Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Across The Street

I received this e-mail today regarding the plans for the parkway across the street:

Dear Woody,

Just got some more information regarding the project on the south end of our
campus near your condo complex. Here's the latest:

1. When/if it snows the sidewalk (1500 block of East XXXX Street) will be
cleaned off by XXXX staff.

2. During the warmer months, the grass will be mowed and kept clean by our lawn

3. XXXX got a bid from our cement contractor on replacing the sidewalk
on the 1500 block of XXXX Street and 1400 block of East XXXX Street.

4. XXXX summitted a grant proposal to the Southeast Chicago Commission
during the week of Feb. 21, 2006. This money will be used to offset the cost of
landscaping and new sidewalks.

XXXX has contacted ALderman Hairston's office to see if we can take
advantage of the 50/50 Sidewalk Program. Two letters and two phone calls have
gone unanswered thus far.

We are excited about the possibilities of further enhancing our campus and
helping the neighborhood to improve as well. We certainly understand and
appreciate your concerns and we hope we can work together to keep XXXX Street
looking beautiful. We need your help. We will do our best to mow, plow, and
clean up trash, but we also hope you can help us keep the area clean. If we
work together in this project we will all enjoy the benefits.

Thanks for your on going support and help. We have been a part of this
neighborhood for over 106 years, and we hope to continue a good relationship
with our neighbors. Taking pride and advancing the Woodlawn neighborhood is
important to us all.

Now if that isn't love, I don't know what is.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Loo

As you kind folks may be able to tell, I’m enthralled with most things having to do with London.

Save for one---their toilets.

It seems that the handle to flush is on the other side of the tank. Now that wouldn’t usually be a problem but when you’re in a public bathroom performing a modified iron cross so your ass doesn’t touch the seat and you’re trying to flush, I can tell you from experience that you may fail miserably.

It’s kind of like a person who puts their toilet paper on under the roll and has suddenly takes up residence with someone who put their tp on over the roll.

The classic under roller vs. over roller conflict.

It’s the same level of dismay when you discover that the handle is on the “wrong side” of the tank.

Ditto that for the “courtesy flush.”

I’m not quite sure how the Brits pull it off but I just gave up and began traveling with a pack of matches.

It’s not worth dislocating my shoulder to spare me a few moments of embarrassment. After all I did say that my shit does stink.

Fowl Ball

There are so many Canadian geese on the playing fields across the street from my home I feel like I'm in a remake of The Birds.

When I left to go to work this morning there had to be at least 300 fowl in the outfield of the baseball diamond.

Then of course, some of these geese and their descendants have been living on the south side longer than I have.

One of the great things about where I live is it’s proximity to Lake Michigan and the inlets and lagoons abutting the Museum of Science and Industry.

Wetlands=water fowl. And as luck would have it, water fowl equal coyotes.

Because of the influx of coyotes from the Cook County forest preserves, the geese, rat and general small animal population has been held down the past few years.

While the coyotes haven’t approached any full grown humans yet, they will take small pets (how do the stray cats thrive around the ‘hood?) and young children.

Despite that fact, I wouldn’t want to be boozed up walking home from the bus stop while being trailed by a pack of those bad boys.

So my web footed, loud honking friends have figured out an almost foolproof way to graze and nest safely during their molting season; they simply make their homes within the confines of a gated area.

If I were a goose, the large gated playing and practicing fields of the school across the street must look like heaven.

The fence line is kept up so it’s highly unlikely that there are any holes where a coyote could sneak onto the fields. The school also went ahead and completed the fence line on the western edge of their property parallel to the train tracks so that everything is gated.

As a result it’s geese as far as the eye can see for two blocks.

In a way it’s kind of intimidating, so many of one type of species suspiciously eying you as you walk down the street.

I had the privilege to see a Canadian goose up close and personal as he (or she) decided to camp out on my front patio table one Saturday morning.

