Category Archives: Chicago Fire Department

What Kids Know

The other day I posted a thing on social media saying something on the order of the term guerrilla came to mind…. Oh hell, here’s a screenshot of the post:

The post, apparently, triggered a lot of people’s memories. They too, had been confused by the homophones. And isn’t that a great and useful word? Homophone.

Anyway, the whole thing got me to thinking about the bazillions of misconceptions I had as a child. The world, people, and life in general were utterly baffling to me. I suppose I should concede that they all still are, even at my advanced age, but the years (okay, decades) have taught me one thing — that I can pretend to understand a few more things today than I did when I was seven. Maybe I really do but if so let’s put emphasis on the word few.

Anyway, part deux, I figured I’d gather a few more goofy ideas I had when I was wee here on the pages of this global communications colossus. So here goes.

Shriver (L) & Kennedy.

Back in those days, a fellow named R. Sargent Shriver was a big dude in the Kennedy administration. He was the first director of JFK’s brainchild, the Peace Corps, from March, 1961 through February, 1966. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson then tabbed him as the director of the federal Office of Economic Opportunity sometime during Shriver’s Peace Corps directorship, meaning he had two big jobs at once. LBJ must have figured the workload might be too much for him so the then-prez gave him instead the ambassadorship to France, a post, I’m sure, that is the equivalent, in dream job terms, of being in charge of eating pizza, drinking bourbon, and watching Arrested Development reruns and being paid scads o’dough to do so.

Before Shriver went to Washington, he was president of the Chicago Board of Education. Born and raised in Maryland, Shriver as a young man was an assistant editor for Newsweek (for you younger folks that was a thing we fossils called a magazine; people actually read about the news in newspapers and mags, if you can believe it). In that position, he’d somehow oiled up the Kennedy family and actually reviewed the late Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.’s diaries at Kennedy Pere‘s behest. Next thing anybody knew, Shriver was getting hitched up to Eunice, the middle child of the mob of heirs and heiresses to the Kennedy fortune. As such Shriver became a Famous Person, although those born in succeeding generations wouldn’t have been able to identify him if he was sitting in their lap. His star by then had been outshone by his daughter, Maria Shriver, a network news reader and eventual wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, either of whom today wouldn’t be identifiable to anyone under the age of 30.

They Were Somebodies, Once, A Long Time Ago, I think.

These are all things I learned as an adult.* When I was a child, all I knew was he was (sorta) from Chicago and now was a big deal pal of the president. I just assumed when the local newsreader said his name, he (invariably he) was saying Our Sargent Shriver. Y’know, because we were all proud of our hometown guy being such a national big shot. Chicago newsreaders, after all, didn’t call JFK Our John F. Kennedy, did they? ‘Course not; he was from the foreign shores of Hyannis Port.

Isn’t that the way kids hear things? Sort of the way radio listeners heard song lyrics in the ‘50s and 60s. Like S’cuse me while I kiss this guy, and There is a bathroom on the right.

Speaking of song lyrics, in 1967 Aretha Franklin had a big Top 40 hit called “Natural Woman.” Listening to it with half an ear, as I did all the songs I heard on WLS and/or WCFL at the time, I heard her sing, You make me feel like a Manchuria woman, which I found a puzzling way to be made to feel, indeed.

Okay, you get the picture. Here’s more.

I had a weird worldview, natch, as a kid. I might have confused R. with Our and natural with Manchuria, but I also knew a tiny bit about geology, among other things. For instance, I knew the Earth was covered by a thin crust on top of a thicker layer of stuff that, in turn, lie upon a molten ball of metal. Mind you, I was five at the time. I’d been sick throughout much of my kindergarten year so, sequestered at home, I spent much of my time reading the World Book Encyclopedia, so missing school actually made me smarter than my peers, who were busy memorizing the letters of the alphabet.

Alright, the Earth’s crust. Living in Chicago, I concluded that the entire globe was covered by concrete and asphalt pavement. Observing this and watching workers break up concrete on occasion and exposing the muddy, claylike stuff beneath it, I concluded said concrete and pavement was, yep, the Earth’s crust. The lawns and backyards in front of and behind my family’s and all our neighbors’ houses? Why the adults of the world had simply broken up and disposed of the Earth’s crust lying over them so that their kids, when playing therein, wouldn’t break their heads open if and when they fell. Mighty thoughtful of them, no?

They Set Fires, Then They Raced To Put Them Out.

How about this? There was a firehouse on North Natchez Avenue, about three quarters of a mile north of our home on that street. While I was in bed in the still of the night in the middle of the summer, with the windows wide open, I’d actually hear the firemen starting their trucks’ engines, turning on their sirens, and commencing to speed to wherever the hell they were going. It’d take a few moments for them to drive down Narragansett Avenue and take a right on North Avenue, whereupon the trucks’d blow past our house, seemingly yards away from my bedroom window. All this time, I’d wonder where they were going and why they were so fortunate enough to be awake in the middle of the night so that they could actually go somewhere. I suppose I might have heard some adult joke about firemen starting fires or something but, being a kid, I had no ability yet to distinguish between adults’ bullshit and real information. Y’know, the same way a lot of grown-up Americans today can’t tell the diff. between facts and bushwa.

