The Babe's territory may be pictured as a set of space-time overlays. To the area of Chicagoland already experienced, each year added new places. The process can also be seen as a ballet, in which a tiny figure grows and moves out ever more widely and rapidly with the passage of time.
At first, all was done in the arms of adults. Someone snaps a "Kodak" of him, a blonde curly-headed infant smiling in the arms of a fair woman who is his Aunt Anna, the first wife of Uncle Joe, that free spirit who appears and disappears over the years. Next we see the Babe in his great buff-colored Alsatian buggy, the woven rush top pulled back to let the sunlight illuminate his jowls. He is transported here and there, never for long, for he is soon on his feet and raring to go, toddling, dragged along, carried, plopped on the seat of a car, seeing little and crying to be up higher on somebody's lap. Bro Bus is big enough to lead him and sit with him but doesn't like it.
One night he finds himself placed to sleep on a large bed loaded down with ladies' coats smelling of many unidentified bodies and perfumes in a dark room. He hears a continual vivacious talking through the half-closed doorway. He is gripped by a feeling of remoteness, of disembodiment, as if he is not himself, not them, not the stuffy room, but someone out yonder, un-belonging, uninvolved, unconcerned. It is the first experience of this state of being, but not the last. It happens several times in his childhood, and only when alone, assisted by some apprehension of strangeness.
It is related to the feeling induced on some occasions by looking at a familiar object, like a loved one's face, or an ordinary word, and sensing it transpose into something strange and foreign and impossible. It is also related to seeing something or someone or someplace for the first time and believing it to be familiar, the sensation of deja vu.
There exists in one a strange third element besides oneself and the world that can move out of oneself leaving the self completely alone and dispossessed, and seeing the world as even more removed than it is when one "is oneself." It, this third being, is of course psychological, consisting of a feeling without fear, yet also he senses that one might go too far, meaning by too far that thereafter the reality of the self and world might be un-recapturable; one might not return; and then one might be pure mind while to the world what was left behind would appear as a vegetable, because after all they would have to deal with a residue quite unmanageable, not to say disagreeable. Where is the Babe? Who? He is not here? Who? Where has he gone? Who? No he has not gone but he is out of his mind. We must care for him, for this, until he returns.
How many of us have left like the Babe, but never to return, like the people at Dunning mental hospital sitting out on their benches and indicated by Kate in passing; he would always be travelling too swiftly to fill his mind with their images. What he would have liked most to do was to stop, press his head against the bars of the fence, and watch the people for a long time, undisturbed. But it would be improper and was not the Mom's idea of fun. How many more of us have fierce defenses against departing, for fear that we shall not return?
He could easily wander now but wandering is severely restricted to the distance that the attendant can leap to prevent him from falling through the rail into the basement, being kicked by a horse, examining the horse manure into which the sparrows are pecking, being struck by a larger fellow, immersed in a mud puddle, or smothered in a bed or snow drift. Yet he could thus be present when deals were being made that he would later be absent from, although he could not understand them, between the Mom and the iceman, the scissors sharpener, the vegetable peddlers, the man with a pushcart of fish, and the rags-and-iron dealer, who would also buy bundles of paper. He could recognize these itinerants by their cries, although their words were incomprehensible. He made out "rags-a- lying" as the slogan of the junk man, and thought, from what he heard about his sharp dealings, that he thus confessed to his way of doing business.
He crawled up the stairs and saw how the natural oak grew dirtier day by day until Saturday came around. He came to know intimately the single clay-colored slab of stone that alone spanned the basement gangway when one entered or left the building. It was out the door, down the step (oh, such peril!), go across the gutter and then again the lurch into the street. The slab was smooth, glistened in the rain, and was cool to the touch in summer, when one could lie back on it. Over the years, he tried to figure out how a small chip had been broken off near the corner; so many things had been hammered together, using it as a base, without affecting its serene surface. Swept and clean, it was a great table on which to sit; several boys could lounge upon it together.
On either side of the slab and extending then right and left to divide basement from sidewalk were iron railings, black enamelled, firmly rooted in the cement, the thickness of a small hand, double- railed -- one was knee-high, the other waist-high --fine for perching upon wherever a few of the row of iron teeth that ran along the top rail were broken for a foot or so of length, provided he had a supporting arm from someone. Here he learned how a mythical boy fell off the rail into the basement and got hurt. In fact, later on, a boy did fall over backwards into the basement but did not get hurt much, and from the age of eight he himself could drop, holding on, feet first, and only be slightly shaken up. It was easy after a heavy snowfall.
Below ground as part of the house were the apartment and laundry room already mentioned; under the sidewalk in front were the coal sheds, one to each apartment, signalled on the surface by a metal-rimmed cement and glasscap, a manhole, or boyhole. Coal was poured into the opened hole directly from the coal truck. The glass cap would then be dusted off and replaced, and going below, one could dimly view the fresh pile of anthracite glistening, ready for the bucket-load.
