“Call me Ishmael”. These are three of the most famous opening words ever written. It is, of course the opening line to Melville’s masterpiece, Moby Dick. It was the first movie I ever saw on the big screen. I was seven years old and my mom took me to see it at the old Belmont theater in Chicago. So… big deal, right?
This past week, I saw it again. Not the movie, the play. It was my big sister’s birthday, so she, my daughter, wife and I had a night out in the big city. We met up with my son-in law, my son and his girlfriend at Mike Ditka’s restaurant for a bite before-hand. Ever had an oyster shooter? Ditka’s makes them just right. Throw an oyster, cold vodka, a dash of tabasco sauce and some fresh lemon juice in a shot glass, and down the hatch. You either love it or hate it, no in between.
After our repast and a rendition of happy birthday for sister Susie, we strolled a couple blocks to the Lookingglass theatre. It is located inside the old water tower pumping station, which was built in 1869 and survived the great fire of 1871, quite a fascinating venue.
Wowewowwow, was I impressed. The cast and the tiny, theatre, took me back to the 1850’s village of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and out to sea aboard the rugged Pequod whaling vessel. I was amazed at how they brought such an epic to the stage. The intensity of Ahab as he became more and more determined, casting aside all common sense, and putting his crew in mortal danger with his madness was spectacular. It gets a big two thumbs up from me.
A little girl was asking her teacher about whales. At one point in the discussion, the teacher remarked that it is impossible for a whale to swallow a human because, even though the whale was a very large mammal, its throat is very small.
“But the whale swallowed Jonah,” the little girl insisted.
Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human. It is physically impossible, she said.
The little girl said, “When I get to heaven, I will ask Jonah.”
The teacher asked, “What if Jonah went to hell?”
The little girl replied, “Then you ask him.”
How is a dog and marine biologist alike?
One wags a tail and the other tags a whale.
What does Moby Dick eat?
Fish and ships.
What do whales like to chew?
Okay. Sorry about that. I got a bit carried a whale. Oops, I’ll stop now. There is no porpoise in going any further. Whew.
So, are you ready for chapter 8 of Pinky’s Drive-In? This chapter might stir up some memories for you mid and upper-mid westerners.
The storm seemed to let up somewhat, although the snow was still coming down. We had been hitting it hard for the past couple of hours and I was starting to feel it, so I stepped outside for some fresh air. Jeff and Pat decided to join me, as they too wanted to clear their heads.
“This is much better, said Pat. It was getting kind of close in there.”
“Yeah, it’s not too bad out here. It looks like the snow is finally letting up.” I said.
Weaser, Ski, Ted, and Red also came out to join us, and before we knew it, all the Pinky’s Boys were standing outside of Krabby Ken’s, just like we used to in the old days.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” said Moose. “Why don’t we grab some beers and stroll on over to the school yard. Maybe we can get Ski to do a Les Crack encore.”
Crazy as that sounded, it also felt like a great idea to me. Who knows when we will all be together again, I thought.
“Let’s do it!” I said excitedly.
We went back in briefly to get our coats and a bottle of beer. Ken told Gina we’d be back in a little while and to lock the door, as we left the bar for the schoolyard. The women in the tavern thought we were crazy so, Linda and the other few ladies remained behind with Gina.
We used to enter the yard through an opening in the fence that had been taken out, but it was closed, so we walked down the block to the middle gate. Everything seemed much smaller than it used to, although not much had changed. It all felt really cool to me, as we jabbered and finally assembled on the concrete steps. There was about three inches of wet snow on the ground, and it was still coming down, lightly.
“I’m freezing my rear end off,” said Pat. “Come on Ski; get the God Damn show going!”
We all chimed in, “We want Les, we want Les,” until Ski stepped out in front of us and held up his arms in recognition. We cheered, whistled and applauded as he took a bow and started right in on Moose.
“Hey, Moose are those shoes, or is Bozo the clown walking around in his socks?”
“What are you laughing at Woody, when is the baby due?”
