If you were a cishet, American-born teenage zacatecano growing up in SoCal in the early 1990s, you wanted to be one of two things when you grew up: a pitcher, or a quarterback.
Not a boxer, as incredible as Julio Cesar Chavez was, because that was a whole other level of cool. Not a soccer player, because we barely knew what that was (to this day, none of my cousins or myself give a shit about soccer unless it’s the World Cup).
But quarterback — you wanted to be Joe Montana. Pitcher? Nolan Ryan, of course. Sports was life itself.
I desperately wanted to be one of either.
I wasn’t going to be either.
I’ve talked about my failures as a baseball player. I was actually not bad as a football player — a possession receiver who knew how to sneak past people in the steps of Chicago Bears legend Tom Waddle, although I couldn’t tackle worth a damn.
But I didn’t want to be a receiver. I wanted to be a quarterback.
Problem #1: I couldn’t throw a spiral.
Problem #2: I couldn’t throw a spiral.
I tried and tried and tried, but I simply couldn’t grip the ball right to make the pigskin fly. I still can’t, in one of my great embarrassments in life (and what a charmed life you’ve lived if THAT is what’s one of your eternal shames).
Despite this, incredibly, one day I convinced my team in 8th-grade P.E. at Sycamore Junior High to let me lead them for a drive.
Incredibly, they agreed.
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We couldn’t have been winning, because why else would my teammates let me try to lead them down the field? But it wasn’t a blowout, either, because there wasn’t that air of desperation to just try something crazy.
Like let me try to throw the ball.
I’ll never know why they let me. Mercy? Wasn’t a prank because I would’ve learned about it. Tired of my bragging that I could score a touchdown, so might as well let me try.
We didn’t score a touchdown. We did get some first downs, but I think because I handed off the ball to someone. I know I scrambled out of the pocket two times, because I thought the coolest offense on Earth was the wishbone, which no one in Southern California had heard about because everyone was all about the run-and-shoot in that era, and my teammates got mad at me for getting out of the pocket. I might’ve even gotten a first down.
My actual passes? Two. Incomplete. Not even wobbling ducks; more like someone trying to throw sand.
No one made fun of my performance — incredibly, I think junior high boys had mercy on a nerd for the only time in recorded history. But I never played quarterback again.
It was my choice. As much as I could’ve practiced, no way I could ever rise above mediocre — and why waste your time on THAT? I was shocked even then at how honest I was with myself that I sucked at something, because the human condition is to think you’re immortal and unbeatable about anything.
Well, the cishet zacatecano condition, at least.
Incredibly, the same QB scenario happened a year later, when my Little League Senior Majors team allow me to pitch.
No way during a game — just practice. I hit our coach in the back, and threw just two more pitches before I pulled myself out of the scene, and went back to my position in right field.
All these decades later, I remember those two failures as triumphs. It wasn’t one of those stupid “Even when I lose, I win” toxic machismo bullshit mantras.
I got a chance at something I dreamed of, and flopped. At that was it. It taught me to be brutally honest with myself at all times — a lesson that has served me well all these decades later.
To this day, I know what I’m capable of, and what I’m not, and so stick with trying to perfect the former. It’s not settling for less; it’s knowing limitations.
The earlier people can fail at being a quarterback, the better they’ll be in LYFE. Worked for me!
Oh, and there was the one time I tried to sing karaoke — yeah, no…
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
You wrote of how extended families work together for the greater good, uplifting of all boats, so to speak. I witnessed a meeting of all the local (mexicano) males of an extended family. They had all contributed a percentage of their income into a fund throughout the year. The patriarch presided over a meeting to decide where that years’ fund should go, based on both need and communal good. They had a name for it. ¿Qué es?
BTW The recipient bought a van and twin beds.
