Prostitutes and Protein: My Father’s Anti-Social Diet

FeaturedProstitutes and Protein: My Father’s Anti-Social Diet

From Lake Point Tower’s third floor 3-acre resident-only garden, I peered through my binoculars out past Navy Pier to the Harbor Lighthouse by the locks at the mouth of the Chicago River. My father’s latest girlfriend pitter-pattered up beside me in her high-heeled sandals and gossamer brown bikini and said, “I fucked someone out there once.” My father, clad in Gucci swimming trunks, was striking a favorite yoga pose—standing th-4on his head within sight of all the bathers and sun worshipers around the pool. I sensed, in that instant, that this, my favorite spot in all Chicago, would be tainted for the rest of my life.

He prided himself on choosing a reformed prostitute matriculating at the University of Chicago to move in with him. We were both around 33 and I was celebrating the yearly anniversary of my last drink at AA meetings. She celebrated her reformation announcing milestones like,“It’s been 90 days since my last trick.” They had a few things in common including their food intake which they discussed constantly. Avid devotees of the Dr. Atkins Diet, they packed their 57th floor fridge with a lot of white protein—cottage cheese, plain yogurt, eggs, chicken and tuna salad and sugar-free Vernor’s ginger ale. They disdained calorie counting (though she kept a chart) and instead tracked protein grams and carbohydrates.

In the early 1980’s Dr. Atkins’ high-protein low-carbohydrate diet bubbled up everywhere in Alcoholics Anonymous. My father cornered newcomers and hammered a Dr. Atkins wedge into their soggy brains as he handed over his phone number and said, “Call me anytime.” Whenever he saw someone at an AA meeting holding a donut he’d explain that a no-sugar low-carb diet keeps the blood sugar regulated and in turn, reduces the craving for alcohol. Beginners were known to eat all-protein tuna fish right out of the can to follow his dictates.

The grocery store on the second floor had a deli counter with a superior version of my favorite food, cole slaw. After the day on the terrace, I purchased a pint each of cole slaw and tuna fish salad, rode up to their apartment and faced the former prostitute in the kitchen.

“Don’t let your father see you eating that cole slaw. It’s loaded with carbs.”

I’m pretty sure I knew cole slaw was not loaded with carbs, but she scared me so much I hid the offensive food in the closet until I left for home.

The kitchen counter groaned with the makings for a maniacal high protein drink. The bartender-grade electric mixer stood over pricey containers from Sherwyn’s Health Foods. Powdered desiccated liver, brewer’s yeast, magnesium, Vitamin C and flax seed were carefully measured and poured into the glass jar with liquid amino acids,

Liquid Lecithin

sunflower oil and liquid lecithin, a brown substance that could lubricate a car. The concoction reached digestive jubilation when blended together with ice cubes and water.

She, like those before and after her, looted the towels when she split, but left the kitchen counter intact. He binged on coffee Haagen-Das for a few days before resuming his sociopathic eating habits.

The Day I Was Posted to the White House

The Secretary of Education in the Bill Clinton Administration hired me as his Director of Scheduling and Advance based on one simple fact—I was from Chicago. An honorable and wily statesman, Richard Riley assumed experience in Chicago politics gave me a certain expertise: I’d be able to withstand  the numerous hoodoo scheduling proposals that plagued his staff, particularly those from White House advisor and fellow Chicagoan, Rahm Emmanuel.

The lobbyist for Siemens International contacted me frequently inviting Riley to visit the company’s innovative partnership in Lake Mary, Florida. Siemens provided on-the-job training for students at the Lake Mary high school. The program exemplified Clinton’s school-to-work policy, so I put it on a list of possible events for the Secretary.

In the fall of 1995, Rahm, Assistant to the President for Political Affairs, decided a big flashy event  would be the perfect way to highlight Clinton’s School-to-Work Opportunities Act before the 1996 reelection campaign. He asked Secretary Riley for suggestions. Riley consulted me and we chose Siemens/Lake Mary.

Since I’d be organizing and managing all the details for the President’s visit to Lake Mary, I was immediately posted to the White House Scheduling Office. I tiptoed into my first day on the job as if I’d wake a sleeping giant who’d shout, “You don’t belong here!”

Within the first few hours at my desk in the White House, I received a call from a colleague at the Department of Education. He’d uncovered some unseemly intelligence: Siemens collaborated with the Hitler regime.


