A look back at an exceptional friend and no, we really weren’t married

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The B-side by Bob Rakow

This column was born shortly after a childhood friend died.

When he passed away, I felt the need to say something, and the B-Side got its start. It’s been going well since then, although this week’s column was tough to write.

I’m devoting the B-Side to another friend. My closest high school friend, Adam Peters, passed away recently after a long, tough battle with cancer.

Adam was my guy in high school, especially senior year. He and I, along with Matt and Augie, were a great foursome. We were together every day after school, rolling in Adam’s Cadillac, wasting time at Taco Bell.

Great times.

The four of us had distinct personalities. We all brought something to the group. But Adam ran point. He possessed a certain charisma that was not common amongst high-school-aged guys. He had an air of confidence about him, a great sense of fashion and a pretty girlfriend who went to Mother McAuley.

Someone on Facebook commented that Adam could light up a room. That remark was spot on. He had sparkle in his eye but a mischievous look that made you wonder what he was thinking or might say next.

I remember the two of us standing across the street from Brother Rice High School on one occasion, both of us wearing our designer clothes, collars popped, when a guy yelled from a passing car, “Are you two guys engaged?” Adam, without missing a beat, threw his arm over my shoulder and shouted, “No, we’re married.”

It was a classic moment.

Though, I don’t think the guy in car appreciated the remark.

Adam loved to read. He almost always carried a large book with him and spent much of his spare time devouring it. He was a bright guy. He majored in history, but understood that learning was a lifelong pursuit that didn’t end when you left the classroom.

I envied Adam in a lot ways, but enjoyed every moment that we spent together. We went our separate ways during college and didn’t stay in touch. I caught up with him on Facebook and found out that he was sick. Still, I never thought I’d memorialize him in a column before either of us turned 50.

I looked back at his Facebook page the other day and read the various posts that chronicled his battle with cancer. He never quit fighting, and he never lost his sense of humor despite his unfortunate circumstances. Another member of our graduating class said Adam’s battle taught him about faith and humility. I wholeheartedly agree.

Thinking about Adam’s passing saddens me, but my vivid recollections of our time together speak volumes about my friend. Thirty-five years later, I still recall our stupid stunts, including the time I made an obscene gesture at a car on Western Avenue. The driver eventually pulled behind Adam’s parked car, punched me in the head and said, “I’m getting the gun.” Adam pulled away from the curb and we sped through the Beverly neighborhood until we outran the guy.

We loved radio legends Steve Dahl and Garry Meier—their humor, their wit. When their engineer, Marcus Palmer, died during surgery, Adam and I went to the wake. He thought it was the right thing to do. We sat on the hood of Adam’s Cadillac afterwards and talked about the Blackhawks. I have no idea how I remember that detail.

Somewhere, I have a picture of Adam and me standing on my front porch. May, 1982. High school graduation. Again, how we were dressed was so important. We were 17 years old. Who knew what the future held? Today I know, and I wish it wasn’t true.

When my father died, I struggled to write a eulogy. I told Adam that my dad passed away and he responded on Facebook with the following, “Bob, he was a great guy. I always wanted a father like you had, and I know how lucky you feel to have had him raise you.” I never knew he felt that way about my dad. I used that touching remark to craft my dad’s eulogy.

Adam was right. My dad was a great guy. But Adam was an exceptional friend who touched a lot of people. Rest in peace, my brother, you’re suffering is over but your legacy lives on. 

