ED: The following ‘Chicago Seven’ 1978 chapters
portray a rejourney to retreat/revisit; reckon/
rewreckon; rereap/reweep; restorm/restore; reblame/
reclaim; regroup/reconnect and rewrest/rewest, with
pre-sets throughout. But should these next seven Chicago
chapters not ring your sphere, pls. transit to Chapter 44.
“Comes end of school days
time to leave it all behind—
or so it might appear.”
“That’s my chair there. Don’t you go messin’ with my chair!”
“Got your name on it? I don’t see nobody’s name on it…”
“Whose dresser’s this…stickin’ a damn dresser out here.”
“See those brooms? On the garbage cans? You’re lookin’ at Fort Knox there, buddy…that’s mine, all mine!”
For eye openers, the late winter storm dumped 8-10 inches over Chicagoland before squalling eastward toward Valparaiso and South Bend. But it’s what the blizzard left on Francisco Avenue that raised these territorial imperatives, plus the higher pressure my squareback put on established jurisdictions. Such a sight to wake up to: cars socked in up to their roof racks on either side of the one-way south, rear alleys faring no better, not a well-disposed driveway to be found. Then reality set in: either dig out and move the wet, heavy blanket or get plowed under even more by city salt trucks.
Dad knew that routine from the inside out, so we shoveled free his old Mercury Montclaire come sun up, driving mom over to Holy Sacrament Hospital for her bi-weekly session, wherein clinicians pumped up her irreparably collapsing black lungs. By the time we returned, neighbors up and down Francisco had dug out their autos, and either re-parked them, or hardware stores’ worth of shovels, milk crates, implements, ladders, upholstered furniture, lawn chairs, shopping carts, and whatever else was handy in their place.
The intent was to reserve the spots each Franciscan had painstakingly cleared, in essence spraying their intended car lengths of turf, yellow snow and all. God help anyone who dared to shunt aside their respective ‘dibs’ place markers or otherwise interlope in a Chicago Lawn neighborhood already under so much stress and change.
“Hey, public property, you don’t own this street…”
“Took me an hour to clear that spot, jack—move that end table and I’m comin’ down there…”
Our space right out front of the building was long gone, occupied by a stepladder stretched out on a pair of kitchenette chairs. Any extra space my Volks took up hardly helped pave the way for our return—much less my out-of-state license plates—amid tight parallel parking of full-size Detroit cars. All around us, rights were being challenged, snow shovels stolen; down the street fights were breaking out, heaps of debris scattered about like sticks and gloves at a Blackhawks brawl center ice. That overheated bickering two doors up effectively blocked the one-way street entirely, a rusting Ford Fairlane double-parked in the plowed lane while its driver played curbside chicken with an angry old former warehouseman leaning out his living room window.
I feverishly cranked up the Merc’s heater fan as mom’s deteriorating lungs coughed up fresh oxygen, as if resisting the hospital treatment. Dad cursed under his breath in irritation, poised to begin leaning on his own car horn to ease the blockage, when a Dodge Dart next to us commenced beeping our way. But, miraculously enough, it was their neighbor from the six-unit brown brick building next door, Mr. Klaipedis, a widower for whom mom had long baked layer cakes and peanut butter cookies. He waved and gestured for us to back up some so he could pull out and give us his spot for her sake—this being the sunnier side of Chicago Lawn..
Still, the roiling retro turf routine was wearing and weighing on me by the day—no Satalisman, no Sausalito dreamscapes here. Mom continued having her periodical coughing spells, dad on disability leave standing in the background, silently puffing his pipe like Sir Walter Raleigh’s ghost. I’d seal off from the smoke in my old bedroom, trying to sort things out, spinning 45s at maximum volume to drown out her daytime soaps—just like in earlier days, knowing these black R&B numbers would drive my father White City, big-band mad.
I boogalooed to stax of Albert King, Duchess of Soul Erma Franklin, Lowell Folsom, and Tyrone Davis—flipping over to Gene ‘Rainbow’ Chandler, Wicked Pickett, Curtis and a slew of Dells, Bells and Drells until the portable stereo started skipping and my ears went numb.
