Blog Archive

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Books for Big Picture

I saw Gladys on the street this afternoon as I was coming home from the post office. She must have just been leaving school.

"Hey Maritza!" she yelled from across the street.

"Hey Gladys!" I yelled back. "Hey, I'll be at school this week. I got a donation of books for Big Picture."

She flashed a grin and pumped a fist in the air.

Dodgeball out Back

Around 7 tonight I heard some happy yelling and thumping out back. I was working but more than ready to take a break. "Maritza! Maritza!" came the yell of Oldest Brady Boy.

"Yeah?" I yelled from inside the house. I opened the back door and there were Joey, Picasso, Oldest Brady Boy and Jay-Z, playing dodgeball. "Can we play here?" Oldest Brady Boy asked.

"Yeah, sure, that's cool," I said. I left the inside back door open so I could watch them play without freezing. I have the annual change-of-season cold so I hardly set foot outdoors today.

Joey's little brother was with them. He giggled whenever somebody whaled the ball hard. They did a good job of keeping him out of harm's way. Picasso knocked him over by accident once, but he just fell in the grass and looked very surprised.

The guys played while I put water on for pasta and tried to knock out a little more work here and there. I went outside and watched the game from the back porch for a few minutes. They wanted to know if I'm having a Halloween party.

"I might have a haunted house this year," I said.

Joey remembered when that idea had come up before. "Oh yeah! Your basement is so cool," he said. (It's probably even scarier-looking now that we've had all this rain.)

"I was thinking that Saturday I would make a plan to get those boards I was talking to you guys about. Then you could draw scary stuff on them and they'd be decorations for the haunted house. You could even tag 'Trick or Treat' on them without getting busted," I said.

They laughed appreciatively at the last part. Clearly they knew about Joey's little adventure of Sunday night.

A while later I had gone back in and I heard Oldest Brady Boy yelling, "Maritza! Maritza! Call 911!" but it was clear he was not serious.

"OK, who's dying?" I said, leaning out the back door with a smile on my face.

The four of them were in a big heap, poking and tickling each other. I think Joey or Brady Boy had a grip on Picasso that was making it hard for him to breathe. "He has to whistle!" Brady Boy insisted.

"Picasso, can you breathe?" I asked, just kidding enough that they would tolerate it, just serious enough that they knew I really wanted to know. The other boys got off him and Picasso caught his breath, but not before clipping Joey on his way off Picasso's chest.

"Hey, what'd you hit me for?" Joey asked.

I just laughed at them. No, I didn't have any great heart-to-heart with Joey about what the heck is going on. Nor did I get a chance to talk to Picasso about how lucky he was it was the Sunday he spends with his dad, or he'd probably have gotten busted, too.

But I guess I'm in for the haunted house.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Joey Gets Busted

After the book fair, we took the kids home, then I took the Su Casa minivan back to pick up free leftover books. We got fewer this year than last year, just four boxes, and most of them are more high-school level and appropriateness.

With all that extra stuff, I didn't get home until maybe 7:45 or so. When I got to my block of Marshfield, Joey's mom was coming up the street. "Joey's out back and the police are there," she told me. "They told me they were eating pizza at their friends' house, but they went out here to do graffiti."

I went around the corner with her to the alley, where there were four or maybe even six police officers, some on the ground and some on the roof of a building across the alley from my house. Joey and two of his pals had climbed a pretty high fence from the alley to the building. By the time we got there the cops had them climbing back over the fence. They had found a backpack full of spray cans; don't know whose it was. The other guys with him were not from our block--one was a teeny tiny shortie. He said he was ten but he looked about eight. The cops had to change handcuffs because his wrists were small enough to wriggle out of the first pair they put on him.

After some debate about what to do with the smallest one (and some confusion about his age), the cops decided to take him in, too. One officer spoke some Spanish and explained what was going on to Joey's mom. Another officer told the kids, "We should have just left you there and let the dogs get you."

I thought Joey's mom was going to have to go get him herself, so I volunteered to go get one-day el passes for each of us. I went to the check cashing place at 47th and Western, but they were out of one-day passes. I got one three-day pass thinking she could go get him and pay for him, then I could use the pass tomorrow. Well this was a classic of not really understanding the conversation. His dad was going to pick him up, so then Antonia asked if she could borrow the pass tomorrow morning because she has to go to work. Tomorrow is when I really needed it, but I let her have it because I can just pay cash for the bus and take my bike home (it's parked downtown right now for complicated reasons).

So I sat with Joey's mom while we waited to hear what was going on. Dawn was with us for a while--like while her mother broke down crying and I gave her a hug and Dawn just stood there--but then she took the car and went out. I'm still not sure if she was going to see her dad or what. Joey's dad had to find some ID so he could take him home, so that took a while. Mom's phone doesn't work well, so she was using my phone but getting calls back on hers and then her phone would cut off. Plus as usual I wasn't really understanding what was happening.