Weeding out some of the bad neighbors from the good ones

Bobs Column - The B SideWhen my elderly next-door neighbor inexplicably jogged one evening across his backyard, tripped over the garden hose and fell to the ground, I knew he wasn’t likely to be my neighbor much longer.
It took all my all my strength with an assist from my elderly father to get him to his feet. Thankfully, he was OK, but his days living independently with his wife were numbered.
I could tell for some time that he was slipping, becoming forgetful and losing his train of thought. It was difficult for his wife to care for him by herself. And so, after living for more than 50 years in the same house, my neighbors moved into an assisted living facility.
I was sad to see them go. They were good people. They’d been my neighbors since 1995, when my family bought our home in Oak Lawn. They remembered the neighborhood before the streets were paved and watched Oak Lawn develop around them. They were good to my children, loved to chat across the fence and were reliable.
John and Olivia also are reliable.
They moved into my former neighbors’ house shortly after they left, having struck a deal to rent the place temporarily. A few months ago, they talked of moving, but then announced that they bought the house next to me instead.
I was delighted.
They too are good people. During the past two extensive electrical outages, John immediately offered us the opportunity to hook up to his gas generator.
During the two days that my part of Oak Lawn was once again without power, we had a running refrigerator, computer modem, window air conditioning unit and some light thanks to John and Olivia.
John has lent me tools, done work at my house, and introduced me to the best handy man I’ve known.
Over the weekend, I spotted John and his family unloading the van with shades, gallons of paint and other home improvement stuff. The house is theirs now and they’re making an investment. They have landscaping plans and other ideas. Nothing beats a neighbor who’s proud of his home and is constantly caring for his property.
Don and Karen are reliable, too.
They’re my neighbors on the other side of my house. They’ve lived in their home for decades. Last week, Don and I stood in front of his house moments after lighting hit my massive parkway tree causing it to fall into his house. Amazingly, the house suffered only minimal damage and no one was hurt.
In 1967, the tornado that ripped through Oak Lawn caused the north wall of Don’s house to collapse into the south wall of my home. I guess Don has had his fair share of weather-related incidents.
Don sits on his porch quite a bit, catches my attention when I’m getting out of the car, and we talk about this and that—my children, his grandchildren, neighbors and so on.
When it snows heavily, my children shovel his walk. If he needs something, I try to oblige. I like the guy.
I know that there will never be an incident at John and Olivia’s house or Don and Karen’s place. I’ll never call the police because of a late-night party or a domestic disturbance or notify the village because they’ve failed to keep up their property. Quite simply, they’re not that kind of people.
If there ever were an issue, I’d talk to them and work it out because that’s what neighbors do.
Most neighbors, anyway.
I have other neighbors with whom I have a different relationship.
To wit, weeds tend to grow near the privacy fence that screens my backyard from the alley. We don’t use our garage or alley very often, so occasionally we don’t notice the weeds. Still, I try to cut them back a few times during the summer. A few weeks ago, my wife decided to attack the weeds and was greeted with, “It’s about time,” from a disapproving neighbor.
My question is, “Why?” What motivates a person to say that? What’s in it for them?
We do some form of yard work almost every weekend. The weeds in the alley may not be our biggest concern. But we don’t ignore them either.
It is this same neighbor, I believe, who called the police because my dog was barking for a long period of time to get into the house. Were this a regular occurrence, I’d understand, but our dog is almost never in the backyard for more than 10 minutes at a time. Typically, she barks once and someone opens the door.
The day she barked repeatedly—in the middle of the afternoon, mind you—was a rare exception that did not require police attention. But a neighbor decided that was the way to address it. Calling the police sent a message.
My son recently saw a guy walking down our block, looking into the windows of cars. That’s when you call the police. In fact, the police encourage residents to call anytime they see something suspicious no matter how small. That’s how crime is deterred.
If you have good neighbors, count yourself lucky. If they’re happy to help you out, take a moment to chat, watch you home when you’re on vacation, you’re fortunate.
Good neighbors are important. Without them, the community likely would go to the dogs.

