Thursday, May 29, 2008

Where We Played: Rice Park

It's a wonder, really, that every kid in Burbank didn't end up sterile because of all the power lines that are draped across some of Burbank's parks. Maybe this was an urban legend, but I'd heard that the electric company donated some of the land to the city where several power line towers and transformers are amassed. (Most cities fence those areas off, by the way.)

In any event, the park where I spent most of my time wasn't one full of power line towers: Rice Park.

Rice Park sits behind Kennedy Grade School. I wasn't an athletic kid (in fact, from the second grade until eighth grade, I grew increasingly fatter by the minute), but I spent a lot of time at Rice Park. But doing what? I owned a tennis racket that I'd bought at a flea market, and I loved knocking tennis balls around, often over the fence, but I never learned how to play. I also loved playing Horse at the basketball court. But as soon as any other kids came up, I left. I was a magnet for trouble (maybe all fat boys are), and so I learned quickly to remove myself from situations before they happened.

One time that I didn't remove myself was shortly after our family had moved to that part of Burbank, and I was riding my bike up and over the dirt hills that sat over from and behind Rice Park. What I didn't realize was that Rice Park was a little bit like the island on Lost in that there were the kids who hung out in the park, and then there were The Others. The Others hung out over by the dirt hills, and they didn't like it when some fat, younger kid came riding up and over their hills. As was usually the case, I was outnumbered: about six or seven of them to me. The one I remember the best was this red-headed kid who was notorious for causing problems -- their pack-leader. He grabbed my handlebars while The Others surrounded me. I honestly don't remember what happened next -- they may have knocked me off my bike and given me a warning -- but I do remember that such incidents weren't uncommon in Burbank in the 1970s. The upshot was, I stayed away from the hills after that.

During the summer of 1979, I spent a lot of time by the Little League part of Rice Park, not because I liked baseball (I didn't) or because I was friends with some of the players (I wasn't). No, I started going because a girl from another part of Burbank -- a girl I didn't know but had started seeing riding her bike around our part of town and, as these things happen, developed an intense, heart-pounding crush on -- had begun going to the games. I had started losing weight, so my confidence should have been on the rise, but it wasn't, so I would merely situate myself and my bike near her in the hope that I'd catch her attention. And one day, while I was eating Milk Duds, she came up and asked me for one. That's all that happened. She asked me for a Milk Dud, and I gave her one. The fact that I still remember this should give you some idea of just how fricking excited I was! I didn't see her again until the fall, when she was (miraculously) in my high school Geometry class (I was a freshman; she was a sophomore), a class I would end up failing because I spent all of my time either talking to, or pining for, her. She would even walk with me to my locker after every class. There was only one hitch: She had a boyfriend who was three years older and could easily have been one of The Others. And one time she warned me: "I can't let my boyfriend know I'm walking with you."

Too bad. But at least we'll always be bound by shared Milk Duds at Rice Park and, uh, Geometry...or at least our mutual hatred of it.

P.S. I took Geometry over during the summer and got an 'A' in it, which further proves just how damned smitten I was of this girl.

What park did you hang at? Memories, anyone?

(photos of Rice Park courtesy of Renee Greco)

Friday, May 23, 2008

What We Eat: Pizza!

You can find edible pizza outside Chicago, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a pizza as good as even the average, run-of-the-mill Chicago pizza once you leave the outer edge of Chicagoland. Trust me. I’ve lived in central Illinois, Southern Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, D.C., North Carolina, and L.A. I’ve found some pretty good pizza in L.A. and in New York City (though, usually, I’ve been out drinking in NY by the time I end up at a place selling slices, so I’m guessing cardboard with tomato paste would probably have tasted okay by then).

As I’ve already noted here about a thousand times, I haven’t lived in Burbank since 1983, but I still get back there maybe once or twice a year, and if I’m in town for more than a day, I usually end up eating pizza somewhere in the neighborhood. Down below, I’ve listed places I either frequented or remember. Please correct locations and names if I’ve made any errors, and by all means, tell us about your favorite South Side pizzas.

