Patrick Fahey


International Union Stockyards, Chicago, Illinois

I met Patrick Fahey when I attended Tilden Technical High School in Back of the Yards. We were very good friends, but only when we were in school. I’m not even sure when and where I met him. He just somehow materialized at school and we often sat together in cafeteria or the library. Sometimes when I walked home from school, I would walk over to his apartment because he only lived two blocks from the school.

His apartment didn’t have very much furniture and no one was ever home. Patrick was Irish with brown hair and freckles. He was tall and thin. His face wasn’t exactly symmetrical and it kind of reminded me of Pablo Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. I often found myself staring at the dimensions of his face, but he never said anything. Perhaps he never noticed since he always seemed to be off in his own little world. He didn’t have a girlfriend that I knew of, other than his imaginary ones. Sometimes he would show me a model in a magazine ad and say, “I wouldn’t kick her out of bed.” But I couldn’t even picture him approaching any girl even to say hello to one since he was so painfully shy. I didn’t think he would ever attract a  beautiful girl like the models in the magazines, or any girl at all for that matter, because of his extreme shyness.

But, one day, as I was putting my books in my locker between classes, I closed my locker door and I suddenly saw a girl standing there, smiling nervously. We were both speechless for a moment. She looked Irish to me. She was pretty in a plain sort of way and pleasantly plump. I finally said hi. She said hi, but then the bell rang and we went our separate ways. The whole incident was mind-boggling. I couldn’t fathom why this girl would be standing by my locker.

I forgot all about her until the next day when I saw her by my locker again. “Do you know Patrick Fahey?” she asked. “Yes,” I responded feebly. “Do you talk to him a lot?” “Yes.” Then, the bell rang and we went to our respective classes. I told Patrick about the incident, but he didn’t even acknowledge what I had told him. That was actually quite normal for us because we didn’t always talk to each other. We often just sat there in the library, just reading. We were kind of like Pedro and Napoleon in the movie Napoleon Dynamite, only I didn’t have a mustache then. Now that I think of it, we spent a lot of time together, but we hardly ever talked, even when we walked to his house together.

A few weeks later, the girl was at my locker again. This time she talked and talked so much that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Her name was Maureen and she was in a history class with Patrick. She said she really, really liked Patrick, but he would never talk to her. So, she approached me to help her. I said I would talk to Patrick. When I saw him, I asked him if he knew Maureen. He did. But he wasn’t interested in her. End of conversation for the day.

I would see Maureen by my locker regularly and she would ask me for progress updates. Actually, what I gave her were more like lack-of-progress updates. Patrick just wasn’t interested in her, not even as a friend. I eventually broke the news to her gently, but she was in denial and only tried harder. Finally, it was the end of the school year and it was time for the spring dance. Maureen came to my locker asked me if I was going to the dance. Then, she asked if I knew if Patrick already had a date for the dance. I knew he didn’t because we both confessed that we weren’t going. Maureen then told me to ask Patrick to take her to the dance. She stood there by my locker, the epitome of woeful lovesick misery, so I agreed to talk to Patrick for her. Patrick immediately said no. When I saw Maureen again, I told her his response. She cried and said, “But I love him!” She begged me to talk to him again. To ask him to please take her to the spring dance. I felt uncomfortable because she had her arms around my neck and everyone in the hall was staring at us.

I told Patrick everything that had transpired between Maureen and me, but he was unmoved. He said he wouldn’t go to the dance with Maureen. He just wouldn’t. Just because. For me that wasn’t a good reason. Somehow, I felt that I had to help Maureen. And by helping Maureen, I was also helping Patrick. “Just take Maureen to the dance!” I finally said. “I can’t.” “Why not?” “Because she’s fat!” “That’s not true!” Suddenly, I felt that I had to defend Maureen since I had gotten to know her a little better with all the time she spent talking to me by my locker.

