Blog Archive

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Christmas Tale from Back of the Yards

This story is courtesy of the Holy Cross/IHM web site. Fr. Bruce told this story in church on Sunday but my Spanish was not good enough to understand it completely until I read it in English just now. Check this out.

A true Back of the Yards neighborhood Christmas story - The grandmother was a little overwhelmed with all the wonder of the Posadas. Her grandson had won two gifts at a raffle during some very special nights of Posadas, celebrated in the neighborhood from December 16th to the 23rd. The community walked all the streets during the evenings accompanying Mary and Joseph who were seeking a place to stay, ...a place where the light of Christ would remain. Each evening was filled with wonder and delight for hundreds of children, thanks to the help of many adults in the neighborhood. Each day was different, but on several nights donated gifts were given to hundreds of children.

The grandmother decided to hide one gift, a big truck, and give it to the four year old child on Christmas day. After all, she figured, the other gift was enough for now. But the clever four year old would have none of it and he asked what happened to the truck he had received as a gift. Staying a step ahead of him she told him that "La Llorona" had taken the gift. (The Spanish legend of La Llorona is famous in our community with several versions of a mother who lost her children in a moment of panic and now wept at night looking for them through the alleys and streets.) The grandmother explained that La Llorona would return the gift to Santa Claus on Christmas Eve "Noche Buena" to return it to him then.

The child asked why La Llorona would not return it herself beforehand. The grandmother explained that La Llorona could not cross the border any longer because she has no documents, no legal papers. So she will give it to Santa to bring because he needs no documents.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Yucky Day and More High School Applications

It's icy sleet/snowing this morning. Oldest Brady Boy stopped by early to shovel my front sidewalk. A little later I went to see his mom to fill out a couple of backup applications to Kennedy and Hancock. I decided they were probably the best of the reasonably close by schools for Alvaro.

His little brothers and sisters are all sick. They were all crashed out together in a heap on top of a long, wide but pretty thin mattress on the living room floor, covered in those big fuzzy dollar-store blankets. Seems like there's a stomach bug in the house. Ines told me she felt like throwing up.

In the corner stood their little fake Christmas tree and some bags full of presents. Brady Bughunter, who seemed less sick than the girls, was already playing with one of his--a giant transformer-style bug that you can guide with a radio control thing and make it change shapes. His baby brother is scared of it, so his mom made him quit driving it around the house.

We got everything on the forms except Oldest Brady's school ID number. He took his report card back to school and forgot to bring it home when their break started at the end of last week.

I was just interrupted by his mom. She stopped by. Her son got home but he didn't have his report card, so we called Chavez and got his ID number. I'll take the applications over to the post office early this afternoon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Magnet Madness II

Well, we got Sarah's magnet school applications done today. Her mom came over. This time I let her touch the forms herself--with the GEAP ones I was afraid of mistakes so I did it myself.

She made a mistake or two on these, but I have a white-out pen that puts precision tape over the error so it looks fine corrected.

Her mom really wants her to go to Orozco. She wants to be an involved parent, but she doesn't drive. It's a lot easier to get to Orozco from our houses than to any of the other schools on the bus--it's a straight shot up Ashland. I will say here frankly that I intend to bring Sarah to the attention of some people I know over there. It might not make any difference, but it can't hurt.

Last night when all the snow was coming down, Oldest Brady Boy and Tone-Loc were out with shovels doing good business. They asked if they could do my front steps. I said yes, but they took so long to get there I did it myself. And Joey's mom was out shoveling her snow, so we finally had time to call Casa Tepeyac. She was supposed to go over there today--hope it worked out.

Anyway, the boys saw the shoveled sidewalk and steps and kept going, but I came out and called to them as they were crossing to the next block: "Hey, wait! I want you to do my back steps and sidewalk. Plus I have stuff for you guys."

I had homemade chocolate chip cookies left over from Tony's birthday and school applications for both of them. This morning I saw Oldest Brady's mom and said we need to do one application by Friday for him to go to Kennedy, just as a backup plan in case none of the Nobles works out. "I don't want to see him at Richards," I said.

She smiled in recognition. I'm glad I don't have to worry about Peter Pan, although I'll probably go ask if he applied to the Nobles. Even though he has sibling preference (a guaranteed seat) at Perspectives, he was interested in Noble and Oldest Brady Boy is his good buddy. It's stricter, too, which might actually be good for him.

Crossing the Digital Divide

Picasso called me about 1 o'clock this afternoon. I was in the tunnel at the Roosevelt station.

"Are you home?" he asked.

"No, but what's up?" He told me he was in the process of wiring up his new Internet, but it's 50 feet from where the jack is to his room, where he wants his computer to be, and his ethernet cable wouldn't reach that far.

"I'll try to go by Radio Shack after this meeting," I told him. The meeting ran long, but I was taking my computer to the shop--a repair place on the North Side--and they told me they could make a 50-foot ethernet cable for me. So I said yes, do it, and called Picasso back.

"Hey, the repair place can make you a cable," I told him.

"How much does it cost?"

"Hold on and I'll find out. If it's too much for you I'll make it your Christmas present." I asked the guy, who thought it was about $15.

"Oh, I can pay you back," Picasso said.

Then I remembered to ask him what he was doing home at one o'clock in the afternoon on a school day.

"It was a student development day. I went last time and it was really boring. We didn't do nothing," he told me.

"All right, you didn't miss classes, but we're going to talk about this the next time I see you. You're going tomorrow, right?"


"If I get home in time tonight, I'll call you and bring the cable over. Otherwise I'll get it to you when you get home from school tomorrow."

Picasso goes to Curie. I'll have to check in with some teacher buddies of mine there about what this student development day stuff is and why it's boring.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dawn Update

Sorry, dear readers--there's Internet trouble at Chez Maritza, which delayed this post. Here goes:

I saw Dawn's mom at the Guadalupe Mass at Holy Cross on Friday night. She came with Angel. Dawn didn't want to come because she didn't take a bath this morning?...something like that, which I didn't catch clearly. I do know she likes a long soak, especially in the winter.

I got to church really late myself, after the fun part--the dancing. Bummer! I didn't see Dawn's mom with Angelito until the sign of peace. After Mass, she asked me if I wanted to go get something to eat downstairs in the hall and I said sure. So we went down and got plates with chicken in mole, rice, a tostada and a tamal. Angel really liked the music--the marimbas were playing, and he was banging along on the table. I played a little table marimba with him, and his mom and I were cracking up watching him.

After we left, she gave me a ride home--she's got a car that works, mas o menos--and she told me a bit more about Joey and Dawn. She's working weekends now at a Food 4 Less (not the one here in our neighborhood), but she's working 11 to 7 and she doesn't like it because that leaves Joey unsupervised all weekend long. She's been trying to get him to stay with his dad but it sounded like that's not working well--I'm not sure if it's because Joey won't go or his dad is busy or some of both.

This is all leading up to the big news about Dawn. It probably won't surprise longtime readers of this blog to hear Dawn will not be staying at Big Picture. Her mom is supposed to come in to school on Monday to sign her out and work out the details of transferring her to another program. Her mom couldn't remember the name of the new school, but supposedly it has early morning and evening hours so students can work during the day. Dawn and her mother agree that she wants to work and should be working to help support the family. It sounds like Alfredo and her teachers support this because she has continued to be iffy about attendance and classwork

Of course I'm really disappointed, but since she and I have hardly been in contact--I think we have spoken less than five times since August--I don't have the right to say a danged thing about it. All I know is that Dawn's chances of ever getting a high school diploma are about to drop substantially.

Will she even show up at the new program? Is it really any good? I don't know, and at this point I also don't know if I have it in me to push much to find out. I hope she pulls a Meg and finds herself happy and working hard in her new school, but I somehow suspect the road for Dawn will take a few more twists and turns--Meg didn't get back in school right away and being out for a while and really understanding what a dead end life is without a diploma made her much more motivated to go back.

When Dawn started at Big Picture, I chose 2009 for a four-digit sequence I use all the time in honor of her graduation year. It was sort of a promise to her, and myself, that I would be there when she crossed that stage. She might cross a stage and get a diploma yet, but it won't be that one. I'll be there at Big Picture in June, crying happy tears for all the graduates, but part of me will be crying other tears for Dawn, too.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

News in Brief

A social worker from Dorothy's new home stopped by today to pick up diapers, laundry quarters and her mail, especially her Social Security card (just arrived) and a stack of letters from DHS about benefits. The social worker tells me that Dorothy has to stay for 30 days, but because "she's young" (i.e. in her 50s) they would like to help her find permanent housing elsewhere. They work with Thresholds, among other agencies. I know Thresholds and respect them.

The current residence does have meetings in the building, and Dorothy is now going to work every day. I don't know where or for what, but she's making $2 a day doing something and getting out of there. The social worker gave me her name and said she could help me find whoever ends up officially assigned to Dorothy.

This morning I ran out to the bank and on the way stopped to chat with some neighbors who sent their youngest to Perspectives Math & Science Academy. "She loves it. I love it," said her mom. That's what I like to hear.

