A chunk of Arctic ice the size of Barrio Logan falls into the ocean
Aztlan is melting but my Chicanismo is stone-cold as ever
By Sonny Boy Arias
Okay, okay, okay, I just have to tell you bato, this global warming crap is getting personal and by that I mean, it’s affecting my Chicanismo. Now, I have to ask myself, my Chicano SELF (in a social psychological sense), “Self, how can that be? It’s like bato what are you talking about, man?” I can hear my favorite uncle now, my uncle Enrique; we call him “Hank” for short, maybe it is because he is short. Hank isn’t really my blood uncle, but we pay him respect because he has been around forever, does not judge us, and received three Purple Hearts in Vietnam and is a stone-cold Chicano, I mean who could not respect a person like that? I can hear him now, “Hey, bato, don’t try to out-Chicano me or tell me what it’s like being Chicano and experience global warming. I put my ass on the line so that you can be Chicano and that’s that!” If my uncle Hank heard me talking right now about climate change, global warming, and chunks of ice the size of Barrio Logan falling into the bay, he would be sure to say something about, “Aztlan melting away!” He would most certainly add a question as to what extent global warming is having a direct impact on my Chicanismo. If he were still alive, he would sit back in his “comfy” chair, you know the one with burn holes from leaving lit-joints sitting on the wood handles for the past five decades, that one. And he would lean back so as to purposefully position himself so you could see his Yaqui profile with his tanned skin and perhaps catch a whiff of his Tres Flores old-school hair balm in anticipation that things would inevitably heat up—and all at once, there he was transformed into his stone-cold Chicano Self. If he were alive, Hank would respond with something like, “Sonny Boy, I would love to hear what you have to say about how global warming and climate change are getting personal and how it is having an impact on your Chicanismo; tell me all about it, Sonny, tell me all about it!” Hank in his own way would give you his undivided attention, no iPhone, no music in the background, no nada, he loved to talk and engage people in a sparkling interchange of ideas as often as he could and he’d look you straight in the eye. Now. let me just take a moment and share with you that my uncle Hank was a cool bato; he was first generation Chicano at the fringe of the pachuco movement. He was like my old friend, the author-anthropologist Carlos Castaneda (famous writer and honorary Chicano from Brazil). He could present himself like a businessperson, then turn to the side, and look like a Yaqui shaman at a glance. This was part of the mysticism that surrounded him and he knew it. I do not know how they do it, but people like Hank and Carlos are rare like that. Another thing they had in common was the ability to focus, a characteristic harder and harder to find in people stuck to their iPhones these days. Carlos was a little like Victor Villaseñor, except Victor will tell you he spent hours crying at his keyboard writing all his stories. Carlos believed that before you talk to people you need their undivided attention. As Villaseñor puts it, “First, you have to hit the burro in the head, and get his attention, then, you can start talking to him.” (Burro Genius: A Memoir, 2004) So in order to get your undivided attention, Carlos (like Hank) would sit directly in front of you so that your knees were touching. One time Carlos actually grabbed both my ears as he adjusted our chairs and gazed into my eyes, and as he gazed, he all at once gazed even deeper, it was like, I could suddenly see his soul, much like the depiction below.