Besides coal, wood and junk were kept in the shed, also sleds and bulky contraptions like wagons and tricycles. It would have been a good place for a bicycle, too, but the boys were never given a bike and did not learn to ride one well as children, for their parents believed them too dangerous on the streets where so many new motorists were practicing their skill. The sheds were padlocked, although there was little danger of their being looted, more danger that the Babe would convert one into a club. He had a penchant for finding and organizing shelters outside of the home.
Coal did not always arrive in this manner. For a dollar, a coal- man would carry a heavy bag of it up to the flat itself and place it beside the stove, taking an empty bag or a deposit in return. This was considered an expensive way of purchasing coal, which was cheaper by the bulk ton but sometimes they would run out of coal at the end of winter and not want to put in a big order. A dollar would fuel the stove for a full cold day unless the temperature got down to around zero and the North Wind blew. No one except the boys themselves considered that filling buckets in cold weather and carrying them far up the stairs cost anything in time and energy if it cost no money. Significantly, the boys were not encouraged to do the same work for money at the behest of neighbors. Like their Mother, they were not obliged to earn pocket money for incidental expenses or for the household.
At this point, the Babe knew well the sidewalks running along Hill Street in front of the house, and the blocks running North and South, and the interior of Seward Park the other side of the fence for a little ways, an area of benches and exercise bars and poles with a see-saw that was later moved to a children's special reserve area, after he had outgrown it. He picked at the bark of the maple trees across the street and hunted for ants at their bases. At first the trees were maintained in a long line of dirt that offered many opportunities for play, but then the dirt was replaced by cement except for a small circle beneath each tree. This change deprived the boys of some of their good earth and the Dad of some good mushrooming soil. There could be no dirt circles there for shooting marbles. The alley was still of dirt but it too was later on paved, not before the Babe was old enough to have enjoyed some fun there. He also kicked leaves about, picked up spring buds fallen from the trees and cuddled them like caterpillars, and he toppled happily into the snow drifts of each new winter.
We are now into an expanded phase of autonomous movement. Experimental movements and escapades are now regularized. He is allowed, after a careful check-off of his clothing, to go downstairs by himself, play in front of the house, cross the street with an all-clear signal from the third-floor window, and play there and in the Park. He is also given small commissions, to go around the corner to shop, bearing a note wrapped around several coins, reading perhaps "1 pd sugar, 1 sliced white bread, 1 likerish" and he would duly return carrying the goods and sucking on a long piece of black penny licorice. When he is formally photographed, he appears quite in command, with his hair, now straight and dark in a Buster Brown cut, and his velvet suit of a Lord Fauntleroy cut.
With a chaperon walking near him, who might be Bro Bus, a parent, or a Big Girl paid to take him in tow, he began to cover ground like an adult and the sidewalks were opened up to him for blocks around. A culmination occurred at five, when he was accompanied by his Mother up Orleans Street, across busy Division Street, up the path below the elevated train, past Beethoven Street to Goethe Street, and thence into an enormous red brick building on the top floor of which, after climbing steps beyond number, he was turned over to the Kindergarten Teacher. Thereafter he was chaperoned by less and less responsible personages on the way to and from school until at the age of seven he managed the journey in the company of independent travelers to the same destination, or even at times by himself.
The major barrier was Division Street. It was double-tracked with trolley cars, busy with wagons, vans, motorcycles, automobiles, and bicycles, and had to be crossed with care. There was no policeman to discipline the crossing and it was too complex for a patrol boy from a school to handle. But Americans were world leaders in discovering how to cross streets without getting struck down, so the Babe never came even near to an accident. The small brother of his friend Glenn Campbell was killed by a car and for some time the Babe watched Glenn's behavior and expression closely to find out what happens when one's brother is suddenly dead. Glenn was sobered, but one could not perceive in him the yearning and mourning that the Babe was looking for, nor did he speak of death or the accident and the Babe did not inquire. On occasion he did see a cat or dog laying squashed on the street, and he gazed, finicky, distantly, at the lifelessness and misshapenness.
Now he could go shopping and places for fun. The Mom shopped in the same stores often enough to know saleswomen personally. He would overhear her say so on occasion. She was an inveterate bargain hunter, of the kind that Professors of Economics contemplate lovingly when they try to explain how really a few people who know prices and goods are enough to keep the free market in a state of competition with a continuous lowering of prices and bettering of quality. She, so it seemed to the Babe, placed a confederate at Montgomery Ward Company, a woman who dutifully handed over to her the Card that entitled the bearer to shop in the special employee's Bargain Basement. Actually there was a succession: one friend would quit, then, following a period of exclusion, a second would be hired, as if the Mom were manipulating the Personnel Office.
