Tag Archives: Chicago Tribune

Dancing With Abandon on Chicago TV

He was a good-looking bespectacled teenager with a full head of shiny brown hair.  I’ll call him Lowell M.  He helped out after school at Atlas Drugs, the corner drugstore near the small apartment where I lived with my widowed mother and older sister during my high school years.

I grew to hate that cramped apartment and would often plead with my mother to move somewhere else, but she never would.  I eventually escaped when I went off to live on the campus of the great university 300 miles away that enabled me to make my escape by giving me what’s now called a “free ride.”

Back to Lowell M.:  When I exited from the crowded Peterson Avenue bus I took home from high school every day, Lowell was usually working at the front counter of Atlas Drugs, just across Washtenaw Avenue from the bus stop’s drop-off corner.  While the drugstore’s owner-pharmacist was busy dispensing meds in the back of the store, Lowell would dispense the kind of clever pleasantries expected of us, two of the best and brightest our high school had to offer.  He was in the class ahead of mine, and we happily chatted about school and a whole host of other topics while I would select a package of Wrigley chewing gum or some blonde bobby pins (which didn’t really match my bright red hair) or whatever else had brought me into Atlas Drugs that day.

Lowell must have taken a liking to me because one afternoon, out of the blue, he asked me to accompany him to Chicago TV’s “Bandstand.”  This was shockingly, astoundingly, incredibly fantastic, and I could barely believe it.  Somehow Lowell had secured two tickets to Chicago’s version of “American Bandstand,” an after-school TV show broadcast on WGN-TV.  I haven’t been able to track down anything about that show on the internet, so I don’t think it stayed on the air for very long.  But I’ve stored some vivid memories of it in my nearly overflowing memory-bank.

It was the late-’50s, and my mother had switched from reading the Chicago Tribune to the Chicago Sun-Times after my father died and we left our temporary home in LA to return to Chicago.  (I’ll save the story of that move for another day.)  But my father had been a faithful reader of the Tribune before he died, and I can still see the Tribune’s front page, proclaiming that it was the “World’s Greatest Newspaper.”  Its far-right-wing publisher, tycoon Col. Robert R. McCormick, came up with that phrase, and its initials—WGN—became the call letters of the Tribune’s radio station and later its TV channel.

During the semester I’d spent in LA, I watched its local TV’s version of “American Bandstand” when I’d get home from school.  Hosting high school kids from all over LA to dance on TV, it featured the exciting new pop music that was emerging all over the country. 

Now I was about to attend a TV program just like that one.

Why did Lowell ask me to join him?  I was never really sure.  Maybe, just seeing me at the drug store that day, he asked me on a whim.  But no matter.  I accepted Lowell’s invitation with alacrity and rushed home to tell my sister and mother about my upcoming appearance on local TV.  Dancing to the latest pop music, no less.

My sister kindly (and somewhat uncharacteristically) offered to lend me her smashing new top, a black-and-cream-colored number with tiny horizontal stripes (much more flattering than wide ones).  She was always more interested in fashion trends than I was, and for once I was grateful that she was.

Somehow Lowell and I met up at the appropriate time and made our way downtown to the Tribune buildings located on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.  We probably took the Peterson bus and transferred to the bus that ran along Michigan Avenue, but to be truthful, my memory’s a bit foggy on that score.  Eventually we entered the radio-TV broadcasting building, built ten years after the Tribune Tower itself, and we entered one of the 14 new studios added in 1950, probably one of the four designated for TV.

Ushered into the large studio, filled with other teenagers from all over “Chicagoland” (a term invented by the Tribune), we soon were dancing to the musical hits of the day.  My still-enduring favorites include “Earth Angel” by the Penguins, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley, “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes, and “Sh-boom” by the Crew Cuts.

TV cameras whirled around the studio, capturing Lowell and me in our own version of “Saturday Night Fever,” two decades before that film appeared.

I recall having a fabulous time, dancing with abandon to my musical favorites, and I thought that Lowell did, too.  But I was disappointed when Lowell never asked me to do anything else with him, like go to a movie (a favored pastime of my friends and me).  So it’s possible that he may not have had the truly memorable time I had. 

Did I continue to see Lowell behind the counter of Atlas Drugs?  Maybe.  At least for a while.  But my guess is that he eventually moved on to other after-school jobs that were more in keeping with his burgeoning interest in the business world.

As he approached graduation a year before I did, Lowell began dating a friend of mine who was in his graduating class, and the two of them later married.  Lowell went on to college, earned an MBA, and built a successful business career. 

I went in a different direction.  Fascinated by the world of politics, I pursued two degrees in political science and landed finally in law school, aiming for the kind of career I wanted to follow as a lawyer and a writer.

But the memories of my exhilarating afternoon at Chicago’s version of “American Bandstand” have stayed firmly lodged in my memory-bank.  I will be forever grateful to Lowell M, who—perhaps on a whim—opened the door to those dazzling memories so many years ago.

