Wedging into tiny mouse shoes

This Wednesday, after my morning exercises, I lay in bed listening to the Inauguration Ceremony. As Biden finished his oath and was no longer President-elect but President-in-fact, I felt lighter. The physical sensation was immensely pleasurable. Well being washed over me, perhaps less at the prospect of what might be accomplished than at the thought of what was being prevented.

No one can single-handedly mend all of the nation’s broken crockery, so cavalierly smashed and strewn about in the last four years, but the address which followed was one of hopeful encouragement and reasonable aspiration. It included a turn of phrase I heard my mother employ many times – the one about not judging another soul until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.

Readers will know that whimsy and I are no strangers, but on this occasion, my mind went to a very strange place indeed – the invader mouse who has taxed my patience for weeks. Would my attitude change were I able to imagine myself in the shoes of this minuscule creature?

Such wee footwear cannot, of course, exist. Its presence would only impede the resourceful rodent’s scramble up the towel I use to protect the gloss of the wooden chest next to my rocker. The cumbersome gunboats of Mickey Mouse would send him skidding and careening to the floor. No, only a mouse’s claws enable him to scuttle effectively. Cover them with even the latest Gucci’s (sized minus 100 AAAAAAA), and our hero, or villain, is instantly emouseculated.

When I swim, I try to be the fish. Could I now, mentally, be the mouse? Shorn of other diversions, I made the attempt. The concept of indoors or outdoors is a bit rarefied for a mouse, but as the weather turned cold, a momentarily open kitchen door must have exuded a beckoning warmth. Once inside, my mouse probably sought some cozy, dark, underneathness and went to sleep.

Several readers assume that he is Timmy junior, or Timmy II, and have asked for further misadventures. I hadn’t named him, but so be it. Like my brother, Timmy jr. is nocturnal and subsists on a simple diet. Just where he finds his nourishment is a puzzle – perhaps ancient crumbs fallen behind a sofa? I provide nothing for his repasts; yet he remains the picture of health.

Some instinct warns him not to linger in the open. He darts, even when unaware of my presence. Most of the time, to Timmy 2, I suspect I’m merely one more gigantic piece in this forest of furniture and appliances. Consider his horror then, the other day, when he crawled up the towel and hoisted himself onto the surface of the chest. I dine there while watching television, and perhaps lingering aromas goad him to explore. His olfactory abilities are likely keener than mine. Slowly, this hulking object (moi) turns and exhibits eyes.

Eyes are eyes. There’s no mistaking them. No thing remains inanimate once eyes are involved. I know I’d feel abject terror if a skyscraper or a sequoia suddenly opened enormous eyes to stare at me. I made no movement, though I may have begun to smile. He fled.

I gave the matter some thought. Timmy is not harming me, nor even inconveniencing me really. There are no guests for him to startle or send screaming. It’s just the two of us. I’ve decided, unilaterally, to cease hostilities and, at least until spring, to coexist with him peacefully.

This one’s for you, Will.

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Midwinter’s tales: Santa’s supper, and the saucy mouse.

Tale #1

And it came to pass that on Christmas Eve, five of us were assembled around the tree in John P’s apartment. The flocked tree is white, as are all the ornaments. The only bit of color admitted is one ball with a bright red cardinal that I gave him a year or two ago.

John P’s Winter Wonderland tree

He loves cardinals, and who does not? They are everywhere in his lair – in pictures, on mugs and pillows and throw rugs. The place is like an aviary. If anyone has run across cardinal pajamas, please let me know. I don’t imagine there are men’s suits or top coats bedecked with such birds, but should there be, (perhaps a line by Magritte?) I’ve no doubt he would wear them.

I digress. We sat exchanging a few gifts, and I arose to try on a red and black checkerboard vest. Beneath it was a red Christmas sweater replete with black reindeer.

Santa’s outfit on Christmas Eve 2020?