My sense is that there was not anything mystical about looking into someone’s eyes (Carlos never claimed there was) and getting their undivided attention is just something we never take the time to do. The truth is that part of our human condition is having the innate ability to connect to another individual by gazing into one another’s eyes; my nanita would see it this way, “Maybe this is the answer to reversing global warming or stemming-off alienation in humanity, people need to connect; Latinos know how to connect.” My nanita, who lives in Barrio Logan (Chicano Park) recently said the other day that her sweet tamales didn’t turn out quite right due to the heat outside. “Must be global warming!” she blurted out. I thought, “What the …...” I decided not to take issue with my nanita and I suggest you do the same, as she is one tough cookie. Speaking of cookies the other day I reached into her “Kuki” jar, pronounced “coo-key”, you know the way my nanita speaks with her lovely Chicana accent. It was as they say “unseasonably hot” in San Diego to be sure and the Kuki jar was for the very first time in my life, warm, not caliente, but warm as if I had never felt it before. When I took a bite of a warm “Kuki” I saw myself grimace in a reflection off her Frida Kahlo picture hanging in the kitchen and she saw me and said, “Global warming, the ‘kukis’ are getting old fast because of global warming, mijo!” She added that “….even the extraterrestrial aliens wandering over from ComicCon to Chicano Park have costumes that don’t leave much to the imagination because of climate change.” She observed, “Did you see Wonder Woman down at the café? Did you see her short-shorts and those red boots, her body must stay cool but her feet must get really hot. Climate change is like social change, who would have ever thought Chicano Park would be swarming with extraterrestrial aliens and Wonder Woman to boot, red boots!” Anyway, I provide these examples because Chicanos in daily life (much like my nanita) are making more and more claims about the impact climate change is having on themselves and others, que global warming this y que global warming that. I am not here to argue whether it is true or not, I am just saying, that whatever is going on with the climate, it is having an impact on how Chicanos view themselves and how they socially construct their reality in everyday life. Every time I sit with my uncle Hank and watch “box” (boxing), he tells me that the Mexican boxer known as “Canelo” is tough because he is a red head, implying that all red heads are tough. Hank said that due to global warming, the world is running short on red heads, especially Chicano red heads. Similarly, I actually heard a U.S. Navy Seal recruiter say that he actively seeks out red heads because they are tougher than most people; the problem is that “due to global warming there are fewer and fewer red heads to pick from.” What the f..…? You can say whatever you want about global warming, but let me tell you, I mean, how else can I say it, bato? This past summer I saw a huge chunk of ice-mass break off and slide into Glacier Bay, Alaska; it was larger than Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Chicano Park, Califas, all in one. It was a big piece of ice and boom right there, bato, it broke off right before my eyes, it didn’t cause a tidal wave like I thought it would, instead it was like when I slide into the bathtub, all the water rises. Watching the glacier fall apart rendered me speechless; that in itself is a rare moment. The music on the ship went off at the moment the ice-mass slipped into Glacier Bay. Seeing the massive ice-mass slide into the bay sent me into shock. There was an eerie feeling in the air, the mind of the crowd had taken over the mind of the individual; to be sure, we were suddenly alienated from ourselves, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Then, suddenly there was a god-awful cracking sound, like giant blocks of ice rubbing against each other against their will. It reminded me that when I was a child I ate so much chile one day my tongue was burning so bad I ran to the freezer and pulled out a tray of ice cubes (you know the aluminum ice tray with the long handle). I placed the frozen tray on my tongue and it cooled down for about half a minute, but I suddenly realized my tongue was stuck to the tray. I know you have heard about people who do this; well, bato, it actually happened to me. The point is that while my tongue was stuck to the bottom of the ice tray, my sister ran over and pulled on the handle; this in turn caused the tiny ice cubes to rub against each other. Well, the self-same sound the tiny ice cubes made I also heard in the ice-mass. I don’t know why, but, I call it “blocking.” Now magnify that sound by one million times and that’s the sound I heard when the ice-mass broke off the glacier and slid into Glacier Bay. Holy shit! Dios mio! And then, as if that wasn’t enough shock for the day it started up again, crack, crack, crack; it was like the Cucuy decided