Monthly Archives: March 2022

Hail, Spartans, Hail!

Iconic Tower Hall ~ San Jose State University

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 5: Hail, Spartans, Hail!

Registration day at San Jose State was overwhelming. Thousands of people waited in long lines to sign up for classes at the tables spread out on the large lawn of the main quad. The university’s iconic ivy-covered tower stood guard over the entire scene. That first semester, I took a full load of courses that included science, math, history, English, and of course basketball for physical education.

At school, I was on my own. Professors didn’t constantly remind students to complete reading assignments, homework didn’t have to be submitted on a daily basis, and there were just a few midterm and final exams. Since I loved to read, this was going to be easier than I thought, so I paid more attention to developing a social life as a college student. After classes, I read a little bit at the library, then walked over to the student center looking to meet people. Unlike in high school, however, I was having a hard time making friends. SJSU was a commuter college, so the students were, on average, older than traditional college students. Everyone seemed busy, serious, and in a hurry to leave campus. I was still seventeen years old.

Fortunately, football season was in full swing. I went back to the comfort of the cocoon and used my status as a student to get cheap tickets for my friends. They were either working or trying to figure out what to do in their next phase of life. At Spartan Stadium, we crashed tailgate parties, checked out girls, and watched college football. In the stands, we acted like a bunch of drunken hooligans cheering the team onto victory. SJSU won the conference championship that year. With fists pumping in the air, we shouted in unison with the student section, “Hail, Spartans, hail!” Viewmont Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood had gone to college.

Soon I began to leave campus right after classes like the other commuter students, bypassing the library and student center. I went straight home to read before I went to work at the shoe store. On days off, I got together with the guys to drink beer and hang out. My academic performance was predictable. I earned a B in history and English, an A in PE, and dropped the math and science classes to avoid failing grades. I registered for a full load of five classes the next semester, adding a Spanish class to my schedule of general education courses. I took classes haphazardly rather than for a declared major or a specific road map toward graduation.

One night while drinking at a friend’s house, a former schoolmate, who I’m sure was envious of me, told everyone there that I was wasting my time going to college. I was meant to be a working stiff like everyone else from the neighborhood, he said. Drunk and depressed, I believed every word.

When the third semester of college came to an end, my academic career at San Jose State collapsed. The bright future that my parents, teachers, and many others had predicted had vanished. San Jose State University sent a certified letter to inform me that I had been academically disqualified from the university. I flunked out. There was no cocoon to protect me. I now had to find a way to protect myself from the cocoon. With my self-worth completely eroded, I dove deeper into the abyss of self-destruction.

Next time: My life continues to spiral in another excerpt from Chapter 5…

Leaving the Cocoon (Part 2)

Co-Captains, James Lick High School Varsity Baseball ~ 1981

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 4: Leaving the Cocoon

Outside the safe confines of Viewmont Avenue, I lived in two different worlds. While in class in high school, I was with the smart kids, learning about algebra, geometry, biology, and Shakespeare. After school, I was either working part time at Kinney Shoes or running around with my best friend Rudy and the guys. At first, this arrangement worked out just fine as I figured out how to straddle the different social circles. But, I began to feel like I didn’t fit into either. To avoid looking like such a geek to my neighborhood friends, I did homework less frequently and didn’t walk everywhere with my books under my arm. Fortunately, I was good at taking tests to keep my report card slightly better than average. To maintain my place with the popular quad dwellers, I focused on basketball and baseball so I could be one of the “big men on campus.”

My substandard performance in the classroom finally caught up to me when I met with the school guidance counselor during the spring of senior year to discuss options after graduation. His name was Russell Bailey. Mr. Bailey was a portly Irish man in his late fifties with piercing blue-green eyes, thinning black hair slicked back so it looked like it was stuck to his scalp, and a large head holding thick jowls that hung from his face. Sitting behind his desk and talking in a booming voice, he looked and sounded intimidating as he opened my file and began to lay out my options. He told me that my poor study skills, a mediocre 2.72 grade point average, and an average SAT score left me with few options other than trade school, work, or maybe community college. I sat in front of his desk stunned, scared, and confused. Everything had always worked out for me. I told Mr. Bailey that my parents, friends, siblings, everyone, expected me to attend college. I quietly listened as he bluntly told me that community college was the only option.

Later that evening at dinner, while sitting around the round kitchen table, I shared the results of the meeting with Mr. Bailey with my parents. Mom looked at me with a puzzled facial expression. Dad continued eating without looking up from his plate or saying a word. I went to bed that night with a huge lump in my stomach trying to figure out how I was going to avoid my parents in the morning.

The next day at school, during the midmorning break, I was at the table with the guys when a voice over the public address system directed me to go to the office immediately. As I nervously walked to the office, the boys at the table playfully teased me because it looked like the schoolboy had finally gotten into trouble. When I arrived, the secretary motioned toward Mr. Bailey’s office, where he was standing by the door waiting for me with a forced smile on those heavy jowls. Walking into the office, I found my dad sitting in the chair I had sat in the day before. His face beamed with the same smile that had attracted my mom so many years before. I was more confused and nervous than ever. Dad never took a day off work. I stood motionless, trying to figure out what was going on. Mr. Bailey explained to me that my grade point average and SAT scores met the minimum requirements to apply for acceptance to San Jose State University. He was prepared to help me with the application process. Once again, the cocoon saved me. I was on my way to college, but with major chinks in the armor that had protected me throughout my life.