Then there was Mom’s tasty, poly-saturated cooking, ailments or no. A few added pounds around the belt line, and I was ready to hit the snow-cleared streets, work off some more debt. Let alone that CU had pulled me up off of the wait-list and offered a doctoral slot for the fall, explaining that the Sociology Department’s delay in notification owed to pending availability of full-ride assistantships. All I had to do was reply in the affirmative by a red-letter date—a drop-deadline which had passed and defaulted to the next candidate over a week and a half before. Nothing much my parents could relate to, so I took pains to lay this flagstone on Moon by anguished, after-hours phone.
“Got a book?”
“You mean like a how-to, I don’t…”
“No, more like a have-done…showing your stuff, what you’ve come up with.”
“Haven’t done one. That what you have there?”
Given the CU snail-mail forwarding snafu, and that I’d just received my official laminated hack license downtown, the timing couldn’t have been better for discovering the release and remuneration of a Loop-to-airport taxi run. It mainly involved circuiting the hotels, Ambassadors to the Palmer House, Sheraton to the Conrad Hilton and Blackstone, cab lining for distracted or disoriented departees with valises, overnight bags, unwieldy suitcases and steamer trunks. I soon bagged this trip near Water Tower Place, a London Fog Maincoated, trimly bearded junior exec with leather attaché and matching portfolio case in hand.
O’Hare, he said through the shield window, checking his Accutron wristwatch, United terminal, and step on it. Which I did, gunning the Checker out W. Ontario onto the plowed and salted Kennedy, beating the rush by a good hour or so, cutting over into the express lanes for added breathing room.
Who cared that the Superba’s front end shimmied, wipers smeared, heater died miles ago and frigid headwinds tunneled through every crack and seam in 3173’s cigarette-burned dashboard—for its meter spun on like a one-armed bandit. I could gather from the rearview mirror that my load was flipping through a spiral binder. So occupied was he that little was said until out well beyond the Edens junction, near Rosemont, where I asked if he was in the ad game, and how someone like me might do the same.
“Yeah, just proofing storyboards for a spot we’re shooting,” he said, scratching his jowl, turning a page full of small, compted-up TV screens. “That’s why I’m off to L.A.”
“California, huh? Sounds…great,” I nodded into my mirror, green eyeing his black lamb’s wool turtleneck and herringbone sport coat underneath that unbuckled trench. Lots of bushy hair, shagged out; he looked to be about my age. “Nice work if you can get it. You’re a…”
“Art director, J. Walter. And you can get it, but not without a killer book…”
“Of art? I dunno about that…” I wheeled into O’Hare’s departure lanes.
“Naw, we’re drowning in A.D.s. What shops are looking for these days are good copy types. You a wordsmith? Put together some knockout samples, a reel’s even better, see what flies …”
“With who…where would I…” What a first impression I made, in my plain plaid flannel and jeans.
“Here, take my card,” the passenger said, gesturing me over to the unloading zone at United Airlines’ gates, then overpaying through the sliding window. “Give me an expense receipt and keep the difference.”
“You serious?” I truckled, darting out around the Checker’s passenger side to open his door, helping him with his carry-on’s. “Really…I don’t know how to thank…”
“Ring me up if you’ve ever got something worth my time…”
“Sure will, Mister…Everett. Give my regards to California—wish I were tagging along.” I pocketed his card like a lottery winner and goosed 3173 out of the red zone at the insistence of an airport cop whistle, rounding the departure ramp, wishing to stowaway with him. The only downside to O’Hare runs was its taxi pool, a dozen or so lane staging lot on terminals’ edge where unloaded departure cabs lined up to await feeding back down to arrival waiting zones, entering helter-skelter, leaving in orderly waves.
Between the outbound sop and next inbound hustle lay the wait: could be a quick in and out, could eat up hours of fatback street action, depending upon the come and go of those breezing into Chicagoland and those keen on blowing town. Facing slow lanes, drivers inched up row by row, whiling away downtime playing cards, rolling bones, making book, running numbers, talkin’ point-spread smack, dealing weed and crack, and who knew what other chicane or sinister products of idling minds.
I rather tuned my transistor radio into Classic Rock 95.7’s Chicago set—The Buckinghams, Cheap Trick and Cryan’ Shames to Illinois Speed Press and Mason Proffit, flashing me back on DJ’s like ‘Madcap’ Ron Britain and Dick Biondi or Chickenman. So creative still, it started me to scribbling addy little headlines onto the ruled pages of my classroom tablet, noodling and doodling as the cabs crept forward. Once pool movement stalled, however, I jogged over to a bank of snack-stand pay phones, placing another overdue call.
