Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween in the Hood

Well, so far Halloween has not been too crazy. I still have a bag of Reese's Stix left for any late night trick-or-treaters. We had clowns and witches and devils and dancers and superheroes and face-painted cats and plenty of kids with no costume, just a bag and the cry of "Trick or Treat!"

Angel tried a Reese's Stix, or at least a piece of one.

Even Yup-yup came by for a trick or treat. Whatever.

"Pookie OK?" he asked me, meaning Dorothy.

She didn't call last night like she was supposed to, after all our drama. "I guess," I said doubtfully. Full of doubt I am, both of the answer and of the questioner.

One of the older Brady Bunchers didn't go out trick-or-treating. She stopped by just to hang out. Her younger siblings were driving her crazy, she said.

She was looking at Earth From Above, a big coffee table book full of aerial photos from all over the world. Then we messed around with some computer stuff and genealogy stuff, and finally we had a Colombian snack. I bought a tin of wafers that came with a container of arequipe (caramel, like dulce de leche) and a plastic spreader. You spread the arequipe on one wafer, then put another on top of it and eat it like a sandwich. The wafers were very thin but big rounds, like three inches in diameter. I broke mine in half to make a sandwich.

The closest to anything bad I have actually seen today was one little boy who had hidden an egg in a face mask he wasn't even wearing. It fell out and cracked on my front step. However, I hear a lot of helicopter noise and a lot of sirens outside.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More Trouble

Mr. House Arrest needs a lawyer. He's facing four felonies the first time he was charged with anything (not the first time he's been arrested, maybe the first time he's been arrested and charged as an adult). His buddy who got busted with him has a lawyer and says he'll take House Arrest's case at a discount. I think I can get him a lawyer for cheap or maybe even free. Guess we'll find out tomorrow if I'm right. House Arrest's dad refuses to pay for a lawyer, saying a) he doesn't have the money (which is probably true) and b) House Arrest made his bed; he should lie in it. While there is some truth to the second point, I suspect if we all lived in Evanston House Arrest would be facing one or more misdemeanors and not four felonies for breaking into some garages.

Dorothy needs to get out of here now. Yup-yup hit her twice today, I gather. It was hard to tell. She was red eyed and mumbling. She only smelled of cigarette smoke.

"Did you use today?" I asked her pointedly.

"No, I didn't. I had one beer and some cigarettes," she said, quite clearly. She's lucid enough to figure out if she keeps staying there he will work her into debt she can't get out of. She spent all day selling drugs for him apparently because she "owes him rent" or some such baloney. It's not like he owns that house.

However, getting her out of here doesn't look like such an easy proposition at the moment. Our two best leads aren't panning out. Hmmm.....

Meanwhile the teen who ran away with a younger sibling in the car is back, I gather. Haven't laid my own eyes on that person yet. We'll see.

And tomorrow is Halloween, a day notorious for trouble. Kids start off throwing eggs and it escalates into worse. Years ago I knew a young guy who landed in the hospital with a gunshot wound from an escapade that started as egg-throwing.

Late this afternoon, I was on the Ashland bus at 49th and a gaggle of eight or ten little boys went by, including a couple of the Brady Bunch kids. It was warm this afternoon and they were mostly in short sleeves. When the light changed they crossed the intersection in a big herd, then broke out running down the sidewalk and around the corner into the alley. Half of me thought: "how fun!" and the other half thought: "what are they doing in that alley? are they safe? are they all going to grow up and become gangbangers?"

In happier news, I believe they did finally paint over the graffiti by the viaduct at 49th and Marshfield.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Recently, there's a lot of trouble on this block and the next block up. I went out Saturday night and smelled marijuana coming out of a car up the street. I knew the kids inside and didn't want to call the cops on them. I just asked them to keep an eye out for me about someone coming to pick up some stuff. I also smelled weed from a neighbor's house, but that's a pretty regular occurrence. Some of the people who live there are OK, but others aren't. In deference to the OK people and the notion of staying safe, I didn't call on them either.

As for the local teens, one got out of a mental hospital recently, another is on house arrest and a third ran away from home after leaving a very young sibling unattended in a car at midnight or so.

The last time one of the Bradys wanted help with homework was last week, and I had to say no because I was working. That happened today with somebody else.

