Blog Archive

Friday, December 16, 2005

Moonlight Serenade, of sorts

Last night I was walking back from Dawn's house to my house, around 8 p.m., in a gentle snow. Two boys were on our favorite corner, then just one. That kid had a lot to say to me, which I pretended not to hear.

"Hey, hey, como estas? Hey gringa, what's up? You know, George Bush doesn't like black people," the strong implication of which was that I don't like black people either. I thought about hollering, "You know, I don't like George Bush," but decided against it.

Then he started singing "Gasolina" at me. He probably knows the words better than I do.

I just kept walking, though he was loud enough I'm sure the whole neighborhood heard it. I looked down the street and there was a shovel parked against my fence. It was Tony. He had his back to me. "Hey, Tony, is that you?" I asked, not loudly.

He jumped, startled, then turned around. "Don't do that to me!"

"I'm sorry," I said.

Young Punk on the corner continued his Gasolina serenade, then switched into some other tack that didn't sound any more pleasant. You couldn't quite make out the words from my house. I ignored it and started talking with Tony about snow, etc. Soon after, while Young Punk was still shouting, yet another lady who probably works the corner came by, trying to get 70 cents out of either Tony or me. I dug up some change. Like Tony and Young Punk, she too is black. The irony of my interactions with them while this young punk was hollering up and down the street about me did not escape me, shall we say. I would say, "yeah, i don't like black people, I don't like them so much I hire them to clear my snow and I give them money when they ask for it."

But Young Punk would see a different sort of irony--I suspect he would look at it as "that gringa chick is OK with black people as long as they work for her or beg from her." And he has no reason to think any different based on what he can see. I actually went to the next door neighbors' house and knocked on their door to invite them to my party, but they didn't answer, though there were lights on in the house and I saw someone inside. I don't blame them for not coming to the door. Probably I should just leave a note.

I'll have to get brave enough either to offer Young Punk a cookie or call him out for selling drugs to his own people. I'm frankly not sure I have the guts to do either, but I might be able to muster the courage to say, "I don't like guys who stand on the corner, whatever color they are."

Meanwhile, I think my suspicions of problems of another kind with Tony are probably correct. He did call me "sweetheart" to my face last night after clearing out the snow and ice, and he looked at me funny when I handed him a five-dollar bill.

"Everybody has to keep warm and dry," I said. He took it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Very Reggaton Christmas

Another big snow hit us Saturday night. Around six the snow was falling so hard cars were crawling. I thought I'd go home and have a quiet evening with a book, the radio and a cup of hot cocoa.

Well, the snow stopped, and I got the cocoa and the radio, but not a quiet evening. Dawn and Joey and their friends from down the block showed up asking if they could use my yard for a snowball fight. I said yes and called Junior and Oscar and Danny. They all came out. Tony was clearing my snow (since my shovel broke!) and I started making eight cups of cocoa out in the kitchen.

I need to get Swiss Miss or something easy--I have yuppie Droste cocoa which requires much more patience to make. The directions assume you are making one cup at a time and you have to get the cocoa and sugar just wet enough to make a paste, but not too wet or the paste won't work. With eight cups to practice on, I figured it out, but it was time-consuming.

Tony liked his cocoa. The little boys, most of the six of them, clamored for more, but I ran out of milk. Once they had their cocoa break, they asked if I would play. So I threw a few snowballs and let them knock me over in the snow once. I made a snow angel.

They ran loose in the street but there were so few cars I didn't really worry about it. The only bad thing that happened was Joey got knocked over hard and hit his leg. He was crying and I was trying to figure out if he broke anything. Of course he was fine five minutes later.

When Junior and Danny's moms came out looking for them, I sent everyone home except Dawn, Joey, and Dawn's friend, the big sister of most of the little scamps. We'll call her Carolina. Dawn and Carolina started stringing up the lights Junior's mom gave me (her cousins' old lights--some of them still work), while Joey played DJ. We had "Feliz Navidad" on for a little bit at Dawn's insistence, then switched over to reggaeton. Of course we heard Daddy Yankee and Joey cranked up the bass.

"I want to hear Daddy Yankee sing Christmas stuff," I kidded them. "Fe-liz Na-vi-dad," I said, grinding my hips slightly to a makeshift cumbia beat. The girls cracked up.

Yesterday I went out to the new Aldi's (yay-cheap stuff within walking distance!) and got a new shovel with a metal edge for seven bucks. I also got chocolate chips. We had another go at the snow with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, but this time Joey got in a fight with Carolina's little brother, whom I'll call Peter (since he leads the pack, it seems like). I have thought Peter was kind of trouble because the other kids talk about him behind his back, but he definitely has a gift for leadership. Plus, he won my heart yesterday when he agreed to push the shovel over the backyard sidewalk.

He and his brothers saw me give Junior and Oscar pairs of gloves. Oscar got a red knit hat with a baseball cap-style bill. He liked it. "You're really nice!" he exclaimed. I was really surprised.

I'll probably have to get some gloves for Peter and his brothers, too. Ho, ho, ho, Daddy Yankee sings reggaeton Christmas and Ms. Claus brings gloves for children who throw snowballs in her yard. We tried making a snowman but the snow is too powdery. Maybe in a couple of days it will pack down.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Yup-yup Returns

He's back.

He appeared Monday night. I was racing home to get a pot of turkey chili to take to a potluck. I got off the bus and walked down 50th and there he was, cane, cast and all. (Did I mention he broke his leg a few weeks ago? So I lack the heart as well as the guts to fire him outright.)

Take the bull by the horns, I decided. "Hey, Yup-yup, where you been?" I hollered.

He hobbled across the street, shaking his head. "Hard times, hard times," he said, not saying anything else about his whereabouts.

I handed off the orange and the five-dollar bill, saying, "I've got some turkey chili for you, too."

"Turkey chili?!"

"I just have to heat it up. I'll be back out in a few."

What I didn't tell him was the rest of it was going to feed the CAPS potluck. How ironic.

Quest for the Historical Jesus

I just have to spend a few minutes talking about Phil and his quest for the historical Jesus. Phil is a freshman at Curie and he's buddies with Dawn's big brother. Phil read "The DaVinci Code" and got really interested in what we know about Jesus and whether Dan Brown was on to something or just making it all up.

I found this out one night on the front porch of Dawn's new apartment. Julian and Phil were hanging on the stoop and Julian wanted me to argue theology with Phil. Since I go to church regularly, Julian thought I would present a more conservative counterpoint to Phil's "God doesn't exist" and "Jesus was just a regular guy" perspective. Imagine his surprise when I started egging Phil on! How fun to out myself as not the religious nutcase for a change.

Anyway, Phil told me he wanted to read more about what experts say about Jesus's life and history, whether it agreed with Dan Brown or not. So I got on the Internet at work (how do I ever do my job???) and found an article debunking Brown written by a Presbyterian minister with a doctorate from Harvard Div and gave it to Phil a week later. Another week later, we were all hanging on the front porch and I asked Phil if he had read the article and how he liked it. "It was great," he said.

A couple of nights ago, an envelope arrived from a high school pal who also squeezes in his avocations during work time. It contained an essay from the December issue of Harpers Magazine, about Jefferson's redaction of the gospels and how similar his condensed version is to the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas. I can't wait to pass this one on to Phil, especially since he was at Dawn's house when she was polling people about why we study history. Way to combine two intellectual questions simultaneously.

I heard a lot about Phil from Dawn and her buddies last night. This is the same trio who used my kitchen to study in for their exhibitions a few weeks ago. Charlie's Angels showed up at my office at 5 p.m., despite the snowstorm, ready for their trip to the Harold Washington Library. We got Dawn some material on graffiti art for her research project. Gloria, the academic perfectionist, found three books but didn't check them out before closing, so she had to put them on hold. Guess who just went to pick them up? Two were for school--one on the Maya, another by or about Rigoberta Menchu--I'm not sure if it's the original Spanish version of "I, Rigoberta Menchu" or if it's a different bookd The third was a diet book in Spanish--at least it looks like it's a health plan not a fad diet, but my Spanish is probably not up to judging. Meanwhile, Angel number three, Janice, tried to find some books on Marilyn Manson, but they were all checked out.

Janice was surprised when I suggested she could look for some books on her musical idol. "How did you know I like Marilyn Manson?" she asked.

"Because I saw your exhibition project at my house, remember?" The light dawned on her face. Then I laughed and said, "No, really, Janice, I'm psychic."

Anyway, on the way home, while we were in the Orange Line station waiting for the bus, Phil and his book project came up as a topic of discussion. Dawn says Phil is writing a romance novel, I believe that is romance in the old sense, like wizards and witches and all that jazz. I'd copy-edit it for him if he wants. They were also interested in his personal style--he wears a long capelike, old-fashioned coat that rumor says cost three hundred bucks, and he's experimented with eyeliner.

Phil is thinking he would like to transfer from Curie to Big Picture. He says he is an average student at Curie (so, Cs) and is bored with his classes. He might be a good fit. I'm sure he'd be an asset to the school and I think the school would be an asset to him in ways Curie probably won't be about college, etc.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Georgina Gets a Scarf

While Tony the Car Wash King was being Tony of the Snows and shoveling my sidewalk, a new lady of the night stopped by. We'll call her Georgina. She's worried about what happened to Yup-yup, Priscilla's old boyfriend/pimp whom I hired as night watchman. I think I was so embarrassed about this I never wrote it up.

Here's the back story. Back when Priscilla was cleaning my windows, after the doorbell ringings at 3 a.m., I asked Priscilla what I should do. She said, "You could get Yup-Yup to watch your house." It must have been sleep deprivation that led me to believe this was a good idea, but somehow it made sense at the time. And really, I can still see it--he's out there all night, I get him on my side, he keeps the rest of the bad guys off my back, right?

So, I offered him five bucks a week, payable Tuesdays, in exchange for keeping an eye on the place. After about two or three weeks a new perspective emerged--I put myself in a protection racket!! What am I getting back from this guy? For whatever unknown reason the doorbell ringing did stop, but given the only "suspect" Yup-yup suggested was some guy he met in the alley who thought I was Latina, I'm not real sold on his detective/security capabailities. Plus, the gas charge this winter is outrageous.