While he (or she) was huge and seemed to very much enjoy the confines of my patio, since I wasn’t getting any rent money, he (or she) had to “get to stepping.”

My winged neighbors should be considered Chicago’s latest immigrant group---after all they are Canadian.

Perhaps I should alert the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The P-Word

I just wasn’t searching for Slick Rick during my scant time in London town.

I also learned some of the local customs.

For example, pants aren’t pants---pants are underwear. Trousers are pants. When I kept on referring to what the British know as trousers as my pants, boy were people ever confused.

The looks were priceless.

By the way, I’m a heathen because I like my beer cold.

Cold---not cool. Ale, lager, bitters---it makes me no never mind. Just chill that bad boy down and put it in a frosted mug if you please.

Pissed does not equal mad but drunk.

Giving a backwards “peace” sign is the British equivalent of flipping the bird. Apparently popular American rappers would not do well in this culture.

But the most important thing I learned is what not to call someone of Pakistani descent. For the love of all that’s holy do not ever in your life refer to a Pakistani as a “Paki.”

Holy shit, you would of thought I had just shot the Queen.

As we sat and drank champagne, Abby and I were having our one and only serious discussion about life and things. Naturally the conversation rolled around to the multi cultural institutions that are now so ingrained in British life.

I told her that someone mentioned to me that I would start to wonder where all the white people had gone.

As she giggled, I stated in a low voice that there sure are a lot of Paki’s in London.

That sure killed the conversation---especially when we were literally surrounded by many people of Pakistani origin.

Well apparently my voice wasn’t too low and the P-word is not something that is said to a person of Pakistani background.

As I got the hairy eyeball, Abby explained that the P-word is the equivalent to the N-word.

I was appalled.

I mean who wants to go over to another country and give offense to fellow people of color? Not me, that’s for sure.

It seems that the large group of Pakistani Brits heard Abby’s explanation, sized me up as a clueless American and went back to their respective conversations.

Don’t we have enough people who don’t like Americans already? I’m sure I don’t need to create yet another international incident.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I received a phone call from a representative of the school across the street while I was away on my trip.

I'm sure you good folks remember my recent musing on how tall fences don't necessarily make good neighbors.

When I returned his call earlier today he told me that the funding and the plans for replacing the sidewalks had all but been finalized.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

It looks like the hoody hoo will be getting (I think) two new city blocks of sidewalks and landscaping.

Maybe if we’re really good and don’t cheat during lent, they’ll lay actual sod.

So far---so good.

The school is stepping up to the plate after over a year’s worth of raising questions.

I would even go as far to applaud them but this is what they were supposed to be doing all along---taking care of the parkway. In light of that I’ll just give them a polite golf clap.

Naturally, the real test will be getting the Jenkins Boys and their cousins to stop throwing crap on the parkway. The amount of trash on the north side of the street is unbelievable.

It looks like Ol’ Woody will be schlepping down the street with a bag in her hand cleaning up random trash after the work has been done. I figure if a few people supplement the weekly maintenance provided by the school across the street, the trash problem shouldn’t get anything like it is now.

Here’s to hoping.

In Search of Slick Rick

Only I would fly across an ocean to look for a man who immigrated to the United States 27 years ago.

Well I didn’t specifically go there to look for the infamous rapper Slick Rick but it couldn’t hurt to poke my nose around while I was there.

Note: When in the ‘hoods of Richmond and Sheen you will get a lot of funny looks when to ask if anyone knows the whereabouts of Rick.

Imagine my surprise when no one knew who he was. Not so much on rap tip, those saucy southwesterners.

Nonetheless here a partial list of places I asked about Rick when I was on the town:

The American Bar at The Savoy
Portobello Road
Oxo Tower Bar
The Lobby Bar at The One Aldwych Hotel
The Hare and Hounds

No dice, nothing, nadda, nope. No sightings---No Rick.