You CAN Go Home Again

Yes.  You can go home again.  I just did it.

After spending many (too many?) decades of my life in the Chicago area, I departed for San Francisco in 2005.  Forgive the cliché, but I’ve never looked back.

I had lots of good reasons to leave Chicago, and lots of good reasons to head for the West Coast.  At one time or another, I’d spent some of the happiest years of my life in California, and I looked forward to many more happy years in the Bay Area.

Thankfully, those happy years have become a reality, and returning to Chicago was never on my agenda.

Yes, I’d left behind some great friends and some family, too, and I did miss seeing them.  But I didn’t miss anything else in Chicago.

So why did I turn up there for a weekend in May?

Easy answer:  My older daughter (I’ll call her Mary) decided to celebrate her May birthday by taking her kids to Chicago to show them where she’d grown up.  She wanted to escort them to all of the places that had been important to her:  where we lived; where she went to school (from nursery school and elementary school to junior high and high school); where she spent countless hours at our lakefront park, our beach, our library, and all the rest.

And she asked me to tag along.

Of course I said “yes”!

After telling the kids story after story about these places since they were toddlers, we finally had a chance to show them what they’re really like.

So here’s how we spent the two full days we were there:

First day:  We explored the sites near our former home in a leafy suburb on the North Shore.  We first drove to the block where we lived; then to the elementary school two blocks away; to the even closer nursery school (like the one where I set a murder  in my fictional mystery, Jealous Mistress); and the small suburban downtown.  We frequently emerged from our rental car to get a close-up look.  Some things had changed; many had not.

We proceeded up the North Shore to look at New Trier High School, Mary’s alma mater.  Then we spent the afternoon at the Chicago Botanic Garden (actually located in Glencoe), a fabulous garden filled with astounding plants, a charming waterfall, three islands featuring Japanese gardens, and a remarkable sculpture of Carl Linnaeus.  Mary and I fondly recalled how much she, her father, her sister, and I had relished our countless visits there.

The first day included mouth-watering meals at favorite spots like Walker Brothers pancake house (it’s called Palmer Brothers in Jealous Mistress), where we devoured its revered apple pancakes, and Lou Malnati’s, where we eagerly consumed some of the deep-dish pizza Chicago has made famous.

Second day:  We drove into the city and parked at Navy Pier, planning to hit some of the city’s highlights.  Navy Pier, renovated in the ‘90s as a playground for Chicagoans, was a great place to start.  We braved the hot sun and waited in line to board the Centennial Wheel, a recently redesigned Ferris wheel that now sports large enclosed gondola cars with huge windows providing magnificent city views.  We even bought copies of the corny tourist-rooking photo taken of us just before we boarded.  After lunch at a casual spot on the pier, we hopped on a shuttle bus to Michigan Avenue.  It dropped us off close to our destination:  the Michigan Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River, where we’d take the renowned 90-minute architectural boat tour.

We indulged in treats at the Ghirardelli Square outpost in the Wrigley Building as we gazed at the historic Tribune Tower. Then we boarded the “First Lady” cruise to see the notable architecture along the Chicago River.  We were lucky to have a remarkably knowledgeable tour guide associated with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

We marveled at the great architecture and the many stories about the tall buildings sited along the riverfront.  But there was one enormous blot on the riverscape:  a sleek 92-story building, so shiny it reflects the Chicago skyline on its stunning glass façade.  Unfortunately, the outward appearance of this otherwise beautiful building is sullied by the enormous name erected at the very top in enormous capital letters:  T—-P.

This building looms so large, and in such a prominent location along the river (on the former site of the Chicago Sun-Times plaza, where my high school choir once sang Christmas carols), that the name at the top infuriated me.  Weren’t the residents of Chicago, who voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (she won over 83% of the votes in Chicago, while her opponent squeaked out 12%), appalled that they must confront this name on a regular basis?  Although a few mild protests have been mounted, the name remains.  But take heart.  The Chicago Tribune reported on May 30 that the real-estate firm advertising space in the building has chosen to downplay the name: Its brand-new brochure doesn’t even mention it.  Others avoiding any connection with the name include the building’s architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who refer to it by its address, not its name, on the firm’s website.

Still, if I lived in Chicago, I’d go further than that.  I’d organize an effort to remove that name from everyone’s sight.  I really would.

When we left the boat, we speedily walked south on Michigan Avenue, headed for Millennium Park and our dinner reservation at Gage, a gastropub directly across from the park.  After a great meal celebrating Mary’s birthday, complete with cake and candles, we made a bee-line for the park and its now-famous “Bean.”  After a good look around the park, we made our way back to Navy Pier to collect our car and drive back to our hotel.

Before heading to O’Hare for our return home, we managed to squeeze in encounters with several wonderful old friends and a few family members, along with a sentimental return to a favorite Evanston restaurant, Olive Mountain.

