Some Chicago Parks—The Sixties

—for J.F.L., R.R. and R.R.

A place is a place
leading to another,
back and forth
through time and space.

Hardly an upscale neighborhood, Gage Park
was working class, mostly Poles and Irish,
Bohemians and Balts—all Catholic,
a mix of immigrant generations.
We sat and stood together in the pews
of Saint Clare’s of Montefalco, listened
and responded to the Latin mass, breathed
in the incense, took communion, saw robes
change colors through the seasons of the Church.

No place is just a place, unconnected
to all other “places.” Gage Park’s eastern
edge was Western Avenue—we were told,
the longest street in the world, or maybe
in Chicago, running twenty-three miles
north and south. Our ten blocks chock full of used
car dealers—and the Continental Can
Company, The Colony coffee shop,
a mom-and-pop grocery on 56th
where you asked for cans of peas, soup, baked beans
off the wooden shelves behind the counter.

On two memorable family Sunday
outings, we travelled the length of Western—
once north, once south—me driving a good chunk,
new fifteen-year-old’s learner’s permit snug
behind my wallet’s clear plastic window,
our new (for us) ‘57 Plymouth
Satellite perfectly adequate to
the scores of traffic lights.
                                             So if all roads
lead to Rome, all streets must lead to those roads,
and then from Rome they all lead back to us,
ceaselessly coming and going as we
are, back again to 56th and Campbell—
for a while.

A misterium
the space-time

               And Gage Bowl, 62 lanes (!)
that thundered and clashed like Valhalla when,
escaping from Saturday morning school
(Lithuanian) we marched down the dark side-
tunnel entrance. Ping and scratch of Zippos
as we lit up our Lucky Strikes, Camels,
prepping for a quick game of pool before
we returned for the inevitable
lessons on our homeland’s former greatness,
how Grand Duke Algirdas once pounded on
the gates of Moscow in 1309,
and the borders once, oh once, long ago,
reached to the very edge of the Black Sea,
how we were a nation of songs and thus
must learn those songs all steeped in grief of war
and loss and hopeless waiting.

Home—where is it,
that place of rest,
of peace, of
perfect surfeit?

and Campbell, home base, 1960 to
1964, fifteen to nineteen,
crucial years—last two of high school, first two
of college—first loves, first true friends who still
remain today though not as often seen—
those still alive, that is—and those gone still
here somehow in dreams, in memory, felt
presence, shades with substance—as we all are.

Park: an “enclosed
preserve for beasts;
a wood or heath”;
a place to play.

So many “Parks” in Chicago—Hyde, North,
Lincoln, Brighton, Marquette, Evergreen… all
attempts to corral Nature, I suppose,
or “allow it,” husband and manage it.
Flash forward: the Morton Arboretum’s
2010 tree census’ results revealed
one-hundred-and-forty-two-thousand trees
(bless each and every one of them, I say)
in the Chicago area, the most
common of which are the European
buckthorn, green ash, boxelder, black cherry,
and American elm. In the ‘60s
I seem to remember shady oaks, too,
and tail-twitching squirrels spiraling up trunks,
gamboling, cavorting along the long
limbs… and the occasional feral cat
getting by like a Southside survivor.

“Life as it is
the only teacher.
Life as it is
the only teacher”

What else did Gage Park boast of? Everything
you’d need for the most ordinary of
daily lives: A high school, Gertie’s malt-shop-
teen-hangout, a shopping center (no strip
malls then), Polo’s liquor store, GrocerLand,
Walgreens, laundromat, Wally the barber’s
barbershop. And we had two good-sized pools—
regular and kiddie’s wading, neither
of which I ever tried, having had my
fill of chlorine on the Brother Rice High
swimming team.

The young male
preens his colors,
hides his dolors.
He must not fail.

                              Two CTA transfers and
forty-five minutes south of Gage was that
other Park I visited daily for
two years: upscale, suburban Evergreen,
hunert-and-first sout Pulaski, home of
the Crusaders (yikes, not a name for our
post-modern age!). During the winter of our
last year, afflicted by senioritis,
Fred Kamlicek and I would meet just past
79th and Western for coffee
and cigarettes at the-name-escapes-me
cafe, draped in our wino coats, sporting
farcical Tyrolean fedoras,
little brushes sticking up out of our
hat bands like frisky animal tails. What
were we thinking? Ah, adolescence, ah
high school…. (Fred, we missed you at the 50th).