Tony from down the street came by last night and again today. His birthday was yesterday. (Lucky fellow, he shares a birthday with Rod Blagojevich. Though I have a lot to say about that guy, I'll refrain here.) I've been working at home and cooking on the side, so he got quite a birthday meal: lentil soup with saltine crackers, baked potato, lemon pie and chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were at his special request--this is becoming an annual event. Yesterday Tony shoveled the snow off my back porch and back sidewalk. "Yup-yup got locked up," he informed me. That's why he hadn't been around to get the job.

We talked about how he spent his birthday. "I got some beer...I ain't even going to lie to you. I got a bag of weed too. As soon as I had the beer and smoked the joint, I went to sleep and didn't wake up til three o'clock today."

"I bet you're hungry now, aren't you?" I asked. (I was about to go pack him dinner to go.

"Mmmm-hmmm." We both chuckled a bit.

The best news is my new roommate, known here as the Good Elf. She hung out with me this afternoon and organized my utility closet while I made cookie dough, then scooped cookies on the baking sheets and put them in the oven while I got some work done. She already reorganized the front hall closet, washed the kitchen floor, and unclogged the first floor sink and bathtub drains. She's staying here while she looks for work and volunteers some time at Su Casa--for once, they have so many workers they don't need another one right now. But I need a housekeeper/secretary, and so far she's doing a great job.

"It looks nicer in here," Shutterbug observed to me on his way out the door this morning. I just smiled. Yeah, Good Elf!

Helping Troubled Teens (and maybe preteens, too)

Today's New York Times features a story about Florida's efforts to intervene early with families where youth and teens are acting out, but before there's a need to bring in child welfare or the criminal system.

Teens can stay in structured, temporary shelter for up to two weeks, while receiving counseling and learning about anger management and social skills. Families who call the system can also receive free or low-cost counseling and referrals even without having a child stay.

This is a bit like Casa Tepeyac/Boys and Girls Town of Chicago here in the neighborhood, but different in some important ways. The explicit goal of Florida's program is to reunite the child with his/her family and stay in the community. Casa Tepeyac is beginning to do some outreach to families here but it is in the early stages.

Which reminds me that they told me to have Joey's mom call and they would try to help her, and then I went out of town and she and I haven't said boo to each other since I got back. Hopefully I will catch her by Sunday and we can call them.

Magnet Madness

Sarah's mom just stopped by. I did some research on potential magnet schools for Sarah--ones with decent-to-excellent test scores within the six-mile limit for transportation. The four I found were, in order of reputation/test scores: Murray, Sheridan, Saucedo and Gunsaulus. Sarah's mom is most interested in Sheridan because it's the second closest, she knows about where it is off the top of her head, and it has good test scores. I managed to tell her it would be good to apply to all four of them at this point because she can always say no later if she gets it. She's getting the point that Sarah may not get into Orozco.

She is really worried about high school for Sarah. "This neighborhood isn't the greatest, and neither are the high schools," she said. "Richards isn't very good, is it?" [all quotations are very loosely translated from Spanish]

"No, it's not."

"I need to know more about high schools."

"Jones College Prep is very good. It's downtown, so it's not hard to get to. Whitney Young is another good one."

"Better than Juarez?" [Juarez is where her older kids went. At least one of them was in the top 10 percent there.]

"Yes," I told her. "All the students in these schools have to take an exam to get in, so they are all very intelligent."


"I think Sarah has the mind to go to a school like that, but I'm afraid if she stays where she is they won't prepare her well enough to go there."

"Yes! I want her to be well prepared, and I don't think they are giving her enough homework." [She used a word I didn't recognize here--often people say tarea/chores for homework, but homework or assignments or challenging stuff do seemed to be the point from the context].

So I only have two Options applications in the house and no printer. I'm going downtown tomorrow and will run off some more copies of the form. We'll fill them out over the weekend and get them in the mail Monday. Applications must be postmarked by Friday December 19.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dorothy in the Witch's Castle

I went to see Dorothy at the nursing home today. It's the Witch's Castle all right--she's not even allowed to go outside for the first ten days. Today was day 3. And it's not a place you want to spend much time inside. The first floor lobby is full of dirty, smelly, mostly men sitting around arguing and watching TV. Not many of these people are old--just worn down by life, on SSI, with no other place to go.

Dorothy pointed out a few people in the throng she's made friends with already--to her credit, they generally seemed to be among the saner and more solid citizens in the joint. She also pointed out a security guard--a tall, thin man in a uniform joking around with a couple of residents--saying, "That's security," with more than a hint of disgust in her voice.

"People are getting high in here," Dorothy told me while we waited for the elevator. A seriously crazy guy came up to her and whispered something in her ear. She turned him down forcefully; it was a request for either money or sexual favors, I'm not sure which.

There are two elevators. One of them is broken. Fourteen of us piled in the one that works when it eventually made its appearance. The crowd got ugly when the fifteenth guy tried to get in, blocked the door, but wouldn't get out. He finally left. I got a spot against the back wall and kept my hands in my coat to deter pickpockets. It smelled. I was glad I had a very big coat on because I was more worried somebody would try to cop a feel in the elevator than I was about getting something stolen.

Dorothy is on the fifth floor. It doesn't look so bad up there--pretty traditional nursing home, usually two to a room. (She told me some are three.) The floor was shiny and there was an attendant at the station by the day room where people can watch TV. Dorothy's roommate seemed pretty well-put-together; she was neatly groomed, had clearly showered that day and was reading the Bible when we got there. The room was clean, orderly and nicely decorated with plastic flowers and such. Dorothy introduced me as her sister-in-law and her roommate said, "If I'd known she was having family come I would have made the bed." I told her next time we'd give her advance notice.

Dorothy had many complaints. First off, nobody told her where she was being taken when she left the treatment center. Supposedly this is a temporary placement while they try to find her a spot in a long-term recovery home, but who knows how long that will take. One of the aides who gives her her meds follows her medication schedule; the other one doesn't. They are supposed to be keeping her meds in strict confidence since some of them are for HIV, but they aren't doing that. They have them out in public and they talk to her in public about them. She says she saw a woman argue with staff and the staff gave her tranquilizers against her will just to shut her up. That seemed pretty plausible just from spending half an hour in there.

The attendant at the front desk on Dorothy's floor did a double-take when she saw me and heard Dorothy explaining to me how the women's shower doesn't work, so both the men and the women use the same tub and shower station on her floor, which means the guys are walking in while the women are taking showers. I walked us away discreetly before she had time to really freak out about me being there.

We stood in the back stairwell so I could ask her how she likes her roommate. Dorothy does like her. Then the same crazy guy from down on the first floor came down the stairs and started bugging Dorothy for 75 cents. "You don't know me! How come you asking for money?" she said to him. This started an argument that I was afraid might turn physical, until Dorothy said, "Besides, I don't have any!"

"Oh, OK," said the guy. He turned away and walked downstairs. A woman had joined us in the stairwell; she and Dorothy marveled over the looney tunes they were having to deal with in this joint. Clearly the other woman was pretty new, too. "I can't wait until my daughter gets me out of here," she said.

I got the numbers for her probation officer and her counselor back at drug treatment and promised her I would call them Monday to find out what is going on. I'll probably call the social worker in the building there, too, just to let someone on staff know someone is looking out for Dorothy. I also promised I would call her every day until the 10 days are up and she can get the heck out of there during the day. They don't have meetings in the building either, so she can't even go to a meeting for 10 days. That's crazy!!

Dorothy insisted on walking me down the stairs when it was time for me to go. "No way am I letting you walk down these stairs by yourself," she said.

She had just told me she doesn't walk up the stairs; I didn't want her waiting for the elevator again. "Girl, don't you know I used to do karate?" I told her. We both started laughing.

"Karate, judo, I don't care, I'm walking you down these stairs," she said. When we got back to the front desk, we said good-bye and she nagged me. "Put on your hat-it's cold outside."

"Yes ma'am," I said. When she gets out of there, I'm going to name the place, but not before. I looked it up on line before I went and it seemed like it wouldn't be too bad. Guess I was wrong.

P.S. On the bus after I left, I was trying to think of the reading from The Velveteen Rabbit my sister had me read at her wedding. It seemed rather appropriate to the circumstances. You can see it here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Dorothy's Trapped!

Far from being in A Safe Haven on the far North Side, Dorothy is stuck in a nursing home "right here!" Well, not right here--it's south of here--but it's not far enough away to be a real change of life for her. And it's a nursing home, which she made clear she does not want, and apparently they took all her money for expenses and left her with $30. And they don't give her adult diapers.

I will be going down to where she is tomorrow to give her some of her diaper stash. I know she doesn't want to be there, but we'll have to see what else is possible. I'm afraid she'd rather go back on the streets than live the way she is now. It could very well come to the point where she breaks the rules just to get herself thrown out, but then ends up using again.

Personally, I'd be delighted if she stayed locked up in the nursing home and quit trying to call me collect. I had a bunch of collect call messages on my voice mail and couldn't figure out why until one call came in when I had the phone on. The guy on the line assured me it would be about six bucks for six minutes (one of the automated ones said $14! No way!!), so I took it to get her number and address. I told her not to call me again because I won't pay for it. I'll call her before I go out there tomorrow.

