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….

 

 

 

 

History repeated. Justice denied.

I have here updated and edited a Wikipedia post on the following event. Like acts of genocide, like the Holocaust, we need to remember. Remember so as to honor victims and to effect cultural change in the policies and training of police work.
20 years ago, In the early morning of February 4, 1999, Amadu Diallo, a Haitian immigrant, was returning from a meal as he approached his apartment building. At about 12:40 a.m., police officers Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy, who were all in street clothes, entered the building vestibule that Amadu entered and testified that they loudly identified themselves as NYPD officers, and flashed their neck badges in the darkened hallway. The lightbulb was out and Diallo was backlit by the inside vestibule light, showing only a silhouette. Diallo then reached into his jacket and withdrew his wallet. The officers opened fire on Diallo, claiming that they believed he  had furtively gestured and was holding a gun. During the shooting, officer McMellon tripped backward off the front stairs, causing the other officers to believe he had been shot. The four officers continued until they had fired 41 shots with semi-automatic handguns. More than half the shots fired missed, but Diallo was hit 19 times.
An investigation found no weapon on or near Diallo; only his wallet. The internal affairs department ruled the officers had acted legally and within policy, based on what a reasonable police officer would have done in the same circumstances with the information they had.
On March 25, 1999, a Bronx grand jury indicted the four officers on charges of second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. On December 16, an appellate court ordered a change of venue to Albany, New York, based on pretrial publicity made a fair trial in New York City impossible. On February 25, 2000, a jury in Albany acquitted the officers of all charges. Officer Kenneth Boss had been previously involved in an incident where an unarmed black man, 22-year-old Patrick Bailey, died after Boss shot him on October 31, 1997. In 2012, Boss was the only remaining officer working for the NYPD. Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly restored Boss’ ability to carry a firearm and he received a promotion to sergeant despite objections from Diallo’s mother and civil rights activists.

Years later in Arizona an officer was acquitted of second-degree murder charges, and officials released graphic video showing Daniel Shaver crawling on his hands and knees and begging for his life in the moments before he was shot and killed by police in January 2016.  Shaver died in one of at least 963 fatal police shootings in 2016, according to a Washington Post database.

The shooting of Laquan McDonald took place in Chicago IL on October 20, 2014,  when the 17-year-old African American was fatally shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke. McDonald was reported to have been behaving erratically while walking down the street, and holding a folding knife with a three-inch blade. Initial police reports described the incident such that Van Dyke was not charged in the shooting at that time.

When the police released a dash cam video of the shooting thirteen months later, on November 24, 2015, it showed McDonald had been walking away from the police when he was shot. Officer Van Dyke was charged with murder and was released on bail on November 30. On October 5, 2018, Van Dyke was found guilty at trial of second degree murder, and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a handgun. He received a light prison sentence.

 

As Sonny and Cher sing,

Grandmas sit in chairs and reminisce
Boys keep chasing girls to get a kiss
The cars keep going faster all the time
Bums still cry, “Hey buddy, have you got a dime?”

And the beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

I grow weary of trying to stimulate the public into recognizing the deficiency of police training and policies and accountability. But cannot give up. Some shit is too important.

THE TUNNELS

I grew up near the shore of Lake Michigan. To visit the lake requires maneuvering over, or under the highway which runs between the lake and the city.

I am tripping. In my teen years I am usually just traveling in my head, going places I want to be, avoiding places I really am. I see the tunnel (sometimes called viaduct) up ahead. The tunnel goes under the Lake Shore Drive and out to the lake. As I enter the tunnel I hear the echo of my feet. It is that reverb you get only in a shower or in a tunnel. Listen to my whistle. It sounds so full it sounds orchestral. I hear the rhythms in my head. The beat comes echoing off my feet. You know the routine. I whistle while I work. I will walk this road so many times in my life. And I will always listen. The first time I came down one of these tunnels was when I was very young. The light fades and the temperature drops in the tunnel. The smells are more pungent. Sometimes I hold my nose so I don’t have to smell the urine. The kid in me gets excited at the notion of traveling through the dimness. The tunnel provides fullness to my sound, and anxiety to my fears.

One night, Pee Wee and I head to the Point, a lakefront park on the south side. Pee Wee was a founder and member of the Blackstone rangers. He was a short man, several years older than me, and he worked in produce at the local small grocery store. He liked wine and reefer. And he loved being a member of the Main 21. So called the board of 21 leaders that ruled this gang of tens of thousands of young men.

Anyway, we were walking out at the Point one evening. There weren’t too many white people out there at night but I didn’t worry as I was with friends. White people always left the lakefront when it got dark. Then the beach belonged to the black folks. The many conga drums picked up a beat. The radios played louder, the smell of reefer always swirling around here and there. This night Pee Wee showed me how well he could roll a joint even though he was staggering drunk.  We wandered around the lake front, people watching and getting our own buzz going which had started that evening off with some Richard’s Wild Irish Rose. For the uninitiated it is a wine whose bouquet is well regarded on skid rows everywhere.

The weather was perfect. Not too hot and not too cold.  We left the drummers on the south end, and we began to explore. All of the sudden Pee Wee tells me to “be cool.” There is urgency to his voice. He isn’t loud; in fact he is obviously trying to make sure only I hear him. I say, “What’s up?”

He again urges me to be cool and his voice is strained. He is worried. He tells me to just keep walking and head for the park exit. We move that way. I ask him to tell me why. He explains that he has been spotted by a group of Gangster Disciples, enemies of the Stones, and they are coming behind us. I see the tunnel come into view.  It is the way out. But it is where we are most vulnerable to a trap and attack. As we enter the tunnel the urgency of our footsteps reverberates. I start thinking about how  loud a gunshot is gonna sound in here. The tunnel is narrow and I know if they move on us in here we are through. But we can’t run. Gotta keep cool. I hear the voices draw closer. If we can make it to the end, there is usually a squad car parked on the other side this time of night. They are keeping an eye on the large number of young black men, most who reside in the tough communities located a short distance away.

In that tunnel, my feet sound loud and the beat erratic. The sound betrays that I am ill at ease.  I aged in that tunnel. When I came out of the other end I was surely an older person.

It wasn’t too much longer after that night than I found myself back up at the point at night w/Pee Wee again and JD, my girlfriend, and Pee Wee’s girlfriend.

We were walking around getting high and listening for the drums that were always there. As we approached the circle where the drummers were gathered, JD grabbed my arm and yelped. I turned and looked at her and I could see fear written in every line of her face, her eyes almost bulging and her mouth drawn so tight, almost cartoonishly. Then she told me that the large black guy approaching us was one of the guys that had raped her recently. I had hunted this faceless bastard before, but I had only had a vague description. He towered over us. He was at least 6’3″ and was dressed in an African shirt called a dashiki. He had a dashiki cap on his head too. I looked around and there were obviously some friends of his there, dressed in a similar manner. He came up to us. She was gripping my hand tightly. He began to talk to her and put his hand to her neckerchief and play with the ring holding it on. He commented on what a nice ring it was. I rolled her behind me with my wrist and got my body between them. He stared at me and I at him. I was trying to calculate how we could escape since he had size, numbers and evil on his side.

Black Hercules was there, dancing the way he always did to the drums. He was a magnificent bodied man who dressed as though he were entering or departing the jungle. He wore shorts and a leather vest without a shirt. His hair was like a mane, long, dark, stringy, curly. He rarely spoke and appeared to live on the streets. But he had muscles in places most people got no places. He was always smiling when he would see me, but I don’t remember him ever speaking. I never knew if his silence was the result of some mental defect or simply his demeanor. I wondered if he would recognize the danger to us and intervene if violence ensued. Then Pee Wee stepped in and introduced himself to this large man. Pee Wee had sensed the bad vibes. He nodded to the man, exchanged some greetings then told us it was time to leave. He told the large man “I’ll be seeing you around brother.”  It was a strange and ominous departure between the two. I didn’t want to leave because even though I was clearly at a disadvantage I wanted revenge. I wanted to knock the smirk off his face and make him feel Jan’s rage and fear.  But Pee Wee was insistent and corralled us.