So I went to Yup-yup before Thanksgiving and said, "I don't know how I'm going to pay my gas bill this winter. Can I pay you in food instead?" He agreed much more easily than I expected. Then my uncle died and I missed our Tuesday before Thanksgiving appointment. I saw him the Sunday I got back and made a deal that he would get his last five bucks plus some food the following Tuesday. Yup-yup vanished last Tuesday. I've been walking around with an orange and a fiver in my coat pocket for a week. No sign of him.

So last night Georgina confided she was worried about Yup-yup and she hadn't seen him since Tuesday night. (don't know how he missed me in the morning, but he did.)

"You think he's locked up?" That was my immediate assumption when I didn't see him Wednesday.

"No," she said. "I have a feeling he isn't locked up. I'm worried."

Why the heck she's worried about this guy is beyond me. Anyway, she hung out and chatted and told me she was cold, so I looked in my closet and found the nice Cashmink plaid scarf someone left at the last holiday bash I threw at my old North Side apartment and gave it to her. She tied it around her coat hood instead of putting her hood down and tying it around her neck. There's something else I really don't understand.

Junior tells me he heard Yup-yup has a gun. Joey tells me Yup-yup tried to help him find Baby Girl, the bunny that got away. Georgina tells me two of the boys who died in my house were Yup-Yup's nephews. He didn't tell me that, but he clearly cared about the young men who died here. Lots of mysteries to ponder...


Hi everybody--

Thanks for your patience with me. My uncle died the weekend I was leaving town to attend a protest against a training academy sponsored by the U.S. Army. For more on that, see This meant I was out of town the whole week before Thanksgiving and it has taken me a while to get back on the blogging bandwagon.

I also don't know why I can't put active links into this text, which sort of defeats the purpose of a blog, right?? anyway, apologies for all these things.

Some of you have been in touch with me to find out what I decided about opening my home to two women who want to help women in prostitution. The Friday after my initial conversation about doing this, I spent 17 hours on a bus to Ft. Benning, Georgia with a little grey-haired nun who was traveling with a bag smaller than my Sierra club bookbag, and who used to run a home for women recovering from drug addiction. (In social services jargon, that's second-stage housing, and yes most or all of them had been prostitutes while they were addicts.) So she knew the scene and she raised all the points that comments on this site already raised, plus the key--that she and her nun buddy were around 24/7 to supervise and work their "nunja" on the residents and their associated guests. So I decided she was the voice of God telling me to give myself a break, and I listened. I am still working on finding a place for those women to do their thing--if anyone has suggestions, please pass them on.

Last night I got home for the first time in two days. There was about an inch of snow all over the place. I felt too lazy to deal with it, locked the front gate and went inside. Five minutes later, the doorbell rang. It was Tony the Car Washer (as opposed to Tony Lawn Care of Logan Square, whose been stealing Jesse's yard maintenance gig at my place). Tony wheedled three bucks out of me when the cold snap first hit, and asked what I needed doing. Since at that point there was no snow and Tony Lawn Care had just been by, I told him to watch for trash in the traffic circle.

"Nobody ever did nothing like that before you came here," he observed.

Anyway, last night Tony the Car Wash King hopped my fence and rang my bell to ask whether I wanted my snow removed. Of course I said OK. He shoveled and salted. He was surprised when I paid him an extra four bucks but it was cold and that is work, even when it's not that much snow.

I'm a little nervous and yet a little pleased that I thought I heard him call out, "Bye, sweetie" when he left. Did I hear right? Should I be nervous? Am I happy I have a friend? Is that all he thinks it is?? It better be...he was fool enough to tell me about his six kids and how after "a little trouble between me and my lady" she got an order of protection on him.

I had another visitor last night. She's probably worth her own entry, so I'll stop here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Major Discernment

What have I let myself in for?

I had a chance meeting two weekends ago, at Call to Action
A woman named Brenda Myers-Powell--this is her real name because I bet she wants the publicity--is looking for space in which to help women in prostitution find their way out. Given the situation with Priscilla and my feeling that sooner or later she'll be back, I thought we should talk.

Brenda and her friend and business partner, Stephanie, met with me on Sunday. The house was still under construction in the interior design project, so we went around the corner to El Tio and sat down over a meal. We were discussing the possibility of using my house as a place to do this work.

At first we talked about doing something residential. "How do you feel about deadbolts on your bedroom door?" Stephanie asked me. Not good.

The conversation quickly shifted to a drop-in kind of setting. We talked about 12 hours a week, always two people in charge on the premises from a pool of Brenda, Stephanie and their husbands. "We will treat your home like it was our home, and we will treat you like our sister because you are our sister in Christ," they pledged.

But I'm still scared. I called my craziest friend, who told me about the knife fights she used to break up when her drop in center for young people, including gang bangers, was located next to Sarah's Circle, a drop-in center for homeless women, including women in prostitution. "Their pimps will be watching 24/7," she pointed out. I already have that problem thanks to Yup-yup, Priscilla's (I hope) former pimp. I'm very afraid of it getting worse.

I'm taking this week to discern the idea. Not just consider its wisdom but whether it's the kind of folly God calls you to or just straight-out folly, period.

One point that came to me quickly is that my house is my home, not a program. I think Brenda and Stephanie and I have yet to see whether a Catholic Workerish vision of hospitality and a model of a social-service style program are compatible. A friend has already pointed out to me that I've got some good things going with the neighbors already and maybe it's worth it to let them grow. (I'll just add that I'm well aware this idea won't be a big hit with the neighbors and could strain relations with people I want as allies.)

Another feeler that may yet be explored is whether the space at Su Casa vacated by Genesis House might be a possibility. Right now Brenda and Stephanie can't afford rent, but Genesis House wasn't paying the rent they were supposed to be paying, so what if we all went in with expectations that the new occupants wouldn't pay rent now but might in the future? Or that the new program would repair and maintain the space that Genesis House trashed?

I have yet to put out a feeler to Su Casa about this because they were burned badly by Genesis House and likely don't want to even think about anything with any connection to them. (Brenda and Stephanie want to do something independent of Genesis House but the mere fact they "graduated" from the program back in the day might be a source of tension with Su Casa right now, I don't know.)

Anyway, for you friends and readers who might have responses to this or want to offer your thoughts as I take my week of discernment about what's next, I welcome your comments. Thanks.

Shooting at St. Joe's

Apparently a young man who lives above the bar near St. Joseph Church was shot twice in the stomach on Sunday night around 11 p.m. The shooting took place right in front of the church. He was taken to Cook County Hospital and she hears he's doing better than he was when he got there. The shooter was arrested, she told me.

My source for this news flash is one of the women who led the failed coup attempt at the CAPS meeting last spring. I ran into her this morning on the Ashland bus. She's probably in her 20s, tall and heavy-set, with a friendly, open face. She was taking her four-year-old daughter to the UIC clinic. She sat with me in the seats right in front of the door and kept an eye on her little girl, who sat up front by the driver. "She doesn't want to sit with me," Coup Leader said placidly. When I got off at the Orange Line, she moved back up to the front.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Starbucks Sighting

This morning a crushed Starbucks coffee cup appeared on the sidewalk in front of my house. It didn't come from me. I never buy Starbucks. As far as I know, the nearest one is at 63rd and Kedzie. Hardly creeping gentrification, but it was a surprise.

I scooped it up and dropped it in the stolen dumpster in front of the boarded-up house down the block. The dumpster's address, painted in white, came from 53rd and Morgan, about half a mile east and a little south.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Academic Victories!

Dawn did her exhibition on Wednesday morning. I went to Big Picture and found my way upstairs to her advisor's room. Dawn was there in cream-colored pants and a short grey jacket (sort of bolero-style), with her hair pulled back, nervously chewing gum and talking with a couple of classmates, fussing a little with her materials, joking around a little to ease the stress.

Both her parents came. Yeah! They were a little late, and then we had to wait for the principal to bring them some evaluation forms in Spanish. He was teasing one of the guys in Aurora's class who had done a less-than-stellar exhibition the day before. "I'm surprised you can sit down today," he said. The boy's friends giggled. Apparently the kid's mom was on a tear after his.

Not so with our gal Dawn! She was a little nervous at first, but eased in and grew confident as time went on. She gave different parts of her talk in Spanish and in English (though she occasionally had trouble finding the right word and had to switch mid-sentence, which her advisor and the principal want her to eliminate from her next exhibition). I even asked her a question in Spanish! She was talking about something (now I forget what) and she paused like she was done, and I said, "Por ejemplo?" and she gave a couple of examples. At the time I knew what was going on but now I've completely forgotten.

Her stuff on E. coli was pretty good and she wants to continue learning more about bacteria and viruses next quarter.

She talked for a solid 45 minutes and didn't get rattled when we asked her questions. Her dad asked a number of questions when she was explaining what she's learning in music class.

At the end, all the spectators shared one positive thing and one critical piece of feedback based on what we saw. Afterwards Dawn, her parents, her teacher, the principal and I sat down and talked about what her learning goals will be for next quarter. She's going to start some computer course in math. I'll be interested to see what it has to offer.

Afterwards, her parents gave me a ride to work. I asked how Joey's presentation on the knee and the MRI went. It sounds like it went fine--the part I understood most clearly was when his mom told me the teacher said something like, "Wow, that was really good. Did your parents help you with that?" Apparently Joey said, "My parents don't speak English. My friend helped me." We were all laughing about that. I want to hear about it from Joey himself.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Dream Come True

Which was my dream come true, do you think?

A. Saturday afternoon, my student interior designer and her husband came down and put in new light fixtures. So, instead of three-bulb "interrogation lights" (as the guy who delivered my futons called them), I now have two large white globes, one dangling in the living room, the other in the home office space, and two smaller ones on a swag of golden chain suspended over the dining room table.

B. Saturday late morning, Dawn showed up asking if she and her two buddies from Big Picture could borrow my dining table to have a spot to work on their exhibitions (end-of-quarter projects). Their advisor somehow got locked out of the building and they needed a quiet, convenient place to prepare. So three girls and their teacher spread out their stuff-photos of a diabetic who lost a toe mixed with Marilyn Manson and Dawn's neverending trail of loose notes.

I tapped her shoulder, laughing, as I picked up some of her looseleaf notes off the floor for the second or third time. "You are just like me," I marveled. "Always leaving a paper trail!"