We talked about some things but I don't know if they made any impression. She's mad at Dawn for not going to school for three days (last week? not sure) and being late. Big Picture wanted her to come to school Friday but she didn't go because she was working. (Dawn told me she's taking physics on Saturdays at Kelly to make up some science credit so she can graduate on time. We're supposed to talk later this week--we'll see if it happens. She and I aren't talking much any more.)

Mom's ready to put Joey in Boys Town/Casa Tepeyac, but Joey has said he doesn't want to go and I bet his dad would back him up about not going. I of course am completely frustrated since I saw all this coming months (more like years) ago and couldn't do a damn thing to stop the train wreck.

Finally around 10:30 Mom heard from Joey's dad that he had picked him up and Joey would stay at his house tonight. So I came home and looked at real estate listings in Rogers Park before mustering the strength to blog. Rogers Park condos look so good right now I cannot even tell you. But who'd be fool enough to buy my house? We even lost our gay guys. Dang.

Book Fair

Su Casa and half a dozen kids from Marshfield Avenue went to the Hyde Park Children's Book Fair this afternoon. We got street parking right away for three vehicles, including the 15-passenger van I was driving. A miracle! Everybody clapped for my parallel parking job. Whew!

I brought money so all the kids with me--Sarah, Jay-Z, and four Brady Girls--could each buy at least one book. The girls all went to the half price book outlet and got two or three apiece. Good shoppers! Barbara's Bookstore was there and selling discounted children's books. Jay-Z got a fancy book of pirateology for six bucks, reduced from $20.

They had a lot of fun activities, too. The kids made bookmarks with cool stamps at the MCA booth, got their faces painted and jumped through the most elaborate moonwalk/jumping jack I've ever seen. A couple of them took home "Gardens in a Glove" put together by teens working at the Museum of Science and Industry.

They met Strawberry Shortcake, Raggedy Ann and a couple of literary characters I didn't know. Mother Goose read them a book. Once again, they saw the nice playgrounds in Hyde Park and just wanted to play, so that's what they did. At the end, some of the girls found the Oriental Institute booth and took rubbings of heiroglyphics. They want to go to the Mummy Night in October. If Su Casa wants to go, maybe we can do that, too.

As we were walking back to the cars, I asked what they liked best. "I didn't have a best thing," said one Brady Girl. "Everything was wonderful."

Back in the van, I heard the girls whisper "one-two-three," then they yelled, "Thank you, Maritza!" They are so cute.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

NHS Bilingual Homeownership Center Grand Opening

NHS staff (and staff spouse) at the grand opening celebration of the new Bilingual Homeownership Center in the Park Federal Savings Bank branch at 1823 W. 47th Street.

Paul Lopez, NHS board member and vice president of Park Federal, gave remarks and facilitated the program.

NHS Back of the Yards/Garfield Boulevard local advisory board members kibitz during the festivities.

Going to tonight's much less formal event--the barbecue, featuring some great carne asada and barbecued beef short ribs--reminded me I was behind schedule in posting these photos.

Oh, and in some sad local real estate news, I found out tonight that my block's first gay couple aren't sticking around. I still don't quite understand what happened, but from what Ms. Ribs told me, it sounds like the seller and/or the mortgage company tried to jerk them around for more money than seemed reasonable for this area, so they have decided to sell and try to unload the property. It's not that they can't afford their mortgage, it's that the house was overvalued. (This sounds weird to me.) I've found it listed for $227,525.

While I was at it, I did a little more real estate research and found Trulia has an overview of real estate in Back of the Yards. Here's a chart showing how the median home price has changed. I tried to paste it in here, but this format can't take the whole chart, which defeats the purpose, so check the link here and scroll down to Median Sales Price. It's not a pretty sight.

Perspectives Math & Science Grand Opening

Here are some students greeting the bigwigs as they arrive at the building, the former Raymond Elementary school at 3663 S. Wabash.

This is Peter Pan's sister's computer science teacher and a couple of students (not her). I didn't see either of the students from here on Marshfield, but thought it would be nice to show a couple of pics from the official grand opening ceremony last Thursday.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gunshots Near 48th and Ashland

Around 4:45 on Sunday 9/21, I was at a birthday party for a six-year-old on the 4800 block of South Marshfield. Just as I was leaving the party to travel to another party over in Hyde Park, a series of six gunshots went off somewhere to the northeast. They were really loud, so clearly quite close. Then a blue van came screaming down 48th, westbound, closely followed by an unmarked police car flashing lights and wailing its sirens.

