Archive for 2011

Where everybody knows your name

Living in Topeka feels like an episode of Cheers. Not that we hang out in bars and know someone named Frasier or anything like that, but because everywhere you go, you are bound to run into someone who knows you. I'm not saying that this is bad, or that this is good, it has its pros and cons, but that's the reality.

The thing is, I'm not used to it. I was born in Havana, and then moved to Miami when I was 11, so I'm used to big cities. Here in Topeka, when I step out of the house, people know me by name and perhaps what I had for breakfast that morning, and the things is, I barely know anyone. In fact, 85 percent of the people that greet me I have no idea who they are. Sorry, but if you are reading this, you may be one of them. But because my momma didn't raise no fool, I politely say hello and waive.

I'm sure that with time I'll get to know more people, and just maybe even what they had for breakfast, too.

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Thanksgiving & San Givi

For Thanksgiving, I'm used to having dinner, which includes turkey, but also pork, rice and black beans and yuca. When Elena told me that typically Thanksgiving is a lunch event I was definitely surprised. I felt my jaw drop at the news. Thanksgiving at lunch? What?

Fortunately, I have a pretty amazing wife, so she made some black beans and rice. It was really delicious and everyone at the table had some. It also made the transition of being away from the rest of my family easier. And it was a picture of our marriage, Cuban and American, black beans and mashed potatoes, Apple Pie and Pastelitos. Besides my Cuban food for Thanksgiving (or San Givi, mispronounced in Cuban Spanish), I'm also used to music, dancing and lots and lots of people. Not only is Cuban Thanksgiving a family dinner, but friends are also welcomed. Beers are also welcomed, although I must clarify that I always drink just one.

But this year, now in Kansas, it was different, the sun was still out and there was no pork and no dancing, but I still had a wonderful time. Renae, Justin, Bekah, Rick, Rosalie and even the dogs, Tanner and Bella were really fun to be around.

So there you have it, my first real American Thanksgiving at lunch, or well, does it count even if I had black beans? My wife would say yes, this is our life now, Thanksgiving and San Givi, and both are beautiful.

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Rickisms #1

Rick Wenger, my father-in-law, is a great guy. He has always been very helpful and has become like a father to me. He also talks like he lives in the 1950s and that is pretty awesome. On any given day he'll use an idiom or phrase that I have never heard of in my life. And I'm not the only one, sometimes not even Rosalie (his wife) knows what he meant. So, recently whenever he would mention something that sounded like it was used as slang 50 years ago, I took out my Blackberry and made a note of it.

Also, there are some expressions that are still used currently, but because I grew up in Miami (which is basically Cuba), I have never heard of them before. So, I give you the first set of Rickisms. Enjoy!


-Out in the toolies: In the middle of nowhere, or empty space. Example, We are out in the toolies now!

-Gully washer: A real heavy rain. Example, Looks like we beat them gully washers.

-Frizzle cat: Someone who gets cold very easily. Example, Israel, you are a frizzle cat.


My Marriage, Saint Thomas and Project Runway

When Elena and I married we were blessed with the chance to go to Saint Thomas for our honeymoon. Once we were there, it felt like we were living inside of a postcard. The hills and mountains surrounding us were so green and so dense that we were overwhelmed by the beauty. And once we made it to Magen's Bay, well, let's just say that our jaws dropped when we saw the pristine and immaculate beach.

We really had a wonderful time and every single day was filled with adventures and memorable characters. But one night, after a long and amazing day, we decided to turn on the TV and see if there was anything on. It was probably around midnight when we came across a show where seven or eight interestingly dressed individuals were standing on top of a stage. I had no idea what this show was, but Elena had been wanting to see it for the longest time. I found out that this was Project Runway and the purpose of the show was to get new and upcoming fashion designers to compete against each other for a chance to make it big in the industry.

I wasn't sure at first, but when I heard one of the judges completely ridicule, and rightly so I may add, someone's garment, then I was hooked. This man and his hilarious critiques, who I later learned was Michael Kors, reminded me of Simon Cowell from American Idol. That night we watched at least four episodes and they were all really funny. And as you may have guessed by my blog, I'm a fan of funny.

A year and some later, Elena and I have watched numerous seasons of Project Runway and for your benefit, I have collected some of my favorite Michael Kors quotes. So, every once in a while, along with my Cubanisms, you will see some Project Runwayisms (Mostly Michael Kors).

Michael Kors - Project Runway Quotes #1

"That top looks like you were in a bad Guns and Roses concert."

"I think she looks like a stewardess. I'm just waiting for her to get me a coffee."

"To me, she looks like she's opening the Thanksgiving pageant and she's being chased by the Indians."

"Forget the jacket, the crotch in the pants is insane!"

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Rush Hour, and not with Jackie Chan

"We are about to hit rush hour now," my wife said a couple of days ago while we were driving around Topeka. I braced myself, expecting an enormous amount of traffic, but we were home in 10 minutes. Topeka rush hour is like going to a gas station in Miami.

When living in Miami, I drove home from work for about 45 minutes every day. And that's nothing really, when I worked at a different library branch, I even drove for an hour each way. So yeah, while my fellow Topekans may be having a hard time in their "rush hour," I'm just enjoying a nice little drive. This also brings me to another fact, people in Topeka consider a 30 minute drive to be a big deal. "You are driving where? 30 minutes? What? Take a sleeping bag!" Well, I exaggerated the last part with the sleeping bag, but you get the idea.

