Growing Up in Highland Park

I know I should probably be more concerned about a nuclear war with North Korea or having once again procrastinated doing my tax returns but lately I cant stop thinking about my childhood in Highland Park, Illinois. Growing up in Highland Park and the Chicago area is something one never forgets. It inspires such distinct memories and sentimentality that there are numerous Facebook forums dedicated to my peers and their various reflections, recollections, and picture posts of everything from the Pre-Port Clinton Square era (no doubt taken with a “real” camera or one of those Instamatics with the attachable flash cubes) to vintage HPHS school posters and authentic Fell’s hangers and plastic bags. Grown up kids from nearby towns and suburbs like Deerfield or Wilmette have similar feelings and quite often join in this retrospective love fest online.

Recently I participated in a lively debate as to which Cantonese style Chinese restaurant in Highland Park (or Glencoe) had the best egg rolls and why (hint: a slight hint of peanut butter). It’s still debatable but left most of us salivating if not downright drooling on our keyboards. No matter what XYZ generation one belongs to there is a near magical pull and siren song that makes current and former Highland Park residents wax eloquent and smile just thinking about the “good old days.”  For many people it’s very likely related to gaining something resembling adult maturity and having the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Basically, we didn’t realize how darn good we had it. Let’s face it, most people on planet Earth didn’t grow up going to stores and “signing” for things sans money or credit card and having the bill automatically mailed to your parents at your home address. When I went off to college in 1972 it took me almost a year to adjust to the fact that the University of Colorado was not the same as Birchwood or Bob-o-link Golf Club and you actually needed to carry a wallet with money and a picture ID (not to mention real coins for the laundry machines). I now realize I was extremely spoiled and sheltered in my childhood and I am the first to admit it….and I honestly miss that part too.

In a 2013 world of strife, stress, and constant barrages of information ranging from immense superficiality (think Kardashian) to alarming substance (ie., school shootings, gang violence, and ongoing threats of impending war), we grew up in a picture perfect suburban town that may not have been really perfect but was pretty darn close. That’s especially true if you factor out the teenage acne, raging hormones and unavoidable angst of adolescence. The hard part now is getting others who didn’t grow up in HP to believe us. Friends and acquaintances I talk to now seem to think I must be overidealizing my childhood memories in suburban Highland Park like it was something out of a Norman Rockwell painting or a fanciful Broadway musical like Brigadoon. Actually if I remember correctly the drama department at HPHS, much acclaimed for it’s unusual talent and leadership, did mount its own theater production of Brigadoon while I was a student there and as usual it was excellent.

Soaking in so many great memories of good food, nice people, and natural beauty, I’ve taken to writing and blogging about my childhood and teenaged years in suburban Chicagoland. Publishing any such material is of course a much different story. It’s what most magazine editors and book publishers publishers call a “highly selective niche market” which is journalistic lingo for “no thanks”.  I also realize how difficult it is to compete for feature print space nowadays, especially with other riveting news to share like “Overcoming the Stigma of Incontinence”. I did happen to read that particular article in the Highland Park News a few years back and unfortunately it’s subject matter and relevance to my life is only now beginning to “sink in”….so to speak. There is little doubt that my personal demographics as a mid-Baby Boomer and 1971 graduate of Highland Park High School as well as my “old school” proclivities (functionally illiterate on the computer or smart phone) make me a prime database and “gold mine” for targeted advertising but a total bust for any contemporary hipster-centric publication. That said, I still cant figure out why there is a “Meet Muslim Women” ad on my Facebook page every day right under the ones for osteoarthritis, adult diapers and cosmetic surgery.

When I do get an unexpected response to my CaptCliff blogs on WordPress it’s often some incomprehensible  autobot generated reader comment, ie. “Your pertinent matter in exhaustible blog gains new force.”  Whaaa? I usually answer them back anyways. I wouldn’t want to be rude to my highly selective audience or an accidental reader even if it turns out to be a robot or rogue hacker from Russia intent on attaching a Trojan virus to my software…or is it hardware…or is it hard drive?

As someone who long ago threw out my purple faux-leather Beatle boots, colored dickies, matching John Lennon polyester beret, and all the cheap novelty gifts acquired during the infamous 7th grade Edgewood School trip to Washington D.C., I see myself representing a kind of dinosaur cohort of humanity, one caught between the “rock” of really good rock and roll and the “hard place” of all the skinny jeans, Nike sneakers and scarf-wearing generations of punk rockers and Brat Packers who followed. To their credit these younger but now much older people at least grew up knowing how to program the VCR or DVD player and reset the time displays on everything when the power went out. In contrast most of us, except for maybe John Preskill (now a CalTech Professor of Theoretical Physics) stood around deaf, dumb, and blind in front of the blinking appliances and electrical gadgets that came and went like the sportcoat styles in Fell’s window display. Most of those ground breaking devices and their many miles of cable wire now sit crammed in plastic boxes like successive layers of archeological artifacts in my basement crawlspace. Maybe that explains my lifelong affinity to the 1960 Sci-Fi movie, “The Time Machine” starring Rod Taylor in which the time traveler witnesses the styles and skirt lengths on the store mannequins changing like the blooms on the flowers in the metaphoric garden. The most famous quote in the film, “He’s got all the time in the world” seems less and less true today but more and more important. Either way, I really wish I did have a working time machine because I know exactly where I would go first. Even now I can smell the subtle peanut butter scented Cantonese egg rolls, hot mustard and sweet and sour sauce. I might just get the pork fried rice and shrimp in lobster sauce too.

Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist and humorist living in Atlanta, Georgia. Contact: 404-932-7193

About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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3 Responses to Growing Up in Highland Park

  1. Thanks to my father who told me about this website, this weblog is genuinely amazing.

  2. Leslie says:

    The two Chinese questions are easily solved. The best restaurant has been and always will be Chan’s Tea House. Owned by Charlie Wenk,Wes Wenks father. I had a charge account there,speaking of sign and go, where I could get those delicious, crispy egg rolls after school. And they were fried in peanut oil, hence that peanut butter taste you mentioned.

    • captaincliff says:

      …and of course I agree completely Leslie. Now that you have mentioned the peanut butter oil I am experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. I can literally taste that warm egg roll as I dip it into my proprietary mix of spicy mustard and sweet and sour sauce. The drool on my laptop also mixes with the salty tears of my nostalgia. Read on, dear one, for you are a true friend and peer in things literary, culinary, cinematic and nostalgic. Today I, CaptCliff shall brave the elements to seek another soon-to-be-bygone Chicagoland Cantonese dish, the pork fried rice at Wing Ho on Sheridan Road.

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