Archives for category: Chicago

Yes, I’ve had bad dreams about rats.

Those dreams and, as I mentioned in freedom in the screwed up places, a habit I yet have of darting side-long glances at certain types of peripheral movement (though it has diminished over the years) originated from our years working in an old building at 1512 West Madison Street on the west side of Chicago.

Part of that building is still there, incorporated into a new structure at the corner of Madison and Ogden.  Gail and I were there for several years during which we oversaw construction of what is the 3rd iteration of the Chicago Temple Corps at that corner.

The new building was made possible in part because of rats.  When we arrived in 1984 our old building had them.  These were what are called sewer rats.  They are big.  I would regularly kill specimens with 12″ bodies; tails extra.  Gail claims she once entered the kitchen to find a rat the size of a house cat on top of the fridge, just looking at her.  It creeped her out.

The building was so old, it was so full of holes.  Enter rats.  We set traps baited with peanut butter.  Works better.  But we often walked in to find our traps licked clean.  Rats can be clever.

The rats that survived the traps taunted us.  They would jump down from the refrigerator when Gail entered the building in the morning.  They would run across the kitchen floor when Major Mary Garrison was cooking in the evening.  A rat even ran between the Major’s feet as she stood in front of the stove.

Our son John once came running out of the nursery with Carl and Dennis.  A rat!  I slowly opened the door they had shut behind them, stick in hand.  Peered in.  I saw it.  I saw its hind legs perched on a chair rung, motionless.  I feint.  It runs.  I dispatch it with a sharp rap.

One evening we were meeting in the chapel, heard a squeal, then random notes from the piano across the hallway.  I went to investigate and found a rat on the floor next to the piano, twitching, its back broken.  It had dropped out of the high ceiling onto the piano top, bounced off the keys before landing on the floor.

I finished it off with my stick I kept for killing rats.  The stick would get those the peanut butter didn’t.  One time the stick wasn’t at hand so I sailed a stock pot lid across the kitchen.  I think I missed.

But I became somewhat skilled at getting my rat.  I felt buoyed by moral authority; rats don’t belong in our building.  The crusade against rats was righteous.

The day came where we knew that the old building would no longer be needed.  Our new one was nearing completion.

Gail had turned the oven on for Sunday morning’s breakfast and heard a noise.  Preparing breakfast with whatever we could offer for the young people was a weekly ritual.  Day old rolls from a bakery were to go in the oven this morning but they never made it.  Gail came to get me.  Please, check the oven.

I stood in front of the oven with my stick.   From underneath came waddling a rat with its hair singed into a fro.  When Gail had lit the oven, somehow the poor rat had been flash broiled.  It slowly waddled out toward me.  It couldn’t see.  I could.  I struck.

Ratting came with a cost.  During those years Gail told me she woke one night to find me kneeling on the bed, crouching at some unseen enemy.  She asked what I was doing.  I said “Norwegian rats” and kept my alert pose.  I have no remembrance of this.

I said earlier that the new building in part was made possible by our rat problem.  It happened this way.

One night we were working with young people and families in the fellowship hall.  We were surprised to hear the sound of a rat trap.  In the kitchen.  Kirsten!

A rat trap is a more serious danger than a mouse trap.  Its bow can break a finger.  A two year old could lose a finger to a trap.  Our two year had found the peanut butter on the trap.  She was fortunate to have set off the trap before it could crush her fingers.  The story of Kirsten’s close call traveled to headquarters.  A new awareness of our building needs.  It resulted in the new building on Madison at Ogden.

That new awareness and genuine concern led to a visit by the Divisional Commander accompanied by a Major Bill Roberts whose son I just saw this morning in Chicago.  Brigadier Jack Cheyne and Major Roberts visited our old building on a Wednesday, to see and to listen.  Verbal assurance was given of priority to our project.

The following Monday a building next door fell over onto our building.  It was October 19, 1987, Black Monday, as it’s known in finance history.  Which young Bill Roberts this morning mentioned to his audience.

Black Monday sort of sealed the deal for a new Chicago Temple Corps building.

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Andres Villatoro, thank you.

Andres sent the link to a photo essay from this week’s Atlantic.