The driver of the van clearly didn't know the neighborhood; the van turned north onto Marshfield, which dead-ends at 47th. Right now there's construction so it is even harder than usual to get through. So we all saw the cops catch the van and whoever was in it. I have no idea whether anyone was hit by the gunfire.

Update 9/25: I heard tonight at the NHS barbecue that the shots last Sunday were from an AK-47, and that a second automatic weapon was involved. Yikes. I was also told the police captured one AK but the other is still out there somewhere.

The Puzzle of Picasso

So this is the graffiti masterpiece Picasso sprayed up over at 36th and Kedzie back in the summer. I'm the one who persuaded his mother that all graffiti is not gangbanging, that it can be art, and that he wouldn't get busted for doing it there. (Picasso told me it was a permission wall and looking around on line at some graffiti message boards, that seemed to be true.) I think it's pretty good, for what little I know. And I don't even know what it says, but I know enough about gang graffiti to know this doesn't say anything obviously representing. (Of course, if I'm wrong, tell me.)

That level of uncertainty should tell you how things stand between me and Picasso of late. This afternoon, a woman on the block I'll refer to as La Chismosa collared me to talk about Joey and Picasso. "They're up to no good," she said. She's most worried about Joey. "I think he's a good kid at heart, but he's the youngest and he wants to be accepted," she observed, probably accurately. She told me she overheard Picasso tell him he almost kicked somebody's ass in a fight, then asked why he held back. "Next time, I want to see you leave a mark," she quoted him saying. This is not the Picasso I know. But I'm sure she didn't make it up.

I was thinking about this tonight while grocery shopping and picking up a copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond for Ines. She and her cousin and I went to the library this afternoon to find it--Ines needs to read it for school and write a two-page report, due Friday--but they didn't have it. Today was Ines' 13th birthday, so I told her I would go get it and that would be her birthday present. By the time I got back from the shopping trip it was about 9 p.m., pretty late for their house.

I went down the block to see if anyone was still up there, and Ines's cousin was sitting on the front stoop talking with Picasso. Ines's cousin is a junior at Rauner and is a very good girl. So I was happy to see her talking with him. My nosy neighbor side kicked in, too, because her younger sister was supposedly Picasso's "girlfriend" when they were both at Chavez last spring, but now they go to different high schools--she's at Rauner with her sister; he's at Curie--so I don't know how much they see of each other. Cousin said she would get the book to Ines and I let them get back to talking with each other.

Anyway, so I can't figure out where Picasso is at. He and Joey and another guy on our block and one or two guys from up the street hang out together. Are they their own crew or are they hooked up with one of the bigger gangs in the area? Who are they getting into it with; what was this about fighting? Picasso is smart; is he letting it show at school? I must get his schedule and see if I know any of his teachers at Curie.

Some jerk is blasting annoying rap music across the street from my house. I can hear it clear as day in here. Yuck. Guess I should go see if I know who they are. I looked, I do know who they are. I didn't say anything, but they saw me walk in and out. It's still playing, but it's quieter now.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back to School Update and a Philanthropic Idea

So far everybody's back in school. Meg is really enjoying Lozano Alternative High School. Her sister Jo at Kennedy is determined to make straight As and earn all the financial incentive she can out of the new "pay for grades" program in CPS. A straight-A student could earn $4000 by the end of sophomore year, and that's what Jo is after: $4000 for college sounds pretty good to her. I'm willing to be the homework helpline for this endeavor. I gave Meg my cell number and told her to give it to Jo if she needs help.

Dawn is back in school though she's missed a couple of days already. Joey is going but he's more interested in graffiti than school or respecting his mother; she's at her wits end and frankly, so am I. Junior likes Golder College Prep but he's not getting there on time; he already had to serve a suspension because he racked up too many tardy demerits. He says his grades so far are Cs or higher--whew. I ran into my neighbor up the block with her daughter from Perspectives the other day; their ride never showed up and she missed a whole day of school.

Surely there is some charter-school-loving business leader in the transportation industry who wants to give money so charters can run buses, right? David Leach, Mr. Greyhound, I know you've got a lot on your plate right now with gas prices and all, but think about it, OK? Or how about you, Dale Moser at Megabus?

Apology and Update

I know it's been pretty deadly boring here at the Tattler for the last month. The double whammy of Camp Marshfield and block party planning and execution really wiped me out. I've been lying pretty low in terms of interacting with the kids, just saying hi here and there. I went on Ebay last week to get the Oldest Brady Girl a TI-83 calculator. I got a very responsible seller--she emailed today to say it's in my P.O. box and she wondered whether I had picked it up. I hadn't; I will tomorrow.

