Saturday, April 16, 2022

Wilmette Notes: Curiosities

     When Caren Jeskey first started sharing her perspective with us from the wilds of Texas, I savored her blending of physical and inner worlds as she wandered Austin, the meshing of her own thoughts with the unusual people she encountered. I worried her return home to to the greater Chicago metroplex would dampen her spirit, but that didn't happen. Today's Saturday report finds her in top form:

By Caren Jeskey

     The Loch Ness of Lake Michigan emerged from the water on a secluded strip of the beach near Plaza del Lago. I’d been hiding out, collecting sea glass and smooth stones that the recent mini-icebergs had pushed into the sand for us to find. I decided Loch Ness man was weird, so I decided not to make eye contact. (Because I’m not weird at all). 
     He was covered from head to toe in waterproof rubber gear. He clutched a long handle attached to a circular, beeping robot that had been helping him find treasures in the bottom of the sea. I’m not sure why I thought he was so strange. My brother John was once obsessed with his metal detector and often went on excursions that unearthed jewelry, aged coins, and bottle caps. Before him, my Grandpa Carl did the same.
     That’s probably also where John got his love for structural engineering and tinkering — his Grandpa. Carl worked for the railroad. He could take a broken radio apart, fix it, and put it back together in perfectly working order. I did not inherit this gift.
     I know this because I once had a little TV with a built-in VHS player that I bought for 80 bucks at Sears on Lawrence, and carried home on the bus. A videotape I’d borrowed from the Harold Washington Library, Sky Above Mud Beneath — a 1961 movie that is a must watch — was thoroughly stuck in the machine. I decided, “well, I’m Carl’s granddaughter. I’ve got this.” A couple dozen tiny screws later, I’d gotten the tape out in one piece and I set off to put the contraption back together. This was the days of flip phones, and if I’d been smarter I’d have snapped photos along the way, but I was overly confident. There would be no getting it back together again. The poor TV, guts hanging out, was banished to the alley. I placed it on top of the cans, hoping someone who knew what to do might find it.
     As a teen, my brother John — 8 years my senior — had intricate maps of fast rail systems around the world taped to his bedroom wall. He’d mail off requests, and tubes from far away places like Japan would arrive on our Rogers Park doorstep. Since then, John has helped build an apartment building on Sheridan Road, a tunnel through a mountain for bikers in Northern California, and the Los Angeles subway system.
     On my recent beach day, I busied myself in finding my own treasures. When it was time to head back home, rocks weighing down my backpack, I climbed up a mountain of sand and giant chunks of concrete toward Sheridan Road. I could have trekked back to the legitimate exit point at Elmwood Dunes, but I am a fan of shortcuts.
     When I got back up to street level, I saw a place where someone had broken off the top of a wooden fence. I climbed over it to land in a very nice little park, kids and nannies and moms and dads enjoying the day. I spread my bounty out on the top of a recycling bin to admire it, take some photos, and decide what I’d keep and what I’d leave behind. As I was contemplating my rocks, Loch Ness appeared. He apparently knows the short cut too.
     He looked over and asked “‘did you find anything good?’ I commented, ‘just a little bit of glass, and some stones.’ ‘Nice,’ he said. ‘How about you?’ He smiled and said ‘I found a gold ring.’” I wondered if he’d post fliers around the neighborhood to try to return the ring to its rightful owner.
     The next night I was invited to a high school friend’s house for dinner. I have not seen this person since my 40th birthday, when he took me to Alinea as a last minute guest when a family member of his had to cancel.
     I was excited. Bruce was a sweetheart in high school. Cool, creative, warm, and funny. It turns out that we are practically neighbors now, and when he found out he invited me by. I packed up my backpack with a sturdy piece of rock I’d found at the beach. I thought that he and his husband could use it as a soap dish. I packed up other treats to share, and headed out on my bike.
      When I arrived we hugged, and the energy was great. With less than 200 students in our whole high school I feel close to almost everyone, even if we have not stayed in close touch. We were a part of a small tribe for a while in our formative years, and old North Shore Country Day School friends somehow feel like home to me.
     When I pulled out the rock and handed it to Bruce in his kitchen, he looked at it oddly. “This is concrete.” I said “Oh. I wasn’t sure. I thought it would be nice to add to your garden or to use as a soap dish.” He looked at it again, and I think he said “yeah, I’ll put it outside.” Suddenly we both started cracking up. My host gift was a piece of broken concrete. Thank goodness I’d also brought cheese.


  1. Your disposal of the mangled TV was just what I would do or I should say, have done over the years, putting out failed repair projects in the hope that someone more gifted in fixing broken objects might extend the life of some appliance that I had left on death's door.


  2. Your last line about bringing cheese reminded me of this story. My niece was very condescending and patronizing, even as a young child. The kind of kid who calls her mother by her first name, instead of "Mom."

    Twenty years ago, we bought her a multi-colored stained-glass suncatcher, and gave it to her as a Bat Mitzvah gift. She never even opened the box, mainly because the gift was inside a round cheese box--it was just the right size. She was positive that her poor, miserly Uncle Scrooge (and his wife) had gifted her with a small wheel of cheese on her big day.

    If my wife hadn't asked her how she liked it, she probably would left the artwork inside the refrigerator. There's a well-known Yiddish word for that kind of audacity...chutzpah. It is not a word that is generally used favorably.


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