To the boy, the world of shop-girls and floorwalkers skulking around their individual groves of objects was surreal, and the crowd ebbing and flowing through the aisles were like zombies; he could feel no human bond as he traipsed among the vaunted aisles of Marshall Field and Carson, Pirie, Scott and on special days was conveyed to Mandel Brothers, and, later, Wieboldt's and Goldblatt's, "Don't get lost now!" chimed the warning bell from the left or right somewhere, but it seemed as if Katie herself were lost, her eyes turned a shiny black, her neck swiveling from side to side, fluttering through the mass of butterflies seeking better buys.
A shopping queue, even a transportation queue, was rare; people bought things and paid for them in knots, not lines. Only at important ball-games was a queue notorious. Chicagoans did not like to be kept waiting, and goods and services were always available at a price. Then came the Depression and there were bread lines, and welfare office lines, and lines forming in a "run" on a bank.
Besides his Mother's warnings there came to him other words, "Here, try this on," "Sorry, we've sold the last of them," "Haven't you something in my size?" He had little to say; uneasy, alienated, at the earliest moment he said, "Aw, come on Ma, I'm tired, let's go home." At this point, fighting for time, her strategy was to refresh him in the cafeteria with cake and ice cream, then lead him on for awhile longer.
Whatever he discovered with others he could shortly afterwards undertake alone. Thus, he was taken to the Zoo at Lincoln Park to see elephants, lions, monkeys, parrots and the rest of the menagerie, named here in the order of his attraction for them, but in his eleventh year he had obtained a Kodak Brownie and walked there alone to take pictures; foggy and vague pictures they developed to be, for the Big Reader had failed to do research in photography.
Bro Bus and he walked to Montgomery Ward and Company at Chicago Avenue past Larrabee Street, where they examined the toys. He then walked to Chicago Avenue alone and East and up Dearborn Street to Washington Square, popularly called "Bughouse Square" after the agitators who commonly delivered themselves of social laments and demands before ineffectual clusters of local tramps and winos. He circled around the Newberry Library, headed East to the Lake, took a gander of the beach above Oak Street and turned due West to home. The famous old Water Tower was part of another tour, this to the Loop; to him it was incomprehensible because of its absolute incoherence, a medieval castle functioning to pump water by machine to a city. He saw the bend of the Lake past the Drake Hotel and its second turn southward when he walked with a schoolmate, Pershing McLean from Franklin School, to the boy's apartment on Pearson Street, which was furnished for old people, undisturbable, and he felt sorry for Pershing, all alone there very high up from the dead streets, and with only a mother to talk to, though she did talk quite well, he noticed.
He walked North to North Avenue and West to Larrabee and could tell that he was getting into what promised to be a vast Polish area by the signs in the shops and the names on the wagons. A year later, at twelve, he entered Waller High School and so stretched his territory to Center Street.
In all here was an area of about ten square miles. His fastest time to Franklin School was nine to eleven minutes, depending upon whether he trotted into the big old building or into the farther new building of the Junior High. His fastest time to Waller High was 26 minutes, to Lake View from his new home, 16 minutes.
To the Southwest of Hill Street were mostly Italians, while to the South was a growing black community; around Wendell Street and Fulton Court there were small Irish enclaves. To the North was a mixed population, mostly of German descent. To the Near East was a rooming house population, ranging from very poor and demoralized people to the higher artistic and theatrical echelons, plus many of the demi-mondains. Farther East, after State Street, came the high- rent apartments and privates homes referred to as the Gold Coast.
By the time the Babe departed, in 1933, each part of the region had suffered its own type of disintegration. He would never call any part of it a slum; he thought it nicer to say that "it is falling apart," even while exercising his impassioned rhetoric for a move to the farther North Side. Harvey Zorbaugh was trying to get a doctorate out of the University of Chicago at that time by writing a dissertation on the Near North Side; he had no such scruples, and in his book of 1935 did call it all The Gold Coast and the Slum.
The area of "Little Italy" on Chicago's West Side was twelve times larger than the North Side's "Little Italy," which might therefore be termed more precisely "Little Sicily." Off to the Southwest of Hill Street, it consisted in these decades prior to its disintegration, of about 20,000 persons, perhaps 6000 of whom were non-Italian by origin in the years before the Babe and 200 of whom were so in 1933, mostly German, Swedish, Irish and Blacks and then the heterogeneous demi-mondains in their farthest western extension. Much of the population had become desperately poor with the advent of the Great Depression. The Babe's immediate neighborhood, with no special realization on his part, actually turned from 10% to 95% Italians, and from mixed incomes to poor, in just his thirteen years there. By then everyone who could afford to do so had disappeared into the North and Northwest Sides. The population, statistically computed, turned over three times (300%) as he grew to puberty. (Significantly, this same figure was valid for the nation as a whole.)
