Going Home from the C's
Having received my honorable discharge from the C's, I boarded a train out of Minocqua. Of course, there had to be a long wait before my train came in, so I walked around the station. Soon I found myself buying a number of candy bars, consuming them as though they were wafers. I was still a kid at heart who loved candy and who would over indulge given the chance. As happened so many times before, my stomach reminded me I'd overdone it again!
Trying to grab a nap while thinking about an ailing stomach just didn't work, and to make matters worse, hard, wooden benches didn't provide much comfort, either. Eventually my thoughts were filled with what had taken place in the nearly six months I'd been away from home and what was now going to take place in trying to adjust to a job I knew nothing about. Those thoughts captured my mind so completely, I hardly realized the train had pulled in, and it was time for me to board it.
Safely on board and settled down to thinking of enjoying the ride, the scenery of that beautiful Wisconsin landscape turned my thoughts to how nice it'd be to live there as a civilian. But as time passed, the scenery became more and more of the quality found in Northern Illinois, and I fell into a deep sleep. I was awakened by constant blowing of the train's whistle as the train reached metropolitan Chicago towns, sounding the whistle at rail crossings. And soon I was back in one of Chicago's train stations. I don't know if I took city surface transportation home or if someone met me at the station.
Shortly after arriving home, I met a girl who lived a few blocks up 41st Street in Stickney. I don't know how we met, nor could I figure why she'd have an interest in me. But the fact she was a "listener" who made me feel comfortable, who was attractive, who made me feel special and listened to my life's story with great interestall these gave me the impression this was "love at first sight!" I'd heard of this phenomenon in the past, but now I was deeply into it.
Embarrassing as it is, I don't recall what her name was. I know she had long black hair, wore glasses, was just the right height for me, had a beautiful personality, and was everything and more than I could have hoped for in a woman. The only dates I can think of were a few in which we held hands and walked the streets while talking. I know she gave me the impression this was it and that marriage was what she had in mind. My mother, however, who listened to my raving about this girl, presented her case. "She wears thick glasses which will someday result in many eye examinations, purchasing eye glasses, maybe even needing some sort of operation down the road, how can you afford that kind of wife? Not only that, you're only seventeen (this was right after I'd come home and just before my 18th birthday) and no money put away for emergencies." Then came the clincher, the saying so familiar in our family for years, "Once you make your bed, you're going to have to sleep in it!" That meant if I didn't forget about this girl, I'd be sorry the rest of the days of my life.
I weighed Mom's oratory, fighting back tears, and I came to the conclusion she was right. "How could I support this girl, and maybe a family later? Why did she want to talk of marriage so soon?" We'd held hands and maybe kissed (the peck type, not the kind you can witness on TV these days), and that was about it. It was my duty to tell her I needed time to think about it and that if she found someone else in the meantime, she should forget me. I did get enough courage up to relay those thoughts eventually, and that closed out my first romance!
My brother Phil had been on a job for a few months, and he found that the owner of the place needed more help. Phil asked if he'd wait for me to get out of the C's to fill one of the vacancies, and that's how my job arrangement had been madethe one leading to my discharge from the C's. It was not even close to the kind of job I'd expected. As a matter of fact, it surprised me that Phil would work at such a placein the manufacture of dice, legitimate and the "loaded" variety used in gambling places.
Soon I was learning how the commercial diamond-edged saws were operated, and I was cutting dice to size. It bothered me all the while I was there that this didn't seem what we should have been taking part in, and eventually Phil had the same feeling. As in competitive games, Phil far exceeded my capabilities at the art of cutting dice, too.
Working for Sears
We learned that Sears Roebuck Company had openings at their Tower Store, the central headquarters for Sears, and Phil and I applied. Remember, Phil had a high school education, while I was a dropout; so when offerings were made to us, he ended up as a buyer's assistant, while I became an operator of a hand-operated duplicating machine. Huge sheets of a jellied material which had to be moistened just right became the tool for receiving the large sheets of advertising data to be duplicated. The sheets were called the "masters." From there it was a matter of hand-operating a lever while feeding those large sheets of paper into the machine to duplicate the master forms.