Now, the windows by the tree are quite large, as was I after several days of Johnnie’s cooking. I must have presented quite the yuletide vision because just then, the neighbors across the street texted Johnnie. Their little girls, five and three, had their noses pressed to the window watching for Santa Claus and suddenly exclaimed, “There he is! Santa is at Steve and Johnnie’s!”

Their mother wisely used this turn of events to get them to bed. “Yes, Santa’s having a late supper at Steve and Johnnie’s, but he won’t come here until you’re both fast asleep.” This would have struck the children as quite reasonable. Johnnie is renowned throughout the neighborhood for her cookies, and nowhere else on that street is there as festive a display of Christmas trees.

My family was excessively amused at this case of mistaken identity. As for me, I’m embarking on a rigorous diet, and eschewing red garments from my wardrobe until Spring.

Tale #2

My mother was never afraid of mice. I recall one who crept into her apartment. Perhaps because it was so timid, she named it “Timmy,” though we never got close enough to determine its gender. I now have a mouse of my own. I don’t plan to christen it. I bear it no ill will, I just wish it would leave of its own accord. I’d happily hold open the door to facilitate its escape.

But no, it has settled in for the winter. I haven’t the foggiest idea what it finds to eat; I don’t leave food about. I did put out two dishes of pellets guaranteed both to attract mice and dispatch them to a speedy and poisonous doom. No such luck. The way the creature feasts on them, they might as well be called Mousy Kibbles and Bits.

I’m no good at setting traps. They snap on my fingers ere I can bait them. My latest scheme has left me feeling like Wile E. Coyote in yet another Acme fiasco. I bought several sticky pads guaranteed to grip unsuspecting mouse legs and, much like cement boots for mob victims, never let go this side of eternity. As an extra enticement, I added a dollop of peanut butter to each strip and set them out to wait for their hapless prey.

The strips disappeared, and I assumed that presently I would nose out the cadaver. Nope, foiled again. Yesterday, I discover one of the strips, sans peanut butter, brazenly positioned in my path to the family room, as if to say. “Here, Mac. You walk on it for a while.”

This new generation – no respect at all for their elders.

Escapes

Permit me to escape the viscerally painful goings on of midwinter America, 2021, back to a world of peace, pleasure and plenty. I dwelt there for twelve days, in Lincolnwood, with my brother, his wife, her father and our dear friend, Ann – good company all.

We isolated for two weeks before assembling at my brother’s. They came and got me on the 22nd and prevailed upon me to stay through New Year’s. For their sake, I shouldn’t have agreed. Twelve days? Long before that, I’d have cast guests out into the snow, or fled to a hotel under cover of night.

But it was glorious. Just to be face to face -and maskless -with this entertaining crew. To sit together at a small table and absorb the nuances of facial expression as we talked. Jokes are funnier in person (try doing stand-up on zoom), stories are more compelling with eye contact, and silences more comfortable when accompanied by smiles.

As to the stories, John P. regaled me with rowdy accounts of his youth, managing a movie theater in Tennessee, and Johnnie’s bizarre memories of bridesmaiding gone off the rails had me pleading for mercy as I laughed myself into a paroxysm of stitches.

Johnnie slaved perpetually for our dining pleasure. Southern feasts and multiple rich desserts were the order of the day – and night. Soups appeared that were hearty meals in themselves – savory vegetable, potato and cheddar, fifteen bean (I counted). There was catfish, perfectly breaded, and rack roasted chicken swathed in a succulent coating of condiments.

One of Johnnie’s many feasts!

Gravies, of course – milk, for pork chops, and a dense, dark, mouth watering one made from chicken drippings. There was homemade apple butter, two kinds of peppermint bark, pecan pie, peach cobbler, Russian powdered sugar tea cakes. It just kept coming! We might as well have been at Willy Wonka’s. I staggered back from these Lucullan feasts nine pounds heavier. Nine! Could she have been fattening us up for the slaughter?

Before we arrived, Johnnie had decorated and lit at least a half dozen tall Christmas trees, and their front lawn was ablaze with cheer.

Some of Johnnie’s many decorated trees!