Besides, to a Mexican, she wasn’t considered even remotely fat. “She just wants you to take her to the dance,” I said. “She’s not asking you to marry her.” Well, this seemingly sad tale eventually had a happy ending. Maureen, with all of her perpetual persistence–with a lot of help from me–, eventually went to the spring dance with Patrick. Afterwards, he wouldn’t talk about the dance or Maureen. In fact, Patrick acted as if the spring dance had never occurred, as if it were some sort of void in his life. But I knew they were happy together because Maureen would constantly update me on their relationship on her regular visits to me by my locker. I don’t know whatever happened to Patrick and Maureen because I transferred to Gage Park High School the next year. I like to imagine that they’re still together, happily married with children. Only Patrick doesn’t tell his friends about her.

Canaryville


Gate to the Union Stockyards, Chicago, Illinois

Canaryville is a neighborhood that is south of Bridgeport and southeast of where the Union Stockyards used to be. I spent a few years there visiting friends who lived there. I was from Back of the Yards, so not many people from Canaryville knew me. I was risking life and limb everytime I went, but I liked the sense of danger I experienced every time I visited. When I left Divine Heart Seminary, I had to attend Tilden Technical High School at 4747 S. Union, right in the heart of Canaryville. As luck would have it, the school had a lot of daily racial fights between blacks and whites. But that was my school and I was stuck attending it. I made the best of a bad situation.

I lived about a mile and a half away from school. After the first snowstorm, I was too cold to stand at the bus stop to wait for the bus, so I started walking to school in order to stay warm. I planned on getting on the bus when it eventually showed up. However, I walked all the way to school without ever seeing the bus. I didn’t mind walking at all since I used to walk seven and a half miles to town every weekend when I attended Divine Heart Seminary. The next day was even colder, so I left the house a little earlier and walked all the way to school without looking back over my shoulder for the bus. I ended up walking to school the rest of the year because I was able to spend the bus fare on magazines and books. A few months ago, I was talking to my cousins about high school and it turns out that they also walked to school so they could keep the bus fare for spending money.

I never had any trouble with anyone until I got near the school. Someone, they would either be white or black (I was an equal opportunity crime victim), would ask me for money, implying that I should comply with their request or they would use physical force if necessary. I never gave anyone any money. I always had a response for them. “If you need money, you should get a job!” Or, “If you want my money, you have to take it from me.” I would then give them my crazed look that implied they might get the money, but they would be sorry they did because I would inflict some pain on them in the process.

Surprisingly, no one ever accepted my invitation to take my money. Although I did get close once. Two Canaryville residents on their way to school saw me and told me to give them my money or they would beat me up, only not in those words. They looked like they were really going to beat me up but good. I collected myself and focused deep within. I clenched my fists and gave them a deranged look that I hoped would scare them off. Suddenly, they looked at each other, and as if by silent agreement, they walked away from me. They continued looking over their shoulders at me as they walked away. Then a police paddy wagon passed me from behind. They had walked away from me because they had seen the police! The police asked me if the boys had threatened me. I said that we were friends. I don’t think the police really believed me, but I stuck to my story. Those boys never bothered me again. In fact, they were so grateful that I didn’t rat them out that they even protected me on a few future occasions when I really needed some help at school.

Learning Spanish


Morton College, Cicero, Illinois

I don’t know why, but I always wanted to learn Spanish. Although Spanish was my first language, I wanted to study Spanish formally in school. I wanted to read and write in Spanish, too, in addition to English. Both my father and mother spoke Spanish, but they grew up in different regions of Mexico so they each spoke a dialect that was different enough from each other to sometimes confuse me. But I knew enough Spanish to communicate with just about anyone. When selecting my classes freshman year at Divine Heart Seminary, I picked Spanish I. The counselor looked at me suspiciously, which I didn’t understand why at the time. It never occurred to me that anyone would think I was trying to get an easy A. After the first Spanish class, Señor Mordini, the Spanish teacher, asked me why I was in Spanish I. I panicked, thinking that he wouldn’t let me take Spanish. I told him that I wanted to learn to read and write Spanish. He told me that I didn’t belong in that Spanish class. He was moving me ahead to Spanish II. I resisted. I told him that I wasn’t ready, but he insisted, and since I would still be in a Spanish class, I agreed. In my sophomore year, I enrolled for Spanish III and French I. No one understood why I wanted to study two foreign languages. I had always wanted to know many languages. I learned a lot of Spanish with Señor Mordini, more than enough to read and write in Spanish. Plus, I was learning French, too.

