If I wasn’t watching novelas or cartoons, I was watching basketball. The Jordan Era ignited a love for basketball. Me and my cousins loved to play basketball. They obsessed over basketball. They wanted to be like Jordan. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to play like them. So I did. Jordan was like a super hero. Know one could dunk like him. My cousins loved basketball so much, their dad made them a basketball court. My uncle poured concrete over the dirt and planted two basketball hoops on each end. We practiced dunking. We practiced lay-ups, free throws and short scrimmages. Jordan seemed invincible. So I decided I was going to be more like his sidekick, Scotti Pippin. He was human. I loved watching them play. I loved Rodman too. I loved the Chicago Bulls.
At the time it wasn’t phantomable for a girl to play basketball. Oops. I meant to say fathomable. It wasn’t fathomable for a woman to be athletic the way men are idolized as athletes. So passion for basketball was realistically reduced to a low expectation for greatness in life.
Sometimes we went to Shakey’s to watch the games there, while munching on mojo potatoes and pizza. On commercial breaks we played Pac Man in the arcade. And that’s how I developed a love for sports.
Even after my baby sister was born, my mom still made me go to the library. 1989. Age 6. Education. Education. Everything had to be educational. After a morning routine of forced labor, I headed out to the library with my mom and my sister. The Northwest Branch Library was adjacent to a park with a playground. Sometimes I tried running towards the playground before hitting the books, hoping my mom let me get a little swing action. That never happened. “Denise, you want to wash more socks?” “No.”
It was library first, then swings. My mom always followed through with the Premack principle. She didn’t play games. During circle time at the library, I got annoyed at the slow pace the volunteer librarian read at, so I pretended to listen. Occasionally, I snuck in my Dracula teeth. Sometimes I got my Dracula teeth in front of Alpha Beta, the local grocery store from the gumball vending machines. “Sister.” In my lowest whisper voice, “Sister, jejejeje.” “Raw.” “You want one.” “I brought one for you.” I sneakily handed the Dracula teeth to my sister. “Raaaa.” “Raaaa.”
After, we read some Amelia Bedelia books. I begged my mom to let us check out read-along cassette books. It was my only opportunity to have a good excuse to touch all the buttons on the stereo. I pressed all the buttons. Hold on, “I have to pause it.” “I have to go pee.” I peed, went back to the stereo, read a page. Hold on, “Let me rewind, I didn’t hear that part.” “Ugh man, I rewinded too much.” “Let me fast forward to where I was at.” “Ok, push play.” I read along the entire book several times. Read-along cassette books were our favorite because it was entertaining and lazy. You got to wear headphones, if you wanted to, and if you didn’t want to use your eyes to read you could use your ears to listen.
After Christmas vacation, it was back to school and back to dealing with babysitters. My babysitters were always illegal immigrants from Mexico. I always overheard the phrase “No tengo papeles” and in response someone said “Que no te vaya agarar la migra.” It was a fearful conversation I amused myself with as a child. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been such a brat. I loved my babysitters. I had a favorite. Although I’m not going to disclose quien era mi consentida. It wouldn’t be fair or nice to the other good babysitters I had.
One day my babysitter wanted to watch her usual novela, while, I wanted to watch Chavo del Ocho. I remember my babysitter stepped out of the house for a second and in that moment I quickly sprinted to the door and locked it. Instead of arguing I decided it would be easier to lock her out of the house. I grabbed the remote and changed the channel to Chespirito. Happy. I became annoyed when she started asking me to open the door. On commercial breaks, I opened the window and attended to her nagging. I said “Te va agarar la migra.” “Cayate, te va agarar la migra.” “Ponte a regar las plantas.” Once my show ended, I let her back in the house.
After letting her back in the house, my babysitter walked to her room and grabbed a notebook to write letters. I asked, “Que haces?” She responded, “Nada, dejame en paz. Ya no estes fregando.” I said, “Porque?” She said, “Le estoy escribiendo una carta a mi novio.” I said, “Whaaaatttt?!” “Tù tienes un novioooooo. Eww. Wakatelas.” She said, “Lo extraño.” I said, “Oh, tienes una foto.” She said, “Sì, te la voy a enseñar. Es un soldado en el ejercito de Mexico.” She showed me a picture of her boyfriend in a soldier’s uniform. I was like, “Por eso te gusta escuchar Los Bukis.” My babysitter laughed, “Ahahahahaha, cayate mensa.” I responded, “Noooo, tù mensa.” We both laughed, “eeehehehehehe.” Luego le dije, “Por eso cuando escuchas Los Temerarios te salen lagrimas. Eres una cry baby.” We laughed even more.
My grandma loved me more than my mom loved me. My grandma never made me wash socks. She recognized, I was a true blessing. By the time I was born, my grandmother was living in California. My grandmother adored me. We bonded immediately. Not all grandchildren have a tight bond with a grandparent and that’s ok. There is always someone in our lives that we experience a deep spiritual connection with and for me that person happened to be my grandmother, Nicanora.
When my mother wasn’t feeding me sopita cup of noodles, my grandmother was giving me sopita de tortilla. We ate tortillas with everything. A typical meal from my grandmother consisted of shredded tortillas boiled in a cup of milk with a pinch of salt. When I was in pre-school she babysat an Asian baby who always ate white rice. I always asked why his rice was different as I ate spoonfuls of mayonnaise. She never responded. Anyways, as I got older and came home from Kinder, my abuelita was always cleaning nopales in the backyard while sitting on a bucket with a cigarette in her mouth. She always smiled at me with her funny little whiskers as she worked away at cleaning the nopales. I always did homework and then helped her with the nopales. I never ate nopales, I just helped cut the prickly needles off and if one got stuck in my finger she took it out with a toenail clipper.
One day, I walked straight to the backyard after school and my abuelita was know where to be found. I started searching for her. I started calling out her name and not a beep. I was like, “Why isn’t my abuelita responding?” “That’s weird.” I opened the door to her room and was greeted by my abuelita cleaning naked, dusting the blinds on the windows. It was so scary. I shrieked, “Aaahhhhh!!! Abuelita!!! Que hace!” “Esta Loca!” And she said “Hace calor.” “Tenemos lo mismo.” I immediately shut the door as I heard her speak those words. In a frightful panic, I thought, “No. We don’t have the same thing. Yuck. My grandma cleans naked.” She always had hot flashes. She was always hot. I remember her sweaty mustache.
I went to the living room to do my homework while my grandmother continued her window cleaning. Apparently, while she was cleaning, she dropped her blush off the windowsill and she didn’t like wasting anything, so she dabbed whatever she could pick up off the floor onto her cheeks. When she was done cleaning, she walked out of her room looking like a heat rash. At this point, I looked at my grandma with great concern, “Abuelita? Que le pasa!? Tiene fiebre! Necesita un doctor!” And she responded with a smiley witty comment, “No me veo bonita?” I said, “Que? Tiene los cachetes bien rojos!” She said, “Se me callo el rubor y para no desperdiciarlo, me lo puse en los cachetes.” We both started laughing hysterically. “Aahahahahahaha.” “Jejejejejejejeje.” “Aaahahahahahaha.” “Jejejejeje.”