tournament at the La Salle Hotel in downtown Chicago. I’m not sure how he found out that I had won the trophy, but he came looking for me with his camera and took a picture of me with the trophy. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that he called two girls walking in the hallway to come in and pose with me for another picture. I suppose to give me this aura of being a sexy chess player. I may just be imagining some of the details about the girls as I recall the incident. But it seems so real now as I imagine it. Forgive me if I have embellished the story. Lately, I’ve been recalling events that I have never experienced!

Anyway, Mr. Macala asked me to write a short description about myself and about the chess tournament and he would then publish the picture in the school newspaper. He asked me to write this with such great confidence that I would do it immediately. He just assumed that I was capable of such a simple assignment. But, alas, I never wrote the brief description and my picture never appeared in the school newspaper. He overestimated my capabilities, but I liked the fact that he truly believed I could do it.

I met Mr. Macala again in the summer of 1975 when I attended summer school at Kelly High School and he was the English teacher. I must admit that I had a very bad attitude that summer. I had just failed English in my senior year, so I didn’t graduate. I had to make up the English class during the summer. I truly believed my life was over. FML! That’s how I felt, long before the acronym was even invented.

I worked midnights at Derby Foods, the peanut butter factory, and then went immediately to English class in the morning. I had failed English because I worked and I didn’t sleep enough before my midnight shift. I often fell asleep during my classes. Plus, I didn’t do any of the reading or writing assignments. And, sometimes I didn’t show up to class. Was that any reason to fail me? Oh, yes, I also failed to write the required term paper!

So, I was greatly relieved in summer school when Mr. Macala announced on the first day of class that we wouldn’t have to write a term paper. The whole class breathed a collective sigh of relief! Perhaps the class wouldn’t be so bad after all. I don’t recall all the details about what was taught in class. But I do remember how Mr. Macala kept the class’s attention by straying from the lesson. He did teach us English, even though I don’t remember exactly what, and he also gave us writing assignments. I still have a book report and a couple of assignments that I wrote for Mr. Macala. I was so happy with the class that I actually saved some of the assignments instead of throwing them away as I did with all my other high school classes. Occasionally, he read student papers aloud and I was surprised he read mine. The assignment was to write a letter that you would like to receive. I tried to be funny and apparently he thought it was funny because he read it to the class. No one had ever read my writing to the class in high school before.

What I remember most are the lessons that were not part of the curriculum. He told us stories to entertain us. Some were works in progress, I’m sure, that he was perfecting for future use. He once told us a mystery story. “It was a hot summer day. We ate some apple pie, but there was still once slice left in the pan. We put the pie pan away. I took a nap and when I woke up–the last slice of pie was gone! I never did figure out what happened to it!” Perhaps this doesn’t sound like much of a mystery story to you, gentle reader, but Mr. Macala had a way of telling stories that kept you hanging on his every word.

The story that fascinated me the most was the one about how he started a backgammon club. He loved to play backgammon. Someone suggested that he start a backgammon club. So he put a flyer up at the local supermarkets asking backgammon players to send money to him to join a backgammon club. He was surprised when many people actually sent him money to join. He had to actually follow through with the club. Soon, he was holding backgammon tournaments with prize money. This proved to be a very profitable venture. I learned a very valuable lesson about capitalism, but I had never had the initiative to do anything comparable. I didn’t capitalize on this knowledge.

He also inspired me academically. He told us he wasn’t a very good student in high school, but discovered he was intelligent once he started college. I would remember this fact years later when I contemplated going back to school. I never thought I was a good student either. Ever! I recalled his words when I went back to school. I told myself to do all the homework for all the classes and study for the exams. My goal was to try to get at least a C in every course. Once I applied myself, I discovered that I was a much better student that I had thought. Eventually, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Thanks in part to Mr. Macala’s story of his student days.

After high school, I lost track of him. Jim, Vito, and I often remembered Mr. Macala. We all agreed that he was a little wild and crazy. But that’s what appealed to me about him. He was intelligent and a little eccentric. One Saturday night, Jim, Vito, and I were on Rush Street for a night on the town. Picking up girls, the way we always did. That was our joke. Picking up girls the way we always did. Actually, we weren’t very good at picking up girls at all. On Saturday night, one of us would ask, “What do you want to do tonight?’ “I don’t know” “Why don’t we pick up girls!” “Yeah! Let’s pick up girls. Like we always do!” We never managed to pick up even one girl! If a girl fell unconscious in front us, we couldn’t pick her up. Not even if we all lifted at once.

Anyway, we were on Rush Street picking up girls as per usual. Suddenly, we see a man standing at the entrance of a night club, actually called a disco back then. This man was flirting with every woman who walked by. He made comments to every passerby. He started telling us something when we approached him. We all recognized him immediately. “Hi, Mr. Macala!’ We were surprised to see him there. Now that I think back, it makes perfect sense that he’d be there!

Well, of all the teachers who greatly influenced me, Mr. Macala is the only with whom I still communicate. In fact, we are friends on Facebook! He now lives in Florida and he asks me questions about Spanish all the time. The roles seem to have reversed.

Cedar Point


Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio.