At Thanksgiving break, my mother finally agreed to let me leave the seminary; I never wanted to attend the seminary in the first place. However, she didn’t let me enroll in a private Catholic high school as I had expected. I attended a Chicago public school in the Canaryville neighborhood called Tilden Technical High School. Since I transferred in the middle of the academic year and from a private school to a public one, the counselors had problems scheduling classes for me. I insisted that I wanted to take Spanish. The counselor told me, “But you know Spanish!” I said, “But I can’t read and write Spanish.” I persisted and the counselor finally put me in Spanish IV. I was very disappointed the first day of Spanish class because the Spanish teacher taught verb conjugations that most high school students learn in the first year. This class was really behind. After the first Spanish class, the Spanish teacher took me down to the counselor’s office and said that I knew too much Spanish to be in her class. She was afraid I would intimidate the rest of the students. I insisted that I wanted to take Spanish. I even offered to go into a higher level class if necessary, but that was the highest level Spanish class, even though they were so far behind. I really wanted to learn to read and write Spanish I told them. They insisted I already knew Spanish. “No, I don’t,” I said. “Why do I have to take English?” I asked. “I already know English.” “You don’t know English!” the counselor told me. “That’s the same reason I want to take Spanish. I don’t know Spanish,” I said. Well, I lost that argument, but the counselor couldn’t figure out how to fill the void left by the Spanish IV that I wasn’t allowed to take. I said I wanted to take French. “But why?” the counselor asked in disbelief. “You don’t have to take a foreign language. This school doesn’t have a foreign language requirement!” “I want to take French,” I insisted. “I took French I this term at my last school.” Finally, the counselor looks for a French class. “You’ll have to take French III,” she said. “It’s the only French class that fits in your schedule.”

I was glad to at least have a chance to learn a foreign language. At first, I was afraid to say I wasn’t ready for French III, but then I remembered how far behind the Spanish IV class was. However, I wasn’t ready for what I was about to experience. The first day of class, I walk in and greet my classmates, “Bon jour!” My classmates stared at me with their mouths hanging open. It was as if I were speaking a foreign language to them. I soon discovered why. Our French teacher Mr. Hansen never actually spoke French in class. Ever! He didn’t actually teach anything, either. He was a rotund, middle-aged man with gray, balding hair who never had very much energy. He showed up to class on time wearing a suit and tie and sat at his desk at the front of the class while the class discussed everything going on their personal lives. If Mr. Hansen found the conversation interesting, he would occasionally join in. The students didn’t mind since he wasn’t a very demanding teacher. I started at Tilden near the end of November and in December, the students were worried about their French III grade because the marking period was rapidly approaching. Mr. Hansen reassured us that we were all passing. Then, he made the big announcement. After Christmas vacation, the teachers were going on strike, so we wouldn’t have classes for about a month or two. After the strike, Mr. Hansen planned to have his annual heart attack and he wouldn’t return to school until after spring break. And he kept his word, too. The succession of substitute teachers taught us French just as competently as Mr. Hansen even though none of them had ever studied French! When Mr. Hansen returned to school in April, he said he would have to test us in order to give us our final French grade. The class panicked. No one wanted to study. Then Mr. Hansen announced that in order to get an A, you had to bring in your French-English dictionary to class. I just happened to have mine with me–I always brought it with me just in case we actually studied French in class by some unexpected miracle–and all the class glared at me in disgust. Well, I had my instant A, but the rest of the class was worried. This was French III and no one had ever bought a French-English dictionary! Silly me! I bought mine immediately after the first day of French I!

