Archive for October, 2006

Street Ball

La tiramos afuera, tio? Wanna play catch, Uncle?” My nephew Benjamin tossed the ragged tennis ball a few inches in the air. “Sure.”

Bored

Benjamin is 12 years old and lives with his father and grandmother in Tijuana. His mother died when he was two. He knows her mostly from pictures. His father moved them to California a few years after; Benjamin went to school and learned to speak English. After several hard years working multiple kitchen jobs, they returned to Guadalajara. Some years later, they came back to Tijuana to live on the same street they lived together as a young family almost 10 years earlier. My wife Rosario had told me about her sister and the child she left behind. And I met my new nephew less than a year before becoming his uncle.

La tiramos afuera, tio?” “Sure,” I say following him outside to play catch at 9 o’clock at night. The brisk air becomes more and more bearable as I warm up, throwing fast and fly balls, sprinting to chase the green grounders that get by. Between breaks for passing cars, Benjamin’s cousin, Roberto (another nephew I neglected to mention who lives in California but had to come back and enroll in school to renew his visa), comes outside to join the game. Benjamin scoops up a broken two by four, hands it to Roberto and takes the mound. I pull a chunk of particleboard out of the neighbor’s construction scrap and place it at home plate. The rules quickly come together, hits and runs measured by speed bumps and telephone poles. In this moment, Tijuana blooms. Streetlights become stadium floodlights and the uneven pavement becomes a world-class ballpark.

The moment never lasts long enough. I didn’t hit the hero’s home run I had hoped for. But it doesn’t matter to them. Who says you need a baseball or a bat to play baseball. They can turn the contents of your pocket into ninja stars. And they have no idea how much they inspire me.

Smack Those Political Campaigns

Eyes unopened, tangled in sheets and the morning light, the sound invades my waking mind. “Smack that, all on the floor, smack that, give me some more, smack that, until you get sore, smack that, oh oh oooh . . . “ It can’t be inside the room, and it isn’t coming from the window. Synapses slowly begin to fire in order and I realize it’s coming from another sector of my brain where the absent DJ left a record spinning. Smack that, la la la laaa, smack that, la la la laaa. I flop out of bed and step into the shower, but the song continues…

All day, I caught myself whistling, humming, and strutting to “Smack That.” See, I have this unconscious musical recorder that’s something like muscle memory. I hear music through the window of a passing car, and 10 minutes later, I’m whistling it. But waking up with a song in my head is rare. I imagine the political ads that pummeled me the night before while watching Law & Order SVU could have knocked something loose. No commercials for iPods, movies, or shampoo. Just wall to wall political propaganda. Just thinking of all the money that goes into convincing voters makes me ill.

A troubling trend in the campaign wars has to do with “family values.” I picked up this pamphlet at a church in Escondido. It’s from FamilyVoterInfo.org and at first glance, appears to list candidates and their opinions on the issues. But several things are a little off kilter. The only Democratic candidate whose responses appear is Phil Angelides, and every Republican candidate agrees on the issues, making this anything but a comparative study. It’s real purpose becomes clearer when you notice that drivers licenses for illegal immigrants (against), oil tax for alternative energy research (against), political campaign reform (against), and raising property taxes (against) are all now apparently family values issues. The only issues that seem remotely related to families are parental notification for abortion (supporting a YES vote), limiting marriage to one man and one woman (supporting a YES vote), and paid preschool for all children (supporting a NO vote).

If this wasn’t odd enough, the issues for congressional candidates include school choice vouchers (YES), voting against raising taxes (YES), registering firearms (NO), legislating to limit abortion (YES), parental consent for abortion (YES, note that this time they used the term “consent” not “notification”), gay marriage (NO), censoring libraries (YES), and amnesty for illegal immigrants (NO). Ok, since when did immigration status start threatening family values? And how does NOT requiring gun owners to register and license weapons protect families? The whole idea is absurd. A shameless attempt to influence conservative Christians into voting Republican or family values in this country will be lost.

Didn’t Jesus teach loving your neighbor as yourself, giving to the needy, and nonviolence? Christianity would be a lot more attractive if Christians worked a little harder to practice the fundamental principles rather than promoting political agendas that include military action, eliminating services for the poor, and selfish tax laws.

On Customer Service: Walmart Photo Center

Before Rosario and I got married two years ago, we hunted around Tijuana for a photographer and video production crew. The photographer we chose wasn’t terribly artsy or creative, but he did offer one thing no one else did: digital originals of all the photos. Most photographers guard originals with their lives to keep couple’s coming back for prints. This guy even gave us a special price for the DVD-R of images because I think I was the first person who ever asked for it. The video crew we hired also offered to sell me the original tapes for the cost of the media only. The source material is priceless to me, and luckily, I found a few people who didn’t realize it.

So the other day, we wanted to give some wedding photos out as gifts. I used Walmart’s online photo service to upload and order the prints (I’ve been impressed with the quality/price/speed of their prints). An hour later, a guy from Walmart calls to say he can’t print the photos because they are “professional.” He explains that they will print the photos if I bring in a signed release form from the photographer. “I own the originals,” I explain. “I bought them as part of the photographer’s services. He didn’t give me a release form, he gave me the images.” He repeated, “You’ll need to bring in a release form or I can’t print these.” I tried to explain the situation in simpler yet increasingly louder terms. He regurgitated company policy again and again like a robot stuck in a loop. After I was just about ready to tele-strangle the guy, I gave up and asked for a refund instead. “You’ll have to come in to the store with the receipt you printed to get the refund.” They couldn’t even refund it online where I’d ordered . . . I debated whether the gas to drive in plus the exasperation was worth the $7.81 refund, but I decided it was.

Moral: Buy a good photo printer or go to a local non-franchised print shop.