Ah, what a tangled web we weave…

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The other night I was invited out for a night with “the girls” and I told my husband that I would be home by midnight:

 

“I promise!”  Well, the hours passed and the margaritas went down way too easily.  Around 3 a.m., a bit loaded, I headed for home (in a cab) and just as I got in the door, the cuckoo clock in the hallway started up and cuckooed 3 times.

Quickly, realizing my husband would probably wake up, I cuckooed another 9 times.  I was really proud of myself for coming up with such a quick-witted solution!  (Even when totally smashed…3 cuckoos plus 9 cuckoos totals 12 cuckoos which is MIDNIGHT).  Perfect!

The next morning my husband asked me what time I got in and I told him “MIDNIGHT”…and he bought it hook, line and sinker.  Whew, I got away with that one!

Then he said, “We need a new cuckoo clock.”  When I asked him why, he said, “Well, last night our clock cuckooed 3 times, then said, “oh shit” and cuckooed 4 more times, cleared its throat, cuckooed another 3 times, giggled, cuckooed twice more and then tripped over the coffee table and farted.

Hot Town, Summer in the City

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Chicago is one of the things that is some of all of me; it floats in my memory and lives in my bones.

I grew up on the south side and wear my growing up time like a badge of honor.  I haven’t lived there for 35 years, but when people ask me today where I come from, without hesitation, I say, “Chicago.”

I lived in the white house!

In the early 1960′s I was a five year old living at 5224 So. Albany.  We had our neighborhoods back then and we had the Chicago Democratic machine.  Everyone knew where everyone else belonged by their thick accents or their skin color.  It was normal everyday thinking to think:  the Italians are over here and the Pollocks are over there and the Spics are everywhere and the Blacks keep over where they belong, and watch out for those crazy Irish.  I’m not saying this is right; I’m saying this is how it was.  Most of the children I played with spoke English at school and a second language at home.

There was a bar on almost every corner with a bright, white and blue Hamm’s Beer sign that flickered in time to the tunes rolling out the door from the juke box.  Steady traffic.   I remember a bar called “The Ace of Clubs” and still think that if I ever owned one, that would be what I called it.  If our parents weren’t down at the corner bar (and mine weren’t) they would be sitting on the front porch steps on any given July evening, cooling off with a Tupperware glass of ice tea, Tab, or Coca-Cola which was chilled with ice freed from a metal ice cube tray.  We learned to grab those frozen metal trays from the freezer with dry hands or get a freezer burn.  Then we ran water over them to loosen the ice so the metal pull would crack the bricks free much easier. We never ran out of ice.  We kept four trays going and the house rule was that if you took the last ice cube in a tray, you had to fill the empty tray and then slide it carefully (harder than it sounds) on top of the other trays.  OR ELSE.

Summer evenings were a time when we came outside after filling up on meatloaf and mashed potatoes and canned corn and after sharing stories about our day and what Joey down the block did and what Suzy said about Mary Jo and we gawked over the new Chevy Impala with the big red fins and electric windows that the guy across the street got.  The house would be all hot inside from the cooking and the breeze outside was welcoming under the setting sun.  My dad usually wore his Dickies and a white tee shirt.  Sometimes his pack of smokes would be rolled up in the sleeve.  God, he was cool.  Mom wore capri pants and sleeveless, jewel neck cotton blouses.  We kids were all mix and match and hand me downs.

Parents would sit on painted porches, cement steps, or brick stoops talking about grown up stuff and shooing off the curious youngsters that were eavesdropping.  We learned a lot about life from hiding under the front porch steps.  It seemed to us, though, that most parents just wanted to get down to the bottom of the neighborhood troublemakers that day.  A troublemaker could be a kid who stepped on Mrs. Stikovich’s flowers, broke a window with a baseball, or got caught riding his bike in the street.  We all got in trouble for something now and again and our parents always found out.  If a neighbor caught us, we’d catch it from them first and then they would tell our parents and we would get it twice as bad when we got home.  Our butts were fair game for spankings whether we needed them or not.

Eventually one of the parents would ask if anyone wanted an impromptu snack–usually one dripping with mustard, relish and onions.  The hot dog joint was right up the street so we’d run in the house to get a scratch pad of paper and take down all the orders.  If it wasn’t hot dogs, it was hamburgers from the G.I. Grill on Central.   A couple of us kids would get assigned the mission to bring ‘em home hot and we might get a quarter out of the whole deal.

I have memory of a Dicken’s style vegetable man who would come clip-clopping down the side streets with his old wagon.  It was pulled by two big, grey draft horses.  He would sell tomatoes and onions right off of his cart and I remember it being an ancient, old and odd thing to see even back then, in 1966.  Dr. Francisco made house calls if we were really sick  and his office was up a large flight of narrow wooden stairs, above the Rexall Drug Store on Kedzie.  My mom would call him after she had run out of cotton balls and cod liver oil to heat up on a spoon and pour in my ears.   I had the mumps and the measles, there too.

