“Where Have You Gone, Jackie Robinson…”

By Larry Teren
simon&garfunkel
Remember the Simon and Garfunkel song “Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio” from the late 1960’s? It was sort of an anthem for baby boomers weighing in on the changing of the guard from the 1950’s rock and roll culture to the hippie drug craze. Dimaggio retired from playing ball with the New York Yankees  in 1951 after a World War II shortened career grabbed away some reachable goals in the annals of baseball records. He had another fifteen minutes of fame in the mid-50’s as one of Marilyn Monroe’s husbands. Joe kept his iconic status burning in the 60s and 70s with Mr. Coffee commercials as well as the annual trek to Monroe’s grave site to lay a garland of flowers on her tombstone.

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A Swank Life

By Larry Teren

 

“Relief recipients were warned yesterday that they must get rid of television sets, telephones, and other ‘luxury’ items in their homes or face being dropped from relief rolls.” So began the newspaper article on September 25, 1962.

At that time, Harold Swank was the executive secretary of the Public Aid commission. He ordered his staff to begin canvassing their clients for failure to comply. He also told them to warn the Public Aid beneficiaries that if they did not sell all such items within the month, the relief checks would stop.

An exception was made for telephones if needed for health reasons or to help get a job. “Luxury” items would be allowed to be kept if purchased before the person went on relief or were received as gifts.  But, the aid recipient must be able to prove this. Continue reading “A Swank Life”

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.

You Take The High Road, I’ll Take The No Road

There gets to a point in life when I say, “why bother?” Especially if it means traveling. I hate getting into the car and going onto the expressway, fighting to not be outmaneuvered by other drivers traveling 10 to 15 miles an hour over the speed limit. No, I’m not that old a fuddy-duddy who drives 10 miles an hour under the limit. I cheat, too, but not as much. Sometimes I get the feeling as if I’m in competition with a whole bunch of Mario Andretti’s.

My (precious) car is kept in an underground heated garage in the condo where I reside. To get to it, I either take an elevator down 4 floors or walk to one of the stairways and trek down the same 4 levels (and it beats walking up those same four flights, let me tell you). Then I get to the car, back out of my assigned stall, press the garage door opener and hope no one is flying down the entrance/exit ramp. Continue reading “You Take The High Road, I’ll Take The No Road”

Oh, Henry

By Larry Teren

Twenty six years after his passing, I still think about Uncle Henry. Which reminds me- before Al Gore invented email (or was it just the Internet?) my fellow human beings took great care in how we put thoughts on paper. We went to great lengths to make sure our handwriting was legible and worthy of reading. Continue reading “Oh, Henry”

An Elegy For The “World’s Largest Store”: Sears

by Larry Teren

There was a time when Chicago was considered the capitol of the retail industry. Headquartered here was Sears Roebuck and Company and Montgomery Ward as well as one of the largest catalog houses, Spiegel, which started out as an emporium in 1865. (It seemed as if every television game show always gave out prizes such as furniture and appliances from the Spiegel Catalog.)  Continue reading “An Elegy For The “World’s Largest Store”: Sears”

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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Going Postal

Here we go again. The U.S. Postal Service is threatening dire actions unless the U.S. taxpayer bails them out for the umpteenth time. This time they say they will close many processing centers around the country. This will result in no longer promising to deliver the mail the next day in the same postal zone after it is put in a mailbox but adding a day or two to the length of time. Like that has been a lock for the past several years until now, right?

The Post Office complains that businesses have cut down on the amount of junk mail they send out. Yah, sure. They also say that our use of email has killed their business model. Well, whoopee do!
That’s life. Do you think that the president of the buggy whip association back in 1905 went to Congress and demanded that we all continue to buy accessories for no-longer-existent horses in the backyard barn?

As a society, we are paying our bills more than ever online. Let’s face it. It is faster and a better chance of getting delivered than by the Post Office. And you can tell the bank when to remit the payment rather than releasing the funds immediately.

Those of us who are baby boomers in our 50’s (ahem) can faintly remember that yet in the late 1950’s the Post Office delivered the mail to businesses in Chicago’s downtown area as well as other key locations twice a day . Postage stamps back then cost a mere 3 cents. A new car about $2000, a newspaper 7 cents for a weekday edition, a new house about $20,000, and a movie ticket about 75 cents for an adult.

Today, everything listed about is most likely more than ten times that amount but with all except mail delivery you get the same product or even more for the higher price than back then. Today, a single postage stamp of first class delivery is 44 cents. But, delivery has become less often and shakier. And heaven help you when your mailman (well, at least mine is a guy) goes on vacation and they send out a substitute. Email and electronic transfer of financial data is a good thing. Hey, it’s called progress.

When we first moved into our current office building after the turn of the century (this one- hey, watch it!), we immediately recognized that it had a very important amenity- a mail box pickup location inside.
A sticker posted on the lid you open to drop in the mail listed two pickup times. One around 10am and the other 4:45pm. This made sense as it gave us a chance to compose important business communications, run it through the postage meter and as we went home and dropped it in the mail chute, we knew that by the next morning it would already be on its way to getting processed.

This is no longer the fact. Last year- in a cost-cutting action, the post office decided to reduce pickup to once a day. Fine. No problem. Doable. However, the geniuses decided to make the pickup at 10am and dropped the more beneficial 4:45pm. Presumably because it was beneficial for the paying customer but not their pampered employees who loathed making a pickup late in the day when they preferred to be heading home. What this means is that if I get to the office after the 10am pickup, I have to advance the date in the postage meter before I slide an envelope through. Why? I am a firm believer that the next morning when the mail is brought to the processing plant that a postal employee will see the previous day’s date on the metered envelope and put it on the side to teach me a lesson in ruining that person’s karma.

The U.S. Postal Service has not raised stamp fees from 3 to 44 cents and dropped delivery from twice a day to barely once only because the cost of living that has skyrocketed in 50 years.. It is out-of-control pension plans, vacation and personal leave benefits that our “all types of weather” letter carriers get. But, hey- that’s progress. I tell you what- I quit when my computer starts asking me for the same considerations.

The Collaborator

By Larry Teren

We live in a divisive world culture today where everything seems to be evaluated in terms of black and white, good and evil, right and wrong. There is little room for compromise. This putting of things into such perspective has shaped our hero worshiping. Celebrities whom we cherish can quickly become vilified if we disagree with their politics.

janefonda mauricchevalier_1

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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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