to return after causing great mayhem and he didn’t give a shit, now what? More “blocking”—crack, crack, crack, another huge ice-mass was breaking off right before my eyes. The people surrounding me had no time to respond from being freaked-out by watching the first piece break off, Like me, it had rendered them speechless. Again crack, crack, crack, all I could think of was god bless us all, this is it, this could be the end of my life and the end of humanity. The sound was organic, causing a visceral shimmer in me like never before; it shook me to the core. CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! This time I grabbed my video-camera and sure enough I zoomed in with my Sony Handycam with a German lens (54X clear image zoom) and I could see white powder flying high into the sky a few miles into the glacier. Now just like before I could hear that eerie “blocking” sound so loud I could barely hear myself think and then again crack, crack, crack: another piece of ice twenty times the size of Chicano Park slid into Glacier Bay. I was once again, rendered speechless. Technically I hadn’t come out of my state of shock from witnessing the first sheet of ice falling. Think about it. We had been there less than five minutes and two huge ice-masses had broken away from the hundreds of miles of blue-white ice as far as the eye could see. This was unprecedented. You know, every time this happens that’s what people say, “This was unprecedented.” In the most unexpected way possible, you might say I had just witnessed history at least that is what the park ranger who suddenly boarded the ship said. Later, I found out that she boarded the ship for safety purposes because she felt threatened by the ice-mass slides. I’ve been stabbed in the park (twice), beat-up by seven batos all at once, hit in the head by a baseball bat as a kid raiding a piñata, fallen off a cliff and even blown up inside a tank in Iraq, but man, watching the ice-mass break off like that, man, that was really something, I’m still not over it. When it happened the second time I felt for humanity, I felt for Aztlan. I felt the weight of all Chicanismo somehow, in some way, melting away, breaking off, breaking down, all I could think of was, “How could this be? Aztlan is melting, just say it ain’t so! No mas!!! I could see my friend Carlos Castaneda’s face forming in the bright white clouds above and he was saying:
Man, you guys [humanity], you guys really messed up. The ice only flows one-way; it is never coming back, humanity is done for and so, too, are Chicanos. What happened? This is not the kind of movement we envisioned? Fighting social injustices is one thing, fighting the environment is another ballgame. We have passed the tipping point on that one. People need to know that humanity has passed the tipping point and that’s that, so now Aztlan is melting.
And then the music on the ship started up, da, da, da, da, da, da, daaaa da, da da, da, da da, da, daaaa da:
Oye como va Mi ritmo Bueno pa' gozar Mulata
I thought, damn it, they are playing my death song, this is it, we are going down like the damn Titanic! All at once my life was flashing before me, how cliché. I recall how many years ago I responded to a call for extras for the movie Titanic as they were filming off the coast near the Rosarito Beach Hotel in Baja and we were having our family reunion. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the director of casting was not picking brown people like me, I mean, think about it, and can you imagine a bunch of Chicanos/as in the movie going down with the Titanic? Well, we were not picked then, but we certainly were picked today. Glacier Bay, thefamoso frikking Glacier Bay that was not on my bucket list, was rapidly becoming my deathbed. Moreover, the music played on causing my wife’s curvy hips to sway effortlessly.
Oye como va Mi ritmo Bueno pa' gozar Mulata
I looked over at my wife, my Patricia, my Mulata and just before kissing her goodbye for life, I peered over her shoulder and there it was, the original flag of Aztlan on the side of the glacier. Was I seeing things?
No, I do not think so as others were commenting on the appearance of the flag as well. The French couple next to us said, “Regardez ce drapeau!” The German couple exclaimed, “Sieh dir diese Flagge an!” And the Afrikaans behind me yelled out, “Kyk na aardie vlag!” causing me to reflect all at once of my years in the bush with descendants of Che Guevara and his men who spread their seed throughout Marripodi Compound just outside of Lusaka, Zambia. The music seemed to get louder because the frozen ice from thousands of miles of glacier acted like a giant acoustic theatre with the best sound possible, better than the Red Rocks theatre just outside of Denver where Tito Puente did his thing with La Fea.
Comments: Refugio I. Rochin said...Well done. FYI I’ve known Victor Villasenor since we were kids. Our parents compadres. Victor does not use computer. He writes all with pencils on writing pads. His sister or friends type all for him.
