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There Went the Neighborhood

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By Jack Clark

I call down to Florida one night to tell my friends Bob and Dori Foley the rumor I've just heard. Biasetti's, my favorite steak house, a place we used to frequent together, is to be torn down and replaced with what the north side needs most: more town houses.

"We heard that last year when we were in town," Dori says. "We were at the diner and they all were talking about it."

"I didn't know you went to the diner," I say. The Diner Grill is housed in a trailer just west of Biasetti's. Both are on Irving Park, west of Ashland.

"Oh yeah," Dori says. "I love that place. I've been going since high school. Yeah, everybody had their say on what was happening with Biasetti's. You know how that goes."

"You guys went to Lake View High," I remember.

"Well, Bob went to Lane, and I went to Immaculata, and then I went over to Lake View." She calls out to Bob: "Did you go to Lake View too?" I hear Bob in the background. "Yeah, he did," Dori says. "How do I know? It's been so many years."

"What year?" I ask.

"Oh Jesus, Jack, it was in the 40s. No it wasn't, but almost. Early 50s. Early, early 50s."

"Was Biasetti's there?"

"Oh yeah, and the diner too. The diner was there a long time. And then across from the diner was a place called Harvey's, which was more exclusive. You know, the kids who had money at Lake View, that's where they hung out. It was a fancier restaurant."

I hear Bob in the background.

"Yeah," Dori says. "It's where the muffler shop is. I went once and it was just too snooty for me. There was Mother's down the street. It was right next to Lake View on Irving Park. The next corner east of Ashland, what's that? Greenview. It was called Mother's Book Store and we used to go in there, all us kids." I hear Bob in the background again. "Oh, you're full of shit," Dori says. "He says no girls were allowed. Well, it's funny, I got in there, and so did a bunch of others.

"It was a regular bookstore. They sold paper and pencils and pop, cigarettes. Everybody hung out there. And then right across the street on the corner of Ashland was a Walgreens. And they had a counter, you could get hamburgers and all that stuff. We went from the diner to Walgreens to Mother's. There was another little place right around the corner." I hear Bob in the background. "Yeah, what the hell was the name of that place?" Dori asks. "I can't remember. It was right around the corner on Ashland, south. It was a little snack-shop-type place. Anyways, those were the places where we hung out. Even if we brought our lunch, we'd bum money so we wouldn't have to eat our sandwiches."

Bob gets on. "The diner was always busy, and Mother's and the Walgreens were always jamming. The Walgreens had a full counter, and they had a bunch of booths. You could get all kinds of stuff, you know, chocolate phosphates and fries.

"Mother's was the clique of the hoody guys. The little hoodlums. That's where I hung out. I had a DA and the pegged pants and stuff. I didn't look like a bum. I looked cool."

"Peg pants?"

"Pegged pants," he corrects me. "See, you don't know nothing." He calls to Dori. "See, he doesn't remember that. He's too young.

"The real zoot suits, the cuffs were only like 14 inches and the knee was somewhere around 20. They were big, like balloon pants. You've seen pictures. Our style, our guys, we had 16-inch cuffs, right Dori? And a one-inch drop for a loop around the waist for your belt and a big key chain. They were made of gabardine, like a nice gabardine suit. In those days you'd buy a nice $15, $16 pair of pants, equivalent to a $40, $50 pair today. We used to save up for stuff."

"How'd you end up at Lake View?" I ask.

"I couldn't stand Lane. It was all boys. And I wanted to get a transfer and my mother wouldn't transfer me. My homeroom teacher called my mother in and said, 'If he transfers he's gonna drop out of school. Don't let him leave this school.' But I wanted to get to Lake View 'cause all the girls were there.

"There were no girls at Lane. There was only one black kid back then. It was full of white kids taking shop classes. I didn't want that. I took a college prep course, of all things. I couldn't get into arts study, that was all closed. I said, How can it be closed? The school just opened. How did I know you're supposed to go there in August and find out about this shit?

"So I forged a note and I got myself transferred. See, they never questioned any of my notes because the first note my mother wrote. I rewrote it and forged her signature. That way it was always the same handwriting. It always looked the same.

"I couldn't stand my homeroom teacher but she was right. I ended up dropping out of Lake View in '51 and I got a GED later."

I say good-bye. Why did I call them anyway? Oh yeah, Biasetti's. I make a few more calls, and everybody knows about the rumor. They've known about it for months, but no one has bothered to call.

The next day the phone starts ringing at the crack of noon. Biasetti's has gotten a reprieve, everybody's calling to say. The town houses are supposedly going up across the street, where the muffler shop is now.

"Harvey's used to be there," I tell them, but nobody seems to care.

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