Wednesday Journal columns
Wed. Journal columns
August 1, 2007
REVOLUTION: The traditional Catholic Mass has been reinstated by the pope, leading some to wonder at what point did the Mass become the Father Tom, Dick or Harry Show? Such a shift from holy sacrifice to Johnny Carson or Leno or Letterman is not easy to trace. But the moment of moments most likely occurred with the virtual outlawing of the traditional Latin Mass in 1970. That's when it became too late for Paddy to bar the door on blessed innovation.
At that point a new breed of liturgical reformers had their opening. Reform, hell, it was time for revolution. We went from "Dominus vobiscum" to "Good morning" in almost no time, with breeziness the norm, and explain, explain, explain, jabber-jabber-jabber, throughout the Mass from Father Tom, etc. - who has his eye on you, by the way, so watch out.
But if jabber-jabber was to be the norm, bishops should have required that every seminarian learn from the Protestants how to talk. Everyone knows Protestants are the nation's preachers. Seminaries should have required preaching certification by a Protestant seminary, preferably evangelical. As it is, Catholics hear mostly pedestrian stuff - anecdotes from Father's childhood or something he saw on television or the day's headlines.
Father strides to the front of the sanctuary or into the aisle, upstaging the table that now doubles more or less as an altar. He's miked (and we aren't). If the mike is wired, he has to twirl the cord to get around, but that adds to the brio, the devil-may-carelessness of it all. He has a joke, he has a story of driving to work the other day, he has the headlines. He's casual, he's friendly, he's with it.
Or he's pedantic, and not only about things religious, which have been redefined in any case to cover just about anything, but especially politics, which swallows up religion when adopted as a passion - as Samuel Taylor Coleridge said a long time ago. So a church resounds with applause when the preacher spouts a Democrat-liberal line during a hot national election.
LOOKING STRAIGHT AHEAD: The 1970s Mass is a bigger issue. It places Father Tom front and center. He's watching you and you're watching him. He may notice latecomers or the seasoned citizen who looks to her prayers, paying no attention to him, and may take either to task in a sermon. Above all, he talks everything out. We can hear him clearly. Sitting or kneeling there, we have time to meditate on how he accents every darn preposition or changes the prescribed wording to fit his view of the world and God, changing "almighty Father," for instance, to "almighty God."
He can do this. He's in charge and, in the new dispensation, feels free to tweak things. Before the 1970s, the people were far less at the mercy of a priest's talent for embroidering the procedure. The focus was on what was happening, the Big Event. The focus now is on the man up front.
It's not all his fault. He has gone with the flow, learning what he apparently was taught by implication, that it's he the presider who counts. He has to perform. His performance is the difference between a good and a bad Mass. He has to be the great communicator, telling people what's going on. Don't let mystery be implied by ritual, but tell people there's mystery here.
The Mass of mystery is long gone, by edict. Instead, we have an everyday something, easily grasped, a sort of communion breakfast with hugging in the middle of it. "Go, the mass never ends," a deacon improvised some time back, capturing the idea perfectly - that we have here an event that does not so much stand out in our weekly experience as blend in with it seamlessly.
So what is Father Tom to do up there, keep eyes cast down while concentrating on the mystery? That's not the idea at all. A performer performs. He gets in your face. It's his duty, and has been for 37 years.
Editor: Jim Bowman has decided to halt his column in order to focus on other writing projects. His Wednesday Journal blob will continue.
July 4, 2007
HORSES OF OTHER COLORS: They shoot horse-riders, don't they? No, they put up signs that say "Whoa . . . " or "Please do not . . . " which discourage if they do not prevent climbers onto one of 19 OP Avenue Horses -- which we read are being abused and even vandalized by high-spirited youths, but that's another question. This thing looks like a merry-go-round horse, etc., but it's not a merry-go-round horse, so bug off, kid.
Switch to summer 2006, same Avenue. See fat comfy-looking pig. See fat comfy-looking pig with kid on top. See kid with grin on face. See kid wanting ice cream cone to be purchased at one of several Avenue retail outlets. See Mommy and Daddy and Grandpa and Grandma also choosing ice cream and maybe dropping into one of several real estate storefronts and buying a house.
If that's not wonderful, what is? Fact is, forget about it. This year's pig, a horse, is not fat, but lean and top-heavy. It's for looking at and maybe petting, but do not climb it, no matter how much fun you had with last year's pig. Feeling frisky? Whoa.
GET SOME DIVERSITY IN YOUR LIFE: If you ever get tired of saying "Have a nice day," consider these alternatives:
* May you on this day confound your enemies and thwart the evil plan of every rat you meet.
* May you on this day meet and spontaneously kiss and embrace the gorgeous creature of your dreams.
* May you on this day discover the meaning of life, which you promptly commit to, making this the first day of the rest of your life, discarding all previous experience as so much stuff and nonsense.
* (Finally) May you on this day find another's "Have a nice day" not to be a harbinger of further mindless commentary, not to mention discussion of the weather.
NAUGHTY RACHEL . . . . A recent letter fondly recalled Rachel Carson's 1962 book "Silent Spring." That would be Junk-Science Rachel, who downplayed DDT as malaria-eraser, among other boo-boos and misrepresentations listed at the time by a U. of Wis. agricultural bacteriologist in a review. Rachel is a saint for many well-meaning, misguided people. The '60s anti-war chant was "LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" Since then it could have been "Rachel, Rachel, how many pregnant women and children under the age of 5 died today of malaria, especially in no-spray zones in sub-Saharan Africa?" Doesn't exactly sing, but makes the point.
