Chapter 36

“Home is the source for
warmth too cold to touch—
does it matter that much?”

           “Try Lower…”

           “Wacky…just missed it.”

           “No, take the Upper—drat!”

           “Wackier yet…”

           After that sensitive Northside touch ’n’ go, things went south in a major way. I had helped Melissa sort and stack our truckload further, neatly lining a far side of the Saversohn garage. In the process, we hashed out where we stood, where we’d go next, what to do in what context and under what circumstances until my head felt like three pounds of ground round going reasty. Packed to its ripped, white and black dotted headliner, my squareback trundled along Edens Expressway toward downtown, where I fed into the Dan Ryan. South of Loop’s vast rail yards and massive printing plants paved the way for Archer Avenue, a long, industrial mishmash that diagonaled out to Midway Airport and beyond.

          Nearer in, Archer sliced through the late Mayor Daley’s Bridgeport neighborhood, settled by Irish canal workers, root stock precinct for the poll running and ward patronage that had defined Chicago politics since Da Mayor first emerged victorious from his humble bungalow. Archer then angled roughly past the International Amphitheatre where he all but cuffed Abe Ribicoff at the ’68 Democratic Convention.

          I could still wince at the phantom stench of hog butcher stockyard slaughterhouses, past rotting warehouses, rusting ironworks and corroded radiator shops, then around Garfield, down the fender-to-fender aftermarket used car lots along south Western Avenue. The mercury was diving, clouds darkening like oil-stained concrete as I wavered toward the gridded, brown brick humdrum of Chicago Lawn.

          But first, the Southside retreat occasioned a transfer from the uptown taxi garage on North Clark Street to a larger, greasier, rougher barn down near Gage Park. During the first few marathon days, cabbing threw me for a Loop, and deep into it. Clark Street’s car number 3240 may have been a sweetheart, but 3173 out of this garage was a war beaten, tread worn, wobbling dog.

          Nothing Superba about this Checker, from its four rattling doors to a plain gunmetal gray dashboard full of cigarette burns and knuckle dents. Add in a slipping tranny, a smoke smeared windshield, and I was hacked off from the moment I first flipped my flag.

          Still, I gradually got the hang of it: delivering commuters from Union Station to the Prudential Building, rushing commodity brokers from their Lincoln Park condos across the LaSalle Street bridge to the Board of Trade, speeding hungover sales managers from near-North hotels to appointments at the Merchandise Mart, diamond studded tourists from the Conrad Hilton to the Magnificent Mile.

          Come nightfall, I’d work the Palmer House to the Playboy Building, Pick-Congress to the Berghoff Restaurant, Gold Coasters to the Symphony, west suburban rowdies to the Rush Street watering holes. The trick was, run that meter, fake it on the best directions, small-talk them to death so they wouldn’t notice any roundabouts, slow time the red lights, then floor it and brake screeching hard up to the destination, tipping gratuities in your favor, by and large. Stuff each fare in the floorboard safe, tally your trip sheet envelope, pocket the rest as below-board payback cash: Pretty soon the hustle became routine, which left a little too much time for idle thoughts, but virtually no waking hours for the old folks at home.

          Wacker Drive at Chicago RiverBut now and then I’d pick up a subdued Saul Bellow stranded on the Northside, an economizing Milton Friedman in Hyde Park, land some jokey Aykroyd or Bob Newhart trolling Second City between sitcoms, shuttle a fat and sassy Liza or a Lainie Kazan from the Ambassador East to West. Today, for example, here I was, missing the down ramp to Emerald City, racing a daisy chain of draw bridges rising like crocodile jaws, Wells Street to LaSalle, Clark to Dearborn, Wabash to State Street toward Michigan Avenue, trying to beat a lake-bound tug and coal barge, enroute to the glittery northern side of the green Chicago River.

