jouets dans le grenier
l'ameublement idéologique pour l'esprit sans foyer
As a 74-year old retiree consigned to section 8 housing in downtown Tampa, I have over the last several years confined my pursuit of the religious life to its Episcopal representation – thereby practically discarding any similar opportunity with the nearby Catholic, Presbyterian, or Methodist establishments.
That would not have been an easy choice if I had continued to condition my selection criteria principally on organizational or confessional considerations, as you might easily conclude from my subsequent reflections on the Episcopal situation. But I must confess that intellectual excitement for me as a Christian comes from what certain theologians tell me, and less from what I experience in Andrew’s (or any other) pews. Possessed thru these alternate sources of a spiritual outlook I believe exceeds but does not fail to appreciate that of my friends in this community, I’m especially glad I continued to enjoy some of their good company when my former lack of actual membership might have fatally distracted them.
I had lately come to share in the Eucharist at Saint Andrew’s, and was formally accepted into the Episcopal Communion in November. I did this out of a love and affection for this particular Christian community as reciprocated, thought to be preliminary to any reception of the Spirit thru them. I may differ from most in my conviction that while Scripture embodies truth, it is not in all respects history. I believe, as perhaps the Russian Orthodox do, that knowledge of the early Church Fathers’ contribution and motivation is essential to a proper understanding of our Faith. These and similar considerations will continue to rule my appreciation of our Trinitarian God.
This text is now titled “Speak, Memory,” after Nabokov’s recollection of his youthful years. Paraphrasing remarks from the dust cover of his published work, I also hope my memories may present a “moving and nostalgic account of a vanished world.” My first edition is also written when no archives, family papers, or old friends are available to confirm an incident or correct or deny another, or to bring further scenes to mind. Therefore I too have been gently checking facts, collecting additional material and tracking down family photographs in order to present a fuller background from which I sprang.
The text itself is more than just a catalogue of my life’s adventures: it is an intimate record of what, in my mind, constitutes me as a person. It is all that I know about myself – it is where I must go to find out what I am to do with myself next. In order to facilitate page loading, I have tentatively broken this account into three chronologically-determined sections. My first 20 years are described here in Part I: as my closing footnote tells, successive parts will probably not be developed.
Before embarking on any exposition of my spiritual development or moral stance, I thought we might wander for a while among topics commonly assigned to the contingencies of Fate. Then if “spiritual” be interpreted as discovery under the human quest for meaning, you may see that most of my life I have consciously maintained a rigid separation between those meanings derived according to categories David Riesman called Introverted and Extroverted. Much inclined as a child to favor the former as my source of truth and knowledge, any adaptations of these that might favorably affect my fate usually eluded me.
Preliminary to the following tale of my earliest catholic formation, I might recite here some birth narrative and attendant postscript. I was born in Chicago in 1937 (still then in the twilight of the Great Depression) at the corner of LaSalle and Superior Streets – thereby a mile downstream from the 41-story Board of Trade (then Chicago’s tallest building), and a block south from where began the enormous complex of the International Moody Bible Institute. My first home (112 W Ontario St, just around the corner then from Ireland’s Seafood Emporium) had no running water – therefore procured only in big jugs from the nearby gas station. Firewood was created from found packing crates - circumstance not unlike that of Ella Giesman in the Bronx 20 years before. I do recall we were still living there when Pearl was attacked, and shortly thereafter my father, who was not drafted into WWII, began to prosper. He soon managed half dozen rooming houses on or just off of North Clark street – at that time Chicago’s boozing hillbilly Tenderloin. (Parallel and just east of Clark are Dearborn, State, Rush, Wabash, and Michigan Boulevard.) My mother managed the refurbished building where we lived at 673 North Clark Street, and Dad operated properties at 640 and 712 N Clark, having relocated his personal abode from 112 to 64 West Ontario. In order to further confuse our lives, Dad had opted to use the surname “Johnson,” which he thought sounded more American: therefore all my records till I enlisted (1957) also carried that name.
[The small ghetto that marks the locale of this narrative now hosts the largest concentration of art galleries in the United States, outside of Manhattan.]