Then, my mother bought a house near Marquette Park and I had to transfer to Gage Park High School the next year. When scheduling my classes, I knew better than to ask to study a foreign language. So I didn’t enroll for one. Some time during the end of the year, the Spanish teacher, Señor Martinez from Ecuador, came to one of my classes and asked me to step into the hallway. He was recruiting Spanish-speaking students for a special Spanish class that he himself would teach the next year. I told him about what had happened to me at Tilden and he reassured me that this class would be different. So, against my better judgment, I enroll in his class. The next year, I was actually excited to go my Spanish class because I would finally learn to read and write Spanish fluently. On the first day of class, I see a lot of my friends who are native Spanish speakers. The classroom is filled with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians, Filipinos, and others. Then, Miss Brewer walks into the classroom and announces that she is our teacher! What? She wasn’t a native speaker of Spanish. The entire class was disappointed. What happened to Señor Martinez? Miss Brewer repeated that she was our Spanish teacher and that was the end of the discussion. That would have been fine except for the fact that most of the class spoke better Spanish than her. But she insisted that she knew Spanish because she had spent a month in Puerto Rico the previous summer. Spanish was our worst class for most of us that year. Apparently, no one in the class knew Spanish, according to Miss Brewer. Hardly anyone got an A for the class and a few native Spanish speakers actually failed!

When I finally arrived at UIC, I was hesitant to take Spanish, but I told myself, “It’s now or never!” I took a Spanish placement test, which is multiple choice. I scored very poorly because I would choose the answer according to what I remembered hearing in Spanish. Apparently, much of what I had heard was improper usage. Then, I had to take another placement exam in the Spanish department. I was told to write in Spanish about why I wanted to study Spanish. It had been years since I had written anything in Spanish. I surprised myself when I wrote. Some things came back to me instinctively. I was placed in the first semester in a class for bilingual speakers. Finally, I would learn to read and write Spanish!

¡Yo quiero aprender español!

Hildago


Dr. D.'s Gage Park High School ID.

Everyone called him Hildago and he never corrected anyone. Years later, I discovered that his surname was actually Hidalgo, which is derived from the Spanish hijo de algo meaning someone with wealth.

I first met Hildago when I had my paper route. Later, when I was promoted to branch captain (Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?), I was his boss. He was Mexican, but he didn’t speak Spanish. Now that I think of it, he only kind of looked Mexican.

Hildago is one of those persons who I often meet when I least expect to. I knew him as a paper boy. Then I didn’t seem him for years until I went to Tilden Technical High School. We were in an English class together where the teacher really didn’t teach anything and we talked the whole period or read comic books in class. That’s when I learned his real name. He was the one kid my mother told me to avoid. She just didn’t like him, for whatever reason I never found out. The more she tried to break up our friendship, the closer we got.

When we moved out of Back of the Yards to Marquette Park, I didn’t see Hildago for a couple of years. Once I started working and got a car, I started visiting him again. I guess he was a bad influence on me, but he made life much more fun. Because of him, I met my first wife Linda who was his cousin. When we were nineteen, Illinois lowered the drinking age to nineteen, so we used to drink wine and/or Southern Comfort together. I went to my first concert with him and two other friends. We used to go to discos together a lot. I can now see why mother was against our friendship. He really was a bad influence on me.

Hildago was quite unusual in that he made a lousy first impression, but he was very well liked by many people in the neighborhood. He was socially inept, but he always managed to impress people who needed to be impressed despite his various faux pas. When we were young men, he no longer looked Mexican. I mean, he had black hair, brown eyes, and perpetually tanned skinned, but he looked Filipino! Whenever we went out, a lot of Filipinas were attracted to him. He dated quite a few. I remember he dated one nurse whose husband was back in the Phillipines. She was saving up enough money to go back to the Phillipines, but she was lonely here in Chicago. So she dated my friend.

He eventually married a Filipina and when they had a daughter, they asked me to be the godfather. At first, I tried to turn down this great honor because I didn’t think I could fulfill the responsibilities of being a godfather. He told me that I would just have to show up for a few birthday parties and Christmas parties and then I could disappear. He insisted and then his wife insisted, so I agreed.