It reminded me of my first days living in Chicago. Arriving on a Greyhound bus. Staying a week at the Y hotel that used to be on South Wabash. The L just outside my room. Going through the cafeteria, asking the serving lady if it was Cream of Wheat and her smiling answer ‘grits’. And the adventure of becoming a Chicagoan that has followed me for decades.

I remember something of this Chicago of the 1970s and what it felt to be a young man from northern Minnesota marveling at urban life.

Photos are from John H. White, formerly of the Chicago Sun-Times who along with its entire photographer staff was fired two months ago.

Here is one photo that really moved me with aching memory of our years’ work with young people.

basketball in Stateway Gardens 1973.

basketball in Stateway Gardens 1973.

You know, I prefer a paper held in my hands.  And while in Chicago it is the Chicago Tribune.

Today, two things.

Actually one is from the Friday Trib.  John Kass’ column on “a beautiful and wonderful tradition” of young lovers in cities such as Paris. Kass

The other is that when I googled my way to a link of that column I was halted by the Chicago Tribune digitalPLUS.  For an additional 49 cents a week I was offered access to articles such as the John Kass column.

Eewh.

Clever, I checked the John Kass Facebook page.  Sure enough, Kass shares a link to locks of love.  I am not out $ .49 this week and you can see what the City of Chicago is doing to make our city less romantic.

[I just tried locks of love link and the digitalPLUS blocks access.  moutza!  So just go to the Kass Facebook page and scroll down a couple posts to “city has cutting response to love locks on bridges”]

8 hours.
11 people.
1 boy, nine years old.
2 dead.
All in one day in one city.
Chicago yesterday.

Once again, less-than-high-tech sharing of this story from today’s Chicago Tribune –

May 8th Chicago Tribune

May 8th Chicago Tribune

In early March I posted what you can’t read won’t hurt you on this issue of justice in public education.   Now Chicago Public Schools is running into unexpected criticism from its hearing officers (retired state and federal judges) who after reviewing proposed closings of 53 schools oppose 13 of those closings.

controversy over 13 of 53 schools Chicago Public Schools proposes to close

controversy over 13 of 53 schools Chicago Public Schools proposes to close

What’s going on?

don't shoot

I laughed, and I’m sure I shouldn’t have, when I read what Jaylen Price’s great-uncle had to say about whoever’s bullet hit his 10 year old nephew a few days ago here in Chicago.

In some parts of our city you expect to hear gunshots.  See bullet holes in walls and windows.  Talk with someone about who got shot.  Chicago’s story is full of bullet holes.

If you stick around long enough you too will have your own shooting story.

Jaylen was hit by a ricochet waiting for a pizza delivery when men down the street started shooting at each other.  His great-uncle, Alvin Ponder,  gives it straight and simple about guns as reported in the Chicago Tribune

“They (politicians) won’t stop everything, I understand that,” he said. “They don’t have to ban the guns, but they have to do things for gun safety, background checks, big magazines. These war weapons don’t belong on the street. Anything that is a semi-automatic is an assault weapon.

“If you can’t hit a target with 10 rounds, you should be doing another hobby. You need another life.”

It’s that last statement.

do you all understand?  10 rounds?  you still can’t hit it?  you should be fishing.  scrapbooking.

Get another life.  Not mine.

It is well past the middle of April but tonight’s forecast is for some snow in Chicago.

I have been spending quite a bit of time this week around the Northwestern Hospital campus along Lake Michigan.

Here are a few iPhone photos of what can only be considered ordinary scenes, the kind of sights which are there but we usually don’t see.  Why?  We are absorbed, distracted, focused on our mission of the moment, hour.

 

westbound on Ontario  April 21 2013

early Sunday morning westbound on Ontario at the Michigan Avenue traffic light

It always attracts our attention to see someone with their iPhone, standing at the corner, taking pictures of the buildings, street bustle, something that caught their attention, their fancy.

