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.

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