The fellow who worked alongside me was a nice guy, and we often went about our job while watching the main entrance to the department to see what the girls entering looked like. I was on that job for around eight or nine months (maybe a little more) when one day a girl came in about whom my friend commented, "Wow, there's a beauty!" I took a second look and commented in return, "Nah, she looks like a short, fat Jew to me!" He turned to me with eyes flashing, his face reddened with anger and said, "What do you think I am?"
All those months working with this guy and I didn't dream he was Jewish! Had it been possible to crawl between the cracks in that wooden floor, I'd gladly have done it! I fumbled for an answer and an apology, eventually blurting out how sorry I was for not knowing he was Jewish and insulting him with my remark. I don't know if our friendship was mended, sufficiently to carry on conversations about girls entering our department again or not. "Me and my big mouth," was the thought I carried with me for some time.
There were many Jewish people living in the area surrounding Sears' Tower location, and you'd think I'd have known better. Yet, I'd always thought of that nationality as having people who had hooked noses and accents so deep it'd be impossible to misidentify one of them. This guy had nice black hair, fine features, and no accent whatsoever. In my mind he had to have been an Italian or Frenchman or something like that. The incident taught me to hold my tongue longer and to be less prejudiced, though today I'm still lacking in that capacitynot necessarily toward the Jewish people, however.
Japan Attacks US Fleet at Pearl Harbor!
It was now December, 1941. I settled back to my job in an "eating crow" demeanor, much more humble than I'd ever been before. But things were happening in the world which would soon change my work surroundings. Hitler was becoming more aggressive in his expansion desires. He went up into Russia. Japan had similar thoughts of expansion for some time, too. And on December 7, 1941, that Day of Infamy, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, desecrating our fleet lying at anchor. Much is written of our military at Pearl Harbor and its complacency which led to the devastation of that attack. Fault or blame would not have changed the direction of Japan in seeking the goal they'd set forth, though alertness would have saved many vessels, and, more importantly, lives.
On that day President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, and the lives of every person in the United States, its allies, and its enemies, changed from that day forward until the end of that war. Mine changed almost immediately.
It was considered patriotic to get into war work of some sort at that time. I was eighteen, the military conscription program had been in force, and I thought I'd soon be called to duty. So while waiting for that to happen, I found there was hiring taking place at the Western Electric Company in what was called the Hawthorne Plant. They were deeply involved in making military equipment in the electrical/electronic field. I applied and was immediately hired. It seems I didn't even give Sears the standard two week notice, nor was it probably expected at that time. Phil decided to stay on at Sears. I think it was still December, 1941.
At the Western Electric Company (hereafter to be called "Western") I was hired into a department which made quartz crystals for radio equipment. The Western had a large complex which was located in both Cicero and on Chicago's West Side. It must have covered three quarters of a mile square or more. The northwest corner of the building was on Cicero Avenue and Cermak Road, and it ran south to almost Ogden Avenue. My department was one of hundreds, and finding one's way around became difficult at first. But with time that was less and less a problem.
Quartz forms into many and dissimilar sizes and shapes, appearing more like a cone than anything else. It can be cloudy or glassy clear, resembling a huge diamond. There's a grain running through it which circles the circumference of the width from top to bottom. When making quartz crystals, it was necessary to determine the exact location of those "grains" so the top and bottom of the piece could be flattened at the same grain level. This was done on large rotating wheels made of what looked like a grinding-stone material. The wheel was wetted, Carborundum applied, and the quartz piece was held at the predetermined "correct angle" to accomplish the goal, and grinding commenced.
We had a machine under which we'd place our pieces of quartz to see how well we were achieving our goal to stay on the right plane, adjusting as we went along with the grinding. From that point the quartz was inserted into a cutting machine much like those we'd used (Phil and I) at the dice manufacturing plant. Thin layers of quartz became crystals.