Dad (Joseph Aurila Johnson Sr) deserves some separate mention. A Lithuanian immigrant and the eldest of 11 children from some downstate coal-mining community (other Aurilas are typically found in Pennsylvania), he had by now morphed into an avid junker. He soon filled most of his tenement’s basements (from under the street to the alley) with auction-procured booty. Where there was no room in the building, nor any garage behind it, he would simply build a shed to house it, on adjacent land he had no particular title to. Incensed in wartime at the OPA’s rent controls, he mounted something called the Rooming House Association, fueled with text created on the one ton Line-o-type machine he had assembled in his bedroom. Also a prodigious enthusiast for processing in the Speed Graphic black & white photography of the day, some of those skills went to filling his newsletter with pictures of wasted housing, while his remaining cineamagraphic energy went to creating “girlie” art for the lads overseas. And rather than let his models go to waste, he ran a call girl syndicate eventually noticed in headlines by the Chicago Tribune. His artistic talents would eventually turn to the production and distribution of gilded plaster McArthur busts (in three sizes), ready in plenty of time for the General’s recall from Korea.
A year after my maternal grandmother died in 1952 - alone on some cold steel bed in the County Hospital - my parents divorced and my mother and I gave up our life on the reservation. His fortunes soon declined, and he lost everything. Johnson pere came by my high school once in my Senior year, looking for me to change paternal allegiance, which I declined. Years later I saw him – pipe and tamashanter - on the street from a bus in Uptown, but he would be gone before I could get back to the spot. It’s a mystery how he might have done it, but it would be nice to think I might someday find him in Saint Casmir’s Cemetery, where all my maternal relatives are buried.
My mother’s early life and habits were of course rather different. She was raised as an only child on Chicago’s South Side by her father (also) Joseph (who died a year before I was born) and mother Margaret. All three were born in Lithuania, immigrating here just before WWI. This Joe apparently worked most of his life here in the Illinois Central RR yards, retiring eventually to own a neighborhood bar. My mother’s public school education included formal training in the Lithuanian language, where of course it was also spoken in her home. (In fact, my grandmother never really learned to speak English). By the time I was on the scene, Margaret was living with Joe’s Irish RR friend Bill Pickett, and their modest apartment on Chicago’s far South Side was a welcome “country” retreat for my mother and me during and just before my grammar school years. Since our food allowance was a dollar-something a day (1940’s prices), my mother usually took extra employment stuffing envelopes – her only known occasional occupation up to and including the day she died.
Lithuania (Lietuva to the people who never left) and its natives in Chicago might be worth describing. Now merely the largest of the three Baltic states, by the 15th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, and then declined. And, as everyone knows, on 11 March 1990 Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence.
In Chicago we were represented in several communities on the far South side, most notably the ones called Burnside and Roseland. Coming from Europe’s easternmost small Catholic country, we seemed to have a natural affinity for the Irish, of similar faith from Europe’s westernmost end. Or perhaps it was our common Celtic origins. I do recall that in our 1940’s Lithuanian family gatherings young children typically ran about naked, which though not painted blue was thought to be a perfectly natural state of being for them. They also sipped volatile alcohol, in medicinal portions.
So my only experience of family life as conventionally advertised occurred before dad went into the rooming house business. There were even occasional family rides to Belmont Harbor’s rocky beach or to a War Bond drive’s outdoor “battlefield” theatrical. All that was over once my mother and I were ensconced at 673 (we identified our domiciles by their street addresses). Klein’s Dry Goods had the first floor, and we lived in or rented out the other three – with dad’s auction purchases filling the basement and the garage behind it. The building was a little peculiar in that it had a “light well” just off-center: that is, one room on the second floor had no ceiling, and you could look down into the open “well” from the fourth floor. I had small rooms on what the French call the first floor, both on the street side and facing the “back yard”, the other spaces being for our offices, kitchen, and bathrooms. My mother’s rooms were on the east end of floor above. And the rest were totally redecorated “sleeping rooms,” each of which at least had a bed & an extension phone (implying a full-blown PBX switchboard downstairs). When available I would occasionally spend an overnight in one of the front rooms on the fourth floor, just get the full effect of Clark Street at night – and be serenaded by “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” or “You Are My Sunshine,” or the like.
Therefore my life at home was both private and spacious, especially compared to my peers. No siblings so no others to share with, and separated parents providing therefore not much adult attention. Concurrent with this freedom you must also understand that I was also an inmate at the time of a parochial grammar school. But at home I was an avid reader of comic books (many, used from Corey’s Book Store, two for a nickel), and regular patron further of the Newberry Movie theater (across from “Bughouse Square” and the Newberry Library). At least once a week, double features and a few cartoons (Warner Bros, not Disney).
