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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Warm Welcome Home

When I stepped out of the cab in front of my house last night, it was too hot for the jacket I was wearing. Everybody was out on the sidewalk enjoying the mild air. Seems like all the buds on the trees appeared last week, as did the white tulips in Dawn's yard next door.

"Maritza! Hi, Maritza!" the Bradys shouted from the other end of the block. Big Brady Girl came up to inquire about when we will be decorating cakes.

"Let me go put my suitcase down and I'll come back out in a minute," I said. Medicine Man was inside having dinner and reading the paper. I plopped my bags on the sofa, took off the too-warm jacket, and went back out.

I didn't spend time with that sofa again for about four hours.

First it was time to play volleyball with the Brady girls, get an update on the car wash (still in progress), look at report cards and decide when we are cake decorating. Saturday May 17 is cake decorating day.

Then Junior came out with a big folder of information from Golder College Prep. Most of it was in both languages but some things were only in English. We divided them up into things his parents could read and do on their own, which went in the right pocket of the folder, and things that were only in English or they might have questions about, which went in the left pocket. He has to go take a placement test on Saturday May 31.

"How do I get there?" he asked.

"Before then, maybe I can ride up there with your folks so you can all see where it is. Then you'll know the way."

Next, Angelito from next door paid a visit. We walked around the back yard. He liked circling one of the trucks on the parking pad. After a little while, his mom appeared in her back yard next door, unwrapped a lollipop and held it out to him over the fence. "Angel, ven!" she called.

He toddled over and took the lollipop. "If it falls out of his mouth, don't let him have it back," his mom advised me. Perhaps all my warnings about our lead-infused dirt have made a dent.

Then his mom asked if I would watch him for 15 minutes while she took a bath.

Sure, I agreed, knowing well it would be a lot longer than 15 minutes before I'd see her again.

We went back out front and Dorothy was there looking for five bucks for a one-day el pass so she could go to her meeting. "I've been sick. I missed the last four days," she told me.

"I'm almost out of money myself," I told her. (Although my kind of out of money is not like her kind, I'm closer to that kind of broke than usual.) We talked some more. I got cross. So did she.

It's warm now, I thought. I can actually get my bike out of the cellar and ride it places, so maybe I don't need that last five bucks for the bus after all.

"OK," I said. "Here's my last five bucks. Get an el pass."

She broke into a smile.

I looked around and Angel was gone. "Where did he go?" I asked Dorothy.

"Out back."

"Damn!" I said, running off. Angel was in the back yard wandering around again.

Later, when it was getting dark, Dawn and her boyfriend and School Lady's oldest daughter came back from checking out an early 90s Buick on sale for $300. I have finally come up with names for School Lady's girls--since there are four, they get the Little Women names. So Meg and I started chasing Angel around.

Then the ice-cream truck showed up and we went to check it out. Meg bought Angel an icie on a stick and offered to get me something, too. I took her up on it and had a small coffee ice cream cone. She got a red water ice in a paper cone.

Meg and I had a long chat about Lincoln's Challenge, a National-Guard-sponsored program that helps high school dropouts get a GED and a shot at college. It turns out Meg quit school a few months ago to work and help her mother. But she's not getting as many hours as she thought she would at her job--she's only working two to three days a week. Someone she knows from Chavez recommended she try Lincoln's Challenge, since you get done in five months and you can join the Guard afterwards to help pay for school.

This is all great except for two things: first, there's a war on and Guard units are getting called to Iraq; second, I've met quite a few kids who've tried Lincoln's Challenge but none who actually finished it. She says she did their taste-of experience with a lot of exercises and officers yelling, and it was OK with her. She promised she would ask a lot of questions about Guard service afterwards and how likely it would be that her unit would get called up. "I wasn't planning on that," she said of serving in Iraq.

Finally, after Dawn's boyfriend left, she and I had some time to talk. It turned out she missed school on Monday and was late to work on Tuesday. She didn't go to school Tuesday because she figured she would just get yelled at, so what was the point? She also sounded pretty discouraged and seemed to think she couldn't make up her work. We talked about her credits--she never did talk to her counselor at school--but she cheered up when I said her counselor told me she was in better shape on credits than some of their seniors.

Her mom was out at the grocery store, so we talked about a lot of things. It was almost 10:30 when she got home. Dawn and I were both beginning to worry. I had called her about 10 minutes earlier. When she came in she was laden with bags and said she couldn't get to the phone because she had too many things in her hands. I think her Mother's Day gift will be a grocery cart. Maybe we can share it--I don't know where mine is and I need one sometimes, too.

I got a text message from Dawn's principal this morning saying she had made it to school today. It's the ACT part of the Prairie State exams, so it was an important day to be there. Whew.

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