Keys Whereby I Thrived as an Urban Prairie Silo
Hornswoggling latchkey deadbolt dumped in the lake that looked like a funky Slushy.
Go-nowhere dolt’s rawboned cooties lugeed rough gobs. Trudged O’Keeffe grammar’s sludge. Mined sleetballs with gravel spread by salt trucks to bilk protection gelt* from Iowa-nice Cornhusker booger-eaters whose crotches slipslid like on rollerskates when I ambushed them in Snowmageddon death match cakewalks. Witnessed Davey roust his vomitocious father from a bowling alley barstool before bouncers’ brawling bravado, tosses his catting self out. Lugged contraband Marilyn calendars (Teddy presented ‘em for manning his bookie newsstand) stashed in a 5 finger discount bookbag 4 flights past Mr. Hatfield’s ground floor guard station up to my fam’s cold water flat:
Landlord’s master of the manor, king of the castle, super of fu fa tenement dead-ender domains. I revered the principal and home ec substitute, Mrs. Leech, whose sociologese noodged me to be hall monitor before her tent dress became the tenant (and hoarder) under us whose touched-up bad skin drank off some vodka while her vermouth-mouthed hubby (the janitor and woodshop teacher) hit the grain whiskey to keep Bergen-Belsen tattoo demons at bay. Deli man’s brown paper bag bottle neck clutched, flowering it up with earflaps down, dumpy Stanley sat on the stoop, jiggled skeleton keys dawn to dusk, bamboozled folks Hatfield didn’t know to shell out rent moolah or get the boot.
Shakedown so’s each unit’s paid-up on the barrel head plus a smidge extra, Stan purged those whose number came up first of each month period. But when funny money thin ice softened then liquified, dirty coppers in his pocket’d take a taste then paper the halls with eviction notices before sofas ‘n worse kerplunked onto the sidewalk. Foot soldier hoodlumed that us loveable rogue scofflaws would be put on dry ice, cemented into Lake Michigan — which loose-bowelled bunco spiel hardened into shticks I ear witnessed below the shudder of elevated Illinois Central trains.
Nights I’d schlep down, con Miss Joy (whose vagarious weight you might guess at a country fair) to out-naked us all on the fire-escape, or loudmouth fat Stan Jr. to roll-up steel shutters, unwedge the front door which his sis’s Mary Janes tensely resent.
Not born till after hari-kari, the bomb and the Emperor surrendered;I remember what turned out to be ration books buried in Pops’ condom sock drawer. At the time my nuclear family of origin was shoehorned in Bubbe and Zeyde’s* one room apartment where their lumbago pampered this Cadillac of a boychick* with herring and fresh baked rugelach. Mom and Grandma always on bad terms,rapscallion needed to be careful. Eventually Grandpa weaseled out, told us to leave.
Cutting corners, Pops had Jewish mafia contacts who bribed Hatfield’s some kind of yenta* to let him have the place for two tanks of fossilized TRexs plus a week’s food coupons plus some unspecified “other favors” from not-Rembrant’s Netherlands -- that’s just how Chi-town was during the war. Lucky GIs back from the front were overdomesticated by cutesies’ baser instincts to make too many babies.
Ravenous Heebs scrambled to bootstrap out beyond our South Shore’s ghettocide,but no matter where we flocked, newly minted parochial school thugs pummeled up in my business unless I surrendered the cornucopia of Medimore’s penny candy, pocket change, crumpled Monroe nudies, a flask of rotgut swiped from Hatfield.
Despite stiff whirlwinds, this talker retains do-it-alone all-you-can-eat go-getter hunger. Though overcooked, Ger’s voracious culture vulture remains unsated, omni-consuming.
* Money; grandma, grandpa; term of endearment for little boy, busybody in Yiddish