Reference: Carlos was a little like Victor Villaseñor, except Victor will tell you he spent hours crying at his keyboard writing all his stories. Carlos believed that before you talk to people you need their undivided attention. As Villaseñor puts it, “First, you have to hit the burro in the head, and get his attention, then, you can start talking to him.” (Burro Genius: A Memoir, 2004) So in order to get your undivided attention, Carlos (like Hank) would sit directly in front of you so that your knees were touching. One time Carlos actually grabbed both my ears as he adjusted our chairs and gazed into my eyes, and as he gazed, he all at once gazed even deeper, it was like, I could suddenly see his soul, much like the depiction below. September 19, 2018 at 11:17 PM
es un rincón pequeño especial en Somos en escrito para escritos cortos: un poema, un cuento, una memoria, ficción de repente, y otros.
Instrucciones para la Frontera
Por Oscar Moreno
Si alguna vez le vuelves a caer a Juárez y tienes que y puedes regresarte al El Paso, te puedo dar algunos tips, depende de lo que quieras hacer. A los gringos y pochos les choca que te vean medio Mexicana. Con ellos tienes que ser completamente gringa o completamente pocha, lo cual quiere decir que mínimo tienes que ser medio gringa o medio pocha. Para los pochos, ser medio Mexicano es puro pedo. ¿Qué tienes que hacer? Primero, si andas en Juaritos, en tu casa o dónde andes, deja tu IFE, tu pasaporte Mexa, tu credencial caducada de la UACJ, tu licencia de Juárez, todo. Llévate tu pasaporte gringo, tú licencia del chuco. Segundo, nunca hables español. Puro Inglés. No dejes que se te salga ni una sola letra de español. Ahorita que estamos aquí en el puente, pues quien nos oye, pero ya cruzando con los oficiales, haz de cuenta que llegó el Will Smith y te echó un flashazo de todo tu tiempo en México. Tercero, que no te agarren viendo a Juárez. Mal plan que tu cantón este tan cerca. Yo no tengo buen ojo, pero desde el puente lo puedo ver. Cuarto, cuando vayas de Juárez a El Paso, deja todos tus pesos en casa. Que no te agarren los gringos o pochos enseñando a Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, para ellos, puro George Washington. A los del 656, les valdrá wilson, nomás aguas porque luego puede que te acaben pidiendo un poco para ahorrarse espacio de billetes en sus carteras, con eso de que ahorita un dólar equivale a cómo veinte pesos. Yo sé que la regaste. Yo sé que nunca pensaste en acabar acá. Pero por cómo pintan las cosas, puede que regreses. Ahora, estando en Juárez, seguramente te van a decir güera, sobre todo por lo blanca que estás. Pero solo un imbécil pensaría que eres gringa, pero si pasas por pocha que nunca ha pisado tierra Mexa. Te van a hablar en Inglés de chiste, te van a decir “Go, UTEP!” a pesar de que esa no es la porra y a pesar de que no terminaste tu licenciatura acá. La misma gente que te trató de la patada sirviéndoles alitas en el Grand China Buffet, te va a tratar de la patada cuando les quieras regalar quesitos y jamonsitos en Costco sucursal Juárez. Te trataron de la patada en el Circle K de la Airport cómo cuando me dijiste de una morra que se encabronó porque no le vendiste birria con una licencia de conducir falsa, y te dijo que eras una “pinche pocha pendeja”. Nomás porque vio tu apellido en tu gafete, te vio güera y te oyó gringa. Aguanta vara porque algún bato te va a querer tirar rollo diciendo que votaste por Trump, cuando el día de las elecciones nos conocimos pagando multas en la corte. Te la van a regar por haber estudiado diseño gráfico en IADA cuando ya no pudiste terminar en El Paso y van a creer que con lo nerda que eras en la Prepa del Chami, que siempre pudiste haberte ido a una ingeniería. De seguro tu misma lo pensaste cuando a tu jefe le colgaron los tenis. Menos mal que no te dijó que te fueras a la burger cómo me lo dijo mi jefe antes de que lo cagara el payaso. Que descanse en paz y que Dios lo bendiga. Ni pedo, chamaca. La regaste cómo muchos la regaron cuando se soltó el desmadre de violencia generación 2007-2012. El desmadre que nunca terminó y no te hagas, que tú también hiciste el tuyo. Este sería consejo extra, no te lo tengo que decir, pero aguas con cargar droga, ya tienes antecedentes por un pinche gallo de uso personal. No debería ser así, pero por el güero enojón ese, ya cualquier pretexto te buscan. Y si no te encuentran pretexto, se lo inventan. Date cuenta, eres la enemiga número uno de ellos, con todo el coraje y el miedo del mundo. Así fue, así es y así será siempre aunque no hayas hecho nada malo a nadie más que a ti misma, y no hablo de los gallos, que si traes, comparte. No, pero lo que nunca entendiste es que hay un lugar y un momento para todo pero estando acá, si veo cómo puede valerte queso. No sé si fue Silvio Rodríguez o José Alberto Jiménez o Mijares o Arjona el que cantó que no soy de aquí ni de allá. Pero no creo porque ninguno de esos cabrones era de Juárez. El desmadre personal ya se acabó, te toca decidir que sigue. Ahí te agarro dibujando sobre tu pierna y tus brazos, son caricaturillas pero son mejores que los tatuajes que se avientan los disque machos gangstas de acá o los chami-cholos de allá. Si te dicen que no tienes futuro, nada más acuérdate que muy probablemente mañana vas a despertar.