But a few things have happened that would be worth reporting. Dorothy is locked up; in August I got a billion letters from lawyers interested in representing her. It must have been serious or she must have become ill in jail, since I haven't seen her for a month.

The corner remains quiet although people do hang out over there. The traffic circle landscape has held up well, although the vicious bindweed that the city tried to kill by spraying herbicide three times before replanting has returned. Dang. I have pulled three or four of them out by the roots; one was in the process of strangling a rosebush branch by the time I found it. I don't think I got the whole root on that one, so I'll have to keep a close eye on it and try again when it grows back. It will.

I have photos to post from the grand opening of the new 47th Street branch of Park Federal, where NHS has its new offices. The party was last Thursday night and there was a full house in the new basement conference center, where they will hold bilingual homeowner education classes. I also have photos from the grand opening of Perspectives Math & Science Academy, where Peter Pan's sister and another girl on the next block are going to school this year. I met the computer teacher, who has Peter Pan's sis in class. The photos will be up later this week.

New Youth Activities at Holy Cross/IHM

Well, the fall season is here and there are new things for kids to do over at Holy Cross/IHM Parish. There's a cooking class for kids aged 11 to 14 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5:30 p.m.. I told Ines about it after church today, since she was so into cake decorating.

"How much does it cost?" she asked me.

"It's free," I said. "That's why I'm telling you about it." She took the church bulletin home to show her mom.

There's a lot of musical options: children's choir on Fridays (they sing at the 10:30 a.m. Mass), girls' choir on Thursdays, mariachi (guitar, trumpet and violin) also on Thursdays.

There's also a youth newsletter group forming on Thursday nights. It will be led by a writer from U.S. Catholic. I told her I'd try to help her out, even if only by proofreading the final version. My schedule is too crazy to commit to the same night every week, but I ought to be able to come at least once a month. We'll see.

If you're in the neighborhood and want to know more about these activities, send your kid (or yourself, if you are a young person), you can call the parish office at 773-376-3900.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

CAPS meeting Monday night

In case anyone's checking, don't forget tomorrow night at 6 p.m. is the 931 beat meeting at Chavez Elementary School.

I didn't write about last month's meeting, but it was reasonably well attended and some people made a point of mentioning good news as well as complaints. And in one case, complaints were good news--the police noted that there were more calls about loitering and drug dealing at the northwest corner of 50th and Marshfield.

Our Officer Friendly made note of the block party on our block and also that open gym has resumed on Saturday mornings at Chavez. Over 50 kids were already showing up in August.

Just a quick note on the deluge--my basement is wet but seems to have taken a bit less of a beating than it did last time.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Joey & Picasso's Joint Artwork

Tonight I was in the living room pretending to get work done but really just listening to the crash of Joey's soccer ball against the side of my house. I got up to say hi and found Picasso on the doorstep. Joey had just thrown the ball at him and was running away laughing.

"Hey, [Picasso], you just started school!" I said. "How's it going?"

Fortunately, Picasso didn't mind being diverted from exacting revenge on Joey. Life at Curie is OK so far, he said. Then he upped the ante, saying, "It's fantastic, actually." I didn't get into details but I'm curious what's fantastic. Changing classes? New friends? Girls? Probably some combination of all those, plus goodness only knows what else. "They give homework, but it's not that hard," he said. He really likes high school. I'll have to ask him more about it tomorrow. It doesn't sound like he has any of the teachers I know over there.

Picasso had a notebook out, so I asked to see it. The photo above is what he showed me. Joey did the spray can and Picasso did the graffiti. Nice collaboration. I showed them some photos I took during vacation. While traveling on the east coast, my mother and sisters and I took in a hip hop exhibition now running at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

The exhibit features two DC graffiti artists whose tags are Arek and Con. I shot pictures of their tags with my phone and brought them home for Picasso and Joey to see. Now I see there's a Flickr group connected to the exhibit where you can share your own work. I'll have to show those guys the online exhibit and see if they want to send photos of their stuff to Flickr. (They permitted me to post the photo above to the blog.)

Streets & San Spotted on Marshfield

...taking photos, not hauling garbage. I took a walk this afternoon and ran into one of my neighbors who regularly attends our CAPS meeting. He crossed the street to come and tell me he had seen someone from Streets and San photographing the sidewalks today.

"Did you call?" he asked me.


But at the August CAPS meeting he and I spoke with Alderman Cochran's chief of staff, Karin Norington-Reaves, who told us that the 4800 block of South Marshfield was on the menu to get new sidewalks and street resurfacing. She hoped the work might get started next spring.

"I've been calling about this for six years," he told me. He looked ecstatic at the possibility something might actually get done. We smiled and crossed our fingers at each other in hopes it might start sooner. Stay tuned.

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