          Breathing down my neck through the slid-open window of the taxi’s bulletproof safety shield was the commanding voice of Mid-America, syndicated radio’s premier newsragger. He was right of American Gothic, trusted daily on stations coast to coast as a smooth, conservative commentator who stood rock solidly for flag-waving decency and good Godly values. He may not have been a sly anti-Semite like Arthur Godfrey or anything, but he sure was spitting hell-fire like Louis Farrakhan on the Nation of Islam dais, right here in my cab. Hello, America—stand by for that news…

          “Damn it, then cut over East Wacker to Wabash, you bloomin’ idiot…make that a straight shot to Michigan, it looks clearer.”

          “Not by much, but let’s see if I can squeeze around those delivery vans…”

          “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll beat that goddamn thing! These damnfangled bascules ruining my luncheon. I’ve got to get back here to Mather Tower for sound checks. You think I can be expected to just rip ’n’ read?!”

          “Doin’ best I can, sir…sorta getting reacquainted, just got back in town from San Francisco,I said, as if that weighed on anything, tip-wise.

          “Frisco, huh? With all those left-wing losers and their crackpot anti-American ways,” the fare muttered, surveying traffic in every direction, penning some items in a reporter’s spiral notebook. “Christ blessed sake, where’s my Cadillac when I need it…

          Instead, more of a tip-off. I couldn’t tell whether it was a Sudafed decongestion of traffic at Heald Square or bulletins on some mad-man jumper diversion on the Wabash Avenue bridge, but an ensuing slowdown, an air bubble in the East Wacker Drive bloodstream. It allowed me to slip over the Michigan Avenue span before its turreted operators could drop their crossing gates and crank up its steel-grated decks.

          I sped between the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, slamming brakes in front of the Sheraton Hotel with a triumphant toot of the horn for the beefeater uniformed bellman. “There, beat your deadline, didn’t we…who needs Caddies?”

          “How else am I going to get out to my Learjet,” asked the load, exchanging the note pad for a money clip from his blue gabardine breast pocket, unrolling a ten-spot and fiver, handing them through the shield window. “Takes the lord’s intervention to beat bridge jams in this goddamn Democrat town.”

          “Something for your Page Two, huh,” I grinned warily, as he palmed off the change. “Kinda like, Hailin’ Harvey’s lament…”

          “That’s clever—you a writer,” he asked, as that bellman opened the cab’s rear door.

          “Me? Not even close…” I waved in gratitude.

          “Maybe you ought to give advertising a try,” he said, sliding out, bundling up his cashmere overcoat in a stiff lake shore wind, turning toward the hotel’s canopied entryway with nary a flicker in his hair-sprayed receding pompadour. “It’s got to be better than this…”

          “Thanks, Mr. Harvey,” I shouted in his wake.

          “Just call me Paul. Good day!”

          And that was the rest of the story…Good god and country, what would Rev. Billy Graham make of it? No time for answers, however, as the lead hack in the hotel cab line was honking me out of the loading zone. I shot up Michigan Avenue through log-jammed traffic turning left and right, grabbing a quick round-tripper at Ohio Street bound for the Hancock and back.

          Nicer up about the Water Tower and chic high-rises, all right, but I soon got flagged down on southbound Mag Mile, which took me to down to a furniture convention at McCormick Place, that flat, smoked glass behemoth on the lake front where I used to take in auto shows as a kid, not to mention a daisy-suited Mick Jagger on the Stones’ maiden U.S. tour. Pocketing a good expensed-out tip, I decided to pack it in early, cheat rush hour bottlenecks and gravitate further southward from there.

          I exited The Dan Ryan Expressway, racial barrier that it was, at 35th Street, passing near Da Mayor’s eternally modest, police guarded shrine in Bridgeport’s 11th Ward, within whiffing distance of the stockyards, where the Outfit mob once ruled and whitey essentially still did.

