Last year, when I turned 36 I took on an ambitious project to write a birthday diary post on Facebook for every year I’d been alive. I didn’t finish all 36. Here is the collection:
I’m 36 today. What do you learn after being on earth for over 3 1/2 decades? I’ve learned how to be grateful. Stay tuned for a Birthday Diary List of 36 things in my life that I’m so happy for. Thx!!
Birthday Diary List 1 of 36: Michoacan, Mexico – I was born in Mexico in the town of Ario de Rosales (Los Bukis!!). My mother is from a farm nearby (1.5 hour walk) called Tunacuaro and my father worked near the farm working my grandpa’s land. I grew up in both places until I was 1 1/2 years old. It was a brief time but when I’ve visited there is something that sings to my heart and whispers welcome back. I feel at peace there, it’s hard to put into words. I love the farm, the town, and the people.
Birthday Diary List 2 of 36: My Parents, like most they didn’t have much when they started there lives together. They did have a dream – a different life for their kids. They made the journey north and sacrificed so much for me. Life is full of struggles and they’ve shown me that a journey and the risk is worth taking no matter how scared you are.
Birthday Diary List 3 of 36: My brother, I’m older but he’s stronger. Growing up he always looked after me, like a personal bodyguard. I was like Inspector Gadget and he was Brain (the dog). I started school early so I was always 2 grades ahead. He’s street smart, where I am gullible. A man of few words, where I can’t seem to remember why I started talking. Level headed and cool under pressure, where I am impatient and hot headed. He’s fought playground battles for me and defended me thru thick and thin. So many instances he’s been the protector and guider. I’ll stop now.. words will never be enough.
Birthday Diary List 4 of 36: My sisters, when each of them was born I was the happiest kid in the world!! I wanted to be a real big brother (see earlier post). There was so much joy in the house at those times. There were three of them, with me and my brother that made 5, plus my parents. Growing up all 7 of us shared a room. I can’t figure out how we made it work. At some point my brother and I moved to the living room (super cold). I always dreamed of having 8 kids (I know, crazy kid).
Birthday Diary List 5 of 36: My teachers, I was in ESL all thru grade school. I struggled so hard with english. No english at home. In fifth grade I hated to read out loud because of my struggle with grammar. The teacher was calling on me, asking what was wrong, and I was breaking under the pressure, I wanted to get passed over so in my head I figured I could get out of it by saying “I’m bored”. I sat up and said really loud “I’m boring!”. The teacher didn’t break her stride she said “We know you’re boring but you still have to read to the class”. All the kids laughed. My second grade teacher encouraged my art, My fifth grade teacher encouraged me in math and enrolled me in MESA, My sixth grade teacher posted a poem I wrote called “colors”, My high school teachers always saw my potential, My college art teachers saw it too. My college english teacher gave me an A (my first since sophomore year in high school). All my life these teacher’s have seen something I never saw in myself. (I’m going back to school to become a teacher). I’ll pay it forward.
Birthday Diary List 6 of 36: Christmas Family, so in grade school our family got picked to be sponsored by another family for Christmas. I had to translate (pressure). They came with 2 vans full of gifts!!! They saw our little house and asked where our rooms were (there was only one). Our living room was full, our kitchen was full. Food, gifts, a real Christmas tree!!! I tried food I had never tried before, and there were tons of toys!!! Best Christmas ever for a little kid. That Christmas our house was full of so much stuff. I was full with the knowledge that there are kind and caring people out there that never ask for anything in return. The family came and went and I don’t know their names anymore, but they will always be in my heart.