"Death Corner" was at Cambridge and Oak Streets, a block from the Milton Avenue house where the Mom was raised. Thereabouts, several times a year, a murder would occur, that is, "another punk was rubbed out" on an affair of honor or underworld power. The Babe's information came from parents, press, a persistent surveillance that caught implications from the behavior of people, and a miscellany of gossipy sources; so did everyone else's. He got closer to the scene than 99% of Chicago's children, there is no doubt of it. The Babe passed the Corner on a dozen occasions, but it looked like many other corners and he couldn't detect any blood on the sidewalks although he watched for signs of it. Neither press nor leading politicians paid much attention to such matters after a while. Nor did the local residents, except that the next of kin conducted themselves then as much as did the characters of "Cavalleria Rusticana:" extremely disturbed, vengeful, and bent upon as fine a funeral service as they could afford at St. Philip's church; there they were observed by a crowd of routine mourners and gossipers. All this he knew, I tell you, not as a systematic thesis of sociology, but, say, as Tom Sawyer knew all about who Injun Joe was.
The setting itself was otherwise peaceful, an open schoolyard on one side, a sober neat stone church on the other, and small, mostly frame houses around these, with several "Ma and Pa" stores, like his grandfather set up in retirement on Milton Avenue, and a few trees. It was not at all like the Lower East Side of New York City; none of "Little Italy" was. No structure exceeded three stories. There was lots of room there for rope-skipping, hop-scotch, softball, and other games. When a murderous drama was not being enacted, the same setting could be revved up by reckless and defiant youths; cops in a car would chase whoever wanted to be chased by cops in a car. If the "smart punks" lost they would be taken to the Chicago Avenue Police Station and be beaten up, then released in undue course, usually for cash, unless they were badly hurt. If the cops lost, they "lost face" and were angry.
When the Babe walked to Little Italy, he thought, here was where the trouble was, and he looked sharp. When he walked East to Oak Street Beach through the thin strip of Gold Coast, he felt that he was moving toward the scene of the Action. When he walked North, he thought, here is where my neighborhood will soon be, not with especial elation but with feelings of acceptance, comfort, anticipation, inevitability. His cousins Howard Blencoe and Joe Ensign lived even farther North. He heard that Lake View High School was a better school than Waller, with better facilities, better students, better teachers, better orchestra and band, bigger all around, too, which no one questioned was better.
The blocks moving North were newer, more intact, more solid- looking, with ever fewer wooden cottages, less industrial, with fewer trashed-up empty lots, no abandoned factories, better cars, fewer trolley lines, better-dressed people. What he wanted as he grew through these years was what the newspapers and everyone around said he should want, and this was perhaps right, because what he was losing he could not keep, was less and less there around Hill Street moreover, and that is the tragedy of a century of American urban life.
He saw nothing wrong with factories, but most people did so. He agreed, of course, that the smell of the stockyards and tanneries was disgusting, that the steel and railroad and chemical plants fouled the air. Still it was all the stink of Chicago; the broad-shouldered giant of world industry had naturally to sweat. The invisible effects of gases and other chemicals were hardly beginning to be known.
He found himself thrilling with excitement when he ventured upon the lonely rail sidings that carried the world right into the sheds of small factories. He sensed them as the nerve endings of the great transcontinental lines. How did they ever get all the way here? He found the weeds growing about the wood ties in these decrepit lonely locations fascinating, nostalgic, with a combined fragrance of old wood and wild plants, plus hot iron rails and rust in the warm days.
By the time he came to know this phenomenon, it bore the ravages of the Great Depression -- rusting tracks, abandoned freight cars, cracked pavements, and weed jungles, properly the home of the stray dog and prowling cat. He exalted in the desolation, breathed awe and enchantment, shivered at the emptiness and bathed in sentiments of existential sadness, or whatever may be called the mixture of pathos and self-pity seeping out of a longing, unnamed, yet frustrated nonetheless.
It was a form of dissociation too. His small, thin, warm body was pumping its blood around, while a spirit that belonged to the universe -- to nature, if modestly expressed -- of which this factory rail-siding was a part -- never mind its being wholly man-made -- the spirit extruded itself out of nature at him because it was deserted by man and his mind entered into it and felt its troubles as a resignation to death.
Sentiments like these were perhaps stronger than those that he felt for people. How strange that he should feel this larger emotion, an affectionate yet disconsolate sentiment, in relation to such large artifacts and natural settings and possibly a lesser or less spontaneous emotion toward those who loved him, taught him, played with him. A queer sentimentalism it is, projected upon nature and ruin instead of his brethren, upon brick streets and railroad crossings, upon lit-up houses at night and not upon the people in them. Was he like the historian who dislikes dealing with people but dwells lovingly upon the scalawags of the past? But don't nature and ruins play such a part in everyone no matter how affectionate and able in their dealings with human relations? Must they not cry out for joy when disencumbered from acting the human among humans?
