Tuesday, April 30, 2013

This Is Where I Make the Poetry

A lot of people think where they live is rough. Fear has become a big industry in America. Sales of guns are skyrocketing and the amount of people prepping for some inchoate apocalypse is mind boggling. Follow the money I always say. However, the neighborhood I live in was recently named the 14th most dangerous in America. How do I live in a place like that? Here's what I do...

I'll wake up and look out the window to see what the weather is like. Then I generally have a nice, tall glass of water, fluoride and all, then contemplate what I might eat for lunch. Usually I haven't prepared very well, so I don't have anything, and I take to the mean streets and go to the next block where I often buy a turkey sandwich and a soft drink from the Middle Easterny looking guys who have a convenience store there. Almost always when I walk through the door the guy there says "Hey buddy, how are you today?," and I'll generally respond that things are favorable. 

Then I'll go home and eat that and look out the window. It's a great view. Probably the most interesting one in the entire town. I've seen everything. The first year I moved in the restaurant I live behind put in a beach in the alley and had music shows all summer. I've seen fights and fucking and frolicking and more misery and dejection than I care to remember. The garbage dumpsters behind the row of restaurants are very popular among the homeless. But there's joy, too, mostly in the form of drunken revelry, but that counts, too.

I've always dreamed of living in such a place. I grew up in a small town where one can take a walk any time night or day and not get hassled. I'm not sure it would be wise to head south from my current location at night. I have to be honest and admit I don't have much business there and don't attempt it very often.

If you continued to Google Earth this down to street level you'd probably see me at the northernmost tip of this map manning one of the last poetry outposts in the pre post-Apocalyptic dystopia of Rockford. The average income is something like $8,600 in the shaded area. All around me is the area they are attempting to gentrify. I love it. I like to feel I am doing my bit to class things up. My mood often depends on which window I look out of. I have my choice. The historic Midway Theater and Faust Landmark Hotel, the Irish Rose and the great white North, or dumpsters and Latino dishwashers on break or carting the leavings of affluent white folks to the trash. This is where I make the poetry. This is where I watch the homeless turned out of the shelters each day make their way to the dollar store. This is where I watch the ambulance pick up the despondent elderly several times a week from The Faust. This is where I wonder when they will put a roof on the Midway Theater. 

I like it. It suits me. It's various. I have my choice of half a dozen good restaurants in walking distance. Same with a cold beer or good live music. My experience in the shaded area is different from almost everyone else's. It's where I always wanted to be. At almost the exact geographic heart of Rockford, Illinois. I was born three blocks east of where I am now sitting. I inhabit this neighborhood, but I'm not any real part of it. Nothing I do here makes life any better for the rest of the people the city, state, and federal government has left behind. 

So, the hipster kids down the block can print up a new batch of Tshirts about how ironic it is that the perception is this is a terrible place when it's really oh so lovely to them, but I'd feel slightly abashed if I wore such a thing and ran into one of the people around here who truly is miserable and feels helpless about it. I have one of those Tshirts because I like to support what other people are doing. It's soft. And oblivious of the suffering going on around it.

Like most of Rockford.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

There's Nothing Confusing About a Roundabout

I love to hear it when macho men say something like "There's nothing confusing about a roundabout." These are usually the same Type A jackholes who think it's funny to drive full speed in an ice storm, then go home and complain on Facebook that everyone is driving like a little old lady. There were multiple fatal cat crashes in Rockford yesterday, so safety is an issue here just like everywhere else in the world. 

We took the kids over to see the demolition of Main Street last week to make way for the roundabout at Main and Auburn. I'm not sure if it will be a good thing or not, but I know anyone who doesn't allow that it will be confusing to many people at first is a fool. I remember initially it was the Walgreens corporation that pushed the city to tear down several businesses at Main and Auburn whether they liked it or not, which Bobby Salamone at North Main Tavern did not. I drank in that bar for several years and he would come in on occasion and play the spoons or pump several hundred dollars into the video poker machine. I remember hearing Walgreens had offered the family a number that seemed rather generous. I wonder what they got from the city. After the city went to all that effort Walgreens took a pass. 

Nothing confusing about that. The city obviously has something in mind here and on Morgan Street. I think it might be entertaining to get a frosty beverage and go sit at the intersection of Main and Auburn once they get this roundabout in place. There's nothing confusing about Rockford. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ingersoll, The Gaylord Estate, and Racism In Rockford

Notes: In terms of clarity and disambiguation, the auction described in this blog occurred at the estate of Robert Gaylord, Jr, who was the Treasurer of Ingersoll for 40 years until retirement in the early 1980's. His brother, Edson Ingersoll, was the owner of Ingersoll. Factual information in this article was obtained from The Rockford Register Star, The Chicago Tribune, and public records of the discrimination lawsuit Ingersoll settled in 2001 with the EEOC. 

