With humidity building as I write this Monday morning, with storms roiling to the west and temperatures rising, there are windows closing across Oak Park and River Forest as the AC cranks on.
Beyond the white noise of the window units and the sky-high electric bills sure to follow, we are closing out a July 4th weekend and, in the main, a month of June, made for sleeping under a simple sheet, made-with a little mosquito repellant-for front-porch swings.
Lost, too, I expect, on my street will be the music that has been seeping out of wide-open windows, often in the early morning, sometimes late into the evening. This has not been the music of the pulsating car in the next lane or the stereo turned too loud by teenagers intent on showing off their musical tastes.
Rather it has been an odd symphony. First came my next-door neighbor Dwight, with his grand piano in the second-floor bedroom nearest my house. Lovely, lovely jazz tunes and show tunes as I sat Sunday morning on the swing reading my newspapers and drinking my coffee.
Later, as I started work in the garden, Dwight was joined by the unknown French horn player to my east. My daughter, Mariah, credited the wonderful music to her friend and our neighbor Millie, who is about to enter middle school. I e-mailed her dad this morning and he allowed that, while Millie is getting better on her horn, the music we are both hearing is wafting out of an apartment on Austin Boulevard and that whoever is playing is just great.
I moved to the backyard garden in the early afternoon and, for the first time, heard a violin, might be a cello, floating in from Taylor.
It was a lovely way to spend a day. And if the late-season grass seed I planted ever sprouts, it will have been a total success.
Now, though, we are about be sealed up in our houses with the air conditioning stripping out the humidity and the music.
One of the newspapers I read on my early mornings on the porch is the Tribune. The increasingly schizophrenic Tribune. Last Tuesday, the first day of July, we saw the “new” Tribune with its bite-sized lead-story morsels of information about the hike in the county sales tax. Every 25 words, a little headline to keep you on course. No storytelling. No continuation. Truly a newspaper for stupid people.
I read last week that the Trib is starting a new paper for Chicago high school students tentatively called The Mash. (Themash.com is already up with a test page.) My theory is that they plan to dumb down RedEye, though I don’t know how that is possible.
Twice though in the past week, veteran reporter Ron Grossman has made the front page of the Trib with wonderful, thoughtful pieces that help us grasp our place and understand our history in an urban Chicago. I have no inside information, so I can only surmise that Grossman is one of a hundred reporters about to get whacked and he is just telling the hell out of every story he wants to write before he departs.
A week ago it was the story of Idlewild, Mich., a resort town started almost a hundred years ago as a rare refuge for blacks, mainly middle class, who wanted to take a vacation from Chicago or Detroit and would have never been allowed in a white resort.
Monday morning, Grossman had the lead on the Trib’s front page with a story that brought me to tears. This time he rode along on a reunion of 120 middle-aged whites who grew up in the South Side neighborhood of Jeffery Manor. They lived idyllic childhoods in this post-World War II development of ranch houses until their parents gave into their fears in the late 1960s and almost universally decamped in the face of the first blacks moving to the neighborhood.
Grossman describes classic Chicago block-busting with real estate agents stoking the fears of blue collar workers that their home values would plummet and the neighborhood would be trashed. The visitors, arriving by bus, found the opposite. Their neighborhood was just as nice, just as well-kept as they remembered. But instead of being all-white, it was now all-black. Another Chicago failure, another missed chance to create an integrated neighborhood.
You can’t read that story without a sense of wonder at what Oak Park accomplished in that exact same moment, with the same fears. We had leadership that city neighborhoods lacked. The outcomes are stark.
Come September, when the fully reimagined, thoroughly gutted Tribune debuts, it will be hard to imagine such journalism on the front page. Sam Zell, the Trib’s new owner, promises us maps and charts and big colorful pictures with nuggets of information. We will long for a newspaper that helps explain us to ourselves.