The Babe disliked travel by trolley or the automobile, unless he were up front, for their motions made him ill. Upon entering a street car the smell of the oily straw seats raised his gorge, and once the car got going fast and swaying from side to side he was finished, yearning to jump off and puke. His only hope was to stand up front next to the motorman, seeing from his perspective, looking ahead, and, if the weather warm, breathing in the rushing air from the opened window.
Automobile upholstery was liable to be equally nauseating and the stink of exhausted gasoline and oil mixed with the odor of the plush seats prepared him to get sick as the vehicle began its twists and turns. He had a sensitive stomach (nose? vagus nerve? cerebral cortex?) Urinals, fecal stenches, flatulence, fish houses, steamboat rides, and all uncontrollable motion as in fast amusement park rides in a circle or up and down, except the fastest and steepest of all, the roller-coaster or "bobs" of Riverview Park (but nota bene: a ride on rails) chucked up his food and drink.
Luckily mental stress and human conflict had no such effect upon him. Nor did railroad trains. He loved to climb aboard, and was fully excited when the train chugged into motion. The longer the trip the better. He journeyed by train with his family to the country and found the trip too short. He went happily to his summer camps by train. A great Chicago trolley barn was interesting and spectacular, but not as exciting as a rail yard with its puffing engines, switches, and shunting cars.
One day the flashy Cord coupe of Uncle Joe and the heavy black Studebaker of Bussie's new male piano teacher came to fetch the De Grazia's. It took a while to load Kate's provisions and materiel, for they were going to spend a whole day at Crystal Lake, fifty miles away. She, the Babe, Eddie and the Dad rode in the Studebaker, the Dad in front. Bro Bus rode with Joe and Daisy. It began to rain. The Studebaker skidded on the slick pavement of the Northwest highway. Joe and Bus laughed at the sight. Back and forth. The Babe's heart hopped about. No one said a word. The car lurched over comfortably on its left side on the left lane apron. The Dad cut his nose bursting out to help the passengers in the rear; they were uninjured. They piled aboard Joe's car, using the rumble seat, and proceeded. The Dad had his nose stitched. The Babe got an instant phobia about riding in cars, it wore itself out with the passage of a couple of years. Crystal Lake became part of his territory; they spent some days and weeks there over the years; it was peaceful, tame, nice, hardly what he himself would have chosen. It did have a brook with many green frogs easy to catch, and a particular gopher who reached out of his hole to bite the Babe when he grabbed its tail.
The Mom took the boys to Sitner's Theatre on Saturday afternoons. The theatre was later renamed the Criterion. It lapsed with the Great Depression, was reactivated and finally collapsed entirely. It was only three blocks away, but across Division Street, so it took a little longer to persuade the Mom that she needn't accompany them, even when she was no longer called upon to whisper the captions.
She took them also to a grand fancy Loop cinema once a year or so, and a couple of times to the Biograph Theatre on North Avenue, whose fame was more securely established later when John Dillinger, Public Enemy Number One, was gunned down by the FBI as he emerged from it one fateful day in Chicago history.
The brothers remembered another, an anonymous theatre on the Near West Side, where they were placed one evening to see a movie while their Father went off to a music hall and their Mother visited in the neighborhood a large poor family called the Aparo's. When they emerged, night had fallen. It seemed to them that they could find their friend's house, but soon they became lost. The area was strange, spread out, long-distance traffic and train tracks cutting across their lines of vision. The Babe began to cry so piteously that BroBus was affected and cried, too. Various unprepossessing characters gathered around them and evolved into friendly faces. Bro Bus then happily recalled the name of the Dad's music hall. A stranger drove them there. The Dad was surprised, and called Tony Aparo's car to come and carry away the abashed children.
They were glad to get back, as they had been glad to get away in the first place. How easily led astray are the young, hence later the old, by the false life, by fantasy no matter how tawdry! If they hadn't extorted the picture show, they would have had to sit around and listen to a marvelous guitar and clarinet concert of folk songs by Tony Aparo, his brother and his father, in the company of six smiling and pretty other children of the father, who, besides playing a mean guitar and singing like crazy, cooked exotic dishes like macaroni with octopus sauce, who made his own wine, and who earned the living of his humble huge household by rolling elegant pungent Toscanos, nicknamed "Dago ropes," in an attached shop. Like many another village foundling, he had found his way to America; the Dad had lent him a hand and later taught Tony to become a great formal musician. Tony became his assistant, amanuensis, and chauffeur, on call.
