Chapter 37

“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, no lightweight Boulder snow here: 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 first thing, 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 left storage rooms’ 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—I got dibs, ain’t aboutta lose it when the missus comes home.”

          “Tough shit, I’m gettin’ this crap outta my way…”

          “Move that end table and your car’s dog meat…I’m comin’ down there and…”

          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 Colorado 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 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.

          I did some follow-up shoveling, then helped push him along with a lift and shove on his rear bumper, wheels spinning on the remaining snow pack. The cotton-top smiled that he was off to visit his daughter in Homewood-Flossmoor awhile, and that his spot was ours for the parking and debarking—this being the sunnier, more neighborly side of Chicago Lawn, not yet thoroughly overrun with violent, gang or quality-of-life crime.

          Still, the roiling retro turf routine was wearing and weighing on me by the day—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 listened to stax of Albert King’s ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’, that Duchess of Soul Erma Franklin’s ‘Piece of My Heart’, Lowell Folsom’s ‘Tramp’, ‘Who’s Making Love to Your Old Lady’ by Johnnie Taylor, ‘Can I Change My Mind?’ by Chicago’s own Tyrone Davis—Gene ‘Rainbow’ Chandler, Wicked Pickett, Archie ‘Tighten Up’ Bell, and a  slew of Sam & Dave until the portable stereo started skipping and my ears went numb, yearning for a little Gram Parsons or Emmy Lou.

          Then there was Mom’s tasty, poly-saturated cooking, mealtime and in between, ailments or no. A few added pounds around the belt line, and I was ready to hit the snow-cleared streets and work off some more debt. That plus the fact 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. Voila—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 ton of flagstone on Moon by anguished, after-hours phone.

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           “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 and Allerton to the Palmer House, Sheraton to the Conrad Hilton, Pick-Congress and Blackstone, cab lining for distracted or disoriented departers 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 attache 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.  Checker Taxi

           Who cared that the Superba’s front end shimmied, wipers smeared, heater died miles ago and frigid headwinds tunneled through every crack, seam and drawer 3173’s cigarette-burned dashboard gave vent? The meter spun on like a one-armed bandit, and I could gather from the rearview mirror that my load was flipping through a spiral binder, seemingly confident that we would make his flight with cocktail time to spare. So occupied was he that little was said until out 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.

          “Just storyboards for a spot we’re shooting,” he said, scratching his jowl, turning a page full of small, compted-up TV screens. “For Motorola, 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 if you rise and shine. 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 asked, 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.” 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. A Yellow Cab was hot on my tail to make sure I didn’t try snatching up a misdirected deplanee from the lower arrival level. I’d heard in the garage early on that cheaters could lose licenses and/or be hacked to pieces out here.

          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, ebb and flow, of those breezing into Chicagoland and those keen on blowing town. When 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, ‘the Wild Itralian’, or Chickenman: ‘He’s everywhere, he’s everywhere!’. So creative still, it started me to scribbling addy little headlines onto the ruled pages of my classroom tablet, noodling and doodling for a softer than harder sell as the cabs crept forward. When 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 said, shifting 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 have been moving things along on this end. 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, as I noted 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 League 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, don’t be hacking away at the money thing. 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 shifted, spotting the first several rows scrambling to their cabs like rallye crews once the PA dispatcher shouted, ‘Grimeballs, start your engines’. “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 that does bother me a tad, Kenny—it looks like I’m running a little bit late…

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          When our wave finally came across the PA, 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 Goldblatt’s once anchored the Wilson Avenue district, Chaplin made movies, the Aragon Ballroom stepped so lively 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.

          Eventually a lovestruck flag drop led me south down Lincoln Avenue from Edgewater Beach, under the Ravenswood L tracks at Belmont. 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 I charted back past speakeasy, trolley car, horse buggy, Missus O’Leary’s fire to Fort Dearborn days. The chatty, groping couple paid up at Armitage near Larrabee Street, generously spreading goodwill my way.

          That left me with a full trip sheet and pockets for the day’s shift, not far from a metal plate-turreted, four-story brick Victorian anchored by the corner grocery where I first heard the radio bulletin of Da Mayor’s sudden passing, memories of that news shocking me to this day. On extended holiday break, I’d been visiting folks, faculty and friends, including 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, one of them thinks she’s got a bun in the oven—my bun, no less…”

          “Shit, Heebert, 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 Jerry Blavat, AKA ‘The Geator With the Heator’. Roscoe Porter had turned Nathan on to clear channel WLAC/Nashville, John R 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 meningitis, downbeats, emaciation and a concocted overdose in some Lincoln Park hotel room—the Orlons and Capris 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—strapping, sickly or no. So there he was, though not there, 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 he never really settled into himself, 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 Slavic face all the more. “How’s she think we got to steppin’ out in the first place, anyway?”