          Soon came the phantoms of Sox-Yankees pennant race heartbreakers at dark, dank Comiskey Park, Commander Bob Elson calling all the games back then—the old green ballyard on the brink of a ‘Disco Inferno’ Demolition night, which couldn’t win for losing against the Wrigleyville Cubbies. Then it was on past the dilapidated little cottage on Emerald Street where mom was once raised.

          Tuning into Leonard Chess’s WVON-AM on my old transistor radio, I picked up DJ traces of Herb Kent the Cool Gent, ‘Mad Lad’ E. Rodney Jones, Pervis Spann the all-night bluesman and all the other ‘Voice of the Negro’ Good Guys. I found myself steering past the teeming projects, over toward 47th and South Parkway amid the derogated graystones of ‘Black Metropolis’ Bronzeville.

          I regrooved on Saturday matinee shows at the Regal Theater, ushering dates from my beater ’51 Hudson Hornet, in through the variegated palace’s ornate, Byzantine lobby to what remained of its opulent Moorish-Eastern auditorium, where a starry, proscenium-arched Oriental stage once crowned the likes of Basie, Duke, Ella and Nat King Cole—the organ echoes of Tiny Parham and his ‘Voodoo Band’ next door, or Satchmo at the Sunset Jazz Café and Grand Terrace Lounge.      Old Regal Theater

          But I personally remembered us being blown away by The Iceman, Etta, Bobby Blue Bland, James and the Famous Flames electrically live, full houses going Pentecostal while I schooled the suburban debs on how hip it was that we were the only white faces in the place. Then we’d score some hot Otis; rasping, moaning Syl ‘Different Strokes’ Johnson; Eddie Floyd, Archie Bell and Joe Tex hit-with-a-bullet 45s at the Bop Shop, before scarfing some ribs and slaw.

          But that was then, before the Regal began rotting in corruption and fraud, and this was so…now. Today, the Impressions, Main Ingredient, O-Jays and vintage Chi-Lites were coursing the black radio airwaves—much less the nu disco drumbeat of Frankie Knuckles at the (Ware) House. And South Parkway was all about being MLK Drive.

          Checkering past all that and some faint family history set me to ruminating over current-day circumstances and situations, even jotting some things down on my White Castle napkins. Taking stock, tallying up on my way to back the garage: By now, I was hustling up more, getting lost less, making some progress on the payback front—while fuller trip envelopes made for marginally better working cabs.

          Still, what was I doing back here? Left-wing losers? C’mon, what’re you doing mucking around in the past, where you’ve been—and where the hell are you goin’ with this and a graduate degree? What am I gonna do now, cab forever? Or retreat to Circle Campus and worship at the Jane Addams Hull House? Go back to Parcel Express or night shift at the factories? Yeah, out helping people or here helping yourself? Really, shouldn’t I be up there helping Moon? At least, dropping off some money, picking up Seamus and some more stuff—yeah, what about the dog?! But what about mom, doesn’t she need me more? And what about Moon—what do you owe her, owe us? What do you plan to do by her and hers? Is it settling down or just plain settling? And where does her father come from? What about her, and what about them—but what about me? Who says what’s wrong anymore? Who says what’s right? Who was I, who am I, who’m I gonna be now? Why ain’t I still in Boulder, or still way out west? So where do you get off, where do you get on? Gonna take the high road or the weasel route? Do what’s easy or do what’s right? Gonna be a winner or gonna be a wuss?  It was all so goddamn confusing…

          But there I was amid all this existential ferment, running my cab through the garage’s car wash, squaring my trip sheet and floorboard safe with the dispatcher, then sputtered off through Canaryville in the Volks. Before long I was turning off of Western Avenue, Chicago’s longest thoroughfare, at Marquette Road, headed back with the folks at home, no less riled, no more reconciled than I was when blowing off likely deadbeat curbside hailers allowed—in Checker number 3197.

sr dingbats

 “Between motherland and
fatherland lies a no man’s land
of shrifts unplanned.”

          “We met her once, remember?”