I immediately reported this to the President’s Scheduler. She hastily called a meeting of decision-makers and sent me with others to an afternoon meeting with Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and Rahm. These two were known for hurling f-bombs right at your face before you even sat down (“who the fuck are you?”). The fray of Chicago politics conditioned me for profanity, but these brawlers took it to another level. They were famous for not only sparring with each other but also lobbing the most obscene and demeaning sucker punches at ringside innocents.

Rumors were rampant that each of them offered outsiders access to the President in exchange for campaign contributions. My Nazi information put the Lake Mary event in jeopardy and in turn, meant a lost opportunity for big cash from Siemens.

The meeting participants rat-a-tatted around the room on the pros and cons of going or not going. Their only concern: what would the press report? My lips involuntarily clamped shut and quivered. Participation in this conversation would have been like throwing myself in the ring with Muhammad Ali.

I finally busted out, “They had a factory at Auschwitz.”

Heads turned and I felt dragon eyes spit fire in my face. My cheeks ignited.

“Are you saying we shouldn’t go?”

White House West Wing

I knew my answer would either shorten or prolong my envious seat in a White House office.

“I’m saying Siemens helped fund the Nazi party and later used prisoners to work in their factory inside Auschwitz.”

And so ended my 8-hour post in the West Wing of the White House.

Impressionists Impression

Impressionists Impression

Kicking up the milky stairs we head to the second floor, Gallery 201, 19th Century French Impressionists. We shimmy and shiver onto the planked floor, shh! Into high ceilings we rendezvous with my Impressionists. I show them off to you as if they are my own. Here’s the Renoir fruit bowl and there’s Manet’s train station. Oh! and the Degas dancers and Monet’s gardens.

Édouard Manet
French, 1832-1883
Steamboat Leaving Boulogne, 1864

You stagger at what to look at next, having studied but never seen the flabbergast of beauty before you. I suck in my cheeks in a quiet whistle to the tune of the hush in the gallery, swaying with silent vibrations.

And I whisper to you, “These are real.”

Don’t Call Me Senior

Don’t Call Me Senior

Don’t call me senior. I’m old. This is what old is, looks like, sounds like. My old may not smell like your granny. My old moves slow. Stand aside. Wait for me. Hold the door.

My old eats cooked vegetables. So take me to that restaurant. My old says f**k too, so give me that freedom. My old is curious and just because I can’t remember your name doesn’t mean I can’t hear you.fullsizeoutput_2967.jpeg

Oh, and sometimes I can’t hear you.

My old needs your company. They just told me loneliness kills. I already knew that.

My old loves to ride the bus, to look out, to see the changes on Clark Street from Chinatown to Rogers Park. My old likes change. Did you hear I didn’t?

My old feels close to heaven—like how much closer can I get? Like, can I get closer without moving into the next day, or the next week, or the next minute?

Yeah, so don’t call me senior. I’m just old.

Heaven or Hell on Suicide Hill

Heaven or Hell on Suicide Hill

Willmette, Illinois 1950sth-4

The only non-Catholics I knew as a child were our babysitters. I always felt sorry for them knowing they were headed straight to hell when they died. In 1956 we rented a four bedroom tudor built into the cliff on Lake Michigan in Wilmette, Illinois, having moved from a month-long stay in a downtown Chicago hotel where we landed after our eviction from Clayton, Missouri. To the east, the view of the lake was obscured by an over-propagated evergreen garden leading a quarter mile down to a rusty wire gate that opened to the beach. My mother hired seventeen-year old twins to watch my sisters and me on the beach so she’d not have to dress for the day and be our lifeguard. And those twins came with boyfriends—who had boats. The teenagers taught me to waterski and by the end of the summer I had my feet sloshing around in the rubber boots of a slalom, skiing far out into the lake, so unmoored at the edge of the world that I often forgot to let go of the tow rope when we we came back to shore for the drop-off. None of them were Catholic and I silently mourned for their souls, asking God why He’d be sending them to hell when they obviously didn’t deserve it. After all, they had shown me where heaven is.

Sitting at the foot of my parents bed one day, I saw a television commercial for the opening of Old Orchard Shopping Center in the next town over.

“Where’s Skokie?” I asked my mother.

“That’s where all the Jews live,” she answered.

At 10 years old, I didn’t know there were Jews alive in the world. I wanted to ask my mother how Jews were living near us and not in Jerusalem where they lived at the time of Jesus. She detested answering my questions and would have accused me of stupidity, a criticism I already couldn’t stand, so I sat back and wondered if Skokie was, in fact, hell.

