Austin City Limits

By Larry Teren

I’m no Charles Dickens, but I, too, have a Tale of Two Cities. My cities also have experienced the best of times as well as the worst of times. Now, if I can only get my stories serialized in a magazine like good old Charlie boy. Continue reading “Austin City Limits”

Whatever Happened to Greasers?

By Larry Teren

All baby boomers remember that when a stranger didn’t like how we were behaving, he or she would call us a “juvenile delinquent”. It also didn’t help a boy to dress in a weird way or to comb the hair back in a duck-tail. That was the ‘hoodie’ look of the 1950s and early 60s. Normal boys had crew cut hair styles. But, if you looked like a punk, you were a juvenile delinquent or greaser. Clothes make the man. Appearances count. Yada, yada, yada. greaser Continue reading “Whatever Happened to Greasers?”

No Man is an Island

By Larry Teren
nomanisanisland
Some expressions take on a life all of its own. Consider this: “No man is an island.”
In the early 1960’s our family had by now comfortably situated ourselves in a large two flat in the Austin neighborhood on the far west side of Chicago. Our first floor apartment was laid out so that on the far north end was the kitchen, enclosed backroom parlor and the dining room. Walking south through a corridor on the right or west side were two bedrooms and on the left was our only bathroom and our parent’s master bedroom. It was in that latter room where they hid all the presents we received on various special occasions until the time was right.

At the south end was the living room, which in those days we also called the front room, and a small front parlor where one could sit in an upholstered orange colored fancy chair and look through the three sided bay windows in the parlor to the action going on outside on the sidewalk. Believe me- that was important to a burgeoning ten year old to make sure that he was not missing opportunities to play with friends and neighbors outdoors.

At that point in time we had only one television- a so-called portable Zenith sitting on a stand with rolling coasters. This meant that sometimes the set would be in the front parlor, other times several feet away in the living room in front of the fire place, in our parent’s bedroom or even all the way to the dining room.

But there was one instrument of entertainment that stood its ground. It was the Zenith Stereo H-Fi Console that anchored the north wall in the living room. It was at least four feet wide and three feet (if not more) off the ground, made of wood with cloth covers over the speakers. It was state-of-art with solid-state electronics, AM/FM radio, AFT (automatic fine tuning) and an automatic record changer that allowed one to stack several 33 1/3 lp’s as well as antiquated 78’s using a special adapter.

Dad seemed to enjoy making it a family thing to go to major department chain stores such as E J Korvettes and Sears in the recently opened shopping malls in Oak Brook further west and Golf Mill all the way out to the hinter lands of the northern suburbs. While Ma was busy looking for kid’s clothes or a new appliance, Dad was sneaking off and taking whomever didn’t need to try on the merchandise with Ma to the record collection section. He would peruse the album covers for quite a while until he found either something affordable or, what the heck, something he knew all of us would enjoy.

One album he brought home that we played over and over again was songs performed by Dale Lind, a well-known local Chicago celebrity. His signature song which played last on the album’s second side was “No Man is an Island”. Most songs Dale sang usually were played in minor mode, or musical half steps. This lent the feeling of whatever came out of his mouth as if he was in conversation with the guy upstairs but the listener was allowed to eavesdrop.

The only other person I heard sing that song was Jan Peerce. When we got a second television set and the opportunity to watch our favorite shows became more available, I drifted away from the once-beloved Stereo Hi-Fi. Of course, there was also high school to focus on when I didn’t watch Batman twice a week or Laugh In or whatever other campy, short-run popular culture phenomena.

Time has a way of moving along rapidly, especially if you are not having any fun with it. By the late 1960’s, we had moved to the far north side of the city and the Zenith had found a new location anchoring the west wall of our townhouse. Although there were three floors in the new abode- a basement and an upstairs- as well as a second bathroom, there was less privacy as the main area on the first floor was a combined dining and living room. If one wanted to watch television while another wanted to listen to the fancy record player (after all, that’s what it really boiled down to), a fight equal to the shenanigans prior to the Liston-Clay bout broke out.

When our parents finally purchased a color tv in the early 1970’s, that was it for the Stereo Hi-Fi. It was moved to the basement and its space taken up by a bookcase. I don’t remember too many of the other four siblings going downstairs to listen to a record when they could buy a cassette tape and play it in the comfort of their bedroom.

The new millennium was not kind to Dad. In October 2002, on his eightieth birthday, he fell down and broke two ankles and spent the rest of his life in a nursing home outside of one night when we took him home to give him a breather from being institutionalized. We understood very quickly that it would not work out as both his ability and desire to stand on his own two feet no longer would happen.