I could say that, while there, Ann and I laughed ourselves silly, but with us that is a permanent condition.

To be so pampered and taken out of myself was like a vaccination of the spirits. Happily, I’m invited back at Easter for a booster shot.

Untitled – what possible title could there be?

Last night, I started to compose an overdue blog on my holiday escape to Lincolnwood, but who could possibly write about anything now except the shameful, devastating events of the day? The unthinkable has happened. Yet, it was all too thinkable.

What else could we have expected? You leave a child alone with a set of matches and he will find a way to light them. Count yourself lucky if he doesn’t burn down your house. We are lucky that our child president has not burned down our house – yet.

Image from Germany’s respected news magazine Der Spiegel.

He is quite capable of it. The matches – the levers of power and his bully pulpit must be taken away from him while they still can be. He must be removed from office. Now.

His latest video has him blessing the rioters, sending them love, telling them the lies they crave to hear, egging them on to return and complete the insurrection, his coup.

The 25th amendment must be invoked before another day of treason goes by. Pence and the cabinet must act or be complicit in Trump’s attempted overthrow of all legitimate government. Can anyone believe, after what we have seen today, what no democracy should ever see, that my words are partisan hyperbole?

The man and his followers are far too dangerous to be permitted anywhere near the reins of government. Yet even when he is removed, as he must be, the danger from his delusional base across the country will linger like an indelible stain, folded over and out of sight perhaps, but ready to spread at any moment, marring our liberty, harming the innocent, jeopardizing those entrusted with returning the country to safety and sanity.

The stench of the irony in his choice as America’s “most admired man” is nauseating. I fear I have some serious Facebook unfriending to do.

Playing my cards right

I’ve always loved Christmas cards – choosing them, writing them, sending them, getting them. Before I could read, I’d hold the cards that came for my parents, examining them over and over. They seemed a reassuring proof that my mother and father were liked and respected. This was important to me. But where in our lives, I wondered, were these people the rest of the year?

Later on, when my brother reached an age to join in my peccadilloes, we’d spread the cards out under the tree and narrow and winnow until only a single card remained, clever or beautiful enough to be judged the year’s best. There was no prize, (we couldn’t have afforded one), just the honor of the thing. We intended to notify the winner by mail, but Dad got wind of our plan and forbade it. I still think the winners would have been pleased.

After I moved in with John, I started taping the cards we’d receive on the walls of the cabana. What with his friends and mine, and those we shared, it made for a fulsome and most cheerful display. I do it still.

Christmas cards on the walls of the cabana

It takes a while. You can’t just slap them up higgledy-piggledy with no regard for what looks best next to what. If, for example, predominantly red cards are herded together in a scarlet ghetto, how will anything stand out? (Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by such wierdosity.)

Some years, I would use photo paper to make our card from a detail of the Christmas tree. Other times, given John’s fondness for the Orient, we’d pick a Hiroshige snow scene. Whatever we sent out, the choosing was always a matter of serious pleasure.

I enjoyed addressing the envelopes in cursive, (that endangered species), but bowed to the march of progress when John worked up a label print out program on his computer.

Left in the basement when John moved in was a cache of cards the previous owners had received at Christmas in 1934. Some of the messages suggest that the cards were saved because it was the year the couple got married. The cards were smaller and less flashy than those on offer today, but they burst with deco charm and style – and Scotties, Scotties everywhere (thanks to Asta?). One of them now graces our tree each year. It features a tiny calendar for 1935, and an eager dog saying, “I’ll watch for you.”

This year, I found a card with a scene I wanted to enter, a Victorian holiday party with a table sumptuously festooned. Supper is over and chairs are pushed back, but happy conversations continue. The men are all in white tie, and the women are gowned in mouthwatering silks and velvets. No one is in a hurry to leave except one curmudgeon at the far right who examines his watch.

Perhaps, in this year of compulsory isolation, it was the carefree crowd that caught my eye. With time on my hands, I was able to write notes on each card – pen strokes in lieu of hugs. Most of the cards I’ve received contain notes as well. A global loneliness has bred the need to reach out and connect.