It kinda sounds like a cundina, but that’s a rotating, regular dispersal of funds among participants, not a once-a-year thing decided by el jefe de jefes. But I’m not interested in trying to figure out what you’re talking about so much as noting that cundina isn’t in the Real Academia Española’s dictionary, which makes me wonder what’s the word’s etymology — and why the ethpañoles continue to be so goddamn elitist.
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Strawberry ice cream at Tocumbo in Anacrime. I shouldn’t be having strawberry ice cream in February, but here we are.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It is much easier to write a good Times [editorial] than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”
LISTENING:“Modesta Ayala,” Bertin y Lalo. Guerrero has a whole corrido tradition whose songs NEVER get played much in the ranchera canon. This is one of the few, a classic recorded by many of the greats. I like this one, though, because it hearkens to the musical traditions of the Ozarks of Mexico.
READING: “America’s Next Food Craze Is Buried in Appalachia”: Speaking of Southern things, I kept thinking that Outside was going to say that the bumper crop in question was ginseng…but it’s not! Shows how much more I need to learn about a region I miss quite much.
PODCASTING: “Cocorí”: It took me only a year, but I recently realized I could listen to podcasts while I’m working on stuff around the house or while walking Hook and Cosmo, so this will be an occasional place where I’ll plug a podcast episode I listened to that I thought was particularly great. So I’ll start with this one, buy the ever-amazing Radio Ambulante, about the controversy surrounding a beloved Costa Rican children’s book whose protagonist is a Sambo-like caricature. Personal, historical, outrageous — and straightforward. Makes you think!
SHOUTOUT TO: Craig, who kindly donated 140 tacos to Frosted Faces via a Grítale a Guti FUNdrive! Your cups are coming soon, loco!
Gustavo in the News
“How we got to peak avocado: Super Bowls to Mexico’s drug cartels”: My compa Daniel Hernandez talks guacamole with me for his great story on the subject.
“San Antonio’s new restaurant trend: giant California burritos”: Further proof the Alamo City is getting gentrified by Californians: no reason why the land of breakfast tacos needs our burritos! But I’m referenced in this piece…
“What Is Mexican Food? A Nevada Court Has the Tricky Job of Deciding”: The Wall Street Journal follows up on my columna on the same subject from some weeks ago.
“Heard Tell with Andrew Donovan”: My theory of rancho libertarianism gets discussed.
“A Letter from the Founder: Where we’ve been, where we’re going”: Libromobile’s chingona Chicana-in-chief Sara Rafael Garcia tells everyone what’s up, plugs my wife and I and our respective books!
“Mexico lime inflation leaves sour taste as cartels gouge prices for cuisine staple”: The Grauniad gives me the final quote on a sad annual tradition.
“The Global Chef: Tuscon has good taste in tacos”: Tucson will always love me for the truthful words I’ve said about their Sonoran scene.
Latest roster of episodes for “The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times,” the podcast that I host. Listen to them, and SUBSCRIBE. Don’t let me become the Poochie of podcasts!
“We enter the metaverse — and return”: I put on the Oculus headset and somehow don’t lose my mind.
“The triple terror of tsunamis”: The Masters of Disasters reconvene to talk about one of the scariest calamities of them all.
“Why the NFL doesn’t hire Black coaches”: Brian Flores is one brave man.
“Let’s get loud, Super Bowl halftime show”: Hooray for fair use!
“Will the Super Bowl change Inglewood?”: In which Inglewood Mayor James Butts basically calls me a racist haha.
“Grítale a Guti, Ep. ??????”: Latest edition of my Tuesday night IG Live free-for-all brings on the DESMADRE.
“Rams: How they got to LA, what winning Super Bowl could mean for fanbase”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” blasts the Lambs.
“Column: The last lament of the California gringo”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna talks this lightest of epithets and the chaos it’s now creating in California, specifically Chula Vista. KEY QUOTE: “Because “gringo” is a state of mind more than it is a race — a philosophy that loathes Mexican anything. And the California gringo nowadays is in crisis.”
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