The Souls have large graffiti all over the railroad viaduct at Marshfield and 49th. I called about it twice last week to no avail. Will have to get on the horn again tomorrow. It's not far north of where three guys were shot last week. You would think the city could make a special effort to get rid of that stuff in the wake of a shooting, but apparently that's not their priority.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Three Shot Today

...on the 4900 block of South Marshfield, less than an hour ago. Not our block, thank God, but close enough for us to hear the police helicopters, etc. Lots of people went to look. The cops cordoned off the south end of the block. I personally did not see anything--I thought I heard two shots, but then when I went out people were saying three people had been hurt and were being taken to Holy Cross Hospital. As far as I know no one is dead.

From what some of the young guys were saying, this may be the latest in the current gang wars. I think that means the LaRazas came across Ashland, but the thing I don't get is that last week's shooting was about Saints vs. LaRaza and Saints territory ends at 47th. South of 47th it's Latin Souls, and I don't know what is going on between them and LaRaza. I will have to see if any of my younger friends are willing to explain this to me.

Two young men I didn't know came walking from the east, saw the police cars everywhere and started hollering, "I just want to get high! I just want to get high!" I was standing with some other teenagers on the sidewalk and we all kind of smiled at each other, sort of a signal that those guys are crazy to be saying that stuff so close to a bunch of cops.

Sandy and Ms. Ribs took the opportunity to complain about the privacy fence and how difficult it is to see anything around it. We were also talking about the graffiti on it last week. "He's lucky they didn't burn it down," Ms. Ribs noted.

A couple of officers known in the community arrived later and one came over to talk with the young people I was with, so I got out of the way and went back in the house. I can still hear plenty of people on the street.

Big Picture Students on Fox Friday

Last Friday, Fox 32 came out to Big Picture to interview two students about the DREAM Act. Their interviews are supposed to air this Friday night at 9 p.m. I wasn't there, but I heard afterwards that it went well.

Last week, senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) reintroduced the DREAM Act as SB 2205. The bill is expected to go to a cloture vote tomorrow (that means the Senate is deciding whether to act on it this session), so today would be a really good day to call your Senator and tell him to support the DREAM Act, or, if you're from Illinois, to thank Durbin for reintroducing the measure and thank Obama for continuing to support it.

Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121. Or you can send emails through the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights web site.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cleaning up

Two quick items on cleaning up, so to speak.

Yesterday morning I woke up and spotted huge gang graffiti written on a large wooden fence at the north end of the block. I am pleasantly surprised to report that I called Graffiti Blasters at 9 a.m. and the truck was there to get rid of it a little after 1 p.m. Sadly, the overpass at 49th is also re-covered in graffiti and I haven't called it in yet. I hope someone else has.

Guest blogger 49th remains concerned about larger issues of environmental damage and passed on this story from CNN about pollution in Houston. "Hopefully the problem [here] is not as far-fetched as in the story. But if we don't do something, it might happen in our own backyard!" he warns.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yup-yup and Dorothy On My Stoop

Dorothy got a letter from DHS on Friday. I was out of town last weekend and didn't see her before I left. Since Monday I've been keeping an eye out, hoping she would come by to pick it up.

This morning the doorbell rang. "Maybe that's Dorothy," I thought. Honestly, this was the first time in a long time I was happy at the idea Dorothy might be at the door. And it was. She looked good.

"I have a letter for you," I said.

"I thought you did," she replied.

"Let me go get it."

When I came back, Yup-yup was across the street. He looked over and saw us and started coming our way. Oh, Lord, not two handouts at once, I thought to myself. Dorothy was about to ask me for bus fare, but I nodded over at Yup-yup and said quietly, "Not right now." She got it.

Yup-yup came over and started pretending like he'd been cleaning the traffic circle. "The only thing I couldn't do was pick up that sign," he said. Someone hit one of the reflecting signs and knocked it down. I couldn't believe he was trying to tell me he'd cleaned up the circle when I could look down the street in broad daylight and see the trash in there, but I didn't say anything.

"I need to call 311 about the sign," was my only response. "Maybe in a couple days things will be better," I added, obliquely referring to the state of my wallet. He got that hint.

Dorothy went down the steps and started reading her letter out on the sidewalk. Yup-yup walked right over and put his hands on her shoulders, looking over her to see what the letter said. I thought she might jump on him for touching her, but she was too intent on reading the letter. I stood at the door, watching. The last time I saw them on the block at the same time they got into a shouting match.