THOU SHALT NOT OTHER . . . . Spotted on a Sunday-night stroll were lads of 14 or so, members of a historically oppressed group, out on a lark, pounding basketball on pavement in vicinity of Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School. One, however, member of a historically oppressor group and known to them, as they were all known to each other, was seen minus his basketball and dealing perforce with a somewhat bigger lad, who was promising to "beat [his] ass" if the other would only square off.
"Why don't you leave me alone?" the somewhat smaller one asked, apparently othered beyond endurance, as some would say. "No, I don't want to box you." Well, thanks probably to the presence of Elderly Stroller acting as a sort of UN observer, he did not have to. In a few minutes, he departed unmolested, the ball back in his hands, flipped by two who had been with the challenger. Nothing serious here, just boys being nasty, one of them flaunting his penchant for mixing it up. It's the othering that kills me.
JERKING AROUND . . . . Cosi's has a Jamaican jerk sandwich, which if I were a Jamaican I might not order, but the idea has possibilities. The New York jerk could be eaten in a minute. Kansas City jerk would have only up-to-date ingredients. Oak Park jerk would require a long time to eat; you and the other people in the restaurant would have to discuss it first. Chicago jerk would require knowing someone and being sent. Cook County jerk would also be known as Todd. We can let it go at that. I'm off for a short stack at George's.
June 6, 2007
A letter writer recently asked who walks on the sidewalk for the heck of it. I do, and like Robert Frost making his famous turn in the woods on a snowy evening, it makes all the difference. Nature's grand, but walking on sidewalks has an important place in my life, up there with sleeping in a bed.
I like to promenade down a busy street for the sights and sounds and chance of passing someone who smiles at me in a friendly way. I take my cue from Petula Clark, who advised:
Listen to the music of the traffic in the city,
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty.
You can forget all your troubles; forget all your cares. . . . Things will be great when you're Downtown -- you'll find a place for sure Downtown -- everything's waiting for you.
OPEN YOUR EYES: A SURPRISE . . . Including maybe a ticket on your car. In that vein, a friend of mine, a committed supporter of Todd Stroger's political party, sent me a joke about parking tickets: This guy spots a cop writing one, comes up and insults the cop nine ways from Sunday, the cop writing a new ticket for each insult. But it's not the guy's car, you see. It's someone else's. With a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker on it! Get it? I about died laughing.
"There are movie shows Downtown," Petula continued, though in the DVD Age I seldom go. "Maybe you know some little places to go to Where they never close," she said. No, but various coffee joints open pretty EARLY.
"Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle Bossa Nova. You'll be dancing with 'em too before the night is over," she promised. I doubt that very much.
"You may find somebody kind to help and understand you; Someone who is just like you and needs a gentle hand to guide them along"? That could happen, but we are a few blocks from Chicago, after all, and the gentle hand will more likely be someone else's, stretched out palm up.
BLESSING NOT GIVEN . . . Speaking of which, a fellow lounging on a Forest Preserve park bench at Harlem & Lake the other day asked for a dollar outright. Very candid of him. Strictly speaking, he asked if I HAD a dollar. I didn't answer, because to say I did not would have been a lie, and to say I did would have led in another direction.
What I did not do, missing an opportunity, was pull out a nickel, slap it into his hand, grasp the hand with both of my hands, and say, "God bless you, my son."
"Maybe I'll see you there," said Pet Clark. "We can forget all our troubles; forget all our cares, and go Downtown -- things will be great when you're Downtown -- don't wait a minute more. -- everything's waiting for you, Downtown . . . "
SELF-KNOWLEDGE IS WONDERFUL . . . Meanwhile, at Caribou a young woman behind the counter, one of two, hearing an order for dark roast, says, "Good choice," which is just the sort of good-natured badinage that keeps the wheels of civility greased. But does she say "Bad choice" when someone orders light? I think not.
My friend Jake (not his real name) chides: "Oh come on, what do you expect her to say? `That's a mistake?' Or `You'll regret that as sure as I standing before you'?" Point Jake.
As long as coffee's on the talk table, the McDonald's I got the other day was good but had no gripper to make the cup holdable when piping hot. I asked the counter person, who had bowled me over with a frenzied "Good morning" without which I'd have gotten my order free. She asked someone else and ascertained there was no gripper.
Then I thought, beating Jake to the punch: For $1.08, well below gourmet rate, I want a gripper? What am I, a chronic complainer?
May 2, 2007
BOLD FELLOW: 7:20 a.m. Tuesday, black medium-sized sedan driven by first-class scofflaw drives through library mall, where once was Grove Avenue. It passed befuddled PADS clients waiting for library to open. It zoomed through, took a right on Lake and waited at the light heading west, for which we should be grateful, along with other small favors.
TOOTH AND CLAW: Find a dead bunny on your doorstep this morning on your way to work? My neighbor did. Her cat had gone AWOL the night before and used its free time to go a-hunting. He got lucky, eventually laying his prize at the back door. Go cat! One less ravager of Mr. McGregor's garden.
MAKE NO SMALL REQUESTS: "Excuse me," said a woman hailing me on Oak Park Avenue just south of Lake, 7:30 on a Sunday morning. "Do you have a card to get inside that bank?" she asked, pointing back at the U.S. Bank. "I left my card inside." Bingo! Con of the Week Award goes to that lady, who is not merely asking for carfare or even for milk for her baby but wants the key to the bank!
