Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I’m reading “Is This a Great Game or What” by Tim Kurkjian which inspired this post about my obsession with baseball.

My inauspicious baseball career ended when I was about 13 years old and I saw my 1st curveball. I was facing Brian McFadden, a tall, good-humored red head with a hell of a heater and a nasty curve. I remember standing at the plate all skinny, gangly and awkward waiting for the pitch. Brian threw out of the wind up and the ball headed right for the ear hole in my batting helmet. I dove to the ground and was laying facedown in the dirt when the ball broke about 3 feet and the umpire called me out on strikes. I walked back to the dugout, face red from the hot Texas sun and prepubescent embarrassment. That was it for my playing days. I couldn’t hit a fastball (much less a curve), had a rag arm, and was a mess in the field at all positions - 3rd, catcher, 2nd. I wasn’t that bad at 1st but that’s reserved for the sluggers so that was out. I guess you could say I was a 0 tool player.

I grew up a fan of the game in the baseball crazy nation of Venezuela idolizing Pete Rose. My favorite team was the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds of the 70’s. Davey Concepción, a Venezuelan, was the shortstop at that time, Johnny Bench caught and Joe Morgan wasn’t a douche bag. After moving to Houston in the 80’s, I tried to be a fan of the Astros. The ‘Stros had a good season in 1980 but otherwise they were pretty awful all my years in Houston. Going to see baseball games at the Astrodome, as impressive as the place was in its day with its monochromatic jumbotron with the snoring bull, and the PA announcer “Now batting… Jooooseeee Cruuuuuuzzz!!” was like watching ants run around in a dark cave. I lost my love for the game. I was done with baseball for the next fifteen years or so.

Fast forward to 1998. I was selling advertising in St. Joseph, Michigan when a friend and co-worker called me to see if I wanted to go to Chicago for the weekend. After a big night in the big city, we drove up to Wrigley, bought bleacher seats, sat out in the warm spring sun and watched Sammy Sosa belt a home run to right field and a Cubs victory. My passion for baseball was revived and I decided then and there in those bleachers that I was going to move to Chicago and become a Cubs fan. Less than six months later, I was moving into my studio apartment in Lincoln Park eager to start my new life and new addiction, one that would bring me untold joy and heartbreak.

There’s nothing quite like being at the ballpark on a nice sunny afternoon, scorecard and pencil in hand recording the 6-4-3 double plays and the WTP (went to piss) and WFB (went for beer). With the help of my buddy Doug Bacile, we put together the immaculate scorecard while keeping tabs of the Dodgers and the Mets at the old Shea. There’s nothing quite like having a few beers with dear friends, watching a pitcher hurl a rock-hard ball 98 miles an hour, and the unmistakable sound of a solidly hit liner that you know, even without looking, is headed right for the bleachers.

But hey this blog is about Peru and my adventures here. Peace Corps Goal 2 is to help promote a better understanding of Peruvian people on behalf of the American people. So to that goal, when I was on vacation in Lima I played softball at the Roosevelt School, a very high-end school that the children of expats and upper-crust Peruvians attend. I played on the Hilte team managed by an expat Texas boy and Roosevelt School alum, Tommy Akers. Peru is not a baseball nation. It’s all soccer (and the women play lights-out volleyball). I went in with the preconceived notion that the Peruvians weren’t going to be very good at softball but was pleasantly surprised at their skill level. They could knock the cover off the ball and had impressive defensive fielding abilities. Granted, most of the folks on the field had played in the USA, Columbia, Japan, or Venezuela but many played baseball right here in Peru.

Can’t wait to play again and screw the Cardinals – Assh*les.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Chicago - Part II

My kind of town
At home making biscuits and gravy.

At the Friendly Confines with my brother Sam

I’m having a little touch of homesickness at the moment. A buddy of mine Blake posted up on Facebook that he just made an open faced omelet. I started dreaming of all the delicious breakfast foods I miss like a feta and spinach omelets with buttered English muffins, eggs benedict, my homemade biscuits and sausage gravy. Then I started dreaming of the breakfast buffet at Stanley’s on Armitage and Lincoln in Chicago, a delicious southern-style spread complete with chicken and waffles. So I decided to take a virtual walk through the city streets of Chicago using the street view function on Google maps. There’s Stanley’s! Damn that place is good!

