This Polar Vortex Has Me All Up In My Feelings, and What a Privilege That Is

If you’re lucky, the world stops in the middle of a polar vortex.  If you’re unlucky, nothing stops and there you are, working, making, doing, healing, delivering, surviving.   If you’re really unlucky, you are without a home, without proper shelter or food or gear or transportation.

I’m one of the lucky ones this go around with Mother Nature.  Our cars are gassed up, our fridge is fully stocked, the kids are in the background groaning about the iMovie app they’re trying to work on collaboratively.   Coen Brothers 2.0.  It turns out that 5 and 10 year old boys have very different artistic visions that result in noisy conflict.  Huh.

For many of us caught in this polar vortex, it is one of those precious moments that stretch into hours, sometimes days, when the world stops.  Attractions are closed.  Neighbors take the time to talk to one another as they stand in line in the grocery store or shovel out their cars on city streets.  There is a common enemy, shared experience, no blue or red, no north or south, less apparent difference.  It is us, together, against the cold, the chill, the snow.  We’re Chicagoans, strong stock, hearty, we got this.

Lake Michigan, 1.29.19. Photo courtesy of Robert McNees (@mcnees).

This weather brings out the sentimental, melancholy Irish in me.  The world is still around me, time feels suspended.  Is it Wednesday?  Saturday?  The outside falls away and the bright sun, thank goodness for the bright sun, shines on the thoughts and memories of other times the world stood still.

I made a pot of spaghetti sauce last night and I marveled that it felt like a hug from my Mom who died fourteen years ago, cliched as that may be.  The wine and the sugar in the sauce, the smell, the comfort of her embrace.  She kept me company in my kitchen last night, shared dinner with the grandsons she never met.  It was lovely.

And I can conjure my Dad in his bright red parka, bought for a steal at the Bargain Nook in Darlington, Wisconsin.  “It’s like wearing a grizzly bear,” he would say, the proudest of proud men, confident in his strength, unfazed by notions as man made as “wind chill.”  There was another day like this in Chicago, before we called it a polar vortex, when Christmas was cancelled in 1983.  I remember layer after layer after layer that he put on before going outside to start the car.  For those moments he was my very own Pa Ingalls.

But most of all, when the world stills like this, I think of Donna.  For a moment, when my daughter died, the world stopped with us, her Mom and Dad.  For a moment,  the world around us hung suspended with us in grief and disbelief and sorrow.  It is the stillness that recalls that core of grief, that moment of departure, that time my heart broke and before it started to repair itself.

Now in the stillness, Donna feels closer.

Yesterday, Block Club Chicago posted a story about a Spanish artist, Eduardo Vea Keating, transplanted to Chicago.  He makes murals out of snow.  They are ephemeral and simple and melt quickly.  I’ve been thinking about his words a lot since yesterday, in the stillness, “That’s usually how life is.  It’s full of moments.  Some are better and some are worse, but life goes on.  [The art] will melt.  Everything will pass.  Just enjoy what you have around you and try to stay positive.”

I can do that, I can find the beauty in the stillness.  Not all of us can.  Chances are, if you are reading these words, you, too, have found some stillness.  Take a moment, look around you, at the steaming Lake, at the thermostat that reads a number starting in a 6 or 7, at the gas tank on “F,” at the smiling/shouting kids wearing pajamas past noon, at the spoon covered in batter waiting to be washed.

There is a beauty and a comfort in the stillness and the cold, if you are lucky.  Can you see it?

Two Shots: A Murderer in My Neighborhood

On Sunday morning at 10:07 am, a 73 year old man, Douglass Watts, was just returning home from walking his dog.  He was shot in the head and the assailant ran away through a nearby alley.

On Monday night around 10:20 pm, a 24 year old man, Eliyahu Moscowicz, was walking on a path at a local park.  He, too, was shot in the head at close range.  Ellie, as he was known to his friends, worked at one of the grocery stores where I shop.  He was tall and had kind eyes.

On Tuesday morning, the Chicago Police Department revealed that the same gun was used to kill both men, per ballistics reports.

