Doing It All
Sure, he was trying to do it all. Sometimes Mox Travee felt he had to. He pushed through the door of his apartment with his Bruce Gordon which he had used on several mountain trips and along the Rhine and Danube. He balanced a box of recycling material on the rear rack. It was a bit of a balancing act for a guy entering his tenth decade. He needed to get it to the recycling depository on the first floor via the freight elevator.
He was already late . He promised his nephew, Jerbim, to have breakfast at Manny’s on Jefferson and Roosevelt. Along the bike path parallel to the lake the wind came at him from the northeast. From Hyde Park it was a good seven and a half miles. And his bowels were acting up for the third time that morning. But as he made it to the outhouse at forty ninth his thoughts kept winding to the strip of land parallel the lake on which he was riding , the gulls , the geese, the meadow which were good enough to share all their splendidness. And he never got over the fact that this solid ground was landfill parkland which kept the water at bay which otherwise would be at least to the Metra tracks anywhere from one to three blocks to the west.
When Stephen Douglas brought those tracks from New Orleans before he debated Lincoln they were hoisted on wooden pilings. Now the tracks are Amtrak and South Shore and coming east towards the lake is Lake Shore Drive which often has to be closed off when the nor’easter gets its worse and flings great wagons full of lake water on it. The driving force of the wind could carry the water well beyond Lake Park Avenue but for the limestone wall impeding it. At its mightiest blow, the wind explodes the water with such force, it can pick up the limestone blocks and hurl them on to the meadows. It reminded Mix of a blinded Samson who in his fury undid the temple columns and brought its massive roof down on his antagonists.
He was thinking of the beauty of Ola who matched the splendor of the meadows, waves, white caps, sway of branches, shrubs. He was even today puzzled how he was able to slow her world class walk and figure so he could get to meet her. It was something special when she reached into her bag and gave him her card and simply said, “Call me.”
Because of the wind he moved into the lowest gears on the birm as the path came very close to the water at forty seventh. Soon he was at the elliptical promontory at thirty ninth, the thousand boat slips at thirty first. He had witnessed their constructions, the innumerable trucks carrying earth, the incessant machinery. How many realized that a young African American had been murdered just north of the beach in 1919 which started a race riot just because of the color of skin? Some young people from Back of the Yards thought it was their prerogative to protect the white race, the white race that had just did a job on themselves in WWI because in their colonial pomp and because of their military grandeur their egos were bursting. Never mind that almost an entire generation of young people were lost forever or were maimed beyond belief.
At twenty second, he remembered them putting up I beams for the first McCormick Convention Hall in the sixties. The construction engineers asked him to send copies of the pictures he was taking with his 8 x 10 camera near sunset when the ground was raw and sorted from the caterpillars which traversed it at all angles. And then it all burned down one Sunday night. He could not believe its massive roof lying askew the Monday morning he passed it on his way to work to the clinic on the west side. And yet it was rebuilt almost immediately though it stretched two city blocks. It was now a spider web of buildings and hotel stretching to King Drive on its way to Chinatown.
Up past the space where the Lucas Museum devoted to Star Wars, to stop motion and all the art connected to ingenious Disney like film character and life was supposed to fill the huge parking lot on park land against all the principles of open, untrammeled park space. Just as Soldier Field approaches. The Soldier Field where Gene Tunney got up from a long count where he had been on the canvas after Jack Dempsey floored him and won the fight about the time Mox was born and before Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic.
Down the slope at the Shedd then under Columbus over the Metra tracks to Michigan, eleventh street, finally to Roosevelt, the street he had spent his life before volunteering to be a hero in WWII almost losing his life in the process. Somehow he merged with its traffic getting him to Jefferson and Manny’s. Jerbim and his group of cyclists were just finishing breakfast.
“Did you get the letter off to the alderwoman?” Michael remembered reading the letter Mox had written to every authority about the trains coming through the middle of Hyde Park in the small hours of the morning. Forty plus trains a week with over an hundred oil containers carrying fracked oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota on their way to the refineries on the east coast. Mox was concerned they were disasters waiting to happen which would blow the neighborhood sky high since the trains were rolling past sleeping thousands.
Before he could answer they wanted to know isn’t he going to eat since he did not look as if he were ordering anything the way he sat and smiled and looked satisfied like an animal which had just had its fill. “I’m just so glad I got here in one piece after getting together with that traffic on Roosevelt. Besides it looks like you are finished.”
“Go order. We’re retired and not going any place. Nice to have time to listen to old guys like you who were there with Lindbergh, Hitler, Joe McCarthy, the war, Stalin and all those lovable characters, times, places. What took you so long?”
“Started out late. Then on the path my bowels did a job on me. My belly and bottom almost went into disaster mode.”
After he had ordered, the north sider Chester wanted to know, “How long you been in Hyde Park?”
“Since I finished my internship at Cook County Hospital.”
‘My wife works there.”
“Never worked as hard in my life that one year.”
“You must have learned a lot.”
“I was essentially a just graduated medical student. Often our attendings did not show. Often I was on my own. Often I was frustrated and guilt ridden. I often made mistakes. I could not find answers from more experienced when needed. I reached out either not enough or not in the right direction or right people.”