Oy veh. Somebody remind me why I let myself get mixed up in this stuff? Oh, yeah, as the real Dorothy said, there's no distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Sometimes that is seriously hard to remember.

Orozco or Bust

Well, its Orozco or bust for Sarah next door. If you click on the link, you'll see why--parents like it and they have good test scores. As they should, since they are a bilingual gifted center as well as a neighborhood school.

Her mother came over earlier this week to get help filling out the GEAP application. I was trying to persuade her to look at some schools besides Orozco, but the other bilingual gifted centers are on the North Side and beyond the six-mile zone in which CPS will provide bus service.

Elementary school applications are a whole new world for me. I've always been more on top of high schools: which ones are good, how you apply, these days who I know that I can talk to about particular kids, etc. To help Sarah's mom, I called a friend of mine in Chicago Lawn who has been through the drill a couple of times. The first gifted program she had her son in was fine in the early grades, but she heard they hadn't worked out the upper elementary part so well, so she applied to Lenart and moved her child between kindergarten and first grade a while back. It's a long drive for them but they do it.

Sarah's mom was not interested in a long drive. Between the work schedules of everyone in the house, driving Sarah back and forth to school does not seem to be a very realistic option, though they do have a functioning car. Her approach is to just be determined and apply every year from now through 7th grade. She is open to some magnet school options in Pilsen and Little Village, so I hope to persuade her to send in a few more applications between now and the December 19 deadline.

In a way, I'm kind of glad her mother doesn't read English. She was spared the sight of these contradictory and somewhat confusing "Tips for Applying to Options for Knowledge Schools."

Tip #1: Do not apply to just one or two schools! Apply to as many schools as you would be happy to have your child attend.

Tip #2: Don not submit applications to schools that you would not want to have your child attend. If a school is too far from your home...then do not apply to that school.

Since we're not especially close to anything but Orozco, it would seem Tip 2 outweighs Tip 1.

A few years ago, IFF put out a report on the areas of the city with the greatest need for better-performing elmentary schools. New City (which includes Back of the Yards) ranked 23 of the top 25 neediest areas. South Shore ranked number 1. If we're only 23rd highest in need, I really feel for those South Shore people.

A few years ago

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dorothy's Night Plan

Well, after chilling with Dorothy for a while, she came up with a plan for how to get off the street tonight without staying at my house. We went to Mrs. Ribs' house and they loaned me $10, which I'll pay back tomorrow. Dorothy knows somebody on Hermitage who rents space for a night for $10, so she's going over there.

There was just one minor hitch. Cops. When we went out to cross the street and talk to Mrs. Ribs, there was a police car at the end of the block, in front of the house where she had left her stuff (where all the drama had been going on earlier). But after a bit of watching, both of us concluded they were probably after some young kids (hope not any I know--I couldn't see well and didn't want to stare) and not searching the house where her stuff was.

We went back in the house and waited a little while, then I went out and looked down the street. The coast was clear. I wished her luck, walked her out and locked the gate behind her.

Oldest Brady Boy's High School Applications

Here are some excerpts from Oldest Brady Boy's drafts of his applications for the Noble Network schools.

For the teacher who helped him, he wrote about his social studies teacher, who had him stay after school when he failed the Constitution test on the first try. She worked with him after school to make sure he knew what he needed to know, and on the second try, he passed. "Today I feel confident because I have a good teacher I can trust. She helps me on things that I don't know."

His best one was about how Peter Pan helped him learn how to be a goalie on their soccer team at Davis Square Park. I can't quote from his draft because it was so good he didn't have to rewrite it much, so I don't have the copy any more.

At first, Oldest Brady hated playing goalie because he didn't know how to do it. He would cry when the other team scored on him. Peter Pan showed him how to block, how to throw the ball back out to get it away from the goal after an attempt, and told him that the goalie is the most important person on the team, so he should be proud to play the position. They won their division last year and made it to the finals this year.

And my fans from the Museum of Science and Industry would probably like to know that he wrote about our trip to the museum in his third essay, which was about somebody in the community who has helped him out. It's a little weird proofreading an essay about yourself, but whatever it takes to get this kid into high school, right? My favorite part of this essay was his honest confession, "When I needed help filling out my applications for high schools, she was the one who helped me. I'm really happy because I got that over with."

Chilling with Dorothy

Dorothy is stuck for a place to stay this weekend. She's shifting from the place where she did her 28-day program to a longer-term facility, but somehow there's no place for her to stay this weekend. She explained this to me in a big rush and I'm not sure I understood it really well. She called me yesterday when I was on the Red Line at 47th to say she needed someone to vouch for her that she could pay some guy $10 to stay in his shop for the night. I got on the phone and told him I was good for it.

She came by this afternoon. It's on the line between rain and snow today, really ugly weather. I gave her a cup of tea and the ten bucks to pay back the guy who gave her a place to stay last night. She just came back now because she thought she had worked something out with a widowed neighbor, but his daughter showed up and she's having a freakage, so Dorothy just got the heck out of there.

She washed up and helped me fold up some laundry that was sitting in the soon-to-be-no-longer spare room. Now we're just chilling until she decides to bust a move or I decide I'm going to bed. It's cold and nasty and there's no point being outside any longer than absolutely necessary. Some friends of mine who are Tattler fans may enjoy knowing I showed her the cleverly designed program from the wedding I attended yesterday. Dorothy spent a while looking at it. "That's real pretty," she said.

Dorothy is telling me about her life. She grew up around 53rd and Bishop, next to oldest of her father's six kids, oldest of her mother's. (Her father had at least one before he met her mother, she says. Sometimes it's hard to understand her, so I hope I got that right.) She went to Libby Elementary. Her dad wanted her and her siblings to learn to play instruments--she started to learn flute, her little brother played drums. But then her dad couldn't stand listening to them practice in the house, so that was the end of that. Dorothy says her uncle played guitar. We're listening to some Paraguayan guitar music now. Of her siblings, it sounds like two sisters made out all right--"they act like white girls now, spending money," she said. One brother was overseas (I don't know if that meant military service or something else)--she doesn't know if he's back or not. Another brother is locked up for 66 years, I don't know for what. I think the third brother may be around and working, I'm not sure. She has a half sister but doesn't know what's up with her.

Earlier today she told me she's known Yup-yup for 24 years. "When I met him, he wasn't like he is now," she said. I guess not.

She's worried about what she'll look like in the morning. She doesn't want to get put back into detox. "I'm trying not to look like I've been running the streets, because they'll think I've been getting high," she said. Them streets stress you out. Your eyes get red because you ain't had no sleep." She was outside all day today, walking around with no place to go. Even with a crash pad, she says she only got about four hours of sleep last night. I think she did get a nap before things got crazy wherever she thought she was staying.

I actually broke down and asked if she wanted to spend the night, but she turned me down. "Honestly, I don't feel comfortable sleeping here, because if I did people would talk about you," she said.

I swore I would never make that offer. Honestly, I know of someone who got killed offering homeless women a place to stay at night, so I don't want to go there. But I know she's going to have a place to stay as of tomorrow morning, and if she spends all night on the street that's a big temptation to use. I'm really glad she turned down my offer herself. I guess chilling with Dorothy for a while this evening is the best compromise we could come up with. She's putting her hat on. Maybe it's time to get going.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Zen of Trash Pickup

This morning I got up early and looked outside. There was a large shattered bottle of Olde English 800 all over the curb at the edge of my house, plus an unbroken beer bottle lying a few feet away. It seemed like it was time to pick up trash. I grabbed a bag, put on a jacket and went out.

Since it got cold there's a lot less trash on the street. In some ways, that makes it more enticing to pick up, because it seems less fruitless a task. Still, the only way to approach picking up trash around here is with the same mentality of a Zen monk making a sand mandala--you have to remember it's about impermanence. The result just won't last very long.

The process of picking up trash is exactly the opposite process of making a sand mandala--instead of putting together something elaborate, you're taking away as much as you can to reveal what's underneath. It's shocking how calming it is to see a few dozen yards of bare ground after picking up chip bags, broken glass, sticks, plastic cups, trial size Scope bottles (somebody was hurting for a high), flyers and circulars, old McDonald's coffee cups, and even what appeared to be a frozen pork chop. OK, I didn't actually pick that up--I kicked it like a hockey puck into the alley next to a dumpster and called it good enough.

And of course, once I was done picking up trash along the block, I went back in the house for a bit, came back out and found a gum wrapper had already blown into the patch I cleared between my house and the corner. I picked it up and headed for the dumpster, decided I wanted things to stay pristine just a few minutes longer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

This has almost nothing to do with the neighborhood, but I liked this blog meme I found courtesy of Harriet M. Welch over at spynotes, so I'm doing it. Things I have done are in bold type; stretching it a little is in italics:

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch (I draw now, not that it's good, but it seems fair to say it's self-taught.)
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight

22. Hitch hiked (have been with people who picked up hitchers)
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run (in softball)
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing (indoors only)
40. Seen Michelangelo's David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant

44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted (sketched)
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling

52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie (do student films count?)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business (does self-employed count?)
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies

62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma

65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar

72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club

93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day.