Birthday Diary List 7 of 36: My oldest friend, I met him in 5th grade. I remember when he broke both his wrists playing kickball. We got to be in MESA together over the summer between 5th and 6th grade. He was in advanced classes in Junior High, be we would still walk to school together. In 7th grade we got arrested together!! (not as bad as it sounds). In high school we tried out for football together, I quit (see future post). A year later we met up again in wresting. My practice partner, he always comforted me after ever loss (there were a lot!!). We always joke that our 3 combined points propelled us to a CIF Championship (the first in our school’s wresting history). After high school we lost touch until years later he came to visit out of the blue. He’d been in the Navy and was married!!! He has a wonderful wife and 2 great kids. He knows me more than anyone else I can think of and he still wants to hang out with me, crazy. We’re gonna grab some beers soon.
Birthday Diary List 8 of 36: Coach Glabb, in 9th grade I tried out for football. There was a problem, you had to pay for stuff, registration and gear. I couldn’t pay for it so I worked it out with the coach (not Glabb) that I would work after school to cover for it. I would take out the trash and clean the field, maintenance stuff. The thing is that I had to do it when the rest of the team was practicing (I had to pay it off before I could practice with them). They would run by and laugh and call me a janitor so I quit. A year later Coach Glabb paid for everything I needed to join the wrestling team, he gave me my wrestling shoes. After a loss he would sit with me and try to change how I saw myself (loser). The first time I placed at a tournament (3rd place) he was so proud. Coach Glabb always cared, he would even pay for my lunch when I didn’t have money. It took a while but I eventually stopped having low-self esteem (after high school). It all started with Coach Glabb caring and believing in me. Thank you, always.
Birthday Diary List 9 of 36: Coach Silva, he was our other wrestling coach. Coach Glabb made sure everything was in place and got the resources to where they were needed. He recruited Coach Silva to leave coaching a high income high school in Irvine, CA to come teach the last place Santa Ana boys. Coach Silva taught us the technique. He gave us all nicknames. He devoted so much time to us, he saw that we had heart and determination although we didn’t have the skills yet. He taught us to keep going, to never stop, to train harder than the rest. Wrestling is simple: you need a good offense and you need good defense. Work hard, take them down, let them up, defend, sprawl, move forward, don’t stall, do it again. The effort you put in is what you will get out. Life lessons and the results came pouring in. I always look back and revisit those lessons when I feel overwhelmed, when I feel I don’t have anything left.
Birthday Diary List 10 of 36: My wife, I met her when I was in high school. We were in a church group. It wasn’t until years later that we would begin our journey together. She always laughed at my jokes (and what comedian doesn’t love a good audience). I fell in love with her one step at a time and the minute (literally that minute) I knew I couldn’t live without her always by my side I jumped out into the void of the unknown and proposed (no preparation at all. not even a ring in my hand. on a bus). I know, I know, but she still said yes. I took a risk and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made. She makes me a better man. She is my biggest fan, the one who believes in me when I can’t believe in myself, the strongest person I know. Our journey has been so amazing!!! I can’t wait for what lays ahead for us, two travelers walking hand and hand. Helping each other along the way. Loving one another no matter how dire the situation might appear. I still can’t believe she chose me.
Birthday Diary List 11 of 36: My eclectic taste in music, yes it’s mostly 1 hit wonders but music is so awesome to me. Specially since I can understand double the amount that most people do (spanish music). So on my iPod you can find Jaguares, Badly Drawn Boy, Eminem, Simon & Garfunkel, Los Bukis, Los Tigres del Norte, Tim McGraw, Sara Bareilles, Buddy Holly, Bronco, Ace of Base, Leo Dan, Akon, P!nk, Radiohead, Duncan Dhu. All thru high school I listened to Banda (called quebraditas) until I heard Nirvana. Cumbias are so good but I can’t walk away from a great Etta James vocal. Romanticas (spanish love ballads) played in my household growing up on 107.5 KLOVE. A friend gave me 2 dvd’s full of music once: Regina Spector, Old 97s, Cowboy Junkies, Death Cab for Cutie. So much to discover. I love covers. One artist interpreted by another, it’s magical. Gosh I could go on and on. Put those headphones on and hit shuffle!!
