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
The Night La Virgen Crashed Corky’s Party for César
By Sonny Boy Arias Federico Peña, Denver’s first Chicano Mayor once hosted a reception for César Chavez at his home. In attendance were a Chicano congressman, Chicano State Senator, Chicana Assemblywomen, a Chicano member of the State Board of Education, several Chicano community activists like the directors of Brother’s Redevelopment Corporation and the Community Action Program and a half dozen Chicano professors (including myself), now how Chicano is that? I never felt so Chicano in my life. We used to meet weekly at El Metro, a local bar located in the barrio on Santa Fe Boulevard downtown Denver across the street from the Metropolitan State College of Denver to strategize who was going to run for which political office next. We saw this as our official meeting place, the “space for change” we called it. We used to test-out community planning ideas with influential Denver politicos prior to going public; it’s the place we planned to bring César when he came to town but were only able to get him to Federico Peña’s house located in an up-scale part of Denver known as Cherry Creek not far from the Tattered Book Store and Lyle Alzado’s Bar (former professional football player for the Denver Broncos who was drafted to the Oakland Raiders). My wife, Patricia, and Federico’s first wife Ellen were jogging buddies so I heard first-hand that she encouraged him to invite just a handful of people for the reception, but it turned out to be more of a Chicano-style pachanga. Prior to César’s arrival I estimated some two hundred and fifty people in-and-around Peña’s house, and once the students arrived it swelled easily to over four hundred. Important to note is that given a number of recent clashes with the police it was obvious that there were no police in sight; another of Mayor Peña’s strategies as his message to the Denver Police Department and to the dismay of the Chief of Police (an outspoken officer who always spoke in defense of his junior officers for having shot and killed a number of Chicanitos) was, “We can take care of our own!” I noticed a beautifully remodeled 1960ish low-rider Chevy with a picturesque spray painting of César Chávez on the trunk reflecting off a well-placed black-light projecting a purple ray of light from the dashboard approaching the house at a Chicano speed of one mile per hour; it was travelling low-and-slow, not just because the crowd was thick but to also give people time to place their hands on the spray-paintings of César on the trunk and/or La Virgen de Guadalupe (The Virgin Mary) on the hood. People rubbed the images as if they were touching the shroud of Jesus. Both were dimly lit yet quite visible giving the low-rider a heavenly luminescent look amidst cold fog-breathing onlookers with a Rocky Mountain background and La Luna (The Moon) watching over. At least a couple hundred students walked behind the vehicle–it was like a cross between a spiritual and social movement all at once–Chicano style to be sure. The young students from the Escuela Tlatelolco (who were not invited to the reception but defined Mayor Peña’s house as a newly found part of their community) led the chant “Que viva César Chávez!” and the crowd would respond with “Que viva!” Prior to the long walk from Five Points (a place where five main interconnecting streets converged stretching out from each of Denver’s barrios), César had met with the students: his message to them was that there were two types of effective social change: slow and fast and that it is highly important to first lay the foundation for any change to occur and they must always take action on both depending on the signs (albeit, needs) of the times and that public social protest was the best way to bring attention to social problems; many Chicano students reported their lives’ were forever changed by this encounter.