“But you must have helped lots.”
“I probably messed up plenty for each one I did something. On genito urinary there were two of us interns. And there were close to an hundred people awaiting some surgical procedure or coming away from one. There were always problems with catheters not draining or having to be inserted because of obstruction in the urinary canal. They might be in extreme discomfort or pain or bleeding or scarring in the passage leading to the bladder from untreated infections so that urine was under such pressure it broke through the passage and came out through the skin of the crotch. All of this would have to be ameliorated. It would keep us up much of the night. Since there were but two of us and we had to be there for the surgeons to assist in operations during the day, we were exhausted. Even though we were off the next night. That service was torture. I complained to administration which told me I was lucky to be getting the experience. I was essentially an inexperienced medical student dealing with serious conditions with very little help.
“On pediatric surgery where I was three months, were children with third degree burns. To change their dressings and pour water on their wounds and bandages and then try as gently as possible to remove skin and bandage while they screamed, was an emotional challenge. The smallest would swell so that they could not eat or drink and had to be fed by vein. Attempting to determine how much fluid to administer was a challenge since giving too little would dehydrate them. Giving too much would drown them, literally. Some of the little ones were brought in after falling from porches, windows and dropping to the concrete two and three stories. Many came in unconscious. The miracle was how many recovered and walked out the hospital without help or recognizable physical damage.
“Men from Skid Row were brought in unconscious and without any history or without anyone to give any. With a careful, meticulous physical exam it became clear their bladders were as large as fully pumped up basketballs because their urinary passages were blocked from scarring from badly treated urinary, penile infections as a result of neglected gonorrhea and its inevitable complications. They were often in kidney failure which would be relieved once the urinary flow became normal again with the help of bougies and catheters. Bougies are steel rods to which are attached thin catheters which much of the time can be guided through the impeding scar of the urinary passage.
‘Men would be brought into psychiatry screening totally senseless from alcohol from which they would wake up the next day. Like clockwork we would sit them in a chair, have them bend forward and do spinal taps to obtain fluid from their spinal canals totest it for syphilis, routinely. One of these men told me he was a stock yard worker who would be placed in a room filled with lambs. He would go around the room and wring their necks. They would squeal like toddlers. It drove him nuts. The night before, he went berserk on alcohol. I thought of that several years before becoming a vegetarian.
“I delivered ninety babies in three weeks by myself making and sewing episiotomies. Women would come up on the elevators with their cervices fully dilated or dilating and would frequently deliver the infants on the carts despite the efforts of the nurses to curtail the mothers at this time of baby booming in the good old days of the Joe McCarthy fifties. There was very little supervision though they did not want to make too many mistakes since Herman Bundesen and his Board of Health wanted answers and would close down obstetric wards if the answers were not what was wanted. So the hospital did not want that kind of scandal.”
“Where in Hyde Park did you live?”
“When I finished at County, Iived at 56th and Ingleside with my sister, her husband and her three very young children. She quietly found me a coach house on Greenwood and forty ninth. I had tripled her phone bill in a month and a half.”
“My landlord was a Noble prize winner known everywhere for his work with heavy water and the atomic project. He fought like a ravenous animal to keep the Rosenbergs from being executed. He received volumes of letters from the most well known and respected scientists everywhere praising him for his outspokenness at a time when Joe McCarthy was at his pinnacle. Yet some of his African American neighbors held him in disdain. I do not know the details but he apparently did not like black people living so close. He was from Indiana and you know how nasty the Ku Klux outlook was predominant in that state. Because of mandatory retirement at sixty five at the University, he retired to California. Before leaving he invited my wife and myself to move into the big house for the same sixty five dollars monthly and to take whatever furniture he and his family left. We lived there for only a few months. We had to leave because Ahmad Jamal moved in and fixed the place dramatically. He was only there a few years before selling the place to Sonny Liston, the heavy weight champion. Things were beginning to look up for the neighborhood.
“ Up to then, the neighborhood which had been very upscale before WWII, was almost abandoned by the well to do. When African Americans began coming east over Cottage Grove, these white fancy housed, fancy dressed people who only knew African Americans as cleaners, gardeners, chauffeurs thought their white world was becoming dangerously unraveled. In their ignorance they were like frantic children who thought they needed to escape. So they ran as fast as they could, as far as they could to the suburbs to the north. Many houses were abandoned. Those that were not frequently were chopped up into kitchenettes or just badly neglected. The real estate people were on a rampage to milk them for all the money possible then to tear them down. My guess is that they would then build high rises like they did on the gold coast where most mansions were removed for big real estate operations. This is the way they ruined Englewood, Woodlawn and Brownsville. Money before people. The thread of this story does not stop with neighborhoods but destroys cities: Detroit, Newark, Camden, East St. Louis. Our government too often sits on the side lines and watch these important urban areas go to pieces.”
Mox then started on his potato latkes and decaf. His nephew then looked at Mox’s helmet. “Where did you get this crack?”
“Fell on my head trying to do something seventeen year olds do on the scooter. I did not shift from my left foot to my right foot in good time. Next thing I know I am upside down on the ground.”
“You’re not going home till we go to a bicycle store. You’re getting a new helmet. You are cheap. But no way you are getting away with this one. Case closed.”