Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Little Sad News, Lots Of Good News...

First the sad news.

I posted recently about the status of various Wayne's World icons, in response to Frank Simiraco's post about Berwyn removing The Spindle. I pointed out that one of my local Wayne's World icon, the auto dealership sign at 3939 N. Western Avenue was still there. As of Tuesday, it was no longer. I drove by there, and it's been removed. I'm hoping some fan of the movie purchased it and has it in his or her front yard.

Other than that, though, it's all good news.

First, Adam is having a ball this week at the ACE Aviation Camp. Monday, he learned how to read charts and maps. Tuesday, he visited the control tower at Midway Airport. Yesterday, most excitingly, he got to fly in and take the controls of and fly a Cessna airplane! He'll end the week by attending the annual Oshkosh Airshow, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Second big news: my parents sold their house. They have been living in rural Maynardville, Tennessee for the last five years. They decided to sell their home and move in closer to Knoxville. They purchased a townhouse, and were hoping to sell their home before they moved. They got a contract yesterday.

Third big news: we have a kitchen and bathroom, with running water and everything!

Woohoooooo! A hot shower and a hot breakfast this morning!

Good news #4:

On Tuesday, my old friend Dave Schmittgens gave me a call. Last summer, when my friend Mark was murdered, we collected a lot of money for a reward fund. In discussions about it, we decided that if the authorities caught the perpetrators without the reward fund being used, we would use the money to set up a scholarship fund in Mark's name.

Since last summer, two of the four guys were themselves murdered, probably by the guy who actually pulled the trigger; he was apparently afraid that if they got picked up on another charge, they "roll" on him in order to avoid prosecution. A third guy was picked up on a marijuana possession charge, and implicated himself in the murder. He pled out to attempted armed robbery, and got five years. The guy who actually killed Mark is still at large; the police know who he is, but don't feel they have enough evidence to get a conviction.

That left the reward fund. A group of us got together a couple of times and started working on how to put the scholarship fund together. We were afraid we would burn up a lot of the money in legal costs setting up a trust. Bless Dave-- he contacted a foundation at Eastern Illinois University that actually sets up trusts for scholarships for students, the EIU Foundation. They'll take the money and set up a scholarship fund in his name in perpetuity. They'll administer it, using investment income to fund the scholarship, never touching the capital. Dave, who is moving to California this summer, put me in touch with the liason for the EIU Foundation so I could work with him.

There's a beautiful irony in all this: when me, Mark, Matt, Tim Dave-- and The Elk were at Eastern, we got involved in the "Divestment" movement; at campuses across the country in the eighties, students seized upon Divestment as a way of fighting the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa. The strategy was to publicly protest and get the universities to remove the investments their endowments had in countries that did business with South Africa to put economic pressure on South Africa to change their policies. I later read that this was a devastatingly effective strategy, and one of the main reasons South Africa ended Apartheid, and became a democracy.

While we were at Eastern, The Elk got in a public pissing match, in editorials in our college newspaper, with Jim Roberts, the head of the EIU Foundation, over divesting the Foundation's investments in South Africa. Roberts responded to The Elk's letter to the editor with another letter, famously beginning, "Who is this (his name here)?" The Elk responded to his letter, and a shitstorm broke out on campus over the issue. Students set up symbolic "shantytowns" in protest.

The EIU Foundation divested eventually. Elk 1, Jim Roberts 0.

It's great, then, that this organization will administer a scholarship honoring our friend. It'll be a $500-$600 scholarship to be granted once a year to a needy and promising art student. It's not enough for a year's tuition or anything, but so many artists I've talked to about the idea have told me that smaller scholarships saved their asses a lot of times, allowing them to stay in school a semester or purchase art supplies. We love the idea that some kid from a small town in Central Illinois, like Mark was, or a young man or woman from a rough neighborhood in Chicago will benefit from Mark's memory every year.

The last piece of good news (this is the one I was referring to, Cheer34-- sorry to keep you waiting!)...

I've mentioned before that I have decided to leave teaching and go back to school-- to try to get into the University of Illinois' Pharmacy School. After a lot of discussions with Kim, I decided that going back to being a waiter full time is an ideal solution to a lot of problems: juggling care of two kids; spending time with Kim; juggling work with a school schedule; and most importantly, having a good income while in school.

My wife's best friend is the sommelier at The G., a high-end restaurant across the street from Chicago's downtown Millenium Park. Waiters there do quite well.

The restaurant opened a few months ago with a very young staff. The management has quickly figured out that this young generation has a strong sense of entitlement; I'd heard a piece on NPR recently about how employers are having trouble getting work out of a generation that's been rewarded for every little thing they've done (Remember the scene in "Meet the Parents" where Deniro ribs Ben Stiller about the 12th place trophy?) Well, apparently they're looking to shore up their high-maintence young staff with some older, more experienced servers-- who appreciate having a good job.

I took a day off work yesterday to interview at The G.. I went downtown early-- Chicago's mass transit system is being worked on right now, and it's a crapshoot getting somewhere on on time on it. I got downtown early, with time to stop by Kim's work and say hello to her.

As I walked down Michigan Avenue, I passed by the restaurant I got my first college job at-- an awful job. It was at a Bennigan's. Back then, it was one of the only restaurants down there. Chicago's downtown was a ghost town at night in 1985. Now, with the development in and around the Loop, it's booming all of the time.

I had to wait a few minutes to interview with John, the owner. He mentioned that he needed some people who could work hard and not bring "drama" and whining into the place. I chuckled silently inside, and told him that if I could teach on Chicago's rough west side, I think I can work at his place. I chatted him up a little to let him know I knew what the hell I was doing, which was really what it was all about. I dropped a couple of little serving buzzwords and phrases like "A server's job is to insure that the guest's experience is excellent." And he mentioned that my wife's friend's recommendation was highly regarded.

