Grabowski: The Quarantine

July 1st, 2020

The COVID impact on our family is probably typical, fortunate even.

We have stayed home for over three months.

My wife spent every weekday navigating multiple Chicago Public School e-learning web sites, hovering over and prodding our always-naked first grade daughter to do her assignments.

This while trying not to ignore our attention-seeking preschooler who just wants to play. If ignored for a tenth of a second, he will be found tightrope walking the top rail of our deck fence or kneeling on the chimney of the outdoor playhouse with his arms spread wide like an airplane.

She feels guilty about not doing enough and I tell her not to. That she is probably doing more than most, and we’re lucky she’s not working right now.

I am not sure how our and any kids are coping with it all, not being able to see friends in person or even go to a playground. And being confined to our small backyard, begging to go to the end of the alley so they can run across the rickety loading docks of Hebron Imports for fun.

Ok, well it’s probably all the TV they are watching. Shortly into quarantine they were already on episode 72 of Pokémon Season 1. A couple weeks later they stopped watching, and I fear they had finished all 1,114 episodes.

But thankfully my daughter has gotten into slightly more practical shows lately, like Tiny House Nation where she always yells for us when the big reveal happens and she picks up creative design ideas.

And they’ve amped up their fort building skills. First a cardboard space station in the basement, then a massive blanket complex in the front room where they camped out for weeks.

I really can’t praise my wife enough. I lose patience after being around the kids for eight minutes, while she is with them for eight hours and somehow maintaining a semblance of sanity.

I have it easy upstairs, working at my portable plastic party table makeshift desk. The kids rarely come up so I have been able to focus, and I feel guilty when I hear screams of defiance piercing through the floor boards.


The Grabowskis love Tiny House Nation


My works hasn’t slowed down, it’s actually busier than usual. Most weeks I have 20-25 video calls, lasting six hours a day, sometimes starting at 8AM with England, France or Austria and ending after 10 PM with Japan.

I missed several work trips that I was looking forward to taking. Three separate ones to CA, including Palm Springs for an aerospace materials conference where I was to be handed the reigns as the Conference Chair, and where my wife was going to join me without kids to celebrate our anniversary. I was also planning to go to Tokyo for the first time in the fall for our new joint venture, to meet with long-time clients, put faces to names of new ones, and close deals with those still on the fence.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to cancel any pre-planned vacations. But we certainly would have flown to a spring break and summer destination. Instead, we are going to drive 20 hours to Albuquerque to hang out with the in-laws for a couple weeks. We’ve heard it is fairly clear there, not many cases.

Being stuck at home you might think we are getting a lot done.

But with two young kids, you never get any time.

We have less free time under quarantine than when we were both working. We’re lucky to get an hour to ourselves starting at 9:30, seven days a week. There is no break from work nor from the kids. No date nights out. We aren’t picking up any new hobbies, reading our way across our bookshelf, nor organizing photo collections.

We have however found some time to spruce up our yard, build a raised bed garden for vegetables and put up a hokey bamboo fence to block the garbage cans and alley. I shoveled 2,000 lbs of clay into the trash that was piled in our front yard from last fall’s sewer clean-out and pipe lining repair. And I finally measured our bedroom skylights and ordered blackout shades so I can sleep past 4:30 AM in the summer. Though the delivery was two months out so I shoved cardboard up there in the meantime.

We’ve had to clean water out of our basement from heavy rains saturating our soil and bubbling up through basement floor cracks. The third time, we found out our neighbor also flooded, so we met up at midnight on the sidewalk to do shots of Malört and drink Polish beers.

When it comes to keeping our distance from others, we have probably been more on the conservative side, going the first couple months without stepping foot into a store. We haven’t socialized as adults nor with our kids’ friends beyond a few minutes on the sidewalk. But then again, we live in Cook County which has the highest number of cases anywhere, so it is a bit more the sentiment here.

Coming up is my dad’s 75th birthday and my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. We’ll find a way to celebrate from a distance.

There are a few things I have learned, like how to use the Home Depot app to map out my entire store run and not waste time roaming the aisles for Blue Gaffer’s Tape, how easy and delicious it is to roast cauliflower, and that it is not a big deal to go so long without a haircut.

One of the pre-virus things I enjoyed most was seeing live music at small clubs. That may be one of the last industries to come back. My final night out was a sold-out show on March 10. In that moment, without any knowledge of how dire things would become, I felt it was one of the best shows I had ever seen. The crowd was laid back. Shellac rocked. I hung with good friends.

I look forward to a lot of things. One of them is a simple night out seeing a good band, and another is to see my kids carelessly running across a playground.