          “Kind of plain girl, wasn’t she?”

          “What a thing to say, Ed, she’s not plain at all. Is she staying up there, or…”

          “That’s the plan, mom, at least for now…”

          “What about holidays? What would you do about that?”

          “Let’s not jump the gun here, right Ken?”

          My folks’ place was the main floor of a granulating brick two-flat on the 6600 block of south Francisco, just west of California Avenue past Mozart, a few doors off Marquette Road. Chicago Lawn consisted either of two-to-six unit apartment houses like this or block after row of detached brown brick bungalows. The southwest side neighborhood remained mostly Lithuanian-Latvian—aging rapidly, with just enough vigor and dexterity left to trim scouring pad-size front yards and stunted shrubbery. I still had one of two bedrooms there, same taffeta bed coverings, dusty wall pennants for the Bears, Blackhawks, Pale Hose and vintage Chicago Cardinals of the Charley Trippi, Ollie Matson days.

          Over in the corner, near a lightless side window, sat my Monkey Ward phonograph, pop, rock and R&B 45s stacked like Marina City towers alongside it on a castered metal stand as though I’d never gone and outgrown them—which I’d realized of late I never actually had. Back then I’d play them full blast, to drown out WGN’s Wally Phillips and WIND’s Howard Miller on her kitchen radio. Yet even all this familiar comfort and nostalgia couldn’t quell the crosstown turmoil, wouldn’t spare me the gobs of hair lost in the cold, harsh shower, on the checked tile floor, as I grappled with the anxiety and reality of what I had come to back here.

          After that stint of non-stop cabbing, I’d finally found some time to catch up with my parents. We were presently in the front room, my ailing mother resting under several blankets on the clear covered sofa, dad and me hunched forward on opposing wing-back chairs, squeaking on plastic just the same. Above us on the wall was a large gold-color wood framed mirror, the image on which was of a frilly shaded table lamp in a ceramic Vatican motif, centered before a modest picture window.

          Outside, skies were dismally overcast, what with an Arctic Express storm front bearing down on the Windy City. Good day to can the taxicab grind, to clean out my squareback some, to explain the sketchy circumstances of my return to Chicago—including the ‘sisterhood’ collision and debris—otherwise to catch up with family matters like mom’s precarious condition, never anticipating that we’d be ranging any further into mine.

          “Then what about kids, school,” dad asked, resting patched flannel elbows on his disproportionately lanky knees, Scottish dour was as Dewar’s does. “What about that?”

          “I’m sure they’re thinking about such things, Ed, aren’t you Ken?”

          “Of course, mom,” I said, even though I hadn’t spoken with Melissa in two days—sighing in relief in higher mental moments, missing her not insignificantly in low.

          “And how about work with your hi-falutin diplomas,” dad pressed, as he reached down to the glass top coffee table for his pipe and tobacco pouch. “How you gonna work that out with somebody like her breathin’ down your neck?”

          “We’re working on that, I’m tellin’ you,” I spouted, wishing he wouldn’t smoke right now, just like I used to wish he didn’t drink the way he did.

          “Aghh, it’s nuts if you ask me. We’ve had enough headaches with your mom and her bead squeezers,” dad threw up his hands, then scooped up his pipe stems and cleaners, as well, turning back toward the kitchen, stuffing his Spiegel work pants pockets. “Messin’ around with them shifty sheenies again…”

          It wasn’t always this way. In a previous, somewhat more expansive time, we’d led a greener suburban life, a younger Edward and Muriel Herbert had moved out of Chicago Lawn, due west to Willow Grove. He’d given up his city job to forge a better family future for the three of us in a side tract fixer-upper, hooking on with wholesale siding jobber amid the post-war housing boom.

          So I had room to grow and roam until the recession hit, everybody went back to basics, and siding went out of style, leaving dad out of a job and us out in the cold. He was getting on in years at 58, and chronic back spasms took on disability dimensions; still, with mom never particularly healthy, we needed his regular paydays. So dad sold our small house at a slight loss, taxes and all, then we retreated to their old neighborhood.

