Monday, August 27, 2007

Gunshots Last Night

The problem block of 5000 S. Marshfield exploded in gunfire last night. Four shots rang out at the north end of the block a little after 10:30 p.m. A two-year-old girl was outside in the line of fire at the time; fortunately, she was not hit. As far as I know, no one was hit by the shots.

Neighbors say the police response was quick and massive, but it is not clear whether any arrests have been made.

I was in my house at the time and heard the shots but could not tell where they were coming from. The little I know is from what neighbors on that block told me this morning.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Isabel's birthday

I ran into Isabel's husband at St. Joseph's this afternoon. Today is their annual kermes, or parish festival. I went to Mass outside, in front of the church, and then was hanging around. Her husband told me it was her birthday and suggested I go over, so I did.

I arrived just as three other women from St. Joe's, one quite elderly, were at the front step. Isabel's oldest daughter was letting them in the back, so I tagged along. Everyone in the back was very polite--buenas noches, pasale. There was no music playing, which seemed a little unusual. We went up the back stairs and into the kitchen. Everybody gave Isabel and hug and a kiss and then we all sat down. Isabel tried to feed us, but we all resisted since we had just come from the St. Joe's festival.

Isabel was making gorditas. She has a really cool tortilla press. It's wooden and it essentially folds twice. The invention of plastic wrap has made tortilla (and gordita) making much easier. She laid a round ball of masa on the plastic wrap, which was big enough to cover both the base and the initial lid of the press. Then she folded the first lid, then she could fold the second lid on top to squeeze it down. Since she was making gorditas, she pressed the second time very gently. One of the other guests took over on the press and didn't bother to use the second lid at all. They came out perfectly every time. My friend Katie has a metal press that seems to be more difficult to work with. Although I didn't actually use this one--I might have had just as much trouble, being an inexperienced tortilla-maker.

After the masa is pressed into a flat circle, you put it on the comal (griddle) and heat it up. Isabel must have asbestos fingers--she would check them for doneness with her bare hands, then flip them over, take them off and stuff them, all with her fingers. To stuff the gordita, you slit the side of it part way round with a knife and then put in the filling. I don't know for sure if that was carne al pastor (pig on a spit), but it was definitely shredded pork, and very juicy. I thought it was plenty spicy on its own, but Isabel persuaded me to add a little salsa. Muy sabroso.
The other women wanted to know if it was too spicy for me, but we got it right, so I wasn't dying.

This was probably the first group of mostly new-to-me Mexican women in a kitchen where I didn't feel grossly out of place. Maybe because Isabel's youngest daughter hugged me like she hugged all her mother's friends coming in. Maybe because the conversation was usually pretty easy to understand. I mean, it's a birthday. They were all talking about how old they were when they got married, but mostly everybody was interested to see I could follow the conversation. Maybe it was because nobody noticed when I stopped paying attention because the conversation got too hard to follow. Maybe because we were all full, so for the first time ever I managed to keep Isabel from feeding me for at least half an hour. But after sitting around making and watching and schlepping gorditas downstairs (that part I could do), we all caved and ate some with Isabel. Oh, my God--"I should have eaten less at church," I said to the group. They all laughed.

Right now I feel like Templeton, the rat from Charlotte's Web, after the state fair. I ate two steak tacos and five tamales at St. Joe's, followed by three of Isabel's pork-stuffed gorditas. I'll have to go back to church and dance to work them off.

If you want to see what gorditas look like, look here. They have different fillings, but they're about the same size as Isabel's.

Lord of the Flies

...well, lady, that is. That's me.

The barbecue back in July was a great success, but there were surprising, long-lasting negative side effects thanks to my astounding ability not to notice important details in my environment.

About 70 people came by the barbecue, the kids had a water fight out front--an older woman got hit by accident and her daughter got mad, but I think we are all over it now--the grownups ate and chatted out back. Three little girls played Ring Around the Rosy. We sang happy birthday to everybody who had birthdays in July and August. The cake I got from Bom Bon was gone in about five minutes. (I got the cake from the 18th Street location.) Then we had a pinata.

The bad part was at some point I forgot I had been defrosting frozen hamburgers in the microwave. We ran out of burgers and I knew there were more but they weren't in the refrigerator or by the grill, and I kept getting distracted by other things and completely forgot about the stack in the microwave. And I kept forgetting about them through the next couple of days. Then I left for a week of vacation.

When I got home there was a bad smell. I couldn't figure out its source. After a few minutes of sniffing around, I called Dawn and asked her to come over and help me find the source of the smell. She thought it was coming out of the air duct behind the garbage can. We thought maybe a mouse had got in and died in there. I had been wanting to have my air ducts cleaned since I first moved in--I knew they were full of sawdust from construction and I have allergies--but I kept putting it off because of the expense. Well, this was it. Time to get air duct cleaning.

