Dear fondest memories,

I participate in Facebook on various pages and groups. One is for my old neighborhood, in Chicago, Hyde Park. This weekend we had a long exchange about an issue important to me and it stimulated me to finish this dialogue I have been working on. I intended this for public consumption but it may be too personal to all but those that lived it. My previous blog posts have touched on many aspects of my youth and its indiscretions and failures. I fail sometimes to pay homage to the environment which I thrived and drowned in.

When I was 14, my family moved from an area in Chicago called South Shore to Hyde Park (HP) a neighborhood 10 minutes north. Kind of like moving from the Earth to Mars.

So for my first 14 years, I got used to anti-Semitism and racial animus in South Shore. There were white kids in my high school, known as “greasers” that hated Jews and Blacks. Jews were generally not friends with Blacks but there was rarely any hostilities between them.  Of course that is a shallow description but all that is needed for the moment. The South Shore high school was populated with the traditional cliques “popular” kids, nerds, athletes, etc. There was an additional cliquish element. Jewish high school fraternities and sororities which mimicked the Greek system. These were ranked by cool. The more popular attracted cooler kids and athletes. I joined a fraternity, Phi Omega Pi, (POPS). We were considered slightly cooler than kids who were unable to be admitted to and rejected from the fraternities. We met weekly, and had social activities like house parties and athletic leagues. I barely navigated the social chasm between my black friends and white friends.

And so it went until I was sent away to New Hampshire for educational rehabilitation. All fodder for more blogging someday.

When I landed upon the shores of Hyde Park, I found a new world. One of the first things I noticed was the presence of the counter-culture which would become known as the “60s” and hippies. The center of this culture seemed to reside on “57th Street”, in the shadow of the University of Chicago.

Shortly after we moved to HP, I ran away from home, again. It was the summer of 1968, I was 15. I was new to the neighborhood and did not know many kids. I had just finished my 3rd year of high school but my first year of a New Hampshire boarding school.

First order of business as a runaway was to seek shelter. I had heard if I went and hung out on 57th street, I would hear about “crash pads”, apartments where runaways would be welcome to sleep.

So I went there and hung out all that day and evening. None of the young people I asked  knew of a crash pad. It got late and people started going home. I had no where to go. I had a toothbrush and a few dollars. When the local restaurant locked its doors and the streets cleared, a guy about 4 years older than me named Arsene offered to let me crash at his parents’ home a block away. His parents were out of town and he and his friend Otis were going there. He let me sleep there until his family returned a few days later. By then I had met other kids and had got my bearings. We remained friends and I remain grateful for his intervention and invitation.

Strangely, I do not remember much about the summer after that. I do not know where I stayed or who I stayed with. But I did not go home. I did not go to the Democratic National Riots in Grant Park although it was a short train ride away.

As I integrated into my new hood, I enjoyed some of the differences. Nobody called me a dirty Jew anymore. Black kids and white kids mingled freely. Athletes were rarely held in the highest esteem. Some kids were notably smart without being picked on. Teens and young adults gravitated to this 57th street and shared food and marijuana. The summer of love greeted us. I grew my hair and dropped acid, LSD. I smoked a lot of pot. We walked a short ways to hang out on Lake Michigan and at the famed Museum of Science and Industry. Many of the young men and women were musical, math or science prodigies, gang members, writers and artists. It was by no means a community immune from the ravages of urban ills like racial and sexual violence, police misconduct and addiction. In fact, HP bordered three of the most poverty stricken areas in the United States.

Summer ended. It was time to go back to boarding school. I agreed to meet my mom and a suitcase at the corner by my now beloved 57th Street and go to the airport to go back to boarding school. The local kids were going back to school but I could not stay in Chicago as I was not enrolled in any local school. So I ended my days on the run and returned to Tilton School. That story ought to be good for some more blog posts.