Women overwhelmed men by a great ratio at the Western, and maybe in most work places in that day. So it became a pastime to try impressing them with "finger-cutting." Since many small particles of quartz easily led to small cuts to hands, when a guy would get one, he'd squeeze for all he was worth to get blood flowing and covering as much of the hand as he could (some women did this, too). This not only brought sympathy from women, it also meant a trip to the infirmary, quite a distance from the work area"goldbricking," if you will.
One lady who was part of our work group had a sister who she said was in my age bracket, and she thought we should meet. The lady herself was quite a bit older than I was. They lived on Chicago's South Side, and the family was of Polish descent. In time I was invited to a party at their house (the sister lived with the lady with whom I worked) and finally met Emily. I was impressed by her shapely figure and her friendliness toward me. We planned a date for a later time while at that party at their home. The only thing I didn't care for was the fact the family practiced Roman Catholicism. More about Emily will follow later.
Phil was Drafted
In about August of 1942 brother Phil got his notice to report to the U.S. Army at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri. Mom was nearly heartbroken, and his departure led to sadness for all of us because of how Mom was taking it. Later it was proven that she was almost providential in her statement "I'll never see him again!" (I'll explain later how that came about.)
Two weeks later Mom received a large package containing all of Phil's civilian clothing he'd worn on his way to camp. This caused even further lamenting from Mom, almost like opening a casket to take another look at a departed one. It would have been better had they not returned the clothing!
Our Berwyn Gang
Shortly before Phil had been drafted into the army, he and I had met a bunch of guys who lived in Berwyn. There were also a few girls in the gang (not the kind of gangs you hear of today). It may have been that we met at a softball game somewhere, and a friendship was formed. Phil was, as always, better at that game than I. We played softball, went to restaurants, movies, and gathered around the neighborhood where most of the guys lived36th and Highland Avenue. Story-telling, singing and just having fun lasted for hours some evenings. There were a few "puppy-love" affairs which cropped up with guys and girls, but mostly it was mixed group fun.
One of the girls had long, black hair and a creamy white complexion. She must have said something which led me to believe she was interested in me. Later she told me it was my white teeth. We had a couple of walking and hand-holding dates locally and within the gang, but this led to having to meet her parents. Her mother impressed me as strict, but nice. Her father, on the other hand, was all business. He began questioning me about my thoughts for the future. Education, vocation after that, and general survey questions followed which made me feel uncomfortable with this guy. Since the girl didn't help in putting a stop to what seemed to me to be premature, I excused myself by saying I had to get home. In a later conversation we determined (the girl and I) this was not going to be a workable situation. I had been interested in her, but not in her father.
Some of the guys' names I can recall are: Carmie Pizutto, Jimmy Hardina, Johnny Cherway, and Swede Holmberg. There were many others, but I have forgotten the names.
Joined the Navy
Phil was now training in the army, and I was still awaiting my call. The guys in the gang thought of possibly joining some military branchnot all, but some of us. We'd attended a movie in downtown Chicago's loop where a commercial was being run on the benefits of joining the U.S. Navy. The commercial closed with singing the traditional "Anchors Aweigh, my boys; Anchors Aweigh!" This was being sung while showing the U.S. flag curling in the wind on the bow of the ship, sailors standing under it, and ocean spray gently spraying over the forecastle. Goose bumps covered my entire body! I felt as though I were one of those sailors! But evidently Johnny Cherway and I were the only two caught up in the emotionalism of that commercial, as we alone joined the U.S. Navy. This was in October, 1942.
At that time of the war recruitment had been in full swing. Men were enlisting all over the country. Boot camps weren't able to handle the great influx of enlistments, so we were told at a briefing we were actually in the navy, but we'd have to wait to be called to active duty at a later date. That date came on January 13, 1943. Johnny Cherway and I were now officially U.S. Navy men!
Getting back to the October event, the couple months from that time until Johnny and I left for Great Lakes Naval Training Center, the gang (all eligible males for the U.S. Conscription Program) appeared to do whatever we did with more vigor. After all, "This may be our last chance to do things together, so let's do it with gusto!" And the incident I'm about to relate showed this was so.
