Monday's with Mike: Mutha's day

May 9, 20164 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized

Well, we got through another Mothers Day. Not that there’s anything wrong with mothers, mind you.

Beth and I celebrated by riding our tandem bicycle to U.S Cellular Field to watch a White Sox win with our generous friends Don and Juli (seats to die for, btw). And at our son Gus’ direction, I bought some very fragrant lilies and presented them to Beth on Gus’ behalf.

I came by my skepticism honestly, from my mom Esther.

Esther Knezovich, nee Latini, a 5’1″ stick of dynamite.

Which was all nice. It’s just that the avalanche of sentimentality and tributes and bragging’ on our moms can get a little cloying sometimes. And dare I say, dishonest? Maybe, a little? (And then there’s the equal time thing—as our single friend Brad asked our single bartender Sean at Hackney’s last night, “When’s bachelor’s day?”)

On Mothers Day (and Fathers Day, of course), somehow the notion that some people had really awful mothers — that any mothers can be awful — gets lost. I know, I know, that shouldn’t keep us from appreciating the “good” ones. But you know, I didn’t see any pictures of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest in my Facebook feed yesterday.

Plus, there just seems to be no room for ambiguity. Let me put it this way: to use a gender-neutral term, women can be assholes sometimes. Even the best of them. Ergo, mothers can be assholes.

I know mine could be. She could be abusive in her criticism of me and my sister. She had a crazy temper, and threw stuff at us. She could be defensive and insecure and combative to an extreme degree. She did everything she could to give me and my sister opportunities she didn’t have, but at times couldn’t hide her envy.

And I will always love and admire her.

She was born to Italian immigrants. She grew up 40 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a row house that was in a town owned by the coal mining company her father worked for. Paolo—as I would observe as a child—was a relentless critic of his children, even in their adulthood. So my mom, Esther, came by it honestly. Nothing she did was good enough for him. And so it was for me and my sister.

She won forensics competitions in high school, and traveled all the way to California to compete. She was smart as a whip. And probably could’ve been anything. I always thought a career in law would’ve suited her. Back then, though, the only option she had was state teachers’ college.

No doubt in my mind it wasn’t her first choice. But she did it. She started her career teaching Marines’ kids at Camp Lejeune during the war. She endured tragedy with the loss of her first husband when my sister was only six months old.

She went on to be a fantastic teacher for decades. I know this because of the many parents who have told me so, and from the kids I went to high school with who’d had her in grade school. (Who also professed some wonder at how I survived being Mrs. K.’s son.)

During adolescence, I had some vicious battles with my mom. There were times when I hated her.

And then, thanks in large part to who she was, I grew up and became a young man. With an analytical mind like hers. A sense of civic and social responsibility. A respect for the English language. A love of baseball. And an eternal suspicion of school administrators and gimmicks like charter schools and NCLB blah blah. And, yeah, sometimes with a temper like hers.

The very things that made me despise her in my high school years were the things I empathized with as a young adult. I could read her frustration with her lot in life, her ambiguous and simultaneous support and envy of her kids’ opportunities, and the source of her insecurity. It’s also clear to me now that she was prone to depression in an age where the idea of going to a shrink was unthinkable in her milieu. It wasn’t always pretty, but she slogged through.

And so, this year, in my world, Mothers Day will come again November 8. That’s when I expect to celebrate one brilliant, flawed, confounding, tough-as-nails mother by voting for another one.

And if you don’t do the same—don’t tell me, or be prepared for a coffee cup to come whizzing by your head.

Vidal Sassoon

May 8, 20169 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing, Uncategorized
Bob Eisenberg, author of today's guest post.

Bob Eisenberg, author of today’s guest post.

In my previous post I mentioned that one writer chose Vidal Sassoon’s death as one that had made him particularly sad. A Blog follower left a comment saying she’d love to read that essay, and writer Bob Eisenberg graciously gave us permission to publish it here.

Bob Eisenberg is still styling hair after 60 years in the business, but he takes an afternoon off every week to join our Monday Lincoln Park Village memoir class. Here’s his essay.

by Bob Eisenberg

Sitting next to my favorite celebrity at a Beverly Hills hotel bar was one of the most exciting experiences in my life. I was in California for a workshop, and when I saw him there sitting alone I walked up to him and said how much I appreciated his talents. “I’ve followed your teaching for years,” I said.

He asked me to have a seat at the bar and have a drink. I was overwhelmed. This man was the best-known celebrity in the hair styling industry: Vidal Sassoon.

We talked for the longest time about the salon industry, our exciting salon businesses, and then went on to talk about philosophy and spirituality. I told him he was my mentor and that I’d been following his teachings for many years.

My hair styling story started years before when I was 20 and just got out of the army. I took my girlfriend to fabulous Vicks beauty salon, and while I was attentively watching the stylist cut her hair, a flash went through me. “I could do that,” I said to myself.

I had been drawing faces of classmates all my life and got disciplined in high school for doodling instead of paying attention to the teacher. It would be exciting to style hair around a face. The next day I enrolled in a neighborhood beauty school.

