Friday, April 28, 2006


Two cop incidents last night:

I was walking down Marshfield after the NHS board meeting and saw a couple of cop cars sitting north of the viaduct. Our sergeant was out of his car, parked on 48th, and was standing talking to an officer in his car, parked on Marshfield.

I went by and said hello, thinking, "How nice to see a cop I know out on the beat and not harassing anybody."

About 90 minutes later, around 8:30, Dawn called me and asked if she could come over. I went out and opened the front gate. It turned out Julian and his buddy Chava had been stopped by the cops just a few minutes earlier. There was a report of a shooting on Paulina, I think--we weren't sure--and the cops went out stopping every young man within a few blocks of the incident. They made a mess out of Julian's bike--knocked the tire and tube off his back wheel and we don't know why. At least they didn't rough up the boys or take them to jail.

Which reminds me--Tony stopped by Sunday night while we were eating hamburgers, and told me he had been picked up by cops and held for 72 hours because he doesn't have any ID. They can hold someone that long while checking their fingerprints to see if they have any outstanding warrants. He didn't. He says the last thing on him was the order of protection, which expired a year ago and which his "baby mama" (for lack of a better description) did not renew.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Burgers & Back Yard

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a back yard. About ten days ago, Fernando and Rosa and their boys showed up on my doorstep--I think it was Thursday night before last--and announced, "We're doing your yard this weekend."

"OK," I said. "I'm going out of town, but you go for it."

We went out back, and I explained that we needed to take out the big rocks, level the ground and roll sod. Sr. asked if I wanted to leave a couple of strips open to garden in and I said yes. So we left open the area where I planted sunflowers last year and a strip alongside the house to the north, where I'll plant sunflowers this year. I'm also getting containers from a friend so I can grow vegetables this summer in lead-free soil.

So I went away for Easter weekend, and when I got back Monday night my yard was level but the sod hadn't been rolled. It went down last Tuesday night. We've been watering like crazy ever since. Dawn and her brother and his friend Chava have been pitching in when I worked late and was too tired to do it myself. I did water Saturday morning and saw three guys staring at me from across the street. I kept wondering if they thought it was weird to see me water my own grass, or if they thought it was too late in the morning (around 11) or if they were just bored and I was their entertainment. Oh, well.

By Sunday night Fernando Sr. said it was OK for people to walk on the grass. So I let Joey and School Lady and her daughters come over. I made hamburgers (on the stove, not the grill--I was too tired to drag the grill out of the cellar), and Joey and the girls played soccer and chased each other around on the grass. Joey rolled around on it a little--I think maybe Sophie did too--the other girls probably thought they were too old and would look unladylike.

I think School Lady has finally decided I'm OK. We're still on a usted basis--though I forget and call her tu (informal you--it's a big deal among Mexicans when they tell you 'call me tu,' which she hasn't done yet. But I mostly talk with people who say call me tu, and I'm an estadounidensa/United Statesian, so I forget the formal distinction a lot). But at the end of the hamburger/lawn party, she came up and touched my elbow and told me if I need help putting my birthday party together to let her know.

The yard feels great--it's so nice to be able to walk around back there and not worry about breaking an ankle in a hole or tripping on a rock! And walking on new sod is like stepping on plush carpet--so fun to run around on. I haven't had time to lie down in the grass in my backyard, but I'm looking forward to doing it before it gets matted down or dries out. Whoopee!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Report Cards

Last night I got home about 9 p.m. and hadn't eaten dinner. Marisol and Daya were on the step next door and said hi. I said hi and went in the house. I had barely washed my hands and was about to eat a piece of gefilte fish straight out of the jar from starvation when the doorbell rang.

I figured it was one of the Tonys looking for a thinly disguised handout, and I was mad. The bell rang again. "Hold on!" I shouted grumpily.

But when I got to the door, it was Marisol, holding a styrofoam plate with two tacos on it. "Oh wow, Marisol, that's so nice!" I said. "I'm so hungry--I haven't had dinner yet. Thank you!"

I think I must have scared her with the initial shout, because she just said good night and vanished immediately. I was so happy not to have to fix dinner I broke into Alberto's brand-new six-pack of ale and took a beer out with me on the step for dinner. (Alberto has apparently swigged most of a large bottle of rum left over from my Christmas party, so I feel pretty justified in swiping a brewski.)

Anyway, they waved from next door but went in to bed pretty soon afterwards. Meanwhile, Dawn and Joey came by while I was still eating. We started talking about report cards and Joey went home to get their and their big brother Julian's.

Let's start with the good news. Dawn's GPA looks like it's about a 2.5 or a little higher. She only has a D in algebra, and she had a C in something else, and the rest were Bs with one A. However, given that the Consortium on Chicago School Research released a report yesterday that says a kid in CPS needs a 3.0 to have any real hope of going to college and making it through, we've got work to do.