“Between you and Ken it looks like you’re gonna have twin Hippos!”
“Yo, Red, if you keep shrinking you’ll be back to puberty before long!”
Ski, hadn’t lost a step over the years. We couldn’t stop laughing as we watched him do his act. When he did the famous Ski moves, darting back and forth, pausing like a contorted mannequin, and then attempting a Michael Jackson Moon walk, I lost it all together. He looked smooth as ever as he slid around in the snow.
He then, introduced the entertainment.
“Ladies and gentle nerds, I’d like to introduce the infamous Little Stevie Wonder!” “Let’s hear it for him folks,” he said.
Red stepped down from the cement landing and took center stage. He held his beer bottle to his mouth, looked up in the air with a stupid grin on his face, and started swaying his head back and forth, as he sang the first few bars of “You are the Sunshine of my Life.”
The high squeaky voice and badly-off key rendition were almost too much for me to take. It was perfect!
When Red finished, we all applauded loudly, and Ski grabbed his arm to help him back to the steps.
“That’s all for tonight folks,” said Ski. “Drive safely and don’t fall on your asses on your way back to the bar.”
We gave one last round of applause, as we finished off our beers and headed back to Krabby Ken’s.
The fresh air and exuberating show gave us new life as we piled back into the bar. I was the first to enter, and immediately sensed a problem. There were four younger dudes huddled around the corner of the bar where we had been, and the women were all the way down at the other end. Gina was trying to explain to the dudes that this was a closed party, but they didn’t want to leave. She had forgotten to lock the door when we left.
As the rest of us entered, they turned to look at us as if we were encroaching on their space. They looked to be in their mid-twenties and had obviously been drinking already.
Ken took charge, and told them politely, that this was a private party and that they would have to leave. Things felt a little tense, as one of them told Ken, quite belligerently, that they wanted to stay.
This was starting to look all too familiar. Ken only does polite once, and then, if he is challenged anything goes. His face became red as he walked up to the dude.
“I’m asking you politely to leave,” he said. “This is a closed party.”
“I don’t see no sign, you should have locked the door or something,” said the dude.
I could tell from years of experience that Ken was about to lose it, so I stepped in.
“Listen, fellas, we just stepped out for a bit and forgot to lock the door. This really is a private affair. Why don’t you have a quick beer on the house and go down the street to Sally’s Lounge. They have a great juke box down there,” I said.
I hadn’t noticed that the rest of the Pinky’s Boys had assembled behind Ken and me. It was still instinctual, that they back their brothers up. We didn’t want to seem intimidating, after all, we weren’t kids anymore, but I guess it just came naturally. The dudes finally seemed to understand, as they decided to take the alternative I offered them.
“Okay, that seems fair enough,” said the dude.
“Pour these guys a short one, and get all the boys a round of shots on me,” said Ken
The four dudes drank up their beers, left quietly, and went down to Sally’s. I patted Ken on the back and thanked him for keeping his cool. He gave me an understanding look, as if remembering other times when I had calmed him down in the past.
The whiskey shots, warmed us up, and got us back into the party mood. As I sat back on my bar stool, I looked out the window and noticed several teen-age boys hanging out under the two-story high neon Waveland Bowl sign.
“Hey, Jeff, doesn’t it seem a little odd to you that those kids are just standing there in a snowstorm?” I said as I leaned over and pointed.
“Not at all,” he said. “Think back to about 30 years ago and imagine that those boys are us in our late teens. What do you think we would have been waiting for?” Jeff replied with a sly grin on his face.
Suddenly, the boys all ran behind the huge sign, and seemed to be hiding from something. “Watch this, everyone!” blurted Jeff.
We turned toward the window just in time to see the teens reappear from behind the sign, armed with loads of well-packed snowballs. The approaching CTA bus never knew what hit it! Bam! Splat! Bang! They all fired at will. There must have been 20 direct hits within a couple of seconds. You could see the passengers’ heads snapping back as they attempted to duck away from the pelted windows.