Her buddy Gloria (for the purpose of this blog) did a full-dress rehearsal of her exhibition, which took 45 minutes. She was very well-prepared.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Las Medias Blancas

...otherwise known as the White Sox. I went to Dawn's house last night to find out how Joey did on his big science project. Their mom very generously switched off her telenovela in favor of the game and we all watched it.

First, the science project news. He got nine wrong answers according to the kid who corrected his paper--his teacher hasn't seen it yet. He's supposed to give his oral report tomorrow and the teacher was keeping the MRI and his notes in school. This makes me nervous since I think he'd be better off with some extra practice before getting up in front of the class, but he's on his own with that now.

Now for baseball. We watched up until about the 7th inning, so we saw the Sox come from behind and cheered for a few runs. Their mom has a touch of the flu, so she was kicking back in the recliner with a yellow blanket wrapped around her. Meanwhile Joey was running around in soccer shorts and no shirt, proclaiming he was not cold. He went back in the kitchen and then kept lurking between his bedroom door and the bathroom door, playing I spy or hide-and-go-seek or just trying to get us to laugh at him, which we did. I did, copiously.

Then he put on a cape and his vampire teeth and came back in to scare us while we watched the game. He is a funny character! He gave his sick mother a couple of hugs, too, for moral support. Apparently he and his dad are the only ones in the house who haven't been hit by the bug yet.

His mom wanted to know how long the game goes on, so I explained its nine innings unless they're tied at the ninth, when it goes on to extra innings. Little did we know how many of those there would be!

At ten, Joey's mom sent him to bed and I sent myself home. I knew nothing more until I got to work and saw the headline on the Tribune and realized they won. But it took until lunch for me to find out about the win in the 14th inning! Good thing we didn't stay up until 1:30!!!

Monday, October 24, 2005

More Bones

Yesterday's cloudy, cold, drizzle was the perfect backdrop to stay in the house and knock out the rest of Joey's science report. We sat at the dining room table and Dawn turned off the loud Mexican music and put the radio on in her room so we could concentrate. She's getting sick--sore throat, hard to swallow. Her big brother is sick too but he has a job at a pizza place so he was working. Let's hope it's not bird flu, right?

Preparing the oral presentation was interesting. Joey and I talked about what was on the MRI and I made him practice saying "anterior cruciate ligament." After he got that down, I tried to get him to learn "magnetic resonance imaging" but that was just too hard. So we made a note card about how an MRI is different from an X-ray and just left it at that.

He had eight note cards. It was really hard to get him to say a complete sentence without it on the card, so I ended up printing out simple sentences on most of the cards. On one I drew a figure of the leg bones and their connections to hip and ankle, but had to write it out in the end because it was easier for him. He was really good at pointing out the femur and the tibia while talking, though.

Dawn loaned me their cell phone because it shows the time. He went through it for me maybe five or six times. The first few I had to coach/interrupt him, but the last two or three he was getting through it OK on his own. It came in a little short--about two minutes, instead of two and half to three--but it was OK. He told me last time they had oral presentations he didn't even get to do one. "I'm really excited for this," he said.

I went to Chavez this morning in hopes of meeting his teacher, but it didn't pan out. There was a long line and the clerk was not mean but not extra helpful, and if you didn't know who you were looking for, she wasn't going to help you out. She sent me to the other building because I said I was looking for a fourth grade science teacher. Joey told me he was in the main building. I went over and asked there who his teacher was, and they sent me back.

Fortunately, when I came back, my friend Ms. Kelly was at the desk and she helped me figure out who the teacher I wanted was. But by then it was almost five to eight, so I just wrote her a note explaining who I was and that Joey and I spent about 10 hours on that report and she should call me if she had any questions.

I saw him coming in, just ahead of the bell. "Hey, you got everything?" I asked.
He nodded quickly and kept going--I suspect partly because he was barely awake and partly not to be late.

This morning I called DePaul. They have something called a Reading and Learning Lab that helps bilingual kids with learning problems. Of course they have a waiting list. They're sending me information. We'll see.

It kills me that it is so hard to get him somebody who knows how to teach phonics and spelling. At this rate, I'll have to learn Orton-Gillingham (a method of teaching kids reading and spelling) myself:

It's two years before he could even start at San Miguel.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Them Bones

Joey's science project is due Monday, and it's a killer. Because Chavez is on a year-round schedule, every October the kids have three weeks off and the teachers send them home with these fat packets of work, especially in science. On top of all the worksheets, usually they have to do some kind of project.

Last year I helped Danny with his project on density. We went to Food 4 Less and got liquid laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, and a bunch of other fluids, into which we dropped an egg to see whether it would float. The only one it floated in was salt water. I'm afraid I'm not the greatest science whiz, so Danny only got a C on his project. But I wonder how much he would have gotten done at all without a grownup fool enough to waste a few bucks and five or six hours on experiments and writing them up.

This year it's Joey's turn. He's learning about bones. I got a couple of books out of the juvenile section at Harold Washington, one in English and one in Spanish, and every night but Wednesday of this week we've been working on his worksheets for about an hour and a half. He can get about two pages done in that time. He knows the stuff--it's spelling the words that's the killer.

We've hardly done anything about the really hard part. He's supposed to give a three-minute oral presentation about some bone topic. They suggested a bunch of ideas and we adapted one of them. The sheet suggested bringing in an X-ray and explaining the bones, what they connect to, and what the X-ray shows. He liked the idea of doing that with one of the old MRI's I have from when I tore my ACL.

Right now I'm just trying to make sure he remembers the words femur and tibia. I have no idea how we're going to turn this into an oral report and get the rest of his worksheets done before Monday.

It's enough to dampen my late-30s enthusiasm for motherhood, that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Today's Do List

1) Read at daily Mass this morning
2) Call Rep. Lipinski's foreign policy aide and get him to find out what happened to a Colombian guy who was kidnapped by paramilitaries last weekend.
3) Bike to work
4) Email foreign policy aide more info.
5) Give a principal the teacher's union office number so I can get a quote from her for my day job (yes, I'm trying to do work today).
6) Call the U.S. Embassy in Bogota about the guy who disappeared.
7) Send a note with prayers and support to my friend, whose son just got wounded in Iraq.
8) Make a couple more work-related calls.
9) Go to the library and get better books on bones for Joey's report.
10) Pick up photos from 20th high school reunion.
11) Beg other friends to write/call the Embassy on behalf of this guy.
12) Clean desk.
13) Work some more.
14) Bike home.
15) Help Joey with his bone report and other homework.
16) Measure the length of the back fence to put barbed wire on it.
17) Ask Joey's dad about making iron bars for the back window.
18) Pray about a lot of things.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Attempted Break In?

Saturday morning the paint crew (Dawn, my interior designer, her friend, and Ms. Ribs' nephew) and I discovered someone had slit the screen to the back window in the kitchen, and scratched up the window glass in a square like they were trying to get in. It was a pretty half-assed attempt, and strangely, the screen was torn and also raised--like they sliced the screen, then raised the window, then scratched the glass. If they were really trying to get in they didn't do a very good job.

The police evidence tech told me he didn't think that was the point. "I think somebody just wants to bother you, scare you," he said. "People get jealous when they see other people having things they don't have."

Nevertheless, I'll admit I was spooked. Good thing the paint crew was around all day and we had a lot of work to do in between two visits from the cops--one for the report, one to collect evidence.

There was some lemonade in the lemons. The first sweet part was that my interior designer's paint scheme impressed the woman officer who took the report, so they traded numbers and Designer Gal might get a real gig as a result. The next bit of sugar came when the evidence tech made friends with Dawn, who is interested in police detective work. He agreed to let her come to the station next week to do an interview. How cool is that??

In between making Ws on my wall, I picked up the phone and called lots of folks in my address book, inviting them to an impromptu "let's scare away the burglars" party. Four people showed up: my neighbor, the other white lady who bought further up the street, a friend from Su Casa, my friend the cop (really glad he made it!) and Dawn stuck around for a while.

In fact, Dawn's mom came by with Dawn and Joey after the other guests left and let them stay over. It was my first slumber party for kids. Dawn's mom is my hero--I don't know if I would have done that if I were in her shoes. She was so nervous she spoke two words of English: "My son!"

"I know!" I said. I gave her a big hug and cheek kiss of appreciation.

We stayed up way too late pulling tape off the walls and ceiling. Joey made a tape ball out of the pickings, and I kept singing "Tape Man, he's a tape tape man, yes he's a tape man..." to him. (The tune was a song called "Ape Man" which I think is by the Kinks but I forget. Anyone out there remember???)

The next morning we had eggs and rice--Aurora made rice Mexican-style. You fry the dry rice a little first, then add onions, tomato, water and spices. Joey and Aurora drew pictures and Joey dressed himself up as a witch/bruja, by wearing my big navy terrycloth bathrobe, Redi-shade clips stuck to his head, cheeks and chin, and riding the broom all over the house. He can roll his eyes way up into his head, too. Perfect! I probably haven't laughed so hard in months.

But I'm thinking about getting some barbed wire for the top of my back fence. It seems like that's the source of all the trouble.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Dinner Party

So last night I was expecting to have friends of mine, a married couple, over for dinner. They are transplanted North Siders like me who have lived for a year in McKinley Park, just north of Back of the Yards. For months we have been saying we should get together for dinner, and it took until last night to happen.

Plus, it didn't go off quite as planned. First, the wife of the couple had to work late, so the husband and I snacked while the pasta was boiling, then sat down for pasta, garlic bread and salad.

As we were wrapping up, the doorbell rang. Dawn and her mom wanted the phone number for Neighborhood Housing Services. Hurray! I've only been nagging them for months to call and get their help in preparing paperwork for a mortgage. What tipped it over the edge was that their new landlord told them this week he wants them out at the end of the month. Apparently Dawn's big brother and his friends look like gangbangers to the landlord. Too bad he can't tell the difference between boys who go to Curie and read the Da Vinci Code and boys who drop out of school and shoot people. Even the nice church lady down the street has better sense than this landlord. She said of Dawn's family: "They are nice people. They're quiet. They have their kids under control."