Martial Arts at St. Joseph's

Well, after talking about doing this for months, Junior's little brother and I went over to St. Joe's to check out the martial arts class offered there by the U.N.I.O.N. Impact Center. Junior's bro was among the oldest in the class, and he's about nine years old. There were some teeny-weenies there, maybe three or four year olds. They had a hard time sitting still for meditation.

JB (I'm going to call him that from now on--I've had trouble coming up with a psuedonym for him, so that will do) paid attention, sat still during opening prayer and meditation, and tried hard to keep up with the roundhouse kicks, jabs and crosses. He even struggled his way through a set of pushups. JB is a little on the heavy side and I don't think he gets too much opportunity for exercise, but you could see he really wants to do this.

We showed up in the middle of a six-week cycle, so he was at a disadvantage trying to learn everything at once. Next week the instructor says they will practice striking into pads (so far they're just throwing into imaginary targets).

I used to study karate, so watching the class got me fired up to practice a little with JB between classes. He's going to need to do it more than once a week to get anywhere. I just made a resolve to fight the battle of the bulge this winter, mostly through my downtown yuppie gym where I can swim, but maybe a little with JB, too. We'll see where this goes.

A Visit to Rehab

Last week the one thing I was able to do was visit Dorothy at her rehab program. The program she was in has visiting hours every other Thursday. I arrived to find nearly a couple hundred people sitting on folding chairs with some old white guy up front yammering on about interventions and how they often don't work. I did listen, and some of it was interesting, but I couldn't figure out why they would have someone try to give a lecture when friends and family are seeing someone they're not allowed to see very often.

When that was over, Dorothy and I talked for a while. She told me she's tried to quit "about 15 times" and she never made it past detox before. She introduced me to some of her buddies from rehab and we watched one of them with her family, including a little toddler nephew who was making us all laugh and flashing his big smile. The dad of one of them brought candy for the whole floor at Halloween, making himself very popular.

She will be changing residence soon-she may have done it already--she's moving from one program to another. Last week she told me she has eight hours off tomorrow. She's planning to visit Ms. Ribs, who promised her a plate of turkey, etc. I'm not supposed to be anywhere until later in the afternoon, so I told her to knock on my door, too. I have leftover Halloween candy I'd be happy to send back with her. It beats buying cigarettes.

Pre-Thanksgiving Update

Well, Marshfield Avenue had to get along without me for a week while I was out of town on business. Since I got back I've been scrambling to keep up on the work and home fronts (meaning housecleaning, and failing miserably), so community relations haven't been the highest priority.

But of course, when you make friends, they show up whether you wanted them to or not. So last night Junior and his little brother, plus Oldest Brady Boy, two of his sisters and his mom, all arrived on the doorstep within 15 minutes of each other. Junior needed help understanding the difference between to/two/too, your/you're and their/they're/there, which is something I have spent more than my share of time teaching people, so I couldn't say no when he asked for help. Even though the Bradys had already come by earlier asking me to help them with high school applications for Oldest Brady Boy. He's interested in the Noble Network schools, especially Rauner, since his cousins go there. I hear the Nobles will be opening three new schools next year, which will be the easiest to get into since there won't be siblings getting preference, but I don't know how to get those applications. Yet.

Oldest Brady Boy has his hands full this Thanksgiving--he has to write three 150-word essays, one for each of the Nobles for which he does have applications. Rauner asks him to talk about a teacher who has helped him succeed. The others ask about a friend (peer) or someone in the community who has helped you succeed.

Brady Mom is the first mom I've talked with who was really open about being uncomfortable writing much. She said she read the parent handbook in Spanish, but while filling out the application she was talking about how she doesn't write much and how happy she is her son can write more than she can. She did fine, though. The application was in English only, so I didn't expect she would be able to figure out how to fill it out without some explanation.

Meanwhile, Junior got his latest progress report yesterday from Golder. He has As and Bs in everything but--you guessed it--civics and physics, where he has Ds. I think he needs more help in both those subjects than he is getting. I need to email his civics teacher now to see if she has any ideas.

Supposedly Picasso, Junior and his brother are coming over tonight to make chocolate chip cookies with me. For the occasion, I just washed the kitchen floor for the first time in over a month. Let's just say I was a little embarrassed to have Brady Mom in here yesterday, but it was all fine in the end.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dorothy Called

...from Stroger Hospital. She was taken in Sunday. She had been off her medications and when she went back on them she had a strong reaction, including severe diarrhea. They are working to adjust her medicine so it helps without hurting her. She hopes to be back in drug treatment by Wednesday.

She got the things I dropped off last week. I didn't have the heart to get on her case for hanging out with Yup-yup over the phone, but I did write about it in the letter I sent her this afternoon. At least I think I did. If not I'll have to get on her about it when I go visit in a couple of weeks.

Also tonight, Picasso and Junior came over. Junior had an essay for civics. He had to take a position on the question of whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to have an "early voting permit" if they can pass a civics test. His opinion was yes, they should. Picasso paid attention even though it wasn't his homework assignment. I was glad. He read my Newsweek, too, and was cracking up at the scale they have of egregious things famous people do, which ranges from "mildly tacky" to "utterly shameless."

"So there's no good ones, right?" he said.

"That's right. They all suck," I said, drawing a laugh for my moderately bad language.

Picasso helped Junior come up with some opposing arguments to his position and we talked about how to refute them. Picasso turned in his personal narrative today, so he doesn't know yet how he did on it. I hope it comes out well. It drove me nuts when I saw his English class (Multicultural Lit or whatever they call it) was his worst grade at progress reports. He's way too smart to be getting anything below a B in an English class.

I got in touch with his teacher by email, who wondered how well he understands things, because he is very quiet in class. (He told me he doesn't like her because she has no sense of humor.) I told her that I've been working with Picasso for four years, that he is more than capable of the work, but that his life outside the classroom might be interfering with his performance. (I restrained myself from saying anything about his impression of her, since that's not going to get us anywhere.) Picasso wants to pull up his grade, so we'll see if he does what he needs to do. I intend to stay on him about it. Hopefully he'll keep hanging out with Junior, which will get him over here somewhat regularly. I was really pleased to see he paid attention even though it wasn't his homework assignment. Hopefully he learned something.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Heard on the Curb

Just a quick anecdote from yesterday--I was downtown, walking eastbound on Jackson just past the river, when one of those earnest young people soliciting for a cause tried to get my attention.

She was very well-trained: looked me in the eye, put her body right in my path, and said, "May I tell you how you can be a hero to a child today?"

I looked right back at her and said, "I'm sorry, today I have to be a hero to a crack-addicted prostitute, and that's all I have time for."

Her eyes widened. "What do you for a living?" I heard her ask over my shoulder as I kept on walking.

The extra-special irony is I wasn't kidding. I was on my way to the grocery store to get diapers for Dorothy. With luck I'll be able to drop them off later today.

I also want to get in touch with her social worker. The other day I ran into Yup-yup, who asked if she had found me. "I just put her on the bus," he said. She will never get clean if she keeps hanging out with him.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

From Grant Park to Marshfield Avenue

So I have to take a minute to report on the doings in Grant Park tonight. I saw the tall gangly speck of Barack Obama and the shorter, eager speck of Joe Biden waving to the crowd with their wives after the acceptance speech was over. They had the giant TVs, which is how I saw the speech.

CNN got shots of some local Chicago heroes, like Oprah and Jesse Jackson. I'm sure there will be pictures of Jesse with tears on his cheeks all over the place tomorrow. I saw some people I knew as they panned the crowd: Ald. Rick Munoz (22nd Ward), Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, Jack Wuest, director of the Alternative Schools Network and his wife, Maria Whalen, from Voices for Illinois Children.

Connie's Pizza had the concession. They must have made a mint. South Side in da house!

After it was all over I ran into a friend I haven't seen for a long while. She's an African-American lesbian who works for a major news outlet. She put down her notepad long enough to share a big victory hug with me. "If you'd asked me five years ago, even two years ago, I would have said no way," she reflected. It made my night to run into her.

I will give Da Mare props for the speed and efficiency of getting the crowd out of there and for running plenty of trains and buses. At the Ashland Orange Line I lucked out and caught the southbound bus as it was waiting for the light to change. I talked with my seatmate, a nice younger woman who had a ticket to Grant Park but gave it up because she had to work.

When I got off the bus and walked to the corner, Yup-yup was standing around. "Hey," he said.

"Hey," I said back. "O-ba-ma!"

"O-ba-ma," he said back. We met up at the traffic circle. He gave me the fist bump and said, "Tonight, we made history." I hugged him. With Obama in office, just about anything is possible.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"That's all it takes to stay clean"

Another letter from Dorothy arrived today; hand-delivered this time and bearing excellent news. Here it is. This time I've trimmed and cleaned it up a little to keep it on point:

Dear Maritza,

Hi. I been locked up since August 15, my probation judge release me to [large well-known local drug treatment program] for 120 days, I got 28 more days but I like it and I am going to stay here and do 90 more day for recovery. I will be finished February 15. They told me that when I get out I will be on S.S.I. and have my own apartment. So any way how have you been? I miss you so much. Now I got a doctor's appointment today, so I got permission to drop this letter off to you just in case I don't see you. I am doing real good, Maritza. You will be so proud of me. I am. And my probation officer said he is, too.

