Saturday, August 28, 2021

Ravenswood Notes: Savoring

      A good writer channels the zeitgeist, the tone of the times. With August ending and the summer winding up, I detected a certain nameless sorrow in the air, which Caren Jeskey names in her post today.

          Willow Poem

by William Carlos Williams

It is a willow when summer is over,
a willow by the river
from which no leaf has fallen nor
bitten by the sun
turned orange or crimson.
The leaves cling and grow paler,
swing and grow paler
over the swirling waters of the river
as if loath to let go,
they are so cool, so drunk with
the swirl of the wind and of the river—
oblivious to winter,
the last to let go and fall
into the water and on the ground.
     We came across an enormous fallen weeping willow on the Northwestern University Lakefill in Evanston. Even laying down, her presence was mighty. Then it sunk in. She’s dead and will never come back. It seems so many things are slipping through the fingers as easily as grains of dry sand these days. Or has it always been this way, and the fact that I am aging, along with the shadow of death that shrouds us is tinting my lens towards a sense of inescapable loss?
     On my morning walk I was crossing Lawrence and Leavitt with the permission of the little white glowing person in the traffic light box. Suddenly a white Jeep SUV decided to jump into the bike lane, pass the cars waiting to go east on Lawrence, run the solidly red light, and come a foot or two from hitting me. His windows were down and the driver, a young man, looked over. Our eyes briefly locked. He may have shrugged. He didn’t miss a beat, and continued barreling down the street. Other drivers held their hands up and shook them in dismay in my direction as a gesture of solidarity. My next thought was “I could have just died.” 
     The other day my brother— who moved away to the glistening West Coast before he was 20— commented “looks like we’re going back to the bad-old days in Chicago.” He was referring to the peak of murders in the city in 1974, when the number hit 970. A quick Google search shows that we are, in fact, going in the wrong direction. We had 506 murders in 2019 and an uptick to 774 in 2020. A crying shame.
     I am loath to admit I have not been feeling very safe since my return to Chicago in May. I almost never feared for my life in Austin where I lived for seven years. It felt so good to know that the chances of a random act of violence towards me were slim to none there. Here? I’m not so sure.
     I used to traverse the city with wild abandon, and those days are over. I find myself being hyper-vigilant, whether walking or driving, especially since I am usually alone. I have been harassed countless times on my walkabouts, which is to be expected. That’s just what a lot of guys do when women are alone.
     Yesterday a man biked past me on the sidewalk, way too close, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He turned and said hello. I held a “don’t mess with me” look on my face and immediately crossed the street where there were a few other pedestrians. I looked back in his direction to gauge my safety. He had stopped his bike in a driveway and was looking back to find me. Ha ha. I was gone. He quickly realized I had fled and he sheepishly biked away.
     Ever since I was a kid growing up in the city I’ve had to be very savvy about my safety, and as a result I have only been assaulted by strangers twice. The first time in the '90s at the Belmont red line the guy managed to grab me. I knocked his hand away and used my voice to bellow at him. Fortunately there were cops with dogs downstairs and he was promptly arrested. My father came to court with me and the guy got community service, plus time-served. I hope he cleaned up his act after that, but who the heck knows.
     The second time was near Foster Beach, and fortunately I had just taken an Impact class and knew what to do. I got away. When he was arrested a month later after a friend and I spotted him at the lakefront, I learned he had 18 previous convictions for assault on his record. He did not show up to court so continued to roam the streets.
     I stay away from local news these days because whenever I read it I become more scared. Carjackings, shooting on the expressways, and other crime seems to be out of control right now. I just hope that you, me, and everyone we know remains unscathed. Additionally I plan to use my voice and ballots to affect change in any way I can.
     I kept walking away from the runaway Jeep on Lawrence after the near-miss, and found myself in a field of trees. I ducked under the canopy of a healthy willow tree, and the world felt right. I found bright orange pinecones and a prairie grass trail. I saw vibrant mushrooms popping up around tree trunks, and got a second cuppa joe at one of the plentiful and tasty coffee shops in the area. I bought some meatloaf and a Sprite for the guy who lives on the bench near me.
     Women in Afghanistan are being terrorized, humans seem to be such a threat to each other, and I feel helpless in so many ways. I realize how easy I have it, and I am grateful. I will continue to find beauty where I can, and stay focused on continuing to create a meaningful life during my limited time here on the planet.