 

from the parking deck

early evening from the parking deck

Instagram, Facebook.  Reality TV shows.  The unremarkable stories and ordinary things which catch the attention of ordinary people seems to be a significant theme.  Is there a lessening of interest and attention of Hollywood?  Perhaps not a lessening.  But how do we explain what is happening today as we watch America’s Got Talent and Duck Dynasty, check the Facebook posts by hundreds of our friends, look at images and scenes captured in Instagram?  Our interest and attention has broadened.  Eighty years ago media would have been little interested in ordinary people except as subjects of little-noticed documentaries.  Today social media and reality TV has expanded our attention.  Are celebrities less than what they once were?  Subdued?  The Big Lebowski.

 

from NW Hospital parking deck 6th level looking south on St Clair  April 2013

from the 11th floor

evening from the 11th floor, a view northeast

All of this ordinariness sometimes becomes far more than we care to have shared with us.

 flags in streeterville from nw hospital feinberg pavilion 11th floor elevator lobby

 

 

 

 

 

But there are times when what happens is that the eye of the person has caught something beyond the ordinariness they behold.  They have caught something fleeting with the light, the time of day.  So they think.  Or that thing has caught the attention, the imagination, the awe of the beholder.

rainy day on Fairbanks Court

rainy day on Fairbanks Court

 

Cities are especially good for this.  So busy.  So much.  So little noticed simply because we are overwhelmed.  But it’s still there.

If on our daily course our mind

Be set, to hallow all we find,

New treasures still, of countless price,

God will provide for sacrifice.

The trivial round, the common task,

Will furnish all we ought to ask;

Room to deny ourselves, a road

To bring us daily nearer God.

 

John Keble

 

Schools are being closed in American cities.

Philadelphia.  Newark.  Washington.  Chicago.  Detroit.

They say schools are being closed for good reasons.  Money.  Underperformance.  Money.  Shifting populations.  Money.

I’m $ure a good ca$e can be made for the$e rea$on$.

But what else is happening as urban schools close?Philadelphia closes schools

Schools in poorer and minority neighborhoods are disproportionately being closed.  Since 2001 Chicago has closed 100, all but two in poor neighborhoods.  88% of affected students have been African-American.

There is no arguing with the sharp pencils.  Population shifts.  Deficits.

A couple weeks ago we returned home to a pile of newspapers.  I hadn’t stopped delivery.  But I had some time today to catch up on reading.  Internet is good but I like to hold sheets of newsprint, to leisurely page back and forth through them.  Tactile satisfaction.  Newspaper also forms a nap inducing warm quiet micro-environment when placed over and around one’s head.  Try it.

At the top of one Chicago Tribune front page “CPS closes in on school cuts … anxiety grows as district offers preliminary list of 129 campuses that could be shuttered“.  It hardly seems news anymore to hear of large urban school districts closing schools, increasing the ratio of students to teacher.  We just accept it as a way of life.

But what caught my attention was the map showing areas of the city where schools may be closed.  I can’t get the Chi Trib graphics article to appear.  So here’s my elegant low/high tech solution:  an iPhone photo of the paper –

schools that could be closed  Chi Trib Feb 18  2013

Compare this map with Open City’s Chicago Public Schools Tiers  where areas of Chicago are identified as one of four Tiers.  Tier 1 are places where people tend to “make less money and have less education”.  Tier 4 would be where people “make more money and have more education”.

Guess which Tier will overwhelmingly lose more schools?  Tier 1 or Tier 4?  That wasn’t hard.

Okay.  The areas about to lose schools are areas with less and less children, according to the authorities.  But these same areas are also home to children living in the least educated and lowest income households in Chicago.

If most of the CPS school closings take place in Tier 1 neighborhoods, it will have an even greater impact than a closing in a Tier 4.  If a neighborhood school closes, parents do not believe it will mean a better education for their children.  My child may be assigned to a school with a better building, a greater concentration of teacher and material resources.  But she will need to travel farther.  Be in an unfamiliar place.  Increase the likelihood of running into hostility.  Gangs?  Regardless of promises, who is ahead when my neighborhood no longer has a school?

Distribution of wealth, of education resources, will be to the most populous neighborhoods of Chicago.  That seems sensible.  But it will also mean a more challenging, harder experience for the poorest children, for the children who already face the greatest hurdles in becoming educated.