A NATIONAL SLATE: A mere five of 74 VMA-Progressive Action donors in the recent election came from outside Oak Park, according to the New Leadership '07 website. But of New L's own 107 donors, also according to their site, 49 are from outside Oak Park - South Carolina, New Hampshire, Washington, Massachusetts, California, and other states and elsewhere in this one. How did they lose with such wide appeal? What went wrong?
At the Vision Community Action site, nothing of the sort is available. Instead, we are advised to buy their report from The Office of the Cook County Clerk, which is certainly helpful. It could be something of a best-seller among people who would like to know what help James Balanoff and friends got from Local 1 of the Service Employees International Union, of which his brother is president.
OLD ARGUMENT: Oak Park Police Chief Tanksley opposes the overnight parking ban because cops have better things to do at night than stop to write tickets. But the argument in favor of the ban once was that it got cops out of their cars and nosing around parked cars, of which there are far fewer with a ban. They could check plates, randomly and constitutionally, and otherwise look around. Here was preventive policing, we heard.
TO STREET OR NOT TO STREET: At the election-eve Oak Park trustees' meeting, business owners who spoke were all for re-streeting the Marion mall, thus undercutting claims during the campaign that they were opposed to it. Beyond that, their reasoning boiled down to wanting a busy, "bustling" street, as opposed to opponents' wanting a peaceful and quiet one.
Of course the owners want bustle, which means sales. One of them presented himself as sadder but wiser in the matter. He opened his business, Prairie Bread Kitchen, 11 years ago partly because the mall was there. That and the Metra station across the street made the place very attractive. But now he knows better, he said, and looks forward to bustle with the rest of them.
CLOSE CALL: I made two mistakes recently in returning a CD to the OP library. It was Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Green River." Not a fan, but wondered what they would sound like. One mistake, I placed its case on the handy conveyor belt, empty. Other mistake, when I came clean with the CD a few days later, handing it over in a plain brown envelope, I failed to get the name, rank, and serial number of the librarian.
After several inquiries I learned that the borrower, me, "claimed" he had returned it, and I began to regret my second mistake quite sorely. A police-style lineup may be in order, I speculated. I could ID the woman and jog her memory with some hard questions. I had one or two librarians in mind; so not all would have to be called on. It never came to that, however. They found the CD, and I was off the hook. Yay. Break out the merlot.
April 4, 2007
ELECTION IS COMING! ELECTION IS COMING!... Here's a handy guide to the Oak Park village board election: Keep in mind first that the current board has four elected members, a VMA, an NLP, a VCA, and an independent, and two appointed members, a VMA and a REDCOOP. Once you get that straight, the rest is easy.
For instance, there are nine candidates for three 4-year terms and three for one 2-year term. They are VMA, NLP, and VCA candidates, though one of the VCA four ran two years ago as an NLP. He's back to being a VCA because he and NLC, a combination of VCA and CFC that created NLP two years ago, had a falling-out over a letter he wrote, to which NLC objected publicly, which led to his resignation.
Now that we have that clear, let's look at the parties. First, the VCA, or Vision Community Action, creature of the Village Citizens Alliance. This is the Milstein party, after the sitting trustee/candidate of that name who has probably the highest profile of all the candidates because he's a feisty fellow and a wee bit volatile, which makes for good copy, let me tell you.
He was sitting pretty after the election two years ago, heading a solid majority of like-minded trustees. However, like Percy B. Shelley's Ozymandias in the desert, he can say, unfortunately, "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" That's because his majority evaporated with the resignation of two and the defection of a third. There was nothing to do but scuttle back to his VCA beginnings and start over.
VCA! VCA! VCA! ... So we have Vision Community Action, with Milstein as lead candidate plus Balanoff, Schwab, and Abraham, all of whom have first names, omitted here because of space restraints. These are your Labor Party, committed to a fair shake for village hall employees and all working men and women everywhere. Their spokesman is a dedicated Democratic Socialist for whom the real Labor Day is May 1, so let's make them the Socialist Labor Party.
They are deeply suspicious - at least - of large-scale development and are firmly committed to preservation. If God had wanted Oak Park to have a huge tax base and high buildings, they figure, He would have named it Schaumburg. It's reform He has in mind, but some "who once spoke strongly for real reform have retreated from the positions they actively espoused in the last campaign," says Candidate/Trustee Milstein darkly.
NLP! NLP! NLP! ... These would be the NLP (New Leadership) people, his old buddies, now the object of his anguished concern. Chief of the backsliders would be Trustee Marsey, who voted for restreeting Marion Mall, for instance, in a 5-1 defeat of the once-dominant NLP/VCA coalition, about which more in a minute. Marsey is rooting for this year's NLP slate of Dolan, Meyer, Lyon, and Shiffer, who with him have staked out what seems a middle ground.
They will "sacrifice one old building," they say, to "be in a better position to save two others." They like developers--to compete with each other, not to be given subsidies. They blame the Colt Building problem on a long-ago bad contract and in any case seem ready to give it the old wrecking ball. They praise the "transparency" in decision-making they say there's been more of in the last two years.
VMA! VMA! VMA! ... It doesn't matter, says the old warhorse of Oak Park politics, the Village Manager Association (VMA), whose Johnson Pate Slate (I love it) also has Hale and Hedges. Johnson and a supporter have made much of the once-thriving New Leadership coalition with the Milsteiners. These are the people who gave us two years of chaos and disruption, the VMA say. Reject them, they say, failing to note that they have rejected each other. The obstructionist label they would hang indiscriminately on New Leadership and Socialist Labor won't stick on the former. Too much water has gone over the dam.