There were small parental adventures, which I dearly loved. Here I must pause to tell you what my parents looked like. Dad was kind of a John Wayne-looking person, and my mother when young resembled Elizabeth II at about the same age. She was indeed a very attractive person. Anyway, I did enjoy those times when, on our way to school in the morning, we would stop at a local diner (marble-topped counter) for a chocolate donut and coffee. Or go down by the river at night to the Greek cafeteria for a slice of banana cream pie. Dad’s also infrequent outings might be a visit to King’s Palace – sawdust floor with a massive horseshoe bar, but up front the world’s finest greasy cheeseburger & fries. Or to wander about among the piles of scrap in the Jewish junkyards just west of the Loop. Or to work on his usually dry-docked 36-foot cabin cruiser, the Mitzi. But of conversation that might be memorable, there was nil. Just the brief & abstract pleasure of the company of the beings who created me. No doubt about it.
His most memorable personal gift to me was a rideable fire truck. Perhaps its basic pedal propulsion came from something ready-made, but by the time he added his home shop effects, it was indeed a thing of beauty. The wooden parts were enameled in black, and its metal fuselage dark cherry red. The only place I could ride it was in the half-block long basement of 673, but it was always there for me, and I knew it.
Our Clark Street home occasionally received a visiting family from my mother’s earlier life. These were the Matlins, Frank and his wife, and their only child (about my age) Darlene - thought perhaps someday to be my wife. Photos of Frank as a young man show a biker in the 20’s fashion, wrapped in leather and mounted on this truly formidable “hog,” but as a family provider he would spend most of his life amidst the damp and fumes of his garage, a body & fender shop. He sponsored my Confirmation, and I became the proud owner of my first wrist watch. Sometime after I returned from the Air Force, he refurbished and gave me a powder blue Chevrolet, that got me to my brief IBM employment in Rochester MN in the mid-60’s. By then however Darlene had married, and so the Matlins faded from my life.
It’s a bit strange I may recall in 2011 the things my mother liked to cook for me at home in the 40’s. Her top dish was cabbage stuffed with ground round. Alternately layered in a in a pot at least twice over with sauerkraut and canned tomatoes, and dashed with whole allspice, I wish to God I knew more of the details of its preparation. There was also macaroni and beef in a tomato sauce, and most rarely halibut steaks with butter & lemon. Otherwise, the fare most often was reconstituted chicken noodle soup.
Some of my time as a child was spent, as recalled in the library number from Ella’s “Good News,” on my fire escape at 673 at night, enjoying a back view of the lit-up towers on the Boulevard. As I got to be older, more of my nights went to the company of my hoodlum companions, later alternately either alcoholics or potheads, depending on whether their spiritual inclinations were Catholic or Protestant. Earlier though, of which I am speaking now, my non-academic daytime energy went to the regular and innocent enjoyment of Chicago’s architectural and landscaped wonders – especially around Oak Street Beach and Lincoln Park. All free and within easy walking distance.
Holy Name Cathedral (Chicago, 1943-1951). Selected parentally on some unfounded expectation that it might harbor less student violence than Ogden (its public rival), I attended Holy Name’s four-story century-old parochial school long enough to complete the whole room-by-room circuit of its second floor grammar school. While nuns there freely administered corporal punishment to slow learners, I not only escaped that particular attention, but in fact thrived on the content of books.
Survival among my peers was assured by my friendship with the quite athletic Bobby Hannah, the second youngest in Eileen “Ma” Hannah’s Clinton Hotel 1-room brood of three (Johnny, Bobbie, & Timmy). His oldest brother Vincent T Cronin, not at home, was administrative assistant to the priest running Chicago’s Boys Clubs, but Bobbie himself would enter celebrity in 1967 as Chicago’s 1000th gangland slaying. While the Hannah boys commanded considerable respect while on Holy Name’s premises, my life truly joined theirs in the company of their friends outside school. Principally these included the Herrera’s (Maxie & Jay), the Spicuzza’s (Joe & Wayne), Ronnie Lusker, and several Donati’s. As time went on, we became only a fraction of the quite extraordinary free association which congregated & sometimes deployed itself from what we all called “the Corner.” Whose fuller nature and composition will be described in conjunction with my time at Wells High.