The Push Up … My Favorite !!

Metal milk boxes sat on our porches, in the shade, and the Home Juice Company man would come once a week and leave two glass bottles of cold orange-pineapple juice.  He sold other kinds, but we always got that kind.  All at once folks everywhere would stop what they were doing and listen to see if  “it really was the ice cream man coming.”  Quarters, dimes and nickles fell from pockets as we lined up and elbowed our way to 35 cent  ice cream bars.  Candy bars were 25 cents and you could buy a candy cigarette that puffed “smoke” for a penny at Lottie’s corner store.  Lottie’s was where I ate my FIRST Dorito chip.

The very best thing that could happen to a kid in Chicago on a 90 degree day under a relentless sun that produced waves of visual distortion over the frying, baking, and sizzling pavement was when somebody’s big brother or uncle produced a monkey wrench.  That wrench was magic.  It could open up fire hydrants.  It only happened once or twice a summer and when it did, people came from 12 blocks square.  There would be 100 people running through the water gushes in the street and the force of the hydrant created ripples and waves that we could race our bikes through (if we were lucky and made it!)  We would run and splash and scream and laugh and push and shove and cool off until we heard the sirens.  The cops always found out.   I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I think it was probably Mrs. Stikovich, avenging her petunias, who called them.

My kinda town, Chicago is!

(me, sitting, 2nd from right side)

Mushrooms

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Who knew there was so much fungus among us?

I have no idea why I’ve taken a fancy to finding these little gems throughout the forest floor.

 

They surprise me with their hiding spots, colors, sizes and shapes.   My hikes through the woods are made more magical when I spy these awkward, gilled wonders.

 

When I Close My Eyes

June 2011 23036

5224 So. Albany, Chicago

When I close my eyes I see the neighborhood in Chicago where I grew up.   There are a few wood frame homes mixed in with the brick bungalows.  Each house is neatly separated by an 8′ gangway, or sidewalk, which leads to a rear entrance and the backyard.  Backyards measure 30 x 40 feet and most have a cook’s garden bursting with red tomatoes and some radishes or cucumbers.  Each city block is cut in half by an alley that is lined by neat, little one and two car garages.    I spent a lot of time in the alley.  That’s where we kids played.  The streets were busy; the alleys were safe, and you’d get a licking if you didn’t come home when the street lights came on.

As soon as the teachers finished getting us ready for our futures and the days grew longer,  we would spring out of the house and meet up in the alley.  We would stand at a back gate and call each other out.    Sometimes we needed a little pocket change and went door-to-door, selling used pencils or made a lemonade stand, selling  two cent cups of cold, pure sunshine.   We collected bottle caps all summer because the theater gave out a free movie ticket for every eight caps you turned in.   “Three Outs” was a game where we took turns throwing a baseball at the foot of a garage door so it would bounce up, onto it, and fly back to our mitts.  Three misses, or the garage owner coming out and yelling, and you were out.   Hours were spent hopscotching, playing H-O-R-S-E (as if any of us had ever seen a real one) and riding “no hands” on our Stingray bikes with the long banana seats and ape hanger handlebars.

When I close my eyes, I can hear the AM radio playing Harper Valley, P.T.A., 96 Tears, and California Dreaming.  My dad calls me over; I put down my transistor radio and “get” to turn the television channels for him, all eight of them.   Parents figured out real quick that children were much better at changing the channels –only I had the added pleasure of getting to take off his shoes and smelly socks so he could put his feet up on the ottoman after a long day at work.  My mom asks me to run up to “Lotties” (down the alley and up to the corner) to get a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread, handing me a dollar and telling me to count the change.  The phone rings and each of us looks around at the other and says, “I got it last time, it is your turn,” only to find out it is a long distance call and then we all huddle close by to listen.

When I close my eyes, it is just after supper on a typical spring evening and my dad and I are playing catch with the mitts.  It was my favorite game with him.  With each toss, there was a lot going on that was unsaid.  If I jumped up and wrangled a high ball down, he would nod.  Then I’d throw him a burner on purpose just to be a smartass.  I know he felt what I dealt because he would start to twinkle.  That’s when I would brace myself for a real stinger.  I learned real quick that it is better to give than to receive.

When I close my eyes, it is 90 degrees outside, you can see waves of heat rising from the pavement and people are melting because no one has air conditioning.  Mom puts a ponytail in my hair every morning to keep the heat off of my neck.   Looking up and down the entire block, there is a fan blowing in every upstairs window.  Then the miracle of all miracles happens–the Good Humor Truck’s  music gets closer and closer and CLOSER!   My brother runs up to tell me there is a fire hydrant open at 52nd and Troy because Joey’s uncle had a big pipe wrench that fit and that all the kids are there and the water is nice and cool and dogs are running wild in it and so we grab our bikes to see if we can make it through the waves.  Someone has an 8-track player playing Petula Clark’s, “Downtown.”  We race out to the shouts and the glee of the big water spree and the city cool of our very own pool.