So the bad smell continued until the following Friday (now a little over a week ago), when the air duct guy arrived. Not only did he clean my air ducts, he figured out the source of the smell.

"Have you looked in your microwave?" he asked me.

I went over and looked inside. It was swarming with flies and maggots. "Oh, God," I said. "The hamburger."

The air duct guy very graciously helped me carry the microwave, unopened, out to the back yard. I got rubber gloves, Clorox and a toilet brush. Fortunately, the hamburgers were still in their plastic bad, so although gross, it wasn't that hard to take it out and put it in a garbage bag. However, the fauna inside were much more of a challenge. There were maggots and fly eggs everywhere. I finally took the garden hose to it just to knock them out.

That was the moment Dawn's mom showed up out back with one of her friends. "I don't think you want to do that," she said. I may well have shorted the thing out with all that water, but I couldn't really see an alternative.

Finally, after all the nasty critters were out of the main chamber, I came to a sad realization--there were some big flies trapped in the window of the microwave door and I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to clean out in there. The air duct guy had been making gentle hints all along that perhaps it was time for this machine to join its brothers in the great microwave cooking ground in the sky, so to speak. However, since in my neighborhood the alley is not a true burial ground--everything gets reincarnated--I felt obligated to put signs on it in English and Spanish saying, "Clean well before using -- there are flies inside." I put it out on top of my dumpster and it was gone in less than two hours.

Alas, that wasn't the end of the story. I've still got too many damn flies in the house. Back on Tuesday I was having breakfast and almost a dozen decided to join me. Yuck. On Friday I got some Raid and sprayed the back of the kitchen. That seemed to help some. (I hate Raid and I hate breathing in the fumes, but this called for strong measures.)

But Friday night became a Hitchcockian nightmare in my bathroom. I went to take a bath and there were two flies in there and the Raid was downstairs. Armed with a copy of Chicago magazine, I took them on. One went down quickly (do you realize flies have red blood? Uggh....). The other was more stubborn (maybe that one hadn't set foot in the Raid-sprayed area), and actually flew into me once during the chase. I felt like I was in "The Birds." But eventually the second one got whacked, too.

Right now, in the living room window, there are two dead flies on the sill and one live one climbing around on the screen. There's is almost no food in my house and it may be a while yet before I start cooking again. When I got back from Ireland, I saw Angela and Shaun from up by the corner. Angela told me it was her birthday and I promised I'd make her some cookies. I've had to put her off twice now due to the fly infestation. "My kitchen is so nasty right now I can't cook anything," I told her a couple of days ago. "As soon as I get it cleaned up, I will make you some cookies."

At this rate, it'll be Labor Day. Sheesh.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Marshfield Tattler on the Air

If you haven't checked out Vocalo, the new public radio station making waves on the Internet, now's a good time to give it a listen.

Earlier this week, host/producer Dan Weissmann featured the entry "New Kids on the Block: Not Nice" on his show. Someone else read it and did a very good job.

Monday, August 20, 2007

CAPS Meeting and After

Tonight's CAPS meeting was OK. No big revelations. The police said they had arrested "the old guy" at the problem house down the block. If they meant Yup-yup, he wasn't in very long--I didn't even notice. A lady came and said a week ago some older boys had tried to coerce one of her sons into taking drugs to school to sell. This turned into a long and involved conversation in Spanish, the essential point being she should call 911 right away in that kind of situation.

Afterwards, as I was going home Shaun and his big brother caught up to me. "When are you bringing us cookies?" Shaun asked.

"Later this week," I said. "My kitchen has been so nasty I couldn't cook anything. When I finish cleaning it up, I will bake cookies."

"Can we help you clean up?" he asked.

"No, honey," I said. "It's too nasty." (Stay tuned for the next post about what happened.)

They came down the block with me to go visit James. He didn't come out, but his aunt did. I asked if she wanted to sign a nominating petition for Esther Golar and she agreed. Then she offered to take it into her house and get her family's signatures. There are quite a few registered voters in there. That was a nice break. I thanked her profusely.

When she came back out, she double-checked to make sure Esther wasn't the lady who called herself our precinct captain under the former alderman.

"No, that's not her," I said, with a look to say, "You think I would circulate petitions for that woman?"

"Why aren't you are precinct captain?" James' aunt asked me.

"It's a lot of work," I said. "I'm not sure I want to take it on."

"People listen to you," she said.