When I did a little research and found out he actually lives in the Bronx, I pondered all of this over pasta and wine at the Harrod’s Terrace Bar.

Who knew?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I Believe It’s Time For Me To Fly

So off I went to Merry Old England for a few days of well deserved fun and frolic.

Aside from seeing Jodeci on the theatre marquee, one of the first things I noticed when the tube came to the surface was the scruffy neighborhood we were passing through.

I whispered to Abby to ask her if we were in the middle of the projects.

She replied, “There not called projects here but council houses.”

I couldn’t help but thinking that the ‘hood is the ‘hood no matter what the country or the language.

Everything was practically the same, the Jenkins Boys was hanging out on the corner---you know; Rayshawn, Pookie and them---the Jenkins’. Even if you don’t have someone name Jenkins in your neighborhood you still have a Jenkinsesq crew somewhere in the immediate area.

Don’t pretend like you don’t.

Hell, I’ve seen Jenkins’ in Lake Forest. They just happen to be holding lacrosse sticks and wear L.L. Bean.

I know those Jenkins boys when I see them.

Nonetheless, the Jenkins’ were hanging out like wet clothes, graffiti and trash were quite abundant.

The train scooted through a few more neighborhoods with similar characteristics. The only differences were the complexion of the people.

Imagine if you will putting a neighborhood of Boston Southies next to some peeps from the Ida B’s?

Quite frankly I would imagine all hell would break out but there everything seemed normal. Honestly, I wasn't there long enough to find out and quite frankly wouldn’t have wondered through with my bright pink and green luggage to find out the answer.

Now that would have been interesting.

Eventually, the tube took Abby and I to our connecting station (my Jodeci spotting not withstanding) where we caught the bus and eventually arrived at our destination.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Trifecta

It appears that major construction on all three porches has been completed. Now for those small things like the roofs being sealed and the gutters...


I knew that London was going to be far more interesting than I first thought when I saw Jodeci’s name on a theatre marquee.

Americans go to London to reinvent themselves and return to the states even stronger. Jody Watley and Tina Turner both had major career resurgences that started in Britain so I thought I’d jump on the trend.

I’ve been struggling with my role as owner and board member in our association lately.

Caustic being a pain in the ass as well as a new emerging system of communication between board members has given me pause about my contributions to the association.

For example, at our board only meeting we all agreed that the association would get a post office box for all of our mailings. Since everyone is short on time and I had a day off prior to my trip, I went ahead and rented a mailbox on the association's behalf.

When I sent an e-mail to the rest of the board informing them of my actions, I was told that two of our members had discussed the abandonment of the mailbox idea.

It would have been nice if the issue had been discussed with the rest of the board.

It especially would have been nice so I wouldn’t have spent the money for six months rental on a post office box.

I mean this is such a little thing---you pick your battles right? But the foreshadowing is enormous. I already know what’s coming down the road.

So it was with a weary but optimistic spirit I boarded a plane to see Abby and Peter in London.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Where The Bottles Go To Die

Litter just pisses me off.

You may not live in the hot ‘hood of the moment but you can keep where you live relatively clean.

I know I live in a city and all but holy smokes; does my little block have to look like the place where the cheap malt liquor bottles go to die?

I’m sorry---my frustration is showing and I’m getting ahead of myself.

I live across the street from a large all boys’ Catholic high school and their campus encompasses most of block. Frankly the word pastoral comes to mind when I look over my balcony across the street.

Slightly rolling hills, lush grass, birds and geese strolling inside the school’s fenced in boarders---you would almost think you’re in the suburbs.

Except for one little thing---the mounds of trash that rest on the parkway on the south end of the campus.

The school has every intention of being good neighbors.

They’ve been responsive to my inquiries about the closing of a local street so that they could enlarge their campus.

They’ve responded to my inquiry about the height of the grass & weeds on the parkway this summer.

After all when the weeds are up to my hips and I’m 5’10---that’s a tad ridiculous.