Ma and I recognized how much he enjoyed the handful of cassette tapes I bought for him to hear. She casually said how it was a shame that he could not listen to all the old 33 1/3 lp’s he cherished that were still sitting in the basement. At that very moment I replied, “why not? How do we know if the Zenith works or not unless we try it?  If it does, I can try to record blank tapes by placing the cassette recorder as close to the cloth speakers as possible and see how it goes.”

There were a couple of impediments- the cloth speakers had water stains from all the mini floods the basement experienced as well as the unit had not been plugged into the wall outlet in more than ten years. We were clueless if the stereo speakers were functional.

I put in a blank cassette into a tape recorder and grabbed a handful of record albums and chose what to play. One was the Dale Lind album. I plugged in the Hi-Fi power cord into the outlet, opened the cabinet lid and placed the album onto the turntable. The auto-changer was broken but who needed it anyway? I turned the knob to the ‘on’ position and forty years returned with the snap of a finger. I immediately pressed the ‘record’ button on the cassette and let it go for a minute. I then stopped it, pressed the rewind button back to the beginning and pressed ‘play’. I was a kid in a candy store. With a successful sound check, I was able to determine how far away to hold the cassette recorder in my hand while the record played, scratches and static nevertheless.

Even though it meant I had to hold my hand up to the record for twenty minutes or so and not waver, it was well worth the trouble. I brought the recordings to Dad and he listened as if it were still forty years ago and he could strut around and lead the imaginary orchestra accompanying Lind. When “No Man is an Island” played, Dad sang along as if in a duet, on key and with the right tempo. Afterward he said that Ma would love it if she could hear it as well.

Yesterday, I was viewing a YouTube recording of a “To Tell The Truth” game show episode from May 13, 1962. The first set of three contestants was of one where each claimed to be the real George Tweed who evaded capture in the early years of World War II on the island of Guam. Up to 28,000 Japanese soldiers combed the island looking for him and a handful of other sailors who had not yet been taken as prisoners of war. The others were eventually found and killed. He successfully hid out with the help of natives for two years before he was able to signal American troops out at sea.

After the real Mr. Tweed was revealed, the host, Bud Collyer, mentioned that a movie had just been made about the incident. It was called, “No Man is An Island.” No mention was made during the give and take by the panelists and the three contestants as to why Mr. Tweed survived the ordeal. The premise of the movie, though, was that he had been a self-centered person who had a spiritual awakening and learned to trust the Guam natives.

The original expression of “No Man is an Island” is credited to John Donne, an English poet who lived from 1572-1631. The poem ends with another famous phrase, also turned into a movie title, “for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

The lyrics to the song written in the early 1960’s are attributed to Joan Baez.

Untitled

Like everyone else, I dream of my 15 minutes of fame and can’t figure out what’s taking so long. I already have picked out the title to my autobiography. After all, everyone wants to read about the famous, right?

Actually, there are several titles in play. I’m still deciding. I’ll pass along a few examples:

Confessions of a Cassanova– I thought this would be a good intro about my life as a cad, womanizer, ladie’s man, hunk, whatever. But then I found out that in some languages, it can also mean “new house”. So, well… I can write about remodeling my condo apartment.

The Meek Do Not Inherit The Earth– Over the years, I’ve learned that one must stand up for himself, unless the cop tells you to stay in the car after he pulls you over for going through a red light.

If I Make Sense, Give Me The Change– This one is my favorite because it makes no sense. Okay, maybe it is stating the obvious- that not everyone understands my brand of humor, which comes in many flavors.

Self-Hero Worship– Hey, If I’m not gonna tote my whistle, who is? Patting oneself on the back is a form of good exercise. It works the forearm muscles into shape.

The Life of a Pulitzer Prize Winner– Hey, we can all dream, right?

The Pride of Austin– I figured I’d get all the Texans to spend money on a book about one of their native sons until they found out I was referring to a neighborhood in Chicago of which the last time I stepped foot on a sidewalk there was August 28, 1968.

You Can’t Keep a Good Man Up or Last Man Standing– I like to sit or better yet, lay down and keep my legs lifted. It helps the edema. Or maybe, more apropos- Here’s to a Swell Guy.