Chicago's Maxwell Street
Just before the end of 1942, the gang decided we should take a ride out to one of Chicago's landmarks (famous or infamous?), Maxwell Street. Located just south of Roosevelt Road (1200 South) and ... near [S. Halstead St. (800 West)]. It was a place where merchants (99% Jewish in nationality, I think) display their goods in open bins, some extending from buildings on the streets, right out on the open streets. It was a place in which bartering (this is where we learned to use the expression "Jewing someone down" or cutting the asking price) was expected and practiced.
To illustrate how change can sometimes be for the worse, I want to quote from my older notes in describing this area called Maxwell Street.
As our gang surveyed the assorted types of merchandise, we came upon this one place which had both outside and inside (they had a building on the street in addition to the racks on the street) displays. When questioning the woman (maybe one in her upper thirties to early forties), we became enchanted by her typically Jewish accent.
Since we'd predetermined our goal as that of seeking to find Homburg hats, the kind which are distinguished by their high crowns, rather narrow but slightly turned up brims, and dented crowns which ran the length of the hat, we were most happy to learn this woman had some on hand. She, too, was elated that here was the potential for a great sale! Bringing out a great number of the Homburgs and in assorted sizes, we all began trying them on for size. Each found what he felt was right for him, and all that remained was the determination of a proper price acceptable to both sides.
Before reaching the final bargaining stage, the woman said, "My, you boys remind me of mine fodder ven he came to dis caunthree from England!" The typical Jewish vernacular one would expect to hear on Maxwell Street just "slew us," as we laughed hilariously. Of course, we knew she was trying to cement the sale by telling us how great we looked! And she was successful, too!
Happy New Year? (1943)
As I reflect on that time, I thought of how we'd reached the conclusion we wanted those hats in the first place. We knew they were worn by men in high society as portrayed in movies. But then I remembered the real reason for wanting them. We were all going to celebrate New Year's Eve in downtown Chicago at State and Madison (the zero hundred streets dividing north/south and east/west), the intersection which is said to be Chicago's busiest. The homburgs were to be our way of standing out from the crowd. As you'll soon learn, those hats really did draw the attention of others, and to my chagrin.
In past chapters I'd mentioned that cigarettes didn't agree with me at all, and alcohol wasn't exactly my friend, either. And what's to follow will show how drinking really was out of bounds for me altogether.
Preparing to go downtown, the guys and I began consuming assorted types of beverages to "loosen up" any inhibitions which might have existed within any of us. Actually, our gang was not ordinarily involved in drinking on a regular basis, and the only reason I participated at all was to keep face as one who could do anything the others could.
Once downtown and still quite some time before the magic hour celebration, we searched for "dives" where drinks could be bought at much lower prices. Naturally they didn't give anything away, and we got just what we paid forlow grade, cheap and almost "green" (a distillation process of days rather than years) whiskey. It didn't seem to matter right then, but later on you'll learn that it did!
Eventually we found our way to State and Madison to take part in ringing out the old and bringing in the New Year. There were so many others present at that place that room was hardly available to keep the whole gang intact. I noticed a few guys who seemed to be looking for trouble, guys who were not themselves intoxicated. But I didn't pay much attention to them until they became abusive in language (our hats brought it on, I think [Or something the author said to them]) and then began pushing and shoving in order to start a fight. I didn't notice if there were guys from our bunch around or if we'd been separated in the crowd, but I do know I saw fists headed toward my face and head, and I was unable to dodge them or to properly reciprocate with my own attack (I was all but out on my feet). Soon some of my gang was in sight, but I don't recall that they became involved. It seems my natural ability to give others the desire to "punch me out" were present, as always. My facial appearance evidently was such that I was chosen as the victim.
Bloodied, bruised, and beaten, the guys picked me up off the sidewalk and sympathized. From what I can recall, they thought it was just I and one of the other guys, and they should not interfere in a one-on-one fight.
