Thursday, August 11, 2022

Ave Maria pelencho, que bien me siento!


Editor's note: This post is strictly for my own memory. If no one outside my family looks at this, I don't care. This is for me and a chance to jot down what I remember from one of the best interactions I've ever had with a public figure/baseball hero. If you click off here, absolutely no hard feelings.

There's something about Latino moms, no matter the region of origin. No matter how hard you work, no matter the heights you reach in your professional life, they can be hard to impress sometimes. 

To be fair, some of this is point of reference. You're sometimes the first in your family to earn a degree, advanced or otherwise. Or you're the first in your family to work in certain sectors. So certain accomplishments just aren't going to resonate.

I still remember a former colleague at The New York Times who's Puerto Rican tell me about the time his mom was finally proud of him: it was when he had lined up an interview with... former Sabado Gigante host Don Francisco. Even got him to sign a copy of his memoir for her.

Keep in mind, my former colleague had served as a foreign correspondent in Panama when Manuel Noriega was ousted, had served with distinction as a Metro columnist, and had been at the Times for a great many years. But it was meeting Don Francisco that did it for his mom.

I got a version of this moment last week during the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in Las Vegas.

As I've managed to work my way back into journalism after four years away, currently serving as the sports editor at Andscape, I've happily involved myself in volunteer work with organizations like NAHJ. One of the things we've been trying to get off the ground this year was a sports task force. We are nascent at the moment, but we still wanted to launch on some things at this year's convention, including a lifetime achievement award named for Pedro Gomez, the former ESPN baseball reporter who died suddenly at age 58 in early 2021.

With that award established, we wanted to find a first recipient worthy of the spirit and grace that Gomez embodied during his career.

Enter Jaime Jarrin, the Spanish-language play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's been at the mic for the team since 1959 and has called countless World Series and All-Star Games and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Fans of a certain age also remember him as being in the eye of the hurricane during Fernandomania in 1981, serving as Valenzuela's interpreter during postgame interviews.

For my family, and countless other Latino households across Southern California, Jaime Jarrin was almost like another family member. That tends to happen with baseball announcers, since the season is 162 games long, and when you include spring training and the playoffs, the season can go from March through the end of October. The team, and by extension the announcer, are a constant presence.

But Jaime also means something to us because he spoke our language. And considering he will have ended up doing the job for 64 seasons after he retires at the end of this year, it's hard not to leave an indelible impression on us all. In short, I cannot recall a single Dodger-related memory that didn't involve him in some way as I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household of crazed Dodger fans.

So needless to say, I was good with us awarding Jaime the Pedro Gomez Lifetime Achievement Award.

As we made arrangements for Jaime to receive the award at a designated luncheon, my fellow task force members let me know that I would be the one who would greet Jaime (and his personal assistant, Jesse NuƱez) when he arrived at the hotel and would then escort him to the luncheon. Once we wrapped up the event, I would escort him and his assistant out to the valet area, where a car would take him back to the airport.

In nearly 20 years of working in journalism, I've been fortunate enough to meet some prominent figures in and out of sports. They're all human like the rest of us, though certainly they've achieved their status in life by being more gifted/charismatic/driven than most. 

All that said, the idea that I was going to meet one of my baseball heroes was blowing my mind in the days leading up to it. In lighter moments, I would joke with my family that I would probably be like Chris Farley talking to Paul McCartney in that old "SNL" sketch ("Do you remember when Kirk Gibson hit that home run in the World Series? That was awesome."). 

The day of the luncheon, I made sure to text Jaime's assistant before they took off for their flight to let Jesse know that I would be greeting them and escorting them to the event. And I made sure to be extra early. I also made sure to pack a few things that I wanted to share with Jaime when it was appropriate. (More on that later.)

This interaction actually got off to a stressful start. Caesar's Palace, where we had our convention, is so vast and sprawling that there are many points that a town car could drop off a VIP. So imagine my surprise when I get a call from Jaime's assistant wondering where I was -- as I stood in an area labeled "town car drop-off area."

The mad scramble began, as did my endless apologies. 

