Nov. 29, 2011—
November in Chicago brings me down, down, down.
Lower than Herman Cain’s pants.
Its been that way since I was a teenager. I remember getting up at seven on a mid-November Saturday morning and walking in a dark drizzle to take SAT tests at Naperville Central High School to gain entrance in a college I would never attend. I was too sleepy and confused to take a test. I felt like I was going fishing.
I’ve since tried to travel to sunnier climates in November. Several years ago I salvaged a tricked out tiki bar and had it restored with ambient red lights and bright bamboo to cheer me up on dark November days.
My turntable always comes into play with the tiki bar by spinning companion calypso albums, Hawaiian stuff and early Jimmy Buffett. The other day I reached for the pop, surf and twist of “Chicas! (Spanish Female Singers 1962-74).” The 30-year-old BSR turntable did not turn. I figured the belt was worn out.
I packed up the turntable and took it to my merry friends Ursula and Mitch Lewczuk who own The 20th Century TV & Stereo Center in the north side Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago. I’ve been a customer since way back in the 20th Century and I love the fact they never bothered to change the name of their store.
Ursula and Mitch are feisty Polish immigrants who opened 20th Century in 1970. They don’t smile much. The store is an American Pickers delight of turntables, beta tapes, reel-to-reel machines and between 10,000 and 15,000 needles. Try to ask them about their 15,000 television and audio tubes in the basement. Ursula is in charge of the needle and cartridge department. She has a master’s degree in electronics from the Technical University of Warsaw in Poland, and her degree from the Triton College Consumer Electronics Program hangs by the front door.
Ursula wasn’t on the scene yet last Saturday morning when I walked in with my broken turntable. This may have accounted for Mitch’s grumpy attitude—-but then again, maybe it was the dark skies and steady rain of a mid-November day in Chicago. Mitch took a look at my turntable and decided it would take him at least five hours to fix it. He said there was a sensitive system of parts that needed to be removed, cleaned and made to feel new again.
It wasn’t worth the time.
Mitch also complained about the city’s signage laws, parking meters and a relative of Channel 11’s Joel Weisman who lugged in a couple of huge beige speakers. Mitch didn’t like the fact he had to take care of two customers at one time. In 20th Century DJ talk that would be a “Twin Spin.” Nevertheless I walked out with a new modestly priced audio-technical turntable.
I put the turntable in my car and walked around upscale Ravenswood. This is where our feisty Mayor Rahmbo resides and where the security happy mayor has a city camera fixated on his house, according to a weekend report in the New York Times.
Ironically, the 20th Century Stereo Center is only a couple doors down from a typewriter store that recently went out of business. A block west of the vacant store things turn new again. There is a fine elemenatry public school (our Mayor sends his kids to private schools) where neighborhood kids play basketball, read stories with happy endings and write poetry. People work long hours at this school.
It is worth the time.
Across the street from the school there is a corner bakery where I picked up a three-tiered chocolate birthday cake for my 9-year-old nephew, my 90-year-old Mom and my 91-year old father. Now that’s a mouthful. But somehow, for a moment in the brightly lit bakery things seemed new again.
I had not been to Ravenswood in a while. I thought of old friends. The walleye pike at Glenn’s Diner. I remembered when cartoonist Heather McAdams and her husband Chris Ligon ran a thrift store-used record place a few blocks west of Glenn’s down Montrose Avene. Chris always dismissed framed memories and retro movements.
“When we find stuff, it’s absolutely contemporary to us because it’s new and we’re excited about it,” he once told me. “To me, retro means trying to revive something from the past. I don’t think in those terms. When I go out junk shopping and find records, for that brief second it’s a brand new thing in front of me.”
I thought of all this as I waited for the birthday cake. A midde aged black man smiled at me. Maybe he recognized me from that Channel 11 television show on old Baby Boomers that ran over Thanksgiving weekend. Maybe he smiles at birthday cakes. Maybe not.
I strolled back to my car juggling the cake and a large cup of coffee. I drove to Naperville where my parents still live in the house where I couldn’t get out of bed to take my SAT tests. My Dad told his grandson about how refrigeration had the greatest impact on his life and recalled the ice man making home deliveries. My nephew listened with wide eyes and careful attention. Good things are always worth the time.
And new light emerges from those passages.