The time spent with Bobby and his friends south of Oak Street was mainly a group experience. North of Division Street, my time with Frank Volini was rather more personal. Frank was the third youngest of about 11 children, whose father had been Chicago’s leading Catholic heart surgeon. A frequent visitor to their Dearborn Parkway home, I enjoyed their basement most of all, with the apple bin up front and all kinds of surgical stuff lying about. We found entertainment just by ourselves, and a lot of that came from exploring nearby Lincoln Park. Despite most of his siblings getting into medicine, in the late 70’s I would find Frank working in South Chicago as a plumber. His older brother Camillo had become an attorney, and was active in Chicago politics. We had steaks on Frank’s patio, and I met the second of his remarkably beautiful Catholic wives, and their latest child. Blessed he was therefore, no matter what.
There was some small competition at the time in his own neighborhood for Frank’s attention. Down the street in lesser quarters lived one Bob Ellison. Although hard to remember, he would precede Roger Ebert as Movie Critic for the Sun-Times, and produce a lot of TV. Significantly to me, he was an “executive script consultant” to Cheers – and why not: as a regular patron of Chicago’s Old Town bars (as is Roger), he might easily transfer that experience to Boston.
Even (or especially) as a child raised in poverty within spitting distance of our famous Water Tower, I enjoyed great personal security on streets much avoided by gentile society. While I would not admit it then, I was just as pleased to attend the Cathedral’s rather grand services (on Sundays at 10 these featured the Archbishop (Samuel Cardinal Stritch) concelebrating with several lesser Bishops, two choirs, incense and bells) as I was to be included among the juvenile trash posted every night for adventure on the corner of Chicago and State.
Ordinary clergy at the Cathedral may also be styled as spectacular: Monsignors named Hardiman, Hayes, Regan, Brett, Brennen, MacAvoy – not only priests but strong male models to any Catholic boy. My first grade nun, who took me to the Convent each night where she did her evening chores and I could wait for my working mother to fetch me home. Sister Mary Claretta BVM, who mentored me well through at least two grades. Confirmed by Cardinal Stritch in 1949, for the longest time I had no intention of reinventing that extraordinary experience. It is unfortunate that my participation and affection for this system should then terminate under the mis-tutelage of one Sr Mary Saint Elise.
We may indeed wonder why holy providence decided to assign this simple young lady to manage this particular collection of Catholic misfits. Consumed by hate when she learned my September election as Class President was collectively secured by stolen Protestant candy, reconciliation was not an option. With a rare concession to Modernity, she scheduled some of the eighth grade component of her combined classroom to describe elements of response to a nuclear attack, and I was to talk about the contents of one’s medicine chest. Aware that at the time none of us even knew what an atom was, I thought to embellish my report with some prerequisite knowledge.
Easy to do, because that subject was then recently explored in cover and content (May 16, 1949) by Life magazine. Copying its materials out to flip charts, I spent an hour & a half giving my colleagues in the 7th and 8th grade their first known exposure to all that popular science of the time knew about the structure of the elemental atom. Years later one of that audience (Harold Keil, to be exact) recalled it as “a happening.” Disposed to assign disobedience much like Diane Keaton’s “Sister Mary Tells It All,” St Elise was fortunately not provided a real revolver. So I merely got a “D” for my effort, because in my talk I had forgotten about the medicine cabinet.
However little oversight may have been given the Church’s pedagogical practices, this Archdiocese was Hell on final student exams, at any grade level. Matched perhaps now in complexity only by application for Federal employment, I had for years in my class of barely two dozen people scored best in these multi-day exams. Holy vengeance prevailed nonetheless. With not the slightest academic recognition at graduation, I found no difficulty in choosing, at 13 years of age, to live and learn among folk not blessed with a Catholic ecclesial sense of fair play. Scholarships went to Harry Riley & John Ward. Both declaring for the priesthood, Harry could never get incardinated & John retired years later as a CPD desk sergeant.
► Represented with affection, however much they may here resemble the chorus from “Marat/Sade,” are the disparate members of my graduating class. Monsignor Hayes is at first row center, I am top row center, and Bobby is 3rd from the left in the row between us. Frank is at the far right in the same row.
I also began that part of my life which required that I must share it with employers. In the eighth grade I worked for a couple of hours each day for a person named Carmen. He sold newspapers from his stand on the NW corner of State & Grand, and for $10 a week I sold papers for him from one on the SE corner. Starting HS, I ran the mailing operation for Grain & Feed Journals, then in the basement of Chicago’s Board of Trade.
