Friday, September 19, 2008

me 'n Dave...

So tonight being Friday, after leaving work at 7:30, once I was on the road, headed for home, I picked up my cell phone and called Dave, my younger brother, for what has become our weekly talk. We usually talk for the little more than hour it takes me to drive home, and tonight, as we often do, we continued our conversation for a little over an hour after that.

I love that we are close again. We were very close as kids, but we fought like siblings do in adolescence. In our teens we grew close again, then in our twenties we drifted apart, and lived for years with very little contact. There was no conscious rift, but we were living far apart and each of us was busy with our own lives.

That all changed a little over two years ago. We still lived far apart, but one day Dave called, and we began to talk, and all those years of no contact just fell away. I don't remember exactly when I started calling Dave on Friday nights, as I'm driving home, but now it's a habit and I look forward to that call all week.

These days we talk a lot about politics, but we also talk about family and friends, books and religion, and pets, including Dave's hilarious dog, Jack, whom I’ll write about another time. Tonight I’ve been thinking about when we were in our teens. I remember summer nights when we'd sneak out of the house together. Our rooms were upstairs, and we'd open a window and tiptoe across the roof over the kitchen before dropping down into the neighbor's yard. From there, we could go anywhere. If it was hot (unusual in Minnesota at night, even in the summertime) we'd go for cones, although I don't remember where we got them. But more often, for the sheer joy of being young and free on a summer night, we'd run a couple of blocks to Shorty's Bar, Cafe & Hiawatha Room where we'd find a booth, and we'd sit talking and drinking cokes until Shorty's closed; then we'd walk back home and come back into the house through the kitchen door.


In 1968, when I was 18 and he was 15, Dave came to live with me in Chicago. I had an efficiency apartment (meaning, one large room with a kitchen and a bathroom) on Sheridan Road on the far north side. I had lots of books but no furniture. Dave and I slept in sleeping bags on air mattresses. I was working as a secretary in the federal courts, and I got Dave enrolled in Senn High School, a public high school within walking distance of my apartment. We were happy to be living together in The Big City, but money was very tight. I had exactly enough money for bus fare to and from work each day (forty cents each way), but I didn’t have enough money for lunch, and skipped lunch the entire first year I worked, until I got my first raise. I'm not revealing that fact to elicit sympathy, but as a concrete measure of how sparely we were living.

And yet, at 18 and 15, we were kids, and kids don't always have great sense and we were no exception. One beautiful Saturday in September, shortly after Dave had come to live with me, I suggested we go to Old Town, a counterculture, hippie, folk music area on the west side of Lincoln Park. It was a crisp, sunny day. The air smelled slightly of smoke, and there were leaves drifting down onto the sidewalks. We had a terrific time, talking and enjoying each other's company as we wandered up and down Wells Street. I think we visited every one of the myriad head shops, boutiques and stores that were found there. Eventually, it was late afternoon and both of us were hungry. Tantalizing scents wafted in the air.

I looked at Dave. "Let's go have dinner!"

He knew money was tight, and asked, "Are you sure? I'd love to eat down here, but can we afford it?"

"Let's see if we can," I said.

We read the menus posted in the windows at a couple of burger places.

"Well, we'll be broke for the week if we do," I said, "but I'd really like to. What do you think? What do you want to do?"

"What do you mean, we'll be broke for the week?"

"We can't eat all week...do you think you can do that? I have some crackers and stuff in the apartment, but not much more than that..."

"I can totally do that!", Dave said innocently. Neither of us had a clue how not doable that would be. "Let's do it!"

And so we went into a burger place. We were seated in a booth, and for an hour or more we sat across from each other, feeling flush and rosy with happiness as we gorged ourselves on cheeseburgers, coleslaw, and fries, washed down by shakes or cokes, I no longer remember which. And then we went back out on Wells Street, where we caught a bus that took us back north, to our apartment.

Sunday morning was fine. We were still stuffed from the night before. We walked over to the beach and threw a frisbee around. That evening, as we finished off the box of crackers for dinner, I remember thinking it was really no big deal to go without food.

We fasted all day Monday and Tuesday, and by Tuesday night, we were both really hungry. We scrounged through the cupboards where we found flour and salt, and I had some catsup and half an onion in the refrigerator. I mixed the flour and salt with water and formed a sort of crust onto which I poured the catsup. I chopped up the onion and put it on the top, and baked it. It was a poor excuse for a pizza, but we devoured it.

Wednesday was the worst day. In retrospect, I realize any number of people at work, including my boss, would have been happy to lend me $20 until payday. But I couldn't bring myself to ask anyone for help. Wednesday night, Dave and I sat on the floor (we had no chairs) trying to figure out what we were going to do.

"I'm REALLY REALLY hungry," Dave said.

"I am too."

"What can we do?"

"I dunno...let's go for a walk. I can't stand sitting around feeling hungry."


Dave agreed, and we got up to leave. The weather had turned cool, and we grabbed jackets as we left the apartment. I don't remember why we decided to go down the alley, but we did, and I don't remember who spotted the first pop bottle. It doesn't matter. We looked at each other and began to laugh. We ran up and down that alley, picking up pop bottles. Dave found a box, and we put them into that. I don't remember what the refund per bottle was. Maybe a nickel? I also don't remember how many bottles we found, but it was enough to get close to a dollar at the grocery store, where we spent some time trying to decide what to buy. In the end, we decided on eggs, reasoning that they were the food we could most easily divvy up and stretch out for breakfast and dinner until Friday night, when I'd have money again.

We bought a dozen eggs and hurried home. The plan was for each of us to have two eggs for dinner Wednesday night, one egg each for breakfast Thursday morning and another two eggs each for dinner Thursday night, and then one each for breakfast Friday morning, with some real food for dinner Friday night.

In the apartment, I soft cooked four eggs. I took two and gave two to Dave. We cracked them open and sprinkled them with salt and pepper before we inhaled them.

We looked at each other. "I'm still hungry," Dave said.

"Me too."

I cooked four more and we devoured those, and then, we were still so incredibly hungry, I cooked the last four eggs and we finished them up.

Having devoured our cache of food, we fasted again, without complaint, all day Thursday and Friday, but we feasted Friday night. That weekend, I bought a lot of groceries, including a case of Campbell's soup. We can laugh about it now, but we never told anyone about that week. The things that don’t kill you make you stronger…

1 comment:

cherry tomato said...

wow!! great post!! a really good story.