Birthday Diary List 12 of 36: Videogames, my love affair began with the Atari 2600 (Pac-man at home!!) so many good games: Maze Craze, Asteroids, Q*Bert, Warlords, Frogger. So here’s the story on why we didn’t get an NES. According to my brother we went to Target to buy it, when we got there it was sold out. I didn’t want to wait so I talked us into buying the Sega Master System (Altered Beasts, Wonderboy, Outrun) because it was cheaper and we could get an extra game for the same price. Big mistake, all our friends had Nintendo. We had to visit them to play Super Mario Bros, Contra, Battletoads, Double Dragon, Excitebike. For my 14th birthday we were on 4th street (central Santa Ana) at a Woolworth. I was so afraid to ask my dad (I was taught never to ask for things) but I felt it was gonna be worth the potential beating so I worked up the courage to ask for a Super Nintendo. A miracle!! He nodded and asked the store clerk for it, oh my gosh, the clerk is going to the glass, he’s picking up the box, he’s bringing it over!!!! What is happening?! My brother and I couldn’t believe it. We took it home I read the manual cover to cover, I stared at the artwork, we loaded up Super Mario World the start screen came up and music began. It was the Miracle on 4th Street!! There is so much more but I’ll stop there.
Birthday Diary List 13 of 36: The Campos Olivas Clan, my wife’s family. They took me in and have cared for me as one of their own. Like a wanderer that was welcomed with open arms and showered with love. My wife and I don’t have any kids so her little brothers fill that void for me. I remember them when they were babies and little kids. I remember them climbing all over me and wanting to play all the time when I was dating my wife. Her stepdad, her mom, her aunts, her cousins, our nephews they always have a smile for me. They share their homes with me. Their casa is mi casa. I wrote about how I wanted 8 kids growing up. I always wanted a large family and they have given that and much more to me. It’s so crazy to have people love you when there is no blood relation connecting you. Thru them I’ve learned that family is so much more than blood. They love me so much and I love them too. I love making them laugh. I love spending time with them and when I’m feeling sad I ask my wife if we can go visit her family. I will always be grateful to be a member of the Campos Olivas clan.
Birthday Diary List 14 of 36: Movie Theaters, I was 12 years old when I went to my first movie at the theaters. The movie was TMNT (teenage mutant ninja turtles). Here’s how I got to go: my brother got invited by his friend, wait, what? why him and not me? my mom told him he had to take me along!! Ha, I was in!! All day afterwards I bragged up and down my block, do you know how the movie ends? they scream something… nope that’s not it, you didn’t go see it did you. I did, they scream: Cowabunga!! Yup, I went to the movies. It’s a wonder I didn’t get punched in the face more often. The next time I went was 3 years later. My cousin Sandra took me to watch Jurassic Park (4th street, another miracle), yeah there were spanish subtitles, but look at that T-Rex, you could feel every shake, the ripple in the puddle, it’s coming, don’t move he can’t see you!!! Run, those evil giant turkeys (velociraptors). I tricked my brother into going to watch Lion King (there’s a bunch of killing I told him), he preferred action movies. Dad, wake up Dad… Runaway Simba and never return (we both cried), we hate you Uncle Scar. Watching a movie in a theatre is awesome, don’t let people tell you otherwise.
Birthday Diary List 15 of 36: Changing Schools, I went to 4 different elementary schools. I learned how to adapt and make friends quickly, like a never ending Lord of the Flies. Kids can be cruel. So I was at John Adams Elementary; 3rd grade, new kid, no one knows me. There’s a fireman giving a talk we are all sitting down in the multi-purpose room. Then there’s an earthquake, no one els is moving, why? the earthquake is centered directly below me, there’s also a huge sound coming from under me. It’s a fart, not just any fart, the loudest hardest fart you ever heard. So loud the fireman stops talking. Dear me, open up ground and swallow me whole. The kids know me now, they just don’t know my name they call me “beaner”. two birds one stone. Deny deny deny. Next couple of days, nope wasn’t me, I don’t even like beans (lie, I love beans!!!). I’m sure my brother heard the rumors and I’m also sure he made them stop, he had his ways (fists). Soon enough we were off to a different school. Remember, there is always a time to start over.