The New Year had come, I was beaten, though still feeling no real pain, and we decided it was time to head for the suburbs. One thing we'd forgotten, however. The Bluebird Buses didn't run after midnight from downtown to our suburbs. We'd missed the last run, and there was little left for us to do but walk home. That is probably about twelve and a half miles for most of the gang and about another mile for me.
While heading toward home, I began to notice my stomach didn't feel very well, and I began vomiting (I wasn't alone on that score) profusely and with little letup. The sidewalks kept meeting my face, head and body as we plodded along. But the real pain hadn't yet set in. One might rightfully say that I was "bouncing" my way home that night rather than walking home.
When I think about the long walk toward home, I slightly remember that the reason we didn't take city transportation toward our suburb was because we'd blown all our financial resources, and the tickets we possessed for the Bluebird Bus would do us no good there.
Finally reaching home, I tried to be as careful as I could not to awaken anyone (after all, there were six others sleeping), bringing light to my condition and appearance. A glance in a mirror revealed blood all over my clothing, along with dried vomit stains all over my tattered suit. Green stains meant I'd even hit the ground in grassy areas around our neck of the woods where we lived.
The next phase of my infirmity took place as I tried to sleep. It was what is called the "dry heaves," a condition in which one feels the need to vomit, but all that happens is that the stomach and throat tighten while trying to assist in bringing up poisonous waste. The stomach already being emptied, the feeling of needing to vomit more only leads to this condition of dry heaves, a most traumatic condition! Not only that, my head had begun to feel as though it'd swelled to twice the normal size, and even the slightest sound began to cause pounding in my head.
Well, wouldn't you know it? The constant attempt at vomiting led to the awakening of my folks, and eventually of the entire family. Mom and Dad began a systematic questioning process, all of which only added to my misery. At first I thought Mom would faint when she saw me in the lighted room. The only really recognizable part of her son was the sound of his voice.
The "dressing-down" process slowed as Mom began dressing my wounds, yet still reminding me I'd made this bed and had to sleep in it (my condition was of my own doing, and I'd have to pay the price).
Healing came with time, but even the slightest smell of whiskey made me feel deathly ill after thatfor some time, that is, eventually trying again after being in the navy for a while.
Afterthought on Alcohol Poisoning
Before I close out the drinking matter, I must tell you of something that happened in one of our gang's infrequent drinking binges. I'd somehow taken a challenge from one or more of the guys to prove I wasn't "chicken." The challenge was to drink a half pint of whiskey without stopping to take a breath. I completed the challenge with what appeared to be no problem. But then as I tried to take a breath of air, I couldn't. The need and desire to breathe were there, but the physical ability to renew that life-necessitating function had left me. I was beginning to think I'd accepted one challenge too many!
Turning from drinking whiskey to eating food and drinking non-alcoholic beverages, Johnny Cherway was one of the largest guys in our group. He weighed well over two hundred pounds and was also rather tall. His specialty was accepting "dares" as to how much food and drink he could put away (not whiskey as I'd tried). We were at the corner drug store which was located at Ogden Avenue, 34th Street, and Ridgeland Avenue (a three-street intersection). The drug store carried candy, some food snacks and soft drinks. Johnny was told he couldn't eat so many candy bars, snacks and drinks by someone, and (at our expense) he began downing these goodies. What I didn't know about Johnny was that he could regurgitate anything he'd consumed at will. So when he'd reached bottom, he went outside and got rid of what he'd just eaten and drank and came back to resume where he'd left off. I can't say I cared as much about the cost involved as the sickness I felt just thinking of what he was doing. If that was a way to get free food and drink and to maybe win a small bet, he could have it!
The Chicago Theater
The final "pre-military" experience dealing with the gang had to do with our frequent visits to downtown theatres to see and hear different popular singers or bands. I wasn't really sold on it, but being one of the guys, I felt I had to show an interest. This one time we'd gone to the Chicago Theatre on State Street. The singer being touted that evening was an unknown, Frank Sinatra. He was tall, slim, and had a deep voice which didn't seem to fit his appearance. Little did we know that we were witnessing the unveiling of one of the nation's most prominent crooners of the future! The name bands we saw were already established, each person having his or her favorite. But this guy was on his way up, and we felt we became a part of his life by having seen and heard him that day.