Like that ’30s Scotty, I’m watching alone this Christmas season. With John gone, I’m left to deal with the rest of the world, one tiny kindness at a time.

Echoes from the cave

I’m halfway through my fortnight of hibernation. From now until the 23rd, I will see no one and venture out only to tramp the neighborhood, hoping to shed a pound or two of the covid fifteen I’ve piled on. It isn’t working, possibly because I now seem to sleep twelve hours a day. My life t-shirt could read “Born to Hibernate.”

Last week, in preparation, I did the last of my errands, stocked up on supplies, and filled Dimitrios’ tank. I wish I’d put off that last because it led to yet another debacle with my glasses. Mere months ago, while putting on a mask, I set them on the roof of the car and rode off to blurry oblivion. This time – again while putting on a mask – I set the new pair on my knee before stepping out to gas up. Driving home, I realized they weren’t on my face. When I raced back to the pump, they were there all right, but flat as a pancake. Ah well, there’s more to life than what meets the eye.

So here I am, alone in my man cave. My chief distractions are reading and the boob tube. Books first: I’ve been lent two volumes on he-who-shall-not-be-named, but I’ve had enough of him for now (forever really) so I turned them face down lest I accidentally encounter His Royal Orangeness.

I’m shuffling back and forth between six others. Three are biographies: Dirk Bogarde, Antonio Gaudi, and one I just finished, Phantom Lady about Joan Harrison, a bright and beautiful screenwriter who worked on many of Hitchcock’s movies. She went on to produce her own, mostly noir, including favorites of mine such as Phantom Lady, Dark Waters, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, and They Won’t Believe Me. Given the politics of the business in the 40’s, it’s a wonder any adult fare got made at all, let alone by a woman in a man’s world.

Awaiting my attention is a memoir, No Mercy: a Journey into the Heart of the Congo, and two well written novels I’ve temporarily put down because they were giving me the blues: Shuggy Bain, and Memorial. I’ll get back to them as soon as real life takes a turn for the better. Hmmm, perhaps I’d best not wait that long.

As to what I’m watching, now that I’ve torn through The Crown (next season looks promising with Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville), Road Kill, and Queen’s Gambit, the pickings are slim. I’ll gag down the final dose of Big Sky, but except for the loony relations between one of the killers and his mother, I wish I’d never started it. The opening photography had me thinking I’d like to explore Montana, but after five episodes, set mostly in an underground hostage cell, I’m revising my post pandemic travel plans.

Another disappointment was Mank, (which reminds me I’ve another unread biography, The Brothers Mankiewicz: Hope Heartbreak and Hollywood, hiding under some accumulated newspapers). The story intrigues me no end, but this film, shot in a dismally gray attempt to approximate the lustrous black and white photography of the 30’s and 40’s, takes a baker’s dozen potentially fascinating personalities and gets most of them wrong. Tom Burke actually does make a fairly credible Orson Welles, and Charles Dance is interesting as always, but the gent he brings to life is hardly William Randolph Hearst.

Three episodes in, I’m enjoying A Suitable Boy. I’m a sucker for most things set in India anyway, but this is especially well written, scenically lush, and sexy. The lead, Tanya Maniktata has a lovely and expressive face and a gift for intelligent flirtation that manages to be simultaneously seductive and reassuring, like a young Teresa Wright. One of my few regrets is never having gotten to India, but that’s a young man’s trip. Still, John and Ann would have made ideal traveling companions in that mystic land.

Funny Boy is also set in the far east, Sri Lanka, and similarly deals with the troublesome tradition of arranged marriage. The background is the bloody clash of the Tamil Tigers and the Sinhalese Muslims. The foreground is a gay coming of age tale. It’s a one shot affair, and while I enjoyed it, it sometimes felt rushed. I’d have been happier had it been given time to breathe as an extended series.

Night before last, I giggled through The Prom. I’d like to erase the formulaically snappy tunes from my head, but the lyrics were snappy too, and snotty, but hilarious even to this hoosier.

