Tuesday, March 26, 2013


"What are you looking at?"

I nearly jumped out of my chair at that.  I'd been alone in my office late in the day and had just finished my last report when I began browsing the headlines.  And I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for a good headline.  This one read "Boy Charged With Killing Baby is 1000% Not Guilty."  I mean, would you leave that news story unread?

So of course I was reading it and Marcus, as he is wont to do, walked silently in my office and was staring at my computer screen before he announced his presence.

No, I said.  Just no.  You can't walk in my office and scare the bejeesus out of me, Marcus.  Go back out that door and knock.

"But you know I'm here," he said.  "What's the point?"

The point is it's polite.  You can't scare people.

"You was scared?"

Knock, Marcus.  Knock.  And I gave him my best teacher look.  Just because I'm not in the classroom anymore doesn't mean that they don't still know it when I mean it.

So he did, because he enjoys it just a little too much when I scold him.  Then he came back and made himself at home. "We good?" he asked.

Yes, I said.  But only kind of.  You need to knock every time.

"I really scared you?"

You were silent, and you walked up behind me when I thought I was alone.  What do you think you did?

"I didn't think I was silent.  I really scared you?  You're scary."  He laughed.

Now, when kids at my school announce that I'm scary, it doesn't mean that they think I'm a monster.  It means they think I'm scared and I'd better get over it.  The last thing I am is scary, I said.  I just don't like silent people who walk in without knocking.

"So what are you looking at?" he asked again, and I showed him the article about the kid who shot the baby who was 1000% not guilty.  "Oh, yeah, I heard about that one.  They shot the baby in front of the father."

No, I said.  I knew exactly which one he meant, because everybody was talking about it, but this one was in Georgia.  The one in Chicago was where they were changing the diaper in the car and they did a driveby to get the dad but hit the baby instead.  Georgia was the mom and the baby in a stroller.

But he was fixated on Chicago.  "So they was after the dad and not the baby?  That's not so bad."

I just looked at him.

"It's not.  They didn't mean to hit the baby.  That's different than aiming for the baby and shooting it."

And I supposed he was right.  I mean, if you discount everything about precious lives and sweet-smelling feet and toothless smiles lost, there was a difference.  A driveby is different than deliberately aiming for the baby and shooting him in the face.  It's a long time since I thought to myself that anywhere was worse than Chicago for violence, but we may have found a winner.  Georgia.  Who knew?

But Marcus was still thinking.  "Did the dad die in that one and the baby lived?  That's messed up.  They should shoot that dad.  He should have died, not the baby."

Then again, perhaps not.  I couldn't make him walk outside and knock again for that one, though.  Some things you just can't redo.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kiss me, I'm a South Sider

The South Side Irish Parade was this past weekend, and everyone was very well-behaved.

We had to be.

There's actually two parades in Chicago in March.  One, the weekend before St. Patrick's Day, happens on Columbus Drive near the Art Institute.  Huge crowds come out for that one, and they have fancy floats.  The big politicians attend, people bring their children, and it makes beautiful pictures for the six o'clock news.

Then there's the other parade.  The one on the South Side.  The South Side parade is nothing like the North Side.  At the South Side parade, we're local.  People walk down the street with dogs.  Little people dress like leprechauns. There are floats, but they're not fancy, and they were probably used last year.  And then there's the people.

For a while there, people thought it was the South Side's answer to Mardi Gras.  You wouldn't believe it unless you saw it.  All these people in their Irish wool sweaters drinking it up and puking all over the sidewalk.  In 2009, there were 54 arrests.  To give you a frame of reference, the Bud Billiken Parade, which goes through the streets of some of the sketchiest neighborhoods in the South Side, had one arrest, two years ago, and people still talk about it.

I still have that hat.  I bought it for $5 on the street that day.
Don't judge.

So yeah.  South Side Irish.  Bars on the North Side used to charter buses and cart their drunks down to the South Side to join our drunks.  As the parade floats wound their way down the street, they'd shout for green beads until they got bored and then end up in one of the pubs on Western.  Then they'd end up in the street, pissing everywhere and getting into brawls.  It was a big beautiful mess, and the force pulled all the cops from all the bad neighborhoods to contain it.

I tell you, if I were a criminal, I'd do about ten jobs on the day of the South Side Irish Parade because there's no way I'd get caught.  The police are all in Beverly.

The Beverly association that put on the parade got fined so heavily and they needed so many police that they might have actually been losing money on the parade.

So they decided to cancel the parade.  And they did it.  Nobody could believe it.    My brother was getting home from somewhere with his daughters and a news truck rolled up and he told him that they could send their north siders back where they belonged.  (All the locals blamed the North Shore.)

And for two years, everybody found something else to do that weekend.  It was incredibly boring.

The Parade wasn't always this way.  When I was a kid, it was a pretty small affair.  My Granny lived in a townhouse on Artesian, and on the day of the parade, we'd go out her back yard, cross the alley, go through the parking lot of Keegan's, and end up on the street watching the parade.  Those were the days where you had no problems seeing everything, where the parade participants were limited to a few Irish dancing troupes, the Pipefitters Union, and a couple of really big families who decided to represent.  I remember a car rolling by with speakers on top blasting the South Side Irish song.

That's right.  We have a song.  Want to hear it?  (Click on the link if you want to hear the whole thing.  This is a multi-media experience.)

South Side Irish
We're the South Side Irish as our fathers were before
We come from the Windy City and we're Irish to the core
From Bridgeport to Beverly from Midway to South Shore
We're the South Side Irish-Let's sing it out once more!

So they finally brought the parade back last year because enough years had gone by that everyone forgot what it was like and everyone else remembered cutting through back yards just like I did  to watch the families parade down the street.  It could be good again.  It could be neighborhoody again.  We could do it.

And because we really wanted it to work, we were good.  They made it clear that they'd arrest you for open containers and automatically fine you $1000.  I certainly didn't have that much money lying around, and neither did anybody else.  We're South Siders, not North Siders.  Cops, firemen, teachers.  That's who we are, and when somebody tells us we've got to behave, we know how to make that happen.

And?  Only one guy got arrested last year, and nobody got arrested this year.  Take that, Bud Billiken.

I'm not sure how long this will last.  As my friend Brian said, a few years from now, people are going to forget that the parade was ever cancelled and return to their revelry.

Backyard revelry.
I never saw that boa again, come to think of it.

People still drink, because they're Irish, and Irish people drink, but they drink in their back yards and front porches.  And nobody knocks over port-a-potties or pukes all over a cop's shoes.

It's a bit tame, actually.

I'm not sure if I like it.