Tag Archives: Niles Illinois

You Can’t Get There from Here (Installment #2)

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I checked my watch and saw it was almost seven o’clock, so I asked the old man, “Is Nico Park still around here?”

“Around here?” the man asked back. Then he straightened up and said, “You can’t get there from here.”

This surprised me. I expected a yes or a no, especially from someone in the neighborhood. And, until I told the man my stories, I didn’t realize how much I wanted to get to the park. I thought maybe I confused him, so with respect I asked, “Did they get rid of the park? Build over it?”

He smiled again, and his gray-blue eyes showed me he was enjoying our interaction. “They didn’t get rid of it. You’re off by one. This is Cleveland Street. You want Keeney.” He pointed behind him. “Turn right onto New England. You’ll see the park at the next stop.”

“Thank you, sir.” I turned to my car, but then turned back to the man. I said, “Just one more question.”

The man nodded.

“At first you answered that I can’t get there from here. What did you mean?”

The man stepped toward me, and patted my arm just below the shoulder. “Young man, since you described the park by telling me of your evenings as a teenager, I know that it’s not just the park you want to get to. You want that feeling back.”

He said more than I expected. And while I thought about it, he pointed to the crossed street signs, thin and green atop the post.

“From this corner of course you can get to the park.” Then he pointed to my wrist–to my watch–and emphasized, “But from here, from right now, you can’t get to what you described.”

I did want the feeling back. He was right. And visiting the park wouldn’t do it.

“Still,” I told him, “seeing the park could help.”

“I understand,” he said, nodding. Then he asked, “Is it only the park that brought you back this evening?”

“No. I’m headed to Skaja’s Funeral Home.” And then I looked down, toward a crack in the sidewalk. “One of the guys from back then passed away.”

The old man’s eyes became serious, and he moved his head from side to side. “Too soon. Sorry to hear that.”

“We weren’t close,” I explained, “but I want to see him this last time. He worked around here for one of the big companies. Worked there twenty-five years. A friend of his from work said one day he just stopped showing up. HR called him and left messages, but he never called back. His friend drove to his place one lunchtime. Went to his apartment and found him.

The old man stopped me. “You said he worked for one of the big companies around here. Was it TechCorp?”

“Yes,” I answered, “TechCorp.”

The man removed his glasses, pulled out a handkerchief that was clean and white, wiped one lens and put the glasses back on. He seemed much more alert, and red colored his cheeks. “In the eighties I was TechCorp’s vice president of data processing. About the time you were playing ball at the park.”

This answer of the man’s also surprised me. I had not thought at all about his past.

“Are you retired now?” I asked him.

“I am. But I still try to keep up with how technology is evolving. I’ve a tablet that my kids bought me. I’m familiar with it enough to get to articles I need to read.”

“So do you live on one of these streets?”

“I used to. But the downturn that started in 2009 was pretty tough on me and my family.”

“So where are you at now? Do you need me to give you a lift?”

“When I get up to Waukegan Road I just need to head north a block. I live at the retirement home you used to work at.”

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You Can’t Get There from Here

Nico Park

This is the first half of a short story. I got the inspiration during an outdoor writing workshop with the Kenosha Writers’ Guild. We were given some prompts to use if we wanted. The prompt that interested me was, “You can’t get there from here.”  This is just the first half, so I apologize in advance for stopping in the middle. I’ll post the conclusion once I write it.

That evening the sun was far from setting, as on any June evening. Its glare came through the passenger-side windows of my car. It’s heat did too, even though the windows were up and the dashboard vents directed cool air.

The rush-hour traffic wasn’t bad, so I got into town earlier than I expected. The wake wouldn’t start until seven o’clock. So before I reached Oakton Street I slowed the car, waited for a break in traffic, then turned left off of Waukegan onto one of the side streets. The previous time I drove down that block–was thirty years ago.

The trees were a lot taller, but the homes which lined both sides of the street looked the same as they looked back then. Brick, one-story, with low, shingled roofs. Each with a front lawn, green and square, divided by a straight concrete walk. Each with three, wide, concrete steps up to the front-door. To one side a large front-room window. And to the other side a smaller, bedroom window.

I drove slowly along the quiet street. A few cars were parked on each side, and I weaved through to the end of the block. A little before the stop sign I pulled over, stopped, and turned off the car–to remember.

At the end of one of these streets there used to be a park. That’s why I turned. To see the park again. I was about to start the car to drive to the next block over, when I saw an old man walking on the sidewalk. He had just come around the corner ahead.

I lowered the passenger side window and called to him. “Excuse me sir. Is Nico Park nearby?”

He stopped, and stooped a little so he could see me.

I said, “I’ll come out.” And I got out of my car and walked up a lower driveway to the sidewalk.

I explained to him, “In the eighties I used to work near here at Waukegan and Caldwell. At the nursing home. In the kitchen. In the summer a group of us who worked there–we were all in high school or starting college–after our shift we’d drive to the park for its baseball diamond. We played sixteen-inch softball there. For fun.”

The old man cocked his head a little and looked into my eyes as if he did not understand.

I went on. “There were usually about eight of us. Enough for each team to have a pitcher, third baseman, shortstop, and outfielder. Kosta–he could hit the ball way out into left field, over the tall chain-link fence and into the tennis court. And Shimmo–he was a lefty. Whenever he came up to bat, the outfielder had to run all the way over to right-field, before the pitch. Shimmo could hit the ball beyond right-field and into the backyards. Sometime a neighbor would yell at us.”

The man listened.

“We liked when the girls played, but most of time Kathie and Debbie sat on the bleachers, and talked to each other and giggled.”

The man’s lips and eyes turned into a gentle smile.

“We’d play until it was too dark to see. Then we’d walk to our cars. The ones our parents let us drive to our part-time jobs. We’d lean on our cars and talk. No matter what we’d been doing–playing ball at the park, or having ice-cream at Dairy Queen, or dropping our quarters at the arcade of Par-King–those evenings in June we had nothing to do but to stay up and stay out. We’d lean on our cars and talk.

We talked about the girls we liked at work. Talked about the movies and music videos we’d seen. We talked about going to college, turning twenty-one, and how great it would be going to bars. We talked about what our real jobs might be.

The man’s smile started to go away.

It was almost seven o’clock, so I asked the old man, “Can you tell me how to get there? To get to Nico Park?”

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