Anyway, my friend, the husband of the couple, speaks excellent Spanish and helped explain what Neighborhood Housing Services does--it's not a bank, it's not a mortgage company, but they help people prepare documents to apply for a mortgage, they can lend money or refer to banks, and they rehab and sell properties, too, like they did with my former two-flat, which they converted to a single family house.

My friend got a workout in translating last night, because the doorbell rang again a few minutes later. It was School Lady and her oldest daughter and her next-to-youngest daughter (my favorite!). Oldest daughter is a freshman at Richards High this year, and everything is OK except for her biology teacher, a "morena" (black woman) who refuses to let students speak Spanish in her class, even when they don't understand what's going on. Oldest daughter tried to help her friends out by speaking Spanish and ended up in an argument with the teacher and got in trouble. She has all As and Bs in every class except biology, where she has a D. Other parents and students are having similar problems and a group met with the principal once already. Things improved for a couple of days and then went back to where they were. School Lady was among a group of ten parents who met with the principal today, for the second time, to talk about the situation.

I suggested they see what comes out of this, but if it doesn't improve, I offered to help them get in touch with some people downtown or at Designs for Change, an advocacy group that works with parents on school improvement, including on bilingual education issues.

Mr. Translation's wife arrived shortly after School Lady and her kids left, so we fed her a small bowl of pasta and a glass of wine and gave her a house tour. My friends thought the new colors on the first floor looked rather Southwestern, so maybe my eclectic (not to say eccentric) vision of Mexican meets Japanese may yet be realized.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Design on a Dime

Until Saturday, my house looked pretty much as it did when I bought it a year ago. I hadn't lifted a paint brush or driven a nail. Yes, I did buy some furniture, and there's less echo in there than when I first closed on the joint, but interior decorating isn't something I have much interest in or talent for.

Over the past year I bought two futon/sofas for the living room and a pair of runners. A guy I know called last fall and handed off some chairs out of the back of a truck, including a wooden armchair that gets approving nods from designer types but isn't very comfortable to sit on (not padded). The wrought-iron table and chairs my old roommate and I got from Ace Hardware for our old porch now grace the dining room. The window treatments are Redi-Shades (about seven bucks at Home Depot, by the way). The guy who delivered my futons referred to the ceiling fixtures as "interrogation lights."

All of this is beginning to change. Through a friend who teaches history at a for-profit bachelor's/trade school, I found an aspiring interior designer. I think we're getting Japanese meets Mexican more by accident than design. I'd say the Mexican part is the color scheme, which I'm having trouble swallowing. We painted two walls last Saturday--one is yellow, another is purple. The back wall and the kitchen. It's to stop the bowling alley effect of the long, open first floor.

The wall ate a lot of the purple paint. It's only the first coat so I shouldn't freak about the paint job, but it's uneven. The dark color totally sucks up the light. I used to love how the light hit the wood floor. Now you can hardly see it. She's not touching the upstairs--which is still white, thank God.

She's making screens for the lower halves of the first floor windows, so the top halves will be bare. Hopefully this will offset the loss of light somewhat, but I'm not betting it will bring back my beautiful light on the floor.

The upholstery, window screens and light fixtures should be worth it, but I don't know how long I'll put up with this paint job. It does feel warm in the winter, and it's dark out anyway. Painting is a pain though and I wasn't planning to go through it twice.

When it's done maybe I'll post photos for public comment. I'm going to regret this when I get this winter's heat bills, too. Why did I waste money on paint I don't even like when this winter's gas bill may double last year's?

Science and Ethics

In case anyone's interested, I saw some cool research on the speed of gravity while surfing Google after talking with Joey on Sunday. Yes, someone pointed out the real reason is that everything is moving forward at the same speed, but it was still cool to think about how fast gravity works.

Now for the ethics. Another recent poster wanted to know if I found it difficult to draw a line between trying to be helpful to someone and getting in their business/habits in an intrusive and patronizing way. I do worry about this. Am I just some missionary colonizer in taking away Priscilla's crack pipe? And yes, that's part of why I asked her if she wanted it back. The other, more practical part is, she was in my house and she could probably kick my ass if I took away her stuff without her permission.

And really, some days I don't want to be friends with people, I just want them to get off the block and out of my hair. But I'd rather lean to the missionary side and push myself to be open and friendly than take the tack of buying one or more Dobermans and not extending myself to the people who are here. Yes, you've got to be prudent, but I'd rather open the door, literally and figuratively, than close it. What kind of moral position would I be in if I acted like everyone on the block was scary and dangerous? A friend of mine in Little Village made fun of her white neighbors for jogging accompained by both their Dobermans. They probably don't even realize how deeply they offended their neighbors doing that.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Smart or Not?

Yesterday I went to St. Joe's for the 5:30 Spanish Mass. There was a baptism. When Fr. Ed and the family went to the font, all the kids came out of the pews to bless the water and we all turned around. And there was Dawn and her whole family in the front of the back section. (I was in the back of the front section.) So I went over and sat with them.

Afterwards they invited me out for dinner, so we all piled in that infamous white van--which their dad fixed before driving to Indianapolis last week for a cousin's birthday--and went to El Tio for hamburguesas and tacos.

While we were in the van, I told Joey I found the old MRI's of my knee from when I tore my ACL. He has to do a report on bones and joints and they said one way to do it was to bring in an X-ray. Hopefully an MRI will do. We were talking about his report, and out of the blue he said, "I used to be smart when I was seven." He's eight now.

"So what happened?" I said, teasing.

"I don't know. But I think I'm not so smart now."

"Oh, I don't know about that," I said. "I think you're pretty smart. And you're going to get smarter from doing this report."

"I'm pretty smart about bones," he admitted. But I know he's worried about school.

However, five minutes later, as we were stopping at a red light on Ashland and 49th, he asked me, "Why doesn't this hit me in the head?"

"What?" I said. He'd been tossing a football up in the air. He wanted to know why, when you throw a ball straight up in the air inside a moving vehicle, you don't catch up to the ball before it falls down. Now that's a pretty brilliant question from somebody who thinks he's not that smart, right?

I think the answer is because gravity pulls the ball down faster than your head moves toward it, right? Any Mr. Wizards out there with a better answer? I'll have to do some Internet research.....

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

October CAPS

Good news: lots of people showed up, the sergeant told us about what had been done over the last two months, asked us if we'd seen any changes, which we told him, and clearly defined what his priorities will be in the next month, based on what we said.

Bad news: no Spanish translation, the former facilitator (Blonde) is back, very apologetic and not as difficult as before, but I don't know how she was restored to power. And I didn't find a way to ask the leaders of the coup what happened.

Apparently the reason we've had a sudden flood of dealers, hypes and hookers (a la Priscilla's appearance) in the last month or so is that the camera on 51st and Wood has been displacing the action to other blocks. Now the word is that because crime went down in that area, the camera will go away. I've been told each camera costs $11,000 a piece and there aren't enough of them to go around to all the neighborhoods who want them.

For any of you pro-privacy folks who don't like the idea of cameras recording everyone's every move in a public place, I share your distaste, but when I hear that business went up substantially in restaurants on 47th when they had a camera because people felt safe enough to go out, it makes me rethink my position somewhat.

A few lucky breaks

The Big Picture High School a couple blocks from my house announced it has five openings for freshmen. My neighbor, Victoria, who is friends with Dawn and came to do yoga at my house once, got one of them. Whoo-hoo!

I went by Victoria's house last night to congratulate her. She wasn't home but her mom was. "She should be congratulated," she said. Her mom was an elementary ed major and a basketball player at a college in Pennsylvania, but dropped out when she became pregnant with Victoria. Mom is excited about Victoria going to a school where parent participation is welcomed and encouraged.

Dawn asked me last night to talk with School Lady about sending her oldest daughter there, too. I expect to see her at the Chavez LSC meeting tomorrow. Let's hope my Spanish is up to the task of persuading her to give it a try.

The only worry I've heard is that the girl who jumped Dawn last year might be trying to get in. I'd really rather not have them in the same school together. Much as my inner idealist would like her to have the chance to change her life, I'd really rather not take the chance that she won't seize the opportunity in a constructive way.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Priscilla Stops by in Absentia

...but it's a good thing. Last night when I got home, the white plastic bag was still on the bottom step. Priscilla's sneakers were gone and my old ratty sandals were inside.

No other sign of Priscilla last night. Let's hope, but not expect, she did go to treatment.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Priscilla Stops By II

It took Priscilla at least 20 minutes, maybe half an hour, to fall asleep. She was twitching and scratching herself in that way crack addicts have before her breathing slowed and she stilled.

Earlier, we had been talking while she ate. "You got a lot of novels in here?" she asked me. She picked up Mark Kurlanksky's Salt and I laughed.

"That's a boring-ass book," I warned her.

"You don't have any V.C. Andrews?"

"No, I don't. You like V.C. Andrews?"


"What else you like to read?"

"Dean Koontz." She told me she read Cujo once but Stephen King is too long and too scary for her. Dean Koontz is OK and maybe she read some R.L. Stine, too, when she was a kid.

She told me she flew to Colorado once, when she was 12. She went mountain climbing there. I told her my sister and her husband do rock-climbing in California.

"I don't think I could do that," she said.

"Oh, I think you could," I told her. "You have the arm strength." She smiled shyly at that.

She told me she's been doing crack for six months. "I'm 21 years old. I look like I'm 30. I feel like I'm 60," she said. "I don't want to do this anymore."

We talked about where she could go for treatment. She knows of some religious place on Hermitage that offers treatment. It's not Teresa House (they don't do treatment).

When I went through her jeans pockets before putting them in the wash, I found her crack pipe. It was the only thing she carried. It was very small. I set it on the dryer.

About 11 p.m., when her clothes were about halfway dry, I woke her up and made her take a shower. She stumbled to the stairs, eyes still red from drugs and lack of sleep. She was ready to fall asleep on the guest bed after the shower, but I wouldn't let her.

"Please, could I stay the night? I won't steal anything."

"I am not ready to do that yet," I said, very calmly.

"I understand," she said, with just a hint of disappointment.

When she was dressed, bandaged (her feet had cuts and blisters) in socks and sandals, and five dollars richer because that's how much it costs to stay the night with some lady who takes in overnight guests to make a buck, I showed her the pipe.

"I found this in your pants pocket," I said, holding it out to her.

She took it, then said, with a slight edge of resentment, "Why did you have to give me that back?"

