Crossing the Bridge

Today is one of those days when I feel the need to write something, but don’t have a clue about the topic. So here I am jumping into the fray hoping inspiration will kick in.

I just got off the phone with a buddy from grammar school. We discussed many things and one of them was our paper routes. It turns out that I got his route when he quit. We discussed dead beat customers who never paid on time. Those were the days when a route was a franchise, and I bought the newspapers and delivered them. If I wanted to get paid I had to collect from my customers. There were weeks when all my pay (profit) was tied up   in unpaid subscriptions. Eventually, I hounded the dead beats into paying up. The hipocrisy of these folks was that they were the ones who complained the most. The paper is late, the paper was in the bushes, the paper was wet, I didn’t get the paper, the list went on and on.

I kept the route for two and a half years, starting in the sixth grade and finishing in the eighth. When I started high school it was time to give it up. Another boy from the neighborhood took it over and had it until he finished school.

I crossed over the bridge to high school, and a new chapter of my life began. I was partially liberated from my parents and free to join clubs and sports activities at will. What did I choose? A job.

The priests who taught at my school lived in a monastery and needed someone to answer the phone and take messages for them. I was the one. It gave me a place to do homework while I waited for the phone to ring. The job started at 4:00 p.m and ended at 7:00 p.m. That gave me a little time to wander around the local business area before I started. I caught a streetcar to go home and was usually home by eight.

Kids today, don’t have experiences like that anymore. When school is finished they run to catch the school bus to take them home. If they are in sports or a club they run to catch the special bus which runs later. Too many kids today, have their own cars to use, and don’t even use buses.

I was a senior before my dad allowed me to use the family car to get to and from school. He always allowed me to use the car for weekend activities, but very seldom did he give his ride to me. I didn’t own a car until I finished college and bought one for my self.

 

Another Job I Cannot Do

It has been a week since I posted an original piece and I can’t say that I care too much. I seem to be passing through a period of laziness, and writer’s block. I had fun in the past bashing Obama at every chance, but my effort to get rid of him as president failed.  Now that I am stuck with him I have sunk into despair. I don’t care what he does, nor do I want to know. I can’t do anything about it except to vote for someone different when that time comes. So, my desire to write has waned.

Writing is a hard job, and I don’t like to work hard anymore. My writing skills were never very good, and it showed throughout my education. There were so many obstacles along the way, like grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, nouns, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, modifiers, subjects, and logical thought. There were a few instances along the way when I wrote something good and a teacher recognized me for it. Like the piece I wrote in college for Professor Will McCarthy titled the “Green Beauty.” That story related a date when I took my Irish girlfriend to her Senior prom at the Del Prado Hotel in Chicago.  The Green Beauty referred to the car I used, my dad’s 1939 four door, dark green Buick Special. The name Green Beauty came to me from a radio show I listened to called “The Green Hornet.” The Green Hornet called his car the Black Beauty. My final grade for this course was “C”.

Dad’s Buick was already sixteen years old when I used it for this date. The door hinges were worn and when a door opened it dropped a couple of inches. If one was not aware of this phenomenon when opening the door it came as a surprise. I wrote about the reaction the Del Prado doorman had when he rushed up to open the door for my date. The look on his face is something that I still chuckle about when I think about it. In fact I’m chuckling as I write this. Professor McCarthy gave me an “A’ for that story. He even read it out loud to the class as an example of good writing.

The next year another prof named Holub gave us an assignment to find a picture of a piece of equipment and to write a short paragraph describing what it was. I don’t remember what piece of equipment I selected but I described it accurately. Again, Professor Holub read the piece in class as an example of good writing. My final grade for this course was “C”.