Birthday Diary List 16 of 36: The Girl’s Smile, new school Glenn L. Martin Elementary, 4th grade. I started talking with the cool kids in my class. They’re athletic? Okay, I can be athletic. What are we playing, super tag? Got it. You have to tackle the other kid and then they are it. I’m on the heels of one of the more popular ones. He’s not gonna beat me. I jump and grab his shoulders, he twists and falls back hard. I think I broke his back, nope, but he’s crying. Cover cover, no one else saw us. Should I run, what should I do, his friends come over. What happened? Don’t know, he was like that when I got here. Some kid must have tackled him. My heart is pounding, will they discover the truth and pummel me to death right there in the playground? Nope, teacher comes over and takes him away. In class I walk pass the girl I have a crush on. One of the popular kid’s friends sits right behind me. He leans over and whispers, “we know it was you. I’m going to stab you”. What?! Holy moly, how do I get out of this. He get’s up to sharpen his pencil (the weapon) and shows it to me as he walks back past me. I feel the tip of the pencil on my back and I jump out of my seat. The teacher looks at me, what’s wrong? I can’t tell her, so I break down crying in front of the whole class. Oh my gosh, a crybaby in front of everyone. In front of that cute girl. I walk towards the teacher she puts her arm around me and walks me out, I look back and catch the girl looking at me with deep sympathy in her eyes, she smiles, like it’s gonna be okay. Don’t worry her smile tells me, I know what happened, you’re not a coward.
Birthday Diary List 17 of 36: The Three Amigos, growing up I had 2 close friends. So many adventures. Once, I crashed my car in the middle of the night in Newport Beach right against the curb making a U turn. Hoping agains hope that the tire was fine, I turned and asked them “you think it’s flat?” they just busted up laughing. We pushed it back and the tire was done. We drove it to the nearest gasstation and tried to figure out how to get home. I begged everyone coming in to get gas (1am) if I could borrow their spare tire. One person gave in after keeping my drivers license for insurance (I met up with her later that week and paid her $20 as a rental fee). Another time we blew my whole paycheck (wasn’t much) at a restaurant. We ordered 3 whole pies for dessert. We would always have video game tournaments Super Smash Bros was a favorite. My brother and his friends beat us bad at Sega Soccer Slam once and my friends practiced day and night until they dominated them during the next match. Another time we survived a one day turnaround to San Francisco and back. One time we were short on our restaurant bill and I had to call my friends dad (he was too scared to call himself). Me to his dad: listen, can I borrow $40 and can you pick us up too? Once we spent the whole day (literally), from the first show to the last show at the Irvine Spectrum Theaters, I think we even watched one movie twice. We’ve navigated the streets of central Santa Ana walking in the middle of the night in gang territory (not a good idea) together. Faced a bear in the woods and jumped into a freezing river together. Oh there’s so much more… They’ve been like brothers to me. It’s always a blast when we get together and laugh it up over a carne asada.
Birthday Diary List 18 of 36: The Liquor Store Owner, I was in the sixth grade and my brother was in fourth, our mom was crying in the kitchen. She said that we didn’t have any food left for the week. We talked it over and hatched our plan. My heart was racing, the game we were about to play was dangerous. My brother and I walked the three blocks to the liquor. The one we visited frequently.
We wore big sweaters. My brother grabbed a loaf of wonder bread. We walked around the small store and my brother snuck the bread bag under his sweater. I found the peanut butter and strawberry jelly and placed the holes of my sweater over each one. I held each jar tightly and dropped my hands to the side, the sweater was big and covered the jars in my hands. I was so afraid that I was going to drop one and ruin the whole thing.