“Where’ve you been, Kenny?”
“Aww, you know, Moon, the snow…and my mom’s situation,” I shifted foot to foot, shading my eyes under a suddenly beating, melting sun, keeping close tabs on any row progress. “But I’m cabbing out at the airport now, gotta get back to making up more of that money for you…”
“Tsk, you know that’s not such a big deal,” Melissa replied, quickly softening her tone. “What’s important is that we’re working on this together, right?”
“Uh, yeah, sure…” I surveyed the cab pool for movement, glancing Chicago’s sprawling downtown skyline in the distant background.
“So I’m still getting re-acclimated, but I’ve already signed up for a pottery program Skokie’s got going, and am even thinking about grad school myself—like, earning a teaching certificate…”
“Right…grad school,” I flagged, noting some drivers shuffling about in the forward cab rows.
“You’ve got to get over that CU mix-up,” she girded me. “We’re here now, so let’s persevere, Kenny. “Maybe you actually can apply to Circle, Loyola, even the University of Chicago—why not? You know I’m behind you 100%.”
“Hyde Park? Come on, Moon, that’s Ivy territory…”
“How about Northwestern then? We could get a place in Evanston, or Lakeview,” she chirped, firming her stance, ‘Have You Ever Been Mellow’ playing in the background. “In the meantime, just settle down, pull yourself together and we can start looking for real jobs…what are you doing down south there, anyway?”
“Well, actually I’m sorta hung up out here at O’Hare right now,” I spotted the first several rows scrambling to their cabs like rallye crews. “Ooof, gotta split, Moon, it’s go time…they’re honking after me already…”
“Just get up to Skokie soon as you can, okay? We’ve got planning to do, some major decisions to make. Oh, and one more thing Kenny—it looks like I’m running a little bit late…”
With our wave finally called, I wound around O’Hare’s lower arrival level, pulling into the cab line for Continental and TWA, quickly snatching a fare from the long steel and glass terminal for the city’s near North Side, thankfully avoiding a measly short-haul to Schiller Park. Head clogged with Moon’s little afterthought, I was in no mood for music or tip-sowing patter.
So I swiftly, quite silently delivered a middle-aged pharmaceutical rep just back from Omaha to her cottage apartment on Blackhawk; much throat clearing betwixt Harwood Heights and Irving Park, tired sighing between Diversey and a Milwaukee Avenue traffic detour—yielding a piqued fare, an off-peak gratuity. Fair enough, what with my brooding incivility, the trip did at least bring me back to my steady cab gravitation from grim South Side estrangement toward Chicago’s regenerating North Side. Namely all the way Uptown, where Chaplin once made movies, the Aragon Ballroom stepped so lively for my parents and Valentines were delivered with tough Tommy love.
I rebounded in kind, jotting as I went, redistributing fares from River North to Rogers Park, filling my trip sheet with downtowns from Uptown, shopping jags from Lincoln Park to the Loop, skanky pick-ups outside Upper Broadway meat markets, swanky Lake Point Tower shuttles to the tangle of high-octane traffic, the sumptuous showrooms along the Magnificent Mile.
I wheeled quietly through gentrifying brown brick neighborhoods tree-lined with cozy workingman’s cottages, stick Victorian duplexes and brickface, iron bay-windowed apartment buildings along the Ravenswood L tracks. I charted back past speakeasy, trolley car, horse buggy, Missus O’Leary’s fire to Fort Dearborn days. That left me with a full trip sheet and pockets for the day’s shift, popping in on this old suburban high school mate who had long ago tripped his way onto the North Side scene.
“Two chicks? Man, I got enough trouble with the one…”
“Naw, it’s not like that, Nate, but what can I say,” I puffed up with a calcified kernel of male prowess and pride. “Anyhow, now one of them thinks she’s got a bun in the oven—my bun, no less. The other is the creative type.”