Italian Villa

Italian Villa is located in Southfield Shopping, and it’s been there since at least the early or mid ‘70s, if not earlier. This is the pizza that my family ate the most, and this is where I tend to go when I’m back in town. Even when I haven’t been there for a few years at a stretch, the waitress recognizes me and, often, remembers my order. The best features of Italian Villa? For me, it’s the whole package – superb sausage; tasty sauce; excellent crust (thin but a bit chewy). Plus, there’s a blurry, enlarged photo of Pete Townsend doing the windmill to his guitar in the men’s bathroom. Also: Could the food be any cheaper?

Gino’s Pizza

If memory serves me, Gino’s was on 79th and Central. To the best of my knowledge, it wasn’t affiliated with the famous Gino’s downtown. I’m not sure why we ate here. Did my brother work here? Possibly. Anyway, our Gino’s experience was short-lived. I can’t even remember anything about it. Gino's was definitely around in the '70s, but I can't vouch for it before or after that.

Tafte’s (Tafde’s?)

I ate here only a few times, probably in the ‘70s. They were located somewhere on 87th, I believe, on the Oak Lawn side. Is that right? Not far from Central, I’m thinking. Here’s what I remember: A corn-meal crust? Yellow with holes poked through? Cracker-ey? A few years ago, I started talking to a Law professor here at Wake Forest, and we quickly discovered that we were both from Burbank, and so we started trading anecdotes. Apparently, his first job was delivering pizzas for Tafte’s (Tafde’s?). A small, small world. And if anyone knows for sure how to spell the damned name of the place, please enlighten me!

Phil’s Pizza

Phil’s was across from the Jewel on Ridgeland. I went through a brief – but intense – Phil’s stage. When I was in high school, before I could drive, my father took a roofing job in Indiana and had to stay over night while my mother was in the hospital, and so I started ordering Phil’s pizza, almost nightly, to have delivered since I couldn’t drive. (We never had pizza delivered, so this was true decadence.) I can almost remember what it tastes like, but what I remember for certain were the enormous, meatball-sized chunks of pale-colored sausage. I'll have to try it again next time in town; it'll be my first Phil's Pizza in 27 years. Oh, and if you're reading this Phil's, you can send coupons to me @ P.O. Box 7387, WFU, Winston-Salem, NC 27109. :)


Fasano’s is located around 83rd and Roberts Road in Justice. This was our default pizza when we tired of Italian Villa. I haven’t had one in years, though about ten years ago, when I was living in Iowa City, buy an extra-large one, throw it in the trunk, and drive it three and a half hours home. This place was all about the toppings – tons of toppings. A good pie, as I recall. It may be the heaviest of the thin-crust pizzas on the South Side.


Durbin’s is, of course, on 79th and State Road. I’ve only recently begun eating pizza at Durbin’s, and I only eat there when I’m drinking. It would never cross my mind to go there specifically for pizza, even though the pizza is pretty damned good. But give me about a dozen beers, and I’m all over the menu.

Oh, yeah. One last thing, for what it's worth: I'm a thin crust guy. There. I said it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Where We Worked

Most of my friends' parents worked manual labor or trade jobs of one kind or another. Some worked for the telephone company; some were electricians; some were plumbers; some painted water towers. My mother worked in box factories until she had to go on disability in the early '70s for health problems. She hated not working and even tried returning to her job until she realized she couldn't do it anymore. My father was a roofer for most of his life, though he took about seven years off to try to make it on his own cleaning rugs and washing walls, but he eventually went back to the roofer's union and stayed there until he retired in 1989.