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It came time to transfer from Saint Joseph’s College to the University of Illinois and they required transferees to take a test to decide if someone doing into the school had proper English writing skill to be worthy of the University of Illinois.  I sweat that one because the idea of taking remedial english courses gave me the willies. The day of reckoning came and I showed up at the auditorium on the south end of the quad for the test. They told us to take a seat, but to leave a space between. We were handed a little blue examination tablet with lined paper, and a list of topics. The test was to write an essay on one of the twenty topics listed. Thankfully, I remember Professor Holub’s advice to turn any topic into what it is you want to write about. I don’t remember anymore which subject line I spotted, but it triggered me to write about the morality of abortion. The words flowed, and I filled the blue tablet with what I believed to be logical and moral arguments against abortion. In today’s world I would have been thrown out of the auditorium for picking such a topic.

Several days went by before I got the news that my essay was good enough to keep me from having to take remedial english, what a relief.

Since those few times when I got lucky with my writing the need to write seriously never occurred. There were many times when I had to write reports for experiments,  but I don’t count that as serious writing. For one thing report writing almost always uses passive voice because it refers to something that was done. In writing today, when I run the grammar check, it nearly always bongs me for using past tense. It seems that using phrases like “was done” are verboten because the reader finds them hard to decipher.

One of the things I realized this week as I struggled with my writer’s block, is that I would never have been able to make a living as a writer. The idea of having to produce essay’s of value on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis scares me to death. I guess it boils down to when it is fun, the words flow, but when it is required your brain goes into lockdown.

Note:  Grammar check found seven instances of passive voice within this essay. I did not rewrite those sentences. My lab report skill is still at work today.

I Am Amazed

Creative people always amaze me with their interpretive ability. Where do they come up with all the stuff they do? Yesterday, I went to the Munster Theater with friends. We were early for the play so we went through their show of Middle and High School art. What a fabulous display of talent. Like I said above talent amazes me, especially of these kids ages nine through fourteen.

The cartoon below sent to me by my high school buddy Jim, is a prime example of the creativity that abounds around us. Watch this and laugh, or cry your butt off depending on whether you are a Liberal or a Conservative. It is  hilarious. The cartoon relates current events around the  lyrics of a very old, but popular song by the 1950’s group “The Platters.”  They are from my time folks, when singers sang real songs with real lyrics, and weren’t making social statements with rants that pass as music.

Proms to Dear Johns

Duke Ellington Orchestra - Mood Indigo

Image via Wikipedia

In the nineteen fifties, Junior and Senior Proms in high school were important events  The Senior Prom was the really big deal.  The Junior Prom was a training event. Let’s face it, Junior boys are not very coördinated when it comes to the social graces, at least not in my time.

My brother Bill colluded with a buddy to set me up with a date in the fall of 1954. Bill’s friend, Bob Keough, had seven sisters, one of whom was a Junior in high school. Jacqueline attended St. Louis Academy on State Street near 115th.  Mendel and Saint Louis often attended each other’s sock hops, but I never saw Jacque (pronounced Jackie) at any of them.

Bill talked me into calling Jacque.  At the same time, her brother Bob told her I was going to call her. I am not a big talker, but when I heard Jacque’s freindly voice and her infectious laugh, the conversation went easy. We talked for an hour about all kinds of stuff. Finally, I asked her out for a date. We went to a movie and followed with ice cream.   We learned a lot about each other on that date and became great friends.  That date led to another, and soon we were going steady.

Jacque invited me to her junior prom. A prom is a very formal dance.  The girls wear gowns and the guys wear tuxedos. The guys buy the girls a corsage to make it nicer. The St. Louis Academy Junior Prom was held at the school.  The band played great music. I prided myself on being able to dance the jitterbug. Dancing fancy made a guy popular. We had a fantastic evening.

We dated through the summer and all through our senior year. I asked her to my prom, and she reciprocated. The Mendel Prom was at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in the Grand Ballroom. The Saint Louis Academy Prom was at the DelPrado Hotel in Hyde Park.

When prom ended, it was customary to go to a night club on Rush Street.  None of us was old enough to drink, so we wound up paying the cover charge and getting Cokes for our drink minimums.  We went to the Blue Note Jazz Club on Rush Street in Chicago. The Duke Ellington Band played until it was time for us to leave.  Each of us had a curfew to make.

