Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More Baby News--Other People's

I believe I posted a while ago that Sarah next door has a new baby niece. She's about two months old now. I've only seen her once--her daddy had her out on their front steps on a warm Sunday afternoon earlier this month.

Yesterday Sarah's big sister, the new baby's mom, was out on the steps with her husband and their older daughter. Over last weekend I aquired a bagful of baby girl clothes from a friend, plus another friend had bought me a girl's six-month-old outfit before we knew I was having a boy. I asked if they would like some baby clothes and they said yes.

When I came back out with the mini-wardrobe, Sarah's sister asked how my nausea was. "Not great, but not bad," I told her. She told me she had had terrible nausea with both her girls--this time she threw up all the way through the pregnancy. Apparently her new daughter is still not as strong as they would like, either, but she's getting better. This family is functional enough I'm confident they are taking good care of her, though if I had had more brains I might have asked if they know about Alivio Medical Center. Since they used to live in Pilsen I would think they might, but you never know.

Hopefully we'll have a chance to talk more. She seemed like she was pretty eager to share stories with another pregnant lady. Unfortunately, the conversation was pushing the limits of my Spanish and I had a deadline waiting for me back in the house, so I ended the conversation a little sooner than I might have otherwise.

It's good to know I have a mom buddy right next door with a little one very close in age to my impending little guy. Junior's mom across the street is another good resource, since her youngest is just a year old or so now.

Some Posts Just Keep on Truckin'

I had to laugh today--got a comment from someone named Jenee who used the science fair project I found for Junior over a year ago (post is dated December 11, 2007) and found it helpful.

I should double-check my stats, but I bet that "Last Minute Science Fair Project" post was probably one of the most-viewed ever on this site. What a riot.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Personal News

Well, I've decided it's time to let readers know why I've been such a slacker about posting to the blog since January. Usually I prefer not to say too much about my personal life here other than how things are going in the neighborhood, but now something personal is affecting everything in my life, including how I relate to my neighbors.

I'm having a baby in August.

As is true everywhere, once you tell one person, the word spreads fast. Back in January I told Dorothy because my money was running tight, I couldn't buy her diapers, and I needed to make it really clear to her that I wasn't going to support/enable her anymore. "I'm going to have a baby to take care of, and I need to start saving money now," I told her. She got it, I think, because she took a few steps back and didn't bug me as much for a few weeks, and then I didn't see her at all for longer. However, she also got locked up a while ago--Yup-yup just told me the other day she had a court date coming up--which is probably the real reason she hasn't been hounding me lately.

However, before she got busted, she certainly got the word out. Ms. Ribs stopped by on one of the nice days earlier in the month when she saw me outside at the mailbox. "I heard you're expecting," she said. "Congratulations. I just wanted to make sure you were doing OK."

The other night, Tony ran into me on the street and congratulated me totally out of the blue. "Oh," I said. "I see the word has gotten out."

Junior's mom has also been looking out for me, primarily by telling her kids to quit calling me for homework help. I've been grateful for that. During first trimester I was wiped out at night and had more afternoon/evening sickness than morning sickness, so it has been nice that they haven't been asking for help. But now feel better and I'm a little worried about how Junior is doing (the quarter must be coming to an end), so I want to call him this week and check in. I might have mentioned that his little brother called a while back to say he met some UIC students; Junior got on the phone on that call to interpret for his mom, who wanted to know if I was feeling OK. She had a hard time with their youngest (he's almost a year old now)--she fell down in a parking lot and had to go on bed rest for a while--so I know she has been concerned that I take it really easy.

So, in the spirit of taking it easy, I'll quit there, but I'll give you a heads-up to expect posts in the future where I'll be working out thoughts about parenting here in the neighborhood. Even though I have good friends who are raising good kids here, and good friends who are middle class who are raising good kids in Little Village and Chicago Lawn I can talk to for advice, my inner suburbanite (yes I grew up in the burbs) is a little intimidated about the idea of raising my own kid here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oscar Contreras on WBEZ's 848

I'm glad to see Oscar has landed on his feet since Catholic Charities cut funds for Street Intervention here in Back of the Yards. Yesterday Oscar and two young men from other parts of the city were on WBEZ 91.5 FM's show Eight Forty-Eight to talk about CeaseFire and how they work to prevent gang violence. During the piece, Oscar says he's already been to a dozen wakes this year.

For anyone interested in how communities can work together, especially with young people, to respond to violence, there will be a community forum in Little Village on Saturday April 4, at Farragut High School, 2345 S. Christiana, from 10 a.m. to 4 pm. You can find out more about it here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Pleasant Surprise

About an hour ago I stepped outside to check the mailbox and found more than just the day's mail. There were five boxes of crayons and a drawing signed by one of the older girls of the gaggle. Brava!

