I can't believe my mother let me grow my hair this long!
I can’t believe my mother let me grow my hair this long!

When I was in high school, I met my friend Jim Harmon in physics class. We really didn’t learn much physics because Mr. Wlecke the teacher didn’t really teach much in the way of physics. He would sometimes make a half-hearted attempt at teaching us something, but then he would lose his focus and stop. My friend Jim always carried a chess set wherever he went. So one day, after Mr. Wlecke inexplicably stopped teaching, Jim challenged me to a game of chess. I accepted, but explained that I only knew how the pieces moved and that I wasn’t very good. We played anyway and Jim won–of course. From then on, we always played chess in physics class and at lunch sometimes. Once Mr. Wlecke missed class and the substitute teacher was surprised to see Jim and I playing chess in class. I told him we played chess in class everyday, but he didn’t believe me. I slowly but surely improved my game of chess. Jim later talked me into joining the chess team. I later learned that Jim was the best player on the chess team.

I became obsessed by chess. I loved playing on the chess team! I studied the chess books that the chess coach Mr. Crowe had lent us. I even bought chess books of my own. When I decide to dedicate myself to something, I go way above and beyond the call of duty! I really improved as a chess player. I wanted nothing less than to be first board on the chess team. Eventually, I played well enough to play first board, but then I lost my game at the match and I never played first board again. This failure only drove me to study chess even more diligently!

Soon after joining the Gage Park H.S. chess team, we went to the La Salle Hotel downtown to play in chess tournaments sponsored by the Chicago Chess Club. I really wanted to win a chess trophy. All my brothers had various trophies for different sports, but I was the only one in the family without a trophy of any kind. So I spent every free moment studying and breathing chess. I won more and more of my practice games. I even beat my uncle at chess even after he stopped letting me win. One day, I did win my division in a tournament. I was the 1974 Northern Illinois High School Novice Unrated Champion! I know this is the exact title because I’m looking at the trophy as I write this. However, as luck would have it, the trophies were not delivered to the tournament on time because the trophy factory had burned down the previous week. These eerie coincidences have happened to me throughout my life. I’m used to them now. None of my friends went to that tournament, so no one believed me that I had actually won a trophy. Especially my mother! She almost didn’t give me the $6 for the then astronomical entry fee to enter the tournament. I was told I would receive my trophy in the mail within four weeks, by February of 1974. Well, it didn’t come until May! And then, finally everyone believed me that I had actually won a trophy. And it was bigger than any of the trophies that my brothers had won. Even my mother had to believe me then!

My two incredible talents

The green limousine!

I have two incredible talents: 1. I can easily remember totally useless information for no apparent reason, and 2. I always attract people into my life who will complicate my life way beyond my personal management skills. As far as my ability to remember trivia, go ahead. Ask me a question. Do you know the chief export of Bolivia? Well, I do! It’s tin. What is Ulysses S. Grant’s middle name? It’s Hiram! Why does Homer Simpson say, “Doh!”? I know that, too. Well, Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, used to watch the Laurel and Hardy comedies when he was a boy. Whenever Stan would get them into a predicament (with these movies, if there was no predicament, there was no movie), Ollie would get frustrated and say, “Doh!” So Groening pays tribute to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy by having Homer Simpson say, “Doh!”

My second incredible talent involves me, a shy, quiet, nice guy, who wants his life to be as boring as possible, getting more action than he had counted on. I don’t want too much excitement in my life. I don’t get bored if I’m not in imminent danger. In grade school, I was an altar boy; in high school, I lettered in chess; my idea of a fun vacation is to stay home and read novels for a few weeks. You know how they say that every time you leave your house you risk your life and expose yourself to certain death? Well, that’s the story of my life! I have always lived under the sword of Damocles!

Let me give you a few examples. When I was in high school, I had entered a chess tournament at the La Salle Hotel in downtown Chicago. Now how exciting is that? Most people would consider a chess tournament boring, but I was excited and looked forward to playing the tournament. Anyway, as I was about to board the bus to go downtown, someone ran off the bus and almost knocked me over. When I got on the bus, a man was leaning against the fare box stopping the bleeding in his leg. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I knew enough to mind my own business. I told people at the chess tournament what I had witnessed, but no one believed me. When I returned the next day, a few people saw the incident reported on the news. Apparently, the two men were arguing on the bus and then one pulled out a gun and shot the other. The gunman pushed me aside and ran past me! Doh!

Once, as I was driving away from my apartment near Marquette Park, 3006 W. 64th Street, I saw someone whom I thought was a friend of mine. He was tall, lanky, shirtless, had scraggly, dishwater blond hair, scrawny arms, and was staggering a little. He looked exactly like my friend Porky (I never did find out how he got his nickname or what his real name was). Since it was hot out and my car had no air conditioning, I had all my windows open. He was standing on the corner and he said hi to me. Then, he jumped into the front seat of my car. Only then, did I realize that he wasn’t my friend Porky, but rather a total stranger who strongly resembled my friend. He began to talk to me as if he had known me for a long time. I was fine until he pulled out one unopened beer can from his each of his front jeans pockets and put them on my dashboard. Plus, it was only then that I realized that he was drinking a beer as he walking. Then he pulled out a gun from his waistband. I thought he was going to rob me. But then he put the gun under the front seat, “Just in case we get pulled over by the cops.” I was glad to drop him off where he was going, and he told me, “We’ll have to party again real soon!” Apparently, he thought he knew me from somewhere. It wasn’t until much later that I realized what kind of danger I was in. Doh!

When I was a police officer, I also had a brush with death. But, wait! It’s not what you think. I was working inside a building at the Alternate Response Section answering telephone calls. I loved this job because I was away from the dangers of working the mean streets of Chicago in a patrol car. I took calls from citizens who were crime victims and I would determine whether to send a squad car to their house or have them make out a police report over the phone. How safe is that job? Even if someone didn’t like me, they couldn’t shoot me over the phone. I felt very safe. Then, one day, I noticed my fellow officer who worked right next to me–one with whom I had talked for hours over several months–was conspicuously missing. I asked where he was and I was reluctantly told that he had died–of tuberculosis! And I had been breathing the very same air as him for months! Well, everyone in the building had to document their contact with a communicable disease for the police department and then take a TB test. Luckily, we all tested negative. I realize that throughout my life I have always been in constant danger. Doh! However, I’m convinced that I am Laurel and Hardy combined. Doh! I can honestly say, “I’m lucky to be alive!”

Wait, I don't even know you! But I'll remember you forever!!