Jacque and I were an item for two years.  We talked on the phone all the time.  We went to every sock hop, dance, game and pep rally that our schools had.  When the school social calendar was quiet we dated on our own.  We went to movies, or to the Grant Park concerts, or we just hung out together.

Mom took a shine to Jacque too.  Why, I don’t know, Jacque wasn’t Hungarian, but she was a good conversationalist and listened well. Mom always wanted her kids to hook up with a Hungarian mate.  That never did happen.  I never even dated a Hungarian girl.

After the proms and graduation, the summer sped by as we prepared to leave for school.  Saint Joseph’s College in Indiana is where I headed, Jacque enrolled in nursing at Saint Francis School of nursing. We spent every minute we could together.  I was hopelessly in love with her, but too young to marry.  Neither of us wanted to marry until after we finished our college.

I started college in August of 1956. St. Joe’s is a small school in the middle of a cornfield on the outskirts of Rensselaer, Indiana.  Jacque started nursing school on the far north side of Chicago.  Each of us lived at school.  We wrote letters to each other daily.  I looked forward to the mail with excitement.  We wrote about our classes and how hard everything was, especially pop quizzes and exams. Her life was very different from mine. I attended classes while she did class work and worked in the hospital.

My roommate in freshman year was my good friend Jim Geil from high school.  Jim and I were bosom buddies.  Geil, as I called him, and I were always looking for ways to entertain our ladies.  We learned of the Junior-Senior Prom at St. Joe.  We did an unusual thing, we joined the prom committee. We were the only freshmen that ever volunteered for the prom committee. It was an upper class event, but because the total enrollment of Saint Joe was eight hundred, invitations went to the entire student body.

We worked every spare minute we could on decorations for converting the huge gymnasium into a Roman Garden.  I painted two very large canvasses with scenes from ancient Rome.  These paintings were the back drop for the two balconies overlooking Rome.

Jim invited his girl and I invited Jacque. The band was the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  The girls had to stay in town at a boarding house for women only.

The committee transformed the gym into the courtyard of Roman Villa. The ceiling was dark blue with tiny lights for stars. The exterior walls were stucco with two large windows overlooking Rome. A long pond with a fountain adorned the center of the floor.  Jim and I made a lot of friends in the Junior-Senior Class because of our participation on the committee and that made us popular at the dance.  The Ellington Band was also fabulous.  I collected his music for years afterwards.  I can still recognize Ellington music within a few bars.

After the prom, the year ended with exams. The summer was busy with work to earn money for school.  Jacque went to school through the summer and our dating became sparse.

A few weeks into sophomore year at St. Joe I received a letter from Jacque.  I was just as excited as ever.  This time, however, the tone of the letter was different.  The letter more popularly known as a “Dear John”,  started “Dear Joe”.  The lady I loved with all my heart dumped me.  Devastated, mad, and sick,  you name it, I was it.  How could she?  Didn’t she know I loved her?  Well, I sent many a letter asking why, but I never got a response.  I made up my mind to get over it and put the energy into my studies instead.  My letter writing didn’t stop, though.

Jim did not return to Saint Joe that year, but we corresponded. Our friendship helped me get through a very rough emotional time. Jim began dating Carol Jean, a student at St. Anne’s School of nursing. The letters continued, and led to some very interesting times. It was during this period, that I invented Steve Star, a character I could hide behind.

This story does not end, but it will continue.

Bicycle Commuting in 1952

BIKE COMMUTING

After the first couple of weeks of riding the streetcar to high school, it was time to ride my bike back and forth.  She was hard to convince, but Mom finally relented and allowed me to do it.

Why it was so important for me to do it, I don’t know.  Maybe it was the adventure of riding a little over three miles from home on streets that were all strange. My paper-route basket was able to carry my books without any trouble.  This was the first school year that I didn’t deliver papers in a long time.