In any event, stick with the plan, VMA'ers say, meaning what they developed with the help of expensive outsiders and Oak Parkers a few years back, specifically as to how Downtown Oak Park will be done over. It does seem a shame to waste all that time and money by changing course. But hey, stuff happens, and here we are. What to do? New Leadership's Dolan et al. seem to want what the planners want, if in not quite the same way. Voters have a choice this time around, not just to develop or not but whether to do it this way or that. Good for us!
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
LOOK OUT: I'm tired of this politically correct restriction. Can't say the N-word? Heck with it, I'm going to say it: Negro. There. That felt good. Now the C-word. You don't know what the C-word is? Colored. There. "Color" is OK, used with "of"--people of color, you know--but "colored" is not, even if it's the C-word in N-double-A-C-P, which I bet a lot of people don't know. Like they don't know "Nazi" is short for "national socialism." As opposed to the international kind, run by Moscow in the old days, but still cherished by some.
The times they are a-changing. You can't tell words without a scorecard. Some of us are more sensitive than others. "African American," for instance, approved since Rev. Jesse Jackson declared it approved in 1988 (Gwendolyn Brooks did not approve), is very important for some, especially highly educated white people. Really? That's what In These Times magazine reports. Once socialist, it's now, ahem, progressive. This is what progressive people are saying, that "African American" is most precious to educated white folks, who want so desperately to do the right thing.
REBELLION: Not so the junior-high lad on Oak Park Avenue, coming home from school, rapping about "n----rs," in the bang-bang repetition of hip-hop. He entertained his friends in apparent full awareness of what he was doing. He was neither angry nor defiant nor especially loud. Indeed, he may have tasted delicious pleasure in saying the forbidden word. He and his four or five friends, racially mixed, were having fun. It's fun being naughty. Easy-going black boys of the mid-'60s could watch their buddies running for seats on a school bus and say, one to the other, "Look at them "n-----rs run." A huge subway ad bought by the Urban League could say in big letters, "N----r!" and in smaller letters, "That's what they will call you if you don't get an education and work hard" etc.
Not now. The word is not merely banned as epithet. It's become unpronounceable. Panic grips hearts at the sound. It has totemic significance. It's the evil eye looking at you, Boy (and Girl). It knows where you live. One must apologize, the more abjectly the better, for using it, or even what sounds like it, such as the etymologically unrelated "niggardly" (cheapskate-like). Some have much to gain from these prohibitions and punishments, however. Victimhood must be preserved.
As for the middle-schooler rapping on his way home to the amusement of his fellows? Little man, who or what made thee buck the trend (with apologies to Blake)? Dost thou know who made thee do that? You do not, nor does anyone else, except that you are typically unwilling, being a human being, especially of the western world, to toe the line in an unreasoning and unreasonable climate.
ELECTION: Meanwhile, the New Leadership Coalition--Dolan, Lyon, Meyer, Shiffer--sounds the bell for fiscal change. Overspending is the Oak Park problem, and spending in the wrong places. They want to "carve up" TIF money, for instance, currently squirrelled away for development, and use it for schools and infrastructure. Development would be for developers to do. They worry that "financial pressures may threaten the things that make Oak Park a fine place to live" (uh-huh) and have a task force in mind to map out cooperation by taxing bodies (huh?).
Above all, though they say "secondly," they want to let the market work. Egad, how do people think we got as far as we have--we human beings, since the 1600s or thereabouts--except by getting out of the way of the market? Do we really think pointy-headed wrinkled-brow economic planners thought it all up? Why do they think we can say international socialism was run by Moscow "in the old days," as above, and no longer? Because clout-heavy Soviet bureaucrats screwed things up, as bureaucrats do all over, all the time.
MANIFESTO: Oak Parkers, wake up! You have nothing to lose but your bill for the costs of letting trustees muck around in commercial real estate!
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
GOOD EVENING: If you were out "good will hunting" (the name of a movie about a genius) the other night, Jan. 30, you could have done worse than drop in at Percy Julian Middle School, where the topic was Percy Julian (also a genius). He's the African-American man who, with his family, moved into Oak Park in 1950 and stayed through arson and bombing. Many of you heard about it last night on Channel 11, where NOVA ran its "Forgotten Genius" docudrama about Julian, a guy who didn't know when to quit.
His daughter, Faith, talked about him at Julian school as level-headed and even-tempered, a hard worker who did not let the bastards wear him down and got even not mad, made love not war, etc. The docudrama has him loading his shotgun in his East Avenue house to await the bomb-throwers, however-though another docudrama some years back had Father George Clements of Chicago improbably decking a gang member in a pool hall.
The NOVA show also has the young Percy Julian enjoying an Alabama morning in the woods before coming on a horrible sight-a lynch victim hanging from a tree, like the strange fruit of the poem by N.Y. school teacher Abel Meeropol in the '30s which singer Billie Holiday made her theme song, closing performances in a darkened club, her eyes closed as if in prayer:
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar tree ...
The show also has a absorbing account of Julian's discoveries of how to make cortisone and other drugs gotten from plant life.
At the school the other night, Julian's onetime employee in the chemical-engineering trenches, Jim Letton, remembered him as providing a "haven" for black chemists, including himself. Julian was no mean taskmaster. Working a seven-day week as a young man, Letton took Friday afternoons off, "to help [his] wife with the groceries," and be with their children, he recalled. Hearing of Letton's absence, Julian regularly threatened to fire him and regularly did not. At Julian's behest, he kept a change of clothes handy for quick business trips. It was something, Letton said with a chuckle, "to make a wife suspicious."