Artist unknown, but sought for attribution
Upon César’s arrival, Rodolfo Corky Gonzalez immediately stepped out of the low-rider wearing a black silk jet fighter pilot-like coat with bright-red heavily threaded letters with his prize winning name on the back “Corky the Champ!” along with an intense look on his face just as he looked before entering the ring for a boxing match as he had done so many times before. César followed, wearing his prize winning smile. As they made their way out of the car and up to the front-porch the stark contrast between César and Corky was peculiar yet positive, César was never so Chicano and for this event Corky was not the main event, not even in his own town as the real Champ had arrived. Realizing he was in the presence of grandeur, Corky took his place directly behind César with his arms extended and at the same time holding onto César’s shoulders in precisely the same manner in which a prize fighter enters the ring. As the chants grew to almost deafening pitches, “Que viva César Chávez!” – there appeared an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe on the large bay window of the living room for all to see. It was clear-as-day, floating as if suspended about four feet off the ground. Neither César nor Corky knew what to think or say. As it turns out the image was actually a reflection from the dimly lit image of La Virgen reflecting off the low-rider and accentuated by the light of the silvery moon –the bay window acted like a bright reflection off a giant movie screen. La Luna shown beautifully and bright that night as if she were looking over us and providing the light for taking back the night in this Rocky Mountain town with a cowboy past and a Chicano future, with so much political turmoil during those tumultuous times. Chicanos and Chicanas were ripe for this moment, simply stated, “It just had to be!” With several hundred people standing in the yard and because the low-rider was riding low-and-slow most people could not see the image of La Virgen reflecting off the car but word spread quickly so they were immediately convinced the Virgin Mary had made an appearance, after-all seeing is believing! The large and colorful image of La Virgen stunned the crowd. I cannot stress the impact it had momentarily on us all. The fact that the bay window was also reflecting the shadows of the people standing nearest the window as they moved about brought more life to the image. In just a matter of seconds following her appearance, the crowd let out a subtle moan as dozens of people repeated “Oh my God! Oh my God!” All at once people began making the Sign-of-the-Cross the way Catholics do and for many they kept making it over-and-over again like the way Latino professional baseball players do when they go up to bat. People produced Rosaries from their pockets and began praying the Lord’s Prayer; you could hear them praying in both Spanish and in English yet in unison as if it were orchestrated from heaven above:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
One elderly woman near the bay window cried out that a bed of “velvety-red roses” had also appeared beneath the window just like the roses Juan Diego, a Nahua peasant, had shared in a cloak upon her apparition back in 1531. When she said this hundreds of heads turned back to the window, some with skepticism but sure enough there was a beautiful bed of “velvety-red roses.” It was in fact Mayor Peña’s rose bed; even he was astounded, however, at both the appearance and beauty of the roses as he had just trimmed each rose bush down to three conjoining stems as he was taught by his grandfather; even his wife Ellen commented that she had just taken the garbage out including all the trimmings from the rose bushes leaving no trace of roses for the season. It wasn’t hard to see the wonder in everyone’s faces. Over-and-over again for a good ten minutes people repeated the Lord’s Prayer. I noticed that none of the children from the Escuela Tlatelolco joined in on the recitation as they were taught to question authority through a critical lens and they were not enchanted with the Catholic Church. Nearly all of the children from the escuela were trilingual speaking, Spanish, English and Nahuatl, a language indigenous to regions in and around the Aztec Empire and used by Chicanos so as not to be understood by others. Several dozen prayers had gone by when it started to feel a little too Catholic; even with the image on the bay window, things started to feel odd, especially to Chicanos who had not had positive experiences with priests and/or nuns in Catholic school. Tacitly, it goes without saying, “No one dared to stop the people from praying!” In all his wisdom, however, derived from his experiences as a prize fighter who often during bouts would start praying at a point when he thought he didn’t have the strength to win until he saw a vision of La Virgen, Corky decided to include a good dose of ascetic mysticism: he spoke loudly into a portable microphone system he always seemed to have by his side and broke the cadence of the prayers: “People! People! My brothers and my sisters, as you are a witness today, La Virgen de Guadalupe is with us in support of our causa; she is ‘Guadalupe’ named for the one who can ‘crush the serpent’ [a reference to the Aztec serpent-god Quetzalcoatl]. With her support we can achieve anything; it is good to have a friend in heaven! Because we are Chicanos, we are Quetzalcoatl, so together with Our Lady we will overcome injustices in our community and any conflicts in our hearts. Que viva La Virgen y que viva César Chávez!”
And the crowd responded with, “Que viva!” César’s smile was bigger than ever.