Next Time: ~ Chapter 5: Hail, Spartans, Hail!

Leaving the Cocoon

Safely in the cocoon with my big sister Barbara – late 1960s

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 4: Leaving the Cocoon

 I was about four years old and playing in the front yard. Those were the days when parents didn’t seem worried that their kids were running around in front of the house. I remember playing on the grass and eyeing the old two-toned orange-and-white Ford Mercury sitting in the narrow one-car driveway, thinking about driving just like my dad. As the car sat majestically in the driveway, I thought about how strong and important I would look behind the wheel. When I noticed my mom had left the kitchen window, probably to go to the refrigerator to take food out for dinner, I darted to the car and struggled to open the heavy driver’s side door. I then jumped onto the bench seat behind the steering wheel and started off on my imaginary road trip.

As I spread my arms wide to maneuver the big round steering wheel, I strained my neck as high as I could so that my little head peeked over the dashboard to see the road ahead. Eyeing the gearshift on the steering column, I was ready to kick into high gear just like my dad would do to send this big hunk of metal roaring down the highway. There was just one problem. Our driveway sat on a slight incline. As I grabbed the gearshift to make my move, the car started moving—backward!

The car rolled back slowly off the driveway until it came to a complete stop in the middle of the street. I sat in the car, not sure what to do next. My mom screamed from the kitchen window and dashed out the front door to save her baby boy. My dad stood on the front lawn laughing. This may have been the first indication that I was willing to take a risk to get what I wanted. This was my life in the cocoon at 48 Viewmont Avenue. I was lucky to have others around to keep the neighborhood safe and secure. 

When I started junior high school in the sixth grade, I realized that the world outside Viewmont Avenue wasn’t very safe. I was the target of an eighth-grade bully who would hide behind a post or a wall at school and jump in front of me to keep me from getting to class on time. After being marked tardy a few times, I figured that I better do something about it, or I would be in trouble with the school and with my parents.

Preparing for my confrontation, I rallied the neighborhood kids to be at my side so my chances of surviving would be better off, especially if I ended up on the losing end of the battle. The next day at school, as expected, the bully jumped out from behind a wall and started toward me. I was scared and nervous but prepared myself for the first scuffle of my life outside the roughhousing I took from Stevie from time to time. When the bully saw that my defenses had suddenly multiplied, he backed off quickly and ran the other way. I learned from that adventure outside the cocoon. Walking to school and class with a few friends every day became a good habit. I dodged a bullet, but my days in the protective cocoon of Viewmont Avenue would come to an end sooner or later.

Next Time ~ Chapter 5: Hail Spartans Hail…

Growing Up García

Easter Sunday at 48 Viewmont Avenue – 1969

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 3: Growing Up García

My siblings and I were part of two families from the same parents. Let me explain what I mean. The first four were born in the early 1950s. My little sister and I came more than a decade later. David, the oldest, was the patriarch of the kids. Barbara turned twelve years old a couple of months after I was born. Patty was born eighteen months after Barbara. Steve, the youngest of my four older siblings and the baby of my parents “first” family, was born a year after Patty. He’s older than I am by nine years. My little sister Sisi and I make up my parents’ “second” family. According to our older siblings, she and I had it easy. Oh well. Lucky for me and Sisi. 

Dad gave us the lifelong love of reading, learning, and listening to music. The tight shelf space in my parents’ bedroom was stacked with paperbacks and periodicals. Every edition of National Geographic magazine published since the mid-1950s was displayed on a homemade shelf for all to see. In the dining room, he had the record player and cassette player in a place of prominence, surrounded by albums that included Tex-Mex, mariachi, other genres of Mexican music, and the standards—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole. He came home from work every day shortly after 5:00 p.m. with the evening edition of the San Jose Mercury News tucked under his arm. We had to be prepared at dinner to be peppered with questions about the day’s world and local events. When we gathered around the kitchen table for the holidays as adults, he would sit at the counter looking into the kitchen with a highball of whiskey and water in hand. Without warning, Dad would make a controversial philosophical or political statement. He sat back with a mischievous grin and watched his educated kids flare up in heated debate.

Mom, on the other hand, was the epitome of the warm and loving maternal parent. She taught us about unconditional love, faith, compassion, and perseverance. Even during the last days before her death in 2003, she remained strong in her convictions and her belief that every day being alive is a good day. While any indiscretion on our part would be met with Dad’s scowls and rebukes, Mom reacted with gentle counsel and loving support, urging us to do better the next time. She was our biggest cheerleader, encouraging us to be the best we could be. After all those years of watching me play sports, I’m not sure if Mom really understood the complexities of the games, but I do know that she cheered every time it looked like I did something good. Every morning, she reminded us that the day would be good. As long as the sun came up and God gave us another day, all would be well. After each meal, she insisted that we say, “Thank you, God,” and she encouraged us to pray “Our Father” before bedtime.

Next time ~ Chapter 4: Leaving the Cocoon