Stand Up


My seven-year-old nephew, John, loves jokes and riddles. He’s spent this past weekend (the whole weekend) trying out his new material and laughing heartily at his own delivery. In his collection of books, he has SpongeBob Squarepants’s Serving Up Smiles: A Joke Book featuring classics such as, “How does SpongeBob like his eggs?” Of course the answer is: “Funny side up.” John even giggles at ones that he cannot understand yet. “What happened when SpongeBob ate one plate of spaghetti too many?” And the answer is…”He went pasta point of no return.”

When he runs out of material in the books, John even tries to make up his own, giving us three chances to guess a response to an impossible question, such as: “What did the boy do when he wanted dinner?” The answer could be figuratively, or literally, anything.

One of my favorite puns, and one that works especially well on a chalkboard, is: What do you call a fish with no eyes (I’s): fsh. My mom reminds me that, as a child, any time I got a chance to head to the library I was on the hunt for the best joke and riddle books. She just doesn’t know that I still am.

John and I love shaggy dog stories, absurd punch lines, rhyming riddles, rib ticklers, anything that makes us chortle and snort.

So Much Elation


Despite chocolate chip pancakes and a hot cocoa with extra whipped cream, my seven-year-old nephew was unhappy about Sunday morning. Maybe he didn’t get enough sleep? Maybe he wasn’t going to get over the fact that I wasn’t going to buy him a gun even though it wasn’t real and only shot rubber bands and…? Maybe he was still mad that instead of just listening in silence (as I was instructed) to him singing an impromptu rock ballad for twenty minutes, I joined in? I cannot know. I am just the aunt, a childless one at that.

I do know that the sunshine makes me feel happy, and so does playing. So I drove, despite his whining that I was going the wrong way, to Wardman Park, a quiet, sandy lot with two play structures. There were five slides (including a baby one) that, despite being polyethylene, were already super warm (almost too hot). Two of the slides had a bump in the middle that caused us to jump up a little and sort of gasp as we slid to the bottom. This was as thrilling as the “slide of death,” a twisty, gliding ride into the sand below.

Thirty minutes of climbing the stairs and the faux sandstone rock and trying to hang from the bars and attempting to make friends with the two kids who arrived, at last (at almost the end), filled our brains with joy, so much elation that the world, for at least half a day, no longer felt quite as mean or unfair.






The Nectar of My Childhood


As it is Spring Break, and despite the load of midterms I have to grade, I headed home to the desert for a couple of days. This time of year is especially beautiful in the Coachella Valley due to the eighty-degree and lightly breezy weather and the wildflowers (a bounty of yellow this season). Once I arrived, I couldn’t resist making two stops: Hadley’s, the home of the date shake (the nectar of my childhood) and the Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel, an old-timey “resort” featuring eight different mineral pools (another nectar), each a little bit warmer than the last.

Leaving the spa this afternoon, I took the long route home. Mom said she knew I just wanted to see my old elementary school and some of the old resorts along the way. She said she knew if my sister and I had wads of extra cash we’d buy Hacienda Riviera Pools, the one where we spent most of the summers of our childhood. I agreed that I wanted that piece of real estate, every inch of it.

I remember the shady snack bar (even though we usually brought our own ice chest of treats), how the showers always wafted the scents of V05 hot oil treatments, how there was a wall between the kids’ pool and the big pool and how the wall, tiled with blue chunks the size of typewriter keys, was slick and slightly submerged so one could rest with legs dangling over or recline, simultaneously drying and soaking.

Sitting in the super-air-conditioned airport tonight, I know it is good to sample the sweet nectar of my childhood and to soak in the magic waters of it.

A delayed flight, I have extra time to think of the long route home and to wonder if I am leaving it or heading to it.




Home Depot: Juan from Guatemala

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Wednesday brought rain, a lot of it. It was still raining when I headed to the Home Depot parking lot for class. I was unsurprised to find that there were no students from my classes and only three men standing around, waiting for work.

Two were from Guatemala, and the third was from Chiapas. The small man from Chiapas headed for cover as soon as the rain picked up. The older man from Guatemala also left on account of the weather.

