Jim Siergey: Back Yard Shenanigans

June 11th, 2019

Looking out into my back yard I espied two little wrens sitting on the wooden fence, a few slats apart from one another. One tweeted and sang to the other for a bit before flying off toward a tree. The other turned and winged its way into the bird house where they’ve made a home.

It is the same bird house that was in my back yard in Chicago where sparrows made nests and resided within. It’s a multi-cultural domicile.

Sparrows have laid claim to a different bird house in the yard. A pair of robins have laid claim to my entire back yard.

Besides the fact that they are rather territorial birds and chase off other robins and same-sized birds from hunting in their yard, they now do so because they have a nest in the bush by my back door.

I like to occasionally sit in a chair on the back porch next to that bush.  Robins don’t always like someone near their nest. I knew someone who could no longer use their front door because there was a robin’s nest in the awning above it. Fortunately these robins don’t mind me sitting close by.

Apparently I don’t pose a threat to anyone anymore.

Birdhouse 1

A home of their own…


There are a pair of squirrels who also claim the back yard. Sometimes they invite friends over to romp and dig in the grass. The other morning I heard a thud against the sliding glass door that looks onto the back yard. I expected to find a bird, hopefully only dazed from flying into the glass, but I was mistaken.

It was a squirrel with its paws and nose pressed against the glass, having a looksee inside. Perhaps he was casing the joint.

I hope there’s not a gang of raccoons to which he reports back.  If I wake up and find my refrigerator raided and my coin collection gone, I will know that he has.

As you can see, there is some faunal as well as floral activity going on in my back yard.

One day my wife and I espied a strange creature moving along the plants growing next to the fence. We could only see traces of its body but enough to realize that it was large. At first we thought it might be a raccoon (my assumption about the squirrel was right!) or possibly a possum but when we caught a side view glimpse of its face, we knew it was neither raccoon nor possum.

A beaver? Could it be a beaver? There is a creek near by and we have had an awful lot of rain lately but a beaver in our yard? Unlike James Thurber and the unicorn in his garden, I did not have to convince my wife of what I had seen as she could attest to the fact that there was a creature there that, despite logic and sensibility, just might be a beaver.

Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and we realized that it was more likely to be a ground hog. The fact that we saw one of the fence slats move as it crawled beneath it out of our yard confirmed it.

I had never seen a ground hog before. They are rather large and hefty creatures. I hope to never see one again, at least not in our yard. I wonder how much ground it would grind?

Or if he even would, Chuck.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Breakfast & Me

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Jim Siergey: Breakfast & Me

May 21st, 2019

Like most people, I like to occasionally go out to eat. When I do it is mainly for dinner or lunch, rarely for breakfast.

Breakfast is the easiest meal to prepare so why pay someone to do it for me? Plus breakfast takes place in the morning and I’m not venturing out into the world without at least three cups of coffee under my belt. So, unless I’m traveling, eating breakfast some place other than my kitchen is an uncommon occurrence.

Another reason is that the older I get the more delicate my gastrointestinal system gets. Grease and fat doesn’t sit as well with my insides as it once did.  This adds to my reluctance to eat breakfast in a restaurant as I don’t know in what they are frying their eggs.

Oh, I know. I could order oatmeal or pancakes or a bagel or yogurt and fruit and I sometimes do but if I’m dining out for breakfast I’d like some eggs.  So I order them poached.

It’s the safest way to have eggs served to you if they are prepared by an unknown person preparing them in an unknown manner. Am I being persnickety? Perhaps, but I’m still ordering them eggs poached.

However, I have twice been denied poached eggs.

I recently had an epiphany about both of those poachless occasions, realizing that the two times my request was denied I was dining with the same person.

eggsfryingNothing like an egg…


He is an old friend who has traveled a lot and has lived in several different states but, like any true Chicagoan, always finds his way back to the Windy City from time to time. A few years back I went to meet him for breakfast at a place on Southport Avenue.

We met, exchanged greetings, sipped some coffee and gave our orders to the waiter. After I answered his question as to how I would like my eggs prepared, he told me that I could not get my eggs poached.

“Why not?”, I asked, my eyes as wide as they could get at that time of the morning, in incredulity.

“The chef does not like to poach eggs because they take too long.”

I did not make a scene but I felt like I had been slapped in the face with the business end of a wet hen.

Time trudged on and I recently visited this same person where he now resides—Missoula, Montana. We went to breakfast at one of his favorite places, The Four B’s, an eatery that sits right above a river that flows beneath it. We were seated next to a window where we could gaze upon said rolling river as we dined.

When it came time to order, I told the waitress how I would like my eggs. She began writing it down and then stopped.

“I think you’d better not order them poached.” she said.

“Oh?”, I politely responded.