I see this as an issue of justice.  In its desire to solve one problem by making the education system more efficient and effective, the solution will contribute to another problem.  Chicago will continue to offer swaths of the city where hopelessness is cultivated in an increasingly entrenched population of undereducated Chicagoans.

If Chicago continues to close schools in its poorest neighborhoods, is this justice?

Maybe Chicago will have more and more of its citizzzens who find napping to be the best use of a newspaper.

Time to turn the burner down to begin simmering the split peas.  After the soup stock first comes to a boil.  Dinner later.  Saturday.  We are home.

Perhaps it was a mistake to check the Chicago Tribune online so early in the morning.  With a cup of coffee.  Does the paper replace a cigarette?

The morning’s report included “5 teens shot across city Friday”.  Ages 14, 16 and 17.  The fourteen year old merits a separate story.

Maybe because he died Friday night in the front hallway of his home, a few feet away from the front steps where he was shot several times while talking on a cellphone.  Maybe because like other shootings our assumption he was a gangbanger goes against those who knew him as a young person, one who stayed away from gangs.  Maybe because his stepmother would have wanted to say “Happy Birthday” Tuesday, today.  He would have been 15.

I am struggling here, trying to get to the point.

My emotions are in solidarity, circling around a raw place in me.  It frightens me when that place is threatened by contact with the kind of things that created it.  Don’t touch.

The Tribune reporter makes a closing observation –

On the sidewalk near the crime scene, the father of one of the boy’s friends sobbed as he paced near a group of somber teenagers.

Without warning it has been touched.  Inside me, that place inside me.

I don’t care for it.  Over the years I have learned to be careful reading and hearing stories of the terrible things done to others.  I don’t want them to reach out, touching that deep place.

Someone said they think it’s PTSD.  From serving years in places hearing, seeing, being with those who suffer, dead and buried remain as stories, also circling, deep in me?  Years have passed.  I no longer work daily in Gary, Chicago or Detroit.  The stories still circle, just more distant in miles and memory.Bullet Proof Vest  PBS 2

But the father of the boy’s friend suddenly stretches out and touches this raw place.  That astonishing mix of grief, fear and anger he feels brings back mine.  Is it guilt?  I don’t want it but it’s there.  One unhealed wound made up of small rips and tears.

The man’s pain reminded me of one, a young man who was shot to death Christmas morning years ago in a home he had every reason to believe all is calm, sleep in heavenly peace.  But there it has simmered, to boil up again.  Yet raw.  Never done.

Near the crime scene.  Police will investigate it.  Friends will grow quiet near it.  The stepmother and family will have to figure out how to live there, live with it, walk past the spot and memory of a teenaged boy who once stood and talked there.

Violent death, violent shooting deaths.  Never expected.

Yes.  There is a cost to shootings.  They produce death.  And psychic pain.

Is it possible to hide something as big as two football fields in a city like Chicago?

When we were at the Salvation Army Chicago Temple on Chicago’s Near West Side, 50 feet from our Madison Street doors lived a man called Saymo.  You would call him a street person.  Saymo with his shopping cart was a familiar sight in our neighborhood.  Someone told us that he once had been married to a school principal.  I never did learn his full story.

But I learned where Saymo lived.  Under the sidewalk.  Vaulted sidewalks ran along that stretch of Madison.  It has something to do with Chicago’s soggy past as a city built on marshy wet ground.  Saymo found a buckled concrete slab which allowed a person to crawl under it into a rather spacious cavity, enough for sleeping and, well, whatever a person would want to do in such a home.  Madison Street in the 1980s was still a dangerous and wild place though becoming only a shadow of what it had been during its 20th century bowery days.  Perhaps Saymo found a safe place under the sidewalk.

Perhaps Saymo’s home served as a place of hiding.  But he may not have needed a place to hide.  A person who is homeless is already hidden.  To most of us, a non-person.  Virtually nonexistent.

In the city it is possible to hide 1,500 six foot tall marijuana plants and it is possible to hide oneself.  Cities are strange places.  In the midst of so many people and so much stuff, things are hidden, even lost.  One man can be in a city crowd yet isolated, alone, anonymous.

The sidewalks there along Madison Street no longer buckle, no longer offer hiding places.  But many things are still lost in the city.  Big and small.

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