At my house it was more like, "shut the hell up and go to bed!"
The neighborhood kids knew what was going to happen each and every day. They knew their moms were going to cook bacon and eggs for breakfast, their fathers were out of the house by 8 a.m. to work and would be back for dinner, and the kids would spend the day at school, camp, or on the weekend take a short jaunt to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I, on the other hand, had to eat this crappy cereal every morning called "Puffed Rice" that my sister liked and I'd only get to eat if I woke up early enough before I was shipped off or shipped out somewhere. However, often I was shipped out on an awesome adventure.
See, my folks were unlike the white-washed sterile neighbors of 1970's suburbia. My mother did not spend all day in the kitchen or do laundry like the other women in the neighborhood. Hell, I don't even know what she did all day because she wasn't home and I did not know where she went. I just knew that her friends smoked a lot of cigarettes.
My dad wasn't like the other dads. He didn't work 9 to 5. He didn't coach my little league team or take me out for ice cream. Instead, he was out somewhere hustling. He cut his chops on Chicago's Maxwell Street in the 1950s. Maxwell Street was a flea market, unlike any other flea market in the world because the vendors weren't there to sell you a pair of socks. No, they were there to convince you that the poorly made pairs of socks on their tables were made from the finest materials the world had to offer and for a quarter, your feet could be covered like those of pharaohs, kings, knights of the round table.
Maxwell Street was where the art of the "hustle" was born. My pop studied under the Maxwell Street elite. He knew that the vendors bought the socks from old Marty who lived on Blue Island Avenue and his wife made the socks in the basement of their two flat from Marty's old underwear. For a quarter, you got to cover your feet in old Marty's shit stain.
It has always been about the hustle for my pop. So while my friends were picked up summer mornings by these glowing yellow buses covered with all sorts of Indian logos and staffed by college coeds then taken to day camps where they did crafts, went swimming, played sports... I got picked up summer mornings in a Sanford & Son junker with old Harry Heller at the wheel.
I'm pretty sure Pop knew Harry from Maxwell Street. Harry was larger than life. A big personality. He went to college on a basketball scholarship. Afterwards, he bounced around the Indians and the Cubs minor leagues until he was drafted into World War II.
Harry was a hustler. He'd be glad to see me and in some weird way, I'd be glad to see him. But he'd always hurry me along. We had lots of other kids to pick up in the northern suburbs and across the North Side of Chicago. I didn't know any of those kids. I just learned to go along with the day's adventure.
Once we picked up all the kids, I knew we would end up somewhere hot. Often it was a 100 year-old beaten down school on the North Side of Chicago that had a cavernous gym with no air conditioning, just hot, wet air. There would be a dozen basketballs on the floor. Harry would disappear. Us kids were left in the gym to do whatever.
Often, I would try to toss a basketball to the ceiling of the gym. Those old gyms had these sky-high ceilings. I could never hit it. If I had a baseball, probably. But I couldn't jack a basketball that high. So I would end up shooting baskets until I got too hot. It always got too hot. Then I'd just sit around and wait to get back into the junker, drop off all the city kids, then go suburb to suburb and drop off all the other kids and eventually get home.
One summer morning, while expecting to be dropped off at an old time gym, I observed that the old junker ended up parked on Waveland Avenue, just outside the left field bleachers of Wrigley Field. This was the mid-1970's. The Cubs were out of town and the park was empty. We were led into Wrigley Field through an old metal door that I think has long been sealed over.
We were ordered to get in line, two by two, and were marched into left field down toward the Cubs dugout. Then we went past home plate and up right field, past the visitor's dugout. They parked us on the right field grass. We sat, and sat, then sat some more. It was one of those hot Chicago summer days. I was initially thrilled to be walking around Wrigley but sitting on that right field grass in the hot sun, with nothing to drink, dampened my enthusiasm.
Eventually, a familiar face -- Ernie Banks showed up and popped us kids out of our heat haze and we all stood up. I wondered how ole Harry hustled this up. I thought of my friends making freakin' lanyards at their Indian summer camps while I stood on the right field grass of Wrigley Field looking up at Ernie Banks.