Longtime Oak Parkers Bobbie Raymond Larson and Sherlynn Reid recalled Julian. He invited Reid's kids to play on the swingset in his East Avenue backyard and got Reid to take her pick of tulips from his garden. It was a warm (emotionally, even spiritually, not climatologically), pleasant evening at the splendid Julian school facility, specifically in its auditorium.
As is common at such affairs, much congratulation and expression of gratitude was voiced to benefactors who made the evening possible-school district, public library, historical society, and others. Indeed, two of those who did the congratulating were themselves congratulated at program's end, making for us a full, perfect circle. Nothing was said, as is also common, for OP taxpayers who voted a referendum some years back that paid for the new building. They can have their reward in part, however (getting not mad but even, as Percy Julian did), by showing up at school dramatic and musical events such as a C.A.S.T. production (or B.R.A.V.O. at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School down the street).
DISCIPLINARY NOTE: As for those schools and that district, nine out of 10 of the teachers like the place, and three out of four students, according to a poll taken last fall during strategy-planning, which seems normal. As for discipline, 72 percent of teachers like it and 69 percent of students, which seems odd. Do they like or dislike it for the same reasons? Both want discipline tighter or looser? If tighter, then you have up to 31 percent of kids wanting a more controlled environment, and now you see where I'm heading. Troubled troublemakers and their parents make a lot of noise, but most like to see them neutralized, I think.
Wednesday, January 3, 2007
A WALK IN THE PARK: I think I was a hate-crime victim. Guy called me a white faggot as I walked through Scoville Park in the gloaming a few weeks ago. I didn't stop. He and his friends were irritated at my not stopping. They were desperate for my attention, and I refused it. This was my offense, and so I got victimized. Or was I?
All the guy did was toss out a "white faggot" to an unassuming white fellow trying hard to mind his own business. I had passed them earlier. One was jawing at another, three or four others stood chatting each other up. It's a free country, I thought, go ahead and jaw. I got a few steps past them and heard, "Hi, brother." Who, me? I'm not a brother, I thought-except to an octogenarian in Gurnee and a septuagenarian in Arlington, Va.-and kept walking.
Again the call: "Brother." I'll bet it's me, I mused. But out of 40-year-old misty memory came a guy yelling, "Hey, you with the collar!" in an open field at 13th and Loomis on a midsummer night in 1966, as helmeted police gathered all down Roosevelt Road. The caller had me cold, I wore the clerical collar. I ignored his cry for attention. Twenty-something and intent on mischief, he had an audience of five or six teen-aged boys, to whom he would have given a lesson in how to deal with the likes of me. No, thanks, I muttered, continuing my way towards the Baptist church at the other end of the project, where do-gooders were gathering ineffectually.
Ignoring this Scoville Park greeting came easy, therefore. But my response rankled, and when I returned 15 minutes later heading the other way, I was accused incontinently of being "a snob" who "wouldn't talk" to them. I was "Sherlock Holmes" in my floppy hat (heh). I was told to commit an indecent if not impossible act. These were truly disgruntled youth. Later on Lake Street, I ran into them again. This time they tossed the N-word at a fellow African American, who was also told to commit an indecent if not impossible act. Now I ask you, were we all victims of hate crimes?
JUMPING TO CONCLUSION: You hear a lot about the school achievement gap, but what about the basketball gap? White kids can't jump, but so what? So they don't suit up or if they do, they warm the bench. That's what happens to the American dream in a dog-eat-dog society. Look, white kids are grossly underrepresented on basketball teams not just in Oak Park and River Forest but nationally. I say enough. Let's train our sights on this gap too. And nuts to this can't-jump stuff, which is transparently racist. It's environment, folks. How many white fathers shoot hoops with their sons?
THROUGH A PRISM DARKLY: The Oak Park District 97 strategic plan draft calls schools "the educational prism through which students realize meaning and purpose in their lives." It says they are "to guarantee that each student achieves optimal intellectual growth while developing socially, emotionally and physically." That's all?
How about the prism through which students realize how to read, write, and do long division, not to mention shut up when teacher is talking and otherwise cooperate for the more or less common good? And who says schools are a prism in the first place? In what respect are they "a transparent optical element with flat, polished surfaces that refract light, the exact angles between whose surfaces depend on the application"? Beats me.
As for "realizing"-learning? achieving? both, splitting the difference?-the meaning and purpose in life, oh my. Are these schools or houses of worship? And there's a guarantee of optimal growth? Listen to that carnival barker. Maybe we would all pay more attention to a plan that made more sense. Or did not belabor the obvious, favoring "a culture of inclusion that respects and promotes diversity." This deftly undercuts the powerful exclusion and uniformity lobby, but it's also grand language, impossible to disagree with, reeking of groupthink and lack of imagination, cobbled together in meetings. The good news is, it's a draft. So hello Baby, give us rewrite.
December 6, 2006
THEY VOTED: Oak Park and River Forest each had
58-plus percent turnout for last month's election.
This individual was among the plucky 15 percent of Oak Parkers who voted for Lisa Madigan's Republican opponent. Wanted to send her a message, you see.
She gets my vote the first time she admits to being a Latin School alum. I was also in the somewhat smaller number who voted for Jesse White's opponent. Can't stand tumblers, you see. However, I was not in the 46.8 percent who voted for Mr. Corruption for county board president. Can't stand corruption, you see. Was not pleased to know that this many can. Shrug.
