This a sad post, discussing the demise of a book, non-literary in content, that was part of my life for the last 43 years. I’m talking about the end of the print edition of Who’s Who in Baseball, popularly referred to as The Red Book. I starting buying The Red Book in 1973, in the age before Google. It contained statistics of active Major League ballplayers, going back to their Minor League and foreign baseball careers as well. It was my constant companion as I watched a baseball game on TV at home, always ready to tell me a pertinent stat on a player. I never threw copies of The Red Book away, stacking them neatly, side-by-side on a shelf in my basement. But now the age of Google is in few swing, and the print edition of The Red Book has become a relic.
What motivated a nice Jewish young man from Northbrook to move to Japan for fifteen years and become a debt collector there? Well Steven Gan has just written his tell all first book, “Making It & Breaking It in Japan” relating his commercial adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun. Some of these adventures were indeed perilous as Gan confronted the Japanese Mafia. He even wound up in the clink in Tokyo. But now Gan is back in Northbrook, safe and sound, and he will tell his story at Max and Benny’s on Monday evening, March 27, starting at 7:00 p.m. Come early to get a good seat and eat before the presentation.
The Cliff Dwellers next book club on Saturday morning March 25 features Eric Charles May as he discusses his novel Bedrock Faith. The book, written in 2014, grabs the reader in so many different ways as it is poignant, amusing and tragic, often in the same chapter. But it does grab you, and you remain fixed on the book until its conclusion. Set in a middle-class African American community on Chicago’s Far South Side, the author brilliantly narrates the challenge of a cohesive group of long settled residents dealing with the horrific actions of a mentally unhinged neighbor. The discussion begins at 11 and is free and open to the public. Mr. May will be staying afterwards for lunch, which you do need to make a reservation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Glencoe Public Library is launching its new Big Books series this spring with James Joyce’s Ulysses. I have the distinct honor of being the instructor for the course. There will be nine evening sessions, on Thursdays from 7:00 to 8:30, starting on April 6th. The course is free, and open to all, though Glencoe residents have priority if the class fills up. If you are interested in registering, please call the library at 847-835-5056.
I was very saddened by the passing of Frank Delaney this past Tuesday. Irish born and bred, he had nicely settled in Connecticut for many years. Mr. Delaney was truly a Renaissance Man: an author, broadcaster and producer with interest and knowledge on a myriad of topics. He interviewed 1400 authors for his Bookshelf program that he produced and hosted on BBC Radio Four. I met him once, at a book event at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago, and found him to be extremely gracious during the few minutes that we chatted.
Mr. Delaney’s true literary passion was James Joyce’s Ulysses. Since 2010, he produced 368 readings on his podcast Re: Joyce. And he indeed rejoiced on each and every reading. Speaking with his lilting Irish brogue, he savored each line that he read and commented on from Ulysses. Most readings were about five minutes, some a dash longer. They were basically oral mini-essays, read with both gusto and a discerning analytic eye.
It was Mr. Delaney’s intent to cover the entire book, from beginning to end through these mini-essays. From June 16, 2010 through last week, he read up to Chapter 10, page 192 of the Gabler edition. If he continued at that pace, it would have taken another twenty years to complete the book. Still, in less than seven years there were 2,500,000 downloads of Re: Joyce.
I was a frequent listener of Re: Joyce for both when I prepared for the Ulysses classes I taught, or just for the pleasure of listening to one great Irishman reading the words of another great Irishman. Mr. Delaney, you truly will be missed.
As a teenager in 1961, I remember the profound impact reading the novel Mila 18 by Leon Uris had on me. The Holocaust had ended just sixteen years earlier, and as a young Jew born and raised in America, I wondered why six million European Jews seemingly went so docilely to their death. Mila 18, based on the story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and its heroic leader Mordecai Anielewicz, provided a counter narrative to the myth of the Jews not fighting back against the Nazis.
My friend, the educator Dr. Joyce Witt, has spent much of her professional life studying Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Joyce was chosen as a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow in 1997 and was named to the Museum’s Regional Education Corps in 2005. She is presently teaching a course in Holocaust Studies at the Melton School of Adult Jewish Studies.
Joyce will be giving an interactive presentation, followed by a discussion, on Mordecai Anielewicz and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Sunday morning, March 5, at 10:30 am, at Congregation Emanuel in Chicago, 5959 North Sheridan Road. The event is free and open to the public.
Our 16” inch softball game had just ended at Pilsen’s Harrison Park, and a group from our team crossed the street to Bishop’s to enjoy some chili and some cold Filbert’s root beer. My team, the Englewood District Office caseworkers, was crushed by the caseworkers from the Oakland District Office by the lopsided score of 15 to 6.
The Oakland team not only had better athletic talent, but they were also more focused. Perhaps this resulted from the influence of the strong Progressive Labor Party cadre that played for Oakland. Our Englewood team seemed as dispirited on the field as they did during the work week in our office.
During the summer of 1972, it seemed that at least one bomb threat was called into the Englewood Public Aid office on Halsted and 61st Street each week. The police didn’t know why these threats were occurring, but each one frayed our nerves. As we would wait across the street for the police to give us an all clear to return to the building, we couldn’t help but notice the empty lots and boarded up stores in what had once been a bustling, commercial area.
My best friend at Englewood was Steve Kowalski, a Polish kid from the Northwest Side with a blond ponytail and a fondness for tie-dyed shirts. He graduated from Forman High School and UIC, and, like me, took one of the seemingly plentiful caseworker jobs available at the Cook County Department of Public Aid. In those days if you had a college degree and were able to pass a fairly easy civil service examination, you were hired by the county and assigned to one of the district offices, located mainly on the South and West Sides.
As usual, our chili at Bishop’s was excellent, but the root beer didn’t quite do the trick in quenching our thirsts. Steve asked me and another one of our coworkers, a black guy named Greg, if we would like to go back to his place in Canaryville where there were two six-packs of cold Old Style in the refrigerator waiting for us. We thought that was a splendid suggestion.
We got into Steve’s Volkswagen bus for the trip to Canaryville, located just three miles southeast of Pilsen. Canaryville was a white ethnic enclave, mostly Irish with a smattering of Poles and Lithuanians, adjacent to the recently shuttered Union Stockyards. In fact, the last pen and killing floor had closed the year before, and the stench of dried blood still hung in the air.
No one seemed to know for sure the origin of the community’s name. Although one legend has it that birds used to swoop down into the Stockyards picking at whatever animal remains they could find, finally resting themselves in the shade of the nearby trees before flying away. One thing that we did know was that Canaryville had a history of racial intolerance. Steve mentioned that one of his elderly neighbors proudly recalled bashing the skulls of Blacks during the Race Riot of 1919. Steve added though that most of his neighbors had been warm and kind since he moved to Canaryville about a year earlier.
Steve never even gave it a second thought to have a black friend over to his apartment. He knew that some of the old-timers poked fun at his ponytail and thought that he was some type of hippie, but he never had problems with anyone in the neighborhood. Greg and I spent a few hours at Steve’s that evening, enjoying our beers, listening to Pink Floyd, and discussing office politics. Steve then drove us to the el station at 35th Street, where Greg and I took trains back to our homes.
The next morning at the office, Steve looked tired and troubled. He told me that overnight his windshield had been smashed with a rock and “N-lover” had been scrawled on it. He felt betrayed by the people who had taken him into their community as a neighbor. Steve wondered if this incident was an anomaly or did racial hatred still run deep in this community. He had a lot to think about regarding his own future living in the neighborhood, referring to the situation as his “Canaryville Blues.”