Later in HS I joined my Mundelein colleagues doing various service jobs at the Lake Shore Club - running elevators, bellhoping, attending its parking lot. These of course were 8-hour shifts – including overnights – not shared with a school day. On Saturdays in summer the club ran a roof top dance: music & booze & a rather pleasant evening. I recall on one occasion I was the elevator operator assigned at 2 am to bring everyone down from the top of the 19th floor. There being no inside safety doors, I watched with fascination as the floors whizzed past the chin of one of the inebriated souls in front. Failing to notice the 3rd floor go by, a point where I was supposed to release the throttle in order to comfortably land in the lobby. Even though thrown in reverse, the car continued in its free fall down to the basement springs, and simply bounced back up to the correct floor. Brightly departing the car, no one seemed to have noticed their extra ride – or thought that was how we usually did it.
Wells HS & environs (Chicago, 1951–1955)
The Corner. Anticipated in the last section, I am talking about the NE corner of Chicago Avenue & State Street. Across the street we will notice the northern perimeter of Cathedral Square, and a few blocks east (at Michigan Boulevard) our landmark old Water Tower. The Chicago Avenue subway station (ground breaking in 1937) had entrances on all four corners, but only the rail atop the NE one provided a roost to the Corner’s early arrivals. Food was only spitting distance away, served with loving malice by the hillbillies who ran a festal dump called Yankeeburgers. Not so primitive to not be sure that Brubeck’s Take Five or Blue Rondo à la Turk were always on the juke box. Here even the children at Holy Name found alternate nourishment to the peanut butter & chocolate milk lunches served in their cafeteria.
There congregated select subsets of the student population from both Ogden and Mundelein (Holy Name’s high school). To spice it all up, we were also the rendezvous point for any of Downtown’s newly arrived rural pilgrims, easily assimilated and to my knowledge never threatening. We had therefore characters, who beguiled us with lifestyles not advertised in our textbooks: there was Old Man Frank, Toddy, John Sodas, Jerry Tomar, Big John Cole, Jerry Fallout, Reggie Love, Jerry Hughes, and at least several others. Frank knew which horses were winners long after they were forgotten by most. Tomar bore Neanderthal features but was an excellent ballroom dancer: having sprung himself from jail because he was deemed insane in a different jurisdiction, he again lost his freedom for cold-calling folk to advertise his drug possessions. Big John somehow ran over and killed his friend’s sightseeing locomotion, neither of them unduly upset over the incident. Fallout was our resident Indian who travelled about with a shopping bag of bogus Peyote, eventually put away by police who claimed it was the real thing. Hughes was deadly on the basketball court, and impossible to guard because his eyes were crossed - you couldn’t avoid looking at the eye that was looking at you, while his other eye would be picking a receiver or setting up his next usually perfect shot. All the while, as nice a human being as you could ever hope to meet.
We the young and innocent also had our moments. Illegal sorties into the Downtown theaters usually formed at the Corner, pausing perhaps enroute down State Street at the Hannah’s. Ticketless entry was often initiated by little Jay, whose special gift was to appear to be leaving a movie house when he was actually going in. He or others then popped open firedoors and the rest of us would run like Hell for seats once inside typically the Chicago Theater or the State-Lake.
I remember just one evening when significant contingents from every social subset appeared on the Corner all at once: it was indeed breathtaking, like Starry Night descending. A Corner no longer much attended by 1979, when ambient traffic there seemed especially hushed on the occasion of John Paul’s October attendance at a recital by the Chicago Symphony in his honor at Holy Name’s nearby sanctuary.
Energy might be expended by the non-dopers in the parking lot cum hoops a block south or the YMCA a block west. For the equally abundant dopers, some of their energy would be spent circling our block in a recreational search for other peoples “stash,” incidental to parking their own before actually posting up on the Corner. (Year before last, Katharine Jefferts Shori would delight me in her use of the term in her talk here at Saint Mary’s Episcopal.)
Those of us who identified with Illinois Street had similar as well as alternate recreations. There the abandoned tenements or warehouses were also our playground. Pieces of a building provided abundant and available missiles for our occasional games of tag: you would always get a warning shout, and then some large chunk of masonry or a plaster-encrusted two-by-four would bury itself in what was left of the wall behind you. Marvelous for the reflexes. Watchmen were not left out of the game, particularly if they headquartered in a basement. They might be woken by a four-wheeled cart dropped nine stories down that abandoned elevator shaft.