Happy 238th birthday, America

History-Don-White-logoWell another Independence Day has come and gone.
For many working people it was a chance to enjoy a three day week-end. It was a time for parades, picnics, and barbecues, a day at the beach or just doing projects around the homestead. Then there were the fireworks -- legal and illegal -- in many of the surrounding southern suburbs. I hope it was a safe and enjoyable holiday for all citizens of our great nation.
Of course there are many jobs that are 24/7 and have to be staffed on holidays. Thanks to the firemen, policemen, doctors, nurses, restaurant staffs, bus drivers and so many other folks that have to work on holidays. Thanks for your dedication to duty to move it on down the line – whatever your job might be.
How did you celebrate the 238th birth of our nation? Did you fly the flag? Did you visit a relative
or a friend in a nursing home? Were you somewhere where they sang the National Anthem? No matter what you did on this special day, I hope you gave thanks for those fifty-five men that risked everything they held dear to bring forth this great nation.
Yes, we the people had declared their independence from the British on July 4, 1776, but they had not yet won that independence. On July 2, the Continental Congress first voted its approval of the Declaration. Then on July 4, another vote reaffirmed this action. It was not until sometime in August, 1776, that all 55 signatures were written in.
Just how sure of what they were doing were these men? The final sentence of the Declaration says it quite well: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
As the Declaration was being voted on in Philadelphia, British troops were landing on Staten
Island in New York. The Revolutionary War finally ended with the surrender of British troops at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781.
The British government offered generous terms of surrender. A treaty was drafted in November, 1782, but not signed until September, 1783. New York was not surrendered until November, 1783. With the signing of the treaty, the British gave up more land than what the thirteen colonies entailed.
Thanks to those men and women of the Revolution that gave so much for the freedom that we still cherish 238 years after.

— Don C. White is a historian and author from Palos Hills.

Calling bull on this bullying lawsuit

Bobs Column - The B SideI was picked on a fair amount as child. “Bullying” wasn’t part of the popular lexicon back then.
I probably deserved some of the grief I took. I had a big mouth and didn’t hesitate to criticize other kids. In some bizarre way, I thought I might fit in—be one of the guys—if I talked a little smack now and then.
Didn’t work out that way.
My problems occurred at school as a small group of guys made it their mission to give me a hard time. I did nothing about it and that’s when other classmates—kids who never would initiate trouble—decided to pile on. Typical group mentality.
Somewhere along the way, it was deemed that I had a big head. Thus, the nickname “Head” was created.
It was brutal.
Guys would walk past me in the school hallways with their palms open and extended several inches from their heads—the universal symbol for big head, I guess. I remember several classmates gathering around me on the day that we were measured for graduation caps and gowns. For the first time, the true size of my gargantuan cranium would be revealed.
The truth is, I have a pretty big head.
I got to thinking about the taunting I received after seeing a news report about the parents of a fourth-grade-boy in Mt. Prospect who have sued a classmate, his parents, the principal of the school and the school district because their son was bullied during third grade.
The suit claims the boy was the victim of almost weekly attacks, ranging from hitting, punching and kicking, to more violent threats, NBC Chicago reported. He was choked and threatened, and would wake up at night screaming and crying and saying he didn’t want to go to school, the suit said. His parents filed numerous police reports and met with the school, to no avail.
I could only imagine my parents filing a police report during my elementary school years. They had the same mindset that most parents of that era possessed: If you had a problem at school, settle it. Stand up for yourself.
Sadly, that thinking has gone the way of the Dodo bird. Students who resort to physical violence—no matter how minor, even if in retaliation—are looking at suspensions or worse.
Times have changed since I was in school. At that time, boys fought. They settled their differences, accepted the consequences and moved on. If they didn’t fight, everyone knew it. Trust me, I know.
I remember throwing hands with a guy by the name of Bob Jones in the office of the Hayes Park gym on Chicago’s Southwest Side. It’s one of the rare times I stuck around to fight. But the interesting part was, the park superintendent sat by and watched the whole thing. If that happened today, he’d be fired. He understood that two guys were scraping—not the end of the world.
“Joner” landed a fist right below my ear and I took off. But I had the satisfaction of knowing I hung in there with him for a while.
I also recall hitting a classmate after gym class at Brother Rice. I never would have considered it, but another student convinced me that I had to take action to get the other guy off my back.
I hit the guy, and the locker room erupted. I served a Saturday detention for that misdeed. But my gym coach, George Sedlacek (God rest his soul), later told me that while he had no choice but to issue the detention, he was happy to see me throw a punch.
Sedlacek was old school. He understood that the punch sent a message to the class that I was willing to defend myself.
Anyway, back to the litigious family in Mt. Prospect. This story gets better.
Their attorney, Joel Handler, is seeking monetary damages from all of the named defendants, including the boy who allegedly perpetrated the attacks, NBC reported.
“He has committed multiple assaults, multiple batteries, on my client,” Handler said.  “Since the school’s not going to address it, and the parents presumably are not going to address it, then we are going to have to address it.”
Handler said if he is successful recovering monetary damages from the young defendant, he would go so far as to garnish any of the boy’s future earnings, NBC reported.
He’d better get the lemonade stand up and running post haste.
For their part, the victim’s parents said they hope the lawsuit sends a message.
“Kids, all kids, need to be in a safe and healthy environment to learn in, because learning fuels the rest of your life,” the boy’s father told NBC.
And watching mom and dad handle your problems in the courts sends a great message as well.
The boy’s mother went on to say that the suit might actually help the alleged assailant.
“This isn’t just about our son anymore,” she said. “This is about the child that’s been bullying our son, that he gets the help that he needs, and that the school provides it for him.”
Don’t believe a word. This became about money and revenge the moment the family filed a lawsuit seeking monetary damages from a fourth grader. The rest sounds great, but is absolutely disingenuous.

