...And That's My Opinion©

By Sandy Goldman

The Rogers Park Community Curmudgeon

 

 

Here’s a Tale – Truth or Fiction?

 

The Morse Avenue Card Players

 

They came one at a time.  They were old then.  They are all gone now.

 

In the days gone by, they would meet at Ashkenaz Deli before going to their own private card parlor on Glenwood Avenue. They all ordered the same first course – the cabbage soup.  It was never hot enough.

 

Then they ordered a corn beef sandwich on rye; not white bread like that shagitz Charles Percy, who in fact, while campaigning, did order a corned beef on white bread at Ashkenaz.  But for these old Jews, the corned beef was never lean enough.  The pastrami was worse - and except for their favorite waitress, they thought the service was terrible and the ambiance noisy and disturbing.

 

Their waitress, Gertrude, by the way, was well past 60. She was a professional deli veteran. They are a special breed.  She took no crap from anyone – that is why they liked her.  Go figure!!

 

They would meet everyday of the year except for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah and if there was a shikse in the family, they would take off for Christmas and Christmas Eve.  If there were grandchildren, then Santa Claus came for these Grandpas in their sixth decade.  If Ashkenaz was closed New Years’ Day, they would not meet there – but rumor has it that they met somewhere.

 

When I met them, I was young and I listened.

 

Today’s agenda was special.  They were talking politics.

 

They had no use for politicians except for Ald. Paul Wigoda – he was one of theirs and that young Irish lad Neil Hartigan – he had a gutes kopf - and of course they worshiped at the throne of Ald. Berny Stone.

 

They would talk politics – no, not talk politics.  They would talk AT each other about politics and other politicians not mentioned above.

 

“He’s a schmuck”

“He’s a mamzer.”

“He’s a ganef.”

“He’s a Democrat.”

“He’s a Republican.”

 

I don’t think they knew about left or right or liberal or conservative. They made no distinctions.  They were all-purpose, equal- opportunity detracters.

 

Afterward, they would go to their hideaway storefront on Glenwood Avenue, between Morse and Lunt on the west side of the tracks and play cards - gin rummy mostly.  But not just gin rummy.  It was more like Death Rummy.  They played for keeps; a dollar a point, partners, three across – and all the time a constant barrage of insults and repartee flowed.

 

“Shmuck, you are the worst player in the world.”

“How can you play that card?”

“Partner? Who needs a partner? I gave you a lead and you blew it!”

“Oy Vey!  A Schneider!”

 

When someone had gin rummy, they loved to say “Gordons!” and the winner would laugh.  Not just a laugh but a laugh with emphasis!

 

I was mesmerized!

 

I remember one year when the card room was raided.  Policemen came barging through the doors, weapons drawn and arrested them all.  They were taken to the police station where they used their one phone call to arrange for bail, by calling their children in Highland Park, Skokie or somewhere else on the north shore.

 

My friend the Desk Sergeant said it looked like a medical convention - what with all the surprised north shore doctors coming in to post bail.

 

The old men laughed and the next day they played cards - in their own regular card parlor.

 

The men were well known in Rogers Park and particularly on Morse Avenue. They would walk the streets and visit the shops. Morry’s for their own clothes; Seena’s for their wives or girl friend (but always different dresses for each woman); Midwest Audio for gifts which they did not understand for the grandkids and Dutch Mill for candies for everyone.

 

It was a great street.  Charles’ Variety Store for any number of things; K-Mar for the coffee shop crowd. Between K-Mars and Ashkenaz there were the 3K’s-Knishes, Kugel and Kreplach; for the hamburger set none better than Rocky’s and the Top Hat for the cocktail set,for those not financially ready for Morrys there was Mac Turners Mens Wear, for juvenile wear there was Leonard’s, immortalized forever in the 1986 Jackie Gleason-Tom Hanks movie Nothing In Common. There was the Greek shoemaker under the El, and two drug stores (still there).

 

Standing like guardian sentinels were Temple Mizpah, the Congregational Church, the Lutheran Church and St. Jerome - only a block away

 

These card players of Rogers Park were special men.  They were all formers—a former salesman, a former bail bondsman, a former police sergeant, a former M.D., a former attorney and a former retailer.

 

Then Ashkenaz burned down .The men moved on. They never returned. As the years rolled by they died.

 

And so did Morse Avenue.

 

It is no longer vibrant. It is no longer safe and it is no longer clean. Many of the stores are now vacant – derelict shells.

 

What happened……?    (see Sandy’s Comment after the Glossary)                              

The End

 

Glossary:

 

Shikse-non Jewish female                         

 

Democrat-a liberal

Skeygets-non Jewish male  

 

Republican-a conservative

Shmuck-a derisive term

 

Oy Vey-Oh My! With emphasis

Mamzer-see above

Ganef- a thief

 

Gutes Kopf - literally a good head, figuratively good thinking powers

Schnieder-to shut our your opponent with no score

 

Jew-someone who knows all these terms (and eats corned beef on rye bread with mustard and a pickle

 

 

Sandy’s comment:  Truth or fiction? 

 

If it’s the latter then it is an amusing peek into the past and a cute story. If it is true, then it points out that the leadership, both elected and volunteer, of this community has been asleep at the switch, unlike the politicians and community activists to our immediate south and west and to the north in Evanston.  They continue to promote their neighborhoods, engaging developers, retailers, restaurants, and light industry - turning sows’ ears into silk purses at an amazing rate, while our leaders and activists are busily dressing monkeys in silks or worse yet - still looking for more monkeys to dress.

...And that's my opinion.

And I'm Sandy Goldman

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