Writer’s Workshop: Devon Avenue

“Write a blog post inspired by your childhood neighborhood.” Gee, that’s never something I do around here…

This is a map of my path home from school back in the Sixties. I lived at 6459 N. Glenwood and school was at 1300 W. Loyola, and as you can see it was a very short walk, less than five minutes. When I was in eighth grade, every once in a while I would take the long way, going east on Loyola Avenue until it met up with Sheridan Road, walk down Sheridan to Devon Avenue, west on Devon to Glenwood, and then walk down Glenwood to home. (I would have marked it down on the map, but I kept screwing it up. Sorry.) Why? Not really sure. I think there were days when I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts, or I felt restless and in need of exercise, or it was just a different view of the world.

Devon was all businesses, although there were apartments upstairs from some of them. It wasn’t the nicest street in the neighborhood; it always seemed a little grimy and seedy, although there were some nice places along the way. Meyer’s, for example, was, amond other things, an old-fashioned soda fountain, where when you ordered a Coke, they would actually mix the syrup and soda water together. You could get Coke mixed with different flavors, like chocolate, vanilla, and cherry, a Green River (which was lime, I think), things like that. I never seemed to have any money, so I never went there after school, but whenever I’d go there, a few guys from Weinstein’s Funeral Home were always in there. That’s where I learned that Jewish people don’t have elaborate funerals, because there’s no time to plan for one. When you died, they had to bury you within a day. At least that’s what they told me.

I’d always run past the Devon Hotel. We were always warned not to spend too much time loitering around there, though our parents never actually explained why. I learned later it was a gay bath house, and I understood why they never told us, because then they’d have to explain what went on in there, or at least what they thought went on in there. The people who ran the Devon Hotel had this very large and very vicious German Shepherd who would stand at the iron-bar gate in the back and go into a paroxysm of barking, snapping, and jumping around when you made the mistake of getting too close, which for him was anywhere in the alley. So we ran past the front of the Devon Hotel.

Most of the interesting stuff on Devon was on the south side of the street, including the dry cleaners, which was interesting for me because I was in love with the daughter of the people who ran the place. I don’t know what her ethnic background was, but I remember she was very exotic-looking and had a gorgeous smile, and based on the schoolbooks that were on the table behind the counter, she was about my age. Never had the guts to find out her name, though…

Writer’s Workshop: Timing Is Everything

It’s been raining a lot here in Atlanta the last few days, and it looks like we’re going to get more rain through the weekend and into next week. Having lived through a couple of droughts since we moved here 30 years ago, I’ve learned to see rain as a gift from God. Not that it’s always especially well-timed, though.

Today, for example. I had my last official therapy appointment with my lymphedema specialist. It rained pretty much nonstop until we left for the appointment, and by the time we got there it was overcast and threatening but not raining. When my appointment was over, Mary and I went to lunch, and it was bright enough to need sunglasses. When we came out of the restaurant, the clouds were starting to look dark and threatening again, but Mary decided to go to the store and pick up a couple of things.

I no longer accompany her into the store, because my knees are bad, so when I go with her she leaves me in the car, kind of like a dog. (I have to promise her I won’t bark at anyone.) Before going in, she opened the windows so I wouldn’t suffocate (Mary is thoughtful that way), and walked into the store. And it started to pour. The rain came in through the open windows and I got soaked, because she didn’t leave me the keys to turn the car on so I could close the windows. So I just had to sit there and get wet.

Naturally, when she got back, the rain had stopped.

Writer’s Workshop: It’s Not The Heat…

It’s the humidity!

When I hear someone say, “I’m moving to Arizona; It’s hot there, but it’s a dry heat,” I always think “Yeah, but so’s an oven.” I was in Tucson a number of years ago, and it was 110° almost every day, and even at night it would be in the upper 80’s. A lot of the restaurants there that had outdoor seating had a constant mist of water running on the patio in an effort to cool it off. The mist never really got that heavy, because it would evaporate quickly, but it did cool things down somewhat.

Sentinel Peak (Arizona)

One day when I was there I took a trip up Sentinel Peak, which has a big letter “A” on it for the University of Arizona. And it got really dark and started to thunder, and by the time I got back down the mountain it was raining. I didn’t think it rained there, but evidently they have “monsoons,” and besides, Tucson is higher up than, say, Phoenix, and will get more rain.

I used to think Chicago’s humidity during the summer was bad until I moved to Atlanta. I figured Atlanta’s not on the coast like Chicago (the coast of Lake Michigan, anyway) so it’s going to be less humid. Uh, no. I guess the Chattahoochee River makes things more humid in Atlanta than Lake Michigan does in Chicago, plus in Chicago you have the breezes blowing in off the lake that cool things down, at least within a mile of the lake shore. Beyond that, not much.