Here’s my old neighborhood and I’m walking down Broadway on this beautiful Saturday afternoon. There’s the Melrose – open 24 hours for your late night snacking needs and its delicious Gypsies. There’s the Lakeview Athletic Club. I’d be sweating my ass off in a spinning or body pump class at this exact moment on a Saturday. Across the street, Specialty Video with its great selection of all kinds of videos. I’m told the gay porn section is the best in town but I wouldn’t know anything about that. The Chicken Hut – quarter chicken with potato salad and a Sierra Mist please. There’s Brendan’s Pub, one of my favorite watering holes owned by a Bostonian. Down further, Intelligentsia coffee house where I spent many hours studying for my CSP and CHMM exams amongst hipsters, artists, and yuppies. There’s the West Coast Video that closed down some time ago because it had a shitty selection and smelled like cheese. They were building out a Greek steakhouse when I left. It sounded delicious, wonder how it is. There’s where the Dominick’s used to be until it burned to the ground one Sunday afternoon. I watched it burn from the deck of Monsignor Murphy’s across the street.

And here’s Murphy’s – my favorite watering hole. It sounds bad but most of my social life revolved around that place from the first time I went in there and Kenny served me up a Murphy’s Irish Stout until I left. There I met Susan. There I randomly ran into my good friend Chris Albu after having lost contact with him. There I met Albu’s friends Greg and Kenny who are now my dear friends. There I met Sexy Johnny, Adam, Ali and the rest of the crew. There I revived my career as a softball pitcher. There I had my going away party before coming to Peru. All my friends from my different walks of life were there to see me off - my basketball team, my co-workers, my friends from the neighborhood, my friends I made through Albu. Great, sometimes fuzzy, memories there at Murphy’s.

Let’s go check out the lake on this beautiful Saturday afternoon. Here’s Lincoln Park and the driving range that I hooked, sliced, topped and otherwise badly hit golf balls. There’s the field where our softball team would have “spring training” with its mud holes and lesbian rugby players tackling each other nearby. Here’s Belmont Harbor where old fat rich guys hang out on their fly-ass boats with hot gold diggers in teeny bikinis. Here’s the lakefront trail where I’d run or ride my bike in the evenings and on weekends.

Gotta go to Wrigleyville. I’m walking down Clark and here’s Sluggers where we’d go have “batting practice” before Cubs games with a couple of Old Styles served up by the other Sexy Johnny or but’erface. Now I’m standing in front of 1060 West Addison, home of my beloved Cubs, the Friendly Confines. Today there’s a 1:20 game against the lowly Pirates whom they can’t seem to beat this year. It’s 11 am but the streets are teaming with Cubs fans and Cubs drunks. You can feel the energy in the air even though the game doesn’t start for a couple of hours yet. I walk up under the marquis and look for “The Brick”, Albu’s tribute to his wedding day on 7/7/07. Chicago’s song “Saturday in the Park” going through my head.

I don’t know where I’ll be when this whole Peace Corps thing is over but know this Chicago, no matter where I end up you will always have a special place in my heart. I love you and I miss you dearly.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

La Invación – The Invasion (Part I)

On the morning of Cinco de Mayo, my generally excitable host mother was exceptionally excitable after she got back from the store. ¡Hay una invación! ¡Hay una invación! (There’s an invasion! There’s an invasion!) she kept saying as she grabbed her shit and ran out the door. I had no idea what she was talking about and followed her as far as the front door. I didn’t see any Red Dawn-type paratroopers so I stayed behind and watched her run/shuffle down the dirt road. She came back about an hour later, still excited, and tried to explain to me that a group of townsfolk had invaded a tract of unused land and that she’d grabbed three plots of land, one for her son, one for her father and one for her sister. I didn’t fully understand what she was saying in her excitement and still didn’t understand the explanation once she’d calmed down a bit. No entiendo (I don’t understand). So she told me to go check it out for myself – it was just up the road.

After breakfast, I walked down the road and turned up the street that leads out of town. I’d only walked about 5 minutes when I came across three make-shift huts built out of sticks and blue plastic sheeting (the kind I think the UN or the Red Cross give out after earthquakes but don’t quote me on that). I crested the hill and there were at least 50 of the little tepees made out of the same plastic sheeting, all with the Peruvian flag proudly flying. It sort of looked like a cheap refugee camp except people were smiling. I kept walking and, per usual, folks were hollering my name - Beto! I saw someone I knew and went to get the story from someone who was a little calmer than my host mother.