Nonetheless, despite assurances that the parkway will be at a minimum tended to when the weather warms up, that ain’t feeding the bulldog.

The amount of trash on the parkway of the school across the street is unbelievable. So much so, that I personally went out and took pictures this afternoon.

In the City of Chicago the parkway is the responsibility of the owner of the property. Since the school across the street is the owner of several lots, they should be taking care of the parkway.

Not just what resides inside of their fence line.

Trust me, I’m not happy.

It’s bad enough I live around people who don’t either think enough of their neighborhood or are visited by people who don’t think enough of my block that they leave their litter all over the place.

Now I have to contend with well meaning but a slow moving neighbor across the street.

If their esteemed alumni had to look at shit like that at the entrance of the school, there would be an uproar.

But on the other side of the fence line on the south end of the campus, we’re treated as an afterthought.

I just have to look at this ghetto shit and be reminded of how tall fences don’t necessarily make good neighbors.

Friday, February 10, 2006


While you may not know it by this blog, I tend to procrastinate.

A great deal quite frankly.

One of my pet projects that was pushed to the back of the closet was the virtual bulletin board/chat room I've been working on for the association.

Weighing the fact that we had bigger fish to fry last year, it seemed like a small sacrifice.

Nonetheless, as an association we need a better way to communicate with each other and to turn our piles of paper into a manageable paperless system.

I feel like Dr. Frankenstein waiting to breathe life into his creation. I really hope it not only works but manages to make everyone's life easier.

In the 21st century it's all about accessibility.

Not only would it serve as a repository for important documents such as monthly meeting minutes, financials and the like but it could also serve as a virtual meeting room. Imagine having a monthly meeting with all of your neighbors in the comfort of your jammies.

Hopefully the online chat feature will be our new best friend.

Plus every time someone wanted to see minutes from the last three meetings or the financials from last June, we can simply point them to the group and let them get nuts.

Then of course, a computer and internet access would also be helpful. Most people seem to have some type of internet access either at home or at work so that shouldn't be a problem.

Now while it's all about accessibility---it's about selective accessibility. After all we don't want everyone to see our business. I believe I've got everything on lock but want to test this out five ways to Sunday before an announcement is made that the association is on the information superhighway.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


I need to give a big "super awesome" to a kind reader in Phenix City, Alabama for giving me the 1,000 hit on this blog.

I'm now clocking four digits on the hit counter. I appreciate the interest.

The Business

I feel like friggin Al Pacino in the Godfather, Part III.

Whenever I feel like we are home free from a situation, something (or someone) pulls us back in.

Like these flippin foreclosures.

It’s not bad enough that we had to deal with the deadbeats. It’s not bad enough that we have to diligently deal with property managers and mortgage companies. But now the latest outrage is that a young woman is being threatened with eviction by the new owners of her unit.

Happy new year and hit the bricks.

From what I understand, the young mother received a call last week from a representative of the new owner all but telling her that she must vacate the property in six days.

Now I wasn’t on the phone with her nor did I hear the conversation. In all honesty I got this third hand from another board member after the young woman told him about the call.

I know this sounds a touch Pollyannaish but, Jesus Christ, where has the freaking civility gone in this world?

A young mother now has to find a decent place to live toots sweet because her former landlord didn’t think it was important to pay his mortgage on time.

Like that’s her fault.

This situation also begs the following questions:
Did her former landlord inform her of his foreclosure?
Will she ever receive her security deposit back?
There aren’t a lot of vacancies in Chicago in February much less CHAC vacancies. How will she find a secure, clean and decent place to move in such a short period of time?
If she moves out of her children’s school district, will the children have to change schools mid year?

This is just about the worst news that anyone could receive at this time of the year. That poor woman is just getting the business handed to her---straight, no chaser.

If anyone who’s reading this is an investment property owner, keep this situation in mind the next time you want to play Russian roulette with your mortgage bills.