Juan and I were left chatting in a mix of Spanish and English, mostly Spanish. At one point, I tried to role-play with him — something about an angry customer. He wasn’t sure whether I was acting, and so he thought I was actually angry at first. Then, he said, “Oh, I get it.” And, he played along.

He confessed that he hasn’t been the best citizen in the past, and he told me about how he’s going to church now. He wants to be better. He asked me how to say this phrase in English.

He showed me on his phone that he has an app with English classes on it to help him expand his vocabulary and know how to pronounce words.

And, so I asked if there were any specific things he wanted to learn. He blurted out, as if he’d been waiting for me to ask, “How do you say tortuga?” I said TURTLE slowly, enunciating the tur and then the tle. I know the last part was going to be the hardest part. I said TURTLE again.

About forty-five minutes in, he asked, “Why aren’t you afraid of me, of coming out here?” I immediately asked him: “Should I be.” He, laughing, said, “No, but you don’t know that.” I had to agree.

Home Depot: Juan H.

Wednesday at the Home Depot parking lot was a bit unusual as I was the only Spanish student/English teacher who showed. I felt a little uncomfortable being there by myself, but I know that I need to practice Spanish, so I hopped out of my car and began speaking with three of the men there. One was particularly interested in class.

His name is Juan. His first question was, “How much Spanish do you know?” That is an impossible question to answer and is usually asked by eight year-olds. I said I didn’t know how to quantify my language. He said, “We’ll see.” I got even more nervous as if there’d be a test at the end of the hour. There was.

The day was hot, and Juan was in a hoodie with the hood pulled up and a pair of sunglasses. He didn’t want to stand, so we huddled on the curb. People driving by seemed to pay more attention to us on the curb than when we are standing around talking.

No matter what it still seems strange for all of us, this talking to strangers in languages that feel strange to our mouths.

So we talked, switching from Spanish to English to Spanish again. When we did not have the words, we’d do our best to describe what we wanted to ask for. We took turns failing to find the right words and gently correcting. Juan helped me know when to use “idioma” (language) rather than “lengua” (tongue). I helped with the past tense, translating verbs from Spanish to English, delivering a little lesson on both past and future. Juan taught me several tongue twisters (trabalenguas); one went like this: Sal perro, te descorazonaré. It is essentially: Leave, dog; I discourage you. Descorazonaré is take away your heart.

So 4 p.m. came, and Juan asked me for a favor and another of the guys asked me for ten cents. I didn’t have a dime to spare, but I did have time for Juan’s favor, a ride home.

He only lived a few miles away. During the ride home, he said that he thought I knew 90% of the Spanish I need to know. I thought this was super generous.

As we were sitting on the corner of his street and busy 47th Avenue, he looked at the cars whizzing by and asked: “You’re married, right?” I confirmed, “Yes.” He asked, “What would your husband think if he saw you here with me right now?” I explained that he knows that I hang out in the Home Depot parking lot for an hour on Wednesdays, and I was reminded of the freedoms I have, freedom to live life independently, and especially freedom from jealousy and suspicion.

Democratic Process

Our Cosumnes River College Journal (CRJ), a literary and art magazine that showcases the work of CRC students and the rest of the world, is assembled using a democratic process where each voting member (students and faculty alike) has one vote on each piece submitted.

The dedicated editorial staff member here, Justin, was helping out two of his colleagues who couldn’t make Friday’s meeting in person. It was a really good piece!!

This year’s CRJ, our seventh edition, will be the best yet.

Mickey Mouse Pancakes

Two weekends ago, we hosted a pancake breakfast for our local library. All-you-can eat pancakes brought out about fifty neighbors. One of them, our friend JoAnne taught M to make Mickey Mouse pancakes that were a hit with the small crowd. It is amazing how much two ears can make a flapjack taste better!

I was incredulous at first, even passed up my chance to sample one that day. The next morning, M hadn’t had enough pancakes. He was back at the griddle and made me a tiny mouse head. I decided that it needed chocolate chip eyes and a sliced banana smile.

From the first bite, I understood why the children had been so excited. Imagination is simply delicious.