I'm glad they made the effort to bring the crayons back; they've risen in my estimation.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Camp Marshfield Spring Session Opens

So it's warm today and all the kids were out. I got home around 5:30 and was talking on the front steps with Dawn when the Bradys brought over their new pet chickens. Wow! They're not baby chicks--they're about two months old now--but they are still small enough to fit in two hands. We think they have two roosters and a hen. They showed me how if you hold them in your hands a few feet above the ground and kinda push them, they'll fly, or at least flap their wings as they fall to the ground. They eat rice and bread and "pretty much anything," Ines told me. One of Ines's cousins ran home to get a piece of chocolate cupcake to show me how they eat. We let them loose in my front yard to see if they could peck up any worms.

Four Bradys and three young chickens in my front yard drew a crowd. First Sarah and her niece, then Junior and his little brother, then the gaggle of girls who are related to Mr. Worrisome and Jay-Z. The gaggle was scared of the chickens at first, but then they got brave and wanted to hold them. One of them pooped on the jacket sleeve of my least favorite girl in the gaggle (she usually acts very bossy and wants to be waited on hand and foot). The other girls laughed at her and she started to cry, so I went in the house to get some wet soapy paper towel to clean off her jacket. They had been asking whether they could color, and I felt sorry enough for Little Missy that once she was clean I went back in the house and brought out some crayons and construction paper for them.

The Brady Girls took their chickens home, but the Brady boys stayed, plus Junior, his brother, Picasso, Joey and a few others. They were playing basketball out back on the parking pad while the girls colored out front. I went out back to watch the basketball.

Junior's brother was just watching, too, so we hung out. When they took a break I asked if they wanted some water, and they said yes. I brought out a pitcher but had to scrounge up plastic glasses because I'm out of disposable cups (even though I try to wash them out and re-use them at least a couple of times).

"I'd rather hang out with you guys that those girls out front," I told them during water break. "They drive me crazy." The guys laughed. They told me Littlest Brady and Joey's little brother (who are both about 3 now, I think) had been holding hands out back. The older boys were making fun of them.

"Oh, come on, give the little guys a break," I said. "When they're three, it's cute--when they're your age, not so much," I teased, punching Picasso in the arm. They were all laughing.

Although I did go check on the girls and their coloring project a few times, I pretty much left them to their own devices. When they were done, they were prepared to leave and leave everything--construction paper, Twix wrappers, crayons, glue sticks--all over my front step. I wasn't so into that. I came out and started picking up, then called over to where they were on the sidewalk and said, "So, who's going to help me clean up?"

The two oldest girls in that group are pretty responsible, so they brought everybody back. I gave them some plastic bags: one for trash and the rest for those who wanted to take their pictures home. I repeated what I told them all along: they could use up all the construction paper and take it home, but I wanted the crayons back so they could draw another day. (I did hold a couple boxes back in the house.) Good thing I kept some back--the next time I came back the steps were bare. There was one white crayon left.

Lesson learned: If I want the crayons back, I'll have to supervise cleanup more closely.

5200 S. Wolcott Report

Today was a nice day--the sign on Park Federal said it was 65 degrees late this afternoon--so I decided it was a good day to take that stroll over to 5200 Wolcott and check out the scene. As our commenter reported, there are quite a few vacant lots over there. It was pretty quiet when I walked the block--there was a hoop on the east side of the street, but no one was playing ball. Over on Honore a bunch of little kids were shooting at a hoop, and older kids were playing in the street south of 51st on Wood.

The most striking feature of the south end of the 5200 block of South Wolcott is the giant vacant lot on the west corner. It's full of trash. There are more vacant lots everywhere south of 51st than north of, but there's a whole new house going up at the south end of 5100 S. Wolcott, so that was nice to see happening.

I saw maybe half a dozen people--three teenage girls and a younger boy--plus some older guys on the east side of the street --but everything was quiet and I felt perfectly safe.

On the way over, the block that really impressed me was the 5200 block of South Honore. They have a block club street sign at the north end of the block, an older Latino guy was picking up trash at the corner, and an African American man and woman (not sure if they were a couple or just neighbors--I kinda thought just neighbors) were chatting on the sidewalk and made the effort to greet me. That's where the little kids were taking turns shooting at a hoop--boys and girls, which doesn't always happen when it's basketball.

I talked with the guy picking up trash for a couple of minutes. "This is a really nice block here," I said.

"We try," he told me. "I've been here 30 years."

I told him I lived over on Marshfield. He asked how long I've been here.

"It'll be five years this summer," I said. I could see he was pleased and surprised.