Wells High. What happened next is pretty well told in two subdomains already established on this website. My trip thru Chicago’s public school system is recounted at wells.daurril.org. To all that I add the following:
Wells was definitely not my first choice. At first I tried to attend Shurz HS on the far northwest side: co-ed with the second best shops (next to Lane Tech (not co-ed)) in the city. While a lovely ride, each way consumed about an hour & a half: not sustainable. After a few weeks, to their regret and mine, I elected to join Bobby’s group at Harvey Wells Senior High. Then recently racially integrated within a distinctly Italian neighborhood, those of us from Ogden or Holy Name who traveled to Ashland Avenue constituted its rather distinct third estate.
It seems the scholastic habits hewed at Holy Name were more than sufficient to ace any curriculum offered at Wells. I was assured by my freshmen home teacher that I would be secure in any quest for academic brilliance in this environment, and so it was. Later I would learn that my situation would not have been that remarkable if I had been in the public system all along: I would like several of my friends, been double-promoted sometime before HS, and thereby reduced to normalcy by the time we got there.
Bob Maggiore and I became best friends early on, while Hannah (even though briefly on the football team) and his other friends dropped out by their sophomore year. Following my Catholic education for the altar, I took Latin (rather than French) with the very dedicated Miss Wolsan, and thereby met Annette Clayton, effectively my girlfriend for the next 3 years. The eastern component of my small society soon included Annette’s older sister Bobbie, Annette’s best friend Deanna Lawney, and the Posners. The Claytons were among several of my friends who were to live in coach houses, theirs being in the alley across from the Ambassador East. Along with Maggiore for the west, there was Don Stunoff (Wells star pitcher), Betty Somka, Marie Scavone, Tom Adkins, and Tommy Spears. Impromptu post-lunch piano recitals were often provided in the auditorium by a budding performer named Ramsey Lewis. As well enjoying their lunches together, whether the east siders took Division Street or Chicago Avenue buses to get home (Wells HS on Augusta was exactly in the middle), soda fountains were handy at either end to reinforce our departures.
Our student council was called the Wells Civic Association (WCA), and it was where I had the most fun. Always a member, I thrived then, as I would forty years later with the Producers Association at Tampa’s Public Access, on my colleague’s virtual ignorance of their own by-laws, and their hosting authorities determination to keep it that way. Thus Jess Brodnax, who shared both my interest in politics and my affection for Rosalie Neufeldt, would recall my persistent intervention at meetings by introducing himself on this year’s Facebook with “point of order.” I managed by my last year to be the official WCA parliamentarian, directing also the activities of its next nominating Convention.
During the summer following my junior year, I was approached by math instructor Irving Braur who would field whatever college offers might come my way. Under his guidance I won an Honor Entrance Scholarship to the University of Chicago, and loved the moment in Mandel Hall (with my mother) when the awards were formally announced. Returning to Wells in September, I learned that Annette’s family had slipped away to Harvey, and she was now in attendance at Thornton Township High. So I invited the previously mentioned Deanna (from Finland via Superior WI, in all objective truth the Class of June 55’s reigning beauty) to our Senior prom, and she accepted. I later met her parents (John and Laila), to whom I may have seemed a promising but dull lad. We went to the movies once (7 Brides for 7 Brothers downtown), and then the prom was upon us. Double dating with Don and Betty, Don’s transportation got us all to our big night at the Club Waikiki. It occurred to me many years later, after Don mentioned that he later dated Deanna, that they had shared Miss Mazurik’s French class (along with Jess) for years and so they did get to go to 1955’s prom together, at the same table but with different escorts.
The now missing Annette was replaced in Deanna’s local affection that last year by one Sally Rae Kennedy. A new arrival and cast off from North Park Academy, my first impression was that Sally’s sophistication made her plenty scary, and not a good influence on my already sexually curious new sweetheart. I later learned Sally was also a Dearborn Parkway person, living there with her father Dick Kennedy, his (new?) wife Margaret Claiborne, and her son Tom. (Missing was Julie, Dick’s other daughter who stayed with her natural mom.) Tom was already known to my neighborhood people, from his earlier attendance at Ogden.
For some reason never perfectly clear to me, I also decided the beginning of my Senior year not to go to classes any more. Perhaps in a way I felt I had finally been double-promoted, right into college. But I cared not at all to attend things I was sure I already knew. Perhaps experiencing a classic nervous breakdown, I simply spent each school day in the janitor’s basement quarters, practicing my clarinet, and coming up to socialize and eat. Therefore being myself, I was told I lost my Honor Entrance to Chicago by not graduating with my class. Interesting, because my grade average was such that although I failed my entire senior year, I only dropped to 15th in a class of nearly 300. My brief autobiography (elsewhere) describes this crisis as prompted by “family economic issues,” which concedes the afterthought that my working mother could never have financially supported me in the U/C’s academic & social environment.