The bus driver must have been a seasoned veteran, as the bus never even slowed down. It was helpless against the barrage that seemed to come out of nowhere. The large green and tan steel rectangle ambled steadily down the avenue, like a wounded beast. We could hear the gang cheering and yelling as they turned and ran off through the bowling alley’s parking lot.
There was also a loud cheer from inside the bar as we watched the action from our luxury box seats.
“I should have known,” I said to Jeff with a chuckle. “I’m glad to see that some of the finer things in life haven’t changed. It reminds me of the Big Snow back in ‘67. Man, we had a blast back then.”
The Big Snow
On January 26th and 27th, 1967 one of the largest snowstorms to strike the Midwest on record occurred. Central and northern Illinois, northern Indiana, Lower Michigan, Missouri and Kansas were hit hard by this blizzard. Detroit reported 28 inches of snow; Gary, Indiana, 24 inches and Chicago had 26 inches. Winds of 50 mph created drifts to 15 feet! Seventy-six people died in the Chicago area. This blizzard still ranks as Chicago’s worst snowstorm in a 24-hour period.
I was 17 years old in 1967. My family moved to the west side of the city two years earlier, when I was a high school sophomore. Our house was situated on a forty-foot bluff that overlooked the freeway. My father, older brother and I made our way down to street level to check things out.
I-94 was completely closed from one end of the city to the other, for two full days. It felt eerie to stand safely in the middle of the expressway, and look in any direction, seeing no vehicles moving. The silence was almost deafening, as there was always traffic noise pouring into our neighborhood. All we heard was a brisk wind, as the snow blew and drifted about us in the bright sunlight. There were numerous abandoned cars and trucks, but they were buried so badly, they couldn’t move under their own power.
Our entire block was teeming with people. We even let our dog run free, without a leash, knowing that the streets were safe. Smaller kids sledded and tumbled down the steep hill to the bottom and built a snow man in the bed of a buried pickup truck. My brother and I didn’t have sleds anymore, so we split open cardboard boxes, and joined in the fun as we slid down with the youngsters. What a blast!
Chicago didn’t plow the side streets in those days, so we had to take care of moving as much snow as we could from in front of our houses. My dad, brother and I, shoveled snow and helped our neighbors dig out cars for hours that day. No one had a snow blower, so we just put our backs into it and kept on shoveling
Everyone was in a joyous mood and gave a cheer, as, one by one, the cars were freed from their snowbound spots along the curb. I was exhausted at the end of the day, and it was nice to enjoy the hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies my mom made for her hard-working men.
The snow was piled ten to fifteen feet high in some places along the streets of the city. When you drove down the avenues, it seemed as if you were in a tunnel. The oncoming lanes weren’t even visible until you reached an intersection. Driving was slow going for two weeks.
This was an adventurous time for my friends and me. Many businesses and all schools were closed for several days. The main boulevards and streets were being plowed, but it was a tedious process. The most difficult part of the operation was trying to find somewhere to put all the snow. There were no parking laws in those days for heavy snows, so many of the streets were literally blocked off for days. The plows couldn’t get through because the cars couldn’t be moved. There were huge mounds of snow, piled up on every corner.
The blizzard started on a Monday, and it wasn’t until Friday that the Pinky’s Boys were able to get back together. Even though I had moved out of the neighborhood, I still hung around with my friends at Pinky’s. I would take a bus to the old neighborhood, or bum a ride from my parents or one of my siblings.
The city was still somewhat crippled, but some vehicles were moving about, and many of the buses were up and running, although a half-hour wait at the stop was not out of the ordinary. Luckily, my brother was going out, so he gave me a ride to Pinky’s in my dad’s Chrysler.
We boys started to show up in front of the bowling alley at about 7:00 that evening. The mountain of snow created in the parking lot was so high that you could climb to the top of the roof. This gave a whole new dimension to “King of the Hill”! We tried to clamor to the top and take possession of the throne. Some of the older guys from the Cameo Club even got into it with us. When one of them got to the top, we did a banzai charge to knock them off. When we became too fatigued to climb back up, we resorted to throwing snowballs, until we finally had to stop all together.
