Boardwalk on the Olympics
by Peter Zelchenko April 24, 2009
Around 5:30 this morning, after crashing a fancy party in Kenilworth, I staggered over to a beach near the Evanston-Chicago border to watch the sun rise, and once again I spotted the old Native American man. He was knee-deep in the lake. I had not seen him for some months. He had several large wicker baskets slung over his shoulder and was wetting one in the frigid water. The sun was just breaking.
"Hey, Boardwalk!" I've never been sure, but when I first asked him what people called him, he said something that sounded like "Boardwalk," and it just stuck.
He turned to look in my direction. Then he turned back to his work. I ambled down to the water's edge.
"Boy, you sure do get around, Boardwalk. I usually see you out on the Northwest Side."
He again turned his lanky brown body back to me. He was clad only in a leather vest and apron, unadorned, but burnished and darkened by use. "Ahh, it is only you, White Man. Salut. Stop there, I can smell you from here. Calisse! You reek of the water of death."
"How do you get all the way to the lake? You must have walked all night." (His campsite was along the river near Lincolnwood.)
"Walk all night? Why, when I can take a Pace 290 bus? Free now for senior citizens."
"They let you on in a loincloth?"
"They let you on stinking of fire-water?"
I watched as the old man forced an anchoring stake deeper into the sand and then moved over to float another basket. I assume he was using them to catch fish. The only sounds were the water's gentle slosh and a sparrow nearby.
"White Man," he said. "What about this 'Olympic bid'?"
"You--- know about the Olympic bid?"
"Don't you? It was in your USA Tribune, non?"
"You mean Chicago Tribune."
"No, now changed. Smaller and more childish, like USA Today. More laughs for less thinking. USA Tribune. I learn you have warrior games over where to have warrior games."
"Uh, yeah. We're competing against Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, and Madrid."
"When we play our warrior games, we know where to play. No one fight over where, only fight in game. You ever play baggataway?"
"What is it?"
"Our game. Sticks with baskets, pass the ball with basket-sticks, bump hips together and fight over ball. Baggataway: 'Bump hips.'"
"Maybe you mean lacrosse. Well, no; I've never played, but it always looks like fun."
"Sometimes to play, we might just go from your village to my village."
"You mean the space between the two villages is the playing field?"
"So, you can play baggataway from here to Piscataway?"
"Where is Piscataway?"
"Over the Michi-Gam? Over the great mother water?"
I stared at him. "Forget it. It rhymed. It was a joke. Une jeste."
"Very easy to forget bad jokes." The old man, apparently pleased with that little transaction, sloshed out of the lake and sat on a rock, humming. He scanned the water, now glittering with the rising sun. "Our game baggataway is in honor of Manidu, the creator. Your games honor who?"
"I guess they're for all of the mayor's contractor friends."
"He worships many spirits?"
"They aren't spirits. They're businesspeople who help keep him in power."
"Ahh, like spirits, they bring him power. Mayor does dance to get this power?"
"Oh, yes indeed. First he dances around everyone's questions about how we can possibly afford to host the games, then he dances over to the contractors and gets campaign money in exchange for contracts."
"A busy chief. How soon before the games?"
"Tabernacle!" The old Indian got up abruptly and dusted the sand off of his legs.
"Don't swear, Boardwalk. It takes that long for the winning city to prepare for the games."
"No, you misunderstand, White Man. Seven years is very little time."
"To set up a hotel deal. I must go now to my lawyers, have them option my ancestral land against your mayor's successful Olympic bid."
"How does 'Potawatomi Indian Resort and Casino' sound?"
"It sounds like you're going to get sued."
"Is that good? I will return tomorrow for my nets."
"Good luck, Boardwalk."
I watched him march away toward a bus stop.
~ = ~
Learn to swear in American French.
Read my letter (pardon my French) to Nawal El Moutawakel, chair of the IOC, begging her not to choose Chicago. Better yet, forget my pretentious French and write something of your own, in English.
~ = ~
You can see Sweat Girl Martie Sanders as Irene the Biograph Ticket Lady, not to mention other Chicago talent, in the July release of "Public Enemy" we've all been waiting for. But if you want real entertainment right now, you shouldn't miss Martie Saturday at 5 p.m. at the 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, where she mounted her own work, called The Me, Mom & Dad Show. It's Martie's forgivably self-centered tribute to her incredible father, Charlie Sanders, who was a fascinating figure in the Detroit school system during the civil rights movement. Charlie stars in the play and, at 79, shows he's in better shape than many of us half his age.
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