"Well, one thing I have been talking about is starting a block club," I told her. I've been talking about that with Ms. Ribs ever since we got a new alderman. Before Labor Day, I will go to the new church at the end of our block and ask them if we can use their space to hold meetings. We'll take it from there.

James' aunt liked this idea. She was the one who raised the issue of the nasty new people on the block. "We need to get rid of them," she said. "My brother is 45 years old. He doesn't gangbang. We been here 30 years. How are these people gonna come threaten him when he's standing on the sidewalk?"

While the auntie was inside getting petition signatures, I caught up with Dawn, whom I hadn't seen for a week. She heard about the Latinos Progresando event coming up with Dick Durbin -- August 28-- and she wants to go. He will be talking about the DREAM Act. Since Elvira Arellano's arrest, Dawn is energized and wants to see whether other people are more energized or more afraid to speak out. She has a meeting at school tomorrow and is going to see who else wants to go on the 28th. She gave me a flyer about the event. What a budding organizer!

On top of all this, our new friends who just arrived from Pilsen were out on their roller skates. Alma, Irma and Maritza got in a line and grabbed my shirt, and I dragged all of them on their skates by running up and down the block. It was great exercise for working off all the Connie's pizza I ate at the CAPS meeting. Their mom came out and gave them popsicles. She asked if I wanted one but I was too full from the pizza.

Later I took some tomatoes from the garden over to their house. I rang the second floor--I think I got their uncle. Hopefully a dozen is enough for everybody to get a taste. Welcome to the block.

Oh, an interesting aside about schools--Shaun and his siblings can't start at Chavez until after Labor Day, even though Chavez started already, because their old school is on the regular calendar and no one is there to send their records over. Shouldn't there be some way to deal with that?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dawn's Birthday Bike Ride

On Monday Dawn and I rode to 31st Street Beach. I'd been wanting to do that for months. It was her birthday. I still need to get her a bike helmet. (Should this be in The Dangerous Book for Girls? Will all my biking friends kill me for letting her ride around with me helmet-free?). There's no nearby place to buy one that I know of, and I want her with me when I buy it to get the right size. Finding time and a store has been difficult. Maybe we should just go to Swap-O-Rama together this weekend.

Dawn borrowed her dad's bike, and the back tire needed air, so we stopped at the gas station on 45th on the way out to the beach. At first the machine wouldn't work, but the air started flowing on the second try.

We took Ashland (mostly on the sidewalk) to 35th, then 35th to Halsted, then the bike lane to 31st, then 31st to the beach. For much of 31st I had Dawn take the sidewalk while I rode in the street.

We got to the beach a little before sunset. The water has finally warmed up. Dawn had sweat pants on, so she hiked them up a little and went in. She got wet. I went in, but not as far. As it was getting dark, we walked over to the pier and went all the way out, enjoying the view of the skyline and saying hello to the people fishing.

Dawn wanted to know about the breakwater rocks and the light at the end of the pier. It has a big cage around it--I guess so someone can stand there while changing the light bulb.

She also told me a story from her camping trip this summer. I think it was while they were doing the rafting part of the trip that she and another camper got stuck in quicksand and had to figure out how to get out. It was a little scary, she said--she was in nearly up to her hip and her first escape attempts were pushing her down, not up. But one of the trip leaders was nearby, offering advice, and Dawn got it--the trick she used was to kneel (that got her higher up), then walk in a sort of sideways manner, sort of like climbing steps with your feet askew, to get out.

Once she and the other camper were free, they started pushing each other to try to force the other person back in the mud. "It was funny then," she told me, "but before, it was scary."

We had to hurry home because she was getting up at 4:30 the next morning to go to work. She's doing temp work between the end of summer school and the beginning of the new year. (Joey's already back in school because Chavez is on the year-round calendar, so they started August 6.)

Where there's smoke...

there may or may not be fire, but something's up.

Fire seems to be a theme this week. I got home late on Wednesday night. It was dark and steaming hot. You could almost see the humidity in the air. But there was more than steamy heat hanging in the air on this block of Marshfield Avenue. Down in the middle of the block, smoke was pouring out of the house that's been trouble since June.

Yup-yup spotted me as I got off my bike in the yard. "Miss Maritza!" he called.

"What IS that down there?" I inquired.

"That's not smoke," he assured me. "That's just steam."

Sure it is. I'll believe that when your eyes are not wide and red and you're not twitching.

After Yup-yup departed, I started walking down the block to see what was going on. Julian and a friend of his were biking up the block, so I walked back to my house before getting a real sense of anything.

As I was getting the mail out of the mailbox, Julian came alongside my front steps and said quietly, "That smoke stinks. Do you think they are making drugs in there?"