The bad news is Julian is not looking like a candidate to beat the stats. Only about 3 percent of the African American and Latino boys who start high school in CPS ever make it to their college diplomas. And an older Consortium study indicates kids who flunk more than two core courses in their first semester are very likely to drop out of high school. Julian had three core Fs and five Fs overall. I knew it would be bad but I didn't think it would be that bad.

Julian and I hung out watering the lawn at 10:30 last night, talking about his grades and what he might be able to do to make up at least some of the work before summer, among other things. He's a nice boy, not sullen or hard, and not stupid-he got a C in algebra without trying-but getting him to do schoolwork is like pulling teeth. He says the after school study period they've forced him to attend is helping him make up some of his first semester work.

Meanwhile, Joey's grades have slipped, too. I don't have the time and energy to do the work all three of them need. We have to get Joey into a more responsive school and that is 18 months away at the soonest.

LSC Election Results

I rode my bike to work this morning, and rode up to the front window at Chavez, where the LSC election results were posted. I did vote in that election, but I missed the high school election at Richards yesterday.

The candidates at Chavez were roughly divided into two slates. The incumbents basically beat out the challengers, including School Lady and her friend who calls me "maestra" on the street.

From talking with people on both sides, I gathered that the challengers weren't too happy with the guy who has been selected to succeed retiring principal Sandy Traback. A big concern, they say, is that he isn't tough enough on discipline. (I'm guessing his youthful appearance might be part of the issue--I remember when I taught desperately wishing I looked older in hopes that would give me a little edge.) Meanwhile, the incumbents and school administration perceived the challengers as just a bunch of nay-sayers who don't really understand the issues invovled in running a school.

To tell you the truth, I split my ticket and voted in favor of two incumbents and two challengers, mostly on the basis of how much I liked them personally. However, as is often the case, the people have spoken in favor of the status quo. Let's hope that was a good thing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Spring Break Party

My neighbors to the south had a party on Monday night to celebrate spring break and the first really warm night of 2006. I got home around 9 and there were lots of little kids swarming around in the front yard next door and a few grownups settled around the card table with the remains of dinner on it.

"Sorry. We ate already," Herman from the second floor told me. I was sorry to miss the food but I wasn't hungry.

While we were chatting, Tony from Logan Square came by. "You're hard to find," he told me.

"Looking for work?" I asked.

"Looking for my girlfriend," he teased me. But he was willing to settle for a job. He cleaned out my backyard and along the sidewalk.

Alicia and Santiago on the first floor have a passel of kids--I can't always remember how many they have, let alone all their names. There are at least four, maybe even five or six. But little Luis remembers me and so does his big sister. It's bugging me that I can't remember her name. They took me out back to play catch. Luis's big brother (whose name I also forgot) wanted to sing songs for me. He learned a song about English vowels in school that was very good. I should make him teach me it.

His sister taught me a sing and clap game in Spanish and I taught her "Miss Mary Mack" in English. Of course I have totally forgotten the Spanish one. She'll have to play it with me about a hundred times before it sticks.

Then Big Sister wanted to read stories. She went in the house and found a book of stories in Spanish and English. I wondered if it was from school or if Alicia got it somewhere. We read "La Oruga Muy Hambriente" together. That's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" for those of you who have read it in English. Big Sister and I took turns reading every other page. She is a very good reader in both Spanish and English.

The grownups were pretty surprised that I could read Spanish. (I can read and pronounce it decently but frankly I don't always know what I'm saying. With "La Oruga," though, I did, between the pictures and my vague memories of reading it in English as a kid.) I heard a couple of them saying, "hey, she's pretty good!"

The funniest part was when Santiago came up to me and asked me in Spanish, "How come you talk to me in English if you know Spanish?" I answered in Spansih, "Because you always talk to me in English. If you talk to me in English, I'll talk English to you. If you talk to me in Spanish, I'll talk Spanish." We laughed.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Clandestine CAPS meeting

Apparently some folks showed up at the last CAPS meeting who may have come to get information to feed back to local gangbangers about who is giving the police information. I wasn't there. Someone called me and asked if I would come to a special meeting with the sergeant to give him the real poop. I went.

I'm not going to give any details, except to say the sergeant said, "It was really weird when you all stopped talking at the other meeting. I thought, 'I've been coming to these meetings for two years and they never run out of things to say.'"

We may have to continue holding parallel meetings until the nefarious element quits coming, I've been advised. The sergeant suggested writing stuff down.

I'm glad I wasn't at the meeting where everyone shut up. I might have been too naive to take the hint. Yikes.

Dawn's Exhibtion

Well, after all the storm und drang, Dawn's exhibition went remarkably well yesterday. She held her poise, even when she couldn't find a document or when we pressed her about points of math she didn't know very well. She could just say, "I don't know," and move on. She also managed to talk about all the things she went through this quarter with the house and how that dampened her motivation to get through her school work. She said she is learning the difference between saying you're going to do something and really doing it.