  1. When I moved back to Chicago from Florida, in the mid-Seventies, I got quite a "Welcome Back, Grizzy" reception, upon my return:

    * Saw a jewelry store owner chase a hold-up man down a very crowded sidewalk--and shoot him in the head. In the heart of the Loop. During lunchtime. Maybe three feet in front of me...just far enough away not to be splattered with blood.

    * I was riding in the "railfan seat" on one of those now-retired PCC-type 'L' cars, as it slowed for one of the downtown subway platforms. Directly in front of me, a woman jumped in front of the train. Only thing between us was a pane of glass.

    * While drinking and flirting in a joint on Rush Street, the place began to fill with smoke. The source was a building across the street, which had been firebombed. I ran outside. Two blackened corpses were carried out, uncovered, on stretchers. Both were burned beyond recognition. I went right back into the bar, and proceeded to get falling-down drunk.

    All of the above happened within a month's time, before I even had a permanent address.

    Chicago has always been a tough place.
    Even a mean one.
    Now more than ever.
    Be careful out there.

    1. I think I would have thought about moving back to Florida, and I hate Florida year round.

    2. Nope...had to get out of Dodge, even though Miami was still a much smaller and nicer city in '75. It was still a white-stucco tropical paradise,with few high-rises, especially along Miami Beach. The spot where the condo collapsed this summer was still empty dunes and sea grass...and my favorite beach.

      But my folks lived across town, and I did not get along with my old man. I received daily diatribes about going back to school and getting an accounting degree, so I could be just like him. Finally had to take out my phone. As soon as it was warm enough up North, I left. I lived in Evanston and Chicago for the next 17 years.

  2. I periodically take my two kids and go downtown for the day or an overnight. They are grown now, but in April I offered to get us a hotel room or two so both of them could bring someone else this Summer. But I just couldn't set a date certain. I'm too worried about our personal safety. My birthday falls in one of the summer months and we discussed going downtown and doing the water taxi to Chinatown (I highly recommend). Then I started thinking should we take the train for our safety? Because the randomness if getting shot on the expressway is also worrisome. I finally decided to let that idea die down and am likely going to do a Frank Lloyd Wright studio tour in Oak Park. Seems safer. I'm just a suburban mom who never worried about this before now.

    Not good at all.

  3. I'm not really sure how I survived living in the North Clark Street area during the late 60s and early 70s; it was then a haven for ne're-do-wells of various sorts. Fortunately, few people had guns back then, but I knives, blunt instruments and alcohol were almost as effective in dispatching those whose time was up. Even though I couldn't then or now fight my way out of a paper bag, I was never afraid and slept many a peaceful night with my door unlocked. Nowadays, I'm a great deal more cautious and probably given to stereotyping possible threats walking down my now suburban street. Certainly, in realty I was in much more danger 50 years ago than I am now, but psychologically... That damned zeitgeist!


  4. not that they were ever the hardest working people, but because of the public demand they be held accountable for brutalizing and murdering people many officers are on vacation. they are still patrolling but not enforcing the law. this is at least the perception of a certain element ( young men) that drives however they please without fear of repercussions .

    on my drive home down Garfield boulevard last night there was a significant puddle of blood on the sidewalk in the ring of caution tape. chicago is a dangerous place . especially for young men.

    I prefer goats

  5. Not that the following contradicts anything Caren has said, but the coincidence is too stark to deter me from displaying an apparent contradiction fresh in the news: AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Two Texas police officers, including one already under a murder indictment, were indicted Friday in the July 2019 shooting of an Austin scientist who neighbors reported as having a mental health crisis.


    1. Ah yes, ATX police have been problematic, but the instances of random crime are much less there- or at least they were while I was there.