After running around, and a few phone calls and text messages to get coordinated, I finally spot Jaime and Jesse at the bottom of some escalators that led to the convention space. 

I made eye contact with Jaime, and he nodded and motioned at Jesse. He looked regal in his blue suit, gray hair and dark rimmed glasses. It was a breathtaking moment, but I needed to pull it together -- and besides, I could probably chalk up the loss of breath to my running around trying to locate them.

I shook hands with Jesse, since we'd been in contact this entire time, and then I turned to Jaime and introduced myself in Spanish, and shook his hand with both of my hands. And after some small talk, Jesse pointed out to Jaime that I was from East L.A. and have been a long-time fan of his. Jesse then offered to take a picture of us together. As I joked later with many friends and family: other than my tie looking disheveled (I blame the running around), I could've died in peace after this picture was taken.

And with that, we were off to the event. As we rode the escalator up, I made sure to offer my condolences over the loss of Vin Scully, who had died only three days before at age 94. He was very gracious and mentioned how much Vin meant to him as a friend and mentor over the years. It's a theme I touched on in my own tribute to the man, such was the profound impact the Dodgers' English-language announcer had on us all.

Once we were at the luncheon space, we received the run of show so that Jaime and others knew where to go when it was time for him to receive his award. We then stood out in the hallway as former colleagues and other interested parties came up to him to wish him well, catch up, and take photos. Again, Jaime was just an extraordinarily gracious man throughout.

I was mostly off to the side, getting well-acquainted with Jesse, a gracious man in his own right. I talked to him about how much this meant to me, getting to spend time around someone like Jaime. I explained how this spans generations in my family, how my parents and my aunts became Dodger fans in the 1970s, and his voice was the soundtrack for a significant portion of that fandom. I told him that I'm sure I wasn't unique in telling him this, but all the same, perhaps it reinforced how much Jaime matters.

He told me that Jaime obviously is a unifying figure among the fan base, that he brought people together regardless of class, race or ethnicity. But what amazed Jesse was how much he resonated with older Latinas, particularly working-class Latinas. To which I immediately confirmed that as I thought about my mom and my two aunts with outsized personalities. They truly adored Jaime, unquestionably.

The event went off with nary a hitch, though I was stressed over the fact that if it took too long, would Jaime and Jesse miss their flight back to L.A.? There was a Dodger game that night, after all, the first game at Dodger Stadium since Vin died, so you knew it was going to be an event.

But we made it, and we spilled back out to the hallway for more pictures and well-wishes. At a certain point, we began to make our way down the escalator so we could begin to walk to where the town car would pick them up for the ride back to the airport.

It was a long escalator, and about a third of the way down, Jesse looks at Jaime and says, "Hey, Ed told me that his parents have been long-time listeners of your broadcasts!" Jaime turned to me and said in Spanish, "Oh, well, tell them thank you so much and please give them my best and a hug from me."

At this point, this incredible day went to the next level.

Jesse looks at me with a smile and says, "You think your mom's home right now?"

I said she probably was. And he says, "Why don't you put her on the phone, and Jaime can thank her personally?"

Jaime asked what my mom's name was (Aurora Guzman), and I began to dial.

If ever there was one solitary phone call in my life that I wanted her to pick up, it was this one.

It rang for what felt like 20 minutes (it was probably five rings), but she picked up. As calmly as I could, I said in Spanish, "Hi, mom. Hold on, because I want you to talk to a friend of mine."

Jaime took the phone, and in a sing-song voice said, "Aurorita, Aurorita, que gusto me de en saludarle, Aurorita!"

I heard later from my tia Teresa that my mother was on the other end in complete shock and crying.

As the phone call continued, we were standing back at the bottom of the escalator where we had met and taken a picture earlier in the day as Jaime effortlessly and graciously thanked my mother for the long-time support, and he mentioned that she has "an extraordinary son who had been a big help to me here in Las Vegas" and that it was such a pleasure to speak with her. He calmly handed the phone back to me, I told her I'd call her later and we continued to walk toward the exit.

