Category Archives: Little Sicily

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Too lazy to run and catch my #6 bus yesterday, I splurged and called for a cab.

The driver was fairly chatty. He mentioned the recent spate of what can only be described as “big city crimes.”

There have been, in the last few weeks, the random shooting of a middle-aged woman on Hallowe’en night, the killing of the young pizza delivery driver the weekend before last, a botched bank robbery and a successful one, and the murder of a clerk at an adult toy store the day before yesterday.

“I grew up here,” he said in that tell-tale South Central Indiana twang. “We used to leave our doors unlocked. Now, I don’t know.”

He shook his head sadly. He was about 60 or 65.

“Ya know what was a big crime when I was a kid? When somebody got arrested for drunk driving. That was the worst thing that happened. It sure was different back then.”

I added my bit. “And there were jobs, too.”

“Yeah. There were jobs. Now, nothing. The only thing left to do is make that meth. Y’now,” he said, “I think that’s what’s behind all this….” He gestured broadly in the direction of College Mall, as if there were felonies and atrocities being committed in every store even as we spoke.

“They go crazy on that meth,” he concluded.

He got a call for another pick up just as he was stopping to let me out me at The Book Corner. I watched him as he drove off, looking for that next buck. The world — or at least Bloomington — sure hasn’t turned out the way he figured it would.


My mother had a fetish for paying bills.

That sounds bizarre but it’s true. She grew up in the Great Depression. Her mother ran a little corner grocery in the Little Sicily neighborhood on the Near Northwest Side of Chicago.

Outfit Boss “Joe Batters” Accardo: The “Pride” Of Little Sicily

Ma’s ma paid her bills when the mood struck her. Vendors and suppliers would send burly guys with snap-brim caps pulled down low late at night to bang on the door of Ma’s girlhood home. They wanted their money.

Grandma would send Ma to answer the door. Grandma figured the burly guys’ hearts would melt at the sight of the curly haired little girl looking up at them with sad brown eyes.

Their hearts may indeed have melted. Still, they made sure Ma would convey a message to Grandma. “You make sure to tell yer mudder,” they said time and again, “d’at she gotta make good. You tell her d’at, y’hear me?”

Ma came to loathe answering the door. Even as a grown woman, when the doorbell would ring unexpectedly she’d straighten up and her eyes would dart, like a rabbit catching the scent of a dog.

Like every single parent in existence, she vowed to do things differently. As an adult she’d chomp at the bit waiting for the mailman to come. She wanted to pay her bills immediately.

At times, I thought she might run down Natchez Avenue in search of the mailman.

“Mister! Mister! Do You Have Any Bills For Me?”

She rarely wasted an opportunity to crow about her bill-paying acumen. Once in a while, she’d mention someone else who — horrors — wasn’t as “Johnny-on-the-spot,” in her words, as she was with creditors. She could never get over how Aunt Teresa kept Dr. Francona waiting for his payments. And in those more innocent days, Dr. Francona never wasted an opportunity to tell Ma that her sister was in arrears.

Ma paid cash for everything, too. She considered the use of checks and credit cards to be gaming the system. (You know what? She was right.)

It didn’t even matter if the bill was in error. She paid. She had a reputation and a streak to uphold. Once, the college that my older brother was attending billed my parents for a semester that he hadn’t taken.

Most people would have called the college bursar’s office and told the clerk to kiss their asses. Not Ma. She called and arranged a bill payment plan: Ten dollars a month until the books were clear. It took her 40 months to pay off the princely sum of $400 dollars (oh yeah, everything was different back then.)

When she mailed in her last payment, she included a note that said, “My bill is paid. I’m up to date.” She crowed about that, too, for years afterward, as if when the bursar’s clerk opened up the envelope, she slapped the side of her head and muttered, “Wow! That lady sure showed us.”

Ma and Dad would do their own taxes, natch. Neither had graduated from high school so the forms and the math presented quite the challenge. Nevertheless, they soldiered on. And I never — ever — remember them complaining about their taxes.

They must have figured, it’s the price we have to pay and that’s that.

Today, of course, the paying of taxes is seen as only slightly more acceptable than child molestation.

And this in a land that among the industrial nations of the Earth has just about the lowest tax rate.

The way people piss and moan about taxes, you’d think we were suffering under a tyrannical, confiscatory system (perhaps like that under the revered Republican icon, Dwight Eisenhower.)

“I’ll Take 91% Of Your Paycheck, Please. Thank You.”

I mention all this because the author Michael Lewis was on NPR this morning, talking about the financial problems in Greece. His new book is “Boomerang.” It tells of the Eurozone economic crisis.

Lewis told the interviewer that a core problem causing Greece’s woes is the fact that relatively few people pay the taxes that they owe and the Greek legal system doesn’t go after them.


And the GOP and the Me Party-ists cry like kindergarteners whenever the word tax is uttered.

Ma would have some simple advice for those who are allergic to raising taxes to help people in need and set the economy right. She’d have said, “Do what you’re supposed to do and pay your bills!”