Speaking of the tawdry brings to mind Riverview Park, which received the Babe's custom on several occasions. It was ugly, crowded, full of people beseeching you, from their little booths, to buy things, to throw things, to win prizes, to take rides, drink soda pop, eat hot dogs and hot tamales, see strange creatures; but the Mom took her charges unerringly to superior spots: the House of Crazy Mirrors where you see yourself in bizarre shapes; the Tunnel of Love where, disregarding the name, but yet glancing at a kissing couple, you ride a boat on a river through dark and scary passages; the Merry-Go-Round with splendid steeds gorgeously caparisoned; and the Bobs where -- but let me tell you of this specially as the Babe might: "You scramble into a little car, any car on the train, and sit down in a seat just wide enough for two people, my brother or Lorraine and myself, and some guy comes along and locks you in with a metal bar, and the train moves out slowly, clackety-clack, but nothing much happens, and you begin to climb up and up on girders like you get with a toy Erector set, up and up, and then you stop for a second and then the car gives a hard jerk, and you go pitching almost straight down a hundred miles an hour, you can't imagine there's anything holding you in, you can't breathe, your heart is in your mouth, your stomach is pushing against your chest, girls are screaming all around you, you're falling, falling, and then, swoop, you slow down and everything is calm and quiet and slow, then you climb up again and the same thing happens, only not so high up, and you do it again and more times, but never like the first time: Wow!"
And after all of this he has to get sick on the trolley car on the way home and vomits up his candy and pop. Bro Bus doesn't laugh or scold. That was a nice thing about him. He didn't laugh when the Babe got sick. He took unpleasant feelings seriously as if he might have had a lot of experience with them.
The boys had long talked about consolidating their assets and taking a streetcar to a vaguely conceivable west side location where, their informants insisted, they would come upon a veritable land of milk and honey (or rather junk and toys, even better) known as Maxwell Street, where, if the streets were not paved with gold, they were chock full of unimaginable bargains. "Everything can be bought there for almost nothing." So the day did arrive when they did find the impressive flea market in the old Jewish neighborhood.
Here was the primeval setting for "jewing down" prices (the verb occupied a place in his vocabulary for several years before and after, like the word "gyp" which is worse, and would not be used after hearing from some reputable source that it wasn't employable, though its relationship to prejudice was strictly unconscious, and a synonym for the verb was hard to find, since it meant "to bargain hard for a lower price;" perhaps "haggle him down," should be preferred, whose etymology does indicate an unfairness to "hags" and anyhow hags are not an ethnic group.) The streets were lined with shops and crowded with wagons and trucks. Even the sidewalks were so piled up that the boys could hardly squeeze by.
Obviously the peddlers were not perishing from making bad bargains, and in fact the boys found the prices to be on the high side. They soon abandoned their dreams of returning laden like Spanish galleons. Perhaps the day was gloomy; the sky was not much in evidence. If you had asked them what they needed to buy before the trip they would have said "Everything!" for so the young and many another can whip up their wants in exhilarated expectation of having them fulfilled freely. Once there, however, it seemed that there was nothing much that they wanted. The whole of the famous Maxwell Street appeared shabby, confusing, set up to get rid of stuff that nobody really needed. But then they were expecting cheap automatic pencils and smoothly flowing fountain pens, cheap baseballs, cheap streamlined gym shoes, cheap fine leather belts with shiny brass buckles, the best of everything for a dollar. They bought a cheap baseball cap, which was nothing to brag about. They told the folks at supper time "You can find practically anything you want on Maxwell Street for almost nothing." They had to protect their investment in the myth.
Kate devised superb picnics. We do not know how this came about. She not only could not cook when she got married, but she had little experience with picnics. She was, of course, young then, twenty-one years old. But by 1925 she had become a first-rate chef and also conceived, organized, supplied, conducted, served, and supervised the disengagement of picnics that went beyond the painted elaborations of Renoir and Manet.
I think that she must have read carefully all that the newspapers printed on the subject over a period of time. Her picnic dinners were made up of cold food, except for the soup and coffee; they were not barbecues, nor were there available vessels for transporting hot dishes, such as the workers once carried and even today are fashioned to the most elegant tastes in India and Persia. The barbecues were left to those occasions when the Dad was presiding and involved longer trips -- "to the end of the line" -- where the Forest Preserves of the City of Chicago were located, or even farther, to Desplaines and Crystal Lake, or in the summer at Glen Park.
In the late Twenties a typical picnic at Lincoln Park would begin to evolve a week in advance. "Dad's going to be away next Saturday, so let's go have a nice picnic," she would announce to the boys.
"Why?" It could be either of the older boys asking in an annoying tone. The younger ones, under four, would look on earnestly but dumbly.
"Why... Don't you like picnics?"
"Sometimes..." Said skeptically. "Where 'we going?"
"How about Lincoln Park?"
"Nah... We've been there."
"We don't have to go to the same place. We can go by the duck pond."
"Who's going with us?"
They looked at each other. The small boys brightened up and piped up approvingly.
