Saturday, September 24, 2022

Northshore Notes: Birthday

     An important theme sounded in my work at the Sun-Times is to remind the intolerant, the haters and would-be totalitarians who would impose their practices upon others, unwilling, that they are not in fact the only sort of people in the world. There are all manner of people, different than yourself, who do and believe a wide spectrum of different things. It's their world too, a lesson most of us pick up in childhood. Though, tragically, many never do. Thus I'm glad to walk the walk, and on Saturdays turn my personal blog over, not just to someone else, but to the inimitable, vibrant and energetic Caren Jeskey. Her report:

By Caren Jeskey

     This week I celebrated my 53rd birthday.
     A group of friends and family were kind enough to brave a stormy night and meet up for a celebratory dinner on Tuesday night. I chose Good To Go , a Jamaican restaurant on Howard Street, for several reasons. It's located near my folks' place and I did not want them to have to travel far. It's also not too far from friends who were coming from Chicago, Park Ridge, Vernon Hills, and the North Shore. Also, it boasts a covered rooftop. We are still COVID conscious, and Tom Skilling predicted rain. Thanks Tom. A couple of hardy storms pummeled down during the night, but we were safe.
     Watching my family and friends from high school, college, and later in life mingle was heartwarming. As a gift, I received a book created by an ex, Accra Shepp. This led to a phone chat with him later in the week — him in Queens, and me on a walkabout in Wilmette. The world became small thanks to our iPhone (me) Android (him) connection.
     A college friend who's now a high school teacher burnt out by these COVID years (and leaving her role in 9 weeks time, after decades of teaching) gave me a copy of a book about "returning home" by Toko-pa Turner "on exile and the search for belonging." I see myself as a passionate person, and often on a quest for meaning, so this book was spot on.
     Snežana Žabić also showed up. She's a writer and musician who encouraged me to pursue my musical talents, and for a short time we formed a two woman band called The Adaptations. We'd play weekly at the now-defunct Café Mestizo in Pilsen. 
Snežana had us rehearsing on a regular schedule, and was the coach I needed. I'd like to be a Renaissance Woman but often lack the drive to make it happen.
     On Snežana's blog Spurious Bastard, she notes "at my core, I'm a stranger to passion. I've seen it in others: a passion for soccer or partying, for example. I've messed around with passion myself. Passion is another word for despair. Commitment is what I know more intimately. I recognized it even as a child whenever I saw pensioners playing bocce or chess in the street. On that patch of dirt in the otherwise leafy park, heavy balls hardly moving, the players were calm and focused. On that folding table covered with a plastic tablecloth with a garish floral pattern, the only pattern the chess players saw was the checkered board and black and beige figures. That has always made sense to me."
     From her memoir Broken Records: "in 1991, Snežana Žabić lost her homeland and most of her family’s book and record collection during the Yugoslav Wars that had been sparked by Slobodan Milošević’s relentless pursuit of power. She became a teenage refugee, forced to flee Croatia and the atrocities of war that had leveled her hometown of Vukovar. She and her family remained refugees in Serbia until NATO bombed Belgrade in 1999." She landed here and now lives in Rogers Park. She’s had quite a life, and has taught me about the power of resilience.
     When we played at Cafe Mestizo, fellow musicians in the audience asked me to record my flute on their projects. I was flattered. It gave me a sense of accomplishment, and purpose. Snežana drew me out of my insecurities and stage fright and into expression. Once, I was so nervous that I did not play my flute at all during a show. I held it to my lips, afraid to blow. Even though I knew the notes, my frightened brain convinced me that if I blew, I’d fail. Afterwards, the always cool and collected Snežana simply asked "what happened?" without any judgement or shaming. She had proceeded with the show, without missing a beat. No stranger to adapting to uncertain situations.
     The owner of the group practice I work for also showed up at the party. A harm reduction therapist who's an artist also came, with a gift of a sketch he'd made of a character in a Jerry Springer show. He explained that a good friend of his loved the show, so he’d entertain himself by sketching the characters when she had it on. I appreciate that he studies humans and took it a step further, to sketch and also present as a gift. In homemade wrapping paper, I must add.
     As I watched friends and family enjoy each other’s company, I truly felt that everything was OK.
Underneath my outside face
There's a face that none can see.
A little less smiley,
A little less sure,
But a whole lot more like me
        — Shel Silverstein


  1. Love the poem.
    Here's my tribute:
    The poem above is sweet and lean.
    Would that I could write the same.
    But I sorely lack the funny gene.
    And need someone to blame.
    Hey, Ma, hey Pa, don't make a scene.
    A lot more like me I claim.


  2. First of all, Happy Birthday!
    You and your group of friends would have fit in nicely with those that frequented Chicago's Dill Pickle Club back in the day. I first learned about this institution listening to a podcast called Curious City, a production that tells many, many tales about Chicago on all subjects.
    I'm surprised none like this club exists today.

    1. Yes, that was quite a joint, from World War I until the early years of the Depression. A similar place couldn't exist today. People are badly-behaved and too undisciplined. Back in the day, even Bohemians and weirdos had manners.

    2. So cool! Wish I'd been there. We've had various incarnations of this. Once at a very progressive friend's place in Lincoln Square, and another time on Broadway in Uptown. We'd call it A Salon. :)

  3. Happy birthday! But the gift is your writing, so what's up with that? I'm sending you virtual wishes.

  4. "Passion is another word for despair." That is food for thought.

    I was recently walking down stairs at Busch Stadium in St Louis and there was a poster on the wall that said: "Show me a guy who's afraid to make a mistake, and I'll show you a guy you can beat every time - Lou Brock." I had just been thinking about my fear of screwing up while speaking Spanish. Sometimes wisdom comes in the strangest places.

    1. Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, 1964. Not only the worst transaction in Cub history, but maybe in the whole long history of MLB...including that of Babe Ruth. He was not traded to the Yankees from Boston in 1919. He was sold for $100,000 (about $2.8 million today). But that was a huge sum of money at the time. The average American worker earned just under $3,300 yearly, and MLB average salaries were about the same.


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