          He was able to jigger his way back on to Chicago’s patronage rolls through a ward boss pay-off by one of mom’s Irish cousins, securing a foreman position on the Streets and Sanitation pot-hole brigade until the back went out altogether, then landed behind a desk. But the requirement was, we had to reside in the city, more specifically in the ward where he would be expected to help turn out precinct’s Daley Machine votes every election day with committeemen’s ring-kissing loyalty.

          So rented, we did: This, even though Ed was really a Republican at heart, the resulting ambivalence only frustrating, grumping him out, wetting his whistle like the bad old days, as he marked time to a dream retirement back on a farm somewhere out near Streator or Kewanee. City gal that she was, Muriel nee Fennigan didn’t really mind the return to Chicago Lawn and blocks south—some re-adapting years ago by now—and quietly dreaded the prospect of retiring to mid-state fields of pigs and corn.

          They were rather an unlikely couple to begin with: She a first-gen Irish Catholic with Kerry roots, proper extended family still over there; he an Ulster Prod naturalized. She grew up in Bridgeport, he on the farm outside Prairie Crossing—only in America, only in Chicago. Dad hit the big city in his battered old baby Overland, stepping out after a day’s labor in the stockyards to two-bit dance halls from Marigold Gardens and Moorish Uptown Aragon south to Woodlawn’s opulent Trianon, eventually sweeping mom off her feet at a White City Ballroom. Her brother-in-law was already deep into ward politics, and soon plugged dad into the Machine at Streets and San.

          I only knew about all this because he’d get loaded when I was a pup and yammer on about Chicago’s glory days, at least until he started in how the Toddlin’ Town was turning so dark and dirty. Which was why I grew to love the suburban life until it was mowed down by occupational hazards like the business cycle, and I was a city kid barely out of middle-class high school USA. I’d come along later, what with mom’s fragile condition and the family doctor’s exhortations, and usually seemed to start things later than sooner ever since. Otherwise, we as a family never much talked about such matters of consequence until reaching some crisis point or bitter end.

          “What did he mean by that crack,” I asked, as I helped tuck her in tighter as temperatures fell and the apartment’s steam heat had yet to rattle on.

          “Oh, don’t pay him no nevermind,” she said, pulling her graying head up slightly, wearily, then plopping back down on her favorite embroidered pillow. “She seemed like a nice girl—Moon, you call her? All I know is my college boy needs somebody good who will push him a little. Not another soft-soap like me.”

          “Soft-soap nuthin, you know better than that,” I said, leaning further forward on my armchair—with a splash of pride as well, given that my parents’ education ended short of high school. “Sooo, how you doin’ mom?”

          “I’m just fine, Ken, getting better all the time. I’m so glad you’re here,” she coughed, having been a chain smoker all her born days, sending me out for her cigarettes most of mine. Sometimes the spells got so bad, she’d splay out on the living room carpet, gasping like a beached walleye to catch her breath. I swore she would light up even if she had plastic oxygen tubes rammed up her nostrils.

          “Gotta hang tough, mom, we’ve gotta keep you going strong.” No denying, she was our leading lady, an angel incarnate, devoutly Catholic, with a large and small ‘c’. She was always my salvation, my softer side—never would have sniffed sociology without her—probably would have bordered on patricide here and there without her mediation.

          “Don’t you worry about me,” she rallied softly, clearing her throat. She was always small in size, now getting smaller, though still sharp as a Stock Yards’ cleaver, with a heart big as Burnham Park. All she ever wanted to be was a flapper/hep cat city gal, but dad dragged her out to the suburbs, ending Southside life as she knew it, her side of the family all sticking things out, from Bridgeport to Canaryville to Calumet Park.