"Because it's yours. Do you want it?"

"I could give it to somebody..."

"Is that really helping them?"

She handed it back to me. "I'm going to that place on Hermitage in the morning," she said.

I hope to God she did, but I don't expect it.

As she left, I told her, "Priscilla, you know this is the last time, right? No more money, no more food, no more showers. If I see you again on the street, I'm going to ask you about treatment, because that's the first thing you need. Do you understand?"

"Yes," she said. "I respect that."

Then she asked me to leave her sneakers out on the steps for her to pick up in the morning.

This morning I left them in a white plastic bag on the bottom step.

Priscilla Stops By

This weekend I went to my hometown, a small city in an oft-forgotten state, for my 20th high school reunion. At the Saturday afternoon picnic in a state park, my oldest friend's five year old daughter had a small problem and went looking for Mommy.

Though I didn't see the event that set her off, I saw her running with a very serious, purposeful expression on her face until she got within eyesight and earshot, at which point the waterworks and sound effects went off. She ran up wailing. Mommy, who hadn't seen her coming, went right into consolation mode.

"She was fine until she got in range," I noted to another friend, also a mother, who laughed knowingly.

Last night the same thing happened to me, except it was Priscilla the minute I got out of the cab from Midway. I even saw her coming. I was picking up the soggy copies of Hoy on the front sidewalk when I saw her small, lithe shape coming from across the street. "Oh, shit, it's Priscilla. Here we go," flashed through my head.

She wasn't crying then, but she was when she got within range. "I just need to talk to you," she wailed. "Yup-yup beat on me." We sat on the stoop. I thought I saw Rosa getting out of her white car with the different-colored doors and wished I was talking with her instead.

Priscilla and I sat on the stoop while she sobbed out a story to which I paid very little attention. The story involved her boyfriend, whoring for crack (this time she used the words "going on dates" as a euphemism), how she wants to get off the stuff but he got mad when she didn't bring any rock home to him, etc. etc. She says two ladies prayed for her on Sunday and she was able to stop using for half a day. It's a start. I had an arm around her, which she appeared to want, but my inner purpose was to judge her arm and body strength in case something bad happened and I would have to use force to defend myself. She's strong for her size, and it's harder to stop someone on crack.

When she started to wind down, I had her breathe deeply and long on the exhale until she was quiet. "Are you really hurt anywhere?" I asked her, with a serious not syrupy tone.

"No," she said, equally serious. It's so hard to know when the actor's mask is off with an active addict, but that word had the ring of truth.

"You're probably hungry," I said. "I don't know what I've got in the house, but let's see."

She was soggy and cold (it rained all day--it was sunny in my hometown). I let her eat. She asked for a t-shirt to wear while her clothes were in the washer. I went upstairs and found an old t-shirt with the word "Boss" small on the chest and large on the rear. It was a gift from a friend when I became board president of her youth-focused nonprofit. It has a stain on it now and was the easiest of the t-shirt memorablia to part with. Besides, it's probably Hugo Boss, so Priscilla could be styling in it.

She took a nap in the living room while her clothes went through the washer. It's hard not to feel affection for someone while you're watching them sleep. But that still didn't mean she was going to spend the night at my house, which she was angling for.

to be continued...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More good than scary neighbors

Quick update on the scary neighbor front: the good neighbors are helping out. I've had an offer of a place to sleep--thanks Rose and Junior and family---and my neighbor the principal is going to take a walk up and remind the guys on the corner that she lives here too, so there's another white lady to pick on about calling cops. Fr. Ed suggested I bring on the prayer brigade. Not sure how that's gonna work, but we'll give it a try, right?

Maritza's Wild Ride Part II

I couldn't remember exactly how to get to the museum parking lot, and the kids began to smell smoke from the engine at Lake Park Avenue just before we turned on to Stony Island. The gauge didn't show anything--the needle was smack in the middle between C and H. I can't smell because of my allergies, but the engine light came on just as we were coming to the museum. Anyway, what was I going to do, stop????

The official museum parking lot is at the bottom of a hill. Oh, great, I thought--this will be fun getting out. I had barely started down when I saw the LED lights: Parking $8.00

I spent all but two bucks on gas when we left home. "Hey, I don't have money for this!" I started trying to turn the car around. Ready fire aim--then I asked, "do you guys have eight dollars between you?"

"We have money," Aurora said, quite calmly. Tires squealing, I lurched the van around again. The turning ratio just cleared the curb and we went down in the garage.

"Eight dollars," said the attendant.

"Could I park this thing and come back to you?" I said over my shoulder, rolling away, with one foot on the brake and the other on the gas pedal.

Once the car was parked, Joey put his hand on the hood. "Ow! It's hot," he said, shaking his hand to cool it. Aurora pulled out the family cell phone and called her dad to warn him that the engine was overheating and we might need a ride back. Aurora then paid the attendant while I took a few deep breaths.

We had a lovely time at the show, and the engine had about two hours to cool off. Another good thing was that, unlike me, most people knew where the free parking was and avoided the garage. We were among the first back there after the show and bolted out ahead of the crowd to avoid getting caught on the hill.

"Aurora, could you turn on the heater and crank it up as high as possible?" She fumbled with the controls while I got us up the hill and back onto Stony Island. Since we were going home in the dark, I found out a few more of the car's idiosyncrasies--its lack of interior lighting, for example, making it impossible to read the speedometer, any of the gauges, or read the gears on the shift. One of Dad's old cars was like that too--oh no, it was just that the speedometer was broken, that's right. Anyway, I knew I'd had some good practice driving blind thanks to my old man. And he was definitely enjoying the ride with us last night, I'm sure.

The other good practice of yore that came in handy last night was to run the car heater to let the heat out of the engine. I learned that one the summer after I graduated college, on a ride through Phoenix at 108 degrees. That trick kept the engine light off most of the way home last night, too. By this time, I was really getting that shifting down and feeling my way into just enough pressure to keep the engine idling not whining at stoplights.

We really lucked out at the end--the parking spot was still there! It was big enough to drive into, and though the van's tail was sticking out a little relative to its head, I figured Dawn's dad could deal with that if he didn't like it.

I came in to give back the keys. Dawn's mom asked how it went. "Ella era nerviosa," Aurora told her.

"Si, era nerviosa!" Yep, I was nervous. "Pero no mate tus ninos." I didn't kill her children, and by 9:17 I was home drinking what I felt was a very deserved beer.

Maritza's Wild Ride

Last night Dawn and her friend Janice and her little brother Joey wanted to go to the free Redmoon Theater show at the Museum of Science and Industry. I had made reservations for us a while back, and the plan was we would take the Garfield bus out there and get a ride home. But my friends with the car bailed at the last minute (totally OK--wedding plans take precedence), so we were faced with taking one bus home through uncomfortable territory or two buses home on a school night.

So Dawn's parents offered to let me drive one of their cars. Great idea, right? But these are the same people who left one of their cars on my parking pad, remember? It's still there, still with a beer can on the seat, still not running yet because Dawn's dad and brother haven't had time to work on it. Last night's car was an older model white van, I forget the make, in only marginally better condition.

Dawn's brother, who's officially not allowed to drive because he messed up when his parents did let him--the fact that he's only 15 now is apparently immaterial--was deputized to show me how to drive the van, since he could explain the fine points in English. He hopped in the driver's seat, gave it some serious gas, and explained that if you let your foot off the accelerator, the car will stall out. "So you drive with two feet," he said, demonstrating the use of the brake with the gas on an automatic car. My dad drove that way all the time, I thought. Then he pointed out the wisdom of shifting to idle at prolonged stops, as if you were driving stick. Pop, I thought, you better come down from heaven and take a ride in this car. You are the man for this job. Especially since the driver's side seat belt was broken.

"No voy a matar tus ninos," I promised Dawn's mother. Fortunately, she laughed. I really wasn't going to kill her children--after all, their seat belts were working.

"Say a Hail Mary before we start," I suggested, more than half seriously, but didn't enforce it. Given that I drive about three times a year and the last time I got behind the wheel I rear-ended someone at a tollbooth and ended up out $500 between the car I hit and the one I was driving, I really did want Dad's spirit along for the ride. We certainly had our share of rolling stops at stop signs, but eventually I did manage to shift into idle without provoking the enging into agonized wailing.

Joey tried to play with me on the way to the gas station. "What's that noise?" he asked.

Aurora could tell it was no time for games. "Joey, hush!" she said earnestly. He did.

I managed to keep my cussing to down to one east of the expressway and one west. The first cuss was on the one slope we were stuck on, just before the Ryan, where I nearly front-ended someone trying to shift out of idle on the tiny slope. "Fuck" escaped me at that moment. I'm sorry.

Twenty feet later, the other curse emerged. "Shit, would you get in a lane!" I said as a truck with a busted taillight hand-signaled past me.

"Can we go on the highway?" Joey asked.

"No way, buster," I said. At least he made me laugh through my gritted teeth and leg cramp from keeping my left foot ready to brake at any moment.

to be continued...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ring My Bell

...but please, not at 3 a.m., like you did last night, whoever you are.

Dinga-dingadingadinga-ding-dong. Really loud and really fast. It took two or three of those before the doorbell called me into full consciousness. Who is it? Dawn? A prank? No, probably Priscilla, I thought, fumbling for my glasses, checking the clock, pulling on jeans and a baseball shirt.

Priscilla stopped by night before last in search of five dollars. She met me earlier this summer, when she cut through my yard and Mr. Worrisome worried on my behalf that she was trying to steal something. I invited her to set on the stoop with me and have a drink of water and some cherries.

The other night she rang the bell at a decent hour, maybe 8:30. "I remember you. You were nice to me. I need five dollars for my baby's Pampers," she told me. From the number of times I've had women addicts tell me they needed money for Pampers, it must be official code for a nickel bag. "I'll come wash your windows, whatever you want. I don't want to go whoring for it," she added so matter of factly I thought I felt some truth in there. [But damn, addicts are such good actors she might have been playing me with that line, too.]

"No, that's not necessary," I said, in a tone just as matter-of-fact, though surprised inside to hear someone speak so casually of "whoring." The words that really caught me were "wash your windows." They're filthy and I've been thinking about washing them for two months, but haven't gotten to it. An extra pair of hands would help. "I could use some help washing windows. Why don't you come by Saturday morning? I think I've got five dollars in here."