Editor’s note: Grabowski’s last post for The Third City was Making A Wish…

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Jim Siergey: Bird Is The Word

June 24th, 2020

The other morning I stepped outside to survey the domain of my back yard. Flowers are beginning to bloom, herbs, vegetables and milkweed are standing stately and tall. Even my newly planted gooseberry bush has produced a few gooseberries, guarded closely by their thorny sentries.

Birds are zipping around and chirping, squirrels scampering, even a few of those small white cabbage butterflies are flitting about. It was quite a pastoral scene.

Then I looked down to my uncoiled hose that laid spread apart on the sidewalk next to a large bush that I know houses a robin’s nest, just as it did last year. Within the coils I noticed something gray and fluttery that looked like a giant-size dust bunny.  I walked over and bent at the knees to get a closer look.

It was a feathery baby bird sitting in a spot where the hose had curled into a makeshift nest. Broken egg shells laid next to it. It must have fallen from the nest.

I could tell that it was alive because it moved its head about as if in wonder of what the hell just happened and would occasionally let out a cheep.

This produced for me a quandary. Do I leave it there and let nature take its course or do I interfere with nature and try to put it back in its nest? Neither choice felt right.


Just call him the Bird, man…


I did what I do best. I removed myself from the predicament and went back into the house.

Of course, I couldn’t stop thinking about it but felt I shouldn’t do anything about it, at least not yet.  I Googled how long it took for a robin hatchling to leave the nest. It could take up to two weeks. The future did not look good for this little feller.

As I returned to the yard I could see the mother robin there. One could tell she was feeling frantic. It paced about and chirped mournfully. We looked at each other. I shrugged my shoulders. She shrugged her wings.

I discovered that I could espy the baby bird from my door without stepping outside so I would periodically keep an eye on it. I was happy to see that the mother robin would come and feed her fallen baby from time to time.

The phone rang and it was the roofers telling me that they would come tomorrow to reroof my house.  I slept fitfully that night.

The next morning the roofers came and began moving things, tables, chairs, potted plants, etc. out of the way in the back yard so they could lay tarp to catch the falling debris. I warned them about the baby bird.

All the rough tough roofers became quite concerned. The crew chief asked if he should pick it up and put it back in the nest. I said it was up to him but it was tough to espy the nest. One had to dip down and look up at the correct angle to see where it was located.

After some bobbing and weaving, he located it and said “The nest is full. There is no room for him anywhere.”

So, he was ousted. Did his survival of the fittest siblings deliberately push him out or was it merely an accident due to overflowing? The danger of living on the edge.

“Well, he can’t stay here.” said the crew chief, “Maybe we can move him to another part of the yard.”

We could hear the worried twittering of the mother robin from a nearby tree as we all hovered about her fallen offspring.

I handed him a dust pan that was leaning against the steps and he gently picked up the little bird that immediately opened its beak wide in anticipation of feeding and deposited it on the dustpan and moved him away from where the action would be next to the fence.

I hoped mom would care for him there.

Once the roofers are finished, I plan to move the dustpan back below the bush. At least it will be somewhat more out of the elements than it was out in the open in the hosenest as well as be near its home base.

Life in the wild, man.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Toothpick Jonesing

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Jim Siergey: Toothpick Jonesing

June 19th, 2020

Hello. My name is Jim and I’m a toothpick addict.

Well, not any more but I used to be. There was a time when I chewed on those little splinters of wood until they were the size of a gleam in a splinter’s eye.

I kept handfuls of toothpicks in my shirt pocket.  Rounded toothpicks were the best. They were much sturdier than those flat ones. They were like Black Forest tortes compared to Little Debbie snack cakes. You could chew on a rounded toothpick for the longest time and when it became too splintery you could flip it over to the other end and start anew.

I’ve always been a thrifty sort.

As I cavorted with a toothpick lounging lazily between my lips did I imagine myself as a tough guy, an underworld mug talking out of the side of his mouth saying “Yeah?”?  Naw, I’d imagine myself as a beaver gnawing down a tree so that the Hamm’s bear could log roll it in sky blue waters. Waw-aw-ters.

I think my toothpick chewing began back when I was working in warehouses and loading and unloading trucks and stowing stock. Chewing on and manipulating a toothpick in my mouth helped keep me awake through the monotony.

The toothpick habit continued and became more elevated when I worked at the harp shop, gilding harps. All day I sat going through the same procedures so to entertain myself I would send my mouth through a workout, performing little acrobatics with a sliver of wood.

drive image

Looking good…


I would send the toothpick into backward and forward flips, careful not to scrape the roof of my mouth, puncture my tongue or, horrors, swallow the sharp little thing. Like a 1930s movie gangster rolling a coin across his knuckles or a concert pianist dancing his fingers across the ivories, I would roll the toothpick from side to side between my teeth. Adagio and allegro.