Growing up in Burbank, you had to be industrious. In grade school, I walked dogs and sold things. I sold knives (yes, knives), concert T-shirts, bootleg cassettes...whatever I thought I could sell. My first "real" job wasn't until my senior in high school when I worked as an usher at the Orland Square movie theater. Mostly, as an adult, I've been a teacher, but I've also worked shipping and receiving for a small electronics company, worked in a cafeteria, scored standardized tests, worked as a file clerk (or something like that...can't remember my title), did data entry, greeted people at a new mall (the most humiliating?), gutted buildings for surplus, worked in a library (mostly processing books and, once again, doing some shipping and receiving)...and on and on.

What did (do) your parents do? What do you do? And what jobs have you had -- the good ones, the bad ones, and all the ones in-between?

1970. Me and my father. The photo-booth at Zayre's.

2008 (this morning). Me and my father. My backyard in Winston-Salem, NC.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reader Needs Your Help

Does anyone know the answer to this? I don't. Help us out, if you can. Here goes.

Maybe you know the answer to this question...currently there is a Value City and a Burlington Coat Factory on 84/Cicero. What two stores were there before? one of the stores was Polk Brothers the others was??????

Anyone know?

Side-note: I'll get back to posting more blogs soon. I just filed my students' grades. Time will free up soon.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Where We Shopped: Korvettes

Location: the southwest corner of 87th and Cicero (Oak Lawn)
Years? I remember it being there in the 1960s and '70s, but maybe it was around a lot longer. I honestly have no idea.

Click above to watch this 1970s Korvette's commercial.

Korvettes was one of the earlier of the discount department stores. In the mid '60s, our family lived in one of the mobile homes in what used to be called Guidish Park (across the street from Southfield Shopping Center). Korvette's was probably the main department store for my mother during that period, though eventually (probably starting in the early '70s) Kmart trumped Korvette's for us. (And, as I wrote earlier, my father was always a Zayre man.) So, given that I was only two and three years old when we shopped there, my memories of Korvette's are a bit fuzzy.

(Note: The photo above is not our Korvette's. I thought I'd post it in case you forgot what the script looked like on the store's sign.)

One thing I do remember is buying -- or asking my mother to buy for me -- The American Breed album "Bend Me, Shape Me" at Korvette's, which I still own. (The American Breed was a band from Cicero, Illinois, by the way, and the song "Bend Me, Shape Me" was a huge hit in 1968 -- #5 on Billboard's Hot 100). From what I've been told, I was incorrigible, even as a baby, when it came to wanting (demanding) music, and when my mother accidentally broke the Bobby Darren 45 of "Splish Splash" when I was only a few months old, I cried for days until she bought a replacement; so I'm certain that by the time "Bend Me, Shape Me" came out, I was already something of a musicologist, albeit a two-and-a-half year old one (and if not a musicologist, well, then, a pain in the ass).

For those of you who haven't heard "Bend Me, Shape Me" in a while (or at all), here's a treat. This has to be one of the earliest music videos. (I love the exercise subplot, by the way. How bizarre.)

If anyone has clearer memories of Korvette's than yours truly, please share.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Where We Drink...uh...Socialize: The Castle

Location: 5700 W 79th St. (79th and Major)

For those of you who haven't seen it in a while, here's The Castle after they remodeled it.

No, wait. Sorry. Here it is.

Since I don't live in Burbank (or Chicago, for that matter), and am back in town only occasionally, I'm not an aficionado when it comes to where to drink in and around Burbank. That said, I've been to The Castle a handful of times, and one thing I can say with certainty is this: the drinks are cheap and cold, and the jukebox is good.

In my twenties and thirties, whenever I was back in town, I usually went to Durbin's, so I'll save my good Durbin's stories for later. I also dragged my friend, kicking and screaming, to any number of places: Stancik's Satellite, which had, as I remember, shuffleboard (now there's a business sign I miss...the Sputnik-looking satellite out front? Remember that?); or over to that bar next to Little Frank's Pizza? Help me out. I can't remember the name of it. But in the last few years, I've been stopping off at the Castle.

