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 daurrillibrary: daurril: My Life and Times (1960-1965)


 

Life and Times (1960-1965), 23 to 28 years old: 

 

This period covers my return to pre-military social life in the neighborhood,

and my effort to find either a career or simply employment perhaps consistent with my electronics training.

 

I will start with what I remember about the jobs I had, which usually alternated between six month attempts to be some kind of clerk or some menial electrical tech. And of course there bouts of total unemployment, pure & simple.

 

For a short time I did general liability work at Kemper Insurance, and for a while I handled Accounts Payable at Stewart-Warner. Technical opportunities came around, as an installer with Functional Music, in product testing at GM Labs (no connection to General Motors), as an Electronics Instructor at DeVry (in 1963 – even on the day Kennedy was killed), and as a Tab equipment repairman with IBM. Neither of the latter really got off the ground. While DeVry could accept the USAF experience, it would not do when they found while I was incidentally teaching Algebra that I had no college.

 

Image result for rick’s café américainThe IBM thing might have succeeded if I had been qualified to train in 1964 on their new transistor-driven computers. That training was however reserved for folk who had long ago finished what I now should have begun. But Rochester (MN) soon discovered that mastery of tab equipment’s relay & cam control sequences (especially on the 026 keypunch) was beyond me. The factory school was nevertheless fun while it lasted – once while belting out tunes from the IBM songbook, one group singing the Anthem was challenged by another part of the same group singing Dixie - similar to the contra musical at Rick’s Café Americain. Also got to observe the terminals in a mainframe backplane selectively wirewrapped from punched-card instructions flowing thru the read station of (yes) a keypunch.                      

 

Having to abandon my company-provided little home, I could not seriously leave the gin & frozen OJ behind. Packaging & consuming them together, on one bright sunny sad winter day I just followed the Mississippi in my little blue Chevy to Galena, and then east across the top of Illinois to Chicago.

 

I finally have to recall the first of my two employments with Presbyterian – St Luke’s, this time notably unrelated to computers. Though I don’t recall the job’s exact title, it ostensibly had to do with happy-side delivery – patients, flowers, etc. Whatever the specified costume might have been, I usually wore a pharmacist’s jacket and handled darker and less remunerative objects – patients for instance to pre-op surgeries or to the morgue. One of the latter transports was that of an aged Black man from the indigent section, with an ugly cancer visibly growing out of his chest, and a huge smile on his face. Absolutely memorable.

 

Cook County Hospital.jpgLocated with the Cook County Hospital on the grounds of Chicago’s west-side Medical Center (noticed perhaps in Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive), St Luke’s shared the Center with Northwestern’s School of Medicine and the County Morgue. While cruising Northwestern one day I came upon a notice that their class in Gross Pathology was forthcoming in the morgue the next day at noon. Spiffed up in my pharmacy jacket, I took a front row seat in the County’s rickety old auditorium. That day’s object of interest was a forty-something year old Black lady, who just that morning had died from blood-poisoning.

 

Students began to unravel the corpse. Parts were passed through the audience for their inspection, all being returned to the table just below me. Shortly thereafter, a grand old master of medicine proceeded to tell us what happened. It seems this woman when much younger had had abdominal surgeries. In one of these, a section of her colon healed to her abdominal wall, not affecting the passage of its contents for years. Then recently that section spun around the pivot, trapping its contents. X-rays were taken, but the attending intern had no idea what he was looking at, and simply waited for the problem to go away. Content having nowhere to go, the woman died. As the theater emptied, the overworked intern showed up. The reigning pathologist briefly repeated his findings on a chalkboard, showing our young hero which way he went, and which way he might have gone. Presumably his instruction not wasted.

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The notion of extending my airborne career in technology may only have been an optimistic attempt to justify time wasted outside the main stream of my life, which continued to be on the ground in Chicago. A cautious approach prior to enlistment would have been to wait and see if I really would be drafted into the Army – an opportunity not given anyone I actually knew.

 

Several of my childhood friends had in the meantime either married or (more likely) were just playing house. Bobbie had a child with Kathy Anderson, and Maxie provided a brother to Cynthia Durbahn’s young daughter. His brother Jay sired Andrea with Genna. Sally Kennedy’s family was growing (now with Ralph #2), and her sister Julie had just become (unproductively) a Poole. Step-brother Tom was somewhere between Carol Fields and (a different) Kathy – I forget the order. And so on.

 

If I couldn’t find love on my own, it came to me. Living at the time at 1638 Wells Street, I was visited by Anderson and her married friend Lorrie Ritterford. They soon figured out only one of them was going to stay – I’m not sure who decided which it was going to be. Kathy temporarily became my companion – a situation we might call, at the least, untenable. There were some later bad feelings and a nearly confrontational moment with brother John. Shortly thereafter, Kathy just disappeared from our lives – or at least mine. But while we all rushed to marginalize the mother of Mr. Hannah’s child (and perhaps even one of mine), upon reflection she appears to have been much braver and stronger than we were willing to concede at the time.

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In any case while I would in future have my own further opportunities to play house, the possibility of a family of my own seems to have been postponed indefinitely. So I continue this narrative somewhat in awe of folk I knew that did.

 

While Dick & Margaret Kennedy had no biological offspring in common, they parented the several youngsters already mentioned (and eventually considerably involved) in my life – Sally, Julie, and Tom. The family’s ongoing principle task (parents & children, cousins & husbands) was to create each year’s Christmas windows for the Harris Bank. Pere Dick might also design other things, like a bistro on Walton Street called the Coq de la Rue. Sally’s second Ralph (Trimnell, not Tentadue) sculpted and did all the Harris’ animated figures. Jullie Poole’s first husband also helped.