To digress
is to confess
under stress—
with finesse?

Do I digress?—sort of. Our Park also
had basketball half-courts, sand boxes, and
playground equipment: the puke-inducing,
whirling merry-go-round, the slide’s frying-
pan heat in summer. (I must confess, Rick
my younger brother-in-law reminded
me of these, as I was “too old” by then
for such childish playthings and am really
remembering them from an earlier
Park—Stevens Preserve—Sydney, Australia
where we wildly kicked and chased a soccer
ball in our bare feet).

Loud history,
silent eternity
have no difficulty
coexisting absurdly.

                              Hyde Park is where we
intellectual wannabes sojourned as
freshmen from the unassuming U. of
I. at Navy Pier: “reverse slumming” we’d
say to each other, in love with the faux
medieval U. of Chicago campus,
all ivy and gargoyles, dark alleys and
mini-quads; professors and scientists
who traced lineages to Kant and Hegel,
Einstein, Fermi and The Bomb; great parties
electric with corduroy, mesh stockings,
black, tight turtlenecks, haze of smoke and booze.
It was all half-beatnik, before the next
shift to quasi-hippiedom. Through black-framed
glasses, I ogled the beauty of those
graduate student women, who knew things
about The Holy Roman Empire and
zygotes, Marx and the New Criticism,
quantum mechanics and anapestic

               When, in his black MGA,
Paul Jonusaitis, himself a native
of Marquette Park, slid around a corner
(perfect four-wheel drift, he claimed) late one night,
bumped the curb and came to rest in front of
The Medici on 57th Street,
we were ecstatic, having found our place,
our refuge, our center of sophistic
communication and intellectual
badinage, plus it introduced us to
espresso and exotic tea—Constant
Comment, Darjeeling, Oolong—fueling our
debates and discussions. And it was there
in 1963 we gathered to
mourn and heal and try to make sense of Jack
Kennedy’s assassination. Released
from our classes at The Pier, we returned
home to the Southside in shock on the “L,”
where some wept and some sat stunned, unconsoled
by the train’s normally rocking lull.
The next day, on our tiny black-and-white
TVs, some of us saw Jack Ruby live
shoot Lee Harvey Oswald dead.

Youth cares not
for decorum,
just takes what’s
wanted as its lot.

                                                            Soon though,
Josh Galas went right on with picking us
up early mornings from our various
corners in Marquette Park, Gage Park, Brighton
Park, sometimes in his dentist father’s black
Cadillac, eventually in his own
nifty Corvair with the “four on the floor.”
Once, tooling down Lake Shore Drive in the Caddy,
fifty miles per hour, jam-packed with eight
or nine of us—on any given day
it might have been some combination of
Mark Kulpis, Joe Light, Jason Ruskis, and,
of course, the “girls,” often snuggled onto
our laps (oh, yeah!)—Bridget Jankus, Marcy
Jurgutis, Carol Duendas, the one
and only Jocelyn Karnauska, and
Leanne Kilpatrick—someone in the back
opened a door and slammed it shut. Without
missing a beat Josh Galas called over
his shoulder, “Who jumped out without paying

A song is a cry from the heart,
a flash of joy, a hope, a dream,
a wish for this life we live,
a gift we take and give.

               In that Caddy—or Corvair—we
heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the first of
many Beatles songs and knew in our hearts
a shift had taken place, a shift begun
the year before when Paul J played us Bob
Dylan’s first album, his one-of-a-kind
voice and picking style, that screechy mouth harp
we came to love….

Comedy tragedy,
comical tragical—
we laughed til we cried,
we cried til we laughed.

                                             October ‘63,
mere weeks before JFK’s killing, just
across from Grant Park, across from the Art
Institute, tucked back on Michigan Ave.,
in the Studebaker Theatre, we saw
Beyond the Fringe and rolled in the aisles at
Peter Cook’s deadpan Brit twit skit wit, his
news of “fresh dis-ah-sters,” “The After-
myth of War,” the boring “lump of coal” found
down in the mine, Dudley Moore’s piano
parodies—the Beethoven Sonata
the “Colonel Bogey March” with its
deferred and deferred and deferred climax
(all preserved on Youtube today).

To end is to begin again
after crossing the bardo
of intermediary time,
bardo after bardo again.

                                                            And I
was there—and perhaps you as well—and we
drank the coffee and smoked the cigarettes
in that dreamtime long gone from that dreamspace.

*All names have been changed