Parking Is Not For Cheapskates

There was a time when parking was a simple chore. I can remember as far back as the late 1950’s living on Chicago’s West Side on Jackson Boulevard where there was not that much competition for curbside parking. Although we lived in a large apartment building complex there seemed to be more than adequate space on the street for my father to park his Plymouth. Very few, if any, of our neighbors had more than one car in the family.
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Diversity is a street between Belmont and Fullerton

Diversity is a street between Belmont and Fullerton. More precisely it is smack dab in the middle (2800 north in Chicago navigational parlance) of several streets between Belmont (3200 north) and Fullerton (2400 n.) . And, as long as we are being truthful, it is Diversey and not Diversity. Tell that to all the El train conductors who used to announce the next stop along the way after the Fullerton stop to give those of us in the 1960’s a chance to switch to a B train. Of course, nowadays the human conductor has been replaced by an authoritarian robotic command. Regardless, herein lies the irony.diversey
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School Days, Long Days

Recently, Mayor Emmanuel Rahm of Chicago has publicly lobbied for lengthening the school day. I publicly yawned when I heard that.

bobbell_3stoogesIn September, 1964, at the start of 7th grade in a private school in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, yours truly was about three weeks short of his 12th birthday and got a rude awakening to long school days. Until then, the school day was easy to take. I lived less than a block from grammar school and it was over by 3:15pm. That was enough time to rush home and catch the second half of the Three Stooges tv show hosted by Bob Bell dressed as an old caretaker of an even older theater building.
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An Autobiography is Not Henry Ford’s Account of His Life

It’s not coincidence that the words ‘library’ and ‘liberty’ are closely related by root. Despite what some people think, the more one knows, the better he or she is. Reading books gives one knowledge that frees the mind from stupidity. Of course, there are those who might say that I am confusing knowledge with smarts.

Ever since that game Trivial Pursuit was introduced in 1979 it seems as if our culture has put a premium on all types of knowledge, even insignificant data that won’t help pay for a cup of coffee or a bottle of water.

Regardless, I’ve always respected anyone who is weighed down with mounds of trivial facts on obscure subjects. After all, I’m the guy who will tell you to make three right turns instead of a simple left turn. I have a need to let you know that there is more than one way to skin a cat. On this latter subject, don’t ask me- check it out through using a web browser.

Growing up in the 1950’s on the West Side of Chicago, my first exposure to a storehouse of knowledge and information was the Legler Regional Library Branch near the northeast corner of Pulaski and Wilcox. Being quite young at the time, I only recall Ma holding me by the hand as we walked up a whole bunch of stairs to the library front entrance.

A few years later, I remember visiting the Austin Branch Library just north of Lake Street and west of Central on, I believe, Grace. During this period, I finally received a library card and was made to understand the importance of taking good care of it as well as returning books back on time in lieu of paying a fine.

Attending college at Northeastern Illinois University in the early 1970’s, I became quite impressed with the non-book materials available at the campus library such as micro fiche and microfilm rolls of old newspapers and magazines.

By the mid 1970’s, it became more important to spend the energy on finding a decent career or at least the stepping stones to building a career. When not working, I was playing sports during evening time.

Come the new century and my body had a talking with my mind and said I had to quit the extra curricular activities. I now had more time to devote to refueling my mind with insignificant but enjoyable and entertaining data. I started the path back slowly by going once every two weeks to a book store and leafing through the discounted material section. I also decided not to waste time reading fiction. After all, life itself was strange and more often ironically funny. I didn’t need to read someone else’s made up stories. I concentrated on books of fact and information as well as biographies.

I learned that the best stories about people’s lives were the ones that the subject matter wrote himself. After all, if one is going to tell a good lie, I’d rather here it from the person who fabricated it than from someone looking from the outside in.

After a while, it dawned on me that I was wasting precious money at the book store and was better off going to the library and reading books for free. A year ago, I started by visiting every other week to borrow two biographies to read. Now it seems as if I go twice a week. The one dread is that I run out of interesting non-fiction books that tickle my fancy and am forced – gulp- to start checking out the fiction section.

To reshape a phrase spoken by Lieutenant McGarrett on Hawaiian Five-O: “Book It!”

Penny Foolish

Does anyone still pick up a penny when they see it on the floor? C’mon- anybody? That’s what I thought. For baby boomers, there was a lot we could do with a penny or two.

Back in the early 1960’s, there was lots of candy that still cost a penny. In September 1964, I spent seventh grade in a private school in the Chicago Lakeview neighborhood. The school was in the middle of the first block in from Lake Michigan and Sheridan Road on Melrose Street. At the northwestern corner by Broadway there stood a small candy shop. It was a gold mine for the elderly couple that owned it. Not only did they have our school as a locked-in customer, but directly across the street was a public grammar school.