This section may have little to do with Joining The Work Force, but it's my last chance to stay in sequence of ages and time. It's regarding my little sister Dorothy.
The last you'd heard was about her entry into the world and our family and [my] first summer vacation from high school. She was now four and a half years old, and amazing us more each day by things she could remember. For example, when it came to makes of automobiles and year of manufacture, she began to excel even beyond the ability of us boys in the familyand we thought we were pretty good at it! And though she couldn't yet read (at least not to our knowledge), any restaurant, sweet shop, ice cream parlor, or chain food market had its name called out as we passed by while riding in our car.
Unusual as that appeared to us, even more uncanny was her ability to remember names and birthdays by month and day of the month of any she'd heard in the past. This ability carried on into her adulthood even after she'd suffered brain damage from high fevers and a lanced infection in which nerves were damaged in the process. On the other hand, I was her blood brother, and I then and today had or have none of those God-given talents. Everyone is innately different!
1[Return to Text] Though the rest of the original building has been demolished, the 'Tower' portion is still standing as an historic monument (since June, 1978) at 925 South Homan Avenue, Chicago, IL; not to be confused with the 'Sears Tower' (now "Willis Tower") in Downtown Chicago.
2[Return to Text] Though everyone was certain they would, Congress did not formally declare war against Japan until Monday, December 8th, 1941. On December 11, 1941, they formally declared war against Germany and Italy (after they first did so against the USA). Congress also declared war against Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania on June 5, 1942 (again, after they first did so against the US).
4[Return to Text] The restriction of vehicle traffic on Maxwell Street (for most of every day) was in fact legally mandated by a Chicago City Council ordinance of 1912, which continued for many decades. Section 2505 of The Chicago Municipal Code of 1922 stated on page 726: "Maxwell street market (east) established hours.] The road way from curb line to curb line of Maxwell street from the west line of south Jefferson street to the east line of south Halsted street shall be set apart and used for market purposes on each and every day of the week between the hours of six o'clock in the forenoon and seven o'clock in the afternoon; provided, however, that the said market shall not be occupied or used so as to obstruct public travel on said Maxwell street." [We would take the "public travel" to mean foot traffic during the proscribed hours, and all traffic at other times.] Section 2506 referred to that portion of Maxwell Street 'west' of South Halstead Street. There are some wonderful old pictures to be found in the 'Images of America' series: Chicago's Maxwell Street (which also shows and describes its location on pages 9 and 12). There are some pictures dated in the late 30's and early 40's to see what the author may have experienced there.
5[Return to Text] Not being able to breathe correctly is a symptom of alcohol poisoning (the respiratory center in the brain is affected by alcohol, and can result in death; so it's no laughing matter when someone 'passes out' due to drinking too much. It's also very important to note that 'too much' differs widely from person to person and is not necessarily related only to body weight.) Alcohol also suppresses one's 'gag reflex' so you can literally choke to death in your own vomit. Unfortunately, roommates, friends and even family members have too often 'put someone to bed' when they should instead be rushed to a hospital; even then, students have still died at the hospital. (Even with a 'live-in' bodyguard checking on her, UK star Amy Winehouse died in her own home of alcohol poisoning, because in spite of the fact he could not rouse her, he said she usually slept in late after a night out. If someone has drunk too much to be woke up, take them to a hospital!) Many students die every year from being dared to drink what ends up being 'too much' for them; or from accidents due to them or someone else, drinking, not to mention other crimes, such as about 97,000 sexual assaults or rapes, every year, by another college student who was drinking! The following links have surprising statistics on accidents and crimes due to drinking on college campuses: Facts (about Alcohol Poisoning), Statistics and NIH Fact Sheet (PDF).