LANGUAGE MATTERS: The Sun-Times truck has a message for the felonious: "Driver carries no cash." It's there in Spanish too: "El choffer no carga dinero." Pay attention and you will learn something, as to cuss out el choffer when he cuts you off or to fend off the panhandler by pointing at yourself and telling him, "No carga dinero."
NO TRIFLING: Friendly man with friendly dog waits for me to pet him-the dog, that is. Thanks but no thanks, I say, flashing a tight-lipped smile. Thing is, my heart belongs to Django, #1 Son's Rottweiler mix, whom I have learned to like and, in a way, love. He's gotten past nervous puppyhood-jumping and licking and all that-and demonstrates all in all a pleasing maturity. So I do not have time for every Fido, Rover, and Rocky (currently a top-20 name for dogs) who comes loping down the block.
WRONG NUMBER: Caller threw me a curve ball the other day. He was one digit removed from township services, where the issue is usually the senior-citizen bus-when is it coming, can I get on it? The callers are almost all grandmother-sounding women, for whom I have a special affection, having had a grandmother whom I knew and being married to one. I like passing on the right number in these cases. But this caller was looking for a lunch program, which I at first denied having, then realized it too is a township program and gave him the number.
This is all on the second line, which we got a few years back. Bell-Tel, or whatever it is now, gave us one that had recently belonged to a family that dropped off many others' radar. I feel I know them by now. Once our answering device picked up a long message from an eager young footballer
telling his friend to bring the ball for the game scheduled that afternoon. This was disheartening. The lad left no
number, and I couldn't call him back to tell him to expect
no football that day. What I need is caller I-D, which might also tell me when the Cook County police association is on the line, the guy that goes all buddy-buddy just before
I hang up.
RUNNERS: The woman runs past the bread kitchen on Marion heading south at 8 a.m. She had passed me 45 minutes or so earlier heading north on Oak Park Ave., a half mile east, really hoofing it. This was no mere jogger, bouncing up and down for more rapid blood flow, but hardcore runner, long-strided and speed-oriented, sleek and pony-tailed. Minutes later, a long-legged man, also pony-tailed, passed going the same way. Athletes in the morning.
CONDOS: Walking by the Opera Club condo construction on Marion a few weeks back, I spotted a very suspicious character with an electronic box hanging from his neck. Ever the responsible citizen, I stopped and watched him and saw something amazing: He was guiding a long chute attached to a pump that pulled cement out of a cement mixer across the street.
He used dials, looking up at the moving chute and the workers leaning out from a fourth-floor patio. When the chute got to the fourth floor, one of them motioned with his hand and or even fingers this way or that, the man turned the dials just so much, until the chute stopped, and guided manually by the men above, poured forth its contents. "Makes it easier," said the man below when asked. Not your father's sidewalk superintendent.
November 1, 2006
PICKING A WINNER: I voted early this year but only twice-early at Village Hall two weeks ago, twice when the touch-feel machine wouldn't save my paper. It recorded my vote, I was assured, and believed it did. But my paper trail was broken, so I did it again, then signed a statement to that effect.
But who cares about the darn paper? It's for peace of mind, I assume. Not mine, however. I save things electronically all the time, and so do banks and police departments. It's the digital revolution we have here, which has more to do with our rocketing prosperity even than Bush's tax cuts.
I even save my own deathless prose electronically. You may save yours in a box under your bed or in a safety deposit box. Fine. But what if there's a conflagration, then what? Your deathless prose goes the way of Isaac Newton's notes, gone missing for 70 years for want of being catalogued. If Newton had blogged them, there would have been no problem.
I know you have to be crazy sometimes not to realize they're out to get you. But frankly, I'd go nuts if I mistrusted electronic save.
SIGNS OF TIME: Meanwhile, the Peraica signs seem to be growing on front lawns. It can't be easy, I have said, for the true-blue Dem to go red-blooded Republican, even if he's a supposed reformer. Keep in mind, of course, that your man Claypool, not endorsing Todd the favored son, is catching severe implied public threats from Mayordaley II, which is enough in some circles to make a man consider another line of work. Look at it this way: If your man Claypool can risk political execution, can't you vote Republican?
SIGNS MISPLACED: The Stroger signs, on the other hand, came and went like thieves in the night, for instance on the narrow grassy strip on South Boulevard across from the Oak Park Avenue el platform. Somebody must have decided this land is your land, this land is my land, from Harlem Avenue to Austin Boulevard, from North Avenue to Roosevelt Road, this land was made for you and me ... Not for some campaign worker to plant his signs on.
RAISING MY HAND: Was happy to contribute my two cents to the OP elementary schools recommendation fund the other day. Did it online, but don't you even think about that, because the deadline has passed. Had a few questions left over, however, such as what's meant by "adequate support" for kids moving from elementary to middle school or middle to high? It would take a heart of stone not to rate that as very important, and I don't have one, even if I am a Republican.
Another was about teaching cultural and other differences, which I rated not important because I smelled a rat. If I could be sure this was a low-key urging toward tolerance of quirks and blemishes, I'd say fine. But this multiculturalism comes across at times as a blurring of distinction between right and wrong and of universal standards.
Stoning the rape victim comes to mind, or dealing harshly with girls and women in ways that do not pass the family-newspaper taste test. Is this ever so slightly to be condoned or glossed over out of respect for local custom? You can find a defense of such harsh dealing on the web without much trouble. I'd like to know more about what District 97 has in mind here.