Our nickname for the old man behind the counter was Mr. Miser because he distrusted all regardless of age. In his mind, everyone was out to try to steal his merchandise. Well, not exactly everyone. Most girls were given the benefit of the doubt. But, if you walked in wearing a pair of pants- look out. It was like strolling in a prison yard during the designated time break with cops wearing sun glasses and pounding billy clubs against their open hands watching your every move. And heaven help you if you took too long to decide what you wanted or changed your mind after Miser put the goods in a paper bag. Anything to ruffle his feathers guaranteed an unleashing of verbal abuse and a demand to leave the premises immediately.
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Politics of Change

As a kid growing up in the 1960’s I was a Democrat because I didn’t know better. It had been schooled into me that Republicans were only for rich people and believed in war which was in their opinion good for the economy. It didn’t make a difference since I couldn’t vote.

The first time I took notice of politics was when we road home in a school bus from Orchestra Hall on Michigan Avenue back to our school in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s Far West Side. We had just been treated to seats up in the rafters watching and listening to a matinee presentation put on by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This was around the same time Leonard Bernstein was doing television shows dedicated to the same purpose and they were quite popular.

On the forty-five minute ride home due west we rode through neighborhoods with signs on front lawns or taped to windows that either read ‘Go All the Way With JFK’ (John F. Kennedy) or ‘For the Future’ (Richard Nixon). My buddy Perry sat next to me and he made a point of telling me for whom I should be but it did not resonate. When it came down to it, Kennedy made more sense because he was better looking and didn’t look mean. Besides, I had a kid’s version of Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage or was aware of it so I had somewhat of a sophisticated approach to my choice.

I recall being fascinated on election night watching the news coverage and Walter Cronkite explaining about all the sophisticated computer equipment in the room that was making loud noises in the background.
He said that with the equipment, he would be able to predict who won the election within a couple of hours after the polls closed. In those days, they did not make predictions on East Coast electoral votes until all the states had officially closed down the voting. There was still a sense on the part of the media in playing fair and not trying to discourage West Coast voters in wasting their ballots on a loser.

I liked watching war movies on television but in real life preferred to be a passive bystander although not a conscientious objector. My simple philosophy was ‘leave me out of it’. Besides, I wore glasses due to depth perception problems and double vision as well as had flat feet. I inherited these from Ma.

By the time 1969 came around, I was not yet seventeen and hardly a member of the pot smoking peace movement. Heck, I choked whenever someone smoking a cigarette was within fifteen feet of me. Didn’t have long hair because the high school administration frowned upon it and besides I was not out to make a statement. Did, though, grow a beard which looking back on it was ridiculous as at best it was Solzhenitsyn-like. And you needed a magnifying glass to see the accompanying mustache up close.

During the summer of 1970, after graduating high school, a kind of rash or impetuous thing overcame me. I invited a female classmate to go a movie, a quasi-date. I don’t recall if I even paid for her admission ticket. Wasn’t really that much interested in her romantically- at least, I didn’t think so. I knew her as far back as kindergarten. Anyway, we agreed to meet at the theater and saw Mash. At the time, it was a very risque comedy, totally irreverent, making fun of actions taking place during the Korean War.

The movie had little to do about the 1950 police action in Korea. It was more about the nascent anti-war attitude during the height of the Viet Nam era. There were several things disturbing about the plot- it made fun of suicide, presumed that all married military personnel were playfully cheating on their spouses back home and that all soldiers were against the war. The actors seemed to have haircuts that were more popular after the 1964 Beatles Invasion than the 1950’s crew cuts they should have worn. The dialogue was more late 1960’s than Eisenhower era. It was a distorted political statement. And it helped turn me off to the anti-war cause. Yet, I went through the 1970’s with a “can’t we all get along” attitude mostly because I was hoping to butter up the “man” or basically get on somebody’s good side who would help improve my economic condition.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the conservative approach to politics appealed. When Ronald Reagan ascended to his Presidency I finally felt that the voice of reason and a pragmatic approach to an American lifestyle would finally direct the nation back to our collective senses.

The schism that divides America has always been there. Hey, we even had a civil war, remember? So, why is everyone so worked up about trying to get us all to agree? I kind of like the balance of power. I just don’t like paying taxes at the Federal, State and Local levels.

Everyone hates America but everyone wants to live here. I like things the way they are but also like new ideas if they make sense. I’m a bleeding heart conservative who sides with the underdog.

Hey, if I make sense then give me the change.