- Looking Over My Shoulder
- *In The Beginning There Was LeClaire
- Beaubien Elementary School
- *Carl Schurz High School
- *Northwestern University
- *Wabash College
- *Highland Park
- *Bradley Place
- *The Loft
- *The Bungalow Belt
- *North Park University
- *Side Trips
What’s this all about? It’s about where I’ve been in this world. I started out wanting to test the Tabbed Panel paradigm that comes with Adobe Dreamweaver. “What content makes sense using Tabbed Panels?” I said to myself. I immediately settled on the schools I had attended starting with elementary schools and ending up with North Park University. But wait! What happened after my undergraduate degree? Well, that was another whole set of places and events. Then it occurred to me that since I have some information about my grand parents I should add something about them. Then I happened to think about some of the side trips I have made—abortive little excursions that were perhaps interest but hardly significant enough to warrant their own tab!
So I finally arrived at the arrangement you see here, which is a sort of outline of what I want to say and what I want to show you. It will be a significant undertaking for me to collect all the information and images and perhaps even sound and video if I can find it. But the possibilities for developing the additional skills are too great a temptation to pass up, not to mention the significant ego trip I’ll get from actually posting this stuff.
That’s how it all started. It’s a work in progress and may not proceed from beginning to end in strict order. I’ll be sure to blog or make some other smoke signals to let people know that I’ve added yet more content to this page. To help you with navigation I have placed an asterisk in front of a tab name if there is no content in the tab. Tabs that do have content have their names in red.
Comments are always welcome. Some day, I’ll even put up a “Contact Me” page with a way for you to enter your comments directly. Until then, try email at wanderer at lionwood dot com.
Looking Over My Shoulder
This was written in response to a request from Jeff Bott, the principal organizer of the Carl Schurz High School Class of Spring 1961 Reunion held on September 16–18, 2011. I kind of liked the overview nature of the piece, so I decided to post it here as a form of Executive Summary for the rest of the topic.
I think that Jeff Bott is probably a nice guy, so I’ll send him this bio instead of blowing him off as was my first impulse. Besides, sometimes it is a good idea to look at where you’ve been just to appreciate the bullets you’ve dodged and the luck you may have encountered—good or bad. So here ya go Jeff, this one’s for you and the rest of them retired Boomers about to stumble into the restaurant with their walkers, canes and hunched over backs, white pony tails, flowered shirts , huge beer bellies and sagging boobies and jowls. This is where I’ve been, more or less (probably less) and I hope you’ve had as much fun and excitement as I have.
After Carl Schurz High School
After Schurz was Northwestern University for a year. It didn’t work, but that was my fault. There were no role models for me back then, and my emerging gay identity had to literally blast its way through my closet door just to make itself heard. I thought I wanted to be a musician, and probably I should have stayed with that, but all the distractions were just too overwhelming as I tried being an engineer and an economist in addition to being a musician that first year. Finally I threw my hands up in dismay and transferred to Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. This is where General Lew Wallace lived and called home. He wrote America’s first blockbuster novel that has never been out of print. He told his wife that he thought he might make a few hundred dollars a year in royalties for Judah Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, but he was wrong. He eventually even sold the play rights to the book for over $1 million, an unheard of sum in the 19th century. Whether you’re Christian or not you should read the book, it’s a magnificent historical novel. While at Northwestern I worked on the Waa-Mu Show (the student musical revue) and The Dolpin Show (a student production that combined water ballet with on-stage (deck) acting. You’ll see that by the time I get to the end of my journey, I will have come full circle.
Wabash gave me a great education as an economist and connoisseur of the local bars and pool halls, but that was all. So manyof my friends have since passed away so I’m beginning to feel like Johnsey, the O. Henry character who was waiting for The Last Leaf to fall. I become increasingly alienated from Wabash while otherinstitutions and interests increase theirattraction and appeal.
At Wabash, I barely had a GPA sufficient for graduation but received a “First” on the three days of comprehensive examinations all Seniors were required to write, one of maybe two or three “Firsts” in a class of about 200 graduating seniors. Then, on to the real world!
