Friday afternoon, 1967. A schoolyard in Rogers Park. The sun is shining brightly, but the nip of late fall is in the air. No grass grows in this schoolyard. This isn't the mean streets or the jungle, but this is still a Chicago Public School, and amenities like grass are thought unnecessary. There isn't much graffiti, just a couple of rectangular boxes spray painted against one of the walls, strike zones for games of fastpitch. But no one-on-one pitcher vs. hitter game is going on over there this afternoon. It's autumn, it's football season.
I am one of ten or 12 eighth-grade boys, Converse All-Stars on our feet, who have taken possession of the boy's playground, a flat, unmarked, blacktopped area. The game is almost over, the other team, ahead by a touchdown, kicks off to us. The ball hangs in the air for a moment, before descending into the arms of Bob, our team captain. He is a schoolmate, not exactly a friend, someone whom I recently saw for the first time in 45 years.
Bob desperately wants to win this game and knows a dramatic kick-off return can spark us to victory. He cradles the football against his chest and begins his run forward. Hoping to get blockers in front of him he bellows out "Build me a wall!"
Build him a wall? How can we do that? Do we want that? The options race through my young mind. We can say the other team should build the wall for him. We can point to a small pile of stones by the fire door and say that we have already started to build the wall. We can advise him that statistically speaking, the wall won't get him any closer to the endzone.
But Bob is foaming now, quite furious. He wonders if some girls watching from the sidelines are laughing at him. He screams that he will stop the game until someone builds him a wall. Or he'll call Dr. Gray, our school's phantom principal, out of his office to declare a schoolyard emergency and get the wall built that way.
It's been over 50 years, and it is my duty to let you know Bob never did get his wall. And no one with any sense has called for one since.
Yes, we are back blogging at ChicagoNow. The month-long experimental voyage to WordPress was OK, but problems at that site with proofreading/editing, poor search engine visibility, and lack of good realtime readership statistics there have led me back to my friends at ChicagoNow. I hope none of our readers were whiplashed!
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