So I pursued the two courses I needed that summer at Crane Tech, soon discovering that Miss Kennedy would also be in attendance. Never knowing why, for some reason Spears (whom I barely knew) decided to lend me his vintage Ford for the summer. Having then transportation, and Sally also needing courses, she became my regular travelling companion. We typically lunched nearby in a bar under the Lake Street El tracks, typically having a sandwich on rye bread, a beer, and a wonderful time. I never expected more than friendship: she was also at the time dating Wells alumnus and paratrooper Ralph Trentadue and possibly pregnant with their eventual son curiously named Joel.
Sometime toward the end of summer in 1955 I left home, sharing for a short while Maxie’s small modern Jazz apartment on East Division. In September I briefly tried Illinois at Navy Pier and also Roosevelt. However slight 1955’s trip thru higher education, I did appreciate Susanne Langer, some Wittgenstein, and Alfred Korzybski. Many years later I would find that Liberal Theology had become pretty excited over the same ideas.
But I could not sustain the course load at either while carrying real luggage full-time at Chicago’s Conrad Hilton. An employment prompted by the fact that Deanna’s new step-father John (sire to her new infant step-brother) was a bartender across the street at the Blackstone, and I thought I might come across her again: not to happen. An education in itself, I was at the Hilton for the Democrat’s 1956 Convention, whose nominee Stevenson would again lose to Eisenhower. Easily distracted from my ordinary labours, I often wandered the hotel (especially its rooftop), visiting places anyone might now see in Harrison Ford’s “The Fugitive.” Also got to glimpse Bogart (in his last film) and Steiger at work in their Hilton lobby scenes during the making of The Harder They Fall.
(Years after I left its employ, this Hilton could still obtain my interest, and the Nation’s. Site of the Democrat’s 1968 gathering, I managed to personally witness the Lincoln Park end of its attendant police riot while most of the world saw what happened at the Hilton-Grant Park end. Then, In 1974, I was part of a crowd waiting for Jerry Ford to exit the Hilton’s 8th Street entrance, where the Presidential limo was parked. Across the street in Grant Park were also perhaps a few hundred angry Greeks, reprising something like 1968’s unhappiness. Out came Jerry, alone among others, looking for all the world like a conventioneer who couldn’t remember where he parked his car. I rushed to stand at its open back door while the rest of his party got on board, and noticed their flight path headed dead south on the Boulevard – straight away from the Greeks. What fun!)
Still at the Conrad in late 1956, I went to work for Bill Hoffman as a food steward in banquet service. Bill had always worked with food: previously in charge of its handling on Roosevelt’s rail excursions, he would go on to run Hilton’s food enterprises at McCormick Place. But at Balboa and Michigan he was especially sensitive to an impoverished 19-year old’s first exposure to cuisine as it was meant to be. My job, for instance, allowed me to eat out of the Boulevard Room’s kitchen, experiencing among other things my first broiled lamb chops. It hurt not that my friend Chou, one of the Corner’s most prolific marijuana connections, was also a banquet service waiter. Fortifying me to sample as required black coffee straight out of an industrial spigot – Hilton’s best brew (their Scotch wasn’t bad either) - I never went back to how I concocted it at Yankeeburgers.
My position was nonetheless highly and publically resented by Bill’s Latino sub-management, where I was to them not racially qualified to hold it. Their resentment was so strong that Bill and I once wound up washing dishes together, for lack of their support. So I did leave, but do not hesitate to recall the situation, and will never forget Herr Hoffman’s kindness.
I drove a cab for a while, until in the course of a sleet-filled afternoon what I was driving crossed by itself four lanes of northbound traffic on Lake Shore Drive and, having fortunately slid west rather than east, wound up resting against a Park District tree. As at the same time some of my friends were misdmeanoring themselves into jail, I felt the call of my Country. So on the first of March in my 20th year, I reported with a planeload of my fellow Chicagoans for active duty at Lackland AFB.
In order not to scandalize some of my later colleague’s grandchildren, there is at present no plan to develop the remaining Parts.
Last update on 15-June-2012 at 10:13 PM.