Mount Baldy


Mount Baldy, Michigan City, Indiana

I went to Mount Baldy last Sunday just for old times’ sake. Jim, Vito, and I went to Mount Baldy regularly when we were younger. Jim was very familiar with this part of Indiana since he grew up in Hammond. Whenever he was bored, he would stop by my house unannounced and say, “Let’s go for a ride!” There was no need to ask where because we always ended up in Indiana somewhere. I always loved Indiana ever since I attended Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson. For a while there, I seriously considered moving to Indiana. So, I didn’t mind too much whenever we took a road trip to Indiana. We often went to Mount Baldy and its beach just for the fun of it. We never actually went in the water, though.

When I went last Sunday with Beata, we had a hard time finding a parking space at Mount Baldy. Jim, Vito, and I never had trouble finding parking before. I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I remembered! Jim, Vito, and I never went to Mount Baldy during the summer, during the tourist, beach-going, sun-tanning season. We never kept a regular schedule like normal people.  We always went late at night or long after beach weather had passed. Now that I think of it, we were often the only ones on the beach!

We would cruise along Lake Michigan with no particular destination or agenda. We just loved driving! Occasionally, when we were old enough to drink, we would stop for a beer at a bar that Jim discovered near Mount Baldy. Jim loved discovering new places of interest and then taking us there. I don’t know about Vito, but I wasn’t so excited about these places. But I liked to humor Jim because we did have fun on our road trips!

We often went to the beach long after the beaches were closed. We even went in the winter. One extremely cold winter, we went to the beach at Beverly Shores.  Danger signs were posted to warn everyone to keep off the ice. Those warning signs only work for normal, moderately sane people. To us, they were an open invitation to go on the ice as far as we could go. The smooth sheets of ice were broken up by warm waves of water and then frozen so they looked like waves that froze as they approached the shore. They looked dangerous and inviting all at once. As I recall, Jim and I went out on the frozen waves, but Vito urged us not to go so far. Despite Vito’s cautious approach, he was right behind us. I suppose he did this as a precaution, If the ice cracked and swallowed up Jim or me, Vito could safely go back to shore. Since the weather had been so cold, we went out pretty far out on the ice, far from the shore. We kept going until we could hear the ice cracking under our feet. So, we turned back and headed to the beach. Hey, we weren’t totally insane!

Dr. D. carrying his son up Mount Baldy way back in 1990.

We really had fun on our last road trip to Mount Baldy. I was home alone with my son at home in Bridgeport. Jim and Vito unexpectedly showed up early one Saturday morning. They wanted to go to Mount Baldy! But I had to go to work later that day! What about my son? They insisted that I take my son with me and that we would be back in time for me to go to work. I resisted with all my might. Finally, after deep determination and exertion of my strong will, I gave in. I was able to resist a whole minute before I agreed to go with Jim and Vito to Mount Baldy for old times’ sake. Little did we realize that this would be our last trip together to Mount Baldy.

Vito, as usual, brought his camera. He brought his camera everywhere, or so it seemed. I don’t know about Jim, but I found Vito’s camera very annoying back then. Now that I look back, I’m thankful that he took so many pictures to document our past good times!

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Mr. Macala


Mr. Macala, 1976 Gage Park High School Yearbook.

When I think of influential people in my life, I don’t often think of teachers. Some teachers merely teach, but others offer valuable lessons that don’t sink in until much later in life. So when I think back to influential teachers like Sister Laverne at Holy Cross School and Enrico Mordini at Divine Heart Seminary, I also recall Robert Macala and would like to add him to my list of influential teachers. Whenever I recall him, it’s as Mr. Macala, as we were taught to address our teachers in high school.

I met Mr. Macala at Gage Park High School because he took my picture for the chess team and when I won a trophy at a chess tournament at the La Salle Hotel in downtown Chicago. I’m not sure how he found out that I had won the trophy, but he came looking for me with his camera and took a picture of me with the trophy. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that he called two girls walking in the hallway to come in and pose with me for another picture. I suppose to give me this aura of being a sexy chess player. I may just be imagining some of the details about the girls as I recall the incident. But it seems so real now as I imagine it. Forgive me if I have embellished the story. Lately, I’ve been recalling events that I have never experienced!