When her head came up, I decide to butt in, gently but proactively. "Hey, Wesley," I called out. "Could you shut my gate?"

He left her and went to pull the gate shut. She walked across the street. A gray car pulled up by the traffic circle, and Yup-yup went to talk to the driver. Meanwhile, Dorothy picked up three trash bags full of stuff (her things? not sure) and started walking toward Ashland.

I have no idea what any of that means. Did Dorothy get kicked out of her housing? [I'm not sure, but I thought she was staying with her sister.] Have she and Yup-yup made up? That might spell bad news for her efforts at recovery. Are they just on polite terms? Hard to say.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Peace March Tomorrow

At today's Peace and Education Coalition meeting Oscar Contreras announced a peace march will be held tomorrow at 4:45 p.m. at the shopping mall where Monday night's shooting occurred. The shopping mall is on the 1400 block of West 47th Street, corner of 47th and Loomis.

Today the owner of the Farmers' Best Market grocery store came to the meeting and appealed to those in attendance to shop at the store and encourage others in the community to shop there, too. After the meeting I went to check out the store. It is very nice and clean and the produce is fresh. I'm told his prices beat Food 4 Less but I didn't compare closely.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Monday's CAPS Meeting

Last night about 50 people attended the CAPS meeting for beat 931, about twice the usual turnout. The additional people were mostly from the 4700 and 4800 blocks of South Marshfield Avenue. Apparently there's been an effort to organize neighbors to get new sidewalks, street resurfacing and some action to clean up the parking lot at 48th and Marshfield. One of the families on 4800 got in touch with an organizer for the Illinois Hunger Coalition, and together they got about two dozen additional people to turn out as part of their effort around street improvements.

Alderman Willie Cochran, the new alderman in the 20th Ward, was there as well. The people from 4800 told me they had been calling all last week to get him to come. At first they were told he would be there, then at the last minute a staffer said he wouldn't make it, so they didn't press everybody to come. Then he made it after all, and they were sad they hadn't shown their full muscle. If that's what the did without really trying, I'm still impressed.

I got there late so I'm unclear what action if any will be taken about the parking lot, which is full of empty beer bottles, condoms, etc. Cochran did not make any specific promises about their block, just said there will be work done but some of it may have to wait until spring. As for the sidewalks, any sidewalks that are cracked and uneven by more than two inches are supposed to be fixed by the Department of Transportation, not the alderman's office. He told them to call 311 and his office and his people would bug Transportation for them, too.

There was also much talk about the shooting on Saturday night. A man was shot and killed at 48th and Marshfield. The shots came from the railroad viaduct. Someone at the meeting was a witness-she was a friend of the victim and had been standing with him when he was killed. She asked whether the city could put lights up on the railroad tracks to make it easier to see what's going on up there. Ald. Cochran told her that because the railroad owns the land they would have to decide to put up lights. That viaduct has been a problem for years--people go up there with guns and use it as a sniper's perch.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First Guest Post

Wow, I'm impressed by the quick response. Here's our first guest post, from 49th Street:

Regarding the blessing of the animals last Thursday, it was quite astounding to me at the presence of all the people (especially in our community) that showed up with their beautiful pets. I saw a turtle, small rooster, four parrots, about 4 kittens and about 12 dogs. Father Ed also looked intrigued since I am sure that he was not expecting all these people to show up!

One thing that I have to say regarding the BOY is that it has definitely transformed from what it was back in 1991, when i was about 13 years old and had just moved from the Little Village area. I was young and though I knew my surroundings I was taken aback at the atrocities being committed day in and day out. The only reason that my parents had picked to move to this area was because it was the only area affordable enough for my dad to purchase a not so dilapidated home; and even to this day our home is one of the ones that stands out in our block of 49th and Hermitage. Anyway, those were the days that most of our blocks were packed with various gang members representing every other block. As a youngster, although I was never initiated into a gang, I know some gang members from every other block, plus it did help not to get beat up or pressured to join one from the other. Although I knew that being part of a gang was not the right thing to do I knew not to be initiated into one because I did have my father who looked out for me too. Most of the individuals that were part of gangs back in the day did not have father figures or quite simply didn't care for their lives and other people's lives either.

Before I forget, this past Saturday from what I heard from around the neighborhood, they shot the owner of the building that sits right off 49th and Paulina, who or why nobody knows!