They are giving me four hours to get back. That's why I decided to write this, in case you were not at home. I can't stick around to see you, hope you understand. I need this treatment. And I need you to support me, please. I can't do it without you. This is the last time I am going to try. So if you're not there to support me I give up. Anyway, here's how to write me. [gives address and phone numbers of case managers] Please write.

[She has a list of things she needs while in treatment: personal items like shampoo and deodorant, clothes, diapers, quarters for laundry. ] Ask Ms. Ribs if she could help. Now is the time. This is what you been trying to do for me all this time. Now I am doing it, please don't leave me hanging. I told them you will not let me down. If I got any mail, please mail it. Thank you so much Maritza. You be surprised how all this girls got so much help from home and support. That's all it takes to stay clean.

I love you and miss you. Keep this paper that is signed by my counselor. She wants to meet you. [She explains what to do if I come to visit.] If not, still write to me. Keep me in your prayers. When you write I will write back and tell you all about this place and my treatment and the social worker. I told everybody that you were my best friend and my only. So they said you need to know everything I am doing and what's going on with my program and health. Anyway, I know you got me. Take care.

The list of items is OKd by her counselor's signature and there were a batch of phone numbers for her and for Dorothy's case manager. I left messages. Will let you know when I know more. Wow.

A Safe Halloween for Back of the Yards

These are some photos from St. Joseph's Halloween event, co-sponsored by the church youth group and U.N.I.O.N. Impact Center. I'm happy to report that Halloween in the neighborhood this year was a safe and fun experience for the kids of Marshfield Avenue and beyond. We didn't make headlines this year. There were lots of police out. People still trick-or-treated.

Here on Marshfield, I rode my bike past Chavez Elementary as school was being dismissed, just in time to see hundreds of little kids (up to 4th grade) coming out in all their costumes. About an hour later, I came out of my house with my candy to find about ten neighbor kids waiting outside my front gate. After they got treats from me they went up to 47th Street, where the businesses were giving out candy and other treats. The famous one is the peanuts from El Guero supermarket.

Around 4:30, Junior and his brother and Picasso came by. They helped me unpack my fog machine and went to figure out how it worked. Picasso's mom was going to Cicero to spend time with her grandkids, and Picasso didn't want to go. I promised her he could stay with me and we would go over to St. Joe's and then back to my house for pizza.

The boys and I were hanging around when some of the girls from down the block came out in a big gaggle. They were going to the movie at Holy Cross. We agreed we would all go over together and stop in at St. Joe's on the way to see how the haunted house was coming along. (I had some candy to donate, too.) We ate pizza in the Holy Cross basement. Only two of us watched the movie--the rest of us were just talking and making jokes.

Afterwards we went back to St. Joe's since the haunted house was now running. Picasso told me his mom had called him to say she was home and he wanted to go home. I smelled a rat but didn't want to say so. "OK," I said. "I'll walk you home." I figured I could trust Junior and his little brother to stay put with the girls at the party.

So Picasso and I walked back together, and he told me he had forgotten to take his essay draft to school on Friday. "When we get back for the party, give it to me and I'll type it up and email it to your teacher," I said. He agreed. I was hoping this would keep him in the house for a few more minutes anyway. He does seem to want to improve his grade in English.

We got to his house and the lights were out. "Are you sure your mom is home?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"OK...Well, I'll call you later when we order the pizza."

I watched him go in the house, saw some lights turn on upstairs, then called Junior's mom (they live in the same building) and told her that Picasso was home and I was going back to church to get Junior and his brother.

Turns out I was right about the rat. When we were walking back, Junior told me, "Don't trick [tell on me for saying this] but Picasso left early because he wanted to throw eggs. I was going to go too, but then I couldn't find him."

"That's because I walked him home," I said. "He said he was going to come to the party." I took out my phone. "I'll call him now and tell him we're coming. Let's see if he answers."

Junior's little brother disagreed. "No, don't do that! Then he has time to come home before we get there. You won't catch him that way."

I explained that I didn't really care about "catching him," I just wanted him to be safe and that if he had gone out and this would convince him to come back, that was fine with me. Picasso did answer the phone right away and seemed fine with the news we were on our way back.

When we arrived, I sent Junior and his brother home for a few minutes so I could straighten up. The girls from down the block were coming, too. Before I went in the house, I saw Joey and his dad talking next door. His dad was dressed up to go out: black cowboy hat, black cowboy suit, boots. He was going to Cicero for a party and was trying to persuade his son to join him. Joey wanted to go out with another boy on the block here. I don't know that kid as well but I hear he's trouble. It looked like Joey's dad was going to weasel out with some "be careful, son" comment but not do anything to prevent him taking off.

So I stuck my nosy neighbor nose smack in the middle of their chat. I took Dad aside and said, "Look, Halloween is a very dangerous night. Kids think they're going to out to throw eggs and they get shot by gangbangers. When I was teaching I had a student land in the hospital on Halloween with a gunshot wound. I'm going to have a party right here at the house. Tell Joey he has go with you or stay here with me. He's not listening to his mother but he still has some respect for you."

"There are a lot of police out," he said uncertainly. I didn't say what I was thinking--that makes it all the more likely your son will get picked up off the street and you'll be spending the night getting him out of jail.

Eventually Dad got the point and was a little more insistent with Joey. "You don't want to end up like your brother," I could hear him say in Spanish. Fortunately, I had the five plywood boards down in the basement, ready for tagging. That got Joey's attention. He and I went down to the basement and put two of them in the back yard, one for him and one for Picasso. We called Picasso and told him to come over with his spray cans. I ordered pizza. The rest of the kids showed up.

The girls ate pizza and chatted. We talked about how great it would have been if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had run as president and vice-president. (A couple of the girls were really into that idea.) Junior and his brother tried to work the used laptop their dad just got from somebody. Alas, they didn't succeed. The laptop was password protected and somehow they didn't get the right username and password written down. Joey and Picasso sprayed away on the boards out back. Some of the little kids who came with their big sisters went out to watch. When the pizza came, everyone ate. Then the older kids squished themselves together on my couch to watch YouTube videos while the younger kids drew pictures and played with my yoga ball.

At one point, Joey's dad called my cell phone to check on him. Yay!

Near the end of the night, some of the tweens wanted to figure out how the fog machine worked. Earlier Junior and Picasso briefly got it close, but they put in too much water. This time I was paying very close attention and put in the water myself, and the fog started coming out. It looked great, especially with the lights off. We called everybody down to see it. Then it was time to call it a night, about 11 p.m.

The best part was seeing Picasso and Joey go home afterwards. No eggs on the street. Nobody in jail. At least for one night. It's especially good when that one night is Halloween.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cooper's Hawk on Marshfield Avenue

This photo was taken on the 4900 block of South Marshfield less than an hour ago.

I was walking home from church and checking my phone for some reason when I heard the thump of something hitting the ground. I put away the phone and looked up to see a dead pigeon on the sidewalk under a tree. Seconds later, the bird of prey you see above swooped down and stood on it possessively. While watching, I had no idea what kind of bird it was. I just started looking around on line and now think this bird is a Cooper's hawk.

Whoda thunk Wild Kingdom would make it to Marshfield Avenue? A van pulled up and double-parked. I walked around the van and when I looked back, the birds weren't on the sidewalk anymore. The hawk had taken the pigeon over into a neighbor's yard. It started pecking at the pigeon, sending feathers flying every which way. I went home to see if I could find any young friends with whom to share the sight.

Just as I was getting home I saw Oldest Brady Boy and Brady Bughunter coming out of their house. I called to them to come see the birds and we ran up the street. They were pretty impressed. Oldest Brady had the finals of his indoor soccer season at Davis Square Park this afternoon, so he was in uniform. His mom and other brother caught up to us and we all watched the bird eat.

"Aguilar?" Mom Brady asked. "Eagle?"

Neither Oldest Brady nor I knew the word for hawk in Spanish. If any of you recognize the bird in this photo, let me know. I'd like to know what it is.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Final Halloween Plan

Well, after talking with Junior, Picasso and Oldest Brady Boy, here's the plan. I will be here passing out candy until 5 p.m. tomorrow. Then I'll take my fog machine and whatever kids want to go with me over to St. Joe's and hang out at their party. Then we'll come back and have a small party (I devoutly hope!) in the basement here. I told those guys they can have up to 10 people but not more than that. We will see if that works out.

A few other highlights from today: School Lady came past my house tonight with Meg and Beth and their baby cousin in tow. They told me that Jo, the one at Kennedy, earned $250 toward college at progress reports for her grades. They were all smiles about this. Meg said she is doing well at Lozano Alternative High School, too. "For once school is going well," she said.

Picasso finally gave me his schedule at Curie with his teachers' names. He's getting As and Bs in everything except Survey Literature, his English class. He's not real happy with his teacher. "She takes everything literally. She can't take a joke," he said. But he wrote a good first draft of his personal narrative. It's about his older brother's death, the funeral, and the impact all of this is having on him so far. It's been less than a month since it happened. I was impressed he could write about it so soon afterwards. I wrote a lot about my dad right after he died, but nothing about the immediate events like the funeral. That would have been way too hard for me.