I plotted a route to take Woodlawn Avenue south all the way to the dead-end at 99th Street.  A right turn swung me toward Cottage Grove.  A left turn put me on Cottage Grove Avenue where I followed the streetcar tracks up to 103rd Street.  At 103rd Street I ducked right under and through the  viaduct to Dauphin Avenue. Dauphin runs parallel to the Illinois Central tracks in a southwesterly direction. It is a narrow street with little to no traffic.  I stayed on Dauphin up 109th where it stopped. I zigged west to Eberhart which turns into 110th place, and finally dead ends at South Park Avenue (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). I rode the sidewalk along the Mendel property fence to the school gate. On a busy day, I might see two cars during the trip. The twenty-five minutes  it took to ride was less than using the streetcar, especially if the cars were running slow.

Bike route from home to Mendel High School

I parked in a very long bicycle shed with room for fifty bikes behind the Rec Center.  It had three walls and a roof.  There, I locked my bike to the rack and walked the path to the building.  The total distance was short, but I felt like I had ridden to the end of the world.

It wasn’t long before the days got shorter and the weather turned nasty and I was back on the streetcar again.

Social Networking circa 1952

SOCK HOPS

Many wonderful new worlds opened up to me in high school.  It seemed like every time we listened to the announcements during home room class a new activity was born. This time it was the “sock hop.”

My social life was never lacking because of all my friends around the block.  In grammar school we stuck to each other like glue.  We hung together, we danced, we played games, we laughed and told each other our deepest feelings.  When high school entered our lives, it all changed.  We were still friends but our common interests were gone.  All of us were developing new ones.  We had new activities to attend. Now, we met our high school friends at these activities rather than take our grammar school buddies with us.  The school frowned on bringing boys from a different school to a Mendel social function. It was okay to sell them a ticket to a ball game but not to a dance. In a way, attending high school was like belonging to an exclusive club which was members only.

Up until that time, I had never heard the term ‘sock hop” before, but my new buddies, who were already in the know, told me I had to go because it was a great place to meet girls.  I could have taken a date to a sock hop, many boys did.  I was too afraid of girls to do that.  Even though I danced a lot with the girls of Avalon, this was different.  These girls were strangers and I’d have to talk to them.  It wasn’t easy for me to come up to a stranger and begin a conversation.  My mom was great at it. She made friends with people in an instant.  Dad was quiet. He had to force himself to meet new people all the time on his insurance job.

The sock hop was always on a Friday night. They began in mid-fall during football season, and continued through the basketball season. Many times they were right after the pep rally, and bon fire. They were simple dance socials organized for the purpose of getting the boys to meet girls and vice versa.  We always had a live band of high school kids who played the latest music.  At least one band member was a student at Mendel. We had to take our shoes off to dance on the sacred basketball floor; that’s why it was a ‘sock hop’.

There were a number of Catholic schools In the Roseland area. Saint Louis Academy was one of them.  Saint Louis was an all girl’s school located on State near 115 Street, and about a mile from Mendel.  The priest in charge advertised our event at all the neighborhood girl’s schools.  The word always got out, and there was always a good crowd at these dances.

Homecoming Dance, Not a Sock Hop, 1956

 

In my first year, I attended as many hops as I could.  Each time, I met a buddy and we stood on the sidelines drinking a coke, eyeballing the girls dancing by themselves.  We poked each other when a particular girl peaked our interest, and dared each other to ask her to dance.  I always thought the girls were too good for me, or too pretty. I never believed a pretty one would ever accept my offer to dance. The girls all seemed so old and mature. Most times it took me all evening to build up enough nerve to ask a special girl to dance. Then, when I finally made my move, another guy asked her just before me.

It was easier to talk to someone if you were dancing a slow dance than if you did a jitterbug.  That limited the number of chances I had to meet someone.  Since most guys could dance slow, but not fast, the competition was fierce.  (It just occurred to me as I am writing this that I was a good dancer, and loved to jitterbug. I should have taken advantage of that skill to meet the girls.  Duh!!  Not too dense, it’s only taken me fifty-eight years to figure that one out!)

