There isn’t much to say about political life in Oak Park. It has become boring, with photo-ops of the reopened Marion Street mall and President David Pope impersonating Bing Crosby and not a protester in sight.
I no longer watch the village board meetings on cable. They’re no fun without a trustee threatening self-immolation over an animal shelter or condo development. Speakers invited to the podium are no longer peppered with head-spinning questions from a Mad Hatter. Now you only hear interminable municipal-speak.
To find excitement, you have to travel to River Forest, where Frank Paris has been doing his best to imitate General Pervez Musharraf, cracking down on the opposition. But the River Forest board has apparently reached a compromise on whatever it is they were fighting over.
A good scrum looked like it was starting at the High School board over how best to close the gap on test scores between white and black students. But then that board agreed to make this issue its top priority. (While no one asked me for my opinion, the problem starts in District 97, long before high school, and the remedy includes longer school days, a longer school year, a more rigorous curriculum plus more Math/English/Science class time and – Horrors! – fewer electives.)
Lights at the high school stadium? Lights are not on anyone’s radar screen, except for people who live across the street.
So what to do? Write about small things. For example, this morning I walked into the 7/11 on Madison Street. Behind the counter was this chubby Indian man outfitted in a full Santa Claus suit. He smiled at me as he passed the change. His gold teeth glistened. I smiled back.
And then there is my new discovery – a carryout place opened recently on Chicago Avenue a few storefronts west of Austin. Jamaica Grill serves jerk chicken and other Jamaican delicacies.
After college, I taught at a high school in Kingston, Jamaica for a couple years. I know that Jamaican food is hot, hot, hot. Good jerk sauce should bring tears to the eye, but it must be delicately balanced by rice and beans (called “rice and peas”) cooked in coconut milk, fried plantain and cooked cabbage.
At lunch, the students and I would crowd around Mr. Chin’s shop across the street from St. George’s College, the Jesuit high school where I taught. Mr. Chin served one thing: patties. A patty is a corn meal wrap filed with spicy mystery meat and chopped vegetables.
We used to joke that the reason there were no dead dog carcasses on Kingston’s streets (while there were tons of dead cats, goats and the occasional donkey) is that the dog meat found its way into the patty supply.
Whatever the meat, there is nothing like the taste of a hot, spicy patty.
When I entered Jamaican Grill, I saw them: patties. And they had curry goat and ox tail. And jerk chicken. The only thing missing was fish tea and goat’s head soup.
Now I see it. If things don’t start livening up, I’ll have to start writing restaurant reviews.