I called a friend in the Curie English department and she has promised to put me in touch with Picasso's English teacher. I don't know any of his teachers personally and I really want to find one who will keep an eye on Picasso, maybe help him find good things to do at school, and let me know when he needs some outside backup.

I had a long talk with Alicia from up the street, whom I hadn't seen in way, way too long. Then I went and talked to her mother, which was even more interesting but since it's much too late to be writing I will have to save it for another day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

November 8 Community Forum to End Violence

State Representative Esther Golar is sponsoring a community forum on ending violence Saturday, November 8 at John Hope High School, 5515 S. Lowe. The flyer says there will be pizza, snacks and giveaways.

The event is cosponsored by The Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Seventh District CAPS, U.N.I.O.N Impact Center, For Kids' Sake and UCAN.

For more information, contact Chevelle Bailey at 312-738-5913 or

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Safe Halloween Options Nearby

I just got word that St. Joseph's will have a Halloween party in the gym from 6 to 8 p.m. this Friday night, sponsored by the parish youth group. They will have a haunted house, face painting and candy for kids.

The Walgreen's at 47th and Ashland is offering free Halloween photos Friday afternoon. There's a sign on the front door. If I remember right the offer is good from noon or 1 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. I'm sure of when it ends, less sure when it starts.

Holy Cross/IHM is having a teen-oriented event. The doors will be open from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and the event runs until 11 p.m. Admission is $2 with a costume, $3 without. For more information, see the parish bulletin here.

Not sure what's happening to the haunted basement at my house idea--the guys haven't been around much and I'm working long hours this week. I may take the fog machine over to St. Joe's if we don't get it together here soon. I told Junior last night I'd call Picasso tomorrow afternoon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

High School Admissions Counseling

Yes, it's that time of year again, when the 8th graders and their parents are all trying to figure out what to do about high schools. There's a girl south of 51st who is friends with the Brady Girls and with the girl whose mom put her in Perspectives Math & Science Academy. She's her mom's oldest daughter and her mother is very concerned about what high school she attends. She's been bugging me about when we could start talking about high schools--we ran into each other at the Ashland bus at 47th--I was getting off, she was getting on--and promised we would get it together.

Today we finally did. 51st Girl, her mother and I sat on my paper-strewn sofa and talked about schools and looked them up on the Internet for admissions info. Did you know Morgan Park High School has a lottery for the kids within its attendance area? I didn't know that until today.

51st Girl is a budding actress with reading scores above the 75th percentile but math scores below the 40th. Kids like her have a tough time getting into schools with special programs that say they want kids at the 50th percentile or higher in both math and reading.

"I want her to go some place she can get in, but that will help her graduate," her mom said. "I went to a not-so-good high school myself. At least I finished. I want more for her. I want her to look beyond what's here. I want her to go to college."

So here are all the schools we thought of for her so far. The really long shots: King, Curie and Lincoln Park because they all emphasize performing arts, even though her math scores aren't good enough. Lincoln Park includes an audition in its admissions process so she'd have a chance to prove herself that way. Also Kenwood, because it's good, even though she's out of area.

The maybe not as long shots: Kennedy and Hancock. Although they are out of area, we could try. Beth from our block got into Kennedy last year off the waiting list (I called the principal and pleaded her case--one more reason I want to know how her grades are so far).

Ones I hope are solid options: Simeon and Dunbar. Simeon now requires an application and an essay for everybody.

Pretty much all the charters since they can't exclude by test score: the Nobles (most likely UIC College Prep because it's closest. Also her mom is studying for some kind of health career and 51st Girl has picked up some interest in that area), Perspectives Math & Science (because it's new and accepts citywide with no geographic preference), U of C Woodlawn even though it's almost impossible with all the kids who have preference, DuSable Leadership, even the new UNO way west on 47th.

Readers, if you have any more ideas, please comment. And if anybody knows which is harder to get into, King or Lindblom, I'd be interested to hear the scoop. I think Lindblom is still the easiest selective enrollment to get into, but 51st Girl is way more suited to King, with its emphasis on performing arts. They have an open house November 1st, which I just spotted and will have to tell her mother ASAP. It's a long shot, but hey, you might as well apply to everything possible and see what you get.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Backyard Mayhem

On Wednesday I got home around 5 p.m. and heard a lot of yelling coming from behind my house. I walked around back and found nine boys wrestling all over the backyard: Peter Pan and a bunch of his brothers (I can't keep them all straight), Joey, Picasso, Jay-Z and Oldest Brady Boy. At one point, they had Joey on the ground and were kicking him, then some of them grabbed Jay-Z by the arms and legs and swung him back and forth a few times before dropping him to the ground and pounding on him. Of course there was also the obligatory pile, when all of them just jumped on each other in a giant heap.

In my years of dealing with children and teenagers, I have learned a few tricks. The most important ones are: never freak out and don't get mad unless you can use it for effect. So I stood there and watched the scene for a few minutes, looking for an opening. "All they need is a football," I thought. "They're already having a great time tackling each other."

There was the opening. "Hey, you guys," I said. "Why don't you get a football?"

Peter Pan liked this idea. "Yeah," he said, turning to Oldest Brady Boy. "Don't you have one over in your yard? Go get it."

Oldest Brady nodded and ran off.

"Anybody want some water?" I asked. Peter Pan said yes and so did the rest of the guys. So I went in the house to get a pitcher and plastic cups, thinking I was pretty slick.

Not so fast. By the time I came back out with the water, two guys were tossing the football around and everybody else was back to killing each other. "Water break," I yelled. They broke off and came to get cups.

"Guys, how about if you make teams and play organized football?" I said. "I really don't want you busting somebody's head open back here."

"Can we play tackle?" asked one of Peter Pan's littler brothers.

"Yeah, you can," I said. "Just play fair. Don't kick each other. I have to leave. I'm going to Big Picture to help some kids apply to college." I put Peter Pan in charge of making sure all the cups got stacked on the back porch after they were done with the water.

I stayed long enough to watch and see if they started making teams. Once it looked like Peter Pan was setting them up, I split. When I came back I didn't find any corpses or puddles of blood, so I guess they made out all right. One of Peter Pan's little brothers had used a gray marker to put his name on his water cup. The same marker was used to tag my composter. I'll have to go talk to his mother.

Them That Has, Gets

I spend a lot of time thinking about the kids I know and who will make it and who may not. I would like to be surprised. I would like to pull one or two of them out of the fire they are determinedly marching toward.

Usually, though, it doesn't work that way. The ones you don't have to work real hard to reach, like Junior and his family, take a good idea and run with it. Or like the Brady Girls and their summer jobs at Radio Arte. Once they did the applications, they got accepted and I got out of the way.

I hope Beth down the block is doing OK, too, over at Kennedy. I haven't heard a peep from her since the school year started, except that one of her sisters told me she really wanted to earn that money for kids who get all A's. I haven't heard how her progress report came out. I'm really curious about that.

Meanwhile, Peter Pan's sister is flunking a couple of classes at Perspectives Math & Science Academy and the girl up on the next block missed a whole day of school over there one day when her ride didn't show. Will they get it together? Remains to be seen.

Will Picasso pull himself out of the path he's going down? This one's a toughie. Actually, he and Dawn might be sort of in similar places. Picasso hasn't been as far down the wrong road (yet) as Dawn has. Dawn's been down the road and is still trying to pull herself back up. Picasso might have enough sense not to go too far down that road, but then again he might not. And I don't know how his brother's recent death is affecting him in that regard. From what Junior's mom said today, maybe it's making him less cautious, not more so. Not good.

Meanwhile, I saw Dawn at Big Picture this week. She's doing an essay for Columbia College. She remains interested in the arts, visual and performing (theater). I told her we need to get her into at least one class at Marwen next semester before she graduates, so she can take advantage of their college and career advising services. Her GPA is a 1.9, and I'd still say the odds are not better than 50/50 that she'll graduate on time.

Then you get down a whole 'nother level and start talking about Joey and if not Peter Pan, probably some of his brothers. I think one of Peter Pan's little brothers tagged my composter the other day. I just spotted the tag this afternoon. It's in gray marker on a black plastic surface, so not easy to see, but it's there. People on the block are talking about Joey. They've definitely written him off. "He's going to be in jail, just like his brother." I've already heard people say that.

Anyway, it's pretty easy to see why them that has, gets. It's just a lot easier to help the people with enough resources and initiative to take steps on their own. If it only takes telling someone something, or maybe telling them and one or two followup steps like filling out an application with them or going to one meeting, that's not that hard. It's when they need someone to hold their hand every single day that it gets tiring.

Plus, when so many people don't know basic things like where to send their kid for high school, it's so much easier and more rewarding to help those that just need a little pointing and handholding, who is left to tackle the bigger jobs? And the people who like the bigger jobs around here are all tied up with the really big jobs, which doesn't seem to leave them much time for the Joeys or the Picassos, at least not until they drop out of school or shoot somebody.