Oscar Moreno, born and raised in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México, endured the crime wave that took over his hometown in the late 2000s. During that time, he studied Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso and then did a Master’s in Art and Design in the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez. He’s now in the Creative Writing MFA at UTEP, commuting every day across the border.
I was attending a professional academic conference on the topic of the “psychology of the Self” that was interdisciplinary in nature, being held at the Marriot Hotel in Orange, California, not far from John Wayne International Airport. Upon arrival at the Marriott, I noticed that the hotel service workers were all very busy attending to multiple activities, a business conference, an afternoon meeting of the Lions’ Club, our academic conference, and, to my pleasant surprise they were setting up for an evening of pugilism, you know, good old-fashioned fighting, punching, hitting and, if we’re lucky, maybe some head butting. It was going to be an evening full of professional boxing and guess what? The “card” included women’s boxing! Yahoo! To say the least, the hotel was “buzzing.”As I entered the front door of the hotel I was not yet into the lobby when I was greeted by a large aquarium-like water dispenser stock full of fresh lemons located in the vestibule, the interstitial zone, the area between the front door and the lobby, the “in between,” a place where symbolically, I love to be and that most people find uncomfortable. So looking up to the morning sunlight, I closed my eyes and took a drink of the lemon water only to be disrupted by a pair of academics (you know the snooty types) speaking poorly of the age-old sport of boxing as well as those who attend boxing matches. “Can you imagine entering a ring with the objective to beat each other’s brains out?” one said, and the other replied, “What sort of people would attend such an event?” And then it occurred to me, these chaps were in attendance at the conference I came to attend. I also realized that I would much rather be at the boxing match. I was reminded of how many years I tried to develop of my academic colleagues as boxing buffs, but to no avail as they all looked down their noses at the sport I so well loved. As a result my enthusiasm was driven underground and I had to watch boxing events at home by my lonesome. I have to admit that the reason I like hanging out in the vestibule (interstitial zone) is because others always hurry through so I felt like I had the specially made water all to myself, it was a space where I could temporarily seek refuge from the morning hustle-and-bustle I experienced at two airports and a quick taxicab ride. As I drank the cool water I was reminded of a going away gift a friend once gave me the day prior to departing Texas for California: a water dispenser just as large as the one I was presently faced with and filled with several rows of pineapple and, need I say, vodka, seven times distilled. Thing is, because we were leaving the next day we had to drink the whole thing. There too rests a dichotomy as my academic colleagues were either non-consumers of alcohol or alcoholics. The unspeakable truth is that many of them stashed bottles of whisky in their university office files alongside their winter breath mouthwash to disguise the smell of alcohol. University professors are a “walking contradiction” in this way, always preaching one thing and doing something else. Concomitantly, we are trained to search for the truth in our subject matter and we always land-up masking our findings with illusions of the truth. In the “interstitial zone of life” you might say, you are neither here nor there but you are always discovering something new. As I looked around the hotel I noticed to my right, a sign-up table for my conference; it looked drab, and the people staffing the table looked just as drab, just like the stuffed shirts academics I knew I would meet up with later in the afternoon, so