The Babe was not fond of his Mother's friends or their children, especially on picnics. Lorraine or another of the Anderson's girls would be O.K. The trouble was that the Mom's friends were women, and they suppressed action and channelled speech. Though she was their Mother, Kate could act almost like themselves; but she changed when her friends were around, talking of the dullest subjects imaginable, like the health histories of people they didn't care about or even know. If Mary Irmo came, who was nice and sweet, she would be sure to bring Steve, Cassie and Fortunate. Steve sided with Bus in quarrels, of which there were bound to be a couple at any picnic; he was Bussie's age. Cassie lacked a mind of his own; besides, who wanted three little kids? He saw enough of them in a couple of seasons at Glen Park. The Dad bought his insurance from Mr. Irmo who was a stuffed shirt, wanted to be called "Uncle Louis," but to Dad was a model of rectitude. Fortunate was older than any of the boys, was deaf and dumb, and he could never figure out whether she wasn't also stupid. She looked funny, a tall girl, ugly, with frizzy hair. The elders spoke fondly of her and the boys let her alone, for what could you do with her and what was going on inside her head anyway? Now and then an adult would say, "See, she understands," or "She gets mad when she doesn't get her own way." She would set up a humming, monotonic sound, louder or softer, as she perceived the situation to be going against her or for her. She would blush darkly red when angry and had been known to throw down a boy who had offended her. She liked colors and would dress herself in gaudy combinations.
The Babe was embarrassed by all of this. Why should they have to go about with so strange a creature? He asked himself questions: could she get married? How could she shop? He stopped his ears and imagined himself being spoken to, rolling his eyes in return and saying, "Bah, Ah...", but never before other people, not even Bro Bus, who was equally proper; it would never do to ridicule a person's disabilities if these were at all serious; it was alright to jeer at a temporary limp, a pimple on the nose, but not a boil on the neck, such as Bro Bus might sprout, and Bus calling him snaggle-toothed was a little over the line. By the age of four, he rarely failed to distinguish between a fault and an affliction.
But why couldn't Fortunate refrain from rouging her cheeks so heavily, and wearing such bright lipstick? If she became angry at having it removed, wasn't that a fault? Her parents thought otherwise; because of her disability, Fortunate was entitled to limited excesses, not harmful to anyone. Mr. Irmo, who was terribly strict with everyone else, accepted her eccentricities on top of her basic problems. They were devout Catholics; obviously Fortunate was accepted as their cross to bear, for they could afford institutional care for her. Besides they really loved their daughter.
The Babe, unmindful of love and less impressed by rectitude than his Father, was not able to bear the rules of rectitude and was rather moved by public whispers, the glances of strangers, and, all in all, though he never said a word of it, was rendered nervously conscious of her presence and her effect upon other people. He was in fact generally sensitive to the attitudes of others, whether the attitudes were justified or not. This is a normal failing of the young and most of the old as well, so perhaps I should not be hard on him.
He wanted to do and be many things, but he was careful to present them as normal or only slightly excessive interests. He wanted to be a superior student but not "a greasy grind," an accomplished musician but not "a long-haired violinist," of Italian descent, but not an Italian, an athlete but not a "bonehead," a girl's hero but not a sheik like Valentino, intelligent but not "a smart aleck," handsome but not a sissy, dutiful but not a servitor, on officer but not a martinet, an affectionate son but not demonstrably so, a critic but also an admirer, economical but generous, a great hero with a common touch. Truly, all of these contrasts had formed in his child's head within its first dozen years.
But we might well return to the picnic, which had merely been approved in principle. While life went on normally, Kate was planning. The first overt move came on Wednesday, when she went to Montgomery Ward and bought a thermos bottle; two weren't enough any more. On Thursday she sent the Babe after school to the meat market around the corner to buy one pound of pork, one of veal and two of beef, mixed and ground (out of which would come the next day three large glistening firm meat loaves), plus two pounds of frankfurters, Oscar Mayer's, to patronize the meat- processor who distributed from a large building at Division and Sedgwick Streets, a remarkably clean company so far as the Babe could discern in his numerous passages by all sides of it on his way to school, and beset by no gory, scandalous rumors of the kind that circulated about the huge Chicago packing industry To the grocery next for two loaves of bread, one white, one rye, sliced, not as good in quality as the bakery's but the boys insisted foolishly upon thin sliced bread that did not thicken what was after all supposed to be a gigantic filling and little else. From the grocer's came, too, the soft hot dog buns and the piccalilli, mustard, sweet pickles, catsup.
But there was much more than a dozen large sandwiches. There were fresh tomatoes, peaches, bananas, and celery. There was a gallon of potato salad. There were a large apple pie, swollen and encrusted with sweet drippings at its rim and pores, various kinds of cookies, a gallon jug of hot Campbell's vegetable soup, a gallon thermos of lemonade or milk or both, and a smaller thermos for creamed coffee. Consuming all of this properly required cutlery, paper plates, bowls, cups, glasses, napkins, salt and pepper shakers, and a tablecloth to be spread upon the grass or picnic table. There might also be a bag of peanuts for the elephants.