And as always, there is the comfort food of The Murdoch Mysteries. I’m halfway through the thirteen seasons, but I’m rationing myself to one a night. They’re going to get me through the winter.

Lastly, I have my dreams, these days often about John. The other night, in one of them, we were out walking in the dark. The streets were deserted. John sat down to rest and I sat down in front of him. Our knees were touching, and it seemed so real. Finally, I suggested we start home. We stood up and I realized we had miles to go and would have to walk along a railroad track. Well, thought I, at least we’re together.

A quarantine carol

With Christmas approaching, I don’t need much coaching

if I’m to spend time with my brother this Yule.

I’ve got to cocoon and I must begin soon.

No shopping or dropping my guard is the rule.

Thus, starting Dec. 9, I’d best firmly decline

any visits from friends or relations of mine.

The door I’ll be guardin’. No bribe shall I pardon,

lest sly Giuliani bring sweet frangipani.

The good Doctor Fauci may label me grouchy

but mask or no mask, he shant sit on my couchy.

Though Robert Di Niro has long been my hero

the odds I’ll admit him are just about zero.

Kardashian Kim may stop by on a whim

with Kanye in tow. Still, I’ll have to say “No.”

Barack and Michelle can keep ringing my bell,

But I won’t let them in, though they’re utterly swell.

And sweet Mayor Pete must be sent to the street,

yet he’s certainly someone I’m dying to meet.

There’ll be no admittance to Governor Pritzker.

In jollier times, he’d be offered a spritzer.

Trudeau and Macron, those delectable Frenchmen,

won’t get past the door, not with all of their henchmen.

Brad Pitt may insist, but I’m bound to resist

though the effort will put all my shorts in a twist.

The Bears and the Cubs, those unfortunate clubs,

shall not get inside though they hide in the shrubs.

Should the Donald appear, all orange and tired,

I’ll shout through the door, “Go away, sir! You’re fired.”

But since I will miss you, at once let me issue

the wish you’ll be with me at some point next year.

I’m fervently hopin’ my door to fling open

And warmly embrace every face of good cheer.

P.S. Feel welcome to send added stanzas of your own devising.

Sweet surprises: Gaudi and the Vogels

So, why am I not writing about the most eventful of current events? That particular roller coaster has me exhausted. Besides, my thoughts on that subject are no different from those of any reasonable – and reasoning – American.

Instead, I want to speak of my pleasure and surprise watching two DVDs that have been sitting here so long I’d forgotten what they were about. Friday night, for want of other distraction, I popped them in. Both were Japanese documentaries. The first was Antonio Gaudi, a mostly silent video tour of this master architect’s magical buildings in Barcelona.

Gaudi structures, in their blissful irregularity, spring not from blueprints but watercolor renderings. They are fairy tale edifices come to life with a deeply satisfying unpredictability. The solid stone seems to be melting. The interior spaces invite and appear about to embrace you. They astonish and make children of us, gigantic, dreamlike play houses that swoop and curve melodically around us.

The twisted metal atop one massive gate conjures up a ravenous pterodactyl eager to devour us. The railings of his balconies wind and knot and curl, suggesting ribbons of chocolate. And then that church, Sagrada Familia, that church for which there are no words to convey its staggering impact.

Sagrada Familia

I’m a man of few regrets, but one of the most bothersome is that, while in Spain, John and I never visited Barcelona. We based in Madrid, big, noisy, hot, dirty, arrogant Madrid. I was happy each time we escaped to the thrilling sights of Granada, Cordoba, Toledo, Avila and Ronda. But, we never got to Barcelona. If I’m ever able to travel again, I will plant myself in Barcelona and let the weirdly beautiful works of Antonio Gaudi wrap themselves around me. His was a genius not ahead of his time but rather out of time altogether. I may never come back.