For those of you who've never been, I should give this warning: It's very un-castle-like inside, and, no, the people who work there aren't dressed as royalty or wearing suits of armor (though maybe they should think about doing that...just a thought, folks). All of this is by way of saying, if you happen to see me in the Castle and, I don't know, feel compelled to buy me a drink, I'm a Bud Light guy (when I'm drinking beer) or an Absolut and tonic guy (when I'm not drinking beer). Not that you have to buy me a drink. I'm just saying...

(photo courtesy of Renee Greco)

A Little Love from Chicago Reader

If you check out the entry for May 15, you'll see a little more love for our hometown blog, this time from Chicago Reader. Thanks, Jerome.

Where We Went to Church

I'm still not sure why, but our family went to St. Fabian, not St. Albert's, so I didn't know most of the kids I had CCD with (though a few other Burbank strays, such as myself, did inexplicably end up there).

Maybe I would have enjoyed CCD more if I had known more kids, but I have to be perfectly honest: I hated going. One reason was because CCD was the same night as The Bionic Woman, and as a diehard fan of The Six Million Dollar Man, I felt royally cheated out of some quality prime-time television.

Another reason I hated going is that I'm not a fan of repetition. In fact, it makes me sort of looney. And CCD (at least my experience of it) never evolved. Oh, the rituals varied, but the information -- the things we learned -- were always the same, year after year. And so a strange thing happened in that, while I was a law-abiding kid in grade school, I was frequently in trouble in CCD. For example, each year we were shown a symbolic movie about a dying girl and a moth -- does anyone else remember this movie? -- and by the fifth or sixth time, I just couldn't take it anymore. I started laughing maniacally and cracking jokes (I know, I know, I'm terrible...but how many more times could I watch it?). The last time, shortly before Confirmation, I got hauled off into the main office to talk to a priest.

I did like collecting these weekly programs, however, like the one I've posted here. Why? Who knows. And there was a selection of books in wire-racks in the lobby, small picture books about the Prodigal Son and whatnot, and when I was in the first and second grades, I used to beg my mother for enough money to buy them. (As a child, I was a collector of books and curiously worthless artifacts. I still am.)

Take a look at the businesses listed above. How many do you remember? How many are still around?

My father, who was a roofer, worked on St. Fabian's roof. I can't remember if he put the roof on or patched it, but I was out there with him one weekend, helping out. My father was a notorious swearer, and at one point, while one of the priests stood down below watching, my father yelled, "Goddamn it!" And then he saw the priest. My father attended a Catholic grade school in Maine and dropped out of high school because of the old-school nuns, whom he battled with; this would have been in the 1940s. My father said, "Oops. Sorry, Father." I think my father expected lightening to blast him from the church's roof. To his credit, the priest -- an elderly man with snow white hair -- merely laughed and walked back inside the church.

Comments; New Posts. Etc.

Apparently, some people have had problems with their comments not getting posted. Not sure what's up with that. And then -- fool that I am -- I didn't realize that there were a dozen or so comments waiting for my approval. (I'm supposed to be notified via email...but wasn't.) Needless to say, "Blogger" is a flawed site. But keep trying.

Meanwhile, I've been busy wrapping up my semester here, which hasn't left me with much time to post, but I'll be leaving more posts soon...maybe even one later today.

Thanks for stopping by...and for your patience!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Burbank Blog Makes Time Out Chicago

Our little blog gets noticed by Time Out Chicago. Now, watch the housing prices in Burbank soar!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Where We Went To School

One thing Burbank is not known for (and for good reason) is its architecture. That said, two Burbank grade schools are architectural stand-outs: Tobin (no longer among us) and Luther Burbank (still among the living -- the building, that is, not the person). And I have to admit that I didn't appreciate either of these when I was a kid, but click on each one to englarge them and take a close look. They're truly impressive buildings, and they put the other abominations (especially the three schools I attended) here to shame!