The Mom always carried a large purse containing not only her money but also emergency equipment, the specific nature of which was not known until the emergency would occur -- burn and blister ointments, bunion pads, combs and brushes, a toy puzzle, a deck of cards, film for the camera, handkerchiefs, scissors, nail files, cosmetics and chewing-gum. Moreover, she assembled slickers and umbrella in case it should rain, sweaters "in case it gets cold," and a blanket "to take a rest."
The Mom was short, five-foot-two, and once was slender, but a few years of family food and exercise expanded her naturally strong chest and arms and fleshed out considerably her thighs and stomach. She weighed in at 130 pounds in those days, 140 pounds a few years later at her peak weight. She had a clear medium pale complexion, teeth that were already partly plated, and large broad feet that did not carry out the promise of her shapely calves and ankles: "I have to carry too many of your things, that's why," she complained to the boys. And as to teeth, "I started having trouble when I was carrying you and nursing you," she said to the Babe, "I have no calcium left," which she may have believed, but the fact is that most people in those days were no stronger of tooth. She dressed neatly, with some elegance, and never wore heels less than two inches high.
The boys invariably howled in protest when they saw what the Mom had packed for the day in the park. Influenced by the absurd typical hero of their bad novels, who travelled on a horse with a saddle bag and a blanket roll, "that's all he had all his life," they treated her as if she were a pathetic tenderfoot. They shifted the weight of their ball and bat, popguns, books, scout knives, marbles, camera, lariats, and back-pack worn for image-making and practice, and they took up the Mom's baskets and bags, feeling exploited. Whereupon the caravan marched along Hill Street to Wells Street and there boarded a trolley car, got off where Clark Street turned West, walked to the Park, and, impatient to eat, scurried like pack rats in every direction looking for the most pleasant location to drop their load. Instinctively and rationally, it had best be beneath a tree, near freshwater, and away from other people and traffic. It would be only eleven in the morning; still, the baskets would be despoiled, even before a proper table was set.
By one o'clock, much of the food would have disappeared. Leaving someone to guard the place, the rest of the group would set off in full cry toward the Monkey House. They knew next to nothing first-hand about animals; no one in school or out had gotten them to take an interest in botany and zoology, except horses, and even then it is noteworthy how little one learns about horses in the literature of the Wild West and the fairy tales, not even useful junk that could later be sorted out to file into the simplest categories of science. So they made all the typical remarks that ordinary people make at zoos, arguing whether a lion was fiercer than a tiger, whether an elephant could be bulldozed by a rhinoceros, betting that the chimpanzee was more human than the gorilla, etc. Nothing could prevent their acquiring a sense of the variety and largeness of the world of plants and animals, of the odd specialization of function and type, of the colors of the natural world: this was all to the good. But they could have gone a hundred times to the zoo and, bright though they might be, come away with little more than a limbic-brained open-mouthed appreciation.
It was like the row-boat ride that followed, an application of main force to the oars, an innocent pleasure and what more would one want on a hot Saturday afternoon in Chicago? It was better than watching a professional baseball game, better than kicking about aimlessly. Still, the schools could have explained what made zoos different from Riverview Park and how plants and animals might deserve as much appreciation as music and art, but neither did one hear much in school of these matters.
For thousands of years man has known how to educate and has failed to apply the knowledge to even rudimentary good ends; I mean not to teach constitutional law but to learn the ABC's of the full world about us. A course of study that the Babe and his friends would have appreciated could be on local topography and ecology. (Of course, pedagogues believe children cannot cope with big words and would call it something like "How to get along in your small world.") In this they would have explained to kids how to look at what is around them and what part of the universe this ordinary stuff relates to. What are things made of, how do anatomies and machines work, why there are roads here and not there, why factories are here and there, what a sewage system is, what makes birds sing, where all the smoke came from, and what was happening to the world around them -- the deterioration of the people's housing, the erection of skyscrapers, the City plan (actually a generation before, a school- book edition of the famous Chicago City Plan was prescribed for the Schools), and more -- where were one's friends moving and why, why was Lake Shore Drive getting so hard to cross, why were trees being pulled up and pavements laid down, why was now this gate, now that gate being padlocked, and -- Yes, Alfred? -- the Babe would like to know why his dirt alley was paved and what happened to all the fine clay he needed for his sculptures and battles, and why real puddles as large as a river could no longer be enjoyed now that the drains had been enlarged, and why the red bricks had been torn up and tar laid down, and how did electric wires keep you from flying a kite safely, and why were farmers complaining so much in their land of milk and honey and why were all those poor people leaving the farms, too, and the Mom wants to know where you can buy the big Louisiana prawn cheap and the Dad now has to get up before dawn to follow the wild mushrooms and cardoons. From which we may gather that the small boy was already becoming a threatened species in Chicago, but that the adults were ignoring or worsening the problem instead of coping with it.