          Seeing no escape from Willow Grove, she dedicated herself to holding her marriage and little family together. Still, fate and low-level family connections eventually delivered her back closer to home. “But son, there are some things I must tell you, things that we’ve never really brought up over the years…I mean, now that you’re getting more serious with…”

          “What things, mom, what kind of things…”

          “Well, for one, I’ve always had a latent epilepsy condition that fortunately hasn’t gone into petite mal seizure stage since I was a little girl. I have no idea if or how this might affect you, but it’s something you need to keep in mind.”

          “Seizures? I’ve never once…”

          “Just file it away, you never know about seizures. Blood can leak in your brain, swell it up, and if the ICP doesn’t ease—well, God forbid, there’s grand mal or grade 4 Gleoblastoma. I’m only telling you what the doctor told me long ago, son, so you are aware—for your own good,” she whispered, turning on her side toward me, bending my ear. “And, Ken, there are a couple more you should know about your father, now with your new lady friend, and all. But not a word to him that I’m telling you this…”

          “What? That he’s a narrow miser who only comes to life when he’s loaded?”

          “No fair, son, there’s more to your dad than that, he’s provided for us, hasn’t he—but take his side of the family,” she became as stern as she could be, what with the cancer and heartbreaking deterioration. “Grandpa Herbert had actually changed their name from McDumfermoth, I recall it was. You know, to Americanize it, right off the boat—I think he took it from the Irish composer, Victor Herbert. And you remember hearing about your Uncle Early?”

          “Sure, dad’s older brother, died in the war…”

          “He was an 8th Armored Division medic gunned down as they fought SS snipers to liberate the Langenstein-Zwieberge concentration camp in April, ’45. He and your father were as tight as two boyhood corn shuckers can be, and it didn’t help that your dad had missed military combat because of his disc problem. I don’t know whether it’s lingering guilt over that, or bitterness over Early’s mop-up battle so late in the war, but my dear Ed still has that blind spot. Yet through it all, we have kept our little family together…and we’ll keep it that way—now, won’t we.”

          “Uh-huh, it was honorable duty though, wasn’t it? Uncle Early sure didn’t die in vain…and over 30 years ago, for criminy…”

          “If you ask me, Early was already broken by the war. His last letters were rambling and raving over what he’d seen and gone through. In one he wrote this strange jingle about the death camps:

‘Jews in Poland, 
Jews in France, 
everybody goes there,
 wets their pants…’

 I think he would have been a shell-shocked ghost of himself if he had ever made it back home. But it goes deeper than that, son, even deeper than your grandmother’s Edinburgh disapproval of the Irish in me. There’s the case of your Aunt Eleanor…”

           “The one who was put away,” I asked, picturing my dear mother as a Christly child, as a divinely beatified saint. “Don’t remember ever meeting her.”

           “We never took you, although your dad used to visit her every so often. It wasn’t just that she was put away, it was why…”

           But it didn’t take us long to realize that the old neighborhood our little family was returning to was rapidly changing back then. Gone were the Irish; the Ulsterites never were. Even long-time mainstays from the Baltic States were dying off and giving ground. Red lines were drawn sharply this side of Western Avenue, but that didn’t stop southwest-siders from fearing their beloved Chicago Lawn would inevitably ‘fade to black’.

          Just like as how these days, the city seemed to feel more vulnerable and inferior than ever, having fallen to its knees upon Da Mayor’s sudden death, yet to right itself—with a machine toady named Bilandic in city hall, presiding over Beirut-like ruins.

           Our reverse migration hardly helped. The pearly White City that my parents knew and loved in their youth was now little more than some legacy lakefront museums and monuments. Daley’s power to ride herd over the segregated neighborhoods and serve North Shore business interests passed with him. And no amount of vote padding and shady restrictive covenants was about to stanch that Southside white flight and Afro demographic overflow.