The worst place for humidity I’ve been has to be Houston. It’s like walking through a bathtub. (Mary’s been to New Orleans and says it’s worse.) The first time I went to Houston I couldn’t believe how cold they kept it inside. Outside it’d be 95° with about 95% humidity, inside it’d be 68° with about 20% humidity. That’s the way it felt, anyway. A week of that, and I went home and caught an upper respiratory infection that didn’t clear up until a couple of weeks later. Meanwhile, I flew to Hawai’i, and was in utter agony anytime the plane took off or landed. I thought my head was going to explode.

Second most-humid place I’ve been was Singapore, mostly because it rains every day, then the sun comes out and all the rain evaporates, to return the next day. It’s kind of like that in Atlanta, but we don’t get rain every day. It just threatens, getting really dark and starting to thunder, then the sun comes back out as if to say “Just kidding!” When a thunderstorm does actually strike, the weather radio starts shrieking and the local TV meteorologists break out all their toys and Jeopardy! is pre-empted. Me being a weather guy (i.e. I’ve read a lot about weather and picked up some of the lingo that I could use to impress the hell out of people, especially pilots), you’d think I could sit there with my eyes glued to the TV, but after a while it gets really boring.

Which is why I’ll stop here…

Writer’s Workshop: Things I Miss About Summer When I Was A Kid

Here are eight things I remember from my misspent youth that I miss about summer.

Being a kid. Obviously enough. I sometimes think I’m 11 with 50 years of practice.

Unstructured time. We were usually kicked out the door by 10 AM and weren’t expected home until dinnertime. God forbid we be late for dinner. We had to figure out what to do with ourselves for eight hours to give Mom, who was also on summer vacation, some time to herself.

Lake Michigan. I’m hesitant to say “the beach,” because that has its own connotations to people who didn’t grow up in Chicago. To a Chicagoan, the 50 feet of sandy area from the shore of Lake Michigan was “the beach,” and usually there was a grassy area and a playground beyond that. Both were lots of fun to hang around in. My childhood was before the current trend of “playground safety,” i.e. playground equipment that didn’t have a chance to maim or kill you. We knew better than to fall off the monkey bars, which were something I’m sure they whipped up in the Chicago Park District workshop, because there was a good chance you could knock out a few teeth on the way down if you fell. Then you’d catch hell from your mom, especially if they were permanent teeth (and God help you if you had braces…).

Playing in the alley. In our part of the world, the alley was more important than the street as far as a place to meet your friends. Our milieu was the alley between the east side of Glenwood and the west side of Wayne, and yes, it was also where the garbage trucks went through the neighborhood and where people took their dogs for relief. You haven’t played softball until you’ve said “that pile of dog shit is third base.” And yes, we had a form of softball that could be played in the alley by two kids and an army of “invisible men.” A lot of my friends could be found a block over, in the alley between the east side of Wayne and the west side of Lakewood.

Walking everywhere. Our general boundaries were Devon Avenue on the south, the lake on the east, Clark Street on the west, and Touhy Avenue on the north. Sometimes we’d push that northern border all the way to Howard Street, but not often, because we’d have to walk back. If we were adventurous, we’d walk to Broadway and go south as far as Granville. Lambert’s Bowling Lanes were on Broadway, and my brother was a classmate of Lambert’s son. Not that it bought us anything; we still had to pay. Kind of hard to do when you had no money.

The shaded outline in red was pretty much our range.

Being broke most of the time. We didn’t carry a whole lot of money, because there wasn’t that much to carry, anyway. We had to figure out ways to get money. Returning bottles for the deposit was a good way to get it. If we were lucky enough, we’d get a paper route, usually with the Lewis News Agency, working for Chuck Sucks and his wife, Mrs. H. “Sucks” wasn’t his actual last name, but we saw “Chuck Sucks” written all over the neighborhood and knew who the artist was talking about. Chuck looked like a tall Groucho Marx without the mustache or the sense of humor, had an entire wardrobe of short-sleeved white-on-white shirts (you could see his athletic-style undershirt through them; while those types of undershirts are generally referred to as “wife beaters,” I couldn’t see him beating Mrs. H, because she’d probably kill him), pegged dress pants that reached up over where his navel probably was, and pointy Oxfords, smoked horrible-smelling green cigars that he chewed the ends of, and was generally really unpleasant to deal with, whether you were an employee or a client. But he paid pretty well, you had a lot of autonomy, some of the customers tipped pretty well, and occasionally you’d score a discarded Playboy. If you weren’t so lucky, you could try hitting your folks up for it, but that usually involved doing something really unpleasant, like stripping wax off the floor. Fortunately, Grandma Holton lived on the next block, and she was usually good for a Coke, anyway. The point being, being broke had little to do with having fun back then.