We decided to make our way about a block over to the schoolyard, and congregate on the cement steps that had been cleared by the janitorial staff. The snow was still knee deep as we made our way through the yard. The temperature was in the upper twenties, but there was no wind, and the stairwell offered some nice shelter.
Alexander Graham Bell Grammar School was a typical public-school building. It was a huge fortress. The three-story redbrick structure and its surrounding schoolyard spanned two square city blocks. It had eight entrances with four sets of double doors each and the interior hallway walls and floors were solid marble.
In the warmer months we played softball, basketball or fast-pitch with a hard rubber ball in the yard. The school was designed to house K-8th grades. Most of us had attended all or part of grammar school there, so we were familiar with the layout.
“Anybody up for some brewskies?” asked Spoolie.
We all looked at him like he was nuts. There was no place indoors to go, and it wasn’t getting any warmer out.
“No way, I’m freezing.” said Weaser.
“Wait right here everyone, I’ll be back in a minute.” said Ski as he waded out of the schoolyard.
We didn’t know what Ski was up to so we just stayed put. Suddenly the door behind us swung open. We were startled, as we thought it was the night watchman, but it was Ski!
“Come on in guys. It’s nice and warm in here!” he said holding the door.
Ski worked part-time as an assistant janitor and had a key so he could get into the school when he needed to. He hadn’t told anyone because he didn’t want to be pressured to abuse it, but this seemed to be an opportune time to let the cat out of the bag.
The school had been closed all week so there was no one on duty. It was abandoned. The only light came from the few night-lights that were strategically left on for minimal illumination. It seemed a little creepy as we saw each other as shadowy figures, but as time passed, our eyes adjusted to the dark and we became more comfortable. We whispered at first, and our voices echoed off the marble walls.
Things were looking up. We took up the usual collection for beer and got an older guy from the Cameo Club to buy it. As we passed the opener around, the sounds from the bottles being opened seemed to shoot all around us, and the occasional belches and burps made us snicker as they bounced off the walls. When Scrubby let out one of his famed window-shattering farts, we applauded and cheered with sheer delight.
Several of the guys took a tour around the school to see what rooms were open. The bathrooms were the only ones left unlocked, so we could use them whenever the urge was there. Some of us, of course, used the girl’s room just because we could. It sure beat whipping it out in the cold and writing our names in the snow.
Ski’s key opened the case that held the master keys, which allowed access to just about everything in the school. This presented us with a multitude of possibilities. Which door should we open first? Should it be the Principal’s office, or the cafeteria, the library, or maybe just one of the classrooms? We decided on the Gym.
Bell School was so large that it had two gymnasiums, one on the top floor, and the main gym, which was on the first-floor smack in the middle of the building. It was used for all major assemblies. The eighth-grade basketball team played its league games there during the season. It was also used daily for Physical Education classes for the 5th through 8th grades. There was a main basketball standard at each end and four others around the perimeter for half court play. Closed bleachers were stacked up ten feet high on the long walls.
The best feature of the gym was its location within the building. It was surrounded by hallways. The only windows were vents lined up along the top of the interior walls. They didn’t even open to the outside of the building, so we could turn on the huge ceiling lights without being seen from outside.
Jeff found the switch box, and without warning started flicking the toggles up one by one in rapid order. The 1000-watt incandescent bulbs fired up immediately filling the gym with light. It was quite painful as our eyes dilated and almost burst from the sudden brightness. Jeff was laughing, as he covered his eyes and continued to blind us.
“Jeff, you asshole, turn off the damn lights! You’re going to get me fired.” shouted Ski.
“Take it easy dick head. No one can see in.” Jeff yelled back.
We all had to look down and hold our hands over our eyes at first. It took several minutes before the spots finally disappeared from in front of our eyes.
“Far out man, said Weaser. Let’s shoot some hoops. Where are the balls?”