“Yeah, there are a couple of kids handling the grill this morning and I don’t trust ‘em to poach eggs.”

Okay, so this time wasn’t exactly a denial, it was more of a warning but, still, once again I could not get poached eggs while breakfasting with this particular feller.

The next time we meet for breakfast I guess I’ll go with the pancakes.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Kate & Willy

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Jim Siergey: Kate & Willy

April 30th, 2019

Kate Smith. We all know who she was, right?

She was a large-framed woman who had a voice to match her size, which was about the same diameter as a doorway. She was very popular in the 1930s and 40s. Her rendition of “God Bless America” was her main claim to fame.

I only mention her because she entered and re-entered my consciousness recently. Let me tell ya, son, one entrance of Kate Smith is quite enough but, two? Phew.

I was browsing in a used book store, yes, they still exist, and noticed a Kate Smith cassette tape atop a stack of ‘em. A stack of cassette tapes, that is, not a stack of Kate Smith cassette tapes. She’s stacked enough for one tape.

Okay, I’ll stop with the size cracks.

I thought nothing more of it until later in the day when, on the internet, I came across a news item about Kate Smith. Actually, there was more than one article, the pro and the con. One was about how in the 1940s Ms. Smith was a torch bearer for racial tolerance. Another accused her of being a racist.

I don’t have a dog in that fight. The thing that made an impact on me was the unusualness of me coming across Kate Smith twice in one day.

The next day went even further than that.

My wife and I attended Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier’s production of Hamlet. As usual, it was an excellent production. However, as it approached the end with dead bodies littering the stage and Horatio’s closing line of “Goodnight, Sweet Prince” nearing, I began remembering the Cultural Jet Lag version of Hamlet.

KahunasiergeyVintage Siergey…


Cultural Jet Lag was a comic strip that I collaborated on with Tom Roberts. He wrote, I drew. The concept of the strip was an illogical combination of high and low culture with no regard for time and space in which we meshed what is considered “high art” with what is considered “low art”.

In this case we meshed the Frankie Avalon/ Annette Funicello beach movies of the 1960s with Shakespeare and entitled our version Beach Blanket Hamlet. Tom wrote a wonderful script that concluded with “Goodnight, Big Kahuna.”

So that was running through my head as I was watching the scene taking place on stage. Yes, it can be a bit strange being me.

But, as they say in infomercials, “That’s not all.”

Later that evening as I was riffling through the channels before turning off the TV and turning in to bed, I came across an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  It was during his opening monologue before he presents the evening’s story. In this one, he spoke, in his droll manner, these words.

“There will not be a presentation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet tonight.”

That made three Hamlet references in one day. Beat Kate Smith by one.

These two occurrences which, unfortunately for you dear reader, are likely interesting only to me do happen to all of us, no?

There is actually a name for this. It is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one stumbles upon some obscure piece of information—often an unfamiliar word or name—and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly.

There are conflicting theories about why it is called Baader-Meinhoff, and they may all be apocryphal. In fact, the more scientifically accepted name nowadays is “frequency illusion”.

So there you have it…and you can keep it.

As for me, I am expecting that the next time I tune into the Those Were The Days radio program, I will hear an old radio broadcast of Laurence Olivier and Kate Smith performing…you know what.


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

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Jim Siergey: Circus Boy

April 23rd, 2019

On Easter Sunday my brother and I were standing in my back yard, lightly conversing as we enjoyed the nice warm weather.

As we were gazing nowhere in particular and, as it happened, in the same direction, we saw a bird fly in the open space between my house and my neighbor’s house and disappear inside a tiny hole in said neighbor’s wooden siding.

We simultaneously said to one another, “Did you see that?”

We continued to gaze at my neighbor’s house and saw the bird pop its head out from the hole and look around.

“That has to be a sparrow.” I proclaimed, eagerly exhibiting my knowledge of the habits of said bird as I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on that particular avian species.

The bird exited the hole on wing and, sure enough, it was a sparrow.

My brother, apparently an expert of the behavior of avian creatures as well, began to tell me of the potential damage birds can do if they dwell within the walls of one’s domicile.

I pointed to a perfectly round hole in my cedar siding that I blamed on a pesky woodpecker that kept hammering away on my wall last summer (although I don’t know how he made that hole so perfectly round unless it was a woodpecker with OCD) and said “I guess I should patch up that hole then, eh?”

We walked closer and stared up at the hole which was approximately twelve feet above the ground. My brother asked if I had a ladder.

“I do. It’s a six footer but so am I. I might be able to just reach that hole. In fact it looks like a cork might fit right in there.”

Besides being a self-described ornithologist, I am also a self-serving oenophile, so a cork would be easy to find.