Within hours of getting back to the school in Tilton NH. the hassle started. My long hair became an object of derision just as my being a Midwesterner had always been. I found some hip kids to pal around with but my fate was sealed quickly. I was expelled 3 weeks after school began and returned to Chicago.

The public high school near my parents was called Kenwood. Calling it a high school is a stretch. It was an old grade school which housed only freshmen, sophomore and junior year students. Gym class required we walk 4 blocks to the local YMCA and the lunch room was the auditorium. No lunch tables.

I turned 16 and a few months later I dropped out of school, left home and focused my time researching recreational drugs and their effect on a 16 year old white Jewish male. I shot heroin, sniffed glue and snorted coke and ingested barbiturates. I marched against the war, got arrested for pot and theft, advocated overthrowing the government and offing the Pigs (police). Lost my virginity, aided and abetted the Black Panther Party and was found to be mentally unfit for military service.

Also while I was 16, I met Tony James at a local church, by the University. Inside the church in a large room was a food service/coffee house, where anyone was welcome to buy a snack and sit and study, or hang out. Cheap, warm and welcomed, count me in. More on the church to follow.

Tony was on the run from home like me. We banded together to survive. We hung out till nighttime then slept wherever we could. Sometimes in church basements, friends apartments or the homes of adults that took pity on us. We dodged authorities and dealt drugs together. Tony had been in jail a few times already for theft and he introduced me to burglarizing homes.

We could be relied upon to have stolen stereos and marijuana to sell. I saved money and we got our own apartment and lived as outlaws. He was tall and black. I was short and white. We proclaimed, Mighty mighty Spade and Whitey. Some weekends we would travel the short distance to the famed blues lounges where Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters performed. We stood toe to toe against violent predators. But in the end, like so many youthful HP tales, it ended badly. He and his girlfriend ripped off my money and to hide his betrayal, he spread rumors intended to cause me physical harm.

Hyde Park was my most formative years. My time there was relatively short. I moved on to the north side when I was around 20 years old. My friends still lived in Hyde Park and I visited often but I was slowly pulling away. I did return in 1983 to assume the position of drug counselor to local adolescents for the BRASS Foundation and then as the manager/counselor of the alcohol and drug detox unit at the Hyde Park Hospital. I left again when I was accepted into law school in 1985.

All this to say that I carry the experience of Hyde Park in my blood and bones. It shaped my life indelibly. The rest of my life would be a testament to it. I became a social worker to disturbed adolescents because a local church helped me turn my life around. I became a lawyer because I knew the fear of being arrested at 17 for drugs and facing a lengthy prison sentence. I became an activist for legalization of marijuana, an environmentalist and a humanist. I worked as a drug counselor in the inner-city. The YMCA of Chicago hired me to work in a racially riven community to try and ameliorate and mitigate the ill effects of the racial hostilities there. (That did not work out well.)

I learned in HP that I would never be alone standing up to racial and economic inequality.  I saw that the inequality cut into the fabric of our society, schools, courts and jobs. I would never be silent or tolerate bullies. I saw the arising of consciousness and the deadening of souls from drugs.

I am still friends with most of my pals from that time and place. We continue to share compassion and empathy for other humans and animals. Sadly, many lived too fast and died too young. Hard drugs and alcohol decimated my posse. The survivors have a bond that remains unbroken after 50 plus years. We had Lake Michigan to play in and watch sunrises. The University of Chicago introduced us to smart kids from all around the planet and to score drugs from. I burgled and terrorized them. The university was a helluva source of jobs though. I got fired as a dishwasher there.

I know many people who go back to where they were raised and knock on the doors of old pals. I cannot do that. They died or they moved. One of the last of the originals, was an original. His name was Tony Roberts. He was the smartest, hottest mess I ever befriended. He was black, fat and the most prolific martial artistic I knew. He could talk the birds (and ladies) from the trees but he could not abandon a life of lies and fantasies that he surrounded himself with. He could be the epitome of the whole sub-culture of the over under-achievers that proliferated my teen age years. No persons were ever smarter and more talented and did less with their lives than my pals.