Finally, there was the question about preferring "school control" over staffing etc., apparently as opposed to district office control. I can see that as a good idea, recognizing parental rights, or a prescription for chaos. Is it code? One possibility is intriguing, namely some sort of open enrollment by which parents choose their kids' school, or at least put in for it once the neighborhood gets its pick. It would be a way for schools to get a vote of confidence from their customers. There. Two cents more.
Irony, sexiness, bibbing and gesheft, all in one column
October 5, 2005
SECRET TESTIMONY ... Living near West Suburban Hospital is no fun in some respects, what with ambulance sirens, worry about hazardous waste, and now fear of reduction in property values because of planned expansion. But think what it’s been like for the sole surviving neighbor from 1914, when the hospital was built, a plucky centenarian for whom life has never been the same.
He has kept his resentment bottled till now, in an exclusive anonymous interview, most of which has to be scrapped for legal reasons. He did offer one soul-searing moment which may be recorded for posterity before he answers the final call, however. "I have had it," he confided, raising a frail but steady hand to his chin. "Up to here!"
WINE BIBBERS, RELAX ... It would have been dratted unseemly for neighboring wine merchants to be out of sorts with each other, as might have transpired if the village board had not revised the wine-bar license it issued the other night. Cabernet & Company lives by package sales, and it wasn’t easy getting his license. But the fast-tracked (and equally deserving, we’re sure) new Abbey bar would have competed in wine-to-go from practically next door.
Cabernet complained to the board in urbane fashion (I saw it on TV). Abbey responded briefly and also urbanely, correctly observing that a wine war would serve no one’s interest, and the board changed the ordinance. It’s wine by glass or bottle at Abbey, to be consumed on the premises, wine and beer as take-home package at Cabernet. Smiles all around.
TRULY IRONICAL ... You hear "irony" and "ironical" tossed around, applied to whatever’s unusual, but here’s something to chew on: The house on the southwest corner of Euclid & Superior, where reside vigorous public objectors to Alcuin Montessori school across the alley at First United Methodist Church, was the home of Dr. Paul and Kathryn Dunn, co-founders of Alcuin, which had its start in 1961 at Oak Park’s old Lowell School, now 100 Forest Place, at Lake & Forest.
SHOCK ON AVENUE ... St. Edmund parish can’t do that, can it? Put up a big sign saying it supports life? In Oak Park? Peace, OK. We get that. But life? Tacky.
MEMO TO ARTS MAVEN ... Oak Park is one sexy village, according to a woman on television who does not live here. Asked how that is so, arts maven Camille Wilson White, actually executive director of the Oak Park Area Arts Council, said, "I can’t put it into words." Camille, it takes a whole village. Don’t even try.
What’s this maven business, you may ask. It’s one of those Yiddish words you learn from reading newspapers (means expert) that I have wanted to use for a long time. Other Yiddish words I learned from a better source. My father, a West Sider from birth in 1895, used "macher" (big shot) and "gesheft" (business), for instance. For that reason I revere those words and yearn for the situation where I can ask someone, as he would ask me, "How’s the gesheft?"
WALKING TO PIPES ... Speaking of languages, Oak Park’s Latin-Mass church, Our Lady Immaculate, at Ridgeland and Washington, had an old-fashioned Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) procession some months back. Some 200 of us walked slowly down Ridgeland to the mournful, strains of Emerald Society (Chicago Police Department) bagpipes, stopping a block away in a school doorway for Benediction, in which after hymns—"O Salutaris" and "Tantum Ergo"—the priest raised the host in a gold, lamp-size container called a "monstrance," making the sign of the cross.
Halfway down Elmwood on the return route, the pipers broke into "The Wearin’ of the Green" – "Oh Paddy dear, oh did you hear ... the shamrock’s been forbid by law/to grow on Irish ground," thus tapping chauvinism as well as piety. Another benediction at the church’s rear door on Washington, and we were back in the church.
NLP splashes, bad ideas spill
By JIM BOWMAN
August 3, 2005
BOARD BORES IN: Like Will Rogers, all I know is what I read in the newspapers—"and that’s an alibi for my ignorance," he added. But from what I read, new leadership is making a splash at Oak Park Village Hall.
For instance, the new president, David Pope, discussing a request for free money by a business owner willing to move to the 6200 block of North Avenue, where business is sparse and parking plentiful, had the gall to say he believes "in the market," adding self-deprecatingly that it’s an "odd peculiarity" of his.
For sheer inexactitude, however, one must chide New Leadership Trustee Martha Brock, who complained at a recent meeting that she "couldn’t go to [a seminar] on African American economic development," when she meant to say the village would not pay her way. Boo-hoo.
Another brickbat goes to Brock for urging less executive-session time for the sake of increased openness in government without addressing legal mandates in the matter—whether the board has a choice when to go executive and when not to—and whether a cut-off on discussion would improve decision-making. Indeed, it’s a serious accusation if she wants to make it, that the board uses executive session as cover-up. But no one took her up on the idea, so not to worry.
Brock also urged calling a "community meeting" whenever incidents occur such as the D’Agostino slaying, so that citizens would know that trustees care—apparently to calm widespread fears that they do not care. Again, however, complexities: Such a meeting would presumably be called by the board president, maybe in a conference call (executive session!), based on severity of incident or crisis of community confidence in trustees as parent figures.
This could take some debate, and if the debate went too long would (a) collide with Brock’s goal of fewer, shorter executive sessions and (b) perhaps violate her requirement that the community meeting happen "immediately [in] emergency mode." It would be a case of emergency mode clashing with openness of government, alas and alack! But who said it’s easy to govern a village?