Then the 4 of us began the long walk across the park to the tunnel. I was uncertain that Pee Wee’s presence would serve to deter anything. He was shorter than I and just wasn’t an imposing guy. But we entered the tunnel and left the bad man behind. We stopped at the first store on 55th and Pee Wee made a phone call. Then he told us he would see us later and goodbye.

Turns out he arranged a war party for the large man, courtesy of the Blackstone Rangers. Not sure of all that transpired after that as Pee Wee was AWOL from the hood for a while.  When he reappeared he told me he had been in jail for the attack on the man and his friends. Shortly thereafter Pee Wee offered me membership in the Black Stones. Tempting, but what little sanity I held on to in those days said “no” to the offer of membership in what was mostly, largely, almost exclusively a black gang.

Years later I would walk through a similar tunnel on the North side (Belmont Avenue) to visit the lakefront. Back then I was about 25 and doing street work with teens in the area. This night I was off duty and just walking around with a girlfriend who also worked with young people. We crossed under the road to walk along the lakefront, heedless of what was waiting. I had my resonant whistle going with a happy carefree song. It may have been Up, UP & Away by the 5th Dimension. It’s a great tunnel song. But no sooner had we left the tunnel and come out into the lamp lit night than we were told that Knuckles was freaking out and needed help. Knuckles was an older Puerto Rican gang member I knew, and he was losing control from PCP.

I always liked Knuckles. I spent most of my work hours interacting with gangs. He enjoyed his rep as an older gang member without any of the obligations of ganghood. He was usually high and lazy but he never disrespected what I was trying to do with the kids in the hood. It was his young wife Gail, who approached and told me he was hallucinating. She was distressed by what he was doing and saying. I asked if he was “dusted”, (as in angel dust/PCP, animal tranquilizer)? She said he had done some much earlier but not for hours. She doubted it was the cause of his behavior.

“Hey Knuckles man, what you doing?”  “Nothing” he said. “Why are u trippin’?”  “I’m fine man, except I had a hallucination. I imagined I had my little brother in my hands and I was beating him. I imagined that I was killing him. Beating him with my fists and kneeing him in his head. It seemed so real.”

“It’s the “dust” I told him. “It’s just your mind reeling from the high, one bad moment in an otherwise good day. You been out here partying with your wife and buddies and the shit is fucking with you.”

“No man, it isn’t the dust. That was hours ago.” his face would contort and his fists were clenching and unclenching. His eyes were wild.

“Hey dude, you are scaring me, I said.  I wish you wouldn’t act like that. Makes me nervous to stand here and you looking so crazed. Come back down please.”  Knuckles was much taller than me. He was a tall wiry guy with a goatee. He usually dressed in a sleeveless T. He was about 21. He had been in the gang a long time but inactive at present as he actually tried to be a married young man. He had kids and they meant something to him.

Knuckles looked up at me and turned his head to the side as though he were examining me. I was nervous as hell. Guys on angel dust can exhibit unusual strength. Paramedics who are dispatched to transport users of  dust to psychiatric facilities know to fear “dust” users.

I figured I stunk of fear. In my experience, persons having a psychotic break get agitated if they get mixed messages. I didn’t want him to get more confused by my acting all brave if he smelled the fear. So I just stuck by the truth so I could keep him listening.  “You scare me man when you act like this. I don’t want you to freak out and hit me or something.”    “I ain’t gonna hit you man. I am cool.”

“I know you are, but try to breathe deep and relax. Keep your mind right here with me and stop letting it run away with you. You can do it man. You gotta just stay right here and right now man. See, your wife is over there and she is nervous about how you are doing. We gonna take care of you, but you gotta help.”

“Its all cool man, really,” he said. I could see he was trying to stay with me. I told him to breathe deep and he tried. He was talking, successfully struggling to stay in the moment. The hallucinations would start again when he drifted.

Then it got weird. One of his homeboys walked up, a tall blond guy who was horribly alcoholic and not particularly bright. He operated off of one kidney; because one was removed from an accident or stabbing.  I can’t remember which. Well he walked up intoxicated, with a beer can in his hand and punched Knuckles in the chest and told him to “stop fucking around.” Knuckles became agitated again and told him to back off. The other guy was trying to make light of it and act as if it was all under control. He was laughing and woofing at Knuckles about, “you ain’t gonna do SHIT!”

I asked the guy to leave but he refused. He said Knuckles was cool and he would hang with him and everything would be cool. Knuckles face was looking taut again. His eyes were hostile and fearful. I kept talking to him.

“Let’s get your wife man and sit down somewhere. You need to relax and these guys are drunk.”

His wife was nervous. She didn’t want me to bring him over to her. She was a small thing and she was afraid he was gonna flip out violently. She was afraid to be there when he got crazy. But I reassured her I would stay and he would be all right. I didn’t know if that was true but I didn’t want to be alone with him either or alone with him and his drunk buddies. I feared he would get nuts and violent too and I didn’t want to be the closest thing. I figured my chances were better at keeping him cool if his wife was there.

It didn’t help that I had a date with me. It was Memorial Day weekend. I couldn’t run if he got ugly if the date didn’t run too. I would have to stay long enough to make sure she was cool and that would be all the time he needed to attack me. When you know an attack may come at any moment, you stay on the balls of your feet. You want to be able to scramble quick and not get caught off-balance. Having a date with you screwed up the escape dynamics.

We hadn’t been out often, and I figured this would be the last time. She could probably find funnier ways to spend Memorial Day. The good part is since she was a social worker too, so she was sensitive to the task before me.

That DUST is some shit man. It can really wig someone out. I have seen it take multiple guys to restrain someone in Knuckles condition. I tried to recruit some other neighborhood teens that I knew that were drinking nearby, in case it did get out of control. What if he attacked me? How much damage could he do before they pulled him off me? I had no confidence these kids would intervene.

I am worn out from the memory of the night. He finally calmed down and lay on the grass lawn at the beach. His wife Gail thanked me.

I took my date and we crossed back under the tunnel and we went to a nearby Asian restaurant for some food and a rare alcoholic drink. I needed a while to come down off the fear. My date, Peggy and I are still friends.

 

 

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 to teach.  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 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. I was asked to challenge myself as to where my thoughts began and where the went when they left. I was challenged by my teachers to show that my thoughts and emotions were mine to possess by adhering to happy thoughts and pleasant emotions. I accepted the challenge and discovered I could not successfully cling to my thoughts or emotions.

“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 close me, protect me and subvert me when I 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.

Is being a Snitch a bad thing?

Enough years have passed that I can now tell the story. When I was 17-18 years old and living in Hyde Park Chicago, I was arrested twice for felonies. The arresting police officers both times were Sgt. Doyle and Officer Andrew Alinovich who were assigned to the Vice Squad, 21st Police District.

At some point during my police custody I was told I could help myself if I gave information which would lead to the arrest of others. I admit, I was scared. As scared as I have ever been. I can still recall some of my thoughts. I remembered being told the following two sayings. “Happy as a sissy in the Cook County Jail” (Chicago). The other, “Go in bitching, come out swishing.”

Both are references to the culture of rape inside the county jail. The officers said to me on one occasion that, “with your long hair you will be somebody’s bitch before the night is over.” FYI, I was 5’7″, weighed about 130 lbs and had long dark hair.

In addition to the immediate threat of jail, there was the additional fear of the Illinois prison system where the rape culture was as much or more prominent. Many of my friends had been to jail or prison and told me how dangerous it was and various survival tips. Tip number one. When other prisoners begin to threaten to attack me, jump on the biggest one and fight for my life. They told me I would lose and get beat up but I would get the respect of the other prisoners for being a “man”. And maybe if I showed them I was a man, they might not rape me. Not a strategy I wanted to test out.