A Happy October Surprise

Junior and his mom and I went to first quarter report card pickup and teacher conferences at Golder College Prep this afternoon. Before we left, Junior told me he was nervous. "What if I got bad grades?" he wondered aloud. "If I get bad grades my parents won't let me out for Halloween." He's hoping for an Xbox for Christmas and bad grades would really mess up his chances at that, too.

Junior's mom was teasing him about his bad case of nerves in the car. "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" she asked him, smiling. When she wasn't teasing, she told me that she's seen a very positive change in Junior since he started at Golder. "Es muy hombre," she said. "He's very manly." I see it, too--he's matured some. Most importantly, he's stayed the nice boy he was before he hit puberty. Meanwhile, Junior's mom is really worried about Picasso, Junior's buddy who is now drifting away. "He's not listening to his mother. He doesn't care about his life. All he wants is to do graffiti," she said.

Junior had told me before today that he was working hard on improving his grades. His first couple of weeks were a little rocky. He had trouble remembering where he was supposed to be when and earned a slew of demerits for tardies and things like forgetting the socks for his gym uniform. He did get busted for talking in class, which to me is more serious. His advisor told us he's stopped earning so many demerits and they even offer chances to have some of your detentions come off your record if you can go two weeks without earning any more demerits. Junior might be just about ready to do that, now that he knows how things work over there.

Once we got his notebooks organized, I hadn't heard from him in a while about homework. I was hoping that meant good news. According to his report card, it mostly did. His overall GPA is a 2.45 and his worst grade was a D- in civics. I felt bad about that because I didn't stay on top of him enough about his work. He did his assignments, his teacher said, but sometimes it was clear he didn't understand the question and other times the quality of his writing was too weak to pass the assignment. That we could have worked on, but he didn't call me and I didn't nag him. He's been good about not bothering me because he knows I'm busy, but that's a course I could actually help him out with.

Overall, however, he did much better than I was afraid he might. Academically, I've been very afraid the work would be way too challenging and he wouldn't be supported. I was pleasantly surprised tonight to see that's less the case than I expected. There are co-teachers in his math and English classes and they just created new support classes for kids with IEPs. Each class--one for math and one for reading--has fewer than 10 students. The reading teacher said he'll be checking their progress quarterly to see if they've mastered enough skills to move back into the regular class. I don't know whether Junior will always need that kind of support or not, but I wanted to press them to see if this was intended as a warehouse or if it's a real effort to help them ramp up their skills. From what I heard tonight, I think it's enough of the latter to appreciate what they're doing, though checking in regularly with them to make sure they keep pushing him still seems like a good idea.

Social studies (civics) and science (physics--they do physics first) don't have co-teachers so I'm not surprised that's where he got his worst grades. His health and PE teacher was the most strict with him of all of them. She gave me a good idea--she was saying he needs to be reading aloud every night to improve his English. His six-month-old brother needs someone to read him a bedtime story. Junior is nominated. He says he'll do it. I think we should tell his teacher after he's done it for a couple of weeks. That would be a great two-fer; I've been thinking for months about how somebody needs to be reading to Junior's baby brother regularly in both Spanish and English.

The special ed case manager told me Golder never received Junior's IEP from Chavez. At this point, they would just as soon re-evaluate him as go through the hassle of trying to track down his IEP. Junior's mom was fine with that. Based on the lack of useful information I saw in Joey's IEP, I think re-evaluating Junior would tell us much more than his existing IEP would, wherever it is. I got most of his teachers' emails and some phone numbers. He's working out a plan to stay after school regularly and get help, especially with civics and maybe with physics, too.

Interestingly, I asked Junior today while we were waiting to speak to one of his teachers which of the 8th-graders on our block would really benefit from a place like Golder. "Oldest Brady Boy," he said right away, which is what I was thinking, too. "Maybe Peter Pan, but I don't know," he said, which is also what I was thinking. Peter Pan is supposed to come over tomorrow and talk to me about what high schools to apply to.

Man I wish they had cousin preference, not just sibling preference, in these lotteries. Oldest Brady Boy really needs a good school, and some of his cousins go to another of the Noble schools,
Rauner. Junior said he was talking about going to Curie but he probably can't get in with his current grades. From what one of his sisters told me, I don't think his grades are very good. But he's a good kid and smart--he needs to be someplace where they will get him to stop playing and focus. I bet he would grow a lot at a Noble, the way Junior is.

Afterwards, we stopped at Burger King to celebrate. That was where Junior wanted to eat. His mom doesn't really like hamburgers. Maybe next time we'll go back to Ocean Buffet.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Halloween Prep Begins

So Picasso and Joey stopped by about one to take a look at the basement. They want to do a scary maze with a punishment for the people who go the wrong way (maybe a bucket of rubber spiders coated with homemade slime or something like that). When people get through, they can come upstairs and enjoy candy and cider or pop. Maybe we'll have the costume contest, too.

Joey wants to make money off this, but I'm not so concerned about that. He's sitting on the other sofa here in the living room sketching out a floorplan for the haunted house. I wonder if he's trying to cram too much into too small a space, but I guess we'll find out.

I decided I was willing to spring for a fog machine that runs on tap water and costumes for Joey and Picasso. I will also be springing for a couple of good costumes, some cheaper masks, building materials and the refreshments.

We have a few projects on the horizon:
making slime
building the maze - I'll need some help from someone handier than I am
publicity/flyers (not too much-I don't want a cast of thousands--but some is OK)
making a tape/CD of sound effects and scary music

I can't believe I'm doing this. I'll definitely need some help. Hope I get some. Oh, and I just looked on eBay--they had two boxes of three dozen plastic spiders for about 10 bucks including shipping. That seemed too good to pass up.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Halloween Preparations May Begin Saturday

I ran into Joey on the street about half an hour ago. He was on his cell phone, but when he got off we talked about Saturday. He thinks he'll be home around noontime and that his mom or dad might be able to help us bring the boards and the dropcloths back from Home Depot. He didn't know what a dropcloth was.

"Something to keep paint off places you don't want it to be. I thought we'd put the boards up against their fence," I said, pointing at my other next-door neighbors' house, "but I don't want to get paint on their fence. So we'll get something like those big blue plastic sheets and put it on the fence, then lean the boards up against it."

"Do we have to get our own cans?" he asked me.

"I can get cans, but I won't be able to get them until Monday. And if I get them, they stay at my house," I said sternly. He waved his hands at me with a "yeah, yeah, I know" expression.

He'll call Picasso and their other buddy. I saw those guys yesterday or the day before on the street and they said they'd be around on Saturday. Fortunately, Sarah's big brother has too much homework to drive us to the Notabaert Museum and I couldn't get a car from Su Casa, so the field trip with Sarah and Brady Bughunter will have to wait. Probably until November at this rate.

I've been trying to find some volunteers, especially guy volunteers, to help out with the graffiti on the boards and maybe with this haunted basement thing, too, but so far I'm out of luck. I just emailed 49 Neighbor so maybe he will have some ideas.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Safe Halloween Planned for Back of the Yards

This morning the Peace and Education Coalition of Back of the Yards announced plans for a safe Halloween in the neighborhood, one year after the murder of mother Leticia Barrera while trick-or-treating with her children.

The Chicago Police Department's 9th District will have extra officers on duty that day, and police are already warning gang members who are stopped or picked up now that a quiet Halloween this year will be very much in their best interests. "Stay home, have a pizza and watch Rambo if that's what you have to do," said Officer Tony Mejia.

The Coalition will pilot safe Halloween trick-or-treating hours this year, encouraging families and businesses to limit their trick-or-treating to the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. Flyers with this information will be distributed to local schools, churches and businesses.

The 12th Ward will host a Halloween party for families at 35th and Western from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be plenty of candy and a costume contest.

"In 1997, when we [the Coalition] started, nobody trick-or-treated," noted Sandy Traback, a Coalition co-founder and former principal of Chavez Elementary. "When people started going door-to-door it was a sign the community felt safer."

This year, noted Mike Anderer-McClelland, principal of San Miguel School, parents and students have expressed concerns about their safety if they choose to go trick-or-treating. The area around San Miguel and Hedges Elementary is very close to where Barrera was shot. At the end of the meeting two ideas had been proposed for that area: parent patrols and a Halloween party in the St. Michael's gym, but it was not clear whether either or both of these activities would be pursued.

This meeting fired me up to do the haunted basement the kids have been bugging me to do for years. And yes, I too have heard concerns about going trick-or-treating this year. I'm glad Coalition members are stepping up to address the issue.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Taking Back the Hood, One Sidewalk Square at a Time

It's been probably nearly two weeks now, but after years of begging the 4800 block of South Marshfield finally got some replacement sidewalk. No, the whole block's sidewalks weren't replaced, just the worst patches, but still, it's something. My neighbor from the CAPS meeting got two squares redone in front of his house. He and his wife and one of his sons sat out on their porch and watched the new cement dry, beaming.

They weren't just rejoicing in their hard-won victory. If you don't keep an eye on the cement, someone's likely to scratch their name, graffiti or who knows what in the pavement. That's what was going on a few houses north when I walked by. A little boy had a stick and was scratching his name or something into the wet cement.

"Hey, could you not do that?" I said quietly.