“No, no.” my brother insisted, “You can’t stand on one of those ladders. It’s too dangerous. “

“Hmmm”, I said, “You’re probably right. I do have one of those extension ladders in the garage but they’re rather heavy and difficult for me to manipulate.”

mountaineeringHe made it to the top…


We decided that we would procure the talents and abilities of my young, strong and able son to do the deed. He joined us in the yard, looked it over and said he would do it and added a few other things he’d do while he was up there, patching some other little holes, checking the gutters, etc.

What a lucky man I am, even luckier than I realize.

The next day rolled around and I decided I would see if I could indeed reach that hole while standing on my six foot ladder. I loaded my pockets with wine corks and even found an old champagne cork that I brought along just in case the aperture was larger than it seemed.

I unfolded the ladder and secured it on the ground as best I could. It seemed sturdy so up I climbed. I stood upon the topmost step and carefully reached upward only to find that I was a wee bit short of my goal, the hole.

Warily and balancing myself with one hand upon the wall, I left the metal rungs behind and stepped up onto the the actual apex of the ladder. Before I could channel my inner Jimmy Cagney and proclaim “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”, I felt the ladder begin to teeter, totter and then topple.

I leapt into the air away from the descending ladder and bent my knees as I landed feet first onto the lawn. From there I sprang up and my momentum carried me into a forward somersault from which I emerged quite gracefully in one fell swoop to a standing position as if I had carefully rehearsed the entire routine. I was so surprised that I didn’t even think of saying “Ta-Da!”

Having escaped disaster, I decided to tempt Fate one more time.  But first, I persuaded my wife to come outside and hold the ladder for me as I once again scaled this metal Mt. Everest back to the tippy top. From my pocket I produced the champagne cork and inserted it into the hole, banging on it with the palm of my hand to further secure it.

Mission accomplished, I made my way back down the ladder, none the worse for wear, at least for that day.

I stood with hands on hips and gazed proudly at the bit of house repair that I had accomplished. I couldn’t help but think of the many times I had been told to put a cork in it and, now, I finally did.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Just Like Proust

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Jim Siergey: Just Like Proust, Approximately

April 9th, 2019

Kids don’t play in the street anymore, do they?

When I was a kid we played football and baseball in the street, baseball being 16 inch softball, of course. Play would occasionally be interrupted when a sharp-eyed youngster would call out “Car!” and we would all cease our athletic activities and flatten ourselves against the parked cars with annoyed looks on our faces as the interrupting vehicle made its way down the thoroughfare.

I don’t recall any neighbors ever chastising us or displaying concern about their parked cars being damaged. Of course, this was the late 1950s and early ‘60s so the cars were all chrome-bumpered rounded hunks of heavy duty metal that would take more than a softball or the body of a hard charging youngster to make a dent into them.

Plus we were all really young— eight, nine, ten years of age, so there were not many, if any, blistering line drives being smote.

It was quite a challenge attempting to catch pop ups and running the “bases” without cracking a rib or dislocating a knee by running into an old Ford, Chevy or Hudson. It made us tough as well as agile.

I vividly remember one day when the usual crowd of us mostly single digit in age kids were playing softball in the street. Steve Zoven, a bigger kid from down the block ambled by and insisted that he take a turn at bat. In size, Steve resembled a padded door, that is to say, he was a husky kid. Plus he must have been thirteen years of age so without any complaint, the bat was meekly handed over to him.


Are those rabbits?


An underhanded pitch was tossed to him, he swung and the ball took off like a Roman Candle. We all turned, watching in silent admiration, as the ball, now a large gray pellet, flew past two, three, then four houses and began hooking over the parkway lawn toward the fifth one.

The crushed spheroid continued hooking and began heading straight for house number five’s picture window. In unison we all held our breath and cringed in anticipation of shattering disaster. At the last second its trajectory ran out of gas, the ball dipped and with a resounding thud hit the brick wall just below the large, and expensive, pane of glass.

We all gasped a sigh of relief before dispersing in various directions like a colony of frightened rabbits.

That was our last year of playing ball in the street as the few houses on the other side were bought by the town and razed, turning it into a large open field, the size of a city block. Backstops were erected at opposite ends of the field and upon the dirt surface is where baseball, football and kickball were played as well as kite flying.

Progress marched on and cars began to be made with thinner metal.

The other night I had a dream where a handful of adults decided to venture out into an alley to play 16 inch softball. I don’t recall whether I knew any of them or not but they were definitely all adults and of both genders. Lagging behind, I went out to join them.

Despite the alley resembling a backdrop from the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with weird angled garages, I recognized it as the alley behind the house in which I grew up. As the realization of this fact dawned on me I called out to the throng.

“Why are playing here in the alley?” I asked. “Across the street in front is a big open field. Let’s go play there.”

