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Saturday, August 21, 2021

Ravenswood Notes: Ginger


The Music Lesson, by John George Brown (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

   My wife has a saying that I like, "It's better to be kind than right." A truth that Ravenswood Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey explores delightfully today. Her Saturday report:

     "We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” One of my favorites, Ana├»s Nin, is credited with this combination of words.
     I find that all of my good ideas have come from others in one form or another. Whether receiving direct advice from a mentor or elder (yes, including you Mom & Dad), instruction in school, or picking up on the essence of those I admire, I’ve gleaned a lot from the people around me. I was once told that we are a conglomeration of the six people we spend the most time with. True or not, since then I’ve made an effort to surround myself with those I’d like to emulate for their desirable qualities. Calm, funny, warm, creative, forgiving, caring, intelligent, and those who can admit their flaws and have a sense of humor about themselves. Those who are willing to bend when they have something to learn.
     Today had its ups and downs. The ups were waking up in my cozy new Chicago apartment with wood floors and a gorgeous built-in hutch filled with gifts of rugs and furniture from good people welcoming me back. I had Telehealth sessions with clients, an honor and a privilege. I ordered a personal deep dish pizza from Giordano’s. I had a flute lesson. Then I left to find a spot to settle in and work, since I tend to work better at outside establishments with wifi, whereas at home I might get drawn into a project or another episode of Ted Lasso. As soon as I ventured out, everything went kaphooey. First stop, garbage bin. Why oh why do folks throw their garbage and compostables in the recycle bin? Why do my neighbors leave the back gate open when they walk their dogs rather than simply closing it and pulling their key out when they return? Why does no one smile when we pass on the sidewalk? Am I invisible? Then I hit the road. Why does no one stop at stop signs? Why do people race around on little side streets?
     I finally made it to a coffee shop with a patio. Why was the waiter so rude that I decided to leave? I almost went home and called mingling with society a wash for the day.
     Instead I drove around listening to music until I got an idea. Jerry’s Sandwiches on Lincoln. Right on the Square with the fountain, just south of Lawrence. Free wifi, tasty fare, and a laid back vibe. I settled in with my laptop to get my work done. Chariots of Fire theme in my bluetooth ear bud, I was ready to go. Alas, wah wahhhh. Think the sad, mocking sound in a TV game show where you’ve gotten the wrong answer. No wifi for me on the patio this fine night. The signal was too weak. The waiter kindly invited me inside where the signal is stronger, but with Delta? No way.
     Just then I realized: it’s blog time. No wifi needed. Time to write.
     I decided to broach the topic of wanting to avoid all human beings today. Feeling disconnected from my fellows. Then I realized that my own irritability had a lot to do with it, and remembered that the world can be different for me if I change into my rose colored glasses.
     I decided to kill the waitstaff with kindness. Sometimes I forget how hard COVID times have been on the service industry. They have had to show up—if they were lucky enough to retain their jobs— when many of us were able to stay at home, safe and sound, if we so chose. I went to the Comedy Showcase at Navy Pier this week, a part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. (I’m sure the Fest was much less hardy than it was in 2019. Two short years, and the whole world has changed). One of the performers entertained us with a song that sardonically reminded us of our privilege, and implored us to check it at the door or the opening of the patio when dining out in these hard times.
     The result? I won. My server responded to my kindness and we bonded. Turns out, they are a Comedy Drag Queen named Ginger Forest who worked for years with Second City. More recently, they host a children’s story time at Gerry’s on the third Sunday of each month, which is on hiatus thanks to Delta, but will hopefully return soon. They told me that their main message to the kiddos at story time is to be kind rather than judging others.
     Ginger shared their philosophy of life. “Know thyself. Look inward towards your own personal growth and journey, and use the people around you to inspire you. There is nothing wrong with saying ‘I need a little help.’ You need to be open and accepting. If you can reach beyond your personal boundaries, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. Look outside of your personal bubble. Find people who are different from you. Find your similarities with them, and build on them. The differences make you grow, and the commonality will bring you together.” Well said.


  1. Why does no one smile when we pass on the sidewalk? Indeed, why does almost everyone avoid eye contact at all costs when passing. This summer I also moved, landing in Lincoln Square (a short block from Gerry's) after a life mostly lived in the suburbs. I will never stop trying to share a smile those who pass, but so far it's been a disheartening challenge. Next time you are in my hood and an old dude actually smiles back, that'll be me!

    1. Even in the suburbs, it can seem that some people's entire store of goodwill isn't sufficient for them to nod at passersby. I can't explain why? Excessive self-regard makes them loath to acknowledge their assumed inferiors? Unease in their own skin makes them dread looking people in the eye? So I sympathize. I practically run up and shake their hands, starved for human interaction. The challenge is not to hate them because of it.