Just call me maestro.

I would go through several toothpicks a day…and I didn’t waste them. Over the course of time they would be reduced to nubs so small that I would have to spew or flick it off to its final resting place, wherever that may be, and begin anew with a fresh one. Who knows how much wood I ingested?

It was odd that I had this oral fixation for I had never been a smoker. The duration of my experiments with tobacco filled tubes of paper lasted only a few months during my teens so it couldn’t have been a replacement for that.  I’m also pretty sure that I was breastfed as a babe.

Do habits need explanations?

For a period of years I incessantly chewed toothpicks. Besides while I was working, I even had to have one in my mouth when I drove or had a cup of coffee. Perhaps it was a substitute for a cigarette habit that I didn’t have?

Somewhere, somehow I kicked the habit. I still enjoy a nice rounded toothpick now and then but no longer do I carry spares in my shirt pocket or stashed in secret compartments. Those days are over.

I could and I would and I have chucked that wood.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Bird Brained

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Jim Siergey: Bird Brained

June 9th, 2020

I don’t care what anyone in assumed authority says, I’m not going out to any restaurants, taverns, clubs, swimming pools or shopping malls. Despite the fact that I don’t normally do most of those things anyway I won’t be doing any of them until Dr. Fauci gives the “All Clear” sign. Until then, an occasional trip to the grocery store will be the extent of my mingling with the masses.

I will continue, weather permitting, to hang out in my back yard.

The place has lately become a bit of an aviary. Robins, sparrows, blackbirds and cardinals make up the bulk of the usual suspects. Occasionally, a hummingbird will flit by and I hear the calls of bluejays but can rarely espy them. There are also several wrens, a bird I don’t remember ever seeing in Chicago.

For tiny birds they can make quite a racket. I don’t mean to demean their song, it is very pretty. They just like to sing a lot. There are two pairs who reside in the birdhouses at either end of the yard. Whenever I get near either of those abodes they chirp their little heads off to let me know that they don’t like my presence at all.

The smaller they are, the tougher they are.


The robin was rockin’…


Robins usually operate in pairs but lately I’ve been seeing them hanging out close to one another, side by side. I saw a pair the other day and one kept squawking and squawking as the other would quickly peck something up from the ground and put it into the squawker’s open beak. The squawking would immediately begin again and the other robin would repeat its action of obtaining and delivering foodstuff before the cycle would begin again.

Being the latent sexist that I am, I assumed the squawker was a female robin and the the other was her henpecked husband.

I was informed that the “henpecked” bird was probably the mom and the squawker was most likely a baby fresh out of the nest and into the world. That made sense, especially since the male species is not known for being much of a caretaker or one that does much grunt work. But this baby robin was the same size as it mother. It was the Baby Huey of robins.

But what do I know?  I’m not much of an ornithologist. I can barely spell it.

Recently I heard a kerfuffle going on in the bushes of my front yard. It sounded like the cries of pain. I nosed around a bit, hoping not to find anything of any substance because I can barely spell veterinarian either.

I saw two blackbirds going at it. One was atop the other, its wings a-flappin’ and the one below was the one crying out in pain…or ecstasy. They could have been fighting or mating. I’m no sexologist either. So, of course, I let them be.

Some minutes later I looked out again and there in my driveway was a bird lying on its back, its scrawny legs pointing skyward. Despite not being a pathologist, I assumed it was dead and I was going to have to do something with the body.

It being a blackbird I thought it might go well in a pie but I would need three and twenty more of them to bake one fit for a king.

A few minutes later I looked out again and the bird was gone! Had it merely been pining (thank you, Monty Python) or had a cat gotten it? Despite the fact that a gambler is another of the many things I am not I would place my bets on the latter possibility.

To complete the circle that started this missive, go ahead and reopen society, I don’t care. With all this action going on right in my own backyard, I don’t need to go anywhere.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Trippin’

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Jim Siergey: Trippin’

May 17th, 2020

June 7, 2008

“As I sit here in the Hotel Whitcomb restaurant awaiting my $7 bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee (which the server has already asked me twice  if I would like any—yet still my cup sits empty)… Ah! It arrives. It is hot. It is rich. It is good. In a couple of hours Dan will arrive to whisk me away to Sonoma for a bit of wine tasting as Cindy attends the diabetes conference here in San Francisco.”