She really knew her stuff in talking about colonization and why Europeans became the colonizers and what weapons they used, including germ warfare (smallpox), to kill off indigenous Americans. She also managed to translate almost her entire report on Madagascar, which she had prepared in English, into Spanish for the presentation. She was translating her power point text on the fly and doing a very good job of it, from what I could tell and from what the bilingual teacher roped into the panel said afterwards.

The only big bummer was she didn't invite her mom. I feel guilty because I knew the night before that she hadn't invited her. I encouraged her to reconsider and asked why she hadn't. She said she didn't invite her because she knew the exhibition wouldn't be as good as it should be and she didn't want her mom riding her back any more than she already it. (Dawn feels very put-upon these days. I'm not sure whether any of it has any legitimacy or if it's all teen angst.)

Anyway, I double-checked if she wanted me to come and she said yes. Then I said, "I really think you should ask your mom." But it didn't even occur to me that I could say something to her myself. The thing is, I do feel like it's Dawn's exhibiton and I wouldn't have the right to invite someone on her behalf. So I didn't. I just hoped that my speech to her about inviting her mom would take.

It didn't. I got there and her advisor told me she literally had just found out five minutes before that Dawn hadn't asked her. I said I knew she hadn't at 10:30 last night but I told her she should and then went to bed and went to work and hadn't followed through to see if she did. Well, her advisor didn't call then. I don't know if she should have or not.

Last night I went to the house--I thought Dawn might at least have said something to her mom about it, so I said, "Muy bien hecho" (Very good work) and pointed at Dawn as soon as I walked in the door. So, the cat was out of the bag. Dawn looked surprised but not too upset. Her mom called her dad at work and told him. I got parts of the conversation but not everything. We were watching a sad TV show about two pregnant women with cancer. Both survived, but one delivered a stillborn baby because they had to give the woman chemo to keep her alive. Anyway, I spotted tears running down Dawn's mom's face and I just didn't know if it was from the show or from finding out Dawn hadn't invited her. So I felt pretty crappy, and of course I don't even know if Dawn noticed. I guess I'll have to talk to her about it.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Library Trip Scores a Foul

The good news: Dawn came over today and we got her a book on Madagascar and a book on hurricanes, so she might be able to salvage her exhibition on Thursday.

The bad news: Dawn told her boss at her internship and told me where she was going, but she didn't tell her parents or her advisor. In a move worthy of Romeo & Juliet, I called her parents looking for her this morning, thinking she had her mom's cell phone, so her parents found out she hauled off to the library without telling them. Oops.

But not totally oops, either. I was expecting Dawn this afternoon, not this morning, and I didn't really think it was a great idea for her to blow off her internship to do this. She also missed one of the exhibitions she was supposed to attend in the process.

Here's what happened. Just as I was about to do my most important interview of the day, the phone rang. It was Dawn, saying she was on her way here to go to the library. I didn't expect to hear that but I didn't have time to argue, so I said OK, come here first and we'll go over and I hung up. Then I got on the phone with my interview subject. The phone rang, and the number calling in flashed but I didn't see it. I thought it was Dawn so after I finished interviewing, I called her mom's cell phone. Her dad answered the phone. I asked if he knew where Aurora was and we had a not very clear conversation in Spanish in which I said I understood she was coming here to get books and I thought she had permission from school, which I did think at that point.

Anyway, she arrived by about 11:30 or so. I told her what happened and she started crying. She said she hadn't told her parents because they were angry at her yesterday for staying at school until 5 p.m. and not telling them where she was. She figured they wouldn't believe her if she told them her plan and they wouldn't let her. I told her I really thought more communication, not less, was the answer in this situation. Then I found out she hadn't spoken with Carolina either. I asked if she wanted to call Carolina and she said, no, she's probably in an exhibition anwyay, which I thought was probably true. Plus, Dawn was going back to school to watch a 2 p.m. exhibition.

We called her mom and told her that Dawn had been here to get books and was going back to school for her 2 p.m. exhibition that ends at 3. I hope everything went OK from here. Whew!

As we were walking back to the office from the library, I said, "Well, if you're grounded for life, at least you can do your reports."

"Yeah," she said. "Now I have somthing to read." (She did have some stuff prior to this, but I think not enough to get a good grade.) Stay tuned. Her exhibition is Thursday afternoon.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Why I hate spring

More reasons to hate spring--there were two shootings in the neighborhood last week.

I heard this from the two neighborhood principals on Friday afternoon. One of them was feeling bad because he thought at least one of them might have been prevented with better adult presence in the vicinity, I gather.

And a last hated vestige of winter--if you live in Chicago you probably saw footage last week of the fire that killed four young kids. It happened at 54th and Honore, within a mile radius of my house. I woke up Wednesday morning and saw helicopters circling overhead. We were all wondering why they were there. I thought it was another big drug bust or something.

Windy Citizen Share