My brother says that he saw the Korean (I think) owner looking at us during our burglary. He believes the owner knew but let us steal since what we took was food and not toys or candy. We walked out of the store and I kept waiting for the owner to call out, or come chasing after us, or to hear sirens on our way home. When we were out of eyesight we ran as fast as we could.
At home we presented our stolen items to our mom. After we told her what we did she hugged us and cried but told us never to steal again. I’ll always be grateful that the liquor store owner never turned us in.
Birthday Diary List 19 of 36: The bomb squad, so next day after moving into our 1 bedroom castle (the first house we’d ever owned) our front door was tagged up with gang graffiti. Across the street, the home base for our local gang, were the suspected culprits. Laughing it up. My mom started screaming some choice words at them, she went to the back, grabbed some paint, and started painting over all their hard work all the while screaming at them. Since we were little kids they never bugged us, but I was still scared, you learn early not to kick a beehive.
Growing up surrounded by gangsters is a crazy thing. Drive-bys, stabbings, fights, late night cop raids, all types crime related stories unfolded before you. Again they never bugged us. If we were playing in the street (usually football or Frisbee football) they would join us and then we’d have a huge game going until they had to move on, patrolling the street I guess.
So my brother and I loved making dry ice bombs. We would haggle with the ice cream man (trade you this old bike chain for some dry ice). We would find a 2-litre plastic bottle smash up the dry ice and get it in then add just enough water to create the right pressure. Make sure that lid is tight. Feel the pressure? See it expand? It’s gonna blow, run!!!!
We were like chemists, perfecting the art of the dry ice bomb. We were hanging out at the high school bleachers (across the street, half a block away) and placed the bomb at the bottom seats and went to hang out at the top to wait for it to blow. It’s a dud. Maybe we can adjust it this way or that next time. The local gang rolled in (about 8 or so) and started giving us stares, like we are about to talk about somethings (business meeting) or light up and we don’t want anyone around. So my brother and I jumped down to the fence and started heading home. We only got a few steps away.
BOOM!! The gangsters dove for their lives, hidden weapons were stuck in their pants they couldn’t grab them. Is it a drive by? They were hiding behind the bleachers poking their heads out. Everyone was scrambling. Finally the guns and weapons were drawn. Ready for the fight. They looked at us. We looked at them. Then both groups realized what had happened (our dry ice bomb had gone off).
I was scared they were going to come after us. We froze, should we run? We waited for their response and they started laughing. Rolling on the floor laughing; calling each other out, you dove the furthest, Nah, you were scared Ese, Chale, you should of seen yourself homie. They put their weapons away and pointed at us (like that thing Denzel Washington does when he points and smiles) like you kids got us, good joke!! That dry ice bomb was magnificent!! We smiled and walked home (three houses away).
Birthday Diary List 19 of 36: Drawings that Move, I can’t remember the first animated movie I saw. I don’t think my parents showed us Disney movies growing up, we watched El Chavo and Cantinflas. Anyhow the first animated movie that had an impact on me was The Little Mermaid. My teacher said that someone got paid to make those drawings move. From then on I wanted to be an animator.
Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, Looney Toons, Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show, I could go on. I could sit and watch these hour after hour. I wanted to watch everything and anything animated. Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King. Then I saw Ninja Scroll and it blew my mind, then Ghost in a Shell and much later My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Don’t get me start on Pixar. There is so much good animation out there I’ll never be able to watch it all.
I studied animation in college so I know a tiny bit about how much work goes into getting one second of film done. It is crazy and takes true dedication. I’ll list some scenes that come to my mind: Carl & Ellie’s Love Story (Up), The Cat Bus (My Neighbor Totoro), The Shootout with the Tank (Ghost in the Shell), Country Roads (Whisper of the Heart), Anton Ego Taking that Bite (Ratatouille), Jessie Remembering Being Given Away (Toy Story 2). There’s too many.
