I grew up on a small block in the quiet northwest suburb of Mount Prospect. It was an idyllic place growing up in the 1970s. With the school right down the block, there was a network of families with children of similar ages; I hung out with the Wunars, Douglases and Lowes.

It was a time when kids were free of helicopter parents. Yet there was always “a little bird” who would get back to Mom and Dad if I did something really wrong. You could go anywhere your bicycle could take you as long as you made it home for dinner. And while I have a tendency to view my childhood through the soft focus of an ABC After School Special, going through old photos, I realized there is a dark side of suburbia I didn’t notice before.*

Tom-brrday-w_block

This above photo was taken at my birthday party. I’m guessing I was turning 5. At first, it appears to be a typical photo of a kids party. Then you pull back and notice all the brown spots in the lawn. Is that a toxic waste dump? We had a beagle that served as a good excuse, but from the looks on those faces, a couple of them must have been going free range. There’s (clockwise) me in the blue shirt rocking the plaid pants with David Douglas, Johnny Vyleta, Char Wunar, Dominick ?, and Rob Wunar.

young-neighbors

Long before Matt Dillon terrorized the town of New Granada in Over the Edge, children — many of them apparent Satanists — would form human roadblocks on the sidewalks, extracting a toll from passersby.

Tom-y-Char

It would still be a few years before I adopted the tight-rolled jeans and flannel look, but even at an early age, I learned to accessorize.

Tom-w_-Char-and-Rob

Eddie Shore. Old-time hockey, eh? The village used to allow people to skate on the water retention pond two blocks from my house. It even provided a warming shelter. By the time I reached high school, skating on the pond was banned. It didn’t always stop us, since part of the pond was not visible from the road above. We would skate until someone eventually called the police. Then a cop would pull up at the top of the hill and yell at us on the loudspeaker. The fun part was continuing skating until he got out of his car and came down the hill to yell at us.

Indian-Shores-postcard

For a couple years, my family went camping with the Wunars at Indian Shores in northern Wisconsin. My mom still loves to tell the story about the time Char dared me to pee on the campground alter. We have a souvenir pencil box with the image above on the lid. It always seemed special because our families were in the photo. That’s my sister Mary Jo and Chris Wunar in the blue sweatshirts in the back row. I’m in there too, but the photo is so faded, I am not sure which one is me. Back then, my knowledge of native Americans boiled down to a guy in a feathered headdress pulling people on hay rides with a tractor and someone who cried when you littered.

Gophers-Tom_Greg_Dave

In my third season playing little league football on the Gophers, we went 6-2 only two years after going 0-8. I think you can see why. I’m pictured with Greg Lowe and David Douglas. The name of the league was the Mount Prospect Midget Football Association, yet few midgets actually played that I am aware of.

tha-original-mermen

The Disco Era came to Martha Lane when my sister Karen brought home the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever on 8-track. Paneling was big back then, too. Before the era would come to an end, Dave and I would go on to write our first song, “Señorita Smell My Feet-a.”

Martha-Lane-moms

The pinnacle of the summer was the Block Party. In addition to the usual party games — egg toss, water balloon toss, marshmallow toss, sparkler toss — it was neighbor versus neighbor in the softball game that pitted the north side of the street against the south. Folks not from around here may not be familiar with the brand of softball played throughout the Chicago area. We play with a 16-inch ball and we don’t use gloves. On Martha Lane, the husbands literally put their balls on the line. The losing team had to run the gantlet of groin shots. Pictured above are the wives limbering up.

 

* Some of these events may or may not have actually happened 

Tom Long is one-third of the seldom heard Chicago band The Ethyl Mermen. The name Tom Long can be found in the dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia and a pub in Ireland. Tom Long is not affiliated with any other Tom Long; he won the rights to use his own name after prevailing in a three-way game of Jan-ken-pon by choosing "dynamite!" No Toms were harmed in the making of this blog.

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