Although I have blogged about this institution before, a special word about the University Church for the Disciples of Christ. Also known by its coffee house name, The Blue Gargoyle. It is where I was to meet the seminarian/social worker Loel Callahan who would jump start my return to society. He modeled for me the path to what was to be my career in social work.

The church is where I met the original members of the University of Chicago’s Gay Lib and the Women’s Lib clubs, who came to the church for needed meeting space when the University turned them away as undesirables. I met the young students who became CADRE, the Chicago Area Draft Resistance, an important group of young men who opposed the Vietnam war. The inviting atmosphere was not lost on various black gangs who met and fought each other and really did spill blood inside and outside the church. Most important to me is that I was the first leader of the youth group which was comprised of a bunch of great big beautiful fuck ups, and not so fucked up. While turning me from a life of crime was like turning an aircraft carrier, the role I had in this program was the beginning.

I am about to return to the neighborhood and break bread with old pals. I have been doing this every year as long as I can remember. I don’t have high school reunions to go to, having never graduated, but I have my friends from the teen years in Hyde Park. We come from wherever we now live to celebrate our friendship, community and history.

I imagine every neighborhood has its great moments, good people and love. But for just a brief moment between 1968 and the mid 1970s, I was a part of one of the greatest cultural movements/experiments in history. I was in the right place and it must have been the right time. Simultaneously, I was in the wrong place and it must have been the wrong time.

The appropriate song….

 

 

 

 

Who am I?

If there is a me, this might be. Can you summarize a life? I did so much living, I cannot recall half of it. But memories flow when I find that those memories may be helpful to others. I also realize that all I am in many regards, is memory. This moment fades immediately into a memory.  Here I lay out the substance of memories which comprise the path I follow to freedom from suffering. I have learned studying the Buddha that the most precious moment in my life is this moment. If you read through I hope it will be worthy of your time.

I am 66 years old. I am recently identifying as a lawyer, meditation teacher and  recovering addict. I relate to Marilyn Monroe when she said, “I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”

I arrive here by luck and by being very street smart.  I spent most of my teens on the streets of Chicago, as a runaway from a physically abusive dad. While my family was affluent, I chose to live in poverty and crime, sometimes living on pieces of foam in the basements of apartment buildings and churches. I spent my teens stealing property, selling drugs, hitching rides and evading pedophiles.

Fightin’, killin’, wine and women gonna put me to my grave
Runnin’, hidin’, losin’, cryin’, nothing left to save
But my life
Stood on a ridge and shunned religion, thinking the world was mine
I made my break and a big mistake, stealin’ when I should have been buyin’
Uriah Heap

Probability of survival, low.

When I was 23, I created the nonprofit youth agency called Local Motion Inc. because it was the only way I could get a job working with teens. All the established youth programs I applied to declared that my lack of any formal college education disqualified me. So I hired me, I learned how to write grants for funding, and spent most of my time working in the streets with the toughest kids I could find. I was drawn to spending nights on street corners inhabited by gang members. My goal was to draw them away from the violence and facilitate their productive participation in society.

I dropped out of high school at 16. I tested and received a GED, high school equivalency when I was 18. I didn’t see the inside of a classroom again until 11 years later when I began a college program called University Without Walls. I spent 2 years in (and out of) the program getting a bachelors degree. My college program was interrupted when I went into drug treatment. After being clean of drugs for a year I returned to college and social services. Got my addictions counselor certification and my Bachelors in Human Services.

In 1985, at the age of 33, I enrolled in the John Marshall Law School. I was awarded a law degree 2.5 years later. I continued to work as a social worker with high risk populations in the inner city until I began a solo law practice in 1988. My own experiences as a street urchin and a drug abuser made me feel drawn back to the streets even as a lawyer. I could stay with what I had come to know the best, the streets! I have learned most of the tricks of survival by always bringing my work to the streets and the streets to my work.