As I was getting close to graduating, my neighborhood friend Lenny Messeli came up to me and asked, “Bob, what are you going to do after we graduate?”

”Just look for a job,” I said with a shrug.

Lenny said his uncle had a beauty salon called The Magic Touch in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. “He wants to sell it for $1500,” Lenny said. “We could buy it for $750 a piece and be partners.”

”I’m just out of school!” I told Lenny. “I don’t even know how to do hair yet.”

Lenny had an answer. “My uncle say’s you don’t have to know how to do hair at his salon,” he said. “All you need is a good joke, and they’ll keep coming back.”

So Lenny and I became partners. After two years of joke telling and $3.50 hair cuts, I became burnt out. I saw an ad in The Hairdressers Journal that advertised a Vidal Sassoon workshop. It said I could learn a method of hair styling that doesn’t require any ruffing, teasing, hair spray or heavy gels. I attended the workshop and found my place in the salon industry. After a number of work shops I discovered a new approach to styling hair. I attended Vidal Sassoon workshops all over the country. Soon I put a sign up in the window of our salon:

Bob’s hair cut and style $25.00 including personal consultation.

I was on my way to becoming a real high end stylist, someone who could design a hair style according to someone’s life style, bone structure and face shape. A hair style that requires very low maintenance.

Vidal Sassoon has been a powerful influence for the entire hairstyling industry, but especially for me. I will always be grateful for the direction he has guided me.

Write about a celebrity's death that made you really sad

May 6, 201615 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing, politics, radio, Uncategorized

Mike’s post last month about using Facebook to mourn for Prince motivated me to ask the writers in the memoir classes I lead to write about a celebrity’s death that made them really sad. “The celebrity can be an author, an artist, an athlete, a musician, an actor, an actress, a political figure, anyone who is famous and died,” I told them, urging them to write about themselves and their circumstances. “If the person you’re writing about is famous, your readers will already know about them,” I said. What I was after in their essays was an idea of how old they were when that celebrity died, what was going on in their worlds at the time, why the loss was so significant to them and how they grieved.

My downtown class, the one with Wanda in it, is taking a few months off. Writers in my other three memoir classes came back with essays about Vidal Sassoon, Grace Kelly, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Princess Diana, Wiley Post, Will Rogers, Van Johnson, Mary Travers of “Peter, Paul and Mary.”

Two of the younger writers wrote about the death of musician John Lennon. Michael admitted that John hadn’t always been his favorite Beatle. “He seemed aloof, mean, and sarcastic.” He wrote that the “seemingly cheerful Paul and George” were more his type until later on, when he realized the Beatle’s songs he loved to play on his guitar were Lennon songs.

Lorraine fell in love with John Lennon the first time she saw him on TV. “I wouldn’t say John and I were intimate,” she wrote., “I was only 13.” She confessed she never liked Yoko Ono. “I was jealous,” she conceded, describing John Lennon’s murder in 1980 like this. “He was walking down the street with Ono. Of course she didn’t save him.”

For one student in class, FDR was THE PRESIDENT.

For one student in class, FDR was THE PRESIDENT.

Kathy wrote about John Lennon, too, but she wasn’t a teenager when she first laid eyes on him. “My lack of knowledge of pop culture is a monumental failing. But even I knew about The Beatles!” In 1980, Kathy was the mother of four and the volunteer Executive Director of the Illinois Citizens for Handgun Control. “Our political action was sorely hampered by the small size and homogeneity of our membership,” she wrote. “And then Mark Chapman pulled out a handgun and fired four bullets into the body of John Lennon.” Chicago scheduled a memorial event eight days later at Lincoln Park’s Cricket Hill.

The Illinois Citizens for Handgun Control created bumper stickers that said Imagine a world, along with an arrow pointing to the words without handguns, and volunteers handed out flyers with information on how to order a bumper sticker for a dollar. From Kathy’s essay:

December 15 was clear and cold. 3000 Lennon mourners gathered for the program and the 10 minutes of silence that was observed around the world. We handed out our flyers as participants departed. In the days that followed, hundreds of orders with crumpled dollar bills arrived in my office.

Membership information accompanied the bumper stickers and a surprising number responded. Some of the respondents became the organization’s most effective leaders. Diversified and energized, the Illinois Citizens for Handgun Control organized their first annual Walk Against Gun Violence in 1982 as an effort to educate people and encourage widespread advocacy efforts. “I think John Lennon would have approved of us,” Kathy wrote.

In the end, more writers wrote about presidents than musicians. Most presidential essays were written about John F. Kennedy. One writer was in Paris when JFK died, another was supposed to celebrate her first wedding anniversary on November 22, 1963, and a writer who worked at Life Magazine accompanied a photographer to Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. to cover the president’s burial there. Another was in high school when he got the news. “When he died, everything slowed down,” he wrote. ”We watched on color TVs, some of us, but it all seemed to be in black and white.”

Hugh said he was moved by the death of President Kennedy, “but I was an adult in my 30s then, and I understood what it was all about.” He was only 13 when President Roosevelt died in 1945, however. “I had never dealt with the death of a famous person” he wrote. “For me, Roosevelt was THE PRESIDENT. He was first elected in the year I was born and went on to be elected for an unprecedented four terms. I knew who he was. I heard his distinctive voice on the radio and saw his big grin in newsreels.”