Well snapfish can't link a photo album to a blog so if you want to see Phase I of the porches, you'll have to click on the "View My Complete Profile" link to get to my contact information so you can e-mail me.

Once you send me your e-mail address, I'll be able to send you an invitation to view the photos Please note that snapfish registration may be required to view the complete album. Don't shoot the messenger; these are their rules---not mine.

Frankly I think the progress that our porch crew has made has been nothing short of amazing.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Home Stretch

The third porch was lying in a pile of broken wood by the end of last Friday.

It continued to lie on the ground until yesterday.

I guess seeing our porch crew work on a few Saturdays made me think that that they would be working every Saturday. Apparently that is not the case.

Then of course the recent cold snap of weather may have played a part in the rubble not being removed until yesterday.

So at this point we have two quasi-completed porches (about 90%) and a clean slate on the last building.

Due to the temperatures, it’s more than likely concrete will not be able to be poured until it warms up a bit. Hopefully everything will be completed---lock, stock and barrel some time before St. Patrick’s Day.

I’m working on a porch photo album on snapfish. I’ll post when it’s completed and instructions on how to view the contents.

Monday, February 06, 2006

99 Problems

As if I don't have enough to deal with day to day I now found out that my cat Jack has lymphosarcoma.

Apparently I'm getting some major karma for some shit I pulled in the past.

Rolling Out

I saw my developer cruising down the street past our home last night.

Strike that---I saw one of my developer’s vehicles cruising down the street last night. There’s no mistaking that three-digit plate number on his black Range Rover.

He may or may not have been driving.

I’m sure that passing by our homes might have been the quickest way to get to his destination. Or perhaps he was performing property management duties somewhere near---who’s to say?
I just found the whole thing interesting.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Caustic’s Folly

As if acting like a shrill toddler at the community meeting weren’t enough, Caustic pulled out a whopper at one of our monthly association meetings.

In the first two years of the association the general association meetings were few and far in between. Communication between the board and the general membership was virtually non-existent.

Last year in 2005 the new board decided that since we had so much facing the association it would be in our best interest to have a general meeting every month. In both theory and practice it was a great idea so we could get together and brain storm as well as be informed about the multitude of issues facing the association.

While I’ve been giving you kind people the blow by blow about the porches, it isn’t the only maintenance/capital improvement issue facing our association. Quite frankly it was simply the one that needed the greatest attention at the time.

Anyone who lives in a vintage building will tell you that these old girls require a great deal of time and commitment to keep them looking their best.

The buildings that comprise our association are no different.

Being solidly middle class wage earners, the totality of saying to your general membership that a huge special assessment needed to be levied didn’t leave anyone jumping for joy.

After all, we belong to the association and pay assessments as well.

The special assessment we levied for the porches was bad enough. I can’t even begin to imagine if we totaled up all of the work that needed to be done and levied a special assessment based on that.

They would be coming for us with pitchforks and knives.

Caustic’s issue happened to coincide with the old homestead hitting the market.

At one of our monthly meetings, Caustic had the gall to suggest that the association file a claim with our insurance company to fix a plumbing problem in the basement.

Now I’m sure Caustic meant to have that money cover all of the plumbing issues in all of the basements, not just the one that affected Caustic’s potential home sale---but who knows a person’s true intent?

I was dumbfounded. I lost the power of speech.

At the time we just---and I mean just---renegotiated a significant reduction in our insurance rates.

Why in God’s name would we want to file a claim to have them skyrocket up again? And all for a cost that more than likely could be covered out of our (meager) reserve fund.

Let me not mince words here, it was the way it was demanded and the tone it was demanded in that struck me dumb.

Mind you the board wasn’t asked how this latest wrinkle could fit into the budget or Caustic take the onus to find estimates and work up a presentation at a future meeting.