Eventually I gave up my dream of becoming an animator (I couldn’t love the work enough). Though, I will never stop watching those amazing stories with drawings that move. I’ll end with recommendations of 3 Studio Ghibli films you might have not seen: Whisper of the Heart (love), Grave of Fireflies (war/bleakness), and Kiki’s Delivery Service (coming of age). Let me know what you think if you decide to watch them.
Birthday Diary List 20 of 36: The Cookie Treasure, during our summers while in elementary and junior high my brother and I would roam and explore the Santa Ana High School campus (it was right across the street from us). From sun up until way past dark we spent our days sneaking into different parts of the school.
One time we snuck into the swimming pool and pulled the blue tarp back enough to splash on the shallow end (I know super dangerous). We heard a large truck outside and saw the local firemen heading towards the pool to use it, wow, we climbed what seemed like a 20 foot fence (like that junkyard scene in Stand by Me) in record time like we were olympic champions. We jumped onto the roof and made our escape thru the other end of the building. The firemen were still trying to get in thru the massive black gates at the front of the pool entrance.
Another time we crawled into the batting cages out in the field near a huge barn and used the black netting as hammocks like a jungle gym. The baseball players and coach caught us we scattered like roaches but couldn’t get out. We had to wait for them to unlock the cage door while they banged on the cage and as we walked out in shame they asked us what we were thinking. It was a lazy summer day and we wanted to literally hang out, ha!!
Well, the best thing happened one day fine summer day. We were dumpster diving on campus near the blacktop basketball courts and guess what we found? A treasure trove full of school cafeteria cookies (now remember we never had money to buy these during school). They were still wrapped in their plastic and were strung together like giant string of dough filled pearls, like fresh out of the factory. We checked the expiration date and it was only a few days past. What a find!! We started pigging out like glutton kings, until we heard someone yelling at us (it was the custodian) hey kids!! get out of there!! (we hadn’t bothered to get out of the dumpster) don’t take those!!! they’re schools property!! (finder’s keepers man, running away with packet strings of cookies) don’t eat those they’ll make you sick!! (yeah, right!! they were the best, we ate for days).
Birthday Diary 21 of 36: My Golden Retriever – Kibble, I must have been in 5th or 6th grade and a friend of mine gave me a puppy!! A Golden Retriever!!! Oh my gosh, we’re gonna be best friends you and I and I’m gonna call you Kibble (Kibbles ‘n Bits). I would round around the block with him and he’d follow me everywhere. I close my eyes and I see him running right beside me, racing down a sidewalk. He was so fast.
I imagined myself Calvin and Kibble was my Hobbes. Ours was a concrete forest to explore. He was the best dog and I told him I loved him everyday. We were gonna grow old together!! There would be a whole book of our adventures. I came home one day (maybe a month after I got him). My dad had given him away. He said he was getting too big and that I wasn’t taking care of him. He said a dog like that needed to be running around on a farm or living with someone who had a big backyard. But why hadn’t he told me this before giving him away? He said he’d warned me. Had he? Did I ignore him? It’s so hard to find the truth now after so many years (I think Kibble was getting too big and expensive to take care of for our household and that’s the real reason my dad gave him away).
Heartbreak, why couldn’t I have a bigger yard? Why was I such a bad dog owner? Why had I failed Kibble? Why didn’t I get to say goodbye to him? I never owned a dog after him. My family owned more dogs, but I couldn’t get close to any of them it hurt too much thinking on Kibble. At school we were reading “Where the Red Fern Grows” in class and at the end I couldn’t stop crying. I always imagine that Kibble lived his life in a big yard surrounded by a family that loved him and could take care of him. Come to think of it, dogs always get near me and they look into my eyes like they know I loved one of their brothers a long time ago and I always hold back like my heart has never healed. I’m so weird.
That’s as far as I made it.
Thank you for reading.