Anyway, Mr. Macala asked me to write a short description about myself and about the chess tournament and he would then publish the picture in the school newspaper. He asked me to write this with such great confidence that I would do it immediately. He just assumed that I was capable of such a simple assignment. But, alas, I never wrote the brief description and my picture never appeared in the school newspaper. He overestimated my capabilities, but I liked the fact that he truly believed I could do it.

I met Mr. Macala again in the summer of 1975 when I attended summer school at Kelly High School and he was the English teacher. I must admit that I had a very bad attitude that summer. I had just failed English in my senior year, so I didn’t graduate. I had to make up the English class during the summer. I truly believed my life was over. FML! That’s how I felt, long before the acronym was even invented.

I worked midnights at Derby Foods, the peanut butter factory, and then went immediately to English class in the morning. I had failed English because I worked and I didn’t sleep enough before my midnight shift. I often fell asleep during my classes. Plus, I didn’t do any of the reading or writing assignments. And, sometimes I didn’t show up to class. Was that any reason to fail me? Oh, yes, I also failed to write the required term paper!

So, I was greatly relieved in summer school when Mr. Macala announced on the first day of class that we wouldn’t have to write a term paper. The whole class breathed a collective sigh of relief! Perhaps the class wouldn’t be so bad after all. I don’t recall all the details about what was taught in class. But I do remember how Mr. Macala kept the class’s attention by straying from the lesson. He did teach us English, even though I don’t remember exactly what, and he also gave us writing assignments. I still have a book report and a couple of assignments that I wrote for Mr. Macala. I was so happy with the class that I actually saved some of the assignments instead of throwing them away as I did with all my other high school classes. Occasionally, he read student papers aloud and I was surprised he read mine. The assignment was to write a letter that you would like to receive. I tried to be funny and apparently he thought it was funny because he read it to the class. No one had ever read my writing to the class in high school before.

What I remember most are the lessons that were not part of the curriculum. He told us stories to entertain us. Some were works in progress, I’m sure, that he was perfecting for future use. He once told us a mystery story. “It was a hot summer day. We ate some apple pie, but there was still once slice left in the pan. We put the pie pan away. I took a nap and when I woke up–the last slice of pie was gone! I never did figure out what happened to it!” Perhaps this doesn’t sound like much of a mystery story to you, gentle reader, but Mr. Macala had a way of telling stories that kept you hanging on his every word.

The story that fascinated me the most was the one about how he started a backgammon club. He loved to play backgammon. Someone suggested that he start a backgammon club. So he put a flyer up at the local supermarkets asking backgammon players to send money to him to join a backgammon club. He was surprised when many people actually sent him money to join. He had to actually follow through with the club. Soon, he was holding backgammon tournaments with prize money. This proved to be a very profitable venture. I learned a very valuable lesson about capitalism, but I had never had the initiative to do anything comparable. I didn’t capitalize on this knowledge.

He also inspired me academically. He told us he wasn’t a very good student in high school, but discovered he was intelligent once he started college. I would remember this fact years later when I contemplated going back to school. I never thought I was a good student either. Ever! I recalled his words when I went back to school. I told myself to do all the homework for all the classes and study for the exams. My goal was to try to get at least a C in every course. Once I applied myself, I discovered that I was a much better student that I had thought. Eventually, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Thanks in part to Mr. Macala’s story of his student days.

After high school, I lost track of him. Jim, Vito, and I often remembered Mr. Macala. We all agreed that he was a little wild and crazy. But that’s what appealed to me about him. He was intelligent and a little eccentric. One Saturday night, Jim, Vito, and I were on Rush Street for a night on the town. Picking up girls, the way we always did. That was our joke. Picking up girls the way we always did. Actually, we weren’t very good at picking up girls at all. On Saturday night, one of us would ask, “What do you want to do tonight?’ “I don’t know” “Why don’t we pick up girls!” “Yeah! Let’s pick up girls. Like we always do!” We never managed to pick up even one girl! If a girl fell unconscious in front us, we couldn’t pick her up. Not even if we all lifted at once.