Most of us were proven veterans at round-ball. A few of the guys played in High school. We even formed our own team for a couple seasons and joined a league at Horner Park. The best we ever placed was second, but the first-place team had been playing together since puberty, and were the perennial league champs. They also had an all-state center from Carver High, so we were satisfied as runners-up.
When Ski realized that it was safe he relented. He opened the equipment room and started tossing basketballs onto the court.
“Let’s play, he bellowed! Just don’t wreck the joint or I’ll never let you turds in again.”
We all grabbed a ball and started shooting. It was fantastic! We usually played outside in the schoolyard at a basket with no net and a slightly bent rim. Having the gym all to ourselves was a bit of heaven. We didn’t even take our jackets off at first. It was quite a site. There were about twenty of us, all wearing some sort of greaser winter garb. We were a flurry of black leather coats, baggie gray work pants, black fedoras and combat boots.
We finally decided to choose sides and have a couple of half court games. Keep in mind that not all of us were adept at the fine art of what was once referred to as a non-contact sport. You must also be aware that some of us had just drunk a couple of quarts of Meister Brau, and that not all of us had finished. This was indeed a true beer game.
Only ten of us had played in an organized league. We tried to distribute the players evenly, so no one team had a severe disadvantage. We stripped down to T-shirts and no-shirts (shirts vs. skins). Hats were optional and in most cases worn, and we had to take off our boots, of course. Smoking and drinking was allowed during play, and if anyone had to take a leak the game continued without them.
We started out playing a pretty normal scrimmage. Someone who knew how to dribble the ball brought it down court and passed it off or took a shot, while the defense picked a man and attempted to make a stop.
The game was progressing nicely until Moose knocked over Ken’s beer with a wild bounce pass. We now had a rather large wet area on the floor that proved to be quite slippery. Paulie sloshed through it in his stocking feet, and flew up into the air causing him to slide into the bleachers.
The ball was rolling free as Pat and I dove for it. Pat won so I grabbed his foot, pulled his sock off and throw it on top of the backboard. Then Weaser, Pat’s teammate, tossed my hat onto the bleachers. The free for all had commenced. I don’t clearly recall the ensuing sequence of events, but the hour or so that followed was, without a doubt one of the most enjoyable 60 minutes I had ever experienced. It was animal ball at its best.
When play finally ended we were completely exhausted. The gym was a mess and smelled like a carnival beer tent. We were soaked with a mixture of perspiration and beer, Meistersweat, yuck. The highly waxed gym floor was a disaster and Ski started to freak out.
“Shit! Shit! Shit! He shrieked. I am totally screwed. They’ll know it was me for sure, he said waving his hands wildly in the air. I’ll be fired.”
We felt sorry for Ski. Without him we would still be out in the cold and never would have had such a great time. What could we do to help? Luckily his keys also opened the janitorial door where there were plenty of mops and buckets. The next hour was spent mopping the floor, wiping down bleachers, washing beer stained basketballs and searching for missing articles of clothing.
Our mothers would have been proud of us. We left the gym just as we had found it. I guess the foul stench must have dissipated by Monday, because Ski’s boss never approached him.
I lived the furthest away since I moved to the west side and had to take the bus home. I wasn’t looking forward to waiting at the corner, freezing my butt off. I had to take two routes to get home. I’d ride the Western Avenue bus for about six blocks and transfer to the Montrose line, which took me the remaining eight miles home.
Pat lived at Western and Irving Park Rd which was on the way, so he walked with me for a while. The streets were still almost completely deserted due to the Big Snow. There were also still several cars plowed in along the side streets. Pat and I walked for about a block when we came upon a 56 Chevy Biscayne sitting in the middle of the quiet intersection. It looked like a Junker and seemed to be abandoned.
“How would you like to get home in record time tonight?” said Pat.
It was a well-known fact that Chevy’s could be started by simply turning the key slot, if it had been left in the accessory position instead of the lock position when it was turned off. Some Chevy owners didn’t even bother using their keys.
Neither of us had ever stolen a car.