          “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 funding to open The Twelve-Bar, a north State Street blues club across from the old Sitz-Mark dive—that rickety jukejoint with the Chess-King-Memphis crammed box and half-dollar drafts that had once fed our fake-ID’d souls.

          Nate and Porter would troll true black haunts from Howlin’ Wolf’s and the Hideaway out near Garfield Park to Pepper’s Hide Out, Theresa’s 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 riff, drawing Sleepy, Willie, Junior, Magic—let alone Hound Dog, Sonny Boy and Freddie King to this stone happening Near-North bar, the hottest little venue on this side of town.

          Its nightly gate: mainly hipretending white folks 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 selling out their 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 ‘Kike’ 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 in a universe far, far away, Nate—cheap shots I grew out of a long time ago…”

          “So, what’re you, throwin’ it back in our faces? What’s up with that,” he dragged, smoke curling up his nostrils like cotton swabs into a busted nose, up through his long, greasy black hair. “Anyhow, which way you gonna roll, Heebert, either here or out there?”

          The ‘Twelve’ had soon vaulted Natorious to heavier hitter status in the larger music biz. So he, Roscoe and a couple of thug-tough T-B bartenders 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 Pink Floyd, Rotary Connection and John Mayall—SRO all— set to rivaling Aaron Russo in Chicago booking juice, forget about Josh Gravanek.

          But a string of washout gigs with Tiny Tim, Melanie and Mahavishnu 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 punched him a one-way ticket to 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, ‘Eat A Peach’, side three: 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? Really, how’s it come to this, huh?”

          “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 Hendrix’s ‘Band of Gypsys’ gig at the Fillmore East—and I met this groupie of his with a humongous 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, I’m bluesed out. 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…”    Nate's place

          “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, gesturing me to hang out. “C’mon, we’ll head over to Park West, get us some breakfast, just like in the hay days…I’m buyin’.”

          “It’s going on dinnertime, Natorious.”

          “So we’ll make it brunch, like that,” Nate smiled and waved, kicking back into his pock-marked sofa cushions, tending to his nasal condition, squeezing Murine into his blood-red eyes. “C’mon, I’ll round up the other Willow Grove renegades around here—you know, Spelsky, 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…”

          “That’s okay, Nate, 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—always on the verge of something, none of us actually getting anywhere near it. Looking out upon Michigan Avenue skyscrapers with our big caffeine dreams, as the mornings ticked away, until it was time to work off last night’s hangovers with a midmorning joint, then wolf down a round of banana-nut pancakes and cocoa French toast.

          Then I remembered how Natorious and I got loaded one night long ago, and started leveling with each other, wreckoning-wise—as if the brewskies were laced with Phenobarbital. 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, Heebert. But keep me updated on your tri-plex situation, man. And don’t let the Saturn crap run you in circles…”

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          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, ‘Some Girls’. 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, over toward State Street, revisiting that little brick dump where the Twelve Bar had so flourished.

          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, using his briefcase as a pillow, 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. But what did I know about it? And what about that high school nickname nonsense—throwin’ it in their faces, my tush.

          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.

          There he was, however, 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. And 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—maybe even with a kid on the way. 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?  ‘Our little girls’—what the hell’s with that? 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?

          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 taking the windfall to a White Castle at 63rd and Cicero, piling on cheese sliders and fries to sponge up my stewing gastric acid.

          I jumped back on the Adlai 55, racing a smokestacked dusk to the Checker garage, cashing out to a former all-city CVS tackle cum dispatcher who ragged me about keeping his trusty 3173 out so goddamn long, eating into his trueblood drivers’ happy hours. Don’t nobody pull that drag-ass on him, Thornton growled—thereupon 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 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, then a chain of ‘Black Moses’ himself, 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 and center asphalt playground. 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 rather 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, for that matter? Nada, made me no nevermind—wanted nothing to do with the place, give me Golden Gate Park or Chautauqua any sunny day.

          So I cut down Francisco, only to scare up a parking space four doors this side of my parents’ place no less, curbside snow plowed aside and territorial hardware or furniture all but gone. Mom had kept some pork chops and mashed spuds, a childhood standby, 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, already realizing I was eating too much back here. Up came the Orkin ending to ‘Mork & Mindy’, postcard green Boulder Valley all over the closing credits. I switched off to another channel with a dash of salt and rueful chagrin, only to land 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’, which hit a wee bit too close to the auld sod for comfort around here—got me to wondering if it was about anybody I knew.

Care for more?

 Chapter 38. Making a key connection, 
coming across a cold body of water, 
expectations are tripped up, north to south…