          By now, it was all my father could do to walk off his residual angst and resentments between the California Street liquor store and nearby municipal park benches, tethered to our aging, infirm dog, Laddie—at least until that collie mix keeled over for good.                Chicago Lawn

           “Aunt Eleanor flipped out, right,” I asked, “died in restraints I overheard you and dad saying at the time.”

           “She was a beautiful young girl, the belle of the town, as your father tells it. He always says she brightened up the farm, even on the cloudiest winter days. But Eleanor had a mind of her own, and took up with the general store owner’s son. When Grandma Herbert found out, she stopped the affair then and there. She didn’t just put her foot down, but grounded her.

          “Then, when her only daughter rebelled and snuck off on dates with the boy anyway, that was the last straw. Your grandmother castigated her, and when Eleanor fought back, she locked her away in her room, padlock, and all. Poor Eleanor broke down under the punishment and strain, went into hysteria and became violently mad until she became a physical threat to herself and the whole clan out there. So they had the poor thing committed and signed her over to the state.”

           “Cripesake, she had a little boyfriend, so what?”

           “The Herberts were bible-reciting Presbyterians on the farm, Ken—even after your grandpa dropped dead tilling the fields. And I gather the boy’s name was Norman Browstein, see. It was an affront to the senses of your strict Victorian grandmother to the day she died—which happened just hours after the Army delivered official news about Early. I’ll never forget her casket side by side with her beloved son’s flag-draped coffin. Neither has your father, much less your Uncle Dellis, that crazy younger brother of his who still lives out there in Prairie Crossing. Your dad gave up on religion over the years, but not the grudge over his family’s tragedies.”

           “So it was the Browsteins’ fault?! That’s crazy…”

           “Even when I did some housework for Kay Rosen out in Willow Grove that time,” she added softly, shaking her head with an impish smile. “It was interesting and different, with their high holidays and all. They were such wonderful people, Arnold always letting us buy on credit at his grocery until payday. Apologizing for his sawdust floors—and the lean cuts of meat he’d set aside for me—what a godsend! I almost felt honored to help out with their festive Judaic parties, and it was a relief to get out of the house and see how the other half lived. But you know full well how your father would seethe—saying Early gave his life so I could scrub those peoples’ tubs—bellyaching about how servile Irish I could be, even though we needed the extra money anyhow.”

           “Phone call,” my dad poked back into the living room, pipe waggling as he nodded my way. He was tall and scarecrow slender, but with thick farmer forearms. “It’s for you…”

           I pulled away from mom as she wheezed and lit up a Salem Menthol, and bolted down their flowery carpet runnered hall to the dining room phone, picking up with an odd stab of trepidation, figuring who it must be. “Hello…Moon?”

           “Yes, Kenny, how is the situation going down there?”

           “Fine, we’re just going over some…things…” I glanced toward the flat’s front door as my father shuffled out to the vestibule, mailbox key in hand.

           “Things?”

           “You know, family stuff—how about you?”

           “Still getting settled in…heard from Faith Mendel yesterday, even jerky Lester, of all people. When are you coming back up?”

           “What? Real soon, weather permitting,” I jabbered, peeking out the dining room windows, at the cloud cover darkening their hanky size backyard and alley. “Just let me work this end a little more and…”

           “What’s to work on, and how is your mother doing?”

           “Holding her own, Moon,” I said, lowering the volume. “But it’s kinda delicate right now…can I call you back?”

           “Sooner than later, okay?”

           “You bet, just a little later on—I’ll explain,” I whispered, my dad heading toward me with, sifting through bills and couponed junk. “Hi to Seamus…Pags, too…bye.” CLICK.

           “Forwarded,” he muttered, furrowing his striated Scots brow, looking askance at the plain black telephone as he handed me a black/gold-on-white envelope. “From Colorado …looks like it’s from your fancy pants college…”

Care for more?

 Chapter 37. Old neighborhood stress and 
strife drive to a fortuitous fare to the air, then 
a return trip to notorious old habits and haunts…