Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, April 02, 2006


There are occasional dead spots in the course of my rounds when appointments cancel or run short, available tasks are too complex to spread across the front seat of a Subaru, and time is a bit too short to chase down a remote workplace. Sometimes, if the weather is calm and cool enough, I'll stop by a playground and shoot some hoops. Sometimes I'm able to hunt down some necessity or accessory on the list. Most times though, the ideal pastime for these interludes is a chapter or two from a good book (currently The Assassins' Gate, by George Packer).

But, luxuriously for one whose country can constantly be at war without actually being in one, the subject today is not war.

During one of these pauses I found myself a quiet spot in the overflow parking area for some townhouse units (It's important where one loiters these days, as rampant paranoia will have one reported as a possible child molester or serial rapist should he remain in a stationary vehicle for too long). Alongside ran a chain link fence, nondescript to most, but I'm a pro. A closer look revealed an untypical pattern of distortion and staining. Down the line a ways was an uncharacteristically large terminal post, oddly spaced. "Of course," I realized aloud, this is the cut-off remnant of the foul post for field three of Softball City, where our company team had won a championship a long time ago.

The reading never got started as I drifted into one of those nostalgic spells that afflict the (generously self-imaged) advanced middle aged. Was it really twenty years ago? Oh, to have a chance to relive those days, when we sons and daughters of the émigrés from Chicago were THE BIG NOISE here in exurbia. While more suburban teams would road trip to our neck of the woods with their perfectly machined muscles and painstakingly accessorized sportsmen's regalia, we strutted in our spandex under torn up blue jean cut-offs and we tore the sleeves off of our T's. We kept as much score of the pitchers of beer as we did the games.

But things change most quickly along the fringes of the insanity that is American urban sprawl. In the Fifties the more affordable housing at the limit of commutability brought less fortunate Chicagoans by the tens of thousands to this area, rather than to the more costly Northbrook, Arlington Heights, Highland Park and so forth. Many of these were first or second generation Americans of Polish, German, Swedish, Italian, Irish and so many other lines of descent. Many, many more came up from the South to work in the Great Lakes industrial belt.

We were their children. This was our place, the place where we grew. The place where we built new and better neighborhoods. But the affordable houses―the small bungalows in hastily built, crowded post war tracts―remain. Soon many Mexicans would arrive, wisely shunning urban blight to settle in places where employment, however miserable, was possible. We who were once reviled as dagos, micks, krauts and polocks called them beaners and spics and wetbacks, and generally made their lives miserable, but they labored on.

We did grow, and did a pretty good job of catching up. Our sons and daughters became educators and lawyers and engineers. Maybe some day my grandchildren will come across my old 28 oz. Estwing milled framing hammer and wonder what kind of a man used to swing such a thing. Maybe they'll see the team photo from those days, with our ponytails and do-rags and Miller beer, and wonder who such people were.

And on this spot where we used to play are town homes. Starter homes for the sons and daughters of the immigrants who still man the landscaping crews and work in the factories. They are managers, construction sub-contractors, insurance agents, realtors and all of those things we became to claw our way up. Among them are Indian, Pakistani, and Indonesian Americans whose parents worked double shifts at Seven Eleven that their children might become doctors and computer engineers and bio-chemical researchers at Abbott labs. Building the latest phase of these homes are plasterers and plumbers and electricians speaking Polish and so many tongues of the old USSR.

It's a strange process, this American building. It's cruel, and unfair, and unnecessarily difficult. In this land where there is so much, far too many needs go unmet. There is much to fight for, and there is much to be cherished as hard won.

I can remember vividly what it was like to one hop a liner to this fence―can hear the voices of long gone acquaintances shouting encouragement (sometimes a bit sardonically) as I chugged toward third base. This was my time, my place. Memories remain, but times change, as the old gang's pastimes have evolved variously to golf, fishing, and riding Harleys.

But some time ago my little field of dreams became an American dream for a few of those who have followed. This seems expedient to me.

This seems very American.


At 5:03 PM, Blogger JD said...

that was very very good...

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Bullock said...

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