Saturday, September 26, 2009

I made a pilgrimage of sorts last night... Brother Rice High School at 99th and Pulaski on the Great South Side of Chicago. While growing up in an old Catholic League family, I had always heard about Brother Rice and thought of it as a legendary place right up there with Mt. Carmel, St. Rita, and De La Salle. But I had never actually been there. I was not disappointed.

I got off the Tri-State at 95th Street and drove east under the overpass that announces Welcome to Oak Lawn. So far, so good. I called my friend, Brian, whom I was meeting at the game. He's a Rice alum and my guide for the evening. He gave me instructions on the best place to park and assured me that I would make it in time for the kickoff.

As I approached the stadium I could tell I was in the right place by the sound of bagpipes. It seems like everywhere you go in Catholic Chicago--weddings, funerals, football games--you hear bagpipes playing. That tell-tale aroma of brats and burgers was also thick in the September night as I bought my ticket ("No, I'm not an alum"). I met up with my buddy just as the band was playing the National Anthem and we made our way to the bleachers. It was Homecoming for the Crusaders and the crowd was Standing Room Only. Brian seemed to know just about everyone there ("This guy went to St. John Fisher; that guy went to Christ the King...") and he introduced me to his old pal, Mel, who was a coach at the school. Mel looked exactly as you might picture him: a crusty old veteran wearing a Rice jacket and baseball cap. (All that maroon and orange made me think I was at Virginia Tech.) Once up in the stands, Brian pointed out Rice's sister school Mother McAuley immediately next door and St. Xavier University just beyond. (Although he and everyone else insisted on pronouncing it "St. Ex-avier.") No matter. I was just happy to finally be there and soaking up the atmosphere.

I was reminded of a couple other South Siders that I had known in my time at the Merc. One was Mike Elwood, another Rice alum, who told me once that the mothers in his neighborhood all used to say "Rice guys are nice guys." The other one--who was much older than me--went to Mendel in the 1960s. He explained to me once that there were two kinds of guys in his neighborhood: the Greasers, of which he was one, and the Ricers, who were the preppy, suburban types who went to Brother Rice (which is actually in the city). Greasers slicked their hair back into ducktails and wore Banlon shirts and narrow-toed "fence climber" shoes. Ricers, on the other hand, wore a lot of Madras plaid, khaki pants, and white socks with their penny loafers. Ricers were rich in comparison and went on to places like Notre Dame, Marquette, and Loyola University, while Mendel guys went to Work (or DePaul if they were lucky).

As an aside, one of my current neighbors went to Mendel and worked his way through the University of Chicago while living at home (his father died while he was still in high school). He's brilliant, though, and took an economics class from Milton Friedman while pursuing a degree in Chemistry. He went on to get a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois, but every third sentence out of his mouth seems to be, "There you go!" (Except in his case it sounds like "Dare ya go!")

The game against Gordon Tech was a blow-out, 42-0, and we bolted at the end of the third quarter so we could beat the rush to Brian's favorite pizza joint for a "pie." It turned out to be Rosangela's Pizzeria on 95th and California in Evergreen Park, just spitting distance from Beverly Country Club. The pizza was as good as any I've had anywhere, and again, Brian seemed to know pretty much everybody in the place (and it was packed).

We finally got down to talking politics, which was the original purpose of our meeting. Brian has evolved into one of these tea-bagger types while I think of myself mostly as an "Obama Independent" these days. I could tell right away that he watched a lot of Fox and even admitted to liking Glenn Beck and reading conspiracy-type books. I found it all a little depressing, as he struck me as an intelligent guy who has allowed himself to be brainwashed. As I listened to him, however, I got even more depressed thinking that maybe I'm no less brainwashed myself. After all, I read the New York Times, not The Wall Street Journal, and I watch MSNBC, not Fox. I also read columnists that I already agree with and skip over those who I know are only going to irritate me. So am I just as bad? And then what really got me depressed was the thought that maybe all of us are brainwashed if we expose ourselves only to information with which we already agree. In that case, is truth really attainable? Or is it all just subjective? Do we just sleep-walk through life in our own self-created realities? It bothered me all day.

Pizza was good, though.

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