I went to dig up what I had in my wallet. Frankly, I was broke til payday (today) and knew five dollars was going to wipe me out. Priscilla started pushing for seven.
"You're getting what I've got," I said with just enough truth and just enough edge that it stopped her. "Here's four. I think I've got a dollar in change...." I had to go down to dimes and nickels but I got it and gave it to her.

She seemed pretty enthusiastic about Saturday. She's squatting in the same house down the street where Jesse is. She informed me that Yup-yup (named for his call on the street) just got out of prison. A while ago, little Junior asked me, as casually as Priscilla spoke of whoring, if Yup-yup was the guy whose brains got shot all over the pavement back in July. I knew Yup-yup was alive, didn't know he'd been in prison, but we hadn't heard his call on the block for a while. Priscilla suggested Yup-yup could help me find her Saturday if I didn't spot her right away.

I didn't think more about it until the doorbell rang. There was a lot of noise early last night--I couldn't tell whether it was in the alley, on the corner, or down the block. There could have been some of all three. It was also hard to tell whether it was loud talking or the kind of arguing that warrants a 9-1-1 call. Frankly, I was too tired to investigate and didn't even feel like picking up the phone. So I didn't. Maybe I should have. I'm superstitious enough to see one way of looking at the 3 a.m. doorbell as karmic revenge.

No, I wasn't planning to answer the door, by the way. I promise I'm not that stupid. But I did go to the front top floor windows and look out to see who was there. By the time I was looking, no one was on the front step. I went down and looked out the back first-floor windows and no one was there, either. It felt like it took an hour to get back to sleep. In that time, Priscilla got a few Hail Marys out of me on top of the five bucks.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Near and Distant Relations

I went by Dawn's house last night to see how the first week of school was going. We were chatting on the front porch when her mom brought out some family photos. I got to see Dawn getting baptized in Mexico, Joey when he was just a baby, even Dawn's mom when she was about Dawn's age now. They do look fairly alike.

Joey was supposed to bring in something from his culture for a school assignment. He wanted to bring a photo of him and Dawn riding horses in Mexico.

We got to talking about baptisms. Joey is eight and has yet to be baptized. His mom--I am so embarrassed I am not sure of her name but for here we will call her Elizabeth--says they don't have anyone to serve as his godparents. Godparents are a big deal in Mexican families. It's not just that they promise to raise the child if the parents die--that's pretty standard Catholic folk legend that people take seriously but priests try to fight, saying it's more important that godparents help kids grow up as people of faith--but they shell out lots of bucks at the baptism and at other key life points. I make that point because as an Irish-American godparent I'm not really expected to do that for my godson/nephew. Dawn's family would want a padrino and madrina who could really be second parents, compadre and comadre, with them. That's pretty different from my experience of godparents, both the ones I had and the godmother I am now.

Supposedly today was grandparents' day at Chavez. Joey wanted me to come as his grandmother. "The only thing is, you're a lot whiter than I am," he said, which cracked me up. Really the whole thing had me laughing pretty hard--I'm only a year or two older than his parents, hardly abuela/grandma material--but I was like, "sure, why not--if it's OK with your mom." I've been wanting to go to school and meet his teachers. So we went to talk to Elizabeth about it.

She was in the back making dinner for her husband--Joey and Dawn's dad works nights so he eats dinner (or is that breakfast?) around 9:30 before he goes to work. I believe he fixes cars at an all-night garage or something. When Joey told her his idea, both his parents busted up laughing. Loosely translated from Spanish, she said, "You don't have any grandparents here. Maureen can come to school and meet your teachers another day."

They do have family here--at least one uncle and an aunt or two, I think. But it's hard not to have grandmom and granddad around when you're little.

Oh, Joey also made me laugh when he said I remind him of his abuelito when I nag him about finishing his homework. Apparently Grandpa would poke him in the shoulder when they were doing something and he got distracted. Then he would say, "Come on Joey, hurry up!"--which is what I say when I'm trying to get him to get through his homework. So I guess I'm his honorary granddad.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Yellow House has a Party

Everybody has parties in my neighborhood. When it first warmed up in June, I made some noise complaints to the cops because it was 2 a.m. on Saturday and I guess I was the only one planning to go to 9 a.m. Mass. So why do I care if the yellow house has a party?

The yellow house is on the northwest corner of the intersection north of my house. It's where there are guys frequently hanging out selling drugs. I think some of them knew the guys who got killed in my house. I met one guy last fall, drunk and smelling of alcohol at 7:30 a.m., who told me his version of the fire in my house, which featured cops spitting on the corpses and a near riot breaking out. It could be true. I haven't seen that particular guy on the corner that much, but I got more afraid as I lived there longer and have not gotten close enough to take a good look.

Last winter, I met a guy named Jose who moved into the yellow house with his family. He seemed very nice. The family had fallen on hard times--I gather Jose had lost his job and the family was forced to leave their home in Brighton Park for somewhere cheaper. His oldest son was at Curie. He asked me to pray for him and his family. I did. They ended up moving east of Ashland, because they didn't feel safe in a house where drug dealers stand out front day and night.

Over the summer, I was walking down the block and some guys were sitting on the stoop next door to the yellow house. "Prime fucking example," one of them said as I approached. He repeated himself, I'm pretty sure with intent I should hear. "Prime fucking example." Sounds like they think the neighborhood is changing, and not for the better from their point of view.

I was calling the cops on them last fall but this summer have been a bit afraid of them spotting a causal relationship between me walking by and cops appearing if i call too soon after seeing them. In the fall, sans foliage, I can see to the corner from inside my house, but not in full summer leaf. And I'm not here in the afternoon, when I actually think there's more trouble.

The owner finally showed up at the August CAPS meeting, saying she and her husband want those guys gone, too. She said none of their tenants are black. I hate to say it but that makes it easier for me to decide to call, since now I know for sure none of them live there.

I don't know what happened in the last month, because I thought I remembered seeing guys out there a couple of times, but last night I went past the yellow house and there was loud music blaring. Mexican music--accordions and polka-like. The front door on the first floor was open and I could see an older man in a white Stetson two-stepping with a woman. There were guys on the corner. They were Latino. There were little kids. They could have played til two in the morning and I wouldn't have said a word. I hope it's not the last party at the yellow house.

Back to School Mass

At the end of the Holy Cross 10 am Mass yesterday, Fr. Bruce called to the altar all the students in grades one through eight. He asked them, "What are you looking forward to about going back to school?"

"My friends," was the first and most popular answer. "We get work," one little boy said. Wow. Another little boy wasn't too sure which school he was going to this fall, but his big sister knew it was Lara Academy.

Then Bruce had the high school students stand up and bless the grade schoolers, and then the grade schoolers blessed the high school kids. The public school teachers (there were three in the congregation--hurray and God bless them!) and the parents all stood and Bruce whipped out the holy water for everybody. OK, I'm a big sap--yes, I had to hold back tears.

Just to make note--during annoucements, we heard that two men from Holy Cross/IHM are taking four trucks down to Mississippi and Louisiana today to help with the Hurricane Katrina effort. These parishes raised thousands of dollars for the tsunami effort last winter, even though you can hear change rattling in the collection baskets because people can't afford to throw in a dollar bill. These are some of the reasons why I moved to this neighborhood.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Hanging in My Yard

Wednesday night everybody was out enjoying the fine weather. Junior and Danny and Oscar came over to play ball in the backyard while I nuked some pasta and changed from work/court skirt to jeans and a t-shirt. It looked like Junior and Danny figured out the same trick Dawn's big brother knows to open my gate despite the padlock, and they're only 10 years old. Maybe I should invest in a more substantive fence???

Danny was creeped out by the spiders lurking in the sunflower patch. At first he refused to retrieve the ball when it landed down there, but he got over himself in the end. Daya's balls had all landed in the yard, so I asked them to toss the two they weren't using back over the fence to her yard.

Junior was very solicitous of Daya. "Doesn't she want to come in?" he kept asking, as I was trying to snarf my noodles and slake my thirst from biking home from work.

"No, she's fine," I kept saying, but he didn't believe me. So I quit inhaling dinner and took a walk around to see her, and she was happy and jumping up and down. Her mom and Junior's mom were chatting on their porch, while their husbands were chatting over by somebody's car. I don't think they had the hood up, but the guys just have to be by their cars to chat, I guess.

Eventually the boys wanted to play soccer in the front yard where the grass is more even, so we went up there. Daya came in and we tried to get her to play but she didn't want to kick the ball. She sat on the step with me and we watched. Oscar joined us after a while. It made me laugh to see that my secret plan to become the block's auntie is working--the parents all take a break and chat with each other while I hang out with their kids.

An aside: Since I'm now actively trying to get better at Spanish, it was a little frustrating not to go chat with the moms, but hey, my Spanish is somewhere between 2 year-old Daya's and six-year-old Oscar's, so I guess I was in the right crowd after all.

The next morning Dawn and Julian (her big brother) came to get their dad's jack out of the basement. We all hung out on the back outside stairs for a while. They tell me their parents are a little freaked out by Big Picture. "They want us to study all the time, not to work," Julian said.

"Can you talk to my mom?" Dawn Asked. "She wants us to transfer."

All I can say is if they do transfer, it will be to our newly neighborhood high school, which has a lot of dropouts and crummy attendance. Big Picture has high attendance and a lot fewer dropouts, which means they have a much better chance of going to college at Big Picture, because they have a much better chance of finishing high school. But I'm not too worried that Dawn's parents will transfer them because I have yet to see them take a great deal of initiative about school. But we'll have a conversation at some point.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Neighborhood News Bites

A literal bite of birthday bouillabaisse: My next door neighbor celebrated her 21st birthday on Sunday with a dozen red roses from her hubby and a fantastic cauldron of seafood soup to share with the neighbors. Hubby is in the restaurant biz--he was at Mod, the upscale sushi place in Wicker Park, last I knew, but I don't know if he cooks or waits tables or what--so he got a line on seafood through a friend. Wow! I didn't know Mexicans made bouillabaisse, but that's pretty much what this was: a tomato-based broth with shrimp, clams, lobster and swordfish! Whew! It was a little spicy and had corn and squash in it, so that makes it a New World dish, not European, but still I think any French person would have called it at least a cousin to their seafood soup. I just called it "que rico!"

