Read in English

Cuando Javier era niño, le gustaba quemar los cuetes (como se dice los fuegos artificiales en México). O sea, le gustaba hasta la edad de 15 años. En la Navidad cuando tenía 15 años, sus padres fueron de compras por la cena de la Navidad. Javier estaba solo en casa. Tenía ganas de quemar cuetes. No había primos o amigos o hermanos cerca, pero tenía ganas de quemar los cuetes. Su hermana había comprado algunos meses antes un paquete de cuetes de China, cuetes muy fuertes, un paquete que contenía 40 cuetes. Javier estaba solo, y decidió que quemaría dos de los cuetes de su hermana. Halló el paquete y los cerillos y los trajo afuera.

Sacó dos cuetes del paquete, y trato de meter el resto en el bolsillo. Pero sus pantalones estaban bastante ajustados en este año y tuvo mucha dificultad. Al final, logró ajustar los otros 38 cuetes en el bolsillo izquierdo de los pantalones. Entonces agarró los cerrillos con la mano derecha, los frotó, y quemó los dos cuetes en la mano derecha. Fue muy divertido y le gustó.

Entonces trató de guardar los cerillos en el mismo bolsillo con los 38 cuetes. Pero sus pantalones estaban tan ajustados que los cerillos se frotaron en su bolsillo y los cuetes se quemaron. En el bolsillo. Todos. ¡Bum! ¡Bum! ¡Bum! ¡Bum! ¡Bum! … 38 veces.

Cuando las explosiones ya terminaron, Javier estaba muy asustado, más asustado que el dolor. Los cuetes habían cortado un hueco en sus pantalones, aproximadamente el tamaño del bolsillo.

Todavía estaba solo.  Nadie en casa con él. Se quitó los pantalones y se miró la pierna. Había una mancha bastante grande, roja e hinchada, pero no habia sangre ni ampolla. Así que frotó la pomada en la mancha, se puso otros pantalones y tiró los quemados.

Cuando sus padres regresaron, su padre le dijo:

--¿Qué pasó, Javier?

--Nada.

--Te ves mal...

--No, solo estoy un poco triste y sentimental. Pienso de la la Navidad. Todas las Navidades. El pasado.

--Pero pareces asustado… ¿Ocurrió algo?

--Solo estoy triste.

Su padre olió el aire.

--¿Qué es este olor? ¿Cuetes?

--Ah sí. Quemé cuetes. Solo dos.

Su padre aceptó la explicación y la familia se adelantó con las preparaciones para la cena de la Navidad.

Poco a poco, la herida se fue curando, y después de un mes la pierna estaba normal.

Unos meses más tarde, la hermana de Javier le preguntó si habia visto sus cuetes, el paquete de China.

--No, no los he visto.

--¿De veras?

--Sí, no se donde están.

--Pues -- dijo la hermana-- eran cuetes viejos. Probablemente no funcionan nada más.

Por eso desde la edad de quince, a Javier no le han gustado los cuetes. Sus amigos le pedían que los quemaran, pero les decía a sus amigos que no, a él no le gustaban.  Y hasta hoy mismo cuando oye los cuetes, la pierna todavía le duele.

Leer en español

When Javier was little, he liked to play with fireworks, cuetes they called them (cuete is Mexican slang for cohete, or rocket). That is, Javier liked to set off cuetes until la Navidad (Christmas) when he was fifteen years old.

That year his parents went out shopping for the big dinner to be held on la Buena Noche (Christmas Eve). Javier was alone at home. He decided he wanted to set off cuetes. Normally, you set off cuetes with your friends or brothers or cousins, but Javier was alone, and he wanted to set off cuetes. Just a couple. Sometime before, a few months at least, his sister had bought a package of cuetes from China, a package that contained 40 cuetes. The good ones from China, really strong. So Javier thought, I'll just set off two of my sister's cuetes. He found the cuetes and some matches and took them outside.