The dance ended at 10 p.m., then everyone went their own way.  Many parents waited outside in cars to pick up their daughters.  A few older boys drove home from school, but most of us took the streetcar home.

In that first year that I attended the sock hops, I never developed enough nerve to ask a girl for a date after the hop.  I finally got enough nerve to begin asking girls to dance, but never had the nerve to go past “see you at the next sock hop” when it came to furthering a relationship.

Every time I attended a sock hop I took a step away from Avalon and a step further from my friends on the block. My freshman year at Mendel was my ‘breaking away’ experience.  We were all growing up and expanding our horizons, but desperately holding on to each other at the same time.

Chasing Basketballs and Sweaty Towels

Basketball article stub icon

Image via Wikipedia


BASKETBALL

High school was loaded with activities.  Everyday there were announcements about new ones.  One day, it was about basketball and decided to check it out.  I never played basketball formally.  None of the kids I knew owned a basket ball.  The playground at OLH didn’t have a backboard or a hoop.  One kid did nail a bushel basket that he cut the bottom out of to a telephone pole.  There was no backboard at all.  He used to shoot baskets that way.  It  was my only contact with basketball at that point.

The Mendel gym was on the second floor of the west wing.  It was short and the roof trusses were low to the floor.  Anyone trying to take a long shot had a good chance of hitting a truss with the ball.  Mr. DiGiovanni, a short and stocky man with a full head of back hair combed straight back coached the team.  His voice was soft and calm except when he was shouting directions to the players.

The day I went to tryout the team was there practicing.  I was amazed at how tall they were.  I hadn’t started growing yet and was very short.  Mr. D was nice to me and let me down gently, but he offered me the position of team manager.  I accepted immediately because I wanted to be part of the team.  The job involved keeping the equipment organized and ready.  I had to make sure a dozen balls were ready for practice and properly inflated. There were a bunch of sweaty white towels to handle too.

The sessions lasted from 4 to 6 p.m.  By the time I put everything away and caught the streetcar home, it was seven o’clock.  During the practice I sat on the sidelines and did homework.  I learned a lot about basketball that year because Mr. D was always teaching fundamentals.  Today, when I watch NBA games, I see violations of the basic rules at every game. NBA players are a big offenders of the palming rule.  Palming is holding and rolling  the ball over from underneath while dribbling.  Dribbling is supposed to be done by the pushing on top of the ball.  Palming allows the player to carry the ball in between dribbles. Palming goes in tandem with another NBA violation; walking.

I learned strategy, too, like zone defense and man to man, or a pick.  It was fascinating.  I can’t play the game, but I could probably coach it.

I went with the team to all games and kept the equipment, uniforms and towels straight at host gyms. I usually rode with Mr. D in his old Plymouth. During the games, I kept stats. It was important for the coach to know who scored baskets and free throws. He analyzed the stats during and after every game. If a player missed free throws Coach made him practice 50-100 throws. I would stand under the basket and return the ball to him.

Near Christmas break I got the flu and couldn’t go to school so I missed the instructions for what goes on with the team during the time off at Christmas.  Throughout the holiday season I kept thinking I should check with Mr. D to see if I should be doing something.  I didn’t even know if they practiced or not.

After the break, when school started again, I showed up for practice.  Mr. D really let me know how upset he was with me.  The team played in a tournament during the holidays and they practiced too.  I missed all of the fun of going to the games and let the team down.  I never missed another practice or game after that.

One thing I learned about athletes during that season is that they are aloof.  Although they were friends among themselves, I never became part of their clique.  I did become a part of the coach’s life though, and the priests who ran the sports program.

I finished out the season and earned my letter in basketball even though I didn’t play on the team.  I never received the award in person because I didn’t make the award banquet in the fall of the sophomore year. That is another story.

I loved being manager and I loved the sport.  I looked forward to the next season as manager provided that I didn’t make one of the other sports teams, like football.

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