They explained to me that this tract of land had gone unused for at least 20 years so at midnight a group of folks just decided to up and take it. Each person claimed a little plot about 5 paces by 20 paces (theirs, not mine), built their little lean-tos and spent the night there. I walked to the next group and got the same story. How did they expect to get away with this? I asked in a more diplomatic way. Well, if the owner had the title and wanted to sell the land, they could negotiate and buy it from him/her. If the owner didn’t have the right documentation of ownership, they would go down to the municipality, get some kind of paperwork and apply for the title from the central government. And if the owner had proper title but didn’t want to sell? Well that scenario had people a little nervous.

Over night, they’d formed a Junta Directiva (committee) complete with a President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Fiscal (oversight person). They’d also contracted a lawyer to do battle over the legal issues. They told me to go ahead and grab a little patch of Peru and wait with them. As tempting as it was to finally be a property owner, I figured the Peace Corps would probably frown on that (even though I don’t think it 's expressly forbidden in my Peace Corps Peru Volunteer Handbook). Besides, they were standing there with machetes and sticks waiting for the cops and the owners to show up so I respectfully declined.

It’s not over yet. My host mom has slept the last three nights out at her little plot of invaded land. The cops showed up for a little but left. The owners have yet to show up. Word on the street is the supposed owners of the property are related to the Mayor who is up for re-election this year so this might be a ploy to garner votes since his approval rating (as measured by the Gossip Polls not the Gallup Polls) appears to be waning.

Stay tuned for Part II to La Invación

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Day I Wished I had my Camera

Usually I have my camera on me at all times because there’s no telling when some kind of crazy shit is going to go down or when I’m going to run into something I’ve never seen before, which is pretty much all the time. When I was in Lima about a month ago for a meeting, I went cruising around with a few friends and for whatever reason I left my camera back at the hostel. On a lark, we decided to go to the Parque de Aguas, a park that has all kinds of water fountains. According to the brochure, it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for the park that has the most fountains in the world. I’m not going to say that they were the most impressive fountains I’ve ever seen. Fontana di Trevi in Rome, Buckingham Fountain in Chicago, the fountains at the Bellagio in Vegas - all more spectacular, it’s just this park had a ton of them in the same place. It might have been pretty romantic had I not been with a bunch of dudes. Anyway, missed photo op # 1.

When we were at the park, a Peace Corps buddy of mine called and said he had an extra ticket to an art opening. I was kind of done with the water park and the museum was right across the street so I agreed to meet him there. Turns out, this was the event to be at. All the upper crust of Lima society was there. When we first arrived, there was a ton of security, men in suits with ear pieces in their ears and talking into their sleeves, just like in the movies. Sure enough, we got in and the President of Peru, Alan Garcia was there. I got to within maybe 20 feet of him and tried to snap a pic with a borrowed camera. Missed photo op #2. The closest I’ve ever been to a president was George Bush, the elder one not the retard. I saw him at a grocery store in Houston buying dog food and Blue Bell ice cream just after he lost the election to Bill Clinton. His hair was greasy and disheveled, he was sun burnt and his shoes looked god-awful. But I digress. President Garcia was there for the inauguration as was Kate Moss. I didn’t see her but was told by some of the Peruvians that did see her that she looked like she’d been rode hard and put up wet (though they didn’t use that exact colloquialism).

The event was the grand-reopening of the Museo de Arte de Lima or Mali. The Mali had been closed the past couple of years for remodeling, a project that apparently had gone well over-schedule. As I said, anyone who was anyone in Lima was there and it was open bar. Men dressed in suits with silver trays walked through the crowd carrying bottles of fine whiskey. The bars served Pisco sours, top shelf mixed drinks and beer. All the beautiful people of Lima were dressed to the nines (except for us Peace Corps Volunteers and some low, so-called artists). We didn’t actually see any of the art except for a large what I would call a diorama, for lack of a better word, of famous buildings in Lima. The artist handed out cans of spray paint and markers and encouraged the patrons to paint whatever they wanted to on the buildings. President Garcia spray painted a heart on the Presidential Palace (from my angle it looked like a big ass). Everyone else hopped in and did their thing. The ventilation wasn’t exactly good in this room and the vapors were pretty strong. Kids these days with their huffing and their shoes. Missed photo op 3.

All and all, a great evening but no f*cking pictures.