The first time, I was in the station and a lieutenant walked by and asked the arresting officers how old was I. When he was advised that I was 17, he told them to take away my pack of Marlborough cigarettes because I was not old enough to have them. Sgt Doyle replied that it was okay because I was going to cooperate. He looked at me as if for confirmation and he let me have one of my cigarettes. I lit it and he waited for my actual cooperation. When I blew the smoke out of my lungs but did not speak, he said, “stop with the fucking smoke signals Cochise and start talking!”

So, I sat in police custody, chewed my lower lip half off and thought about who, what where I could tell the police about which might result in my release. My mind raced like never before. The officers just stared at me waiting for me to tell them something. Names of wrong-doers came to mind. I evaluated at lightning speed the various persons and what I knew about them.

So now the reveal at the time of my first felony arrest. I think my voice was shaking when I said, “I don’t know anything that you want to know”.  The look of disdain on  Sergeant Doyle’s face had a hint of hatred, he turned and typed up my arrest report before transferring me to a cell where I was held alone. Several hours later I bonded out, unharmed.

The first arrest led to a sentence of court supervision for one year. If I violated my court supervision, I could be sent to an Illinois prison for 6 to 15 years. The second time I was arrested was about year or so later. This Sunday morning, Alinovich and Doyle spotted me standing outside a coffee-shop at the corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard.

Pulling up alongside me, they ordered me into their unmarked police car. They searched me quite thoroughly. I had no drugs on me. What I did have was a draft card belonging to someone else which I carried to buy alcohol and avoid curfew violations. I will never forget the look on Officer Alinovich’s face as he discovered the card. He asked me with glee if I knew the penalty for unlawful possession of a draft card. He was delighted to share with me that,

Anyone shown to have possession of any selective service card not duly issued to him, such possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to establish an intent to use such certificate for purposes of false identification or representation, and may be fined up to  $10,000 or be imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.

The cuffs went on and off we began the drive to the police station. I begged them to let me go. I told them my court supervision was one more week and this would violate my condition of supervision. Sgt Doyle pulled over and stopped on a quiet street. He turned around and asked me what I could tell him to help myself. Who was I willing to give up?

At the time of my first arrest I did not know that I was facing a lengthy prison sentence under Illinois law. I had been charged with possession of marijuana and possession of stolen or mislaid property. Both felonies.

Now I knew what the stakes were now. I remembered the judge admonishing me of the period of incarceration I would face upon a finding that I had failed to abide by the conditions of my supervision. I was on the verge of tears thinking of the consequences. I am sure I would have cried but I knew that somehow that would make things worse.

Both officers were turned around in the car looking at me in the back seat. Man, the silence was deafening. The noise in my head was deafening. Again I raced through the possibilities of cooperating, who to snitch out and how to survive being a snitch.

I do not know if it was true, but I convinced myself in that moment that being a snitch was a core violation of my values and that I would not be safe if I did provide information. I finally broke the silence and told them I could not help. Once again, the look of disdain was prominent on both their faces. They turned and Doyle put the car back in gear and off we went.

Just as we neared the main road to the station, (Lake Shore Drive) Doyle pulled to the curb. He looked at Alinovich and told him “get him the fuck out this car”. Alinovich looked confused and unsure. Doyle repeated, “just get him out of my fucking car”. Alinovich opened the back door from the outside, uncuffed me, got back in the car and off they drove. No explanation. No charges.

About a week later I appeared in court and my supervision was terminated successfully. I met Officer Alinovich two more times. Once he walked in to my dad’s lumber yard with his family to buy building materials for his house. I was in my early 20s. We chatted amicably and of course I gave him the police discount.

The next time I was in downtown Chicago and encountered him inside a building on the Magnificent Mile, Michigan Avenue. He told me he was now assigned to taxicab violation enforcement. The Vice Squads had been renamed, Tactical Patrol. Doyle had either retired or died, I cannot recall which. We were pleasant to each other.

I was arrested a couple of more times by other Chicago police for a variety of crimes. But I was never offered freedom in exchange for information. I am glad I do not have to look back on my past and mull over how I decided to be a snitch. But full disclosure, I wanted to. I wanted to so bad, I do not know why or how I refrained.

Footnote. Many years later I did a television interview along with a Chicago Police Commander on the subject of street gangs. We chatted afterwards and we realized he had been assigned to the Gang Crimes unit in my community when I was young. He asked me as an aside if I wanted to guess who had been a snitch. I had no one in mind so he told me. It was a young man I knew fairly well and to whom I had sold what I believed to be a stolen US army rifle. I have discovered over the years that I was often closer to peril than I knew. But those stories are for another day.

When I was young.

I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a very nice house. My dad owned his own company and we were not rich but we were well-off.

When I was 14 and in my second year of high school I met Marv Kirchler who remains my friend 52 years later. We used to roam the south side in his father’s Dodge Coronet. This was just one of many dangerous acts I did as Marv took years to polish his driver safety skills. Marv is older than me by 2 or 3 years and had a drivers license long before I could even apply for one.

From time to time, Marv and I would walk at night from my house to the end of the block, to the corner of 71st and Jeffrey.  There was a tavern right on that corner. In preparation for going there, we would buy a big bottle of root beer, grab our drum sticks and off we went. Marv and I shared an interest in drumming.

The root beer would stay in a brown paper bag like a wino carries around his bottle of wine. Marv and I would stand outside the tavern and watch through the tall plate glass window the live jazz combos on stage. The drummer would be right in front of us, with a stand up bass player to his side. And a keyboard or guitar in front.We would take turns drumming along on the red brick exterior under the glare of the early Mercury vapor lights. Inside, the patrons and performers were almost all African-American.

Jazz drumming is such a simple/complex, beautiful art. The drum set was comprised of a snare, bass, and a tom tom, with a high hat,  2 cymbals and maybe a floor tom. Nothing like the drum sets in popular rock bands that had lots of accouterments.

Marv and I were joyfully mimicking the Black musical culture around us. We listened to the Monkees and the Temptations. Janis Joplin and Diana Ross. What a marvelous environment.

About my pal, Marv was born on the other side of the tracks from me. Blue collar family. His dad was gruff, with a gravely voice and a drum set he played when he was not working at a printing press. Marv’s mother was the salt of the fucking earth who never turned me away when I showed up on her doorstep, under-age and fleeing the brutality of my own upscale home.

Growing up on the south side had such benefits. Marv lived in a classic white area which harbored many families tainted by anti-Semitism and racism. But rough and tumble young Marvin was more likely to attack a long-haired hippie than a black boy.

We had a third pal, Kerry. We shared 3 characteristics. We were Jewish, middle-class and smart. Together we transitioned from typical high school kids to early members of the pot smoking milieu.

When high school ended, Kerry went to college, Marv became a political operative and I became a criminal. Kerry fell in love, dropped out and moved to California. Marvin won elections for people and I became a social worker.

52 years later, I have never heard my 2 friends utter words of hatred towards others because of their religion, race or sexual orientation. (I hated Palestinians for years but I already blogged about the incident and how that happened.) I attribute that too the cultural diversity we embraced as young lads.

When I was young and molding and modeling behavior, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a world which was smart, colorful, diverse, violent and then more diverse. I could walk a few blocks and visit friends who were Black, Irish, Polish, Italian, Middle Eastern and more. Some were wealthy, some poor. A short drive away was the University of Chicago, home to the children of world renowned physicists, psychiatrists and scientists of every type.

The pizza parlor, barber shop, movie theater, bowling alley, produce store, supermarket, the aforementioned tavern and hardware store were within a block or two of my home.

What would I be like if I had been raised in a more homogeneous world, lacking in diversity instead of a world filled with rich characters of every ilk. The commuter train at the end of our street would take me to the heart of downtown Chicago in 30 minutes.  Lake Michigan was an easy 2 mile walk. Bonus, when I was 18 years old my father gave me a job working on demolishing buildings/flop houses on Chicago’s Skid Row where resided the largest collection of men, marginalized by poverty, alcoholism and drug addiction ever assembled in the Midwestern United States.