The second DVD was called Herb and Dorothy. It tells of the Vogels, a New York couple of modest income who nevertheless managed to amass a vast collection of contemporary art worth millions. Passionate collectors, they had a sharp eye for budding talent. Living simply in a small apartment, their disposable income went for the work of new artists like Christo and Chuck Close who became lifelong friends.

Herb and Dorothy Vogel

The documentary is at its best when it shows the couple, over five decades, just walking the streets of New York, hand in hand, in love with each other and excited by each new movement, each promising new artist. The bonds they forged with their discoveries were deep and lasting. One scene shows Dorothy reduced to tears after an artist, about to leave the country, drops in to say goodbye.

The art that crammed their living space was cutting edge rather than comfortable, some of it minimalist in the extreme. To the Vogels, collecting was not an investment (though for them it would have been a shrewd one). They bought what they liked. What they liked invariably turned out to be what would in time be highly prized, but they never bought to sell. When approached by the National Gallery, they donated what took five large moving vans to convey, happy to see their treasures find a good home. The packing up took on the aspect of a conjuror’s trick as an endless cache of paintings and constructs disgorged from the Vogels’ tiny flat.

Herb and Dorothy were a sweet, smart, funny, perceptive and generous pair, truly unique among art collectors. The video was from 2008. I doubt they are still around, but as long as I don’t google to find out – they are. Viva the Vogels! Viva Gaudi! And, I suppose, viva Netflix.

Stumped

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of John and Lee, there grew a tall and stately sycamore tree. Its shade spread over a wide expanse of their garden. In autumn, its leaves, the size of catcher’s mitts, were a trial and tribulation to John, the kingdom’s designated raker. Its bark, like sunburnt flesh, was constantly mottled and peeling. But such is the lot of sycamores, and it was beloved by both men. They surrounded it with a curved wooden bench to provide rustic seating for their guests.

After giving many years of shade and shelter, the mighty sycamore grew tired and sparse of leaf and limb. With doleful hearts, we agreed the time had come to put it to its rest, but we couldn’t bear to see it disappear completely. A pillar of some eight feet was left standing. One of the tree cutting crew made us the startling offer of carving it into the shape of a grizzly bear. We declined.

Instead, we crowned it with a large stone urn which we planted every spring. John and I would search for the perfect sweet potato vines, in shades of lime green and deep aubergine, to trail amid strands of white wojo and multicolored flowers. There also had to be a tall spike of green blades and cat tail in the center.

Adam or Luke would brace a ladder against the stump (though that term does scant justice to the height of what remained). John would steady the ladder, and I would hand up the pots, fresh soil, and time release fertilizer granules. When it was all patted into place, we’d stand back to admire the contents of the urn, dangling like long curly tresses, gently tousled by the breeze.

It was left to me to keep things moist, which took some doing. Every couple days, I’d hold the sprayer wand above my head, count to 200, or until rivulets ran down the trunk, and try to keep my shoes and pants dry. The urn would blossom all summer and be one of the very last things to fade in the fall. It was truly one of the garden’s chief adornments.

Slowly, very slowly, the pillar beneath the urn began to decay. This fall, I had to admit it was unlikely to support the weight through another summer. With great regret, I summoned Luke and his chain saw to dispatch it.

Something still remains. The urn now rests on several inches of trunk. Not a height for trailing plants, but next spring I’ll fill it to bursting with the most beautiful begonias I can find.

If I live long enough to see even the trunk crumble into earth and disappear, the ghosts of its giant leaves will tumble again, like graceful aerialists in my imagination. I’ll miss you, well done, friend sycamore.

The Forest Avenue griffic section

Years ago, when the world and I were young, Chicago had five daily newspapers. On the weekends, each had a society section with photos of swells at play in their finery, (at five, I had a crush on Bobo Sears Rockefeller after seeing a picture of her at a ball). In his song, “Easter Parade,” Irving Berlin referred to this part of the paper by its more elegant moniker, the rotogravure.

Because of their abundance of photographs, (the rest of the paper had very few), the society pages were also known as the graphic section – except by my mother. She called it the “griffic” section. Even at five, I knew that wasn’t right, but I never corrected her. It tickled me each time she mispronounced it. I pictured upper crust griffins cavorting in their Sunday best.

