On Stage at The Frunchroom – South Side Style

The Frunchroom
The Frunchroom

A strange thing happens when you visit The Frunchroom. You learn all kinda stuff you never knew that you didn’t know.

Allow me to explain.

I’ve lived near Mother McCauley – a Catholic girls high school in Chicago – all my life and had no idea that MM was a feminist well before the word became a trendy word to embrace. I’ve lived near Hardboiled coffee for some time and had never quite managed to stop in, despite the fact that the signage is ultra cool, and I know the owner plays records all day long. I also learned that I’ve lived in a food dessert, and that income has little to do with access to good, whole, fresh foods when it comes to living in a black neighborhood. Then there was the guy from Bridgeport who bikes all the time, even to Rainbow Beach on the South Shore – a place that I love but have never, ever considered riding a bike to.

That was The Frunchroom, a place where a few fine folks gathered to read a story or two – most of it true. It’s a Chicago tradition, and I’m glad to have been a part of it. I read an essay about the ghetto gold of Evergreen Plaza and how I coveted that stuff. The Plaza of my youth is long gone, but the memories are fresh, and it seemed that everyone nodded in agreement when I brought up the now-closed movie theatre, the cookie shop, the Jesus store and the arcade that was in front of that Orange Julius. (Frunchroom is a Chicago thing, in case you were wondering. It’s all in how we pronounce it…)

My Frunchroom compadres were assembled by Scott Smith, aka “@ourmaninChicago” on Twitter. You should follow him. He’s a thinker and has a blog worth reading. (And I’m not saying that just because he invited me to read.) Who else was there? Natalie Moore, a WBEZ reporter and author who read a chapter from her upcoming book about contemporary segregation on the South Side; Dmitry Samarov, a writer and artist whose sketches adorn the walls of Hardboiled; Jen Sabella, a McCauley grad and the director of social media and engagement over at DNAinfo.com; and Chuck Sudo, the former Editor-in-Chief of Chicagoist and the before mentioned  biker.

You can actually read a write-up of the series here, at DNAinfo.com. Howard Ludwig wrote it. You should follow him too.

Beverly is on the far South Side. I stress FAR. Most people don’t even know that this is Chicago. And that’s a shame. But with the new Frunchroom series, the upcoming Beverly Art Walk and the revamped Beverly/Morgan Park Home Tour, I bet a lot of North Siders – and others – might come to see the far Southwest Side in a new light.

I’ll be posting that Evergreen Plaza essay soonish. Stay tuned for more.

Irish Day: Oh the memories…

My parents were the first black people to move into the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Beverly Hills. It’s a higher income, Irish Catholic area flanked by houses on hills, ancient oak trees and mansions that sit on major acreage for a city property. At the time, there was virtually no diversity “west of the train tracks.”

We lived on top of the hill, in a colonial style red brick home with a carriage house in the back that had been converted into a garage. We had several bedrooms, a fireplace and enough room – finally – for my piano. A grand piano. My neighbors had a ballroom on their first floor. A Frank Lloyd Wright house stood two lots down. A lovely children’s park was across the street and the best school in Chicago was a mere five block walk from my front door.

I was a baby when they moved in, but my sisters and brother tell me the stories of how the racism was extraordinary. And then, in 1985,  I remember going to church (on the West Side) on St. Patricks Day and returning home to find that our stellar neighbors had painted all over our storybook house with the following words: “Niggers go back to Africa.” They painted the windows too and they destroyed the white wooden columns in front of the house.

My parents house was  – and is – along the route of the Chicago Home Tour. This fact prompted Mayor Daley to ask my dad to remove the nasty words from the first, second and third floors of our hill-perched house. My dad, an attorney who was working with Harold Washington and Operation PUSH, said “hell no.” I’m paraphrasing, but essentially he said that if your cousins did it, your cousins should clean it.

To add insult to injury, Pops refused to cut the grass too. So when the home tour approached, the house looked ridiculous.  And I was still asking “Daddy, where’s Africa? Is that near Madear’s house? I thought we were from Chicago and you were from Michigan and Mommy was from Little Rock.”

I knew our neighbors didn’t like us. I knew the Irish boys would chase us home from school but I didn’t understand why. I simply ducked when they threw rocks and dodged when they pulled out their pellet guns. One time when I was practicing my piano, someone even shot into the window by my piano seat. I was home alone, waiting for my mom to get off work. It was pretty early, around 3 p.m. or so. And I got under my piano and stayed there until Mom got home. I was too terrified to move.

But I digress. Back to that home tour.

We went to church the Sunday before the tour and upon our return found city crews sandblasting our crib and repainting our columns. They even had cut the grass. Dad threatened to sue the city for tresspassing on personal property, but we all had to admit that they did a good job cleaning up the mess of their fellow countrymen.

Beverly got a bit better after that. I got to know our new neighbors, the Lanahans. They had a bunch of kids, and I’m pretty sure there were eight boys and a few girls. Patrick and Daniel decided that they would walk us home from school – even though they went to the Catholic school and we went to the public school. Their mom would sit on the porch and make sure we got in. And our other new neighbors, who I now know were Chicago mob bosses, also looked out – though at the time I didn’t understand why.

Still even with our new protectors, it was hard blending into Chicago’s Irish mecca. Even harder on St. Patrick’s Day, where the world’s largest parade would parade down my block, leading to more acts of drunken terrorism. Interestingly, now, the city has pulled the plug on Beverly’s parade. It had gotten to be too much- even for the Irish.  The only parade to be found now is downtown Chicago, with plenty of police.

And though the Lanahan boys (who grew up to be supa, dupa fine) tease me about going to the new parade, they know I never will. I’m not mad, but I’m all set.