“I don’t know, Pat,” I said warily. “This could be big trouble if we get caught.”
“It may not even start,” said Pat as he opened the driver’s side door.
The ignition was left in the ACC position. The engine began to crank and after a couple of tries, it turned over. Black smoke spewed out of the exhaust, but it kept running and had plenty of gas.
“Hop in, Woody,” said Pat. “I’ll take you home in style.”
The temptation was too great, so I got in the passenger side, and we were off!
“Holy crap, I shouted, we must be fucking nuts!”
“Sure, beats walking, doesn’t it?” said Pat.
“You got that right,” I said as I kept looking around for cops.
We tried to keep to the side streets as much as possible, but a few of them were still blocked off. We had to double back to Waveland and turn west toward Western.
We stopped for the red light right next to Pinky’s. Ron Rivers, one of the older guys, was just coming out of the Cameo Club Lounge. Pat rolled down his window.
“Hey, Ron, need a lift?” he yelled with a grin. Ron hopped in the back seat.
“I gotta tell ya, Ron, this car is stolen,” said Pat.
“Just get me home,” slurred Ron.
We realized then, that he was a bit tipsy. Ron only lived a couple of blocks from the Cameo Club, and it was on the way.
“Okay,” said Pat.
We were off once again.
Neither Pat nor I had a driver’s license. We were both seventeen, but hadn’t bothered to get our learner’s permits yet. I was quite impressed with his driving. The streets were slippery and the tires were bald, but Pat was doing all right. We headed north up Western. The plan was to turn left two streets up, drop Ron off and continue west, staying on the side streets as much as possible.
As we approached the next intersection, the light was just about to turn red. The snow was piled so high that we couldn’t see if there was a car waiting at the cross street. Pat hit the brakes too hard and we started to skid.
“Run the light!” shouted Ron from the back seat. “There’s no one around anyway.”
Pat let up on the brake and pushed back down on the gas.
The stoplight was solid red, but we went flying through it anyway. We didn’t see the car pulling out of the cross street until we were almost through the intersection. It just missed hitting us broadside.
“It’s a cop car!” I yelled.
“Hold on Woody!” shouted Pat as he stood on the accelerator.
I thought I was having a nightmare. He was going to make a run for it. The squad car lighted up immediately and was about a block behind us.
The Chevy was giving Pat all it had. The rods were knocking so loudly that I thought they were about to shoot straight through the hood. Poor Ron was flailing around in the back seat like a rag-doll as Pat slid into a right turn at Irving Park, another four-lane boulevard. We went into a sideways skid. Pat tried to regain control, but the tires couldn’t hold the slippery pavement.
“Hold on!” shouted Pat again.
Ron and I braced against our seats. BAM! We smashed head on into the cement base of the center stoplight. The sideways slide slowed us enough that we didn’t sustain any injuries. We were all okay.
“I can’t get caught!” said Pat. Tell the cops you’re hitchhikers,” he shouted erratically as he flung open his door.
Pat ran across the street and ducked into a gangway between two apartment buildings just as the squad approached. As luck would have it, one of those apartment buildings was where Pat lived with his mother and brother. By the time the cops knew what happened, he was up in his third story window, watching Ron and I being hauled away in a paddy wagon. I remember shivering almost uncontrollably as Ron and I sat in the back of the police wagon. I looked at Ron and started to speak. He put his index finger up to his lips to shush me. The excitement obviously sobered him up.
“Don’t say a word,” he whispered as he leaned into my ear.
He seemed to be experienced at this sort of thing. We both stayed still for the entire fifteen-minute ride to the police station. We already told the cops that we were hitch-hiking and had never seen Pat before.
We were questioned once again at the station, but stuck to our story. Hitch-hiking was quite common during that week so they bought our story. They released us, but I had to call my mother for a ride home. Ron got a lift home from one of his buddies from the Cameo Club.
My mom was upset at first, but when I told her what happened, the same story I told the police, she calmed down and was just glad I wasn’t injured.