Herewith then, sans photos, my G-rated version of the Forest Avenue griffic section. Beginning at the southeast corner, we see a new neighbor, Fred, moving into what had been the home of an Indian couple I was sorry to see leave. Their replacement, Fred, is a man of hearty good cheer. In the movie version, he will be played by Willard Waterman.

A bit north of Fred lives a woman who, though friendly when we meet, has told others that she’d rather see her son dead than gay. I’ve seen the son. His chances of survival are pretty good.

Across the street, (I’m picking and choosing because, though I’ve lived here almost half my life, there are still a few Foresters I don’t know beyond a nodding acquaintance) lives an artist whose sculptures adorn her yard to good effect.

Next to her live a gay couple with the greenest of thumbs. Their battalion of pink tulips is a highlight every spring. John, who sports a Rip Van Winkle-ish beard, is also an artist, (swell cook too). He gave us a brilliantly oriental bird house.

Then come the Bergrens. Bruce and Bobby are avid fishermen with boats in the driveway. Loretta would pick cranberries and bring them to my John who’d give her pots of his cranberry-pear chutney at Thanksgiving. One door north is Raul, who designed and installed our curving brick path in the back garden. His immediate neighbors are a deeply Irish couple with splendid big dogs, just the sort that Ann Miller would have strutted with in Easter Parade.

Next to us, on one side are the Cliffords, the sometimes disembodied voices with whom I exchange gardening tips and woes through our border of thick hedges. On the other side are Vic and Pat, dear friends who have helped me out of so many scrapes that I have to forgive Vic’s pre-dawn mower mania. Pat is a doting grandmother. She recently staged a birthday party replete with a candy stuffed pinata. Whatever the kids thought, I was charmed as I passed by.

Then come Ken and Susan, more dear friends I’ve come to count on. Susan gives an annual Christmas party worthy of Dickens, with decorated trees in every room, upstairs and down. It will be sorely missed this year. It was Susan who hosted a book signing for me (with champagne) when Safe Inside came out.

Crossing the street again, we find Jean and Terry. Nothing escapes Terry – not even the would be package thief he chased and nabbed. Terry knows where all the bodies are buried on this block.

Terry and Jeannie just sold the house next door to them. The buyer is a strapping young gentleman who, were there a Mister Munster contest, would win in a walk. The man is crazy handsome. He could have posed for Arrow collar ads. J.C. Leyendecker would have killed to draw him. And what would this newcomer’s line be? Iron worker, of course, on Chicago’s tallest new skyscrapers. As I was discussing my image of him up on a girder, a female friend who shall go unnamed added a few breathless details – shirtless, in overalls with one suspender down. But I did say this would be G-rated, so we’ll leave it at “Welcome to the block, Robert.”

Toward the end of the street lives a neighbor who speaks little English but invites me to pick pears from his tree. Pears are a mere drop in the fruit bucket compared to the major kindnesses and acts of concern that I’ve experienced from others on this block I’ve not mentioned. This is a street on which, in an increasingly barbaric age, I feel appreciated, supported and cared for.

One of my favorite things about Forest is that no two houses are remotely alike. Perhaps my favorite is on the northeast corner. John (there are four on our street) and Jeannie’s stucco-ey home has a two story, multi-paned window through which can be seen a towering tree at Christmastime. John is a retired policeman with a trunkfull of fascinating and scary tales to relate. For a while, he gave a popular class on serial killers.

This, in other years, is a block of excellent parties. At one of them, I recall John and Jeannie slow dancing most romantically. For another, given by John and me, Jeannie asked what she could bring. I said, “Oh, don’t go to any trouble. A roast suckling pig with an apple in its mouth would be just fine.” As it turned out, she had one. Her father was a hunter, and she floored me when she arrived bearing a stuffed boar’s head, apple and all.

Can you wonder that I want to live out my days on Forest Avenue?