As we made our way through the casino area to get back to where his town car was, Jaime and I ended up walking together and we made small talk. He asked where I lived, and he proceeded to tell me how much he loved Oregon and Portland, the rain and the green scenery in this state. I'm sure he says nice things like this to everyone regardless of where they're from, but again, because he's such a gracious gentleman, you really believed it in that moment.

We also talked baseball. He was talking about what a big series the Dodgers had that weekend against the Padres and how they likely won't catch them in the division, but they'll be a tough out in the playoffs. I agreed, and told him I often thought that the Padres were the future. He also told me about how he's called so many World Series in his career, both for the Dodgers and for national media outlets like ESPN. I told him how growing up, whenever he was on the World Series for a national station, it warmed my heart because if the Dodgers couldn't be in the World Series, at least Jaime Jarrin was in the World Series.

He chuckled at that, and said, "Well, the Dodgers won a World Series the very first year I was on the job (1959). Perhaps they'll bless me with another one in my last year here."

Your lips to God's ears, Jaime.

Somewhere during this conversation, I had him sign a couple of things, including this cap I bought in 1990 during what was the Dodgers' 100th anniversary season. My parents had saved it all these years before having me take it last year. I could think of no better personal memento for him to sign.

As we neared the exit, Jaime asked me about what I did at ESPN and the nature of the work that I edit. He patiently listened as I explained it in Spanish, and told me how he knew some of my colleagues and was proud of the progress they'd made in their careers. That was roughly where the picture at the top of this post was taken. You could see the genuine warmth and care he was taking in our conversation. And I am only the fortunate other player in this moment.

We got to the car, and said our goodbyes and thank-yous, with Jaime telling me to keep in touch. They got in the car and off they went to the airport.

I turned around to go back inside, and before I even got to the doors, I doubled over and started crying. It was tears of joy, to be sure, but the overwhelming nature of what had just happened finally got to me. I eventually got inside and called my mother back, and she was just over the moon. That will be a phone call she'll be talking about for, well, forever.

I have often said that my career in sports journalism has afforded me opportunities to do things and have experiences that are beyond this barrio kid's wildest dreams. It's been a good life with regards to work, even with the inevitable disappointments that have happened along the way. And it's moments like the one I had with Jaime Jarrin, the great broadcasting hero to my family and so many others, that really make it all seem worth it.

The next day, as I was going through the last full day at the convention, I got a text message from Jesse. It was him following up to thank me for all my help, and he added knowingly as a fellow Latino: "I hope your mom is proud of you now LOL."

I think it's safe to say that, yes. In the words of Jaime himself: Ave Maria pelencho, que bien me siento!

Monday, May 9, 2022

A Little Truth Serum on Mother's Day


A little truth serum on Mother’s Day: Motherhood hasn’t been at all what I expected. When I got pregnant with NoĆ© I assumed we were all headed on a trip to um… Denmark and then we took a swift detour to … let’s say … Morocco. Morocco is a fine and an equally beautiful destination. But I wasn’t prepared. I had been learning Danish and studying Denmark guide books and none of that was remotely helpful when we landed in Morocco. And I feel like I’ve been winging motherhood over here in Morocco while everyone else is hanging out in Denmark.

How do I help my child with severe disabilities realize his full potential? What exactly is that potential? How do I raise this kid next to my other typically developing kid without short-changing either? How do Ed and I stay engaged with our marriage when we have 24/7 caregiving demands with a (now) 19 year old? I am writing this guide book as I go and frankly, I get a lot wrong.
A lot of days I’m grateful we crash landed in Morocco. Ed and I are unshackled from a lot of the expectations of raising kids in Middle Class America and are free to figure out what works best for our family. It has made us value kindness over achievement. Want a quick way to rid yourself of caring what strangers think of you? Take an older teenager with severe OCD and all the autism tics (and seizures!!!) out in public on the regular.
Watching our eldest on a different development path has made us reexamine what is best for our other kid. Last year Asher told us he wanted to transfer high schools. We gave him the green light and let him figure it out and he has grown and thrived in ways I never anticipated. I am positive that had I been “living in Denmark” I would have encouraged him to stick it out at his highly-rated former high school.
But lately I’ve felt utterly exhausted with motherhood. I feel ready to be done with the work of raising children. Blame the pandemic, blame my own lack of patience, blame the dearth of paid caregivers currently available to help us with our disabled son. Whatever. I am ready for novel challenges and ready to follow the horizon of some unrealized dreams. I feel the smallest bit of resentment that I am currently an almost full-time mom and I only fit this other work in small bursts of free moments. Ed has lovingly filled a lot of caregiving gaps when I’ve crawled away to my bed and raised a white flag from under the covers. But these two kids deserve a mom to get them to the finish line. And Ed and I will find a way to get them there together, error-riddled guidebook in hand.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Marine Drive