As they stood on the porch only three feet off the ground much like César does while standing on Andy Boy wooden crates in the fields when speaking to farmworkers, Corky held the portable microphone up for César (in the same way Luis Valdez used to hold it for César) and proceeded to reach into the right-side back pocket of his khaki pants and retrieve a well-worn paperback copy of Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man (1964), the same one given him by Marcuse when he visited with him at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla, Califas. While pointing to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the bay window quoted Marcuse by stating loud enough for everyone present to hear:
“It is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us!”
The response from the crowd was dozens of chants:
“Que viva César Chávez!Que viva César Chávez!Que viva César Chávez! Que viva César Chávez! Que viva César Chávez! Que viva César Chávez!”
As the chants grew deafening, the children of the Escuela Tlatelolco lined up along the porch, two dozen of them dressed in china poblana dresses (a traditional style worn by Mexican women) and then as if apparitions themselves, two Denver police officers showed up to report a disturbing the peace complaint and the children of the escuela began chanting as if on cue:
“Fuck the pigs get them out of our community! Fuck the pigs get them out of our community! Fuck the pigs get them out of our community!”
As the White and Mexican American police officers approached Mayor Peña, he looked at Corky and Corky looked at César andCésar glanced over to the beautiful brown children and they were giving the police officers mal ojo (evil eye) while at the same time continuing to chant “Fuck the pigs get them out of our community!”I heard Corky, say to the children “Okay, great; ten more times!” As the children were winding down the Mayor excused the police officers and the crowd went wild. [Following the event, I heard through my wife that the Mayor told the police officers to stay away from his home and that “We are Chicanos; we can police our own community.”] César held up the youngest of the Chicanitas who in turn led the crowd with a traditional Chicano hand clap; as everyone clapped César kissed each and every one of “Quixote’s soldiers” on the cheek and everyone broke out into a grand version of De Colores, a traditional Mexican song which became an anthem of the farmworker movement. It didn’t matter from which of the five Denver barrios you were from, I could sense that everyone in attendance felt an affinity that evening as the Chicano community knew who they were and where they stood; they had shared meanings, common values and beliefs and they had La Virgen and César Chávez in their midst. The only thing missing was the Chicano National Anthem “Low-Rider” or is it “Sabor a Mi?” Anyway the car clubs were all at peace that night. After only an hour-and-a-half, César was suddenly whisked away as rumor had it that there had been an attempt on his life in the dining room. In reality what had happened was that César was in a rather intense conversation with Mayor Peña’s wife Ellen surrounding issues of health and nutrition (after all she was in training for long distance running for the Olympics) when a woman weighing over four-hundred pounds fell from her bamboo bar stool (the chair appeared to have exploded right under her wide bottom) and toppled over onto the Mayor, who was rather small in stature and squirmed like a smashed bug beneath her. I know as I was sitting next to him; it took several seconds for anyone to take action. We were so aghast with what had just happened we simply could not believe our eyes and besides La Virgen de Guadalupe was still on the bay window. It was a difficult cognitive shift from hearing the bamboo all at once crackling as well as the sound of the woman hitting the floor, just as it was a surprise hearing the Mayor moan like someone who had just been knocked out in a prize fight. Psychologically all that registered in our minds for the several seconds that ensued were the sounds of the sudden commotion. To say the least, we were stunned, rendered speechless, paralyzed with new found emotions, how else can I put it? All we could see was the Mayor’s preppy glasses, a few strands of his cold-black hair and his right hand pounding on the floor as if tapping out from a professional wrestling match. In a knee-jerk reaction, Corky went into a prize fighting stance as he had been trained to do for so many years and a few Brown Berets pulled out their guns as if out of nowhere. Guns? People close to César say that evening was definitely a game-changer for him because Ellen was powerfully convincing and she got him thinking about becoming a vegetarian and to become more disciplined about what he put into his body; she even encouraged him to practice yoga. He remained in occasional contact with her talking for long hours (as evidenced by phone bills brought to his attention by Fred Ross, an ardent UFW organizer and volunteer accountant) about nutrition and health as he knew she was a well-disciplined individual and he respected this about her.
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!”