  6. Grizz, that's horrible that you've seen this violence. I once saw a huge man pick a small man up, hold him over his head, and slam him to the sidewalk near Argyle about 20 years ago. Once when I lived in Santa Monica I got caught in a gun fight between cops and migrant workers looking for day jobs. Also was in the middle of a melee at the Taste where a man burned another with a cigarette. To the Oak Park reader, I hope you find that a visit to the Art Institute still KanBeGood. Stay safe all! I plan to continue venturing out but will remain very aware of my surroundings, and I will not be out very late at night any more.

    1. Despite all the insults, snarks, and bullshit one hears about Cleveland, my adopted city is still far less dangerous than Chicago. At least for now. No shootings in my neighborhood yet. Just the occasional fatal stabbing. I'm on the safer side of town.

      Caren, that poem only reinforces (at least for me) the sadness and melancholy that the waning days of summer evoke in so many people, even though September and October can be so warm and beautiful. It's one of the two saddest times of the year for me--the other is New Year's Eve.

      I could easily write paragraph after paragraph about "the turning of the page"--when August ends and the days grow short. Fall is fast approaching, followed by the bleakness of wintertme. But I'm already too long-winded and verbose as it is. So I'll spare you, and everyone else, any additional pontification..

    2. Sorry, Grizz, but as you know, we run a fact-based shop here. Cleveland is far more dangerous than Chicago—its murder rate is 24 per 100,000, compared to 18 per 100,000 in Chicago. I hate to burst your bubble, if you moved there for the safety and all. But it's a chimera. Real estate is a whole lot cheaper though. That is a fact.

    3. Been here 29 years now, Mr I know the drill. Cleveland is getting better and worse at the same time. Which one it is depends on your age, address, occupation, and especially your skintone. One carries a little map around in one's head, so as to avoid the no-go zones. Same as in Chicago. I haven't been held-up since I was 18, and that was in a park on Long Island. In Massapequa...of all places.

      Hadn't been here for two decades when I arrived, and I was shocked by the steep slope of this city's deterioration curve. Boarded-up drug houses, and the like. I came here not for safety's sake...but to marry my college sweetheart and soulmate. So I did it for love. Also for the winter sunshine and the mild climate and the plentiful and lucrative job opportunities. Like Bogie, I was misinformed.

      And yeah, Mr. S, the price for a whole street in some parts of this town wouldn't buy you a doghouse in Chicago. But that, too, is changing rapidly. Home prices are soaring now, and rents are going through the roof.Just like everywhere else these days. The small Chicago-area ranch house I grew up in just sold for 325 K. That might still get you a large, splendid, century-old home around here. But not for very much longer.

      And then there's that whole East Side vs.West Side thing. For those who have never been here, the East Side is to Cleveland what the South Side is to Chicago. I'm in the far west, not too far north of Berea. Still pretty safe out here. But that, too, is changing. Definitely not what it was in the Nineties.

  7. While the poem is evocative, this post seems to me to go well beyond "nameless sorrow" about the dwindling days of summer. The source of the sorrow seems clear: fear of crime and how it's affecting EGD's Saturday correspondent. Followed up by comments validating the concern.

    You don't have to be paying much attention to realize that things have taken an unfortunate turn in the city of late. I've been thinking about it myself -- I haven't felt that things were quite this way for decades.

    Particularly affecting is Caren's perspective as as single woman ambling the streets. Being a clueless white guy of a certain age, it was not all that long ago that I really began to understand the constant state of vigilance that women in this country are required to maintain -- largely due to the presence and behavior of obnoxious, clueless white guys. A few years ago, some woman filmed a video of herself just walking down the street in NYC. Dressed conservatively, not making eye contact, she was cat-called repeatedly by an assortment of offenders for the length of the video. I mean, I'm aware that guys do that, but it was remarkable.

    Uh, I don't really know what to say, except that I'm sorry that your return to the capitol of the Midwest has come at such a precarious time. On a happier note -- you're talking about Winnemac Park in the penultimate paragraph, right? I love that place! : )

  8. Me too! Nature, family, friends, music, career, baking are the salve.

  9. Still lots of great things to see and do in Chicago. Like any big city, you just have to know the where’s and when’s. Chicago has plenty of where’s and when’s.

    1. Agree, Les. I went to a concert at Pritzker last night. Vax cards required, and I stayed up at the concrete wall and well away from the crowds below. It was magical! Wilco & Sleater Kinney.


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