Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Woman With The Cognac-Lidded Eyes & Hitler on The History Channel

Lithuanian Plaza is not what it used to be. Between 68th and 70th, it runs from Marquette Park to Western, not that far at all. One side is a huge church and a credit union next to Holy Cross Hospital, that Deli is/was directly across the street. I took photos between California and Rockwell, and since it was about 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, it was hard to tell if a few of the taverns were still doing business. Seemed that way, though I'm no longer certain of the clientele. I got the stare from more than one black guy in basketball shorts and dago tee. But my story is about the Plaza Pub.

I was with Critical Mass Chris and Citizen Nick and Chris was taking notes for a pal on some south side bars. I remember it was cold, but then probably 8 out of 10 of my adventures occur when it is cold. I need to get out of this town. It's dark in the place, empty for a Saturday afternoon in January, maybe five years back, but the place slowly filled up and I was hit by cold air every few gulps from my drink. The TV above the window (the one on the right in the third photo) had some show on The History Channel about Hitler and some malady he might have had. Film was examined. We all watched because that's what you do in a neighborhood tavern. Somehow several of us got on the subject of words that started with 'hemo.' I'm sure that in the comments tomorrow, Scott (AKA C.N.) will have the conversation verbatim. It was centered around hemotoma and hemophilia. The woman who tended bar, and likely owned the tavern, had that ageless look women have when they are past middle age, kept themselves in shape, and had a glow about them because they carried gigantic half-filled snifters of cognac. I was thinking how she looked like Lili St. Cyr if she had been alive. You just knew she'd been sexy, and was probably still sexy. She could have been 45, she could have been 60.

The lady felt the need to get the answer to what hemophilia was in her own manner, and she went to the other side of the bar and grabbed the BIGGEST hardback dictionary I had ever seen in my life. It had been a chore to lift it up, but she had the arm muscles to work it. One of those volumes where the cover is fuzzy and looks like felt with leather edges.. A guy who sat next to me got in on the discussion. His name was Stan. The only time I have ever met a guy named Stan in my life is inside of a tavern. So there she is, talking through her cigarette at us, her perfume exquisite, with all the other regulars, who easily had twenty years on, well, Chris and Scott, were staring at the bartender's ass. Black slacks and a coral sweater, I can still remember, though Scott has the conversation down, I know that much. Not much more to the story than that, we stood there looking at the black and white images of Nazis on the television and were clear on the definitions, then we finished our drinks and went back into the cold twilight. All the regulars maybe thought it was odd that we had been there, and we were really the only ones surprised at the size of that thousand page dictionary. But it was something talking to the woman, wondering if she and the others talked about us after we left.

Then we went to a bar named Clowns Alley, by the old Colony Theater on 59th and Troy.


Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't had one of these kind of bar days in a long time. You made me miss it.

Rich Chwedyk said...

" ... I got the stare from more than one black guy in basketball shorts and dago tee... "

Not what it used to be, indeed. It's hard to even conceive of the intense racism that permeated that neighborhood, the whole Southwest Side for that matter, in the days of our late childhood and young adulthood. A black man west of Western Ave. in the 1960s and '70s was probably heading east and moving fast until he crossed under the tracks west of Bell Ave. Hard to conceive of, and yet that's how it was.


About 68th or 69th and California used to be the headquarters of the National Socialist Party of America -- a breakaway group from the American Nazi Party and the same group that planned the infamous march on Skokie dramatized in the TV movie w/Danny Kaye. That was the organization run by Frank Collin, who -- like a lot of guys who advocated the rounding up of "homosexuals and other defectives" -- lost his goosestep mojo after being arrested for picking up boys on Clark and Diversey.

So I guess in later days, the denizens of Marquette Park were reduced to watching their Nazis on TV instead of going over to the park and watching them drill in their swastika drag.

I'm guessing that many of white faces twisted in rage and hatred in that old footage moved away shortly afterward, to the southwest suburbs that "white flight" built. The real devotees of the neighborhood stayed, no matter what their feelings were, but I imagine they are a somewhat more tolerant lot, of necessity if not of choice. It's fascinating to see the time winds blow through that neighborhood. Fascinating and -- no matter what you're drinking in those snifters -- sobering.

HemlockMan said...

Clowns. I knew that there would be clowns.

It's weird to watch the complexion of old neighborhoods change. When I was a kid our neighborhood was 100% white. Then all of the white folk fled. We were the last white family to move away (we had to, when the rocks started coming through the windows at night). Now that neighborhood is 100% white again. You can't touch a house in there for less than $500K.

The winds blow...sometimes they blow green.

Chris said...

Was that guy Stan the one in the corner? Man, he looked like he only saw broken dreams through his eyes. Easily one of the more hard luck guys I've seen in a bar.

I knew that place was special when we needed to perform a few tasks to get buzzed in.