Anyway, we were on Rush Street picking up girls as per usual. Suddenly, we see a man standing at the entrance of a night club, actually called a disco back then. This man was flirting with every woman who walked by. He made comments to every passerby. He started telling us something when we approached him. We all recognized him immediately. “Hi, Mr. Macala!’ We were surprised to see him there. Now that I think back, it makes perfect sense that he’d be there!

Well, of all the teachers who greatly influenced me, Mr. Macala is the only with whom I still communicate. In fact, we are friends on Facebook! He now lives in Florida and he asks me questions about Spanish all the time. The roles seem to have reversed.

Friends


Dr. D. in Michigan City, Indiana

When you reach a certain age (Yes, my age!), you tend to look back to the past more often than you look forward to the future. I always recall my friends and some of our adventures.

I was going through my old pictures when I saw this picture of me. My friend Vito took this picture of me. Vito, the photographer who claims he doesn’t like posed pictures, asked me to pose for this picture. So I did.

Back then, Vito took his camera everywhere and I always found it annoying. Now when I look through my old pictures I realize that I have many pictures of me with my friends and family that Vito took and later gave to me  unexpectedly. Of course, I now truly believe the annoyance was worth it. I can’t thank Vito enough for all the pictures he gave me. If you see an old picture of me in this blog, chances are that Vito took it.

I vividly remember taking the trip in this picture. My friends, Jim and Vito, stopped by my house unexpectedly one day, without even calling me first. We used to do that to each other back then. Just stop by someone’s house unexpectedly. Actually, I always enjoyed those surprise visits. Nowadays, no one has time for such frivolous visits. We also had more fun because these visit were a bonus no one expected.

So, anyway, one day, Jim and Vito stopped by my house and demanded that I go for a ride with them. Jim enjoyed going out for a ride ever since he got his driver’s license and his own car and he would drag along anyone who couldn’t come with a good excuse not to go with him. Since I had no plans for that day, or the next week for that matter, I went along for the ride. All three of us have always been drawn to Indiana for some strange reason, so we usually went to that strange, foreign land of Indiana. Generally, we stayed near the coast of Lake Michigan, much like the Portuguese sailors who never lost sight of the African coast lest they fall off the edge of the earth.

We enjoyed the sand dunes, so we usually went to the beach at Mount Baldy. When we were old enough to drink, we went to bar that was right across the street. After that, we usually just wandered around aimlessly for the rest of day. That explains why we ended up in Michigan City in front of Jaymar, the Sans-a-belt pants outlet! And just to commemorate this momentous occasion, Vito took my picture for the sake of posterity. And a great picture such as this deserves a great dedication. So, with much fanfare a few weeks later, Vito presented me with this picture that had the following dedication on the back:

He is the man …
… the superman

AND –yes– he shops at Jaymar!

Jaymar … downtown Michigan City
the duct tape capital of the world!

MAR 87

As I recall, I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes when Vito first gave me this picture. I’m sure I even laughed when I read the inscription on the back. I recalled how we used boast about how we had wasted our time that day. However, when I saw this picture in my photographic archives (actually, it’s just a cardboard box), I was in awe of that oh so awesome trip we took. I wish I could take trips like that once again. All my friends are now grown up and don’t have time for such nonsense. My sons refuse to take too many of those trips with me because they are more grown up than me.

Now I long for those useless, pointless trips!

Gage Park Chess Team


Evergreen Park, Illinois

When Chicagoans hear the names Palermo’s, Giordano’s, Chesden’s, and Falco’s, pizza comes to mind. Delicious Chicago-style pizza. My thoughts turn to chess. Pizza always reminds me of my days as a high school athlete at Gage Park High School. Okay, I didn’t actually play any sports that involved physical activity at Gage Park, but I did letter in chess and our chess team was awarded athletic letters the athletes award ceremony. For some reason unbeknownst to me, chess was even covered in Sports Illustrated back then.