Anyway, driving through the Wolcott block in broad daylight didn't seem like it would be any problem to me. But if I wanted to talk to people, I'd probably go over to Honore and see if any grownups outside seemed friendly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Just as I was walking home from the bus stop this afternoon, I passed Peter Pan's house and Middle Brady Boy was yelling something in a voice I'd never heard from him--loud, authoritative, even menacing.

I slowed down as I got to Peter Pan's front steps, where two other boys were on the ground as Middle Brady looked down at them. "Whoa, (Middle Brady), what's that all about?" I asked, genuinely curious.

He looked up and said eagerly, in his usual boyish tones, "We're playing cops and robbers. I'm the cop."

"And they're the robbers?"


"Wow. You have a great cop voice. Have fun!"

Then I passed the Brady house, where one of the Brady Girls had given me a big wave when I first turned on the block. She and her dad were with her cousin, Brady Bughunter, who was making them laugh while he tried to open a bottle of Gatorade. His uncle finally got it open for him.

I got to my own front steps just as that friend of Joey's I don't like (the guy who sneaks in and out of windows) came around the corner with a friend. Sneaker was walking, his buddy, with a purple-tinged mohawk, was riding a bicycle. Since they seemed harmless in the moment, I carried on and went to open my front door.

Just as I got the door open, I heard Bob the Builder hollering at Sneaker, "Hey, come here! I'm talking to you, punkhead!" Bob and I have a deal--he's the cop-calling, tough-talking bad cop to my "let me find you a program or something better to do" good cop. He seemed to have it down, so I went on into the house.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big Picture High School Fundraiser March 27

Big Picture is holding a series of events this spring, with the goal of raising $10,000 in scholarship money for its last graduating class.

The kickoff event will be held March 27, 9 p.m. to midnight, at Soiree, 2438 N. Lincoln. For $35, you get a wristband that entitles you to appetizers and a premium open bar featuring Grey Goose, Ketel One and Bacardi. A portion of the wristband proceeds will go to the Big Picture scholarship fund.

A Taste of Spring in the Hood

It's a bit warmer today, and Picasso, Joey and Oldest Brady Boy are playing basketball out on my parking pad. Joey's hoop is rigged up from his yard next door in such a way that they can shoot at it from the parking pad. I hear the "thump, thump, thump" of the ball and their voices as I'm typing.

Picasso and Joey bumped into me on the street about an hour ago and asked what was going on with the Su Casa mural project. I called over there but we had to leave a message.

Meanwhile, the graffiti wars rage on over by the viaduct at 49th and Marshfield. Some big black tagging happened recently; I could see it from a block away. Frankly I didn't have the energy to call 311, so I turned the corner and walked west on 50th for a while instead. I'll probably call tomorrow. The traffic circle looks terrible, too. There's beer cans and plastic bags all over it, and I didn't have the energy to pick them up.

There's a lot going on right now in my personal life that is taking a great deal of energy, so I don't have a lot left to give to the neighborhood or to this blog right now. In another month or so I may be ready to post more regularly. Thanks for your patience.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Ditching School

Back on Wednesday I was walking north on Ashland Avenue around noontime, if memory serves. As I was passing the laundromat by 48th Joey and a buddy of his came strolling my way from the opposite direction. "They should be in school," was my first thought. The buddy of his, who is already in high school, is someone the neighbors gossip about. They've seen him coming out of the window from the house across the street from his--sneaking out in the early morning before his girlfriend's mom finds out he was sleeping with her. He seems like he has potential but I didn't meet him early enough in my time here to make friends before he got too old to listen to somebody like me. I wish Joey didn't hang out with him, although I'll take him over the creepy way-older teenager up on the next block.

As they got within talking distance, I said, "Hi, you guys." I'm pretty sure I didn't quite keep "you're busted" out of my voice, though I was halfway trying not to do that. Joey's buddy looked sheepish; Joey didn't even seem to register it. That really worried me.

That night when I got home, I was unlocking the front door when Joey called out my name from his porch. He had heard from Picasso about the possible art project at Su Casa and wanted to know more. "Like, what do they want us to draw?"

"I don't know. Something that connects to the neighborhood and is positive. You could do graffiti style or something with cartoon characters, maybe." He nodded.

"Weren't you supposed to be in school today?" I asked.

"Yeah, but my friend was in trouble, so I was helping him."

I wasn't listening enough, so I didn't get more of the story. Honestly, it was cold and I was tired and I just wanted to go inside. "Are you going tomorrow?"

"Yeah," he said with more enthusiasm than I expected. "I have to do a rap on Friday so I have to get ready tomorrow."

"Oh, good," I said, and went in.

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