“Mad artist, huh? Shit, Heebert, but I know my bag’s got one goin’, and she’s reelin’ me in like a fuckin’ catfish…”
“Figure on flushing it, or…”
A pay call to a changed phone number found Natorious Grimaldi holed up in a ground floor flat of a not yet renovated three-story brick apartment house just off Armitage. He had been sharing the shady Cliftwood Avenue unit with an old college pal who’d brought his reverence for R&B from hometown Philly to the heartland, including compilation albums from WIBG’s Joe Niagara and ‘The Geator With the Heater’. Roscoe Porter had turned Nathan on to John R’s WLAC/Nashville, and the likes of the Bosstones and Duprees, which propelled Nate from Top-40 pop into the fabled Chicago blues world, right under his dripping white-bread suburban nose.
Yet Porter, barely 30, had recently succumbed to downbeats, emaciation and a concocted overdose in some Lincoln Park hotel room—the Capris and Duprees on his cassette player. Cool as he was, I’d once heard him claim that there were just too many of us baby boomers, plenty of room for discards and throwaways—life was cheap that way. So there he was, apparently with no there there for him here anymore.
“Hah, fat chance of that easy route,” Grimaldi said, sparking the stub of a blunt. He was still bummed out and disoriented over his business buddy’s demise, searching out another roomie for an apartment, as he was never one to go it alone. “And it ain’t no racial thing with me, either—no matter what the bitch says. Hell, I even took to her little boy like a big brother.”
“With me neither,” I nodded, passing on the roach, as I nursed a warm can of Schlitz. “I mean, a religious thing…”
“After all I’ve done for the cause, man—to go stickin’ me with that,” he inhaled deeply, which puffed up his round mongrel face all the more. “How’s she think we got to steppin’ out in the first place?”
“I can relate, Nathan—on that, I can totally relate…”
After some college and epiphanal acid, Natorious had bought whole stash into the Chicago Blues scene, supporting his habit as a grain-futures runner at the Mercantile Exchange. He partnered with Roscoe and a couple of Rush Street bouncers and their drug funds to open The Twelve-Bar, a north State Street blues club across from the old Sitz-Mark dive—that rickety jukejoint that once served our fake ID’ed cravings.
Nate and Porter would scout true black haunts from Pepper’s Hide Out to Howlin’ Wolf’s Hideaway and other bluesy boogie-woogie lounges along south Cottage Grove and Stony Island, bringing the best chops he could to T-B’s low-riser stage with tabs, lines, lids, nickel bags and other greasing of guitar calloused palms. Word spread around the Ripple, chicken and chitlin’ circuits, and ‘Twelve’ took off like a Lightnin’ Hopkins’ solo, drawing Sleepy, Willie, Junior, Hound Dog, Sonny Boy and Freddie King north to the hottest little venue on this side of town.
Its nightly gate: mainly hipretending white bred with beaucoup Benjamins, learning from the Northern Migration masters over three-drink minimums, under mixed smoky airs. With such true-blues headliners came rock star credibility, Mick and Keith slipping into T-B’s darker corners, wherein they’d sponge inspiration between trashing Ambassador East Hotel suites and sold-out stadium shows.
Slo-hand might sneak in under false pretenses; Boz Scaggs would join in and late-night jam with Elvin Bishop or Siegel-Schwall; local rooks like Greg Stinson or Norm Wagner would squeeze in through packed houses, mail-order axes in hand, awed by their guitar heroes. I’d sniff around T-B’s heads and frets now and then, but never, not once with Melissa.
“Bizarre though—you winding up with Jewish chicks,” Natorious grinned, hot ashes burning down into his rumpled coral disco shirt and slept-in cord bells. “Didn’t I meet that Moony one once?”
“Yeah, think so, at Wrigley, or Grocery Diana. But bizarre, how’s that?” By now, I was blinking through a contact high.
“I mean, after us all calling you ‘Heeb’ since way back in high school ’cause you were such a fuckin’ tightwad…”
“Maybe because there were no real Jewish kids in our high school. But that was just dumb teenybopper stuff a long time ago, Nate, in a universe far, far away…”
“So then which way you gonna roll, Heebert,” he dragged, smoke curling up his nostrils like cotton swabs into a busted nose, up through his long, greasy black hair. “Either here or out there?”
The ‘Twelve’ had soon vaulted Natorious to heavier hitter status in the larger music biz. So he and Roscoe moved into posh Gold Coast digs, close to the party-all-night action, yet a short walk to the lakefront and voluptuous Oak Street Beach. Nate bought himself a Stingray ’Vette and began promoting downtown concerts with no less than The Floyd, Rotary Connection and John Mayall—SRO all— set to rivaling Aaron Russo and Josh Gravanek in Chicago booking juice.