Because of my experience in big city traffic, I don't mind driving 30 or 40 minutes anywhere. That is what I'm used to, that's what I know. Of course, if you drive for thirty minutes in Topeka...well, then you are no longer in Topeka. You have left the reservation and you are probably in Lawrence, Kansas. Hope you brought that sleeping bag after all!

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Cubanisms #1

As part of my Topeka experience, I want to introduce you to all things Cuban. Like any culture, Cubans have a lot of sayings that when literally translated into English make no sense at all, but do not dismay. I will give you the literal translation, only for the fun value, and I will explain the meaning, too.

*Lit: means literal
*Trans: translation

"Por si las moscas"
Lit: In case of the flies
Trans: Just in case

"Me importa tres pepinos"
Lit: I care three cucumbers
Trans: I don't care at all

"Le pusiste la tapa al pomo"
Lit: You put the lid on the jar
Trans: You really messed up this time!

"Tu no pintas nada"
Lit: You don't paint anything
Trans: This doesn't concern you

"Es un arroz con mango"
Lit: It's rice with mango
Trans: It's complicated

"Tener un chino atras"
Lit: A chinese man behind you
Trans: You have bad luck

"Comiendose un cable"
Lit: Eating a cable
Trans: Going through difficult times

Well, that's it for today's Cubanisms class, but I plan to make it a weekly thing until I run out of sayings, so keep checking often!

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Hostage Takeover

One night, some friends of mine and I were bored and we decided to make a little movie. It was all improvised and then edited...well, here it is. By the way, my accent is not that thick, I was just channeling Tony Montana in Scarface.

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The harmony mall

I miss Miami, but I don't miss everything about it. There are many malls in Miami, the most famous probably being Dolphin mall. The thing about Dolphin and nearly every mall in Miami is that it's always crowded with people. You can go at 10 in the morning or at 6 p.m. and you'll find that it is always packed. Does nobody work anymore? Of course, a lot of the people in the mall, especially in the evenings, are teenagers going to the movies or looking for a corner to make out.

But there is one place, The Mall of the Americas, where barely anyone goes. My friend Julio, also known as the Russian (although he is not Russian. It's a long story), dubbed it as "The Mall of the Harmony." In other words, it is so peaceful and so empty that it is harmonious, like a perfect song. We used to go to the mall every once in a while to catch a movie, usually action and sometimes horror. Although most action movies nowadays are horrendous, but that's a totally different story.

Anyway, two days ago, now in Topeka, my wife and I went to the mall. Seeing as it is the only mall in Topeka, I figured that it must be packed. But no, my friends, the mall is, or even more harmonious than the one in Miami. You can easily get from one store to the other without bumping into anyone because there is barely anyone there. At many stores, the employees looked bored. The two guys that work at Burlington Coat and Factory were yawning and cracking their knuckles.

I'm not a huge fan of large crowds, especially when I'm trying to hurry up to catch a movie, so in that respect, I much rather have the Topeka mall, even if I have to wake up the employees.

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Shunga vs. Chonga

Before I finally moved to Topeka, I had visited numerous times. On one of those occasions, my then wife-to-be said she was going biking at "The Shunga." Now, in my Cuban hard-wired brain that sounded like "The Chonga." First, let me explain why those things are so different and why I chuckle every time someone mentions the Shunga trail.

According to the city of Topeka, the Crestview Shunga Trail "is a paved recreational trail for walking, jogging, skating, and biking, running from the northeast corner of Topeka to the southwest corner." In other words, a family-friendly place where you can peacefully train for that 5k or just put off those extra pounds.

Now, a "chonga" in Miami is a girl who wears giant loop earrings, extremely dark lip stick, heavy eye make up and her hair is usually so slick back it looks like she had a face-lift surgery. As you can imagine, the chonga's boyfriend is typically a 25-year old high school drop out who still thinks wearing baggy clothes and calling everyone "dawg" is cool. The chonga usually has a thick accent, so for instance, when saying "excuse me," she'll sound "ecscuze me." Not that chongas are polite or anything, "excuse me," usually comes in form of a question after she has been offended. If engaged in a fight, the loop earrings come off and her fake nails are ready for combat.

But enough reading about the chongas, it's time that you have a visual. Note, the following video may be offensive for those of you who have never seen a rap video on MTV.

And there you go, Topeka. Whenever you mention the Shunga Trail, my mind will automatically go to this video. You are welcome.

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Freedom, burgers and toys

I was born in Cuba almost 28 years ago. Growing up in Havana, the United States of America seemed to be a magical land where freedom came accompanied with tasty burgers and brand new toys. When I finally arrived, at the age of 11, I found out that although I was right about freedom, the burgers and the toys, life was still hard.

But this blog is not about my life growing up, although I may touch on that subject from time to time, and this blog is certainly not about sad events, though I may mention some here and there. This blog is about my brand new experiences living in Topeka, Kansas. You see, when I was living in Miami, it really wasn't that different from Cuba, well except for the freedom, burgers and toys. Anyone who has ever lived in Miami can tell you that Spanish is probably the most widely spoken language and that the Hispanic population is the majority, with Cubans being the largest. I felt right at home.

"This doesn't feel like the rest of the United States," my wife would say. At the time, I had no idea what she meant by that, since I had never lived anywhere else, but after a visit to the Topeka mall and seeing that I was maybe one of three Hispanics there, I understood what she meant. Miami is a special place, one that is very dear to my heart. But now that I'm here in Topeka, I am looking forward to new experiences and what is even more fun, I will be comparing Miami with Topeka. I will do so in good fun, so please, if you don't have a sense of humor and get easily offended, then this blog is not for you. But, however, if you are someone who loves humor and don't mind making fun of yourself, then this blog is definitely for you!

Come back soon!

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