"I don't know, but they might be," I said in a low voice. "I'll go in the house and call 911."

They sent three fire trucks and a police car. I don't know if they arrested anyone or what happened. But it was gratifying to have a quick response to a call, for once.

The Dangerous Book for Boys not a book we really need here on Marshfield Avenue. There's plenty of danger to go around. And I'm not talking about gangbanging today. Just the usual boy fascination with stuff like bicycles and fire.

Last night Joey and three of his buddies were out in his backyard trying to fix somebody's flat tire. "Do you have some matches?" his big friend Eric asked me.

"What for?"

"It dries the glue," he explained. It seemed like they put on glue, lit up the tire like you would flaming cheese, then put on the patch. I didn't really get this, but as long as I was watching I was OK with them having a tire flambe out back.

"OK," I said, went in the kitchen and came back with a pack of matches. I handed it to Eric through the fence and watched them while I was picking tomatoes.

"Not so close to my finger!" Eric warned one of the smaller guys, who was about to light up the tire. "My finger has glue on it," he explained for my benefit.

They were holding the tire over the back porch steps. "Maybe you don't want to do that on top of wood," I suggested. "How about you do that on the concrete?" They moved over to the walkway.

Then it was somebody else's turn to hold the tire. Eric is kind of bossy. "Don't be scared to hold the tire," he urged. "You're scared."

"No, I'm not," muttered the little guy. He was. I didn't blame him, either. That glue sent up some pretty big flames.

Somehow they managed to fix the tire. Nobody burned any fingers, and the back porch also survived unscathed. After the flames subsided, I went in the house for a minute. When I returned to my backyard, I could hear them up front, talking about getting the tire back on the bike.

I joined them up front. "Could I have the matches back, please?"

"Oh, yeah," they said, remembering. Eric produced the pack. There were three left. Amusing.

At some point while all this was going on, Joey pulled me aside for a chat through the fence. "I'm doing real good in school so far," he informed me solemnly. "Much better than last year."

"That's good," I told him. "Maybe I'll come see your teacher next week."

"OK," he said.

His birthday is coming up. I asked him if he'd like to go to the Museum of Science and Industry to see CSI: The Experience. He said yes. Dawn wants to go, too. This could be their joint birthday present--they both have birthdays this month.

By the way, even though The Dangerous Book for Boys is perhaps unnecessary here, the trailer for it on You Tube is pretty cute. This is the trailer for Dangerous Book for Boys Part Deux. You can see some of the chapters. Maybe the chapter on building a go-cart would be fun to have on hand. I'm not sure bows and arrows are a great idea around here, but they're better than guns. And the rules for soccer are completely unnecessary.

The other thing about the trailer is it is all about father-son bonding. There's nothing about boys playing with other boys. This is one thing I love about this neighborhood--kids play with their friends and hang out while their dads work on cars or house projects. Both things are good--I wish Our Entire Culture could find better ways of balancing both kid-on-kid play and fun with parents.

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Don't you believe in us?"

Yup-yup asked me this question the other night. He was roaming around high as a kite and hoping to guilt some cash out of me. Dawn's mom and her baby brother were over. With help from mama, Angelito was practicing walking up and down the front steps.

"This is not a good time," I told him calmly. He went away.

I have not seen his sometime girlfriend/ho for a few days. Let's hope that Thresholds South is coming through for her one way or another.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Night Job

Apparently my night job as social worker, or at least information and referral specialist, to the 5000 block of South Marshfield is really booming business. Yup-yup's sometime girlfriend/prostitute stopped by a few minutes ago to tell me her mother died in July and the funeral was today. She lost a son within the last year, too. She is still interested in drug treatment--she mentioned this a couple of weeks ago. Yay! A social worker friend of mine recommended Thresholds treatment program near 63rd and Kedzie.

I explained Thresholds and the program to her--Thresholds works with people who are homeless and have problems with mental illness and/or drug addiction. "That's me," she said, "I've got all three." Hope that means she can get in.

But wait, there's more.
School Lady down the block called while I was on vacation last week. I thought this was going to be about more trouble on the block, but when I stopped by her house tonight on the way home from work, she asked me for help about her oldest daughter, who apparently is running wild in various ways. A while ago I met a social worker down here who would be perfect for this situation but have lost her info and had to email someone else to get it. Hope I remember right how I met her and the info comes through.

This all happened within two hours of my second night home from vacation. Plus, a neighbor up the street is looking for a good lawyer to sue the hell out of contractor for a crappy job they did on some house project. The fun never ends around here.

Windy Citizen Share