A leg spasm then caused me to awaken and as I sat on the edge of the bed massaging my middle of the night charley horse I remembered the little tale with which I just regaled you.


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


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Jim Siergey: The Name Game

April 1st, 2019

I’ve never been much of an autograph hound. I have a few books signed by their authors which are nice keepsakes but the books would have meant as much to me without the signatures.

Many years ago when my wife worked as an R.N. at Illinois Masonic Medical Center she came home with something for me.

“This person came on the floor” she explained, “ and lots of people crowded around him.  He was signing autographs so I got one for you. I think he was a baseball paper.”

She handed me a little scrap of paper and scrawled upon it was the name Ernie Banks.

“Yep, “ I said, “He was a baseball player. Thanks.”

I put it down somewhere and it was never to be seen again.

Do not grieve for me as the loss of Mr. Cub’s John Hancock didn’t cause much concern. You see, I’m a White Sox fan.

Speaking of which, I do have a baseball that is signed by Pete Ward. Ward was a third baseman who played for the Pale Hose in the mid-60s. He had a couple of productive seasons before injuries shortened his career.


Mr. Ward...


I liked Pete. His uniform number was 8, the same as mine when I played on my grammar school basketball team, of which, by the way, I was the entire third string.

As with the Banks autograph, I did not seek out Pete’s signature.

A friend of mine who at the time worked in the business of baseball was at a banquet where he found himself seated next to Mr. Ward. Knowing that I was a fan of Pete’s from back in the day, Tim asked him to autograph a ball which he then presented to me when we once again met up.

Another friend, learning of this, supplied me with a Pete Ward baseball card as well as a wooden stand with plastic encasements for both ball and card. This I still proudly display although time has not been merciful to Pete’s signature as it has faded away. It lives on dimly just as does my memory of him scooping up ground balls at third base and occasionally banging one out of the park.

The only time I went up to a celeb and asked for his autograph was back in the 1970s. It was at the old Kingston Mines. R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders, a string band made up mostly of underground cartoonists, were performing.

After the show I brought with me up to the stage an advertising flyer that contained a Robert Crumb drawing of the band. I meekly asked Crumb if he’d sign it. My memory is dim but I think he may have sighed in slight annoyance but he appeased me.  On the corner of the flyer in tiny letters he printed R.CRUMB.

Somewhere in the netherworld my autographed parchments of Ernie Banks and Robert Crumb are, I hope, laughing it up and having a good time.

I should have had Crumb autograph a baseball.


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

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Jim Siergey: March Madness

March 23rd, 2019

I don’t know if it’s some perverse form of Spring Fever but lately my body has been doing battle with me.

I don’t understand why because I have been a whole lot nicer to it than I was in my youth. Apparently, it holds a grudge.

It began with a week long headache. It wasn’t a migraine but it was a headache, a nefariously playful one.  Hide and seek was its game. The rascally thing would burst upon the scene and linger for a while, then recede into hiding and emerge once again whenever I thought the coast was clear

Sheridan Whiteside had nothing on this cranial vexation.

After that irritant abated I slogged through a couple of days of intestinal discomfort. My diagnosis was that it stemmed from eating too much bread.

Like everyone else in the world, I like bread but it is not part of my normal diet. Thus, dining on bread is a pleasurable rarity. For St. Patrick’s Day, my wife baked up a loaf of Irish soda bread and I engorged myself on it. It served as both my lunch and my dinner.

manwhocametodinnersheridanMr. Whiteside stayed for dinner…


There’s an old saying “Too much of a good thing”. It’s an adage from which I have yet to learn my lesson.

For a while I thought that, despite not being Swedish, I might have become averse to gluten. I began looking into gluten-free products and food, thinking that I would have to change my dietary lifestyle and become even more picky about what I eat.

Picky because I listen to my body. It, of course, does not verbalize to me but it communicates just the same. It lets me know, with no doubt about it, that I should refrain from consuming certain types of comestibles and, for the most part, I listen.

You’d think it’d be grateful but nooo, one little slip up and it’s bombs away.

After the headaches and the stomachaches, a day finally arrived where I felt fine. I was free at last! Free to walk in the sunshine, breathe the cool, clean air, comingle with the the flora and fauna that nature provides. It, of course, rained all day.

The next morning I awoke full of positive expectations for the day ahead. I opened my rose-colored eyes only to see that the room was spinning. My old nemesis, vertigo, had dropped by for a visit.

I tried to pay it no mind, y’know, walk it off, rub some dirt on it, but when during my morning shower I had to resort to kneeling on the tub floor to finish washing because the small porcelain area appeared to be in orbit, I knew that the Big V had won.

Perhaps it’s the weather that is affecting my body which, in turn, is affecting me.

It is said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Okay, March, I’m bleating already. I’m bleating. Get outta here!


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

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