First I worked for the Milwaukee Road railroad (now long gone with much of its track abandoned). First, I was a brakeman, a job I really liked. Then I moved over to the IT department and learned the fundamentals of the fledgling information age. After the railroad, off to Philadelphia where I worked for a conglomerate that made furniture and ice cream. They went belly-up and I came limping back to Chicago to sponge off my parents for a Summer while I worked running one-design sail yacht races off of Monroe Harbor in Lake Michigan. Eventually I got a job selling subscriptions for One Design and Offshore Yachtsman magazine that I think is still published as Sailing World.
But, bigger fish called and I went to work for Time Incorporated when they were still in Chicago working on really big iron (mainframe computers). This started a few years of working for Time and various IT consulting companies. Most of the history here is of little interest except to note that I wrote a lot of computer code and even spent a year or so teaching entry-level programmers.
Detour To the Greenhouse Business and Gay Activism
I made an interesting side trip for a few years into the commercial greenhouse business a-way the hell out in Marengo, Illinois. Sadly, this happened just when the first oil embargo occurred and the price of heating a greenhouse became prohibitive in the North. However, during that time I also became active in my first nonprofit which was called, at the time, Gay Horizons. We ran the gay hotline in Chicago when it was something you only talked about surreptitiously. Our biggest problem was recruiting volunteers to man the phones that were open about five hours in the evening seven days a week. I took the job of volunteer intake coordinator and within six months had over two-hundred new volunteers. I served a stint as Corporation Secretary, got into a disagreement with the founder (who had what I now understand to be “founder’s syndrome”) and left. The organization still survives as Horizons Community Services and is responsible for running the Center on Halsted in Chicago’s rapidly disappearing gay ghetto. A few more years in and out of IT consulting and I found myself burned out and looking for something better to do.
Back out in Marengo I sold the greenhouse structure to a guy in Missouri and hired a gay Cuban refugee and an actor/waiter/drag queen to help tear the thing down, pack it on a couple of semis and ship it South. I hired a local guy with a small crane to help with the task. My local crane was a Mormon who, like all good Mormons, worked like a dog and expected the rest of us to work the same. He invited us to his home for dinner one evening where one of his daughters fell in love with Paul, the actor/waiter/drag queen. I took great delight in asking Paul if I could be his best man at the wedding as he deftly avoided capture by this determined young lady. We had a lot of fun that week and a half, and when the dust settled and everybody gathered for me to pass out checks the Mormon crane guy gave each of us a huge hug and said that he wasn’t sure what happened, but is wife and daughters said that they had never seen him in such a good mood as he had been for that project. We choked back the tears and headed back to Boyztown.
Secrets, Freemasons and Advanced Degrees
I became a Freemason and went to work for the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago, what’s known as an appendant body. I stayed there about ten years but eventually around year five I realized that much was missing and I wasn’t getting any younger. I decided to try to go back to school at Columbia College in Chicago to get a degree in Arts Management. (See how the circle starts to bend back?) They took my $50 application fee and told me that I would be wasting my time and not to bother them again. I woke up a few days later and the clock radio was advertising North Park University’s Certificate Programs. I chose Fundraising, spent the next year studying how to ask people for money, and got straight A’s (a much better record than my dismal undergraduate record.) I then asked if I could become a graduate student and since they already knew me they said “sure” as long as I took the GRE, which I did. In the final analysis, I received a Master’s of Nonprofit Administration and an MBA, both “with distinction” which means a 3.9 GPA or better. Obviously I grew up over the years and took educational matters seriously.
Personal life was also never dull during this time. I partnered several times, what we sometimes refer to as “serial monogamy.” Husband #1 was a disaster, but we were both inexperienced and just made a bad choice. There was lots of drama and arguing and I was so exhausted that when it finally ended I collapsed for a couple of days from sheer relief. I hope my former other half had an equally satisfying epiphany from the experience. I had a short dalliance with a man from Chicago’s South Side that ended rather abruptly since he had a really roving eye and almost no scruples. Sadly, he managed to become promiscuous just at the start of the AIDS epidemic and died by the time he was thirty. A short stint with a really bad choice from Long Island was hardly a partnering; it was more like a test drive. Lucky for both of us we moved on to better things. Then, I got lucky. I partnered with a Venezuelan I met while working in Caracas. We stayed together 13 years until his death in 1994 (alcoholism) but during that time I brought his nephew and two nieces to the United States. All are now citizens and married (to opposite genders) two with kids. At one point I was “raising” three young people, so I’ve paid my family dues. After Johnny died I put his ashes in a nice bronze urn here in my curio cabinet where he remains to this day as a sort of home columbarium. Occasionally relatives from Caracas visit and we have to disinter the cremains for them to examine and touch while crossing themselves. Johnny has become almost a sacred relic for that branch of the family. Since Johnny I have made a couple of tentative explorations, mostly over dinner and a glass of wine, none of which showed any great promise of doing more than putting on weight. I soldier on, single and unattached caring little whether anything more happens to make me commit to a single person again.