Then, they introduced me to the godmother with the hopes of starting a serious relationship between us. Well, the godmother was a Filipina named Lalin. We talked on the phone a few times before the baptism. Since she had just come from the Phillipines, she didn’t speak English that well. We eventually spoke Spanish since she had studied it more than English. We seemed to get along fine. We never actually dated, though. After the baptism we never talked again. Hildago kept asking me what happened between us, but I told him that there wasn’t much chemistry between us. I was probably more interested in her than she was in me.

I lost track of Hildago again. Later, I invited him to my son’s birthday party and he came with his daughter, my god-daughter, whom I had not seen since she was very little. Then I didn’t see him again for years. But then I saw him at a K-Mart by my house. Just when I never expected to see him again. He told me it was my god-daughter’s eighteenth birthday, so he invited me to her party. I went and my god-daughter was happy to see me. Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen her since. But I warned Hildago in the first place that I wouldn’t be a good godfather.

Kung Fu


 

Dr. D in kung fu uniform

You’ve probably noticed the yin and yang symbol at the end of some of my blog posts. I’ve been meanig to explain why I use it, but I’ve always been hesitant to tell you. Well, now it can be told. Now that I’m feeling more comfortable with you, gentle reader, I’ll tell you. But you have to promise me that you won’t tell anyone. Okay? Well … Okay, I believe that you won’t tell anyone. So here goes.

I didn’t want to go to Divine Heart Seminary, but my mother made me go anyway. While I was there, I kept telling her that I wanted to leave. Finally, she gave in and she said I could leave the seminary. However, she didn’t make any effort to get me into the Catholic high school of my choice, or any private school for that matter. We lived in Back of the Yards, so I had to go to a public high school. I went to Tilden Technical H.S. I was extremely unhappy there.

As bad as things were, I never regretted leaving the seminary. At that time, I was only five feet tall and weighed about eighty-seven pounds. I was the perfect target for bullies. Ever since I was little, I always fought back no matter who picked on me, regardless of the consequences. When I transferred to Gage Park High School, I was suspended quite a few times for defending myself. My mother yelled at me for having to miss work in order to get me reinstated in school. I told her that if she would have sent me to a Catholic high school, I wouldn’t be having those problems.

Oh yeah, my bedroom was in the unfinished attic of our house at 4405 S. Wood Street. That added to my overall happiness of my adolescence. My bedroom was hot and humid in the summer, and extremely cold in the winter. I spent a lot of time by myself in that room. I had a black light and fluorescent posters. I had my own black and white TV. I had a radio that I wired to every speaker that I found. I had surround sound before anyone else even invented it.

Okay, get ready. Here comes the part about kung fu. Are you ready? Well, here goes anyway. I hated getting picked on at school. And, I loved to watch TV every waking moment, especially all the comedies like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Laugh In, The Bill Cosby Show, The Flip Wilson Show, the Johnny Carson Show, among many others. If the TV show wasn’t a comedy, I didn’t watch it. With one notable exception. Kung Fu. There was something about that show that attracted me. Something that really moved me. I felt lonely, scared, defenseless, and scared. After watching Kung Fu, I learned to apply some of that philosophy to my life. Oh yeah, and I observed those martial arts techniques and learned to use them to defend myself at school and in the neighborhood. I never backed down from anyone. And everyone learned not to start trouble with me. I’m not saying I won many fights since I was smaller than most of the bullies, but I would cause enough pain and anguish to my assailant the he often thought twice before picking on me again. Once, a bully approached me to exact revenge from our previous encounter. I gave him a look that could only be interpreted as, “Bring it on!” He shook his head in disbelief and walked away.

The TV show Kung Fu actually changed my life. I started practicing kung fu religiously. I wanted to be one with the universe. I wanted to be Chinese!

My favorite TV show when I was in high school.

Well, I never became Chinese. Or even learned to speak Chinese. But I have gotten older and wiser. That last time I practiced kung fu? Oh, about forty pounds ago. But I always fondly recall David Carradine as Kwai Chang Cane or Grasshopper when he was known when he was a young boy in the Shaolin Temple back in China. But I still feel that I benefited from watching Kung Fu. So whenever I get philosophical, in my own unique way, I categorize my blog entry under Life and end it with the yin and yang symbol. Peace, love, and eternal cosmic wisdom!