My early world included swimming at the Jewish country club at 10, bar mitzvah at 13, standing on a street corner, imagining I was the second drummer in a jazz combo at 14, school dropout at 16 and facing 6-15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections when I was 17.

 

Itchycoo Park  where, It’s all too beautiful.

I’d like to go there now with you
You can miss out school – Won’t that be cool
Why go to learn the words of fools?
What will we do there? – We’ll get high
What will we touch there? – We’ll touch the sky
But why the tears there? I’ll tell you why
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful

And the Animals singing

“When I was young
It was more important
Pain more painful
Laughter much louder
Yeah, when I was young”

I stand by Black Lives Matter.

Despite all that I hear about black on black or black on white crime, I stand in solidarity with BLM. I do so because the causes and foundation of racism in the US have never, ever been fully and openly addressed. The deterioration and disintegration I have observed over the past 40 years have convinced me that the war on black people has resulted in the unraveling in the inner-city of their culture, communities and values. I do not believe that the people residing in ghettos are inherently more violent or prone to criminality. I believe that by marginalizing, demonizing and disenfranchising poor blacks this country has created the environment and circumstances which has resulted in the devastation we see today.

My personal experience in the inner-city lead me to the conclusion that we over-incarcerated, under-educated and created the conditions upon which gangs can freely infest and prey upon the communities. But the gangs are in fact the product of the conditions I have cited. Gang kids are not born, they are created.

Chicago police historically and relentlessly preyed upon lower-income blacks. They committed crimes including torture against young black male suspects. They framed them for crimes they did not commit. They took payoffs to let gangs operate. They robbed drug dealers and resold the product they stole and spent the cash. One elite special operations group of the CPD has been implicated in significant series of serious crimes including attempted murder for hire on a police officer.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/08/chicago-police-charged-wi_n_846528.html

Chicago is just one of many departments that committed crimes against the community they swore to protect. While victims were many and diverse, the bulk of the crimes were committed against black men.

There are more good cops than bad cops if we use a yardstick based on intent. But if we use a different measure which requires a good cop to be intolerant of bad cops, we have a serious shortage of good cops. We need to challenge police officers to rise up intellectually and spiritually to actively do the Right Thing. When what is intolerant is police misconduct and when peer pressure weighs against misconduct, then we may see a seismic shift in policing practices and an end to the need for BLM.

We can not change people’s racist attitudes but we can diminish their impact. We cannot fix the stubborn racist black or white who tenaciously clings to his hate. But we can deprive him of permission so that he acts alone if he acts at all. Racist should be as afraid to come out of the closet just like a pedophile. It should be a source of shame in the presence of our society to proclaim your racial animus. Lest we forget what community norms result in, remember Emmett Till, a 14 yo black boy beaten to death.

http://time.com/4399793/emmett-till-civil-rights-photography/?xid=time_socialflow_facebook

We are the frontline of defense against racism and its harm to our entire way of life. No more uncomfortable laughter at cocktail hour racist jokes. No silent acquiescence to locker room chatter about “those people”. Our young white athletes and students need to be given our permission and encouragement to stand up to this insidiousness. Power to the people ought to mean all people. You may just be the best example of a human being that some people ever see.

Getting to know me, getting to know all about me.

If you befriended on me on Facebook as a result of having mutual interest, shared groups, but you do not know me personally, I have to disclose the following. I carry a firearm for personal protection. I am probably carrying a knife also. I will resort to violence in defense of self or family. I have never nor do I intend to ever hunt an animal. I do not judge hunters, I simply am not one.

I am very liberal about taxes and social welfare programs. I believe in being an active part of helping persons less fortunate than myself. I welcome immigrants just as my Russian immigrant family was welcomed.

I had personal violent experiences with Muslims when I was young which caused me to hate them. For years, I hunted trouble with Muslims. I did not serve overseas. I did not serve in the military. I have dozens of friends who have killed in countries far away. Some of my friends were US military in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of my friends are private contractors and they too have killed in countries far away. I love my friends. I do not approve of some things they chose to do or felt forced to do, but I love them for who they are not what they have done.

But as I aged I decided to stop hating the Muslim. He is my brother. I forgave the Catholic school bullies who chased me and beat me regularly for being Jewish. I forgave Christ for whatever it was he taught that made others hate me. I learned to love. I love legal and illegal immigrants. I love those that have everything I ever hoped to have and those that have nothing. I pray for those who are being oppressed and I pray for their oppressors. So, with this glimpse in mind, you may wish to abstain from arguments about kicking anyone out of the US or demolishing welfare, or eliminating the minimum wage. You can not persuade me with fear or venom. I know you are tired my brothers of waiting for your way of life to be shattered by some Muslim extremist. I know you may fear illegal immigrants sucking the fiscal well-being right out of the marrow of our economy. I hear your bravado when you sound the alarm, blow the bugle…CHARGE!

Why you ask, am I not with the program? What is wrong with Ken that he cannot see the threat, the magnitude and depth and breath of the seriousness?

I have never spent one day in this country free of the fear that the anti-Semites will rise up angry and accelerate their attacks on Jewish institutions and persons. You want me to get excited now. Where the fuck were you when I spent years in grade school trying not to get caught by believers in Christ. Who green-lighted the murder of Jews in Spain, Russian, Germany, Austria et al. Who convinced country after country to throw out the dirty Jews?

It is the same attitude that empowers so many Americans to select the scapegoats amongst the American population. Jews are still very much at risk. There are extreme organizations plotting to destroy Jews in the US. Many are part of the same organizations or thinking that permits us to deviate from core American values and insist we purge Muslims and immigrants from our country.

Someone is convincing so many of you that our precious resources are being squandered teaching Mexican children to read and write. That same kind of thought convinces some of you that the Muslim effort to preserve their religious and cultural identity is a threat to our safety and our culture. Just like the dirty Jew and his yarmulke on his head and his tzittzit which the orthodox Jew wears under his shirt.

I believe it is possible in my lifetime that I may have to defend the life of someone who will face grave bodily harm for what they are not, or for what they are doing. (I do not mean those that commit acts of terror upon others.) I made the decision long ago to not be   force-marched to an oven to be incinerated in a Nazi type attempt to extinguish the culture of the Jews. Nor will I stand by if the day ever comes where this country starts to cattle drive others to internment or concentration camps.

If you are my friend and an American, then stand with me as we resist intolerance. Let us speak out against any oppression visited upon those who cannot properly defend themselves. Please don’t cherry pick which groups are worthy of our help. Let us be heard. Let my Christian friends lead in the spirit of Christ.

Matthew 11:28-30  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

And may the day come when hate filled websites like this one below do not proliferate, do not find audience, but die like an aged and toothless beast who must starve for the winter has protected his prey from his old eyes. Please go to this website I have linked. Perhaps it will awaken you to the hate that thrives amongst us!!!!! (Don’t let the title fool you.)

http://www.realjewnews.com/?p=881

My first acid trip was a trip!

It started as a trip to the north side with some guys for a party in the summer of 1968. I was 15 and had recently returned from boarding school after being expelled. I went with some guys from a nearby high school. I don’t remember a whole lot until the moment that one of the guys, Eric opened his wallet at the party and in the plastic photo section displayed a blue tablet he said his older sister had given him. She told him it was LSD. We all stared at it. There was certainly a lot of interest since most of us had never seen LSD. Eric said he was scared to try it and so I volunteered to take right then and there to see if it was for real. I had never done hallucinogens before nor had anyone else there. But I swallowed my apprehensions and my fear along with the LSD. We stayed at the party a while but I didn’t feel anything. I remember calling some guys, Jimmy and Tom from University of Chicago Lab School. They were not friends but guys who had professed to have done acid. They said if I hadn’t felt anything already it was probably fake.