Me and Woody, Woody and Me
1966

When I close my eyes, rotary phones are gone along with phone numbers that start with letters, like PO-7-6192, my grandma’s.   I think this is about the time avocado green and seat belts were invented.  My parents bought their first new car, a 1968  Ford Fairlane 500 with with a 289 under her hood that we affectionately named “The Green Hornet”.  It had power steering, lap belts, and an automatic transmission!   The four of us would be coming home from someplace else and someone would remember to call, “I get first dibbs,” (on the only bathroom).   Both my brother and I pretended not to hear my dad’s bathroom song if he ran out of toilet paper.  He would crack the door, put the empty paper tube up to his lips, and sing, “Tootie-Toot, Toot…Tootie-Toot, Toot” until one of us gave in and got him what he needed.  He could sure toot.

When I close my eyes, I’m in the principal’s office and mother has been called; she is on her way there.  My crime?  Wetting blobs of toilet paper and slinging it up on the girl’s bathroom ceiling.  Or maybe it was when the teacher finally noticed my artwork…for days I brought a plastic straw to school and would wad up little bits of paper, wet them with saliva, and blow them on a picture that was hanging next to my desk.  Yep, spitballs. Guilty.  Or maybe it was the time I was spitting down three flights of stairs, trying to hit people from above when a teacher stepped into the wrong place at the right time?  I had a thing for paper, spit, and velocity.

One day, when I close my eyes, I will play ball again, make pinkie rings out of a lightning bugs,  roller skate until the streetlights come on, and I’ll get TWO ice cream sandwiches from the ice cream man and we will never run out of toilet paper and my mom will sew me another Halloween costume  and we will never run out of milk and me and Woody will ride “two on a bike” and never get caught and Santa will bring me lots of presents and we will go to Playland Amusement Park where every ride is a dime and my guinea pigs will squeak when I come home from school and Ricky Carmichael will pull my pig tails again!  Best of all, I will sling a real zinger his way just to see my dad twinkle.

 

The Best Thing About Fishing

1946 – My Grandpa (center) on the Michigamme Reservoir

Spinning a fish tale is akin to being an artist or painter. You’ve got to know how to layer it. Once you’ve caught your limit and filled your head with memories to last until next time, the lying comes in. It is a sin to call it lying because it isn’t really LYING. It is taking a piece of nice fabric and sewing a little design on it. You sit around a campfire and gradually you swindle yourself into believing a rogue fish ran on you three times and was so big you had to grab an oar and slap him silly to get him in the boat. You might have even noticed a bear on the shore threatening to take your keep. Why, I’ve even caught the same fish twice once and reeled in a lure I lost last year.

You don’t just catch a fish once. There are certain ones you catch over and over again as you fall asleep at night. With closed eyes, you tighten the drag as the line spins off–with adrenaline at each end. Remembering the details of the day many times will eclipse the fish itself: the mist on the water at daybreak or seeing a doe and fawn at the water’s edge. Maybe you spotted an eagle perched on a crooked branch. Now throw in the taste of a sack lunch sandwich when your belly is growling, bug bites, and the things you forgot to bring and all the ways you made do. All of this makes the actual fishing of the fish a secondary thing.

When we are grown up and too old for fairy tales, a fish tale is a healthy thing. Without these fabrications, life is mostly a matter of adult things like work, taking out the trash, and thinking about the bills you haven’t got the money to pay. A fisherman who won’t toy with the truth is the kind of person who will do you one in the eye on a deal, kick his dog, or peek in your medicine cabinet. Can’t trust ‘em.

 

 

 THREE BLONDES FISHING 

 Three blondes are sitting by the side of a river holding fishing poles with the lines in the water. A Game Warden comes up behind them, taps them on the shoulder and says, “Excuse me, ladies, I’d like to see your fishing licenses.” We don’t have any.” replied the first blonde.

“Well, if you’re going to fish, you need fishing licenses.” said the Game Warden. “But officer,” replied the second blonde, “we aren’t fishing. We all have magnets at the end of our lines and we’re collecting debris off the bottom of the river.”  The Game Warden lifted up all the lines and, sure enough, there were horseshoe magnets tied on the end of each line. “Well, I know of no law against it,” said the Game Warden, “take all the debris you want.” And with that, the Game Warden left.

As soon as the Game Warden was out of sight, the three blondes started laughing hysterically. “What a dumb Fish Cop,” the second blonde said to the other two, “doesn’t he know that there are steelhead in this river?!”

 

Farmer Style

 

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