CLERK NO SPEAK: Meanwhile, New Leadership Trustee Geoff Baker said the (non-New Leadership) village clerk should participate in board deliberation, providing "her input at every step." The clerk has not done this historically, however, keeping her mouth mostly shut at meetings, her job description being that of staff though elected. This is one reason voters have not turned a clerk out of office in at least 35 years. As mostly behind-scenes administrators, clerks have been judged on ability with no points for public speaking and no demerits either, which is crucial. A talkative clerk would get quoted too much and maybe end up in defensive, if not emergency mode.
PROFILING SHOPPERS: Continuing along, in debate about the proposed tenancy of Corinthian College, a trainer of newcomers to the job market, Trustee Brock cited "classism" in Oak Park, characterizing the issue as "all about us" trying to "reach out." Trustee Ray Johnson agreed, calling the Corinthian tenancy—in the Marshall Field’s building at Harlem and Lake—a means of "fostering diversity downtown." Apparently it would do that. Ninety percent of Corinthian students would be earning less than the minimum wage, testified the president of the Taxman Corporation, a developer, opposing the college. But that’s no selling point, he said. "This is not the shopper profile we’d like to bring to downtown Oak Park."
SOLVING A PROBLEM: Meanwhile, owners of the Maple Tree restaurant building are declining to sell to developer Alex Troyanovsky, thus blocking westward expansion of the Lake Theatre—DesPlaines River, here we come! This is a setback for uber-development, but again not to worry. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court in its recent eminent domain decision—what’s good for the tax base is good for property owners, even those forced to become property sellers—the village board can condemn this property.
Down would come Maple Tree—sign, al fresco dining permit, and all. Up would go melodramatic movie posters. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but not if a spineless, gutless village board is unwilling to snatch a parcel in broad daylight!
VMA VS. BLUE COLLARS, VMA VS. SELF (Wed. Journal Column of OP&RF, 7/14/05): Twenty years ago, when Oak Park’s Village Manager Association lost its first election in its then thirty-some years, licensed sociologist and past and future school, township, and village government office holder Galen Gockel voiced a trenchant opinion in the matter.
“It was social class,” he said in a guest essay in this very publication, adding, “Money. Occupation. Prestige. Status.” The outs were saying, “We’ve been ignored. . . . The local elite is imposing its agenda on us,” he wrote. “Oak Park’s dominant liberal group” was deciding things. Enough voters felt left out to swing an election, though not so sweepingly as last April’s, when no VMA candidate but the tried and true village clerk survived.
That was then. What does Gockel say now? Readers are warned: this is an exclusive.
The VMA slate, failing to grasp voters’ “hunger for change,” never had a chance, in Gockel’s opinion. Too many disagreed with major decisions, from Whiteco subsidy to non-ban on smoking. There was extensive umbrage-taking at “arbitrary and unforgiving parking enforcement . . . chronic building permit delays,” and other annoyances and indignities emanating from Village Hall. From unpopular decisions came a zest for “new leadership,” a phrase shrewdly incorporated into the opposition’s name. From annoyances and indignities came a "coalition of the offended.” New leaders and offended both gunned for the incumbent party.
It didn’t help that critics had been pegged as mere "nay-sayers” who would find out on election day how wrong they were. “Citizen unhappiness was wide and deep, and the local [VMA] elite [shades of Gockel ‘85 here] . . . didn't understand that.” VMA candidates would have had to disown major board decisions of the previous four to eight years, when VMA people ran things. They didn’t, and voters themselves became nay-sayers. VMA had done the foul deeds, and VMA paid.
SANDWICH MAN: Man sits waiting in car in Osco parking lot, dinner time, while lady of the house buys greeting cards. Scruffy young man wants money “for a sandwich,” asking around, pleading. You can buy it for him, he says, heading off the assumption that he will use the money for drugs or booze. Getting nowhere, he heads for Dunkin’ Donuts a few steps away, is turned away by another young man, its proprietor or of the proprietor’s family. This young man is triumphant: he got the panhandler out.
The panhandler returns to the parking lot. He’s in dirty shirt and pants, in his early 20s, not shaven but not bearded either, nor is his hair long and matted. But he smells of no-bath experience (not of booze). He pleads some more, of anyone in the lot. Aforementioned man waiting for wife resists as usual but finds himself vulnerable. The beggar is of his ethnicity, for one thing. He looks like people the man knows very well. He finds it less easy to ignore him.
He leaves his car, enters Osco, finds wife still looking for cards. He is deputed to buy one, does so, is told it does not pass muster. Distracted, he says buy it anyway, giving it to wife, who continues her search for the perfect card. Mind made up, he leaves the store, re-enters the lot, and strides toward the pitiful young man, not even looking at him, and slips two dollar bills into his hand. “Thank you, sir,” the young man says. Both turn and walk away.
PRICKLY: Haughty shopper of the month award goes to woman 40 or so at Dominick’s speaking to man who indicates by body language that he wants out of line briefly and wants to get past her cart. She, failing or unwilling to pick up on the body language and not pulling her cart back, requires him to say he wants to get by: “You should articulate that,” she admonishes. He agrees wholeheartedly and is let through.
If she had expostulated, “Why don’t you effing say so?” she would have sacrificed hauteur but would have gotten “A” for candor.
HOW MAILMAN GETS ALONG WITH DOGS: He has a way with him, first, but second, he has goodies they go for. When they see him coming, he presents himself not as something to be eaten (chewed on, as soft flesh of calf, or at least barked at) but as someone who gives something (nice) to eat. Dog says not a word (barks not), liking this nice mailman.