But a string of washout b-side gigs left him in the promotional red, while the city slapped ‘Twelve’ with a liquor-license suspension over under agers and underpayment, under-the-table-wise. Took a while, but it eventually came to Nathan that he might have full-gainered into the blues scene a bit too deeply, which could so easily have cannonballed into Stateville, leaving deep pockets pal, Curt Spelsky to take over payments on the candy-apple Corvette.
“Dunno, Nate,” I sighed, with a cumulative cough, tuning into that old Allman Brothers album he had spinning, tracking ‘One Way Out’. “Christ, my ol’ man is giving me all kinds of grief as it is. But what will your parents make of your deal?”
“Don’t ask me, man. All I remember, Buddy Miles was over to our crib for New Year’s, turning us onto memories of his ‘Band of Gypsys’ gig at the Fillmore East—and I met this groupie of his with a ragin’ Afro. Somewhere along the way we started makin’ it, you know, and stayed shackin’—even while Twelve Bar got shut down and I crashed over here with Roscoe.”
“Well, maybe it had something to do with hitting age 29, Saturn coming back to raise hell,” I gulped the warm, flat beer. “So, you plugging back into the music scene, or…”
“No, man, been thinkin’ about starting some kind of remodeling business—working with my hands for a change. I mean, with all the renovation goin’ around here, maybe buy me a building or two while anybody still can. Forget about that Saturn shit. How ’bout you stayin’ in town, move in here? We could partner, clean up like bandits…”
“Not sure about that, Nathan,” I finished off my brew, Nate’s ‘Voice of the Theater’ speakers blaring, ‘Stand Back’. “Still got to work through some stuff…”
“Like with those heeb chicks? If you’re so hung up between them— maybe you really don’t want to make it with either one…try workin’ through that, why don’t ya…”
“What’re you talking about,” I rose, defensively edging toward the front door, head gone woozy with the contact high and guy talk. “That’s not even close…besides, you’ve got enough to worry about with your oven situation.”
“Aww, who knows, maybe he’ll make me a fortune running for da Bulls or Bears,” Grimaldi fired up another roach, kicking back into his burn-marked sofa, gesturing me to hang out. “C’mon, we’ll head over to Park West, get us some burgers, just like in the hay days…I’m buyin’. We can round up the other Willow Grove renegades, Gary Rallimore, Steve Tripler—Chanky Desmond’s over in Bucktown now. I’d get Fat Roddy Rosnick and Marco Liele, but they got busted in Steinhatchee, Florida unloading their Colombian stash from a C-130. Guess they’re still doing time in Tallahassee…I mean everybody but Jackie, that is.”
“I’ll need to raincheck it,” I said, recalling our breakfast buddies club, how we’d do our chick bitchin’ over burned toast and home fries, soak up undercooked eggs and lay out the day’s attack plans for getting over on the downtown suits—looking out upon Michigan Avenue skyscrapers with our big caffeine dreams, as the mornings ticked away. Then I remembered how Natorious and I got loaded one night long ago, and started leveling with each other. He said my problem was I was always sucking my way up the social ladder; I countered that he was into slumming his way down-rung. But no need for encores on that score. “Anyway, got to turn in my cab…”
“Suit yourself, man. Just don’t let you tri-plex situation run you in circles.
That was the plan, all right, deadhead south back to the Checker garage before nightfall. Let alone the sleet storm being forecasted on my transistor between WLS’s Rolling Stones set of ‘Winter’ and a bootleg pick-to-click ‘Beast of Burden’ off the dinosaur rockers’ upcoming album. Sure been a cold, cold winter, feet been draggin’ cross the ground : I shot down Lincoln Avenue, aiming to make up for the down and downer time, yet found myself meandering around Lincoln Park.
En route, I caught a frantic, waving stiff who had stumbled out of Café de Melvin’s gated patio, hopping into my cab just as North State traffic ground to a halt. A commodities trader specializing in pork bellies, he’d packed it in for the week, and was off to Midway Airport for a puddle jumper to Council Bluffs. Before I could shake River North tie-ups and hit the Dan Ryan connection to I-55, he’d passed out in an overcoated heap, wing-tips up on the bullet shield.
