Sunday, September 27, 2009

Deep Tissue

Ok, I believe in child-labor laws as much as the next guy. But I'm inclined to make an exception for 'Emil's Awesome Backrubs.'

Emil is just one of the vendors in the makeshift flea market that's taken root around our Sunday farmers market. He charges a quarter for five minutes, during which he covers neck, shoulders, lower back, arms, and palms. I ponied up the fee and treated myself, and if someone's not protecting this kid's hands like they would a piano prodigy's, there's simply no justice in this world.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stuart's Not so Little

One phenomenon I've never tackled here is the ubiquity of the rat.

It's not uncommon to see them scurrying across the street or through the alleys, or even straight through your backyard garden and under your porch, where it seems likely they'll reproduce by the hundred-fold, only to dash across your bare feet some unsuspecting evening.

Some friends in the area are so at the end of their tether, they're considering digging out all their fruit trees and vegetable plants.
Don't do it, I've urged them, or the rat will be king!

I sometimes wonder, though, if it's time to reconsider the rat. Put some fur on their tails, and are they really so different from squirrels? Who among us hasn't imagined taking in a baby squirrel as a pet, feeding it milk from an eye dropper as it bonds with us like a kitten. Ah, sweet domestication.

My friend Kim from college had a pet female rat named Chuck, and she was a perfect companion. Here's a photo from the last day of Chuck's life, when cancer had so steeped her body that there was really no choice but to put her to sleep. (I don't know who that uncomely vagabond is holding her, but please forgive the fashion indiscretions. It was the eighties).

I'm starting to think that rats may simply have a PR problem. Exhibit A: The signs posted throughout alleys of my neighborhood, warning of the pestilence sure to befall us if we dare to leave our trash can lids open, inviting this saber-toothed monster to destroy us all.

There are City-sanctioned poisoning schedules for the rat. And I have to wonder what the reaction would be if the same campaign were waged against the pigeon, an equally hated example of metropolitan vermin. But widespread extermination? Would we really have the same bloodlust for a humble bird?

I guess that's why I'm so taken with an alley 4 blocks east of us, where the rat-warning signs have been punctuated by original art.

Why should our lamp and electric posts be used only to besmirch the poor rat? There are surely better things to do with our public display space, as this alley so agreeably reminds us.

Friday, September 18, 2009


You ever have one of those days? You talk too much and wish you could take most of it back. You mistakenly throw somebody you like under the bus. Your inner bully comes out, pushing your inner
sweetie-pie so far deep inside that you forget what she even looks like. Your efforts to make amends are clumsy and bloated, like a walrus on the beach. On top of it, your hair looks terrible and you probably should have ironed your shirt before leaving the house. There's a bit of almond stuck in your teeth, possibly there since 11 this morning. Your perceived age is catching up with your real age, and suddenly you're putting the pepper mill in the freezer like you saw in that Alzheimer's movie, thinking "Ok, here we go."

On days like this, the neighborhood doesn't offer comfort or insult. I hear kids out the window playing in the yard next door. It's mid-September, but still warm enough to run around without a jacket. The kids' mother, someone I cherish, has lit a bonfire because they were too late buying tickets for an organized campfire at a north-side park. Most days, this would fill me with such a sense of wonder I'd call myself the luckiest girl in the world. Tonight I can't feel a thing.

Later on I'll ride my bike to a nearby bar, where John's band is playing the headliner slot. I'll wager that if I see a rash of new gang tags along the way, I won't be dialing 311. If there's a drug deal in the alley, you're on your own, good people. I'm off the clock. Sometimes a girl just needs a breather, from herself and everything else.

I'm breathing, and tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kinder. Gentler.

Last year's block party featured a teen street fight, accidental shooting, and towering sound system that -- when I asked the owner/DJ to please turn down the volume -- led to an accusation of racism. Not my version of a grand old time, and nothing I looked forward to repeating in this lifetime.

But this year's shindig made up for last year in spades. Families on bikes, grills smoking, the smell of skirt steak and Milwaukee brats in the air, a dessert table, a book-exchange table, a margarita station (thanks, Johno; nobody squeezes a lime like you, my love), and a visit from the local fire department, who let kids tour their truck and grown men don their hats for photo opps.

One fire official mentioned to my neighbor that he'd been on the scene during the triple murder down the block January 1, 2008 (the incident that actually inspired our block group and this very blog). He described a grisly scene, then told Amy that he didn't know what we'd done to put this block back together, but whatever it was, we'd done it right. We kind of agree, but it sure was nice to have it noticed.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Today, in honor of Labor Day, I want to recognize the hard-working men and women at the auto-body repair shop on the corner. There's a cottage industry of illegal mechanics throughout our local alleys, so it's a wonder this place perseveres. But there they are.

I used to curse them, because their parking lot was configured so it bled right out into the sidewalk. The result? At least four cars every day parked blocking the pedestrian through-way. Now if you know anything about me, you know how much that curdles my blood, so I mentally boycotted them for the imaginary car I'd someday probably never own.

But lo and behold. As of a few weeks ago, my boycott is over. Look at the sweet little greenway they've installed between the lot and the sidewalk. Four petite saplings and a good bedding of mulch, all behind a decorative fence.

Of course the parkway is still plenty wide for at least one car (which is invariably there, but now with enough room for a person or two to get by), but I have to hand it to the owners for taking a step they really didn't have to. I doubt it will help their business much, and they might have even irked a few of those serial parkers, who may be waging their own less-imaginary boycotts. But hats off to the staff for reminding us that life is really about the small gesture.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I woke up to a sound no one likes to hear: helicopters overhead. As I've mentioned in previous entries, this can mean one of only a handful of things in our neighborhood: fatal shooting nearby, blazing fire nearby, gruesome discovery nearby.

This morning's helicopters had snuffed out a fatal car crash that allegedly happened around 3am. Why the place was still a roped-off crime scene at 7:30 remains a mystery, though by no means a rarity. The police were clearly investigating something. What they found we may never know, but there were apparently 7 separate garage fires in the neighborhood last night. Connection? Who's to say? And the whole thing may end up a red herring anyway: just the sad confluence of two drivers moving at excessive speed (which that particular street, with its 6-7 lanes across, tends to invite), then smashing like stars into planets.

Some folks have started to turn to an unlikely source for this kind of information. If you're a local, you may already know about the Avondale Logan Square Crime Blotter (as he calls himself), a 15-year-old autistic boy who blogs every detail he picks up on the District police scanner. He's been known to spend a dozen hours straight listing to the scanner, breaking only for meals or to use the bathroom.

The pleasure in this particular text isn't the pithiness of the information (though that's something too), but the unique character he gives to each story: His breezy digressions and marginal notes, his musings on the day or the weather or how well he may have slept the night before. One amazing exchange happened after Time Out Chicago published a piece on him in a recent issue. Check out the comment string, where the blogger repeatedly expresses his longing for a regular teenage life. The whole thing is full of pathos and poignancy, because along the way, the Blotter has told us more about himself than he realizes.