By Michael G. Glab
— Thirty-eight —
Lenny LaFemina earned his law degree from Northwestern University in 1966, just a couple of months before Anthony Pontone arrived on campus. Even though the two now live on the same block, the fact that they are NU alums (actually, in Anthony’s case, an almost-alum) does not mean they’re the closest of pals. It’s doubtful there are any guys working in the city’s law department who can claim as a friend a scraggly-bearded radical whose dedicated planning and toil helped lead to Mayor Daley’s great humiliation.
Lenny became Assistant Corporation Counsel a little more than two years ago, in fact, the very day Anthony threw a can of red paint in the direction of former United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Al Dudek, now knowing what Anthony has become, might wish his daughter Anna had fallen in love with and married Lenny.
Then again, there is the fact that Lenny is, well, a Jew. Not that Al has anything against the Jews, mind you, but a man doesn’t necessarily want to see his daughter married to one. It’s only common sense.
Lenny played for the Northwestern football team. He is short and stout — not in the overfed sense but built, as they like to say around Galewood, like a brick shithouse. He was a lineman, playing both offense and defense. Coach Ara Parseghian always had a hell of a time getting Sidney out of the game — even that day he suffered two sprained ankles in the Ohio State game. “Sit down, Lenny,” Ara said. “I will not,” Lenny said. After Ara had sent out a substitute, he actually had to physically restrain Lenny from going out on the field. Lenny sulked the rest of the game and even afterward, when the team trainer was taping up and icing his ankles. Lenny walked on crutches for the next week but to this day tells friends he’ll never forgive Coach Parseghian for taking him out and ruining his perfect record of playing every down of every game for his entire senior year.
Lenny traded in his NU jersey — number 77 — for a nice, lawyerly suit. Today, though, he’s wearing one of his old, crappy Robert Hall suits, the one with the cheap lining and only two sleeve buttons. Nor is he wearing one of his fine Sulka shirts. He began shopping for shirts and ties at Sulka on Michigan Avenue only a week after going to work for the city because he’d heard that’s where Mayor Daley shops. Of course, Lenny only buys one shirt or tie at a time — a junior Law Department attorney can’t be expected to spend like the mayor of the city, after all. Anyway, Lenny’s wearing a cheap suit today because things just might get rough out on the streets.
The LaFeminas aren’t the only Jewish family that lives on Natchez Avenue. The Perglers live directly across the street from them. The rest of the neighborhood figures that the Perglers and the LaFeminas are all close friends and do everything together, including going to services at that synagod thing or whatever you call it because, y’know, that’s what the Jews do — they stick together. Truth is, the LaFeminas and the Perglers can’t stand the sight of each other (when Mickey Finnin first learned of their mutual animosity he was stunned — “But they’re Jews!” he gasped.)
The LaFeminas read the Tribune; the Perglers the Daily News. The LaFeminas keep kosher. The Perglers eat cheeseburgers every Saturday night at the Prince Castle across the street from St. Paul Federal. The LaFeminas attend services at the conservative B’nai Israel temple in Oak Park. The Perglers…, well, the Perglers haven’t been to services in years. Mort and Alicia LaFemina voted for Dick Nixon in 1960. When Harry Pergler came home early from work the day JFK was assassinated, he found his wife Rachel passed out on the bathroom floor from an overdose of St. Joseph aspirin.
Harry and Rachel’s only child, Jerry, attends Northwestern. His and Anthony’s paths crossed often because Jerry, as Anthony once did, studies journalism. On the day of Jerry’s bar mitzvah, when his Uncle Aaron asked him what he was going to be when he became a man, Jerry answered immediately and loudly: “A crusading journalist!” Uncle Aaron roared. Jerry thought, You old asshole, I’ll show you. Both Anthony and Jerry dream of bringing down powerful, corrupt men. Jerry, though, knew from the start he’d do it from the inside whereas Anthony eventually concluded he’d have to do it from without. Jerry is now a junior in the Medill School of Journalism. He already works as an intern for WBBM-TV. He’s only assisting the floor director right now but he knows — just knows — he’s going to be on air sooner rather than later.
Jerry’s taking the day off classes today because the action’s going to be on the streets and he wants to be where the action is. He’s even got a couple of reporter’s notebooks in his back pocket and is carrying a fistful of Bic pens.
Three Northwestern men — Anthony Pontone, Lenny LaFemina, and Jerry Pergler — are converging on the Drake Hotel. They’re not going to meet for lunch and talk about the Wildcats’ chances of going to the Rose Bowl this year. They’ll be joined outside the Drake by some 800 protesters, many of whom are Weathermen, and about 2000 Chicago cops.
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.