I was a little nervous. This whole plan-- school, changing careers, having enough money for my kids to go to college-- is contingent on getting a good server job. I reflected on all the places I've worked, how hard I've worked, and how, as I finish my career in the industry over the next few years, it would be really nice if I could work in a place where my income would be commensurate with my skill and experience.

Oh, yeah-- I got the job. He hired me on the spot. I start a week from Sunday.


cheer34 said...

Hooray!!! Congratulations! Of course they hired you on the spot!

And thanks for not keeping me waiting forever.

I am sure your friend is smiling and approving all you have done to ensure that the scholarship fund will be in perpetuity.

Andi said...

Congratulations on the job and the new kitchen and bathroom! Sounds like things are on the up and up!

Beth said...

WOO-DAMN-HOO, Mr. Yen! So much good news — and you saved the best for last.

One of my best friends is a pharmacist, and she's been able to work whatever schedule she wished. You'll love it.

Proud of you, and cheering you on.

Splotchy said...

Congratulations, on everything!

About that car lot sign... To me, all the car lots on Western make it one of Chicago's more unsightly streets, but as a rule I do love me some neon signage. I actually could have bought the sign for old hooker motel The Stars for $500.00, but what the hell would I do with it?

Skylers Dad said...

Way to go JY!!! Great news all around, couldn't happen to a nicer guy!

Chris said...

Show those young whippersnapper waiters how it's done. Way to go!

Did I just say "whippersnapper"?

Bubs said...

Congratulations on the new job!

My hat's off to you for having the guts to make a change like that, with going back to school and changing careers. I admire the heck out of it. And that's also great news about the scholarship fund. There's no better feeling than doing good for someone else you don't even know.

Splotchy, a side note, a question actually--which Lincoln Av hooker motel was torn down and replaced with a Chicago Public Library branch? We drove by the other day and couldn't remember.

'Bubbles' said...


Congratulations. That scholarship is a wonderful tribute to Mark. Really special.

The Elk said...

Mr Yen,

You arteries must be hardening in your old age.....
"My Buddy" at the EIU foundations name was "Pompous" Jim Roberts as I referred to him in my rebuttal letter and in perpituity.

I've been trying to find where the old fart is interred as it has always been my intention to imbibe a large quantity of South African stout, and then dance a jig on his grave while gleefully singing..."I was right all along you pompous ass...."
I'll then water the begonias....

Congrats on the new job. I'll have to dig up the scumbag so we can come by and have a Blues Brothers Moment at the restaurant....

Elk Out

Frank Sirmarco said...

It's always nice to get the bad news out of the way first, so you can bask in the glory of the good news.

Happy days ahead!

Phil said...

Sweet. Congrats.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Congrats on everything, especially your folks moving out of Maynardville!

Beth said...

I hope your post about the car sign didn't lead to its disappearance.

Splotchy said...

bubs, it was the Acres. One of the lesser hooker motels, in my humble opinion.

Johnny Yen said...

Thanks! It was a huge relief to get the job.

Thank you. It's definitely different from last year, which was very rough.

Thanks for the encouragment!

I was talking to the pharmacist my parents go to and he was very encouraging-- he loves the fact that he gets to work with people, and that the money has given him a the economic freedom to, as he said, do anything he's ever dreamt of and go anywhere in the world he wants to go.

You'd mentioned that sign in previous posts-- I think of you every time I go that way, usually to go to the Borders in Lincoln Village, across the street.

I'm very curious about the economics of those hotels-- someone told me that at one time (before they were hooker havens) they serviced people for O'Hare. I found that surprising-- O'Hare is quite a distance from there.

It's too bad you couldn't have that sign hauled away and put in your backyard. There's probably some zoning ordinance against it in Brookfield.

Skyler's Dad-
Coming from the nicest guy I know, that's quite a compliment!

I know, frightening, isn't it? I referred to a 26 or 27 year old recently as "a nice kid." God help me, I'm getting old.

Thanks! I'm both nervous and excited.

They're tearing a bunch of those down-- it's one of Daley's pet projects.

Thank you! The idea of the scholarship has gone a long way in bringing some healing to his friends and family.


I realized the mistake afterward and have corrected it. The confusion was probably caused by his resemblence politically to ultra right winger Bob Roberts in the movie of the same title.

I'll be posting about the scumbag soon. I think we should have tandem posts about him.

I think I'm a "I'd rather get the bad news out of the way kind of guy."

Thank you!

As much as I like the house, and it's setting (on the side of a forested mountain), I realized there were some problems when my mother slipped on a dusting of snow in their steep backyard a few years ago and shattered her wrist; they had to wait 24 hours before an ambulance could come get her-- it couldn't get up the hill.

They'll be nearer shopping (it was a 20 mile drive previously) and very near my mother's friends. It's good all around.

Canoes appear, signs disappear-- Chicago is a town filled with enigma and mystery...

You ought to do a post about that.

When The Elk and I were in Toronto 20 years ago, we stayed in one of a bunch of motels down by Lake Ontario. There was a young woman standing by the road in front of each hotel. At first I thought they were waiting for a bus. It took me a few minutes to realize what they were waiting for, actually.

Natalie said...

what happy wonderful things, and a not so wonderful one that was almost forgotten by the end of the post. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

Bravo on the kitchen and glad to hear you have a new career. Enjoy!

The Girl said...

You did a long post dude

The Girl said...

You did a long post dude