So we jumped in Eric’s car, a Fiat Spyder, and he even let me drive. It seemed uneventful going home to Hyde Park except when we arrived at the next party my foot was all tingly like I could still feel the Fiat motor purring beneath it. I began to feel real weird. I went to the party at 5000 East End and had my first encounter with the Hyde Park counter-culture. Preppy kids and hippy kids all twisted up in this hi-rise lakefront apartment. It was the first time I met the notorious long-haired hippy kids I had been warned about.  I remember we got in an elevator to leave and someone screwing around had pushed every button for very floor. I felt claustrophobic and wanted out. But there was nowhere to go.  I recall the relief I felt when we finally got to the ground floor. I walked home to the large lakefront apartment of my parents which was on the 18th floor.

It was in a great old art deco building called the Powhatan and it was a beautiful place with a view of the lake and downtown Chicago. I had heard the building also hosts the only 24-hour elevator operators in Chicago. I had my own section of this great big apartment. I snuck into my room that night and tried to relax, listen to music and chill. But I was real antsy and dreamy at the same time. It was late. I called Lynda, a friend from a suburb, Kenilworth. She was the logical choice because she was the only one I knew who had her own phone in her bedroom, so I wouldn’t wake up her family and get in trouble.

We chatted for quite a long time. I will have to call her soon and see if she remembers what we talked about. Before we hung up she asked me if I would be all right. I assured her I was fine. But shortly after we hung up I got antsy again. It was about 4.30am by now. I went to the back door. The front door was a manual elevator, which required the elevator operator. He would be the night man and would be sleeping on the couch in the lobby by now. I could ring him with the elevator bell, but I figured he would wonder about my timing and my mental condition. So I walked down the 18 flights of stairs in my socks, holding my shoes to muffle my footsteps.

As luck would have it, after all that, I tripped as I approached the building’s front door and woke up the doorman. He looked at me quite curiously (or it was the LSD) and let me out and off I went into the night/morning. It was dark and quiet. I had no idea where I was going, None, Zero.

But off I went. We were new to the area, had only lived there a few months. I was home for the summer from boarding school and really hadn’t had time to get that familiar with the hood. I had often visited friends in the area but it wasn’t my home turf yet.

 The weather was lovely. It was a Chicago summer and that hour brings the best of the cool breezes. I walked away from the lake and towards the central part of the neighborhood. There was a commuter railroad that ran through the area. Its rails ran above ground level but to cross over the neighborhood you had to find a viaduct that went under the train. These were not unlike the tunnels that one traveled under the main road to get out to the lakefront. They had their own ambiance and sound, a good place to whistle and late at night a good place to get mugged. As I approached one of these viaducts I saw two people walking up ahead, a guy and a gal. They looked back towards me and for some reason it just scared me. Not hard to do to a kid on his first acid trip. I looked around, spotted a Yellow Taxi nearby and flagged it down. I jumped in with no destination in mind. Upon quick reflection I directed him to take me to a restaurant back in my old neighborhood, further south at 71st and Jeffrey.

  The restaurant at 71st street when I was growing up had always been called Peter Pan’s.  The new name was the Orange Pig. They probably changed it to reflect the changing racial composition of the neighborhood from white to black. It probably wasn’t the smartest place to go. But it seemed the right thing at the moment. I had grown up only two blocks from that corner. We had only moved out recently. But it had been a long time since it was safe to be out late at night in that neighborhood. As indicated, the neighborhood had been in transition from white to black. Didn’t bother me much but when the cab pulled up to the restaurant on the corner of 71st street, I suspected I should have stayed in bed. The restaurant was all plate glass in front. It seemed everyone in the place looked up at my cab when we stopped. As I paid my fare I looked at a sea of black faces. They certainly had reason to look. I was indeed the only white face around and I was only 15 years old and it was now 5.20AM. I know the time because while I hung around outside the place afraid to go in, I looked at the bank building across the street and it was supposed to give the time and temp. But right now it was only giving the temp. There was a black man standing nearby who answered when I asked him “Isn’t that sign supposed to give the time also.” He replied as he looked at his watch, “Sure is and I am tired of waiting for this lady to show up. It is 5.20 young blood.”  And so we struck up a conversation. I remember that he was a medium complexioned black man about 25 years old. He was wearing a straw wide-brimmed hat, not unlike the Chinese bamboo ones you see in the movies. He had a goatee. He wasn’t a big guy. He laughed easy as I made wise cracks, which is what I do whenever I am ill at ease or just plain scared. I was wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, a blue jean jacket and a metal peace sign hanging around my neck from a leather strip. My hair was long by the standards of the day although I was a long way from the hippie hair I would soon adopt.

He asked me “Are you high on what I think you’re high on.” I asked him what he thought I was high on. He said, “You know, the big L”. I replied ‘I don’t know what the big L is so I couldn’t tell you if I was high on it.”  He laughed and said, “You know, LSD.” I got real scared and thought this guy might be a narc.  But for some reason I answered him truthfully, that I was in fact high on LSD. He laughed again and said he had once smoked some LSD.

Shortly thereafter he said he had to go in and eat his breakfast and bid me goodbye. I purposefully followed close on his heels, through the revolving doors into the restaurant. I did so that it would appear I was with him or knew him. I was trying to make it to the counter to sit down and evade the stares. When he got to his table where a friend of his was sitting he noticed me behind him. He asked me if I wanted to join them. I was grateful and of course I accepted his invitation. He introduced himself for the first time and then his companion. He was Eugene Hairston and his friend was William Throop.

We had only been sitting there a moment when he excused himself to make a phone call. I got real scared again. It occurred to me that he was a narc again and he was calling for police to come get me.  I was distracted from my reverie when William called for the bus boy. The bus boy came over and asked “Yea brother?” William stared hard at him. The bus boy said “Yea man?” but sounded a little strained. William stared harder and said with intensity “Stone run it!”  The bus boy said, “Yea, Stone brother, stone run it.” William spoke harshly, “Where’s my steak and eggs?” The bus boy looked scared and said he would go get them right away. Before it all had sunk in, Eugene returned to the table. We began to chat. He asked me why I was there. I explained that I grew up there and used to live right down the street. He then said “Oh, you got the Stone in you.” Oblivious to its meaning we chatted on. When he asked why he had never seen me around I explained it really wasn’t safe to come around anymore because of the gangs. I told him that even though I had grown up there the local Blackstone Rangers had taken over and could be dangerous. He asked me my name again and I told him. He asked if I knew anyone from the gangs. I told him I knew the former branch leader J.B. but that I had heard JB had quit and in fact that was why it had gotten dangerous for me. He smiled and asked “You really know JB.”  “Yea” I replied. He asked whom else I knew. “I know Paul Gibson too. “ He smiled and said “You know them huh? Yep. Then he asked me if I knew who he was. I replied he was Eugene. He said, “I am Eugene “Bull” Hairston. And this is my warlord Bull Sweet Jones“ (AKA Sweet Pea), pointing at William.

I knew the name of Eugene, aka Bull, Hairston and it seemed unlikely he was who he said he was. The name had been in the papers constantly because Hairston was on trial for solicitation to commit murder. It was alleged that he paid three 12 year old boys to shoot two drug dealers who had failed to get permission to operate in the Rangers territory. The murder attempt failed, the boys were caught after shooting and wounding the 2 dealers and they had given up Eugene.

So I put foot in mouth and accused this man of lying.  “So you mean you are Bull Hairston from the newspapers? I don’t believe you.”  He got agitated for a moment. But then he said, “You a funny little white boy. You tickle me.”  After some back and forth he pulled out his wallet and showed me his driver license.

I was having breakfast with one of the two most powerful guys on the south side of Chicago. This was one of the two original leaders of the Blackstone Rangers, the most powerful street gang to ever exist. His co-leader was  young man by the name of Jeff Fort who himself has been serving time in prisons for over 20 years. At the time it was estimated that the Blackstone Rangers numbered over 30,000 members.