Dr. D. plays Jim Harmon as Ted Rafacz watches.

Anyway, I played chess on the chess team at Gage Park High School with Jim Harmon, Vito Vitkauskas, Dave Johnson, Bill Rozivics, Ted Rafacz, and Nick Polo. We were coached by Mr. Crowe, who also coached the hockey team. I suppose tenacity and mental toughness is required for both chess and hockey, so Mr. Crowe was the perfect coach for both sports. I think he liked the hockey team better, though. He used to brag about how smart the hockey team was. And he would tell us every time a hockey player got a college scholarship. The chess team was a bunch of slackers by comparison. One time, Mr. Crowe complained because two chess players were suspended and couldn’t play in an important chess match. Bill was suspended for low grades, even though he could recite the atomic chart from memory. And I was suspended for fighting. As a member of the chess team, bullies liked to pick on me, but I always fought back. I didn’t know you could get suspended for self-defense. To school officials, fighting was fighting and that warranted a suspension.

But back to the pizza. In order to inspire us to play better chess, Mr. Crowe promised to take us out for pizza every time we won a chess match. If we lost, we had to treat him to a steak dinner. We complained that this wasn’t fair because steak was more delicious and more expensive than pizza. But since he was the coach, we finally agreed with the arrangement reluctantly because he insisted that he was buying a meal for seven chess players while we were only treating one person.

I don’t remember how many matches we won or how many times Mr. Crowe treated us to pizza, but I do remember the one time we lost the match and we went to Chesden’s on Archer Avenue for Mr. Crowe’s steak dinner. We barely had enough to pay for his steak dinner, so we didn’t order pizza for ourselves. But Mr. Crowe was so kind as to keep asking the waitress to keep replenishing the bread baskets. All we ate was bread and water while Mr. Crowe savored a juicy t-bone steak. He insisted that he was teaching us to become better chess players!

The other memorable event of this day was the snowball fight afterward. As we were walking to Mr. Crowe’s car, we started throwing snowballs at each other. Since we were always very competitive, we chose up sides and began battling in earnest. Suddenly, Ted said that he lost his school ring while throwing a snowball. We must have looked for that ring for about an hour in the snow, in the dark, before we finally found it.

So whenever I think of pizza, my thoughts turn to my days on the Gage Park Chess Team!

Al’s Beef


Little Italy, Chicago, Illinois

I went to Al’s Beef with my sons today. Why? Because my sons asked me to take them. Why? Well, I was wondering the same thing myself. They heard about Al’s Beef from the Travel Channel, a restaurant TV show, that showcased Al’s Italian Beef. When they first mentioned going to Al’s Beef, I said okay, nonchalantly. They probably thought I wouldn’t take them because I didn’t sound that enthusiastic. They even doubted if I had even ever heard of Al’s Beef. But, nay, I had stories to tell them about Al’s Beef. And told them, I did. Hesitantly. I really thought they would cut me off. But they didn’t. In fact, they kept asking me for more details. This was the longest we had talked in a long time. Luckily, it was about a subject that was near and dear to my heart. Chicago food!

Ah, the memories! I have been going to Al’s Beef since the 1970s, but I couldn’t tell you the exact date. They may be getting a lot of television exposure now, but Al’s Beef is a veritable ghost town in comparison to when I used to go in the 1980s. The place used to be packed, especially in the summer. I remember going there with my friends Jim and Vito. Sometimes I went with my running friends after track practice. We would eat in the parking lot and go across the street to Mario’s Italian Ice for dessert. Then, we’d sit in the parking lot drinking beer! Those were the days.

Al’s Beef is a little different today. It’s the same building. It still has the same charming decor. And, for as long as I can remember, they always have someone working behind the counter who speaks Spanish. It is a universally acknowledged fact that Italian beef tastes better when it’s served by a Spanish speaker. I remember my friend Jim had a crush on a Mexican girl who used to work there. As single men, we often ate at restaurants. But when he discovered this Mexican girl at Al’s Beef, we ate there at least three times a week! I must admit that she was pretty and she had this really cute Mexicana accent. I asked Jim, “If you married her–” “Do you really think I have a chance with her?” he asked me hopefully. “Let me finish! If you married her, would you really enjoy her coming home smelling like Al’s Italian Beef?” He smiled so I could see a sweet pepper stuck in his teeth and said, “That would be like dying and going to heaven!”