Last weekend, Ed had to work and NoƩ paced the house like a cat on crack cocaine, so I took him for a drive. Drives with NoƩ have been our go-to during the trickier parts of Covid. And Marine Drive is our favorite pandemic driving destination.

Tucked into the car, I thought of our many drives on this roadway since Covid hit and the many ways Marine Drive has changed with the times. I realized I’d been trying to outdrive this damn pandemic on this damn road for almost two years.


NoĆ© and I started driving Marine Drive in March 2020 when in-person school and the rest of the world shut down. After morning online classes, we would head to the car. Life then was still very locked down and driving was one of the few things that offered both freedom and safety. We drove east from 33rd Avenue along Marine Drive until we hit Blue Lake, and then we would turn around and head back west on the same road. Marine Drive boasts great views of PDX Airport to the south and the mighty Columbia River to the north. NoĆ© likes watching the planes take off and land at PDX. Amazon and FedEx delivery planes dominated the runways back then. My eyes usually moved to the other side of the road, towards the serenity of the river that divides Oregon from Washington. I’ve always sought out great bodies of water to calm my mind when it is otherwise hitting the red panic button.


Together, we watched the Oregon winter gradually lift from the inside our silver Honda CRV. Blooms formed on the trees lining the river and snow slowly receded from the mountains surrounding us. On clear days we had a view of Mt. Hood, still vanilla with snow. Good ol’ ever-dependable Mt. Hood. Always positioned east in that exact same spot on the horizon. It towered in our windshield as a beacon of certainty among the chaos.


As the temperature warmed into April and May, we pit stopped at Brighton Beach. The beach, near the 33rd Ave turnoff and Salty’s restaurant, is admittedly sketchy. You wouldn’t catch us there anytime after dark. But NoĆ© and I enjoyed playing in the sand and in the small rolling tides, the beach otherwise empty of visitors. We sat on oversized logs dotting the beach and wished into the waters many an overcast spring and fall afternoon. I could read on a blanket and let him wander the beach without worry. It was about the most carefree either of us felt during that stretch of time. I told NoĆ© it was our “secret beach,” even though every Portland teenager had recreated and experimented on that rocky strip of sand since the 1970s.


NoĆ© and I kept driving straight through the Summer of 2020. Our afternoon visits to Brighton Beach turned to morning walks along the shore to avoid sunny masses of bodies and booming music as Covid cases and restrictions eased. We noticed garbage piling up along Marine Drive. And then, a never-ending trail of tents and rusted out RVs and illegal bonfires popped up along the bike trail that runs between the street and the river. Commercial airliners returned to the airport runway. Later that winter, part of the airport parking lot would transform into a gigantic maze of cars — a drive thru vaccine clinic. Ed took Noe (twice) through that very line.


Through 2021, our Marine Drive adventures abated as school and work returned, and life normalized a bit. We headed back to public transportation and theaters and restaurants and other places where we might interact with others. But this winter, we’ve tried to isolate once again in an effort to keep virus transmissions down and school up. And NoĆ© and I  find ourselves Thelma and Louise’ing it back on Marine Drive. On my worst days, I drive and look out at the water and the garbage and wonder how we will ever get ourselves out of this literal and figurative mess.


Two years into this pandemic and the only real certainty is that there will continue to be lots of uncertainty. Will my kids have school today? Is there another, more dangerous variant on the horizon? Will the garbage and recycling pickup come today?