I couldn’t believe it. I asked for his autograph. I was having breakfast with Cappo di Cappi of  Black Chicago gangs. He laughed some more and instructed William to write me a note. William complied and a moment later wrote me as follows. To a fellow Stone. ABSR signed William Throop. I believe ABSR meant All Mighty Black Stone Rangers.

I paid my check and went outside. William had gone to get the car and bring it around for Eugene. It was a clean white Cadillac. Before Eugene got in passenger side, he patted my head and told me to come back next week and have breakfast with him again.

I noticed as we left the restaurant that he did walk with the air of confidence that accompanies power. And when he paid the tab he had a roll of money. Course I now understood why the busboy was terrified and why “Stone” was the only acceptable response to William. “Stone” was the common reference to the gang and “Stone Run It” was their battle cry. Lucky for me that even though my old classmate JB had in fact quit the gang, he was still respected by OGs (Original Gangsters) like Eugene Hairston. The name of JB got me in good with Eugene and saved my ass just as JB had when I used to call upon his assistance in high school to ward off bullies.

I had every intention of going back the next week to meet them. But midway through the week I read that Eugene had been convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison. A war for control of the Stones broke out and William Throop survived an attempt on his life when he was shot 7 times in a motel on the south side. His girlfriend died in the barrage of bullets.  William Throop did not survive the second attempt on his life.

Eugene was shot and hit three times shortly after he got out of prison on parole. He survived. They say it was a warning from his successors to stay away. In 1988 his luck ran out when he was gunned down in a south side housing project. The papers conjectured it was gang-related.

As to that note that they wrote me, I tucked that in my wallet like it was a get out of jail free card. Remind me to tell you how that worked out when I it was discovered on me by Chicago Police officers.

As acid trips go it was pretty fulfilling. I took a cab home to Hyde Park after the sun had come up. My head was ringing and my eyes burned with fatigue by the time I got home. I was worn out from the hours of sleeplessness and psychological hyper-awareness that I had paid to trip the light fantastic. I would soon become a full-blown acid-head, ingesting untold amounts of hallucinogens over the next two and a half years. I would trip in a variety of places like Kenwood High School, Museum of Science and Industry and a lakefront location called The Point. Every trip was weird and of course under a variety of conditions but I doubt I ever brushed up against the likes of Eugene and William again.

 

Once upon a time in a faraway land, Part 1

I remember standing outside the high school waiting for the bell to ring for. Until the bell rang students had to wait outside untill they unlocked the doors and let us proceed to our classrooms. 5 black boys approached from a gang called the Blackstone Rangers (Stones). I was a pipsqueak. I was 4’11” and I had Free Lunch stamped on my forehead and these guys wanted lunch at my expense. I didn’t know these guys, but they had a keen sense of smell and picked up the scent of my fear.

I needed to do something and fast. I sized them up and ran through my encyclopedia of bluffs and the first one that occurred to me was to act as if we were all together in this escapade. This normally doesn’t work for a little white Jewish kid about to be robbed. but I had spent a lot of time around guys like this and I am a good mimic. I could talk the talk even if I couldn’t walk the walk. I knew these guys were gang-bangers just from their look.

 A gangster’s style was dress-casual. He wore lose fitting, almost baggy clothes. His shirt was an Italian knit and he wore pants with two pleats at the waist with room in the leg so that a gangster could pimp. Pimping was a way of walking with a kind of shuffle and slightly slouched and emanating attitude. They frequently wore narrow sunglasses that they had to look over the top of when talking.

The way this worked, when thugs approached, I would initiate the encounter by talking to them. I mean I knew damn well they planned to rob me, so I greeted them first, “Hey, what’s up?” (It is called, act as if.) Then I asked if “Anyone has seen JB.” See JB was the baddest kid around and a leader in the Stones and we went to grade school together. So I would got the jump on guys by asking for JB. The fact that I knew his name gave me credibility. so usually after that, they don’t ask for money. A rule of the streets was to not rob a friend of a gang leader.

Now if that doesn’t seem like much of a plan, it wasn’t but I had a back up bluff. That next part was to act as if I could fight. I acted like I would want nothing more than to have these guys mess with me so then I could whoop someone’s butt. Totally grounded in fantasy! Fact is if you acted first you might throw them off balance psychologically long enough to get in the school. One way to do this is as they approached I would ask them for some money and act huffy when they don’t got it. So the 5 spread out in a semi-circle in front of me. They arrroached me intending to secure compliance and get my money or pounce.     I know I have to make eye contact and hide fear. So I stare at the closest one and ask  “Hey, someone got a quarter?” The reply “Huh? Are you out of your mind boy?”, (a reasonable assumption when a small white boy tries to coerce several young black boys out of “spare change”) I would reply along the lines of “Hell yea, I’m out of my mind. better believe it! So who got a quarter? Don’t be tight. man. Someone give it up. don’t be cheap, help a dude out man.”

I was not only a small white boy, but I was dressed preppy. The uniform style of dress amongst my peers was Brooks Brothers button down shirts, khaki pants with cuffs dark socks and Bass Weejun penny loafers.  I might have been slightly more convincing if I dressed like the white thugs we called greasers. Anyways, if that bluff failed….run.

This particular encounter just typifies the type of incidents that took place regularly in my neighborhood. This time it ended with the five boys walking away, heads nodding in bewilderment and wonder about what exactly had just happened and who the hell was I. These encounters would have the hair on the back of my neck stand up. My palms would be quietly sweaty. My heart would beat so loud I thought anyone near by could hear it.

Amazingly, for me, acting like a teenage Jewish kid was much more difficult. At least acting like a “cool” Jewish kid. The encyclopedia of bluffs was quite useless in this realm.  I arrived to high school from a grade school that was over 50% black. In grade school I had taken to speaking the language of my black peers. So, in high school I had to learn to minimize my inclination to mimic the sound and speech of a young black boy who had emigrated to Chicago from Knoxville TN.

Many of the Jewish kids in my high school were in organized fraternities and sororities which were comprised mostly of Jewish kids. I have never met anyone outside of Chicago’s south side who had these clubs in their Chicago area high school. It seemed important to be accepted into this fraternity environment. I can’t tell you why but it did. My older brother had been in a fraternity, but I didn’t like him much. For sure I desperately wanted to be cool. But the reality was, I was too young and too awkward to blend in well. Fraternities just didn’t place a value on having members who were 12-year-old, freshmen, short, non-athletic, jive talking and not particularly affluent. I was 3 years away from a driving permit, and my body wouldn’t see pubic hair in the immediate future.

It took about 6 months of lobbying to be accepted into the second lowest-ranked fraternity in school. Ranks were based on the number of cool guys you had in the fraternity and gentiles and blacks were not considered cool and don’t count. I suspect most non-Jews were invited to join to bolster the athletic standing of the group (Ringers). My fraternity was considered just slightly cooler than the one fraternity that accepted both people of color and gentiles. But my membership resulted in 2 friendships that span over 43 years so I consider it a good investment.

Anyway the point is I had a harder time passing in my natural state for what I was (the little Jew kid) than passing as something I wasn’t and didn’t appear to be (the little black kid).

I can’t tell you the first thing about being with a sorority girl as I was barely able to negotiate being a preteen boy in a teenage world much less hope to date girls. I had no business being in high school. I wasn’t a good student or mature beyond my years. Hard to say if I was even age appropriate as I had no way to determine that. I had gotten ahead in school through some stubbornness, luck (bad/good), timing and mistakes. So while most kids had already consummated their childhood before going to high school, I was still wrapping up my juvenile affairs. bar mitzvah, puberty, walking, you know the basics. There is much more to this story. I was on a trajectory which would lead me to 5 failed years of high school and becoming a drop-out. It was the precursor to becoming a real criminal. But here is an insight. I got sick and tired of being picked on. Not only was I robbed the first day of each of the three Chicago high schools I attended, I was assaulted my first day of college preparatory boarding school in New Hampshire. In the sophomore year I was brutally attacked and nearly drowned by a rabid anti-Semite Palestinian student. I promised myself that someday I would get a gun and I would end the reign of terror of bullying and getting robbed which seemed to summarize my early years.