He took two cuetes out of the package, and tried to put the rest in his pocket.  His jeans that year were very tight, so he had really had to squeeze to get the 38 remaining cuetes in the left front pocket of his jeans. Then he held the matches in his left hand, lit them, and set off two cuetes with his right hand.

Then he tried to put away the matches in the same pocket as the cuetes. But his pants were so tight, the matches lit, and the cuetes  went off. All of them. In his pocket.  Boom boom boom boom boom (38 times)….  

When the explosions were finished, he was really scared, more scared than in pain. The explosions had cut a hole in his jeans, about the size of his pocket.

He was still alone. There was nobody home but him. So he took off his jeans, and looked at his leg. There was a big round spot, red, but no blister, no bleeding. So he put ointment on the spot, put on a different pair of jeans, and threw away the old pair.

When his parents returned, his father asked him:

--Whats wrong, Javier?

--Oh, nothing.

--You look really upset.

--Oh I'm just sad. Thinking about la Navidad.  Todas las Navidades. The past.

--But you look frightened.

--No, just sad.

His father sniffed the air.

--What's that smell? Cuetes?

--Oh yeah. I set off a couple of cuetes.

His father accepted the explanation, and they went on with preparations for the dinner for la Navidad.

Little by little the wound healed, and a month later his leg was back to normal.

A few months later, his sister asked him if he had seen her cuetes, the packet from China.

--No, I haven't seen them.

--Really?

--Yeah, I don't know where they are.

--Well, said his sister, they were old cuetes. Probably no good any more.

And since the age of fifteen, Javier hasn't liked cuetes. His friends would ask him to set some off, but he'd say no, no I don't like them. And when he hears fireworks, his leg still hurts.

During the World Cup, we were talking about Messi, how the ball seems to magically stick to his shoes, and Dennis told me a story:

My first soccer coach was like that -- Brother Ted. He was a great soccer player, a very good athlete. We didn't have that many kids on the team, not enough to play a full scrimmage, so we'd play 10 to 7, the 10 starters versus Brother Ted and the other kids. We couldn't stop him. He could dribble through us, past us, around us. We didn't have official practice field, just the park, so we'd set two gym bags out to mark the goals. We had to pace off the corner kicks.  So when we were on a real field, a real pitch, during the games, and we could see what we were doing, it just made us better. 64 to 66. That's 1964 to 1966. In those years we never lost a game or gave up a goal.

A really good athlete, and the best coach I ever had, in any sport. He was a kind of dick though, a real disciplinarian. He was a Salvatorian brother, not a priest. He worked at the school as a maintenance guy and coach. Mother of Good Counsel. He coached soccer and basketball. He wasn't the head coach of basketball, but he was a much better coach than the guy who was. And then he moved on to Francis Jordan, the high school, also Salvatorian, as the soccer coach. I was playing American football then, but the guys he coached were the best in the state. 7 guys from that team went on to play soccer in college.

He was kind of dick though. I remember once, we were all in a huddle before the match, leaning in with our arms around each other, and he's talking real quietly and humbly about what we are going to do, and suddenly he reaches out and hits this kid in the face. Pow! Because the kid was talking at the same time he was. That got our attention alright. How did he do that without looking?

He became really close friends with my parents. There was a picture of him with my parents in their living room having a beer. It was because of him that I went to Francis Jordan. My brother and sister had gone to John Marshall, the public school, but Brother Ted said to my parents, Dennis, he has to go to Francis Jordan. There was talk about the cost, how to pay for it, and Brother Ted said I could get a job in the summers and pay off the bill. And he got me a job. For a couple of summers I worked with him at the school, buffing floors, fixing stuff.

I think he left the Salvatorian order in the 1970s sometime. Gene S_____, from the funeral home family, another Francis Jordan guy, he told me years later that Brother Ted left because he got disgusted at the homosexuality in the Salvatorian order. Even after he left the order, he still worked at the parish as the maintenance guy. And he coached some soccer teams, not for the schools, but for other leagues. They were good teams. He was a really good coach.