Will Noe and I be driving Marine Drive forever?



Monday, January 3, 2022

In appreciation of male friendship

“Male friends are important to me, and the ones that I love are vitally important. These two guys, I loved.” -- Ben Bradlee, in his memoir A Good Life, on his friendship with Art Buchwald and Ed Williams

The guys in the picture above are Alfredo and Jose, both of whom I met in 2019. I met Alfredo first through a Latino professionals networking event that we’re regulars at (well, at least we were in the Before Times). I followed up and asked if we could have lunch in early 2019, and would ask again every couple of months. Thankfully, he always agreed and we began to hit it off. 


Jose I met through Alfredo in the summer of 2019. Alfredo looped us both into a text thread that has never stopped nearly three years later. As we subsequently met up in person, the chemistry was instant with Jose, and it wasn’t just our common fandom of the Dodgers.


It's been really serendipitous to meet two Latinos who are age peers and with whom I have a lot in common. Whether it was nerding out about baseball, talking about our families (immediate and extended), or providing a space to vent and compare notes on navigating our professional lives, the conversations have been enriching and deep.

 

It is invaluable to have people in your corner who can relate on a number of levels and can keep you honest or offer an encouraging word when it's necessary. But I’m also very grateful we had that time to cultivate the friendship and form a bond of some kind before the pandemic shut everything down. I’m pleased to say the bonds have stayed strong as we navigated these last couple of years.

As I've cultivated these friendships, my mind drifted to Ben Bradlee’s memoir, A Good Life. It is firmly in my wheelhouse because of the cross-section of journalism and history and is a book I reread at least once a year. I even own an audiobook version, read by the man himself, his gravelly voice filling my earbuds or speakers upon every listen.

It’s an engrossing read, thanks to a charismatic central figure who was a giant in his industry and had a direct hand in or close-up vantage point for many moments in post-war American history. (For the non-readers out there, I recommend a recent HBO doc on the man, which basically used his memoir as a script.)

One secondary thread in the book that always fascinated me was his friendship with Art Buchwald and Ed Williams, which is a recurring theme as he weaves through tales of JFK, working at Newsweek, the Watergate scandal, and more. It was a warm, deep and lasting bond between the three of them, and I always wondered what that must be like. Would I ever have an inner circle like that?

It wasn’t until I moved to Portland in the summer of 2018, and started networking and meeting people in the area, that it started to manifest itself. 


I had found my guys, and am very grateful!

I look forward to the time when we’re past this pandemic, whatever that looks like, and I get to see Jose and Alfredo more frequently. Because, yes, to paraphrase Bradlee’s line: these two guys, I love.


Sunday, May 16, 2021

#21



Today is the 21st anniversary of my dad’s death. I wasn’t going to write anything, so many of my friends have suffered their own huge losses and mine isn’t any worse. We’re all going through our own stuff.

I won’t lie, I still feel anger about his death. And I’m especially angry that he left us so young. I’m only a couple years shy of the age that he was when he passed away and everything in my own life feels unfinished. It seems so unfair that he had to endure all the work and the hard of raising five kids through their early years without all of the rewards. He missed the high school and college graduations, the weddings, the grand babies, the career accomplishments. There are times when we are all together as a family and enjoying each other’s company and I find myself fading out of the scene and wanting him to be there with us so much that it physically hurts.

But instead of sharing more anger and heartache, I’m going to share some of the things his death has reinforced to me over the years:

1. Always say I love you. I never get off the phone with my family without saying I love you. This isn’t something we did before my dad died. You just never know the last time you’ll see or talk to your people.

2. Take all the pictures, save all the notes. I have so few photos of my dad and I together since his life happened pre-iPhone and pre-social media. And the only handwritten note I have from him was one he wrote in college to tell me I had overdrawn my bank account and to do better. But man, I sure cherish that note šŸ¤£. I try and take photos with all my people, even if I’m not in the mood. I’ve noticed as I’ve aged that my photos tend to look better to me in the future. Like if I feel like I look frumpy in a photo - give it a good 5-7 years and then I’ll usually think I look pretty good šŸ¤£.