Bite 2 snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. A young friend of mine from church got picked up for biking while Latino last month and had his court appearance today. When he first told me about it he still had his arrest record, but today he only had his bond receipt which didn't even tell us what he'd been officially accused of. It didn't matter. The judge threw it out instantly--we spent less than half an hour in the courthouse at 51st and Wentworth. The arrest really freaked him and his parents out--he's a good kid, not in a gang, no trouble before. Plus, he's undocumented, so if it had gone to trial it could have really thrown him for a loop, like a deportation. The thing that kills me is, he himself didn't do anything wrong--he was walking down the street with an old friend of his he hadn't seen in years, and the friend is now a known gang member the police picked up while looking for suspects in a neighborhood shooting. Classic guilt by association. Then they throw it out so they don't look bad. Great.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Dawn's Birthday

Dawn turned 14 on Saturday. She got her birthday gift from me on Sunday afternoon. It was a fuchia-colored wheelie backpack from Sears (on sale, not that she knows that). I hate getting presents for teenage girls, because I never know what they really want. I was looking for a big stuffed animal like the dog she got me for my birthday (when you don't know what to give, give what they gave you???), but couldn't find one in my frantic last-minute shopping spree Friday night.

The backpack has some embroidery and also a row of charms across the middle--hearts and stars, etc. What I didn't realize until Aurora tried it out was there's a battery in there that makes them light up in sequence when you wheel the backpack! I started laughing. I hope that's not too kiddie for her. She seemed OK with it, though.

For her 8th-grade graduation I got her one of those topic books with pictures in them--I forget who publishes them, but they're kind of like Time-Life. Anyway, this one was about detection and police work, since Dawn thinks she might want to be a detective. That's the kind of present I can groove on a little more easily than a frou-frou backpack, but I don't want her to think I don't respect her girliness. She can be as girly as she wants to be.

She is interested in my lack of fashion sense. We were talking about makeup a while ago and I said I didn't like that white eyeshadow line some girls wear. Weeks later she asked me about that and about the simplicity of my fashion style. It's interesting to see how much attention they pay to you. I haven't thought about this much since I taught high school freshmen and sophomores at all-girls Catholic school. They really do watch everything about you. Well, at least she'll see one woman in her life who doesn't worry too much about clothes and makeup.

Chicago Fire

Last Wednesday folks from Su Casa plus some of Dawn's family and friends plus yours truly and my houseguest that evening all went to see the Chicago Fire play the Kansas City Wizards. It took some work to organize this expedition and not everyone we invited could make it, but it was worth the hassle.

The new Soldier Field is much nicer looking inside than out. It loses the spaceship feel and the seats just seem stadium-like. If every Fire game is that uncrowded, and field-level seats are 15 bucks (we got in free), it's a wonder to me the place isn't packed.

The Fire started out strong, scoring two goals within the first five minutes. Kansas City's defense looked decidedly less than magical. They must have gotten some tips from Harry Potter at halftime, though, because they came back strong in the second half and ultimately won 3-2.

At halftime, Dawn and her buddy Chrissy went to get drinks. Chrissy came back alone, and Dawn took so long to get back I got worried and went looking for her. I found her but then we got more snacks and by the time we came back to our seats her mother had gone looking for both of us. I found her in the women's restroom. We have odd conversations since my Spanish is terrible and her English is actually worse. We looked at each other and she said something I didn't fully grasp but was dead certain meant "you found Aurora?" so I just said "Si!" and then tried to explain in bad Spanish that we got something to eat. I refuse to attempt replicating mi Espanol in this forum--it's much too embarrassing.

In the second half, Dawn's brother Joey and his two best pals got seats up in the row closest to the field. It was fun watching their three little same-sized, brown-haired heads tracking the ball up and down. Afterwards they got autographs.

Monday, August 08, 2005

World's Greatest Mac N Cheese, Classic Cars...

and more, graced the party yesterday for two dear friends of mine who've decided to get hitched. This was also the excuse to pay Ms. Ribs across the street for a real catering gig, which I have felt honor-bound to do since last October. It just took this long to get it together.

The warmup started Saturday morning when one of the invited guests was kind enough to drive down from Evanston and chauffeur me to Moo and Oink at 71st and Stony Island to grab the grub. Twelve pounds of chicken, four pounds of greens, five pounds of cornmeal mix, two pounds of macaroni, half a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and some aluminum foil trays came in under $30, if memory serves. If you haven't been, you really ought to go, just for the blues blaring out of car speakers in the demo derby parking lot!

Ms. Ribs started preparations Saturday night. Alas, yours truly collapsed on the sofa post-shopping and saved the house prep for Sunday morning. Dawn graciously pitched in after we went to St. Joe's together for the 9 a.m. Mass, going early to give ourselves time. It was Dawn's first-ever Mass in English. Afterwards, she straightened up my yard while I hid the chaos inside and did some real cleaning.

The party menu was classic Southern: fried chicken, greens (w/two of the biggest hamhocks I've ever seen--thanks Moo and Oink!), cornbread, macaroni and cheese. "It's the best macaroni and cheese I've ever had in my whole life!" exclaimed one guest. A baker's dozen of us ate ourselves silly and I still have enough to make it worth taking some over to the Port shelter, where their cook is on vacation this week.

The Classic Car convergence came later in the afternoon, with the arrival of my friend we'll call Alejandro Magno in his coche, which I like to refer to as Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. He circled the block while I dug out the key to the parking pad gate, so he got to hang with the folks in the pink house and their lime-greenn 70s machine (sorry, I forget what it is exactly, but it's big). Mr. & Mrs. Green Car cast admiring glances his way, though.

Later I lost the key to the gate, again, and had to call Dawn's big brother for help. Of course the key appeared just as he arrived on his bicycle. Hopefully it was worth the trip, since Alejandro M. gave him a guided tour of Chitty's engine. Chitty is a 50s Buick. Dawn's bro pointed out the early 90s Buick that's been camped on my parking pad since they moved. They have grand plans for it. I just hope it runs well enough someday to be parked on the street without fear the city will assume its abandoned and tow it!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The other white lady

...actually, I guess she's the third on Marshfield Avenue south of 47th. I met her at the CAPS meeting Monday night. She's a friend of a friend of mine, an art teacher and artist, who bought a red-brick building near the local grammar school and is fixing it up as a live/work space. She first spotted the place when she drove our mutual friend to a job interview at the school. The job didn't work out, but my new neighbor found herself a building.

She tells me the condos above the Family Dollar on Ashland Avenue are selling well-11 of 18 have already sold, many for as high as $180K in a building that still has a water tower sitting on top of it. With that rusty, probably leaking thing on the roof, the building might as well have a neon sign blinking "special assessment coming, special assessment coming." Who was fool enough to buy them, I wonder? You can still get a house for less than 180 around here if you try.

Maybe you can, I should say. My young female friend, "Dawn" says her dad just went to see how much of a mortgage he could get. After he got his number, he was told you can't buy a house around here any more for less than $200K. I find that very hard to believe.

Anyway, back to the newest white lady in the hood. She caught me on the street afterwards and introduced herself, asking, "Are you friends with -----------?" When I said yes, she said she was looking around in the meeting and I was the only person there who looked like I might be. I laughed to hear that. I guess you can spot a single white lefty female at 10 or 15 yards, anyway.

We were standing around yakking and trading numbers when a guy in a cowboy hat came up and started shaking hands and trying to butt in on our conversation despite his extremely limited English. At least he wasn't drunk. We gently but firmly shooed him away and finished our own chat.

I still have half the hamburger in the freezer since the block party. I'll have to invite the other white lady to my next BBQ.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Block Party

Saturday dawned gray and drizzly, not a promising combination for this summer's block party. People weren't the fastest movers at getting their cars off the street, either. Mr. Married next door was no help--he's moving out, and he and some buddy of his with a big blue truck kept backing down into the street, scattering the children on bicycles. I pointed this out and they blew me off with a polite smile. Sigh.

I did a little trash-picking but everything was wet and muddy so it was nasty work. Junior's little brother tried to help me out a little, but when I grabbed a soggy piece of plastic out of the gutter, he said, "That's disgusting!" Yep.

Eventually everybody got the hint and got their cars off the street. The girls from two or three houses down on the other side of the street were riding bikes, jumping rope and running races. I only remember the name of one girl and she might be moving to California Avenue. They took the sidewalk chalk from last year and used it up.

We did play some running bases for a little while, like last year.

I'd say the party really started to get going around 3 or so. The DJs showed up at like 2--they weren't expected until 5, but having the music going was OK.

A few friends of mine showed up to help out and see the sights. A big muchas gracias to all four of them for helping out! We grilled a bunch of burgers and turkey sausages and a swarm of little boys came and ate them. The kids were using my hose out front for water balloons and squirting each other, but with the grill in the back it was hard to see the party out front. Later we took chairs out front and sat a spell and watched the kids play.

Perhaps the best thing was that the folks in the pink house down the block had enough advance notice to get ice cream and give free cones out to the kids. They liked that. I saw Junior and D. on a bike with their ice cream cones--Junior steering and D. standing on the back wheel axle, eating something that looked like orange sherbet.

Around 5 or 6 p.m. more of the grownups came out. I sat with Junior's mom, who was reminiscing about growing up in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and how she would spend 2 hours getting her clothes and makeup ready to go out with a boy and hold hands and chat. We agreed it's a different world today.

At the very end of the night I had a beer with the folks on the first floor next door, a young couple in their 20s with a darling two-year-old girl. They want to speak better English, so they asked if they could come and practice, English for Spanish. Of course I said yes/si. They took me up on it last night and we all practiced Spanish and English ordinal numbers while eating ham, mushroom and pineapple pizza on my front step (they provided the pizza, I provided the drinks).

So, do I remember? primero segundo tercero quarto quinto sexto septimo octavo noveno decimo--I think I'm right, hey! If I'm wrong--check me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Baptism Party

Well, it's time to discuss happier things. Last Saturday I went with Junior and his mom and dad and little brother to St. Joe's for the baptism of their mom's grand-nephew. There were six babies total getting soggy for Jesus that morning.