It’s wise to double check that calendar


Claudia Mug Shot-Color During a recent Friday, I felt like I was being cast for an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
  For those unfamiliar with this 1960 television series, it was like being “Punk’d” on MTV by Ashton Kutcher.
  Upon stepping into my doctor’s office for a routine appointment, I was pleasantly surprised to find no other patients waiting. “Nice,” I thought. “I won’t be needing my Kindle after all.”
  It was tucked under my armpit. I just knew I was about to finish the last few chapters of “Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions” by Lysa Terkeurst. However, a vacant lobby was an indicator of no waiting. Relief set in.
  My morning had been rushed and stressful.
  I’d taken great care in obtaining a sitter and cleaning up prior to her arrival. I’m energy deficient until I know someone is coming over. Heaven forbid, someone judge me for my lived in home.
  Once my rendition of “Bewitched” magically made my house presentable, I scrambled to fix the kids something edible, but not quite what I’d call breakfast. A good prayer before they eat is my consolation.
  With a slurp of juice and swallow of a multivitamin, I dashed up the stairs to dress them. This is usually an intense saga as my kindergartener likes to insist on the opposite attire I’ve chosen. My parenting style encourages communication and articulate expression. However, I was running late. There was no time for negotiation.
  I went old school with a Clint Eastwood statement.
  “Go ahead. Make my day!” I told her.
  Needless to say, I welcomed my child-free, laid back, routine, doctor visit. I approached the counter and said, “Hi. How are you?” to the registration clerk.
  She didn’t respond.
  I proceeded with, “Nice and quiet in here today.” I picked up her pen. Upon writing the first three letters of my name on the sign-in sheet, she spoke, “I’m sorry. Do you have an appointment?”
  Smiling back at her dazed glare, I continued signing in and said, “Yeeaahh!”
  She turned to her colleagues petitioning help with her eyes, “With what doctor?” she asked.
  “Dr. Axel.” I replied, this time with a frank tone.
  “What’s her deal?” I thought.
  She fired away at me like bullets. “He’s gone. We’re done for the day. Have you been here before? What’s your name? Do you know your chart number?”
  I was taken aback by her apparent oblivion.
  “Did I walk into the wrong building?” I thought, while quickly scanning the room for familiarity. After rumbling to find my chart, this registrar concluded with, “Your appointment is for next Friday. Not today!”
  I wanted her to be wrong. I wanted her to fix it and fit me in anyway. I wanted the cameras of MTV or ABC’s “What Would You Do?” with John Quinones to come zooming in but they didn’t. I felt like my preparation and effort had been wasted but it hadn’t. I learned a life lesson.
  There have been various times in my life that I’ve been prepared for an opportunity and found myself banging down doors I had no business going through. Trying to force my way in only begot frustration. When the timing is right, the door opens easily. Just as it has for me to have this column. My fantastic editor, Jeff Vorva has been eating samples of my correspondent work for just shy of a year now. He’s thinks my loopy life may provide you comic relief on a few occasions and a bit of encouragement or reflection on others. Look for me every second and fourth week of the month. I don’t know much but what I do, I teach, coach and encourage…usually as a result of my flaws.
  Oh, and if you’re finding yourself in a place where you’re doing the right thing and not getting the desired result, check your calendar. It’s probably, the wrong day.

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.