    2. OK John when I smile at you make sure you ask if it's me. :) Yes, Neil, these questions go through my mind too. I also know that we are having a global mental health crisis, so there's that. It's really not about me, though I let it hurt me at times. Today I will be kind without asking for the same in return. Or I will also stay in a bubble and be ok with that.

    3. I moved from West Town to Pocket Town about a year ago. nobody here is ear budded and just moved here from some other state. afraid of everyone they encounter. kids play in the street . complete strangers invited us to cook outs. the lady across the street brought us a tin of cookies at Christmas.

      when we first moved in about half the people I encountered said hi. now its closer to everyone. its delightful.

      and as a bonus no rats! it was quite a shock. no rats

    4. Sounds lovely. Are you sure you haven't died and gone to heaven? I've never heard of Pocket Town. It sounds like something Fisher Price created.

    5. Found it! Google Earth Pro has it! Part of the Grand Crossing area on the South Side. It's a triangular neighborhood that is south of Oak Woods Cemetery and east of the Skyway, between East 71st and East 75th Streets. That designation has existed for more than a decade, but it was unknown to me until just now. I have learned so much from EGD...

    6. Well played grizz and yes Mr.S I'm sure I'm still alive cause was just told to go feed the goats.

  2. To tell the truth, for many years it never entered my mind that I had any obligation to say, "Hi" to total strangers I met on the street. Of course, I would reply to any greeting I received, but rarely, if ever, initiated such. However, after running a few times with my baby brother, who was a gregarious politician of sorts, I did take up the habit of grunting a "Hi" to people I passed in my early morning exercising, but often my timing was off, such that the passerby really didn't have the proper opportunity to reply. These days, I walk with my baby sister in the predawn mornings and let her reach out to those she feels need to be saluted, half of whom I don't even notice, since I hardly ever wear my glasses while exercising for fear of falling and breaking them.

    To change the subject, I really like that painting by John George Brown. The darkness draws me in and leads me to believe that a lot more than a music lesson is going on.


    1. Every piece of Western art about flute lessons is about a lot more than a music lesson going on. This is the tamest of the lot.

  3. Besides the varying level of trauma most of us have gone through during the pandemic (feeling fortunate because it has been minimal in my case), some are just introverts. I was a shy child and quiet, hesitant adult, at least until I had been working for 10-15 years. I still rarely initiate greetings or conversations, but I try to be open to contact, read body language and faces so that I can at least return a smile and give a clear, audible response. When I took a long trip out West to four national parks in pre-COVID days I found people friendlier than in West Ridge. I think we feel more at risk and wary in the big city, even in our own neighborhoods.

    1. Good point, that introverts may simply feel overwhelmed by a hello. I feel that way sometimes too; I just feel safer if I know who's around me.

  4. Wow...that is some handiwork from a nameless spider, and the beads of moisture make the image even better. Can't help thinking about the recent mentions of the Cleveland Spiders on this site. If attendance doesn't improve, it won't matter if the team becomes known as the Guardians. They will relocate to the South, adopt a Spiderman-themed logo, and become the Charlotte Webs.

    This month marks the beginning of my thirtieth year on the West Side of Cleveland. When I first moved here from Evanston, I was blown away by the friendliness of strangers, after living (for most of my life) in Chicago and its northern suburbs. On my first day here, as I stood in my new front yard and watched the moonrise and the sunset, and marveled at how much open sky I could see, people walking by my front yard invariably said hello to me as they passed. Some had dogs, while others did not.

    My house is on a large corner lot, and it also has the only USPS mailbox in the neighborhood. And my street ends at a rapid transit stop. So there is a good deal of foot traffic, out here on the edge of the city. People walking to the train, in addition to all those dog walkers and letter mailers and young parents out strolling with their kids. Almost everybody says hello, even in these troubled times. Yesterday I was mowing the lawn and a young red-haired woman rode by on her bicycle. She waved a hello to me. I had never seen her before.

    Northeast Ohio has a lot of urban problems, and plenty of ignorant jerks, but people are a lot more inclined to greet one another in passing. Even strangers on trails, in the parks, acknowledge one another. Perhaps it's just an Ohio thing. A Midwestern, hicks-from-the-sticks kind of thing.

    Or maybe the lack of goodwill, and the ignoring of passersby, comes with the territory, in the bigger and more crowded places. My native Chicago has always been a tough place, even a mean one. So not saying hello might be just another Chicago thing.

    Almost three decades removed from my birthplace, I'm starting to think so. But I still get a wee bit jolted when people greet me. I'm still a Chicago boy at heart.

    1. Well hello Grizz! Don't mean to jolt you though.


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