I kept my little radio down, thankful for an expressway interlude after the outbound load had slurred through his daily killings, nightly conquests and present misdirections, from the Kennedy to the Eisenhower interchange. Still, the Stevenson did set me to thinking. A lot Nathan knew about it, rolling out that ‘neither one’ crap. Well, the old gang never came across the likes of Melissa Saversohn—except for the one time, when I brought Moon to that dinner party at the Duvornic’s. Hang-loose Jackie had been one of the guys for so long, we could never figure her hitching her wagon to an anal case like Karl. But there he was, several Zinfandels into a three-course fondue, starting in with the Jew client he had at his little design firm who was kvetching over revisions, haggling down the fee like those bastards always did. That was when I reintroduced him to my dear Jewish friend, Melissa on our way out the door. I always loved Jackie like a brother, yet never saw the Duvornics again. It was the only time that kind of background noise ever really came up between Moon and me.
But that was water over the spillway, this was different now, what were we going to make of our…current situation. In and out of fallback self-consciousness, up and down Edens: freezing my buns off, nickel and dime at a time. What did Moon mean, late? How late? Aww, but she’s there because of me, or them—or is she? She doesn’t really want to be there like this, or does she? Sometimes I feel like a Lothario on the come, then again I feel like a lummox on the run. Aww, what am I doing here, anyhow, dogging through all this retroactive bullshit with two degrees, for what? Is it separation anxiety or capture myopathy going on? What the hell about that?!
I horn blared the fare awake as we pulled up to what remained of Midway’s propeller-vintage air terminal, and he hit me with a ten-spot tip before tumbling out of the cab—briefcase, overnight bag and all, stooping over to toss his canapés, some to the loading zone pavement, the rest against 3173’s creamy green rear fender. I looked away as if from roadside carrion, nevertheless hauling the windfall to a White Castle at 63rd and Cicero, piling on cheese sliders to sponge up my stewing gastric acid.
I jumped back on the Adlai 55, racing a smokestacked dusk to the Checker garage, spray booth washing the Superba, cashing out to a former all-city CVS tackle cum dispatcher who ragged me about keeping his trusty 3173 out so goddamn long, docking me one shift, namely tomorrow’s. But he wasn’t shrimpy DeVito, and I was no hair-trigger DeNiro, so it was all I could do to pocket my tip take and skulk out his office and garage’s open bay doors with other worries on my mind.
Darkness setting in, I coaxed a cold, balky squareback through Archer Avenue’s industrial-strength squalor, fuel gauge sinking like the sooty sunset out beyond Argo-Summit and the Sanitary Ship Canal. I hit a steep discount gas station on Kedzie—pulling away due south. I tuned my Blaupunkt into a WVON set of Main Ingredient and Ohio Players, dialing me back to soulsville all the way to 67th Street.
There I left turned toward Francisco, noticing the bright quartz lights of Marquette Park sports courts. Too frigid for tennis, but several sweatsuited jocks were out shooting some hoops. The playground itself was packed and buzzing, however, not with kids but a gathering of older guys lining up, standing tall, in what appeared to be uniform rank and file order—must have had something to do with snow shovel brigades or litter patrols. Not that I could tell, what did I know about the damn park, or care? Nada, made me no nevermind—wanted nothing to do with the place, give me Chautauqua or Golden Gate Park any sunny day.
So I cut down Francisco, only to scare up a parking space four doors this side of my parents’ place, curbside snow plowed aside and territorial hardware or furniture all but gone. Mom had kept some pork chops and mashed spuds, arising from her bed rest to warm them for me while dad was out on his after dinner walk. I carried my plate and an RC Cola into the parlor, set up a TV tray, then turned on the box. Up came the Orkin ending to ‘Mork & Mindy’, postcard green Boulder Valley all over the closing credits. I switched off to another channel, landing on a replay of the opening Bay Bridge sequence for ‘The Streets of San Francisco’…just like it was yesterday. Only the title for this episode was ‘When Irish Eyes Are Spying’—got me to wondering if it was about anybody I happened to know out there…
Care for more?
Chapter 38. Making a key connection,
coming across a cold body of water,
expectations are tripped up, north to south…