I recently came across an old notebook and those were the opening words to an account of a trip my wife and I took to California a dozen years ago. It was a nice trip down memory lane.

My wife, a certified diabetes educator, decided to attend a conference in San Francisco. We opted to make a vacation out of it so we flew out to The Golden State a week early.

We started out in Santa Cruz where we spent some time on “The Boardwalk” at the west coast version of Coney Island. From there we drove to Ben Lomand, a town situated deep within the Redwood Forest and in between Henry Cowell and Big Basin State Parks. We like to hike.

Having hiked about Henry Cowell S.P. we went in search of vittles. On the outskirts of a stretch of fast food joints we found The Tyrolean Inn. It was an old time German restaurant where the barmaids and waitresses were all clad in dirndls. It was a lively place with good food and beer. I found myself enthralled with an East German Black Beer that was indeed as black as India Ink.

The next day we hiked Big Basin among redwoods, bluffs and meadows and afterwards ended up again at The Tyrolean Inn. That black beer was now in my blood.

Then we spent some time in Monterey. We dined on The Wharf, visited Cannery Row and the Monterey Aquarium which is quite magnificent. They had a special exhibit on Jellies. Ichthyologists want us to call these creatures ‘jellies’ since they are technically not fish but I don’t see ‘jellyfish’ departing from our vocabulary any time soon.



Jay Lynch said it best…



We of course spent time driving up and down Highway 101, visiting Big Sur, Point Lobos, other state parks and even the Henry Miller Museum. Then, San Francisco.

The BART subway stop let us off right in front of the Hotel Whitcomb and the hotel itself, old and stately, was quite nice. The immediate neighborhood, however, had become what some might describe as “seedy”.

The neighborhood known as “South of Market”, Market being Market Street, had a fair share of hookers, grifters, “street people” and Vietnam vets in wheelchairs hanging out on the avenues. To my surprise there was even a porno movie theater. I did not expect them to still exist.

I pleasantly soaked up the Felliniesqueness as I ambled about.

Fittingly, the Museum of Cartoon Art was situated in the area. It was a small but nice place. It contained some classic comic art and its main exhibit was the work of Phil Frank who did a daily strip called “Travels with Farley” that I was somewhat familiar with as it ran for a while in one of the Chicago papers.

From there I hoofed it a few more blocks to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  My biggest memory from there was viewing Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing”.  Yes, it is exactly as described, a pencil drawing by Willem de Kooning that Robert Rauschenberg erased. Modern Art—ya gotta love it.

I made it a point to check out John’s Grill (“Home of the Maltese Falcon” as the sign on the door read). It appeared in Dashiell Hammett’s classic book but I only peered through the window as it was way too pricey to enter and imbibe.

Sparing you any more of this verbal equivalence of vacation slides I will mention only one more memory. As evening approached Cindy and I, along with Dan and his wife, after dining, moseyed over to the bay and had a glorious sight of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city. A picture postcard moment that is deeply imprinted into my memory banks.

During these COVID-19 days of self-quarantine and social distancing I would hope that most people have travel memories that they can look back upon, through mental pictures, photos or diaries. The time will come again when we can freely ramble but it will be much different, I think.

I really feel for our country’s youth. There’s the 9/11 Generation, the School Shootings Generation and now the Coronavirus Generation. Tough times for a kid to grow up in.

My old pal, Jay Lynch, for years spoke and wrote these words, “Soon, a cleansing.”

Perhaps that time has finally come.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Spiders

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Jim Siergey: Spiders

May 8th, 2020

I’ve never had a problem with spiders.

I mean I’m careful with them but I don’t shriek with horror and go looking for a shoe or a rolled up newspaper. (Heh, newspaper. How archaic) I let them be.

When I lived in Chicago there was a spider as big as a Buick that would spin a huge and beautifully intricate web in my gangway. I had to remember to duck (or was I bowing in reverence?) whenever I had to pass through.

There’s a spider that hangs out in my bathroom. It is not the size of a Buick. In fact it is rather small and, I think, albino. Maybe not, but it is white, almost clear, in color.

It appears in various places in the bathroom. Sometimes by the sink or toilet but usually on the wall, up in a corner or on the ceiling. Its name, of course, is Boris.

All my spiders are named Boris. I’ve adopted that moniker from an old song by The Who entitled “Boris the Spider”.  The spider in that tune meets an untimely end but it is a catchy little number and the name has stuck.

I like to think that Boris and I have some sort of relationship. I don’t bother him and he don’t bother me.

One day I found him in the sink, unsuccessfully trying to crawl out.  No matter how hard he tried he kept sliding back. I gently slid a Kleenex under him, removed him from his slippery confines and perched him on a flat surface where he lingered for a while getting his bearings from the wild ride he was just on before sauntering off.