I’m not sure how the conversation started, but my sons and I thought back to all the amusement park that we had ever ridden. Of course, when you speak of amusement park rides, you also conjure up images of roller coasters. Tall, scary fast roller coasters. They wanted to know what was the scariest roller coaster I had ever been on. I thought long and hard and finally recalled the Blue Streak at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

Way back in 1975, I went to Cedar Point with Jim Harmon because he had gone there with his family when they lived in Indiana. He told me about what a great amusement park it was. And, it was within driving distance from Chicago. We really enjoyed all the rides (I was much, much younger then). However, I only remembered one ride: The Blue Streak. It was the most wicked roller coaster I had ever ridden. Jim warned me in advance of the big drop at the beginning, but even with advance warning, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience. Back then, the only safety feature was a bar that we pulled back over our laps. So, when we went down that first drop, I actually felt myself floating off the seat and I clung to the safety bar for dear life! Then there were a whole series of little dips that actually caused me to be airborne many times during the rest of the ride. From then on I compared all roller coasters to the Blue Streak, which had become my gold standard.

So, I told my sons about the best roller coaster in the world. They suggested we go to Cedar Point to check it out. Since I keep becoming more and more like my father, I follow many of my sons’ suggestions. We went to Cedar Point in 2004 for the first time, but the Blue Streak was no longer the most exciting roller coaster at Cedar Point. In fact, Cedar Point became the roller coaster capital of the world. There were so many roller coasters that we didn’t have time to go on all of them in one day. Yes, the lines for the main attractions like the Millennium Force and the Top Thrill Dragster were more than two hours long!

Well, we loved all the roller coasters! But just for old time’s sake, I suggested that we ride the Blue Streak so they could experience firsthand what I had described to them. They were not as thrilled. Of course, after riding all the other roller coasters, the Blue Streak was anticlimactic. They were like, “Dad! What a boring roller coaster.”

When we went on the Blue streak again last week, after I insisted–actually, begged–, They said they couldn’t believe how the Blue Streak could have been the main attraction at Cedar Point. I told them, “Just wait until you have your own children and you tell them about the rides today. They will be surprised at how boring these roller coasters are. They’ll have something way faster and scarier.” I don’t think I entirely convinced them. But roller coasters just keep getting higher and longer and faster and scarier all the time.

Check out some of the roller coaster world records at Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_roller_coaster_records

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!

Friends


Dr. D. in Michigan City, Indiana

When you reach a certain age (Yes, my age!), you tend to look back to the past more often than you look forward to the future. I always recall my friends and some of our adventures.

I was going through my old pictures when I saw this picture of me. My friend Vito took this picture of me. Vito, the photographer who claims he doesn’t like posed pictures, asked me to pose for this picture. So I did.

Back then, Vito took his camera everywhere and I always found it annoying. Now when I look through my old pictures I realize that I have many pictures of me with my friends and family that Vito took and later gave to me  unexpectedly. Of course, I now truly believe the annoyance was worth it. I can’t thank Vito enough for all the pictures he gave me. If you see an old picture of me in this blog, chances are that Vito took it.

I vividly remember taking the trip in this picture. My friends, Jim and Vito, stopped by my house unexpectedly one day, without even calling me first. We used to do that to each other back then. Just stop by someone’s house unexpectedly. Actually, I always enjoyed those surprise visits. Nowadays, no one has time for such frivolous visits. We also had more fun because these visit were a bonus no one expected.

So, anyway, one day, Jim and Vito stopped by my house and demanded that I go for a ride with them. Jim enjoyed going out for a ride ever since he got his driver’s license and his own car and he would drag along anyone who couldn’t come with a good excuse not to go with him. Since I had no plans for that day, or the next week for that matter, I went along for the ride. All three of us have always been drawn to Indiana for some strange reason, so we usually went to that strange, foreign land of Indiana. Generally, we stayed near the coast of Lake Michigan, much like the Portuguese sailors who never lost sight of the African coast lest they fall off the edge of the earth.

We enjoyed the sand dunes, so we usually went to the beach at Mount Baldy. When we were old enough to drink, we went to bar that was right across the street. After that, we usually just wandered around aimlessly for the rest of day. That explains why we ended up in Michigan City in front of Jaymar, the Sans-a-belt pants outlet! And just to commemorate this momentous occasion, Vito took my picture for the sake of posterity. And a great picture such as this deserves a great dedication. So, with much fanfare a few weeks later, Vito presented me with this picture that had the following dedication on the back:

He is the man …
… the superman

AND –yes– he shops at Jaymar!

Jaymar … downtown Michigan City
the duct tape capital of the world!

MAR 87

As I recall, I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes when Vito first gave me this picture. I’m sure I even laughed when I read the inscription on the back. I recalled how we used boast about how we had wasted our time that day. However, when I saw this picture in my photographic archives (actually, it’s just a cardboard box), I was in awe of that oh so awesome trip we took. I wish I could take trips like that once again. All my friends are now grown up and don’t have time for such nonsense. My sons refuse to take too many of those trips with me because they are more grown up than me.

Now I long for those useless, pointless trips!

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.