So, tell me where you went to school. And what do you remember about the school itself? One thing I remember was showing up before the start of the school year to see whose homeroom I would be in; the lists were always posted on the front door. An event! (Again, this was the '70s, and we didn't have a whole hell of a lot to occupy our time back then.)

Tobin (above). (An anonymous reader of the blog sent a bunch of photos of Tobin to me, including many from when Tobin was torn down, which I'll post soon.) This photo looks like Tobin after a nuclear holocaust. Look at the barren ground, and notice how hard the flag is flapping. Haunting. But a great-looking building nevertheless.

Luther Burbank (above). (This photo is courtesy of Sherry Cofer-Logan.) Enlarge this one, and take a close look at it. This is in Burbank? Of course, I saw it all the time, but why was I so oblivious to it as a kid?

St. Albert's (above). I've never been inside St. Albert's. (For church, my family attended St. Fabian's, so my experience of St. Albert's was limited to their carnival). What's a shopping cart doing locked to the hand-rail?

Fry (above). For my money, this is the ugliest school in the district. I attended Fry from 1973-74 for third and fourth grades. I wrote my first piece of creative writing here, a play about a fat superhero who slips inside of a phone booth to change into his costume and gets stuck. And here I am, thirty-four years later, still thinking up ridiculous ideas. Thank you, Fry.

Byrd (above). I suppose if you use your imagination, you can see some Frank Lloyd Wright influences...maybe? (I know, I know, I'm stretching here, but it's not as bad as Fry or the others below.)

And now we come to two schools that are more or less interchangeable: McCord (above) and Kennedy (below). Try to find the differences. Can you? I have to say, though, that these are some sad-looking schools.

Kennedy (above). I attended Kennedy from 1975-79, from fifth through eighth grade. I spent sixth grade in the mobile units out back. Our teacher (let's call him Mr. L.) was a compulsive smoker, and so he would sometimes go into the bathroom and light one up on the sly. The problem was that smoke would come rolling out of the vents. Another time, after he'd driven through a bad snow storm to get to work, he sat in front of the class and told us that he needed a cigarette, and he didn't care if we reported him; and then he pulled out a pack, lit a cigarette, and smoked it in front of us in silence. Ah...the seventies!

Maddock (above). Maddock was my first grade school in Burbank: 1971-72, for first and second grade. It looks a little bit like a factory with that smoke stack popping up out of the roof. Believe it or not, I attended two other schools before Maddock -- one in Argo and one (briefly) in Houston, Texas. Maddock was the third school I attended for first grade; I had fallen so far behind that a girl in my first-grade class at Maddock offered to do all my homework for me. And guess what? I let her. (I'm still in her debt!)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Who Is This Man?

Oh, wait. It's Burbank's Mayor, Harry Klein.

I had already moved out of Burbank by the time Harry Klein became mayor, so I don't know anything about this man, except this... When my novel The Book of Ralph came out, I sent him a copy of the book, along with a letter explaining how it was a love song to Burbank, and how it featured several Burbank businesses, many of which were no longer there. Now, I wasn't expecting him to send me a key to the city -- though how cool would it have been to hang a ginormous key on my wall? -- but I was sort of (kind of) expecting a short note, because, well, how many books are set in Burbank? You know? You can probably already guess where this is going. I heard nothing from him, or from anyone in the mayor's office. So, my running joke now has been that I'm going to run for mayor of Burbank and dethrone him. My platform can be, "I'll bring back the Sheridan Drive-in!" What do you think? Do I have a shot?

Hey, I'm sure he's a good guy. Right? I don't know anything about him, so if you want to leave comments, feel free (though please avoid saying anything libelous or defamatory...I'd hate to get sued). And a note to those who don't know me: I'm just teasing Mr. Klein and the mayor's office. No hard feelings.

A future post: Fitz.