I have been in numerous life and death encounters, including being shot at a few times. I have been witness to or involved in probably 100 violent incidents. Some days I saw multiple assaults. I have seen hate and most of its permutations. Probability of survival, low.

I am licensed to practice law in Texas, Arizona and Illinois. I studied law with some of the best trial lawyers in America including Gerry Spence and Racehorse Haynes. I loved doing trials and represented clients in all types of criminal and civil cases. I am especially proud of my representation of those accused of murder. The stakes for the accused are almost incalculable.

Moved to Dallas TX when I was 43 with my second wife. She was a corporate executive and I started the DFW Gun Range and Training Center,  the largest firearms training center in Dallas. Studied handguns tactics with some of the best, Thunder Ranch, Gunsite Academy, and the Executive Protection Institute among others. I was certified by the state of Texas to teach police and security firearms and the laws of use of deadly force. Survival odds, improved.

I made a best friend of my little brother Ricky when I became a Big Brother of Chicago over 35 years ago. He was 8 years old then.  My second and best wife and I became foster parents to Danny, an 11 year old I met when the juvenile court in Chicago assigned me to assist in his criminal defense.

I have owned 7 businesses including 3 nightclubs. I regard nightclubs as a world infused, infested with drugs, alcohol and pain. Probability of survival, low.

So let us summarize what I think I am. I do fail more than I succeed but my failures are so delightful to others that I enjoy sharing them when opportunity knocks. So I identify with my failures. At the same time, my failures were harnessed to create subsequent successes. I identify with that.

If I get past labels, it is because I realize that saying I love biking Dallas or hiking Tucson AZ. is not satisfactory. Teaching Buddhist meditation for several years at the Buddhist Center of Dallas and being present for my daughters/family Annastacia and Alexandria, does not explain who I am now.

Should it be a thing that I relapsed on drugs for 10 years but in 2007 I reengaged with and remain in 12 step recovery?  Does my study of Buddhism help sketch out who I am?

Funny story. On my way to losing a fortune during the economic tsunami of 2008, I befriended a Buddhist monk from Thailand who was living in Tucson Arizona. He and I hiked hundreds of  miles of mountain trails discussing and learning meditation the next 2 years. Then I ordained as a novice Buddhist monk and lived in his monastery for a little over 4 months. That monk, Ajahn Sarayut, taught me how to meditate and then how to teach meditation.  Odds of survival, very good.

I eat healthy, treat the Earth with respect and seek the companionship of great spirits. I have two mottos. Do no harm. And, Be humble, because I may be wrong.

I do wish to label me not. I prefer to be what I can be as the moment dictates what is true and right. My study of the Buddha taught me that the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment would lead to a state of calm well-being and then to use that calm state to look at all experience in terms of suffering and freedom from suffering.

I am certain that I must be accepting of everything. I may not approve but with a gentleness I never knew, I must accept the pleasure and adversities and how fleeting both are. Drug addiction was a quick way to allay my emotional discomfort. Meditation is a slower, safer more skillful way to free myself from the very torment that drove me to abuse chemicals, relationships and money.

The time I spend trying to be certain of the solidity of things and thoughts, the more suffering I have. When I bathe in the uncertainty of everything including myself, while it is bewildering, it is liberating. When I sit a look closely, there is nothing I can cling to with certainty. Buddhist teachers challenged me to find where my thoughts began and where they went when they left. I can not. I was challenged by my teachers to prove that my thoughts and emotions were mine to own/control by adhering only to happy thoughts and pleasant emotions. I accepted the challenge and discovered I could not successfully cling to my thoughts or emotions. None of us can.

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Abraham Lincoln.

If I fail to stand for what I believe I would fail to be who I think I am. When I act mindlessly, not mindfully, when acting selfishly not selflessly, and when my intentions are unwholesome, then I am not who I want to be.