My first armed robbery, and last.

We were in an apartment on the south side of Chicago, in Hyde Park. “I don’t know man. I never done nothing like that. What do you want from me? I don’t know man. I don’t do that kind of stuff.” So began my conversation with Tiny. Tiny had gotten it in his mind to rob a meat packing plant at 58th and Elizabeth Street. Someone on the inside had told him about a safe they had and how easy it would be to walk in with guns and take the cash. I am not sure why Tiny was asking me to partner up with him. Maybe it was because I had a car, or guns or because I was a full time (non-violent) criminal. But this was an area I never intended to venture into. I tended to  stay away from crimes against persons. Burglary was my main criminal enterprise, and we burglars avoid people when working, because they are a source of detection and apprehension.

Whatever the reason, I was listening to this proposition. Tiny had been a mentor of mine in the underworld. He was a car thief and knew how to run a “chop shop” where they cut stolen cars up and sell the parts for more than the car would sell for whole. It was easier to avoid arrest if you were selling only the parts. I was about 18 and he had 10 years on me and seemed philosophically wise in the ways of the streets. He also was an imposing figure. He was 6’3, 350 pounds of black man. He was a product of the Chicago’s west side ghetto. So to my wayward mind he had experience and credibility and so I listened. He laughed profusely and joked and danced frequently. But when it came to crime he was all business.

The plan was to go to the area of the plant where we would park my car about a half block away. We were going to knock on the packing house door and ask to buy some meat. There was going to be 3-5 employees and we were gonna draw down on them and take the cash from the safe. We discussed it at length. I tried to persuade him away from the idea. But I never said everything I was really thinking. Cause then I would have told him the idea scared the hell out of me. He allayed all my spoken concerns and so the deal was sealed.

When the agreed day arrived I drove us to the plant. We parked near by in a vacant lot, car facing towards the street so we would just have to jump in and drive right out. I had two handguns. One didn’t function at all. But we brought it for its persuasion value. Tiny had another handgun.

I convinced Tiny to stop at a corner tavern so we could get a drink. I wasn’t 21 yet but we never had trouble getting me liquor in ghetto bars. We had a drink. My hands were shaking and I was nauseous with fear. I suggested another drink but Tiny said no, we had to get going. He had gotten a call that day from someone on the inside that there was a lot of cash today and he was eager to get there. I glumly followed him down the street.

When we arrived at the plant, I got a worse feeling. The door had a peephole and when they answered the door they did in in such a way that I knew they clearly had been robbed before. The guy at the door didn’t want to open the door more than a crack. He ask “what do you want.”  Tiny was in front of me telling him “we needed a large order of meat for a church we work for”. The guy was not opening the door enough for us to enter. He was being cautious. But Tiny just kept talking as he pushed on the door and the door began to give way. Tiny’s size was not to be denied. As he pushed on the door, I saw his jacket rise up above his hips and his gun was clearly visible to me. I tried to pull down his jacket from where I stood behind him. He signaled me to follow him in.  As the door opened wider I could see that there were far more people inside than we had anticipated. Combine that with the fact that these people were obviously being cautious and it was probably because they had been robbed before.

I mean we were in a tough area. It was mixed zoning, inner city housing and commercial. When you had businesses in such close proximity to this many poor people, the stores usually got used to folks trying to rob them.

This wasn’t going the way I had envisioned it. I got even more scared if that were possible. So I went from trying to pull Tiny’s jacket over his gun to just pulling on his jacket in an attempt to prevent him from going in.

I said to Tiny, “screw them, they don’t want to sell us any meat. Let’s go somewhere else.” He looked back at me with daggers in his eyes.

I was being no more effective than the guy on the inside at deterring Tiny. I pulled harder and said loudly that we should just leave. I could see even more people walking around inside, everybody wearing white coats and white hard hats.  More people meant more probability of something going amiss. And this is heavy prison time stuff.

Tiny realized I wasn’t going in and so he retreated. But was he mad. He called me a punk for days. Weeks. He got some of our friends together another day and they did the job. They sat around spending money on drugs and alcohol, wouldn’t share with me because I was a punk. I remember visiting the apartment in Hyde Park that they were hold up in and partying. That had a big BBQ spread from the local bbq house. They were watching a new television. I came in and made small talk like any other time. “hey, let me have some ribs.” Tiny replied “Fuck you punk. We got this sticking up the plant. You didn’t do shit, you don’t get shit.” The hair on the back of my neck stood up. He was fronting me off in front of everyone. This would get ugly if I made a wrong move. I acted like it was no big deal, not hungry, don’t need your food. “Screw it, I’ll get my own ribs. I’m out. Later to this” With that I slinked away.

My rep definitely went down a notch or two. But it wasn’t too much longer when Tiny invited me to take a road across Illinois with my illegal M1 semi-auto rifle that I had bought on the streets. It was an ominous piece of work with a big 30 round banana magazine, a folding stock, flash suppressor, and telescopic sight. Tiny wanted to drive south and pull a series of armed robberies. His explanation was that with my rifle looking so intimidating, no one would challenge us and we could clean up. I was surprised he was asking me and I considered the good effect this would have in restoring my reputation. But I didn’t see any reason I wouldn’t be just as scared as I had been before. So I took a pass.

A postscript to this relationship is years later, Tiny got arrested and went to federal prison for a bank robbery. I had not become a lawyer yet so I couldn’t help him. Before he left I asked him if he was scared. Tiny asked “what would I be scared of?” He looked at me quizzically. I said if I had to go to prison I would be scared. Tiny started to laugh….”if I was as small as you I probably would be scared. Big as I am, ain’t nothing gonna happen to me in prison son, so don’t worry about me.” He passed up on giving up his co-conspirators. Even though they got away with the money and never sent him any, he stuck by the code, No snitching! He told me he thought he knew who ratted him out, a friend of ours from the hood.  But he said there wasn’t anything he could do about it now, and he had no proof.

He did come out of prison an older and more subdued man. Got a job as a janitor at the Chicago  Museum of Science and Industry. He died in his 50s of diabetes related causes. All that weight wore his body out. I was his lawyer in the end. We were suing the Chicago Transit Authority bus company for not securing him properly in his wheelchair during a visit to the doctor. When the bus stopped abruptly he fell and was injured when the stitches split on his recently amputated leg.

Some day I’ll write about Tiny’s first LSD trip. Or how he knocked Gene Rogers out at the University Church. Or how we tried to……..oh hell……. I feel like crying, I am out of here.

Dedicated to my friend Tiny

When I was 17, in 1970, I was up to my eyeballs in illegal activity. I lived on the south side of Chicago. I would wake up around 9AM and about 10AM I would go out burglarizing apartments till 3PM with my partner in crime Tony James. This was the time of day most people were at work and their apartments sat empty. Then in the evening we would sell drugs we bought with the money we got from selling hot (as in stolen) merchandise. The pay phone at a local Persian restaurant (Ahmads} was the best way to contact me.

Sometime around this period I met Marshall Jackson, aka Tiny. Some who were around then will remember Tiny and no one who knew him will forget him. He was black, stood about 6′ 3″ and weighed about 350. He had a stutter and a bubbly, intense personality. He was10 years older than me, and he was a stone criminal also. We became quite close and I took him for a mentor as well as a friend. His specialty was stealing cars and chopping them up for sale. But like myself, he remained open to any criminal activity.

Tiny had very few white people he liked growing up in Lawndale on the West Side. He was enamored  with our neighborhood and the young white kids in Hyde Park. White kids here had grown up in this wonderfully ethnically diverse community and exhibited little of the racism he was used to. He concluded he had misjudged us as a race. He thought the general lack of street smarts and the open nature of Hyde Park whites was endearing. It became his neighborhood.