But let’s close the circle: I started out as a musician and have never lost my interest in the performing arts. My other nonprofit activities include a stint on the Board of Directors for the Northbrook Symphony Orchestra (the orange, stylized logo critter here), the Board of The Building Stage (a Chicago theatre company) and my current position as Financial Manager for Odradek Theatre Company. (One version of an Odradek is the stringy thing here a little below and to the left. It says “I will outlive us all” at the bottom.) I have just finished the first round of interviews to become the Managing Director of another theatre company, so we’ll see how that goes. Frankly, there is a lot of ageism in both the for-profit and nonprofit world, so building a reputation is a matter of breaking through the barriers of age; women will recognize a similar problem that they have with career advancement. I have recently joined The Arts & Business Alliance of Chicago, a group that does pro bono consulting. This will give me opportunities to make many more contacts and build a demonstrable track record. Networking and accomplishment are about the only way you can overcome age-related barriers these days. I spent a couple of summers working for the Grant Park Music Festival and learned a lot, not the least of which is that I don’t want to work for a large government organization. I still have many friends there and they do a fantastic job under some really difficult political conditions.
Health, Fitness, End of Life
All of this leaves me at the age of 68 busily starting new careers in arts management, and also spending significant time at the gym. Did I forget the gym? I must be getting old! [grinning] Part of the whole program of launching new lives involves reclaiming health and vigor. At 340 pounds it was more than age that was keeping me from moving forward. Last August (2010) I resolved to do something about all of that and started going to the gym regularly and eating sensibly. Now I’m about 120 pounds lighter (with at least 40 more to go) and in the best shape I’ve been in for years. If you are going to insist on the same treatment given to youthful job applicants, you need to do your best to compete with them on both a physical and a mental level. My physical fitness program has been nearly as life-changing as my two Master’s degrees. By the way, there’s no secret. Diet and exercise are the only things that count in this kind of program. Visit http://www.caloriecount.com and get started if you have the itch. It takes time to get proficient at choosing the right foods and getting your fat ass to the gym three times a week, but eventually you can’t live any other way. It will add years to your life (so I’m told.)
Does Any of This Matter?
At this point in life, every morning that I wake up is counted as another hash mark in the “win” column. Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi! ("Holy Father, so passes worldly glory!")—from the ritual of Papal coronation 1409—1963. In the end, none of this matters. I do what I do today is a search for some meaning to a life that is traveling inexorably to a finish. But I’m not alone in this. Look closely at the Millennials, the kids just coming of age right now and you’ll find a group of youthful men and women who are marching together, trying to fix all the crap left for them by Boomers and Gen-Xers who screwed things up in the first place. Boomers, you and me, are the iconoclasts that would rather pontificate and do drugs and have sex than anything (well, maybe with some classic rock in the background). Gen-Xers are the kids the Boomers didn’t raise. Instead, we told them to raise themselves and as a result we have a relatively thoughtless me-first generation that I call the “Ready! Fire! Aim!” generation. The poor Millennials have to fix all this. But don’t get me wrong; I think we Boomers have a lot to offer, mostly hot air and advice! If you need a man or woman of action and immediacy, you can’t go wrong with a Gen-Xer. As for Millennials, I love ‘em dearly. These are thekids who hug and kiss me in the lobbies of theatres and concerts and who ask me for advice and counsel. It makes me feel unjustifiably wise and valuable. You can grumble all you want about the “next generation,” but consider this: You’re going to die before they will. If you want to have an impact, you’d better become friends with these young folk so that at least some of your values will get passed down to them. You may not end up as revered as Confucious (pictured here to the left), but you can have an impact on today’s youth. They’ll thank you for your advice, ignore lots of it, take some of it, and plant you six feet under when the time comes. But part of you will live on; make it the best part.
Thanks for reading this. Have a great evening, and enjoy the rest of your life!