So, I came to the conclusion that firemen, becoming bored by sitting around the firehouse all the time, actually started fires so they could crank up their engines, turn on their sirens, and speed down Narragansett Avenue. I mean, why in the hell else would anybody want to be a fireman? On top of that all, most of the lucky firemen got to ride on the outside of the truck, hanging on to shiny silver bars as the truck barreled down the street. Good god, I’d have done that job for free! Same with the garbagemen who, similarly, often rode on the outside of their trucks, holding on to bars, albeit a lot less shiny and certainly not silver.

Until the year 1967, I was vaguely aware of professional sports. The Cubs games were always either on TV or the small transistor radio my mother kept next to her in the kitchen. Because of that I formulated an understanding of how Major League Baseball worked. A bunch of teams played each other in two separate leagues, the American and the National, through the spring and summer. In October a team from the American League would play a team from the National. The winner would be the champion of the whole world. Even at that tender age, I thought whoever played baseball in Egypt or China was getting a raw deal because they never got to play for the championship of the whole wide world. Thus, I was starting to become aware of the intrinsic unfairness of the world.

In any case, throughout the entirety of my short life, the Cubs never came within a light year of playing in the World Series. So, I began to conclude that the rules forbade such a possibility. The Cubs, by decree, were ineligible to ever play in the World Series. Their purpose, in the scheme of things, was to play practice games against the real teams of MLB, so they could get ready to, potentially, play in the World Series, should fortune look so kindly upon them.

I’m not the only one who though in such terms. For example, I had a friend, a few years older than me, who grew up in New York City. He told me once that his sister, a few years his junior, understood the World Series to be an annual contest between the New York Yankees and whichever other team was deemed good enough to take them on that particular year. See, the Yankees played in the Series 15 times in the 18 seasons between 1947 and 1964, so what other conclusion could a kid come to?

Alright, here’s the last one (for today). Even as late as the age of 11, I remained blissfully (frustratingly?) unaware of the mechanics and justifications for sex. All I knew was people were dying to do it. As was I, whatever it was. Almost up to that point, I envisioned sex as being some bizarre ritual wherein a girl and I would take our clothes off and stand there looking at each other. I’d seen Playboy magazine and one or two other men’s publications and the women just stood — or lie — there doing nothing but be unclothed. Ergo, sex.

Wordsmith.

Then one afternoon after school, I dashed down to Amundsen Park to play baseball. One of the guys brought along a deck of pornographic playing cards, the backs of which portrayed couples engaged in the act that Mark Twain so aptly called “a refreshment.” None of us was sophisticated enough to know what in the hell these couples really were doing. The game was lengthened by the fact that each team at bat was busy poring over the cards, studying the couplings as intently as world-renowned scientists examining some heretofore undiscovered species of butterfly. “Hey, c’mon you guys,” the team coming off the field would yell, “get out there!” They were eager to hit and, in truth, even more eager to study the cards themselves.

I was particularly fascinated by one card portraying a couple, the woman straddling the man while his business was attached to her business. Being that the cards were static pix of the action, not filmed records of it, I took this particular image to infer that people engaged in the act simply remained motionless. “Hmmph,” I though. “That doesn’t seem like much fun.” The whole idea seemed to me to be rather uninspiring, except for the seeing-the-girl-naked part.

She Fell On The Bathroom Floor.

Which brings to mind the testimony of the son of an old friend, the late, witty author Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Amy and her husband had three small children at home at one time. As such, the couple’s opportunities for “refreshment” usually bordered on nil. Being clever folk, they came up with the idea of locking themselves in the bathroom when the urge struck so they might refresh w/o the young’uns bursting in on them. Except one day they forgot to lock the door. Their kid threw the door open and there they were, on the tile floor amid a jumbled mass of discarded clothing and towels, locked in a position similar to that of the couple on the aforementioned playing card. The kid quickly withdrew (as, I imagine, Amy’s husband did). Nevertheless, the image seared itself into the kid’s memory.

Not long after that, the kid came up to Amy and said, “Mom, what is sex?” Amy replied, “What do you think sex is?”

He  stated, confidently, that sex was when Moms and Dads took their clothes off and fell on the bathroom floor.

And you know something? He wasn’t terribly far off the mark.

Forgotten History.

[ * For pity’s sake, I forget to even mention that Shriver had run for Vice President in 1972 on the George McGovern ticket. He replaced McGovern’s original choice, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, after it was revealed Eagleton had undergone electroshock therapy during mental hospitalizations, a fact he and his wife had decided to keep mum about when McGovern came calling. Actually, describing Eagleton as McGovern’s first choice palters with the truth. McGovern had asked — nay, begged — any number of better-known, more qualified fellows to be his running mate but all had turned him down. They’d read the writing on the wall — incumbent Richard Nixon was well on his way to winning one of the biggest landslides in United States history that fall.]

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