Junior's mom had a very nice digital camera along to take pictures. I meant to bring my little disposable but I forgot it. It was blazing hot outside, and through some miracle of divine intervention it was cooler in the church than it had been at daily Mass earlier in the week.

Our little angel did not cry during the proceedings. Unlike plenty of other Catholic churches, where the babes only suffer a sprinkle or two, Fr. Ed is a dunker--if he baptizes you, you get wet! Everyone took the babies out of their finery so Ed could plunk them in the font and use his super-sized plastic spout to give them a good drenching from behind (not in the face, of course). The infants all got three showers and got lifted up between each one. There was a three year old who got to stay in her dress and only one ride up over Ed's head. I guess that's his Saturday morning workout!

After the ceremony, which ended with everyone up around the altar for an Our Father--it's the first time I've ever been at a Catholic christening that wasn't a full Mass--all the immediate families got their pictures taken with Fr. Ed. Junior's mom managed to get Ed to stay still for a second photo with her in it next to her niece. I'll call her Judy because that's what it sounds like, but to my horror it's not how you spell it, so I screwed up the card. At the church everybody gave some relative a few bucks--I got a card and stuck a $10 in it, so I figured it was time to hand it in. Later, at the party back at their house, people showed up with gift bags, so I still don't know whether I did it right, but oh well.

We went back to Judy's parents house afterwards, where the men had gathered to cook pig and goat in a huge cauldron out back on the concrete, next to the enviably large gas grill. Junior's dad, Senior, was in charge of the proceedings. I can say that the carnitas turned out great! We had nopales (cactus pads), too. Senior was telling me back in Mexico he used to eat nopales at every meal. I had nopales a few months ago for the first time. These were good, boiled or steamed with something spicy and maybe some vinegar--they were salty/spicy and a little sour, which I like. Underneath that they just taste like generic green vegetable--if I had my eyes closed I'd have guessed they were green beans or something.

They had two very young DJs who were OK but not great. I'll have to devote a whole separate post to the topic of dancing. Come again!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Bike Stolen!

Dag! I knew this day would come. Sometimes when I get home I put my bike in the yard while I go in the house. I always say I'm going to go straight to the basement and unbar the door, but the phone rings, or I put the groceries away, or whatever...and I forget the bike.

I've left it outside overnight three times since I moved. Every time I thought it was a miracle it was still there, but every time it was still there it got me a little lazier, a little less vigilant, a little more trusting....

Wham! I was doing yoga with my buddy now from up the street Friday around 8, when my neighbor next door (the first floor people with the two year old) rang the bell. "They got your bike! They're in the alley!" I didn't even have my keys on me. I ran back but they were gone. So I ran in the house to get my keys and Dawn (my buddy's name for here) wanted to go get on bikes and go look for them.

"People get shot over bikes down here," I said, but there was no stopping her. So we ran. I used her parents' cell phone to call 911, and then we jumped on a couple of their bikes and took off.

All we knew from the neighbors was that two young-ish African American men had jumped the back fence to get the bike.

"Should we ask Mexicans or black people? Or, that's racist, right?" Dawn asked me. I said we should tell everybody two guys took our bike and describe the bike in detail, since we didn't have enough to give a real description of the guys anyway. As it turned out, we didn't ask anyone, we just rode around east of Ashland (the direction the neighbors said they were going). No luck.

This morning I went to the station in Bridgeport to file a police report. At least the officer was nice. So now I'll be in the crime report at the next CAPS meeting. Yahoo...not.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Movin' Out, not me. Worse, the great neighbors to the north. The Mrs. of North gave me the news when I got back from California.

"We wanted to let you know right away. We're selling the house and moving back to Mississippi," she told me over the fence. She was hanging laundry, I was poking at my sunflowers. She said they were having the house appraised and didn't have an asking price yet. "But if you know anybody who's looking for a house, let them know. We want you to have good neighbors."

"Thanks," I said.

So I turn to you, devoted readers, especially any of you who are Chicagoans. Drop me an email if you know anybody who wants to buy a house next door to chez moi. The roof still has some fire damage from the big blaze before I owned my home, but otherwise seems to be in OK shape. It's brick with a fake stone facade, gabled, has a garage.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

La Marcha--Mas Noticias

Friday morning, Junior and Junior's little brother came by with their mom. They were going to La Marcha and they asked me to go with. I asked their buddy, who was helping me weed my sunflowers, if he wanted to go, but he said no. So I sent him home and went off with them.

La Marcha, in case you haven't heard, was a joint effort of the two big FM Spanish-language stations here to protest the founding of a Minuteman chapter in Chicago. In case you missed the Minuteman mania in Arizona back in April, here's what LA Weekly had to say about it:

So, in short, the overhyped story of gun-toting vigilantes "securing the border" comes home to roost, with a group cofounded by a white suburban guy and a second generation Mexican-American woman. She's the one Hoy (the Tribune's Spanish newspaper) picked up to interview, and the interview so incensed two local radio DJs, El Chokolate and El Pistolero, that they put together a pro-immigrant, pro-immigration reform, pro-naturalization rally more or less in my hood. If you can read Spanish or you just wonder what El Chokolate himself looks like:

So I found out about it at church and then tried to read a piece about it in Hoy. I was planning to go Friday morning until my weeding buddy arrived and said he wasn't interested. But when my neighbors showed up and wanted me to go with them, I sent him home and we took off.

Highlights from the march: Tons of people! Organizers were hoping for 15,000 and maybe they got it. I'd put it at 10K at least based on some big anti-war marches I've been to in the past.

The sign I remember best was created by my teenage girl friend of the Nearly Evicted family: "The immigration judge said it won't hurt me if my dad is deported. :-( How is *that* possible?"

My rally Spanish served pretty well: "El pueblo unido jamas sera vencino" and "si se puede" were shouted full force. People sang the Mexican national anthem. I saw a number of folks from St. Joseph's and from Holy Cross/IHM. Some guy started his own cheer, "Give me a J... Give me an O..." Jose thought he was funny.

The march ended in the Swap-O-Rama parking lot near 43rd, where speakers blasted music and the words of everyone from radio stars to little kids whose parents may yet be deported. The icie vendors were making a killing. Somewhere along the way in the midst of the march, someone actually had their chip/ice cream stand set up in the thick of the crowd. They got business, too.

I still have yet to see a news article with a guess at the crowd in it. And I'm not holding my breath for an English-language story that explains the purpose of the march in any detail. The Chicago Tribune's Saturday paper carried a small photo in the lower right-hand corner of the metro page, which on Saturday doesn't even get a section to itself. I don't know if the Sun-Times even carried anything. Hoy's weekend edition is mostly wire services and is clearly prepared in advance. The Trib carried a decent enough story last week about the Minuteman dustup and the radio stations--one of the DJs had her on the radio and debated her.

In a way, it's nice to know El Pistolero and El Chokolate aren't any better than scraggly anti-war protestors at grabbing the English-language dailies' ear in this town.

Update: At least one March organizer said 50,000 turned out. I never heard a police estimate. Usually I split the difference between the organizers and the cops and figure that's accurate--usually they're pretty far apart. But it's a good bet they really got their 15,000 and probably more.

Plus, I forgot my favorite cheer from that day: "Bush! Eschuca! Estamos en la lucha!" (Bush! Listen! We are in the struggle!) The thing that was hilarious to me was I couldn't figure out what they were saying at first because they were pronouncing Bush with a long u "Boosh-eschuca!" and I could not for the life of me figure it out. Another day I'll have to write a post about the joys of trying to learn Spanish....

Peacemaking, Local and Global

OK, guys, I started this last week and thought it was even more scattered than usual, but here it is anyway.

Between George Bush talking about Iraq on Monday (June 27), the Senate voting on foreign appropriations on Tuesday, and a shooting two blocks from my house on Tuesday afternoon, I've had a lot of food for thought about peacemaking this week.

Last Thursday around 5:30, the CAPS office sponsored a rally/vigil in the parking lot at the northwest corner of 50th and Hermitage, where a 20 something named Pierre (yes, his real name) took two shots point-blank, one to the head, and died two days earlier. The killing was in revenge for a stabbing that took place earlier that day east of Ashland Avenue, I was told.

Frankly, and sadly, because the young man who got killed was African-American and lived a few blocks away from where his brains spilled all over the pavement, nobody would have done a damn thing about it if the local CAPS liaison hadn't decided the gangbangers need to be put on notice. I think that doesn't make any difference to the gangbangers, but since I gather this police district has been suffering from lack of leadership until very recently, I want the new commander and the old footsoldiers put on notice that they have to respect this neighborhood--neither ignoring requests for help nor assuming every kid on the street is a gangbanger. The only reason I put my shoulder to the wheel on this was to get my face and as many faces of neighbors as possible in front of the commander's very eyes and let him know we're watching him.

The reaction I got from neighbors while passing out flyers for the event was very interesting. A couple of people suggested the young man got what was coming to him for being a gangbanger. A middle-aged man said he doesn't even like to come out in front of his house, it's too dangerous, so he mostly stays inside. Another guy asked me to give some info to the cops about a concern of his because he works nights and his wife watches their four kids, so making a CAPS meeting is hard. A few people thanked me.

The next day, I only recognized two or three other people from my block itself at the rally. Many more came from the 4900 block of Hermitage--we have a good contact there. I was also impressed to note that people came up from south of 51st--I met a lady from 52nd and Paulina. They were people who knew the young man or knew what was going on. It's hard to build connections across 51st--I find it even harder to cross 51st than to cross Ashland.

During the aftermath of the shooting, I started musing about what it would take to do real peacemaking in this neighborhood. Why can't we get some UN conflict resolution going on down here? Of course an underlying question is why can't we get some real economic development going on down here so these guys could quit selling drugs to make fast money? What if we had real economic development in my neighborhood and in Colombia (yeah, the amendment to cut money for the useless Plan Colombia just failed but at least my rep voted the right way) --so the farmers there and the broke young men here could find themselves something else to do? I shouldn't blog, my thoughts are too badly phrased. But you get the idea.

If you want to know more about the Colombian situation, how the fighting may spill into Ecuador, and (if you scroll down), what some activists decided they learned from the unsuccessful fight in the House to cut money for the war on drugs in Colombia, check out this blog, which is smarter than I am:

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