When I was really young, on Sundays, me and my dad went to Maxwell Street. This does have to do with “Arts and Crafts,” but there are a few little interesting things that maybe don’t so much but are fun to tell so I will get them out of the way first.
Like once I heard someone say something about “Jew Town,” and I asked my dad why anyone would call Maxwell Street “Jew Town” and he said that it was because the best time to go was Sunday morning when all the goyim were at Church. I was about four at the time and it made sense, although I wasn’t sure if that meant that everybody who was there when we were was Jewish and if all the people who came later were not Jews, there were some questions there. But at that moment, I was satisfied with what my dad said. In retrospect, I have realized he always had a certain way with words.
And then there was the question of pickles. We ate “New Pickles.” But not really, really new pickles. The trick was to get them right when all the flavor had sunk in but before they got too soggy. The pickle guy on the same side of the street as the two-foot long pasta and James from New Orleans who played the guitar was the only place we got pickles and he would always give me one to try from the middle barrel. He would say, “Okay?” and I would say, “Yep,” and we would get some. My dad said that making pickles was not something everyone could do really well. Which actually was kind of funny because there was a deli next to where he worked that we used to eat at a lot, H&H Deli, and the guy who was the guy at that deli, Maishe, he said they had best pickles anywhere. Whenever we came in he would say, “Give them some New Pickles,” and right when we sat down, someone would bring us a plate with pickles. Or sometimes he would say, “Little David, go pick out a couple,” and I would go over to the jar and point to one or two.
I usually liked the ones we got on Sunday better, but I would tell Maishe the ones at the Deli were the best ever. My dad would sometimes joke with him that there were some good pickles other places, but not too often. Maishe grew up in the same neighborhood as my dad and was “connected.” He was always getting in trouble and finally got sent away to another state and they told him he had to work there and not do certain things, and he did for a while, so they let him come back to Chicago, but then he messed up again and one day they found Maishe in the trunk of a car in an alley. My dad said that Maishe was really smart and that he could have been the CEO of any company if he had just not developed a love for the things he did. He said that there no matter what business you are in, you have to learn to do certain things certain ways, he called it “learning a craft.” In retrospect, I’m glad I never told him I thought his pickles weren’t that good.
So arts and crafts. Okay. At a certain point, my father started giving me change when we would go to Maxwell Street and he would tell me, “choose carefully and don’t buy any dreck.” Although I had a vague idea of what “dreck” was, for several weeks I would just watch my dad and listen carefully to what he called “shit,” and what he stopped to look at and what he would eventually buy. I knew “dreck” was really “shit.” It took a while for me to decide to make my first purchase. I got shoelaces. He asked me how much the sign said and I said, “a dime.” And he asked me how much I paid and I said, “a nickel.” My dad said there was an art to not paying more that you should for anything.
We stopped going to Maxwell Street every week. Once in a while my dad would come get me and we would go, but it was different. We would look for things and he would always be impressed, he would say, “You have really developed a good eye,” but it wasn’t the same as when I was little. I suppose nothing ever is.
We started going to flea markets and all kinds of odd shops, mostly in Michigan and Indiana, on the weekends. My dad would get really annoyed if we got somewhere and it turned out to be an “arts and crafts fair,” or something similar. “Nothing but a bunch of dreck,” is what he would say would be inside. But sometimes there was some kind of neat stuff. I liked the quilts people made. I thought some of it was kind of cool. My dad would get annoyed with me sometimes and say, “that is not art.” But I knew that. I would tell him I knew that, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t still like it, I mean, if you really look at them without judgement, there are a lot of things that are fun, just nice to enjoy. Much later, in retrospect, I realized the discussion about the worth of much in life between my dad and I had been created very, very early.
I don’t remember making many things that would be really considered sort of “arts and crafts,” but when I was a teenager I did become really fascinated with Salem and witchcraft and the way those women were treated. In retrospect, I realize why.