Eagles, Kings & Royals

September 5, 2020

West of you was trouble, turf battled over by Latin Eagles, Latin Kings, and a hillbilly gang called the Simon City Royals. Most every garage was tagged with graffito. It got worse every block. When the Cubs nearly did something right in 1969, Wrigleyville was a war zone. Latino gangsters literally stood on the sidewalks taunting fans or worse. If there wasn’t a game there was no reason to be there. If and when you ventured that direction, to catch a bus or visit the arcade, you stashed lunch money in your sock and a few bills in your pocket to pay off the muggers.

You’d accumulated a hodge-podge of friends, misfits like you, who hid in books and hobbies, and still others more doomed by their circumstances. Some would join gangs or defy them, always fighting or fleeing. Together you were a group of electrons in an unstable atom. Catching fish in the lake. Avoiding being caught in an alley. God only knows what glue held you together. Comic books. Films. Music. But soon came liquor, pills and weed; those false prophets that caused you so much pain while pretending to soften it. And through it all, those alluring and delirious creatures from distant, unobtainable shores, sirens that beckoned you to this day: Women.

More soon…

Two Flats and Butterflies

September 3, 2020

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Yet, you were inquisitive in other ways, always wanting to know why. You liked to talk with adults and easily made them laugh. You got Woody Allen. You had a superb vocabulary and received high marks at school. Less physical and more sensitive than the average boy, you preferred nature to the man-made and pursued hobbies over sports. You collected rocks, raised guppies and caught butterflies, managed to find numerous species darting and flitting amid the small backyards on your block.

Your father was Jewish and your mother Catholic. But neither practiced their faith, nor pretended to, and so neither did you. Your folks were frantically creating the “Me” generation. Religion played no part. The only time you entered church or temple was for confirmations or a bat mitzvah. Like any kid, you couldn’t wait to leave. God wasn’t good or bad. God wasn’t anything.

You lived off Lincoln Park, in what was then called New Town, only then it was an old feeling place, with rows of decaying apartments and two-flats, their facades crumbling and peeling, yellow and grey bricks stacked up from the sidewalks. Some had front yards, more just plots, comprised mostly of crabgrass and pissed-upon Junipers, or courtyards, hard packed with dust and rubble. After a vigorous rain, you found night crawlers there by the hundreds, collecting them for fishing or merely regarding them in awe. Hard ground saturated, they came from below to mate, sticking to one another like spaghetti. In a decade, gay people would transform the neighborhood, seeking community, and after them would come everyone else. But for now it was an uneasy mix of Latinos, Asians and a handful of others, like you. Bohemians. Nicer was just east, a two-block sliver of grand homes, opulent apartment buildings and modern high-rises facing Lake Michigan. Living so close, you took advantage of the park by the lake and caught perch from its shore, bringing stringers home to fillet and cook in hot oil. The lake was vast, like an ocean.

To be continued…