On Wednesday evening, at a community meeting to address the shootings, CPD First Deputy Superintendent Anthony Riccio stated, “We believe the individual lives in this community.  He’s somebody’s neighbor.  Somebody in this room probably knows this guy,” as reported by Jonathan Ballew in his Block Club Chicago article.

CPD Released photo of the suspect in the Rogers Park shootings.

I live two miles away from these murders, which occurred just blocks away from one another.  Some friends live a few doors down from where Mr. Watts was killed.  My husband and I know many folks in the neighborhood.

Those of us who live here have been cautioned to keep going about our daily routine, to not feel homebound, to get outside (but not  alone), to find someone to walk with, to be vigilant, to carry a whistle.

Oy, I think to myself, a whistle is not going to help in this situation.  And, right now, typing these words, I pause, wondering if the murderer might somehow see this post and target me, my kids, my home, my husband.

The random nature of these killings has me on edge.  A man is out walking his dog on a bright Sunday morning.  He is executed steps from his home.  Another man is taking an evening walk after one of the Jewish holidays.  I think about his family and how every year moving forward they will feel the weight of their loss as the high holidays near, as the days grow a bit shorter, as the air begins to cool, as the seasons turn.

I scroll through my Facebook feed and see the fear I feel mirrored in my friends’ posts.  “There seems to be a serial killer operating in my neighborhood,” wrote one.  Another shares a gofundme to raise money to bury the first victim, “We didn’t know this man, but he was our neighbor, and we are all reeling from this random act of violence in our neighborhood.”

The neighborhood boards on Facebook are full of people trying to process their fear, their worry, their concern, their terror.  Dog owners are looking for fellow dog owners to partner with for their morning and evening walks.  A black man offers to walk dogs with anyone who needs a partner, offers concern that there are stories the suspect is black and killing white victims, ends his post with #I’llwalkwithyou, pairing it with a photo of him holding his tiny dog.

Others worry that with a greater police presence and so many people and neighbors living in fear, people of color are at greater risk for others calling the police on them simply for living, working, walking in their own neighborhood.  The Alderman is sending out regular alerts, with information and updates.

There is a frantic spectrum of “This is nothing new and has always been the case in Rogers Park,” to “I love my neighborhood and my community.  Does anyone want to start a block club, or meet up for drinks tonight so we can get to know one another?”

Whew.  It’s a lot to take in.

The detail I keep coming back to, that I keep thinking about, is that the killer knows the neighborhood.  He knew where to run after he pulled the trigger that first time.  He felt comfortable enough on a Sunday morning to run through the streets and alleys after killing his first victim.  He felt emboldened enough to do it again the next day.

Last night the police released video of the suspect.  He has a distinct gait, his toes pointed out, like a duck.  Somewhere, close by, there is a man who walks like a duck and carries a gun and, when the spirit moves him, will shoot you in the head at close range.

As if 2018 wasn’t hard enough already.

Loving Chicago Is Complicated, But It’s Home

As a white, middle class woman who lives on Chicago’s far north side, it’s easy for me to talk about loving Chicago.  It’s easy for me to feel defensive when I hear politicians and muckrackers and outsiders like Trump and Giuliani and FOX News anchors talk smack about my city.  It’s easy for me to stay in my lane, feel the security (false as it may actually be) of living in my white, middle class bubble.  It’s easy for me to feel angry towards folks I knew long ago who wonder why I stay and feel the need to tell me to leave, now, before it is too late.

The truth is that I love Chicago, despite its many flaws.  It is my home, gifted to me by my four immigrant grandparents who crossed the Atlantic to settle here.  Chicago would be their new home, their chosen home.  They worked in steel mills and scrubbed the floors of tony addresses on Division and rented apartments in Englewood and owned a sided bungalow in Vrydolyak’s 10th Ward on the southeast side.

My beautiful skyline, dressed up for Spring.
My beautiful skyline, dressed up for Spring.