Mary Lou was playing hopscotch with friends the day FDR died and knew something was wrong when she came home and found her mother at the front entrance of their Chicago two-flat. “We never used the front door unless company came,” she wrote. “So I was very surprised when I saw Mommy at the front door of 4523, still wearing her apron and using it to pat her eyes.”

Regan wrote about a president, too, but not one who died. She’d worked on Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992, and when he won, she relocated from Chicago to D.C. to work in his administration. “In 1994 he passed a crime bill I thought went too far. Next he signed NAFTA, an agreement opposed by every Democrat I respected,” she wrote. “Dissatisfaction settled in the space between my bones and muscled me awake at 3 o’clock in the morning for the next seven years.”

Regan turned on the radio in her DuPont Circle townhouse one morning in 1995 and learned Jerry Garcia had died overnight. “I collapsed on the bathroom floor weeping over the death of something I couldn’t put words to. At 49-years-old my idealism had come to an end: my false world of everlasting good died with Jerry Garcia.”

Regan started sobbing again when her friend picked her up for work that day. From her essay:

Keith waited a few respectful minutes, and then, with one simple sentence, he opened a new, naked reality that included the unspoken caveat of don’t take yourself too seriously.

He said, “well, it’s not as if it’s Aretha Franklin.”


Regan Burke started a blog of her own after she joined the memoir-writing class I lead in Printer’s Row last year. You can read her entire Jerry Garcia essay , along with other fabulous essays she’s written — at BackStory Essays – Short Essays from Chicago Writers.


Mondays with Mike: A happy new year

May 2, 20168 CommentsPosted in baseball, Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized

We’re only a month into this baseball season and I’ve already had more fun watching my White Sox than I have the past three years. They’re off to a great start, 18-8, leading their division, and well, as Ozzie Guillen once said, “Fun is winning and winning is fun.”

Beth and I, weather permitting, are heading U.S. Cellular Tuesday night to see the White Sox take on the Red Sox. It’s the hosiery series, I guess. (In these matchups, I refer to my team as the Right Sox.) It’ll be my second game, Beth’s first. We hope to be joined by another couple, one who is a Cubs fan the other Red Sox fan. Don’t worry, I’ll be good.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 4.52.09 PM

Listen to Chance. He knows.

While last year stunk on the field, Beth and I managed to have a good time during our many visits to the park. Like the time I posted about when we found ourselves seated with a cheering section for the Houston Astros pitcher that night. We learned that Vincent Velasquez was making his major league debut—hence the cheering section. We met his mom and dad and high school buddies. I gotta tell you, he had me right then. And, though I’m no scout, he looked very good that night.

Looks like I might’ve been right. He was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason. So far this season, for a team that was predicted to go nowhere, he’s won four, lost one, has a 1.44 ERA and .89 WHIP. Sorry for all the nerd talk—translation for all non-baseball fans, those are smokin’ numbers.

Here’s to Victor!

But back to the Right Sox. Besides winning, they’re just a lot more fun to watch. If you watch much baseball, you reach a point where you appreciate catching the ball as much as hitting it. And you hate not catching the ball. The Sox are catching the ball. They even turned an historic triple play.

Even the White Sox commercials seem better this year, with Chance the Rapper pitching his favorite team.

Alls’ good. So good that I didn’t even mind that the other team in town is also doing well. And then they went and did this. Win, lose: They’re just innately annoying.

Go White Sox!

Everyone tells me she takes sensational photos

May 1, 201611 CommentsPosted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing, Uncategorized

When I write about the older adults in the memoir classes I lead in Chicago, I never describe what the writers look like. Now you can find out for yourselves!

Our day at the opera: That's me, Sharon, Audrey, Wanda and Darlene Schweitzer.

Our day at the opera: That’s me, Sharon, Audrey, Wanda and Darlene.

Darlene Schweitzer, a writer in the “Me, Myself and I” class I lead in downtown Chicago, played around with something called Adobe Voice and came up with a 60-second photo collage of writers in that class. Darlene narrates her Please Make Dreams Come True collage, and even if, like me, you can’t see the photos, it’s worth linking to her Adobe Voice project just to hear her sweet accent.

Today is the last day to take a minute and vote for the “Me, Myself & I” writers in those photos to win the Lyric Opera of Chicago contest — voting ends at midnight tonight. We’ve been stuck at fifth place for the past week, and I’m afraid that’s probably where we’ll stay. Sigh.

Eyebrows up! The whole experience didn’t cost us a thing, four writers from class got VIP treatment from Lyric Opera staff the day Wanda and Audrey were filmed for the video that promotes memoir-writing, the contest inspired Darlene to learn to use adobe Voice, and it motivated me to finally, finally dip my toes into the Twitter world to tweet for votes.

Once I hit the “publish” button on this blog post, I’ll head over to ChicagoVoices and vote for “Me, Myself and I” one last time. You never know — maybe all the first-place Croatians will be celebrating May Day today and unable to make it to the site for last-minute voting!