Did I forget to mention that we hit extraordinarily beautiful weather?  Sunshine and temperatures in the 70s reminded us of Bay Area weather, not the kind of weather we’d managed to survive in Chicago year after year.  We made sure to let the kids know that this weather was not typical for Chicago!

In short, you can go home again.  Not to make it your home again.  But to spend a delightful weekend visiting old haunts and new attractions.  Sharing the experience with good friends and loved ones makes it even better.

 

 

 

“One” Small Step for Humankind

Eliminating gender-bias in the English language has been a preoccupation of mine for many years.  During the 1980s, I came up with an idea that I believed would be a useful remedy for one kind of gender-bias rampant in English nouns.

My hopes that this idea would gain wide acceptance escalated when the Chicago Tribune in 1986 published a piece I wrote that advocated this change.

But despite my hopes that this idea would catch on (and although a number of people told me how much they liked it), it went nowhere.  During the intervening 27 years, everyone (including me) has moved on and dealt with this issue in some other way.  But I still think my idea is a good one.  Here’s why.

Back in 1986, I observed that few people were concerned with gender-bias in our language. Those who preferred gender-free language were using “person” instead of “man,” and “he or she” instead of “he” alone, and pretty much leaving it at that.  Others had refused to make even those substitutions and continued to use traditional parlance, much of which had an undeniable male bias.

Maybe the underlying problem was sexism, pure and simple.  But I preferred to have a more generous view and came up with another conclusion.

The fundamental question, then and now:  Why do so many people continue to use words like “man” to mean men and women?  I think I know the answer.  The persistent use of the word “man” and all of the words that use “man” as a suffix—policeman, fireman, repairman, deliveryman, Congressman, and all the rest—can be blamed on a simple fact:  It’s easier to say “man” than to say “person” or any other word or suffix of more than one syllable.

Why haven’t words like “Congressperson” caught on?   Because it’s easier to say “Congressman.”  (I’d be satisfied with “Member of Congress,” like “Member of Parliament” in the U.K., but that hasn’t caught on either.)

Let’s face it.  Even the most dedicated feminists among us would prefer to say mailman instead of mail carrier or repairman instead of repairperson–IF the shorter versions were gender-neutral–because they’re easier to say.  But any word that includes the suffix “man” cannot be gender-neutral.

People can tell me that “man” includes both men and women until their faces turn blue, but I don’t believe it for one second.  Why?  Because the word “man” conjures up the image of a man.  Just think back to your childhood.  Do you remember when you were being taught the meanings of the most basic words?  Who did your parents point to when they said the word “man”?  A woman?  C’mon!  All of us were taught that “man” means a man, not a woman.  No wonder we’re confused a few years later when we encounter writing or speech using “man” that purports to mean both men and women.

It’s almost impossible to say “businessman” and envision a woman.  The same goes for every other word using the suffix “man.”  But if we balk at such infelicitous terms as “businessperson,” what substitutes can we use?

I propose using the suffix “one.”  This suffix is commonly used as part of our everyday speech.  Think of the words “anyone,” “everyone,” “someone,” and “no one.”  No one quibbles about those.  On the contrary, the use of “anyman” or “everyman” would be comical (they sound downright medieval to me).  Why not, then, extend use of the suffix “one” to other words where we have traditionally used “man”?

In recent years, some gender-neutral terms, like “firefighter,” have caught on, and for that I’m grateful.  But many people still cling to the old descriptions, like policeman and Congressman.  If we adopted my proposal, the word “policeman” could become “police-one.”  “Congressman” could become “Congress-one.”  (I’ve added a hyphen for clarity until people become accustomed to the new usage, but that hyphen could disappear as the usage became second-nature.)  Adding “one” instead of “man” or “person” is both gender-neutral and easy to say.

These new words sound strange at first (and in print they look even stranger, especially if we omit the hyphen).  But after you use “one” a few times, it begins to trip off your tongue as easily as “man” because, like “man,” it’s only one syllable.  It also doesn’t sound very different from “man” (“person” does), and you don’t have to stop to think about which suffix to use every time you want to describe someone.  Instead of trying to remember “mail carrier” and “police officer,” you could just use “one” for all of them.

Why don’t you try it?  Try saying mail-one, police-one, sports-one, Congress-one.  Even…snow-one!  It might take a bit of getting used to, but I think it could work.

In my view, it’s never too late to do the right thing.  So even though we’ve come up with ways to get around sexist language, using awkward words like “spokesperson,” it’s not too late to make things even better.

Do you agree with me that we should stop using language that excludes half of humanity?  If you do, we could try this new approach.  If each of us tries it, maybe we can start a trend that changes the English language in this small but important way.

Why don’t we do it?  Let’s be bold.  Let’s target one day to try this experiment in gender-free language and see what happens.  I propose trying it on the first day of the first month of 2014.

Please join me.  On January 1, 2014, let’s try using this short and easy way to include absolutely everyone.