Rockford has a history of being one of the most racist and segregated cities in America. Unfortunately, Rockford also has a present of being one of the most racist and segregated cities in America. The Rock River makes an almost complete separation of black and white in Rockford. The largest employer was the first company sued for racism in the 1980's, and the school board was also sued for racism in recent history.

Last October I went to my first auction. At the estate of one of the heirs of the Ingersoll corporation. The Ingersoll family ran the company into bankruptcy, costing several hundred people in Rockford their jobs before selling to a foreign interest. Researching the family I learned that many had considered them prejudiced in the past, but I was unprepared for what I witnessed at the auction itself. The auction itself was not held at the estate of Edson Ingersoll, the last in the family to run the corporation, but Robert Gaylord, Jr., a family member who had been eased out of the family business in the 1970's, and who had no real controlling interest in Ingersoll policies. It was crowded, and looking for a quiet corner I found a cozy nook in one of the wings of the house, and listened as a woman who had worked as a domestic maid for the family recounted how mistreated she was by the family all those years, and all the slings she endured, and how she had come to this auction merely to wander the estate without being harassed or enduring more abuse.

I felt a certain unease as I wandered the rooms, trying to stake out artifacts I wanted to bid on, and saw mementos of sexism and perceived racism that might have been acceptable in mixed company in the 1950's or 60's when I'm sure they were acquired, but not something most people would want company to see in modern America.

I talked to someone I knew about the estate, and he said he remembered being there with Sears delivery installing a washer and dryer and the lady there said "I sent home the n&**#@ maid today." Not in 1868, or even the 1960's, this happened less than a decade ago in Rockford, Illinois.

When the story was written about and covered in the local media the man was made out to be a hero. The family was lionized. Nobody mentioned anything about the discrimination suits or selling out the people of Rockford. I feel like I want to mention it. Just for a record. Maybe a record nobody cares about.

This is one of the little gems I found at the auction. Along with dolls and Beatles records and board games and all the types of things little rich girls would have had growing up in the 60's. Boxes and boxes of board games and troll dolls and record albums, many of them never even opened. They used to ride skateboards and roller skate in the twisting hallway that runs nearly fifty yards to an underground parking garage. It's a magnificent house designed by famed architect Jesse Barloga. Someone bought the estate the next day, but the sale was rescinded when the neighborhood association balked at that person opening a bed and breakfast there. 

The Chicago Tribune did a piece about how the Ingersoll Corporation was symbolic of the fall of Rockford titled Rough Ride In Rockford.  And here's the EEOC lawsuit that ruled against Ingersoll in a discrimination lawsuit brought on behalf of "blacks and women." 

Having read that and listened to my personal account, you might be surprised when The Rockford register Star wrote about the auction the Gaylord family was lionized as being "big financial contributors to the Rockford community, and the head of the Chamber of Commerce at the time was of course for sweeping the whole thing under the rug. It mentions he was a big game hunter and an influential member of the Rockford think tank The Rockford Institute. Remember them and how the Southern Poverty law center considered them on their radar as a racist organization

Seems like an ongoing theme with the Gaylord family, but The Rockford Register Star seems to think they're just swell people. This is what we deal with in Rockford. A very thinly veiled history of outright racism that hasn't been put in the past by any degree. 

The Gaylord estate. Nice place. But what about the people? Kind of like Rockford. I did well at the Gaylord auction. My favorite thing I bought was an old piece of driftwood that looks magnificent no matter what direction you turn it. I'll never forget being there or what it taught me about digging into the history of the city I was born in. I imagine there are hundreds of stories like this one in the founding of this city. Dozens of places and parks and building that have sordid histories in them we'll never really know about. Digging beneath the surface is something we don't do here, I think because we know it's rotten, and life is already rotten enough around here. 

"As early as 1973, Rockford was found to be segregating its black and Hispanic children in inferior schools. The practice festered, touching off an epic court battle that led a federal judge to conclude in 1993 that Rockford had raised discrimination to an "art form." By 1999, the town's taxpayers had spent $238 million on the drastic remedial measures required by the judicial decree--amid bitter resistance in some quarters. Legal fees topped $20 million.

Ingersoll fought a similar battle to its detriment. In 1977, it became the first U.S. company to be barred from federal contracts in a discrimination case, after the government charged it with bias against blacks and women. Edson Gaylord said the company's employment records were private, and he never put much stock in government work anyway." By Greg Burns
Tribune senior correspondent
October 23, 2005

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Rockford Labor News Ceases Publication After 101 Years

After 101 years of being the voice of labor in Rockford, The Rockford Labor news dropped off its final issue April 12th, and will publish no more. Owners Don and Mary Brady, who recently celebrated their 60th year of marriage, often worked seven days a week keeping the paper going throughout the years, but finding no one interested in carrying on their work, folded operations.

