The doctor knows best: Tina was cleared to end her COVID isolation and reenter the world at large – as long as she continued wearing a mask for the next two days. That was a sensible arrangement as far as we all were concerned. And so, Fri morning, Tina drove the family car – with Milo secured in his car seat in the back – into the alleyway behind the houses on the block between Goethe and Schiller Sts. (You can figure out the ethnicity of the original occupants.) Head back up N. Welles St. until the end, make the 45° left turn, go a respectable distance, and then pull into the parking garage across the street from where we need to be.
Few people do research on the Internet as thoroughly and relentlessly as Tina. If the family was going to relocate from Hoboken NJ to the Windy City, there were a few over-riding concerns: proper medical attention for Milo and access to the best public schools for both boys being at the top of the list. Is anyone who knows the area surprised that they wound up in Lincoln Park? And since they had to be in a building with an elevator, what choices were there? Answer: one of the relatively new high-rise rental apartment buildings (twenty stories with a pool, a hot tub, and some barbecue grills on the roof, a game room and a bike storage room on the first floor, a large lobby with full-time security). I have no idea how much my daughter and son-in-law are paying for their apartment; somethings you don’t ask and somethings you don’t want to know.
The folks at the Art Institute have done a remarkable job with their display of miniature rooms (see previous article). But do they have anything on today’s entrepreneurs who have perfected the art of the scaled-down apartment? (This is akin to today’s no-room-for-your-feet seat on an airplane.) Yes, there is a reasonable sized master suite with its own powder room and a small but adequate second bedroom for Damon and Milo with a bathroom in the hall. But here is where today’s apartment designers show their skill: the multi-purpose room: kitchen, eating area, sitting room (where guests, such as us, would get to sleep) and Tina’s office – all in one space. Oh, and there’s a small balcony, which probably wouldn’t get much use – Chicago being Chicago.
Someone who is paying attention might counter: small apartments are nothing new. Think of all the studio apartments in NYC; think of all the undersize apartments for oversized families in Israel – some of which come with hefty rental charges or burdensome mortgages. But those are not marketed as top-dollar accommodations, as in, we have a swimming pool on our roof. Maybe it seemed so small compared to where Anya and Alex live, with more room than you’d ever need – and then some.
Nonetheless, home is home. Home is where the heart is, and we all adjust to what we have. There waiting for us was the rest of the family: David and Damon, with a welcome it was worth flying across the wide Atlantic to experience. Hooray for things like WhatsApp, Facetime, and Zoom. Otherwise, we’d be total strangers (Who are these people?). However, it’s always a shock to see Milo in person. Because of his disability, even at age five, he still can’t walk on his own. He is, however, smart and cheerful, and people immediately adore him. Needless to say, he is getting the best medical care available, thanks to the best health insurance, available only to the fortunate few.
Would you like a fig?
Damon is eight; he’ll be talking your ear off one moment and then, the next thing you know, he’ll be in his room on one of his devices, and you won’t hear a peep out of him for the next few hours. He and Grumps (that’s me!) had an interesting exchange a few months ago. His teacher gave a class assignment: pose a series of standardized questions to a family member of a somewhat older generation (well, there ain’t nobody much older than Grumps). Questions like: What did you do for fun as a child when you were not in school?, or What was a popular toy you played with when you were a child?, or Can you please describe a typical dinner time when you were a child?, or What is an activity that your family liked to do together when you were growing up?, or Can you please describe choices that you had as a child and compare them to choices that I have today?
Gevalt. Damon doesn’t believe anything ridiculous like, my family lived in a cave and we played with dinosaur bones for fun. I’m sure it never entered his mind that we went to a one-room schoolhouse or walked ten miles through the snow to get there. But the difference in our childhood experiences. What did we do for fun when we were not in school? On a summer evening, every kid on the block, maybe twenty or so, would come down and play ball: stick ball, curb ball, potsy, and a game we called king. We could play in the street because, in those days, there weren’t that many cars going through to interrupt our activities. Our father worked all the way downtown, and we would wait on pins and needles for him to show up in the evening. Frank and I would rush through dinner so we could go down and join the games before it got dark. Not only should I not expect today’s eight-year-old to understand the logistics of what I’m describing (You played ball in the street?), how would he appreciate the rush of emotions I feel seventy years later recalling these memories?
(Because we lived in NYC, children were much more able to do things on their own. We didn’t need our parents to organize play dates for us. Once I was a little older, I could get on a bus or take the subway by myself and go wherever I wanted to. The city was much safer then. I could go on and on…… I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything in the world.)
Damon and I began our discussion on WhatsApp. As we went through the ten questions, it was obvious that Damon was beginning to lose interest in the project; it was simply taking too long. As some of my answers needed fleshing out, I wrote down what I had said, adding a little bit here and there and emailed the final product to Tina. Damon’s teacher collected the answers and then…… Tina has no idea what happened next; it was just another school assignment that the kids had to hand in…
It was a Thurs. morning, and, like any sensible person, I was sitting at the counter in Power Coffeeworks before heading across the street to the shuk. Seated next to me was a fellow who was drinking his coffee and sampling the figs he had just purchased in the market. He turned to me and asked, Would you like a fig? How could I say no? When was the last time someone next you made such an offer? (You can’t remember, can you?) With that out of the way, we got into a long conversation. You know the kind, where you can’t remember how it got started or what prompted the discussion. Yisroel had handed me a fig, and, in return, I was regaling him with stories about growing up in The Bronx, c. 1950. (Seems a fair exchange, don’t you think?) Now, my stool mate had a question about the questions. Were there any questions about what the students might have learned from doing this assignment? Did they feel they knew more about their family than they had before? Fair enough, I’d say, but there’s no one to ask. We’re a long way from Chicago.