9*4 N. Mozart Street…

…in Chicago? Is an empty lot.* Ma takes a photo of it anyway. Then she takes several. She aims her camera at the overgrown grass, zooms in on the empty beer bottles, focuses on the heap of bald tires, too. She snaps at all the fenced in trash. Maybe she’ll paint a picture of it. 

There’s also a faded sign facing the sidewalk. It says: “NO DUMPING.” That’s the picture I take.

Eighty-odd years ago, the bungalow that stood here housed Pop, his five siblings, and his parents. This is near Humboldt Park, where yuppie gentrification has yet to push out the natives. Pop wanted to go. Return. See what’s left. But of the old neighborhood, he only recognizes Humboldt Park’s park. 

We get there, and he walks right past the lot—ignores it entirely—and points to the three story building at 9*6 N. Mozart. It’s clearly less that eighty or even fifty years old. He turns around and hustles over to the much older bungalow at 9*2 Mozart. Pop scratches his head and paces back and forth between the 9*2 and 9*6 addresses, saying, “Wait a minute… Wait a minute…” 

You could take the “L” train to the Loop, ride the “Centennial” Ferris Wheel on Navy Pier, munch through a tin of Garrett Popcorn, come back, and Pop, he’d still be right here, pacing. By himself, he’ll never want to see that fenced-in, trash-filled lot. 

Three rotting posts jut up from the ground, near the sidewalk, on the other side of the fence. These are the only things left from whatever once stood there. They might’ve held up a wooden porch, a long time ago. I point, and Pop says he doesn’t know them, or what they could’ve been for, or part of. 

Kids hang out on their front steps, across the street, behind us. Others play basketball in the street, sans hoop. This is their Sunday. It’s also their turf. 

Nothing on Pop’s old block rings a bell. He isn’t sad. But Ma is. Aunt Sophie is smiling. She wanders up and down the sidewalk, collecting details for her next poem. Betty smiles, too—but she smiles no matter what, no matter where. And Uncle Floyd? He just wants everybody to pile back into the SUV and get the hell out of there. Later, he makes it a joke, saying: “I couldn’t read the gang symbols.” 

7 September 2004 

*[08/21/22: It is still an empty lot.] 

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