Guest Bloggers Wanted

This morning someone from 47th Street commented that what they read here doesn't seem like the heart of the community they know from growing up here. See our comments exchange under "Cranium on the Stoop" for more.

This got me thinking that maybe the best way to address this problem is to open up the blog to guest bloggers who've been living here longer than I have. So, if you've got something to say about Back of the Yards, email me at and I'll be happy to publish your thoughts as a guest blog.

Some things I'd like to hear about from longtime residents:
what was it like growing up here and what's the same or different now?
is gentrification coming to Back of the Yards? what do you think?
how can we make BOY safer and better for families without gentrifying?
what activities would you like to see in the parks here?
what are you hoping the new high school will be like?
anything else that's on your mind

By the way, to 49th, I missed the blessing of the animals at St. Joe's last week, but if you'd like to tell us more about it, email it to marshfieldtattler@hotmail and I'll put it up so it gets more visibility than the comments. Thanks!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cranium on the Stoop

Last night, the Brady Bunch and some of their pals wanted to learn how to play Cranium. "We have it, but we don't know how to play," one of the boys told me. I have it, too. So I pulled it off the shelf and brought it out on the front stoop.

I believe we had 10 kids playing, from age three to about age 11 or 12. I have the original Cranium, which is a pretty hard game for kids. The rules are kind of complicated--I frankly don't really understand how you're supposed to start the game, so I made up a variation and just got us going. There are four categories of questions: data head (facts and numbers); word worm (spelling and defining words); creative cat (drawing and sculpting words for others to guess); and star performer (singing and acting to convey a famous song or performer).

Unlike when I played with Danny and Junior and Oscar, two kids in this group knew who Tina Turner was. "She's the lady who sings on TV," one of the Bradys said. Their friend Brian knew who she was but couldn't think of her name. This time one of the younger boys and I sang "Proud Mary" together--he caught on fast. We shook our heads a lot to make our hair fly around.

For one 'Star Performer' question, they all had to hum "This Land Is Your Land." None of them knew the song. They learned the tune but not the words. I'll have to teach them the lyrics some other time. I was trying to post the Bruce Springsteen video on You Tube to this blog, but some glitch happened. Another day.

They liked drawing and even spelling. Our littlest team member did a pretty good job of guessing how to spell "hippopotamus" backwards. "S,U,M,P,O,P,I,H," I think she came up with. Pretty darn good for a three-year-old. Everybody learned two new vocabulary words: manicure and oxbow. "What's the new word for polishing your nails?" I asked. "Everybody say it together--one, two three!"

"Manicure!" they all yelled.

I need to start looking around for more age-appropriate games for them. I'd like to get Pictionary, Jenga and Connect Four for starters. I do see that Cranium has some new games out that might have clues that would be more relevant to them.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

More on Health and Pollution

For today's poster, who also expressed interest in what's spewing out of the stacks in the stockyards, here's a group that might be able to help us do research:
the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

I met one of their organizers last winter when a group of maybe 50 people were outside EPA's local headquarters protesting.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Health Report

So, a week ago today I biked over to the post office near 43rd and Halsted to pick up a package. On the way home, I decided to bike through the Union Stockyards, once the core of this neighborhood. It's now an industrial park that employs a fair number of neighborhood folks--you can see them in the Dunkin Donuts at 45th and Ashland picking up coffee at 6:45, before their 7 a.m. shifts start. But the industrial park is far from the employment colossus that the stockyards once were.

When I first moved here, I biked through the stockyards quite often to get to work downtown. Riding at off-shift hours, I usually didn't hit much traffic and it was pleasant to bike through so much open space in the middle of the city. But when I mysteriously found myself saddled with three sinus infections that year, I decided I wasn't going to take a chance on biking through an industrial park any more.

If you drive along 47th Street at night between Ashland and Racine, you'll see a gigantic factory spewing white smoke into the sky. It's very Simpsons-esque. I don't know what's in that smoke but it certainly has made me wonder. I've had allergies and sinus trouble my whole life, but they have reached a new level of difficulty at times down here.

Anyway, here it is, a week after that bike ride, and last night through today I have had godawful allergies, congestion, sinus headache, etc. etc. It could be the time of year, it could be built up congestion--I had a bad headache one day in Colombia that could have been congestion-related--but somehow my gut says I really must not bike through the stockyards any more.

Anybody know anything about the pollutants factories there emit? Or how to find out that kind of thing?

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