2009 Chicago Auto Show


2009 Chicago Auto Show

Last year, I wrote about going to the Chicago Auto Show. This year I actually went to it. I wrote about how my father used to take my brothers and I to the Chicago Auto Show. This year, my oldest son dragged me along against my will. I find this amazing because my son doesn’t even have a driver’s license. He’s nineteen and he’s never taken driver’s ed. I gave him the Illinois Rules of the Road book to study twice with the promise that if he studied I would take to take the written test to get his driver’s permit. But he never studied and he still doesn’t have his permit. He’s just not that interested in driving or he would have gotten his driver’s license by now. Which reminds me of my friend Vito who has never–to my knowledge–ever had a driver’s license. My life would have been so different if I would have never gotten my driver’s license. I can’t even imagine how could exist without one.

Anyway, the Chicago Auto Show was fun even though I didn’t really want to go. I enjoyed it vicariously through my son who seemed to enjoy looking at the expensive cars that I cannot afford and probably wouldn’t drive even if I could afford them. I took some pictures of the cars. And then I took some more pictures of some more cars, but this time my son was in the pictures because he insisted on being in pictures with him in some of the cars. Of course, he offered to take a couple of pictures of me, for which I posed begrudgingly because I don’t really enjoy being photographed. One thing I did miss was the celebrities that used to come and sign autographs. And they no longer had beautiful models in evening gowns posing for amateur photographers near the new cars. There were plenty of workers continually wiping fingerprints off cars and keeping them shiny. But overall, I did have fun and was glad I went.

How I became an interesting person


Jim Harmon, Will Clinger, and me

Once upon a time in Chicago, a long, long time ago, I decided I wanted to become a standup comedian. So, I started going to comedy clubs with my friends Jim Harmon and Vito Vitkauskas. Eventually, I took theater classes and attended the Players Workshop of Second City. I think Jim attended the workshop first, so I became interested in it. Will Clinger was in Jim’s class and they went on to do two plays together. One was Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party and I don’t remember the other one. Jim eventually rejoined the real world of the working and left theater altogether. Will, on the other hand, continued in theater and I would occasionally see his name in the entertainment section of the newspapers. Since I loved Chicago so much, I enjoyed watching Wild Chicago because the show featured interesting people and places of Chicago, one of my most favorite places on earth (But you probably know that if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time). One day, I was surprised when I saw a segment hosted by Will Clinger. It’s nice to see a familiar face on TV once in a while.

Jim and I have kept in touch on and off over the years. We’ve been friends since high school. That’s one of the things that I like about not having moved away from Chicago. I always run into old acquaintances when I least expect it. Once, when I lost track of Jim for a few years, he suddenly e-mailed. He had Googled my name and found my blog. Anyway, we met for lunch one day, exchanged stories about our children,and then I told him about how I had seen Will Clinger on Wild Chicago. Anytime I would see Will in the newspaper, I would tell Jim. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the Chicago Dramatists advertising a play starring Will Clinger titled How I Became an Interesting Person. I sent the e-mail to Jim just to let him know about Will’s latest theatrical endeavor. Jim responded by saying we should go see the play. I didn’t even think of that, even though I love seeing plays at the theater.

So last night, we saw Will Clinger in his play. I really enjoyed the play because it had been a very long time since I had seen a very funny play that made me laugh out loud. I would recommend the play to you, but you have to see it by Sunday because that’s when it ends. Of course, we had to meet Will after the play was over. He recognized Jim, but couldn’t quite place him. Will then looked at me and I said, “You don’t know me.” Jim finally had to say, “We were in The Birthday Party together” and then he remembered Jim. But Will still didn’t remember me since he never really knew me in the first place.

It all started with a matchbook!