rather than sign-up for the conference I decided that it could wait so I immediately went to the left to the hotel registration desk, signed into my room and proceeded to the gym for a quick workout. The gym was average in size (not bad) and had some of the best equipment I had ever seen at a hotel gym, complete with treadmills with fans, widescreen television sets and what looked like an “aquarium” filled with fresh cut lemons and cool drinking water just like the one located in the vestibule near the front door of the hotel. I mounted the treadmill, set the fans on high and rapidly worked up to a good self-paced jog for twenty-minutes. I was set to leave and started pouring lemon water when as if out of nowhere a female boxer walked into the gym. She had a long black pony tail, was very fit, and had the appearance of a Chicana Hilary Swank in the fight movie “Million Dollar Baby” produced by Clint Eastwood. She wore a bright red robe with matching red Everlast boxing gloves and there were large silver letters across her back that read, “Tap Out, San Antonio.” I later learned that this was the name of her boxing gym. In a very nervous manner, she looked me straight in the eye and asked me how my workout was going. As I drank the cool lemon water she began to nervously shadow box all about the gym. I asked her if she was from San Antonio and let her know that I was living in Kingsville, Texas (just south of San Antonio). At this, she made direct eye contact and in a heavy Chicano accent told me about how this was her first time in “Loz Angeles.” She went on to say that she had come a long way to fight a well-known boxer (undefeated) from Los Angeles and that this was the biggest fight of her career with 8 wins, 1 knockout and 0 losses. She said that she was nervous and “a little afraid.” I told her that I loved boxing, had boxed as a young man for the Boy’s Club of San Diego, undefeated for two years and that I had often reflected upon my feelings of fear (when first entering the ring) but had come to a point of enjoying the feelings of fear; especially once I demonstrated some boxing competency to myself. Besides a good dose of adrenaline does the body good! I added that I had employed this strategy throughout my life and that today in my capacity as a social psychologist had come to inculcate this behavior in everyday life. In other words, I overcome fear by “diving straight into it,” the phenomenon that is causing the fear in the first place, that is, and always find that by doing so this method can assist with the fear factor. She caught my eye again and said she had earned a degree in psychology and business at the downtown San Antonio satellite campus of the University of Texas; I had once consulted there for start-up development. She did not work out long as it appeared that she had some nervous energy to keep in check. As she worked the stair-stepper, she jabbed into the air as professional boxers often do. After ten minutes or so her manager came by, knocked on the window and just before exiting the gym, she turned and invited me to the fight. I told her I would be there “in her corner.” Now that I think about it, I noticed that she had a quick conversation with her manager, pointed to me, and left the hallway. After my workout, I took a shower and tried to psyche-up for conference mode. I walked through the “buzz” generated by hotel personnel and signed-up for my conference at the conference desk with a rather bored looking woman who afforded me a mountain of materials along with a sizeable name tag and one-hundred percent cotton bag made by some poor kid working out of a sweatshop in Bangladesh. Now that I was all “labeled” up, I could identify myself with several hundred other colleagues all walking around the hotel aimlessly or talking on their cell phones acting as if what they were talking about was somehow important. As I sat through the conference workshops that morning I made it a point to get up and walk the hallways of the hotel about every forty minutes. Frankly, I did so mostly out of boredom (I just have to be honest with you), to get some exercise and also to pee as I was on “pee pills” as part of my kidney stone regimen. Our conference was being held on the furthest side opposite the front door of the hotel, maybe some fifty yards away. In between our conference room and the front door was a very large hall where the evening fights were going to be held that looked like it could fit up to 2,000 people; it actually looked like a ballroom. There were any number of vendors, service and lighting people, and professional boxing types everywhere. I must say this certainly made my trips to the restroom