A neighbor across the street heard me and said the same thing more forcefully. "What are you doing that for! Stop that now!" he said and walked over.

The kid stopped, though he pointed out, "Someone else already wrote more in that one." Sure enough, there were things written all over another adjacent square. The three of us got to work undoing the damage. I helped the kid smooth over where he had written, while the neighbor from across the street got a stick and tried to scratch out the other writing, which was closer to dry and harder to erase completely.

When I left, the neighbor and the young boy were still fixing up the worst of it. Now when you walk by, the one square looks close to pristine. At least the other one is illegible.

Thanks to 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran for taking a small step toward fixing up the sidewalk on that block. Let's hope street repaving comes in the spring.

A Whale of a Tale

Sarah stopped by earlier this afternoon to do the parts of her homework she didn't understand. She and her niece and a Brady Girl are now sitting on the back porch with construction paper and crayons, drawing and writing notes. I was about to ask if they wanted to put stuff in the composter, but I saw Brady Girl writing, "I love my brother and sister..." and I thought that was so cute I'll save the compost veggies for later.

One piece of Sarah's homework assignment produced an unexpected giggle. She had to read a bunch of short passages on various topics and answer different kinds of questions: some reading comprehension, some word problems, etc. Yes, they had some standardized-style bubbles as part of the mix, but mostly they weren't multiple-choice questions. Clearly this is part of third grade prep for the kids' first ISAT, though.

The passage that gave us a laugh was one about blue whales. It gave the conversion that one ton equals 2000 pounds and then explained that blue whales at different ages weigh different numbers of tons. The questions were to figure out how much the whales weighed in pounds at those ages. Sarah worked on the problems while I was cooking soup. At one point, she asked a question and I came back from chopping vegetables, looked at the line that said "a mature adult weighs 190 tons" and said, "What?!?"

Sarah and I cracked up at the idea an adult human would weigh 190 tons. In fact, Sarah laughed so hard she farted, and then we both laughed some more. Later she did the multiplication to find out that the mature adult whale weighs 380,000 pounds and we both cracked up all over again.

So right now we have two groups of girls drawing out on the back porch. Some of Jay-Z's girl cousins came by earlier, then went away and came back again. They take more supervision than the Brady kids do, although they now seem to have settled down and are drawing out on the porch while my soup cooks and I blog. Sarah and her best Brady Girl buddy finished their drawings and left. They doctored the note Brady Girl started and gave it to me:

From Sarah and Brady Girl
to Maritza

I love my little brother and my friends, including you.

Down at the bottom they have picture of Sarah, her niece and Brady Girl, featuring her spiffy new hairdo--she got those little twisties on the front part of her head that look kind of spiky before they hang down. So she had little triangles on her head.

Ok, gotta go. Now I have a new load of drawings for the refrigerator.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Littlest Brady Boy Gets Baptized

I got home late this afternoon and saw blue balloons sticking up over the Bradys' fence. "Oh, yeah, the party," I thought. Earlier this week I went to the library with some of the Brady kids and they invited me to their little brother's bautizado (baptism). They didn't know the word in English (that's not something you talk about much at school).

So I parked my bike, put up my groceries, walked back up to the Walgreens (where I heard the Famsa music blaring from across the street), got a card, stuck a ten in it, went home and changed out of my sweaty bike gear, and went down to their house to say felicidades.

There were a lot more kids than grown-ups; I don't know if that is a sign that they haven't been on the block as long as some of the other people whose parties I've attended, or if I just got there at a point when fewer adults were around. It looked like people had eaten. There was plenty of carne asada left, though. I just had a little, with some salsa and some surprisingly spicy guacamole.

They did the pinata in the garage. Peter Pan and Oldest Brady Boy worked the rope and kept the kids from getting hit. Once again Peter Pan impressed me with his leadership ability. I'm glad I'm not hearing about him much in the block gossip; hope that means he is staying out of trouble. If his sister can manage not to flunk out of Perspectives Math and Science this year he would get sibling preference in their lottery and have a place to go. She's already failing two subjects, though.

Littlest Brady Boy looked quite dashing in his white suit, though he'd been playing in it long enough the knees on his pants had turned black. He kicked off the first pinata and his mom took lots of pictures of him giving it a hearty whack. They had a second pinata, which I wasn't expecting, and by then it was time for me to go.

I did manage to conduct one important piece of business at this fine event; I've hired one of the older Brady girls to come help me straighten out the paper chaos that has taken over my house. "I'm pretty organized, and I know how to alphabetize," she told me. That's enough to give her a test drive. If she's good we'll make it a regular gig. I really need an occasional secretary and I'd be happy to hire a high school student if I can find the right one.

Goldblatt's Building Reopens as Furniture Store

I don't think I've yet posted about the grand opening of a Famsa furniture store in the first floor of the former Goldblatt's building at 47th and Ashland. The Famsa chain is based in Monterrey, Mexico and has other operations in the U.S.

I first noticed it last week, and stopped in last Saturday night to see what all the fuss was about. It's certainly very pretty. I wonder if it's too pricey for people here in the neighborhood, and whether it will draw people here from other neighborhoods or not. They have appliances, furniture and some electronics--like TV and stereo equipment. They had a few laptops on display but they don't sell printers. Too bad. I would have bought one.

They play music through speakers outside the store. Last week I liked it. I just went by a while back and this time I thought it was too loud. Well, I'm not their target demographic, for sure. Loud or no, I hope the tanking economy doesn't take them under. We'll see.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Prison Letters 2: Dorothy's Dilemma

Well, I tore the living room apart this afternoon looking for something I didn't find, at least not yet. I did find Dorothy's letter, so here it is for you all to see. I am doing my best to make it understandable without altering how she wrote it too much. The letter was postmarked September 30.

Dear Maritza, my god sister,

I have been locked up since 8-15-08. I just got a stamp-envelope from the case worker to write. This time I am hurting bad. Up in here I need some help. I won't be home until Feb. 23. They want me to do 120 days on Unit 17, the drug unit, and I can come home. But I will still be on probation for two years. Or do one year at Dwight [Correctional Center] which is 61 days and one year parole. I don't know which one to do. I go back to court on this [later in October] to find out which one I'm going to take. It's up to me. I will write you after and tell you what I decided to take.

Put my ID number, Quick-Collect. I need you to send me $40.00 so I can get myself. Really I have nothing. And ask [Ms. Ribs] to send me $20.00. I will work it off. She knows I will. You both have plenty of snow for me to shovel. Oh yeah, I need both of you to Quick-Collect it to me. [Quick-Collect is a money-wiring service; I had to look this up on the IDOC web site to figure out what the heck she was talking about.]

Tell every body else I said hi and I miss them. Tell [Yup-yup] I said to be good. I am taking care of my self and I am not going back. I'm going to be O.K. I am getting my medicine and my treatment for my drug habit and my mental health. Thanks a lot. I will write soon. Send me a letter, too, O.K.

Oh yeah. Hi, how are you doing? Please put your phone number on the letter you send me because they need to call you and let you know what to do if I leave. My doctors need to talk to you. [She explains which division she is in now and her visiting days.] This is my ID number. Make sure you write it down - put it on my Quick Collect. Please don't let me down now. Thank you Maritza.

Right now I'm pretty broke and Ms. Ribs is out on the east coast working for Obama, so that Quick Collect thing ain't happening any time soon. Basically, I'm happy Dorothy is someplace where somebody is at least halfway trying to get her medications and drug treatment, even if it is Cook County Jail, with their horrific track record.

The truth is, I'm not in any big hurry to respond to this in any way. I'm probably saving some serious money not having her at my door asking for diapers, and right now that matters. Besides, "oh yeah, how are you doing?" That pretty much says it all right there.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Prison Letters I

I was in the house this afternoon and heard the hose turn on. It's too cold for water balloons, so I went out back to see what was going on. Dawn was out there washing an old beige Toyota Camry on the parking pad.

"Hey, is that your car?" I asked.

"Yeah." She got it last week. Her dad got for $300. He had actually sold it but she told him she needed transportation to her Saturday morning science class at Kelly, and he got it back and gave it to her. It's got a problem with the steering but he's fixed it up as best he could, I gather.

We talked for a little while. She is being more serious about going to school and coming home at night by 10 p.m., at least on school nights. She is thinking about going to Washburne after graduation but her GPA is too low to qualify for scholarships. I suggested she might want to do a year of regular coursework at Daley or Kennedy-King (I bet she'll place into remedial classes) but said she should talk to Alfredo.

She and her mom were going to visit Julian at Cook County Jail--today is his visiting day. They can take a letter in and hold it up to the glass for him to read, so I ran in the house and wrote a quick note.

Dear Julian,

I hope you are doing OK. I pray for you a lot. Sorry I haven't come to visit--it's hard with work. Talk to your brother Joey. I'm worried about him. I'll write again soon.

Love and God bless you,

Dorothy wrote me a letter from Cook County--I got it earlier this week. I haven't decided what to do about it, and right now it's buried in papers so I can't find it. The first thing I thought when I read it was, "I have to post this." So when I get through sorting out paper around here I'll post it for you all to read.

Windy Citizen Share