Saturday, November 29, 2008


When I was growing up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, some of my favorite activities were breaking into private garages and just looking around, riding my bike “all the way” to Damen Avenue, two whole miles from home, and prowling the neighborhood searching for discarded treasures left in the alleys.

One of my favorite alleys was behind a doctor’s office on Fullerton Parkway, just west of Clark Street. My brothers and I would go there to find used hypodermic needles, medical supplies and, occasionally, dental samples. Once we found a whole box of false teeth. But my best discovery was in the alley that ran between Orchard and Burling Streets in the 2200 block. That alley was called, pretentiously, Pearl Court. And it was filthy.

When I was in 4th grade, I was in a split classroom. Most of the kids were 5th graders, and they had put the five highest achieving 4th graders, of which I was one, in that class. We 4th graders sat in the far row on the left side of the room. I liked the 5th graders. Some of the older girls and I hung out together. I wasn’t interested in boys yet, but there was one 5th grade boy who I thought was the cleverest guy in the whole school, and it annoyed me that he didn’t acknowledge my existence.

Our teacher, Miss O, had a game she would play with us, whereby one student would throw out a noun and the next one in line had to come up with a word beginning with the last letter of that noun. So, if you said glass, the next kid would say shin, then net, then something starting with “t”, etc. Not exactly rocket science, but it passed the time. This kid Robin always picked a noun with a silent letter at the end. Thumb. Comb. Face. He was insolent and slick and I wanted him to notice me.

I had not yet figured out that boys like girls to be pretty and nice rather than smart. If I had known that, I would have combed my hair every day instead of once a week, wore nice clothes, boned up on manners and this incident never would have occurred. It was the spring of 1967 when I came up with a plan. Spring was when they baited Pearl Court with Red Squill and Warfarin, and every few days you’d see a dead rat lying there. Many of them were decomposing and maggot-eaten but one day I found one in perfect condition. I picked up that rat by the tail and put it in a shoebox. I took it to my grandmother’s house, the back yard of which adjoined Pearl Court, wrapped the box with brightly colored paper and tied it with a shiny ribbon. I then took it over to Robin’s house a block away. He wasn’t home, but his older sister was outside with some of her friends.

“Hi, Debbie,” I said in as casual a tone as I could muster, “I have a present for Robin. Please give it to him and make sure you tell him it’s from me.”

The next day in school he approached me, grinning like a jackal, and spoke his first, but not last words to me.

“Thanks for the present!”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Drugs and Death

Just about everybody I know has attempted suicide at least once. But few attempts have been more pathetic than mine. Here’s the story.

In February, 1997 I went for a dental checkup and even though it was normal I had a bad feeling about it. Later on that night one of my molars started hurting. I tried to ignore it but it got progressively worse. I took some aspirin and that helped. I kept taking aspirin, even after the dentist told me to take Aleve, which did no good, then Tylenol, which also was no help. It got to the point that I was taking 12 aspirins a day. I told my friend Peter and he told me to stop it, because too much aspirin would make me bleed internally and die.


I went back to the dentist twice and he couldn’t find any reason why my tooth hurt. No infection, no cavity, no nothing. I decided to kill myself because I just couldn’t stand it. I figured either I would die now in horrible pain or die later in horrible pain from the overdose of aspirin, so I might as well get it over with.

My plan was to stand outside in nothing but a night shirt and freeze myself to death. March in Chicago is one cold, nasty month and so I had my pick of days to do the deed. One evening I waited until it was dark enough so that I wouldn’t be noticed and went outside wearing the night shirt and waited to die. However, I only lasted about 5 minutes. I had to go back inside…because I was too cold!!!

The next day, having run out of bright ideas on how to kill myself, I called my dentist and demanded morphine. He said no.

However, the story has a happy ending. My dentist figured out what the problem was and, upon realizing I was seriously in pain, prescribed Tylenol with codeine. That kept me in a good mood until he could do a root canal.

The following year I taught myself to play the accordion and my suicidal days were over.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hot Dog

The year: 1966. The crime: Attempted waste with an edible weapon.

When I was a kid I hated all food except candy and fish. One of my least favorite foods was hot dogs. They tasted icky and they were rubbery. The only way my poor mom could get me to eat hot dogs without whining was to cut them into “pennies” and serve them in Campbell’s Bean With Bacon Soup. Calling a hot dog a penny gave it a grace it could never achieve on its own. Those guts and eyeballs masquerading as food became legal tender. My instincts of greed trumped the disgust of the taste buds: yum!

When my mom served hot dogs on a chilly fall night in 1966 I had a brain flash. During the usual distracting family conversation and arguments I surreptitiously I wrapped that offensive cylinder in a napkin, then lodged it in the narrow ledge that ran along the underside of the kitchen table. After everyone had retired for the night, I transferred the offending sausage to the bowels of the pantry, still wrapped in the napkin. Game over, I was out of there.

Fast forward to a chilly spring mid-day in 1967.

Like all 4th graders, I considered myself one of the “cool” kids, despite the fact that I was obviously a nerd. The “cool” kids walked to school, the “pathetic” ones got driven. The “losers” ate lunch at school. We “cool” kids got to go home for lunch. One day I was enjoying lunch at home and Mom asked me what I was eating. I looked at her as if she had asked me if I would like a cigarette with my lunch and said, “It’s Bean With Bacon Soup with hot dog pennies!” She countered, through her clenched teeth,


Game over. Mom: One. Daughter: Zero.