In the 1990s, when all of my family opted out of Chicago, I stayed.  When people came home, where would they go if none of us were here?  I stayed and made it my home.  I’ve had addresses in neighborhoods like Lakeview and Ukrainian Village and West Ridge and Roscoe Village.  I’ve lived in Chicago proper longer than any other place and my roots here are deep.

But my eyes are open.  Wide open.  The Chicago I know and love does not exist for everyone.  Chicago is brutal.  Is it cruel.  Its politicians are misguided at best, corrupt at worst.  Its police force is in bad need of reform.  Its public schools are segregated and inequitable, just like its neighborhoods.  Its violence is relentless.  Its infrastructure is aging.  Its pension obligations are staggering.  It needs help.

And yet, despite all these problems, I don’t think I will ever leave.  Hell, our older boy’s middle name is Daley.  That was intentional and less about an idealization of the Irish Catholic Mayors Daley and more about a mother’s hope that if he ever leaves this place, he will always know it was home.

My city, like America, is long due for a reckoning.

Milwaukee Avenue mural, Wicker Park.
Milwaukee Avenue mural, Wicker Park.

Chicago’s history is storied and deeply entwined with institutional racism.  Factors that were put into play decades ago are still wreaking havoc on black and Latino folks.  Neighborhoods that were once jewels are struggling with gun violence and gangs.  Other neighborhoods that were ethnic centers with affordable housing stock are gentrifying, losing their literal and figurative flavor, now catering to those who can afford million dollar homes.

As an adult raising children here, we’ve made choices to try and balance providing our kids a safe and comfortable environment while still having them be in what is very much a thriving, diverse neighborhood, full of apartments, condos, and single family homes.  Our neighbors are black, white, Latino, Middle Eastern.  When I look out my front window, it’s an even toss to see someone wearing shawls and yarmulke, a burqa, or the latest pair of Jordans.  Someone once told me I live in a fairy tale and my neighborhood isn’t real.  Nope. I can’t abide folks I knew long ago suggesting that our valid life choice to live in an integrated neighborhood is somehow pie-in-the-sky romanticism.

Our older boy is enrolled in one of CPS’ controversial selective enrollment schools that many consider elitist, but he was also reading at three and has some pretty unique educational needs that are very well met there .  Our younger guy will, most likely, attend our neighborhood school up the street when he starts kindergarten next year.

Again, though, is that issue of choices, and the privilege inherent in having them.  My family has choices.  We can move schools or addresses.  We can leave any time we want.  What we want is to stay.  For us, staying means acknowledging that there is a deep and profound inequity in Chicago, just like many other American cities.

We want to teach our sons about the whole of Chicago, not just its bright and shiny parts.  And, like my father did with me and my siblings, we want our boys to feel an ownership with every part of this city — its steel skyscrapers, its cultural offerings, its gorgeous lake shore, its public transportation, its segregated neighborhoods, its alleys, its projects, its racism and ugliness, its storied colleges and universities, its muck, its majesty.  If my boys grow up to be like my Dad, who appreciated most everything about this city, we would have succeeded.

Last weekend was horrific, with over seventy shootings, more than a few of them children.  This weekend was calmer, only thirty-three folks were shot.  Hard to believe that almost three dozen shootings feels calm, but there it is.  My older boy and I spent Saturday afternoon walking up and down local alleys, looking for garage sales.  That kid never met a garage sale he didn’t love.  We scored a new scooter and book for him and a bag of magnetized cars for his younger brother.

Somewhere else, not too far away, some other kid was resting in a hospital bed, recovering from a bullet wound.  It ain’t right and we have to stop ignoring it.


Do you want to read more about Chicago from folks who actually live here?  Read THIS, something I wrote a few years ago — it even won a fancy award.  WBEZ reporter, Natalie Moore, wrote a book I highly recommend, The South Side:  A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, that taught me a tremendous amount about real estate patterns in Chicago that enforce racism.  Oh!  And you can pre-order the magnificent Eve Ewing’s, “Ghosts in the School Yard:  Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side,” which breaks down the recent closure of 50 Chicago public schools.