quite interesting. As I walked the hallways of the hotel I kept asking people where I might purchase a ticket for the fights. Well, it soon became common knowledge that the fight was sold out. I understood this but I kept asking anyway and felt that the $28 dollar investment would be well worth it and at the same time give me an excuse not to hang-out with the stuff-shirt academics who only wanted to talk about their boring work. In search of tickets I happened to meet the promoter of the fights near the giant Tecate beer bottles being set up near the main bar. He acted busy so I was surprised he gave me a few minutes of his time as I asked him a number of questions, like how many fights were there going to be, who was fighting and the like. After this conversation I noticed a guy who looked like a “ticket scalper” and asked him if he had tickets; he did not, but he did encourage me to keep checking with him and I heard him on his cell phone trying to locate a ticket for me, these were all good signs and at the same time reified in me my tenacious behavior. Later that day, on another trip to the restroom I noticed some people wearing “Tap Out” shirts setting up a booth with pictures of what looked like the female boxer I had met in the gym. A young woman (that looked like the boxer’s sister) said I had to go to the fight to watch “Norma kick some ass.” I found her confidence contagious and even a little intimidating and agreed. Just as she directed me to purchase a $9 picture with “Norma Cha Boom Boom” she (Norma) came around the corner out of the staging room, how could I refuse to purchase a picture? The camera was not yet set-up, but the “sister” gave me the “look” as if to say “Why not just purchase one of these pictures asshole we need the money” so I placed the $9 in the plastic jar, said a few encouraging words to Norma and decided to walk through the “staging room” where both male and female boxers were hanging their garments, taping-up their hands and getting ready to mostly kill time by shadow boxing and of course to “talk shit” about their opponents. I could tell that “Norma Cha Boom Boom” was real tough, a street fighter who rest assured could take a lot of pain and give some, too. My sense is that she is probably a better fighter with her gloves off and out of the ring on the street some fighters are just that way, hence, they might lose in the ring, but they will always win a fight on the street. The paradox is simply there are far too many rules to follow in the ring it’s not like back in the day. Each boxer had a very small area in this large room where they would prepare themselves for the fight, there were both male and female boxers, their managers and their “handlers” just like the ones I had just met selling pictures. I was now an official “Norma Cha Boom Boom fan” and was determined to go to the fights that evening. I returned to my academic conference and found a speaker, a professor of rhetoric from the University of Pennsylvania, preparing to give his lecture. I also noticed a number of copies of a very thick book (over 500 pages) placed at every table. It was a book written by the speaker (“good old what’s his name) and the subject matter was “self-development for adult learners.” Anyway I sat about three tables down from the podium where he was addressing over 300 academics from a variety of disciplines. At one point he conducted an exercise asking every table in the room to meet for a few minutes and come up with a definition of the word “plisky.” Beyond working in collaboration with others, I am not sure what the point of the exercise was, but the speaker made it a point to tell the audience that he had spent two hours trying to identify a word that “this group” (Ph.D.’s) might not know the definition, so each table came up with a definition, presented it to the greater group, and by a show of hands, each respective definition was either accepted or rejected by the entire group of 300. It didn’t take long to reject a number of excellent definitions. At our table, like all of the other tables, no one was forthcoming with a “true” definition. As a group we lacked vibrancy and imagination, the exercise was suddenly boring and uneventful. Even though I was not feeling it and didn’t really care to collaborate with others at my table (as I was busy trying to figure out how to get a ticket to the fights), I shared my knowledge of a “plisky” and told them how I knew what it was. This is what I shared. While serving as a Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas AandM University, I told them, I once proposed to the Chancellor’s Office that we fund a Center of Excellence every two