It was like a replay of the story of the mouse and the lion with a thorn in its paw. I hoped.

charlotteswebThat’s some spider…


Lately, Boris has obtained a mate. It is the same non-color but bigger. I now call them Boris and Natasha. (Rocky and Bullwinkle fans know why) But now I wonder if Boris was actually Natasha to begin with. A’course, Boris could be into larger females. I’m not one to judge.

Boris and Natasha have been hanging out on the ceiling. It is as if they are observing us. And, who knows, maybe they are.  Observing, taking notes and commenting to one another.

“There’s one of them again. How do they get around on just two legs?  How do they keep their balance?”

“Well, that tall one is kind of teetery.”

“True. Fortunately, there’s not much space here for it to fall.”

“Look! Again with the foreleg washing. It’s become an obsession with them.”

“I wonder what they do outside of this environment that they need to clean themselves so often? I hope they’re not like flies.”

“Well, you have to admit, flies are tasty.”

(Ed. Note: I once watched a spider devour a fly that it had caught in its web. It took its time consuming it and saved the head for last.)

“Uh-oh. It’s looking up at us again.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve learned that it’s harmless.”

“Jeeze, how long is it going to stare at us? Hey, pal, take a picture, it’ll last longer!”

“You know that it can’t hear you.”

“Yeah, but still…”

“Ah, there it goes. We are left in darkness once again.”

“What do you want to do now?”

“The same thing we do every night, Pinky, plan to take over the world.”

I wish them well. They’re going to have to fight it out with the cockroaches.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Heart Of Dimness

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Jim Siergey: Heart Of Dimness

May 2nd, 2020

Shame ruled his world. Eyes were averted but he knew they were all on him. They waited. They knew the fun would soon begin. Ridicule was in session as fingers flexed in unison, isometrically exercising so their pointing could be strong, direct and unwavering. Tongues were sharpened and larynxes were misted with sprays of homeopathic oils, the better to produce mightier guffaws and more robust taunts. They practiced and practiced until they were made perfect.

Eager to please and loyal to a T, he hated to disappoint yet he felt that he must. The gauntlet was tossed, the Rubicon was crossed and Bobby Lewis turned as he tossed. Despite the rhythmic reasons he was not moved. The best action was no action. Better safe than sorry, Charlie, he voiced inside his head, I won’t be hooked this time. Go tune your own piano. And down he sat where once stood a chair.

Shelley and Byron battled the Bee Gees for the top of the charts but words were all they had to offer. Sherlock, who had not moved his bowels for a week (no foolin’) silently sucked on his Square-Shank Apple as he fiddled with his iMac. All that he needed, he deduced, was the Roto-Rooter, an omission so elementary that he blushed. O, Holmes sweet Holmes.

Back to the present, wrapped unlike the past, fingers drummed, noses blew and heartstrings strummed. It was an epidemic of sound. He was careful not to shuffle on the shag carpeting as experience had taught him well. In the library he espied her sitting alone at a table looking intently at a book of Geometry. He vainly tried to come up with an angle.


Shelley & Byron–sorta…


He thought it best to stroll slowly by as obtusely as he could but as he drew next to her the aglet of his loose shoelace scraped against the carpet and sent a shock up her stockings straight to her metal garter clip causing her to lose consciousness. She faceplanted upon an illustration of a vertex, her nose landing perfectly upon the intersection of the two line segments. He suppressed the urge to applaud and although his vision was clouded by the welling of tears he silently slinked away. T’was ever thus for the story of his love life.

He had lost the combination, iridescence blinded him and Kookie refused to loan him his comb. He was on his own and he knew it. He furrowed his brow as he wondered if he could plow on through without greeting his gait. Between him and the fence post was the future. Was he ready to embark upon it? Did it matter? It would arrive one way or the other but which way would it be and how could he tell whether it was the other? So many questions and so much time. It was all over his hands but not on his side.

The streets were as empty as promises as he plodded along the puddled pavement, still wet from the earlier downpour. He knew ahead was what awaited him and it weighed upon him but ahead he waded. The water was deep and he knew the walkway through the viaduct that loomed on the horizon would be even deeper. Groucho Marx’s homonymic query about such a structure sprang into his mind and he could not suppress a nasally tinged chortle.

An elephant in pajamas is worth two books in a dog and stewed prunes can taste like rhubarb if you make it correctly were the last thoughts in his head as he entered the darkened tunnel that he believed would lead to the other side. Little did he, like us all, know.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Born In Chicago


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