Wandering in the great outdoors. I mentioned once that I had a habit of wandering off in random directions, exploring the neighborhood, alone with my thoughts, which as you can probably tell were really strange. It was even more fun if I had my bike, because I could go a whole lot further faster.

Riding my bicycle. Being on my bike was kind of like being on foot, because I was generally going to the same places anyway, but I could get there faster on wheels. Kids didn’t generally bike in the street, because that was like taking your life into your hands, but the alleys, once again, were the thoroughfares of the neighborhood for kids.

Writer’s Workshop: Islands And Such

A friend of mine once told me he uses the Columbus Method of typing. I asked him to explain what he meant, and he told me, “Find an island and land on it.”

Seriously, today the the prompt I’ve chosen is to base my post on the word “island,” and it made me think of the islands I’ve been on. And it struck me that every island I’ve ever been to was for work, or a work-related activity.

  • Puerto Rico I went to San Juan on a consulting assignment to their water company, PRASA. Thanks to missed connections in Miami and the fact that Puerto Rico is on Atlantic time, I arrived at 3 AM, and had a weird cab ride to the hotel where the driver stopped in his neighborhood and picked up a couple of his friends. The rest of the trip was pretty much taxi to the client from the hotel, taxi to the hotel from the client. My manager told me when I got back that they wanted me to spend a couple of months there to fix whatever issues they had. It never materialized.
  • Singapore I think I spent more time in the air getting to Singapore than I spent there. I was there to conduct a two-day class, arrived the day before, and left after the class. Singapore, at that time of the year, was exactly twelve hours ahead of Atlanta, and when I got back to the hotel after a day of teaching, I put on my tech support guy hat and supported classes that were ongoing in the US. Singapore is veddy, veddy British, don’t you know, even though most of the people are Asian, so I felt comfortable being there, but again, I spent a lot of time in taxis between the hotel and the client site.
  • Hong Kong I wondered if I should include Hong Kong, because I just stopped there on the way to Singapore and spent all my time in the airport. Interesting thing about public restrooms in Asia: there are usually one or two stalls which house a squat toilet. No, I never used one. I’ll save that bucket list item for my next life.
  • Manhattan I’ve spent a lot of time in Manhattan, relatively speaking, and it’s a very interesting place. To a lot of folks, Manhattan is New York. The first time I had sushi was in Manhattan. I got the sushi platter where the food just kept coming and coming. When I got my plate, I saw this blob of green stuff sitting on it. I figured, okay, green things are cool, picked it up and stuck the whole thing in my mouth. That was my introduction to wasabi, which if you’ve never had it is Japanese horseradish, except in most Japanese restaurants it’s hot mustard, horseradish, and green food coloring, which produces a flavor simiar to the real stuff, but a whole lot hotter. My last few trips were made to a client near Ground Zero, and I got the chance to see the aftermath about a year later. There was a chain-link fence surrounding the site, and people had hung clothing and other personal items from the victims on it. Very somber.
  • Long Island Several of my trips sent me to locations on Long Island, or as they say on Long Island, “Lawn Guyland.” I got lost on my way to a client site and ended up in Amityville, which I understand is at the very tip of the island. The client site was about ten minutes from my hotel. I had another trip where the client was a bank on a street corner in Flushing in what looked like a residential neighborhood. It was a small chain of banks, and evidently it was the only place they had a training facility.
  • O’ahu Yes, I had a couple of business trips to Hawai’i. I did a training class for a number of warehouse people in a facility near the airport, which was also where Dole had a processing plant, so the air was constantly redolent with the smell of pineapples. I made the mistake of wearing a tie, and one of the participants literally cut it off. “We don’t wear ties here,” she said. Listen, I remember the original Hawai’i Five-O, and those guys wore ties…
  • Hilton Head My company had an award called King’s Court, which one generally won by collecting a bunch of “attaboy” letters from clients. I managed to do so within my first year by spending all my time on the road, so my reward was to take Mary with me and go on the road to Hilton Head, where a full slate of activities was planned: golf (which we don’t do), sail (which we don’t to), play tennis (ditto). We nevertheless had an okay time.
  • Great Britain My list of islands originally ended with Hilton Head, then I remembered that Great Britain is also an island. Mary and I took a belated honeymoon there, spending a week in Edinburgh and a week in London, then I went to The Netherlands and England on a product-launch tour, where I trained our European associates.
  • Australia And, while I was writing the last entry, I remembered that Australia, while a continent, is also an island. I spent a week there, again training, this time our Australian associates. My friends saw to it that I had plenty to do while I was there, and one of the things was walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I managed to get lost one evening, going away from the water when I should have been going toward it, and that is a pretty interesting experience.

There isn’t much chance that I’ll be traveling much in the near future. Mary hates to go anywhere by plane, and travel is not a particularly handicap-friendly activity. I was never much for taking advantage of being in a foreign land to do sightseeing. But, ya know, maybe in my next life…