Who am I? Have not a clue. I no longer intend to let the armor around my heart remain there. I have been letting go of the pain of life’s encounters which closes me off to the sunlight of the spirit, creates the illusion it protects me and yet subverts me when I only wish to love. Breathing in I am mindful I am breathing in. I practice in meditation to be aware of the physical sensation of the breath, in and out. When I am fully mindful, meditating,  the sediment of mindlessness settles. There is then a clarity which I never had of this moment and all the pain of yesterday and the anxiety of tomorrow is dissolved. I am free to love my family and friends and even strangers without the rubbish of judgment and opinions I love attaching to.

“What can ever equal the memory of being young together?” ― Michael Stein, In the Age of Love

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.” Tennessee Williams
If memory serves me well, I was born a baby on the South Side of Chicago. I admit I tend to recall trauma better than the “good” times. Around 5th or 6th grade, I discovered the presence of prejudice. I found I was an object of religious hatred in my neighborhood followed by couple of years later by racial hostilities. More on that in a later blog.
When I was 15, we moved a mere 10 minutes away to Hyde Park (HP), home of the University of Chicago. It was a community which, I was surprised to find, was not consumed with religious and racial animus. I arrived just in time to join the emerging drug culture. (Drugs and fellowship did dull my trauma.)
Shortly after my family moved to HP I became a runaway living on the streets. The street in front of a local coffee house, the Medici, seemed to be ground zero for the hippie generation on Chicago’s south side just as Old Town served the north side. It was not uncommon for me to arrive there and hangout from lunch-time to police-gonna-arrest-me-for-curfew time.
I thought that everyone who smoked pot, dropped LSD and was cool hung out or visited 57th Street where the Medici was located then. I acquired another peer group around the same time. A handful of newly met friends were more, or at least as, immersed in crime as drugs. My choice of crimes was burglary, taught to me by one of my new pals.
Many of the kids I met in HP were already old friends with each other, having gone to grade schools together. I never went to grade school in HP as I relocated from South Shore after 2 years of high school. I actually arrived in HP after my expulsion from boarding school and briefly attended the local high school which was really a dismal former grade school. I dropped out almost as quickly. In any case I was a late arrival to the scene and labored to purge my already heightened paranoia of the religious and racial hostilities I had come to expect.  
Annually I return to the scene of the crime called the teen years. A handful of pals gather to meet and catch each other up to date. This week, I posted to a Hyde Park Facebook page that I would be visiting from Texas soon and maybe we do a get together. The group has a few thousand members and folks I do not know chimed in. My first reaction was
I mentioned that I know a core of “classic” Hyde Parkers but few beyond that circle. (I define classic HPer as one who grew up in the late 60-early 70s).
I now discover there are clearly many “classics” who never frequented 57th, who were likely just as cool as my pals. Being 66 years old, I find it challenging to connect to new people. But I find a delight into connecting with the semi-stranger with whom I share the bond of being a teen in HP.
I have lived in many places and visited far more. Only a handful of times have I found people sharing a fondness for their old hood as strong as that shared fondness for Hyde Park. There is a strong streak of pride at growing up in a diverse community which housed mediocrity and brilliance side by side in a contented drug stupor.
Like many, I grew up and left the hood. I returned for a couple of years as a drug counselor but my clients were either younger than or older than my age group.
So if there is a neighborhood get together, I may be in the presence of many persons this summer who I never met and will only share the bond of growing up in the same time and place together. I am confident of the bond which ties us together as much or more as I would find in a school reunion.
God willing no one will recall that I was the person who burglarized their parent’s home or sold them a weak grade of marijuana. Pot was not as reliably good back in those days. I myself smoked many a joint which may have been half oregano.
Anyways to the title of this blog. I consistently have affection for my early disturbed, traumatic upbringing and all the players who participated. Maybe this year, I will introduce the memories of those who were not really there in person but were there in fellowship because they will have strolled the same streets, entered the same churches and dodged the same police. In other words, when I go back to the old hood, I will be open to the universe of strangers and the camaraderie of shared adolescence.