3. Stay close to your siblings, they are your best friends. I will never understand how the same two parents created five such completely different humans, but we’ve all worked to stay close over the years on a foundation of shared grief and trauma. This doesn’t mean we never fight (oh…we do!) but we’re quick to apologize and repair bad feelings.

4. Grief comes in waves, just let them hit you. When my dad died, I figured the grief would last about a year and then I would be done. I will let you in on a secret if you haven’t figured it out yet: The Five Stages of Grief is a complete hoax! I remember thinking often, “if I can get through this first year....” But 21 years and counting, the waves keep hitting, and usually at the most random times. Like the other day I was shopping at Fred Meyer and I passed the men’s sock section and I got all teary-eyed because every year my dad would wake up at the crack of dawn on Black Friday and go buy us all our athletic socks for the year. Surrounded by bins full of white athletic socks, I bawled until the grief slowly passed and soon I just felt thankful that I had a dad who cared about keeping his family in socks.

5. Write the will. For someone who died in their forties and completely unexpectedly, my dad did a great job of “having his affairs in order” and it was such a gift to our family. There were so many more important things to worry about.

6. Love your kids and leave them alone. This one is a work-in-progress. My dad and I clashed a lot, especially during my teen years, and it created a pile of regret when he passed away. My natural way to “love” is to control the situations and people around me and I have to fight that instinct with everything in me. The past year of pandemic life has reinforced this — there was so little I could control, the only thing I could do was love my kids, and be there for the highs and crushing lows of life in lockdown. Loving them and leaving them to their own mistakes and accomplishments has been my lesson of the year.

So, in summary: love your people, save the good stuff, write the will.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Guilty



The boys and I decided to hike this afternoon and as we drove away from the house I turned on NPR. They were announcing that the George Floyd verdict was imminent. 

Pandemic year note: The boys are still doing CDL and I'm working part-time so Tuesday afternoons are free, and now that the sun is out, I'm not complaining quite as much!

Asher and I talked about the trial as we listened to the NPR commentators in the car. When the judge finally announced the jury's verdict we found ourselves in the middle of a Burgerville drive thru in Gresham still en route to Oxbow Park. We held hands and closed our eyes as we braced for the judge’s words.


“Guilty….guilty….and guilty," he read.


We exhaled pure relief and then pumped our fists out our car windows. Accountability. Not full justice. But a start.


A single detail caught my attention. He had a middle name, which was announced along with his guilt. Derek Michael Chauvin. When he was born into this world, he had a mama who held him with love and cared enough to give him a middle name. Little did she know this little baby would grow up to be the kind of man who knelt on a black man's neck for sport until the life drained out of him, and then used his police duty as a cover for his sadism. This tiny detail...his middle name...shook me to my core. You start fresh. You start full of hope. You start with a middle name from your mama ...


I hiked through the giant trees and bright green fern and along the banks of the Sandy River and looked up at the blue blue sky and enjoyed the company of my two boys. Sons I lovingly gave middle names as I held them in my arms as babies. And I pondered what it all meant and what was to come.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

January 6, 2021

I keep thinking back to my days as a college intern in Senator Wyden's office waa-yy back in 1997. One of my intern duties was to assist with Capitol tours for constituents. I loved the tours because I didn't really get many opportunities to go to the Capitol building, aside from occasionally delivering papers or messages to the Senator or his aides in that pre-smart phone world. There was a holiness to the building. It definitely was not a sinless place, but sacred, nonetheless.

I also thought about the tour itself, which was mostly comprised of witty stories about the Capitol's history: the British torching the building in 1814, President Jackson's attempted assassination in 1835, the infamous "death-by-caning" on the Senate floor when tensions over slavery were at its peak. These anecdotes were always delivered and received with air of "Can you even imagine that happening nowadays?"
I'm embarrassed to admit I never completely considered the trauma and fear that must have accompanied these events before yesterday. And I'm left to wonder, will there be an intern 100 years from now, giving a tour of the Capitol and describing the Great Insurrection of 2021? I kind of hope so, because that would mean our democracy survived.