Makes sense. In a city once renowned for making things, and now known more for its incredibly high violent crime and unemployment rates, a paper touting the working person simply is no longer needed. Hasn't been for over 25 years.

Sure, there are still union members in this area that make a good wage based on decades of organizers and brave union members getting their heads cracked open so they can reap the benefits and vote Republican, but none of them seem to know how or why they have a health insurance plan.

Like Rockford Labor, The Rockford Labor News is antiquated. Union members sat on their asses during Tuesday's elections, and as far as I'm concerned they can just keep sitting on those fat asses as Morrissey dismantles the Fire and Police unions, then goes for municipal workers. Labor doesn't need a newspaper to be its voice anymore in this city because it already has a voice... an overly-satisfied grunt of an overstuffed pig un aware it is being led to the slaughterhouse. if you did not create, and you do not zealously defend the unions that take care of you and your family, there are plenty of people perfectly happy to see them taken away from you.

Goodbye Rockford Labor News. You have been irrelevant for a quarter of a century, but your efforts were noble. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rockford Voted. Sort Of.

The results of Tuesday's mayoral election was no surprise here in Rockford. Slightly more than 20% of eligible voters did vote, and less than fifty percent of those voted for the incumbent, Larry Morrissey. But that was enough. 

What was a slight surprise was the turnover on the City Council. Several incumbents were turned out, but fortunately we're going to see some welcome new faces like 3rd Ward Alderman Tom McNamara. 

So, business (excuse me, lack of business) as usual here in Rockford for four more years. 

The mayor held his victory celebration at The District, a douchebag bag most people i know would never set foot in. It's a fitting location, considering it sits in the same building as Paragon, a bar that cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in still unpaid loans. It was a bar the douchebags also loved, and touted it as a great example of something classy in Downtown. What it was, and what The District is, are further examples of corruption and reach-around deals putting unearned and undeserved money in the pockets of those who support the mayor. The District will be out of business within five years, and those who receive taxpayer benefits, including the family of one of the mayor's largest campaign contributors, will pocket that money and move onto something else they can fuck up. 

I don't really have as much of a distaste for the corruption as it might seem, but since almost no one else seems to have any at all, I feel compelled to at least point out this place needs an enema. The petit bourgeoisie always look vaguely hemophiliac and besotted to me. Ashen and debauched. Hoglike. It's possible we will see investigations and indictments within the next four years, but Rockford serves a couple of functions regionally and even internationally that are overlooked and are major factors mitigating against change. The first is the heroin trade. Rockford is one of the main hubs for heroin traffic in the Midwest. You can't have that kind of operation going without a lot of people looking the other way. I don't have much of an opinion about the heroin trade, either. It just is. 

Rockford is also a sort of municipal toxic dump. Most citizens are unaware of it, but a big industry around here is accepting other peoples' garbage. It's a harsh statement when you're discussing human beings, but rather accurate. So, we have some wings of the cheerleading department making these hollow pronouncements that Rockford is great and the other wing encouraging the misery to continue because it's damn big business and keeps the funds rolling in. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Less Than a Week Before Mayoral Elections Rockfordians Still Trying To Decide Among Least Slimy Candidate

Less than a week before April 9th's mayoral and city council elections, Rockfordians are still trying to find a candidate for any office that doesn't smell like bullshit. In a last minute "bombshell," which was probably meant to be an "April surprise," a "concerned citizen" came forward to various news agencies claiming the sitting mayor's development group, Morrissey Realty Group, was being fined $1000 a month for accepting $400,000 in TIFF dollars, then showing no progress on a 7th Street loft project which the ever-optimistic Rockford register Star opined three years ago would revitalize downtown. It may have revitalized someone's wallet, but as far as helping spur development in Midtown (because the reporter mis-identified which neighborhood 7th Street is in), not a single visible sign of construction has begun. Three years after accepting the money, the development group is blaming the downturn in the real estate market for putting the project on the backburner. But they already took the money. If they don't want to not use their own money that's fine, but they took OUR money.

What was interesting about the story wasn't the in-your-face level of blatant corruption, but the fact that several news agencies reported the story emanated from a "concerned citizen" who turned out to be Louis CK lookalike and 1st Ward Alderman Brian Leggero. Leggero is a Republican, which is irrelevant in Rockford where party affiliation just tends to slow one down, but more importantly, many believe he has another axe to grind.

Listen, Mr. Alderman, if you're not getting your share in Rockford, you only have yourself to blame. There's plenty to go around. Don't hate, participate. As for the rest of Rockfordians disillusioned by the process, The Rockford Register Star conducted a poll whose results indicated a three way heat for the mayor's election this Tuesday. This time apparently a Republican AND a Democrat decided to run, and although nobody knows who either one of them are, they know they're not the current mayor. And in Rockford that just may be enough to get you elected. It has been before.