 

While rarely any part of the elder Kennedy’s domestic scene, I often celebrated small adventures with the Trimnells. Sometime around when I worked for IBM, I babysat Carol Fields’ house & a Weimaraner (named ‘Ivan’ after a previous boyfriend), while she and Tom went to Mexico. (Leaving for there the morning after the romantically competitive little Danny Hidalgo popped the caps on a few of Tom's front teeth.)

 

Ivan & I readily accepted our new assignments. Lincoln Park was just a few blocks away, in the section where the park itself was on low ground, mostly surrounded by a high ridge. Taken off his leash, Ivan would travel the ridge at his own somewhat frantic pace, all the while apparently keeping an eye on me below. With no recall effort on my part, when I decided to go home he was right back alongside me. Carol also had a wonderful collection of LPs. Although not much skilled in reading music, I purchased a copy of Beethoven’s miniaturized scores and managed to finish reading Eroica just as the music stopped – after only two weeks of leisurely study.

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Ronnie (now Ron) Lusker surfaced, living on Mohawk Street in a remarkably renovated house featuring his own interior design. While possessing no Bachelor’s, he seems to have taken any number of U/I courses at the Pier, and at the Art Institute’s Goodman Theater. Our mothers occasionally socialized, probably thinking competitively of their sons. Ron’s friend at the time was Donna Pomper. He would go on to marry an extremely attractive ex-nun named Marylyn, and I would eventually and briefly hook up with Donna.

 

Also from Holy Name’s grammar school, I would occasionally see the Spicuzza brothers, Joe & Wayne. I went so far as to consider the possibility of some small school reunion, visiting with that intent F Volini, P.J. Rogers, and Harold Keil. Widower Frank had become a plumber in South Chicago, parenting yet another child with yet another beautiful Catholic wife. Pat was enjoying retirement as a former Wells High history teacher. Pretty Harold confided to me that he thought my 8th grade talk on the atom constituted a “happening” – wonderful to hear. But there never was a reunion, all of us in the same place.

 

One of the few people from the Corner still in my company was Gayle Cummings. By now his married sister Barbara and I were regularly intimate. His wife Micki (the mother of Cliffy, his only son) had recently been murdered by a frequent visitor to their home, & Gayle was actively involved in that person’s capture. Now between wives, he and I would commiserate at his home. We soon became comfortable there according to our own dress code, smoking grass and watching his collection of white mice scamper the candle-lit walls at night in pursuit of their mother. A country boy, his love of nature extended to furnishing & cultivating a fine aquarium. His life picked up again when he met a feisty little redhead named Mary. An open relationship, we were occasionally found all naked together in the very same bed. A big help to me on many occasions, he retired to Arkansas where (as of 2013) he happily grows potatoes.

 

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My employment at GM Labs provided the only people entirely new to my life, Gene & Betty Stewart. This ‘GM’ provided slide projectors to the civilian market, and electro-mechanical choppers to the AEC. Gene was a machinist, and I was employed to destructively test the choppers. If one happened to fail, all production stopped until some likely fix was effected – I managed the former only once, and it was a week’s paid vacation for all of us. Occasionally after work, Gene & I might carouse at his mistress Angie’s tavern, or go to his home to enjoy the company of his pretty wife Betty & their young children – Ronnie, Lisa, Stevie, & Torie.

 

April 4th, 1968. Martin Luther King is assassinated, and Chicago gears up for total race war. White auto trunks are standing open outside the gun stores, and I need to get from the Stewart’s West Side home back to the Near North. My cab driver is Black, and we are both cool. East bound on North Avenue, we get to the six-way intersection at Halsted St. There is a car stopped for its light on a side street, with several Cabrini Blacks beating it with various objects. It will not move because the light is red. We get our green, and proceed in practically total disbelief at some folk’s ability to suffer destruction, bound only by a traffic law.

 

Some time after I took residence at the State Street location abundantly described in the next chapter, the Stewarts moved to Gene’s original home town, Oak Hill, West VA. It was a whole new life for Gene’s school-age kids – outdoors as they never knew it in Chicago. I visited the family there, several times. Gene was an avid gun as well as flying enthusiast. We would follow the standard practice of shooting up abandoned derelict cars. Loved hollowpoint SuperVel. Ordinary 38-caliber ammunition could barely penetrate one panel of a car door, SuperVel would pass thru both doors with ease. I purchased two weapons from him for my own recreation: a MAC Mle 1950 (MAB: French officer’s 9-round sidepiece) and a beautiful Walther P38.

 

On another visit he took me up for one of his flying lessons. The weather was expected to be difficult, so this time he was never at the controls. But I got see West Virginia from a low-flying aircraft – with its hills mined out for coal, it was like flying over the surface of the Moon. Returning, crosswinds made the airport on top of this hill in Beckley seem unapproachable. Our pilot cranked and trimmed his aircraft to some unbelievable flight posture, and landing all three wheels touched the ground at precisely the same moment. Back inside the airport, private pilots scrambled to accommodate passengers – commercial carriers would not fly.

 

Gene’s pilot later offered to give me sufficient instruction to solo in one of his craft, after doing touch-and-go’s till I got it right.

For $50. Poised to return to Chicago, I was just about out of money, and couldn’t do it. Chance of a lifetime.

  

 

Last update on 10-May-2017 at 1:58 PM.