In my previous post, I referred to my alley and it deserves its own post as does my childhood nabe. Here it is.
That alley doesn’t exist anymore. They tore everything down. What was once a fabulously diverse and interesting pocket of Chicago is now ugly concrete buildings with no character. The Chinese restaurant where the owner was murdered. The strip joint, El Mocambo, across the street with great photos of their lovelies displayed outside that always drew my attention. The day-old bakery, cherry pie 25 cents, milk 10 cents. The Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, later known as the A&P. And the Greek grocery store where you chose your chicken from a cage out front, and Spiro would take him into the back and cut its head off, an event I often watched by following him.
The used book store with shelves filled to the ceiling. They also sold magazines and soda, kept in a chest filled with ice. The aroma of old books grabbed you when you walked in. Heady, heavenly. Louie Drill’s cigar store, that also sold comic books, with the bookie in the back, where my father would disappear on a Sunday when he was supposed to take us to the park, and we’d track him down. My dad would take me to Tom’s Restaurant some mornings and we’d have coffee and toast and he’d carefully show me how to dunk my toast for the best taste. Tom's Restaurant was on the street level of our building. Later when both parents ere working, my sis and I would have lunch at Tom’s during the summer. Roast beef, 65 cents, two grilled pork chops with lettuce and tomatoes on the side, 30 cents (my fave). We’d also use the local pizza place, $1 to split a large pizza. Yes, we ate all of it in one sitting. No toppings, just a cheese pizza, but what a great one it was.
We lived in the Salvation Army building, the main temple, that had flats flanking the main structure. Our third floor flat overlooked a courtyard, my play area. The auditorium was on one side. There was a little staircase on the courtyard leading to a doorway that opened into the upper balcony of the S.A.’s auditorium. On hot summer nights they would open the door for ventilation and, sitting on our porch, the sounds of the fabulous staff bank would float out – superb music. There was a grand piano down there and I would often go into the empty building, never harassed by Jerry, the janitor, and play it. Later I joined the scholastic band as a teen and played the cornet, church songs. Once or twice, I joined them on the street, playing to attract derelicts – they’d come along for free food, but first they’d have to hear a sermon.
The front of our flat overlooked Madison Street, also known as skid row because of the taverns and heavy drinkers. In 1936, on the night of Roosevelt’s landslide re-election to a 2nd term, his parade rolled past our front windows and we saw him in his open car, his cigarette in its signature holder in his mouth, slanting upward, on his way to the Chicago Stadium to give his victory speech. I was 5 years old. But it was a vivid memory. I was 14 when he died and I cried for 2 weeks. I remember thinking, “who will lead us now?” Vice President Truman took over and was a good president but his homely demeanor and laid back personality didn’t appeal to me then. He served out his inherited presidency (Roosevelt died of a stroke just after being re-elected to a 4th term) and by the time Truman ran against Dewey to be elected president in his own right in 1948, I was all for him. I remember also, the conservative Chicago Tribune jumping the gun and declaring Thomas Dewey the winner on its front page. I imagine heads rolled.