years. The Chancellor thought this was a “great idea,” funded our university, and as a result we competed for the prize within our own university. I reflected upon the “excellence” I found in each of my 18 departments and ascertained a need for a grand Steinway piano in the Music Department. I was convinced that the only way we would attract top artists was if we had a Steinway, as artists will often not provide a concert without a Steinway or Kawai piano. So I met with the chair of the Music Department with the idea of writing a proposal for this purpose. He told me that he loved the idea but had never written a proposal. At this, I told him I would write the proposal on his behalf as long as he didn’t tell the other chairs that I had done so; since I could not focus in my Dean’s Office I set up a time to visit the Music Department to find a place to write. The chair took me into a piano room with no windows but with a few hundred boxes of old sheet music that smelled like musty paper and a very old Bösendorfer grand piano (a unique prototype made in Vienna) stacked high with even more sheets of music. Suddenly, without warning he stretched his arm out across the top of the piano and moved it rapidly from one end to the other, clearing everything atop the piano to the floor; “now you have work space,” he blurted, smiled, and walked away. It took me about three hours to write the proposal that was subsequently funded for around $700,000. Again, it was the first award in the Texas AandM University System of its kind. I had proposed it, and I was proud of the fact that it was awarded to our Music Department. With a sizeable check in hand I immediately made contact with the Steinway Piano Corporation in New York City and they in turn placed me in contact with their representative in their Houston corporate office. I was invited to the “Steinway showroom” in Houston. I must say that all of the Steinway people I had met were very professional. They began our meeting with champagne and a brief history of the Steinway piano. I learned that only a particular kind of wood from the Black Forest in Germany was used to make their pianos because it was that particular forest where the Steinway Family was having a picnic one afternoon when lightning struck, killing the entire family with the exception of one man who (at the time lightning struck) heard a significant tone (a reverberation of a sort) in the trees. It was that sound and that event that changed the life of young Steinway.
At the same time, Steinway pianos are known not to utilize wood glue to hold the pieces inside the piano together. Rather, the wood is placed in such a manner so as to hold itself together, using wooden doles and support design. At the same time, each piano key stretches from the front side of the piano (ivory key side) into the inside of the piano through an extended wooden arm, and at the end of the arm is a “hammer head” made of hardened felt – that is the “plisky.” A professor in the room (someone I had never met) reified my definition by adding that once he had worked for the Hammond Organ Company and that my definition was true. I think he was simply full of himself and wanted others to know that he had a life outside of academe. I successfully argued that the “plisky” was the part of the hammer made of hardened cotton that struck the piano string. The “plisky” is located beneath the black hammers in this picture, but of course my point is that it was not true, I was dreadfully bored and was looking for a cheap thrill, plus, I just wanted to be powerfully convincing and I was. Read on. The entire group of 300 cheered at my story and voted mine as the best definition of the word “plisky.” Fact is, when the speaker read the real definition of the word, “plisky,” no one believed him. He said that according to Webster’s Dictionary a “plisky” was a joke, something made up as when someone “kids around.” When I told the group that I had made up the definition they did not believe me! It took some re-explaining to undo as several of them became adamant and few were on to my boredom and trickery. Following the “plisky exercise,” I took a break and sought refuge in the hallways only to run into Norma, the female boxer. She said that the fighter she was originally matched-up with was a “no show” and that she would now be matched-up with “that girl over there,” a young woman dressed in “Irish greens” with red hair, big freckles, and bright green eyes who looked like she possessed a thick Irish accent and could hold her own in the ring, Norma sensed that the young woman was a “push over” and said as she shook her head, “Look at her, now what a plisky that is!”