Ernie was a ball of energy. He told us that he was our tour guide for the day and we followed him along the outfield wall. I was a little light headed from sitting in the heat but damn if I wasn't going to get right on the heals of Ernie Banks. I listened intently as he plucked a leaf off the outfield ivy and explained how it was planted in 1937 by Bill Veeck, who I knew as the owner of the White Sox at the time. Ernie explained that if a ball got lost in the ivy, the umps rule it an automatic double.
Man, that ended up being a great day but not unusual for me. As a kid, I never knew what was going to happen, especially in summer. When I needed a baseball mitt, we went to see Pop's old friend from Maxwell Street, Morrie Mages. Old Morrie went from selling sports equipment on Maxwell Street to owning the largest sporting gear store in the world, at one time. If I needed a suit, we'd go find an old tailor on Roosevelt Road, near the old Maxwell Street, even though we lived all the way in the northern suburbs. Pops had to get a deal. There were no deals at the suburban malls. We only shopped at places where Pops could negotiate a price.
All the furniture in my house came from the old Twin flea market in Wheeling, because pop could get a deal. When I wanted a fishing pole, I was only allowed to get a "pocket fisherman" because Pop went to high school with Ron Popeil. You remember that guy? He was a hustler too. All his stuff never worked but he was on TV all the time hawking stuff like the Mr. Microphone -- Hey Good Looking, Be Back To Pick You Up Later!
There was Pop's friend who had a car collection that would make Jay Leno blush. I got to ride in one of the original Batmobiles from the 1960's TV show. Pop's friend drove it on over. The Batmobile was in my driveway!
Pops was into politics too. We would have these lavish fundraisers at our house for all sorts of local political candidates. As a kid, I was invisible to these people. I would weed my way through the hoards in my living room to find the bowl of cocktail franks. Steal the bowl, hustle it up to my bedroom and chow down with my brother.
The best part of growing up was that Pop loved sports. The highlight was going to the All Star games in 1981, 1982, and 1983. We hung out at the hotels where the players were staying and I got tons of autographs. I hopped on an elevator in Cleveland in 1981 and found my self staring at Warren Spahn and Yogi Berra. I still have the autographs. Don Drysdale was on our flight back to Chicago, as he was the White Sox announcer back then. He signed my ticket stub. I still have it. My brother and I ran after Mike Schmidt outside Olympic Stadium in Montreal in 1982. In 1983, Pops got us tickets to the All Star game banquet, the night before the game in Chicago. I sat at a huge table with eight or nine all stars and ate dinner with them.
I think it was 1982 and Pops got me and my brother into the Cubs dugout before a game. I remember sitting with Larry Bowa in the dugout. Later that night we went to some sort of fundraiser dinner with the Cubs. I sat next to Steve Henderson. He was awfully nice.
Pop's became friends with all sorts of old-time baseball players. It was not unusual for Jimmy Piersall or Randy Hundley to call my house. I was always too scared to really say anything to those guys. I usually just took a message. I really wanted to ask Jimmy Piersall why he was riding Wayne Nordhagen. Piersall was a White Sox announcer for a long time.
It was a crazy way to grow up but when I think back on it, it was pretty cool. I really loved meeting Ernie Banks in the mid-1970's and feeling the gravel of the warning track in the outfield of Wrigley Field under my feet. I've got so many crazy stories from my childhood. Like the building on Division Street in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago that my grandmother owned with her brother. The building housed a boxing gym and Pop's would take me there with him to collect rent from the boxers. When I got my drivers license, I was sent all over the city and suburbs to collect rent or remove the change from the laundry machines in apartment buildings.
Pops is still around at age 82. He comes out to the card shows occasionally. I know he's hustled some of you guys. Sorry! That is the way he was made. He comes from a different time and like I said, I had a very different upbringing but I wouldn't change a thing!!
I might have told some of these stories in some earlier blogs. Forgive me for repeating them, if I did. Just feeling a little nostalgic and it is always fun to tell these stories.