Tiny taught me a lot about being a criminal. He taught me the advanced rules of intimidation, deception, and manipulation.  He introduced me to car repair shops where we hung out and bought and sold stolen goods. Tiny was fascinated with all the drugs we young bloods were doing. Our hood was one of those which early dove deep into recreational drugs. His knowledge of drugs until then was limited to his girlfriend’s  heroin addiction.

Tiny acquainted me with his criminal pals and I introduced him to mine. But I also introduced him to the Blue Gargoyle coffeehouse at the University Church for the Disciples of Christ and the Reverend Loel Callahan. Loel had befriended me and subsequently convinced me to help him launch an alternative youth program (non-religious) at the church, which was located in the shadow of the University of Chicago.

So, I recruited Tiny and all my other street pals to hang out at the church and help out with our youth program there. That is a whole ‘nother story. Adding his pals definitely strained the notion of  “youth” add increased the mean age of the group. But lest you get the wrong idea, we were a mix of teens some who were straight-laced, drug free, high school students and many like me, street kids. We had two things in common, intelligent and a sincere desire in the improvement of the human condition.

So, Tiny and I shared adventures. Panhandling bail money for friends at a nightclub called Alices Restaurant on the North Side, hitting blues bars, camping in Missouri, stealing credit cards and saving damsels in distress. If you knew Gene Rogers, you would be interested in the night Tiny knocked him the fuck out for messing with university students at the Blue Gargoyle.

I can’t do justice to what such a relationship was like and the indelible impression it left on me. We had a bunch of laughs, at jokes and at danger. Tiny took me for my first (and last) armed robbery. at a meat-packing plant on the south side. Supposed to be easy in and out, just show our guns, grab the cash from the safe and go. But the man at the door of the plant seemed suspicious of us from the git and reluctant to let us in. Tiny nicely pushed on the door while chatting friendly about how we just wanted to buy some meat. The man tried to dig in and keep the door from opening wide, but his feet were sliding backwards as he lost the pushing match. Nothing felt right and so I yanked hard to stop  Tiny which aborted our heist.

Tiny took a long time to forgive me. He had to round up a new crew to finish the job another day. He gave me a chance to redeem myself later and offered me the opportunity go on an armed robbery spree across Illinois. He wanted me to bring my quite ominous M1 military carbine which had a folding stock, a telescopic sight, flash suppressor and a 30 round magazine. His theory was that no one would resist us if we displayed my rifle. I had to admit to him that in my heart I was really just a property crimes kind of guy and not cut out for armed robberies.

As I was saying earlier, Tiny became involved in the youth program at the Blue Gargoyle and was usually there with his pals to provide security when our youth group put on an event, like a dance. Because of the church location, it was not uncommon to find Disciples and Stones in attendance. For the uninitiated, those were the two large, very large, black gangs on Chicago’s south side. Tiny had this way of walking into conflict and deescalating it. His size was so persuasive that I saw him stop gang violence with a smile. 

But we didn’t physically hurt innocents. Neither Tiny nor I liked bullies. Hard to explain but we stood together against violent predators who we encountered trying to hurt those we perceived as weaker. He used his size and demeanor to calm some folks but others like the aforementioned Gene, he beat into submission. The opportunities to use our street smarts and strength were manifold. Tiny taught me that if you have to mete out a whooping, make sure you do so convincingly thus do you discourage comeback. He taught me to refrain from making threats of revenge, because you increase the probability of getting caught while getting said revenge. He said, “do not threaten, just do”.

It was new years eve about 1971 when I accompanied Tiny and another older pal, Butch, on their first hallucinogenic LSD trip. It started in Hyde Park at a party at my friend Norman Nakama’s apartment, with a bunch of drunk, stoned and tripping hippies. My friend Preston somehow talked my 2 pals, definitely not hippie, into taking the LSD. I joined in, but it was far from my first trip.

We left HP and headed to downtown Chicago for the holiday celebration. It was a horror show with drunks fighting, the crowd swelling, and the police pushing back on the surging crowd as you neared the epicenter at the corner of State and Randolph, by the Marshall Field building.  The crowd was so big it swallowed Tiny up, beyond my grasp. That freaked me out, so I grabbed Butch till the clock struck midnight and the crowd dispersed. After most people had walked off, there was Tiny, his eyes closed and swaying with the crowd that was no longer there. I remember Chicago was so cold that night and Tiny was generating so much heat that when he took off his cap his head was smoking.

Having recovered Tiny, we headed back to my Hyde Park apartment. I lived alone at the end of a parking lot of a supermarket. My furniture consisted of 3 chairs and a piece of foam rubber that I slept on and a stereo. We had a few hours of hallucinogenic chat as Tiny and Butch strolled through their minds now turned psychedelic.

Many a night of fun like this was followed by our usual morning ritual. Breakfast(!) at some ghetto shack for large amounts of bacon, eggs and toast or the 3 of us would buy and cook a couple of pounds of bacon, 2 loaves of bread and a couple of dozen eggs to cook up.

 

But, one night he took his new found affection for whites and headed with some pals to a neighborhood carnival in a white community known as Back of the Yards. BOYs was a white stronghold in Chicago. VERY racist. Tiny described for me the next day how that turned out.  Some white guys started trouble and when the fight started it “seemed like the entire place jumped on us”. He said that, “I was continually throwing guys off my back and constantly fighting my way to the others to help them”.  He said it took a while before the police could push back the crowd and escort our friends from the carnival. I chastised him for going off on his own to such a hostile place. Tiny, delightfully naive in his own way, declared that he would be more selective in the future about what white people he hung around. 

Gosh, we sure had a bunch of adventures. Tiny taught me how to power shift my 1965 Chevy Impala 396 Super Sport. That is shifting through all gears with the accelerator pedal held continuously to the floor. A mutual friend of ours had personally stitched together my car interior in a white leather, diamond, tuck and roll design. diamond interior.

\1965_chevrolet_impala_ss+left_rear_view.jpg

It had a custom green paint job with gold flakes shot in and a white vinyl top and tinted windows. I do not have any photos of my ride but included the photos as samples of the style .

He knew I had his back and I knew he had mine I relied upon his size and he upon my wits. He knew I exploited his size to our advantage and he used my whiteness to gain admission to situations he could then exploit. So we explored a lot of dangerous territory together with our merry band of fellow criminal pranksters.

We went separate ways eventually, but kept in touch. Years later he told me that he and some of the guys had talked about kidnapping me for ransom since my family had money. We never discussed whether they planned to kill me to protect their identities but I am sure it was part of the discussion. He also admitted he had harbored a grudging respect and even fear of some other street pals I ran with occasionally who had a propensity for violence. 

When Tiny was in his 40s, he got caught and prosecuted for a bank robbery in Uptown. By then I was a social worker with street kids. We hung out some before he went off to prison. He was very stoic about his fate,  wouldn’t give the names of his accomplices in exchange for a lighter sentence. He was sent to a federal hospital prison because he had diabetes and suffered from chronic pain which was the result of a stomach bypass back when the stapled your stomach. 

 

When he came out of prison he was older, calmer and sicker. He took a job as a janitor at the Museum of Science and Industry and bought a used funeral hearse and painted it bright yellow as his daily transport. He slowly started to lose his battle with his diabetes. In his early 50s,  his right leg was amputated because his circulation suffered.

I was now a lawyer and he my client because a Chicago transit authority bus improperly secured him on a return trip from the hospital. A sudden stop by the transport, threw him to the ground and ruptured his stitches where he had just had his leg amputated.

Before I could resolve his personal injury claim, he died. His brother told me he suffered badly in the end as further amputations were needed. He died in the hospital.

At the funeral I saw and sat with some of the old gang, most I had not seen in many years. We scoffed as we listened to a eulogy that was sterilized for public consumption.

Some day I will recollect more.  Nothing learned in those days ever went to waste. My skills as a social worker and lawyer were well-served by my time spent with Marshall Jackson aka Tiny. So many lived so fast and died too young.