It was just the attitude of “I’ve graced you dumbasses with my presence. Note that my concerns are far more important than the overall good of the association.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

Could Caustic’s sudden concern for the building’s plumbing problems and the home sale be any more transparent? Not to me it wasn’t.

I love the type of people who don’t give a flying fuck about something until it affects them directly.

Blinded by the tunnel vision of the goal, Caustic continued to rant about filing an insurance claim until someone, I can’t remember who, thankfully put the kibosh on that crazy talk.

I’m not against self interest but not at the expense of fiscal fitness of the association.

Counting The Ways

As I stated in the Corrosive post, Caustic is a royal pain in the ass.

How, you ask?

Let me give you one of two examples of this person’s typical behavior.

Our association is located across the street from a prominent all boys Catholic high school. Around two years ago, this institution started work on what is now their brand spanking new field house. Unbeknownst to us, the school had petitioned the Department of Streets and Sanitation to officially take possession of the street.

The school’s plan was to close the street, turn it into green area and fence it in with the rest of their campus.

Unfortunately for those of us who live on the south side of the school’s property line, that street was the most direct route to the Metra platform

By the time any of us found out what was going on---our official notices and letters were going to the wrong address---it was too late to do anything about the process.

Sidebar: This incident was the catalyst for me becoming much more active within my association and my neighborhood. When I started tracking down why official mail was going to the wrong address, I started unearthing that our condo association’s paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office was out of date and had lapsed. It’s somewhat ironic that the school across the street prompted me into greater building and civic awareness.

Nonetheless, I sprang into action informing my neighbors of what was about to happen and also contacted the principal. This street was important for our commute to the Metra station. Without it, anyone who lived south of the school would have to take one of two other paths that not only are out of the way but both are along busy streets.

One of the routes is on a street that has no sidewalk on one side and a broken and crumbling one on the other. Additionally, both paths can be extremely dark and desolate and night.

Not an attractive alternative.

The school was sympathetic to our plight and arranged a kind of Q & A with the Principal and his staff as well as our alderman.

While the meeting itself wasn’t too well attended by my neighbors, a few did show up and questions were posed and answered.

We all got a quick education in how the City of Chicago works, what an alderman can and cannot approve and that the Streets and San is pretty much autonomous. In short, the school and their construction company did everything by the book.

Trust me, I went back and checked when the community letters were sent.

They hired a top notch law firm who literally told me when and where the letters were sent simply by me mentioning the name of the construction project.

The Principal was committed to finding a workable solution, but insurance rates and having their property fenced in ultimately made the decision for him.

He and his staff promised to notify us of any type of community altering actions in the future.

Do you think that their carving out time for a meeting, stepping us through the process giving us the name of their law firm to check on the details would be enough?

No, not for my neighbor Caustic.

Caustic ranted and raved about how unfair it was while offering no viable solutions to the problem. As I found out later, this is something that would be a mainstay of Caustic’s negotiation process.

If you can call being a “my way or the highway” philosophy a negation process.

Honestly, much of what Caustic said is fuzzy as it didn’t make sense with the set of definitives that were being presented at the time.

Construction wasn’t going to stop at this stage of the game because our association didn’t handle its business. It was a hard lesson to learn.

Also a few less minutes of sleep in the morning because I have to get out the door earlier, but nonetheless good came out of the experience.

I (and the collective) learned that if you don’t handle your business in the City of Chicago, your business will handle you. End of story.

I was just so personally embarrassed by Caustic’s escalating tone and behavior I just wanted to die.

Once Caustic was finished, I gave my best “I’m sorry” look to the Principal and his staff.

Thank God our alderman stepped in and executed a Caustic block and somehow defused a potential shouting match.

I mean if the Principal wanted to spend his spare time being berated by an angry homeowner, he’d sit on the property tax appeal board.

Let's Play Two

Porch number two is all but complete.

Our crew started demolishing the third and last porch this morning and there should be a big empty space where it stood when I return home tonight.