When winter arrived in Wilmette I could hardly contain myself. The only thing separating me from the sledding hill next door was a mammoth pile of snow huddled around evergreen growth and a chain link fence next to our house. All the girls and all the boys, all ages and all sizes came to slide down Suicide Hill. Firemen hosed it at least once a day turning soft snow into cold hard ice. Traditional sleds, too dangerous for the slippery terrain were cast off—piled up in a Flexible Flyer junkyard off to the side at the top of the mountain. Flat cardboard slabs were the most valuable commodity. I shredded straight down on the cardboard, sitting down at first, then up on my feet. Eventually we, the first snowboarders, traded our cardboard for our boots and slid downhill on our feet.

Girls and boys had equal status on Suicide Hill. There were no rules, no lifeguards, no snowguards no unofficial guards. We all raced down the slope expecting no prize, bumping each other off into snowpiles like soccer balls, soaring like heavenly rockets.  Winter stuck in our noses, but our fevered bodies rollicked in unfastened coats flapping in the wind. Medics and parents came to bandage limbs and scrapes. Ambulances carted broken bones off to Evanston Hospital. Exhaust smoke obscured our vision of cars double parked on Michigan Street where parents yelled Let’s Go!

And when the stars came out we went to No Man’s Land for hot chocolate where I eyed my non-competing competitors. We belonged together, heaven or hell.

Hard Truth: 50% of the People You Meet Don’t Like You.

50% of the people you meet don’t like you.


Yeah, that’s right. And guess what? 50% of the people you meet you don’t like.

But I like everybody and everybody likes me.

Nope. They don’t. You don’t.

The lady at church in St. John’s knit, pearls and Ferragamo flats? Does she ever say hello? How about the guy who leads the meditation group? He preaches mindfulnesss but stops short when it’s time to tune in to you.

And you? Do you really like the lady in the lunch group with her pinched red lips that never stop moving?

Ok. Ok. But 50%? I think I like 75% and 75% like me.

No. They. Don’t.

The truth of it? The guy in the park who stands up and gives you his seat? He hugs you just so he can feel your boobs. You hate that but you’re nice to him ‘cause you think he likes you.

Get it?

Next Time, Call 311

From: Regan Burke
Sent: Monday, January 15, 2018
To: Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx, Church Administrator
Subject: Snow Removal?

Xxxxx: Today I was slipping and sliding with other passers-by on the sidewalk in front of the church. A woman fell and as people were helping her up there was grumbling about the sidewalk not being shoveled. Someone said, “figures, it’s a church.”

The sidewalks are often not shoveled by the time a lot of us get to our exercise class at 10:30. And, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, a lot of us are not as sure-footed as we’d like to be which makes getting to class when it snows a bit more treacherous.

Please do everything you can to get the sidewalks cleaned and salted (black ice!) around the church as soon as you can in the morning.

And perhaps there could be a line-item in the next budget for “good neighborliness” which would include shoveling and salting or sanding the snow and ice from the sidewalks around the church?


From: Xxxxx Xxxxxxx
To: Regan Burke

Regan: Thank you for your note related to snow removal.

As I’m sure you know, the church was closed yesterday in observance of MLK Day. Sidewalks were cleared early this morning. We’ll continue to attend to snow removal diligently and and thoroughly – as always.

Internet photo example

Your use of the image below from the Daily Mail of an unfortunate woman taking a fall in Manhattan to suggest a Xxxxxx Church circumstance seems odd – to say the least.


From: Regan Burke
To: Xxxxx Xxxxxxx

Dear Xxxxx: The photo is a example of what many of us who come to class are afraid of when approaching the church in the winter. Indeed there are people who don’t come to class when it snows because the sidewalks around the church have historically and notoriously been and continue to be treacherous. In other words, this is not a new problem and it’s a big problem, not just to us but to our neighbors as well. I doubt our neighbors understand why when the church is closed we don’t clean our sidewalks. I don’t understand that myself.

When I came to church at 10:15am today the sidewalk at the side entrance had not been touched. This is the accessible entrance for many of us who come to class on the bus or walk. So the snow was not in fact “removed early this morning” at that entrance.

I walked around the church this afternoon and the sidewalks on two streets, tho they were shoveled in the morning, were far from safe – the salt made them slushy and slippery. Did you take a walk around yourself?

The City of Chicago says: “Many people rely on walking and transit as their primary way to get around, and without a wide, clear path through snow and ice, it is especially difficult for people with disabilities, seniors, and children to walk safely.”

According to the Municipal Code of Chicago property owners and occupants are responsible for keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice. Can we not, as a church, not only adhere to city ordinances, but be actively compassionate when it comes to our friends and neighbors especially “people with disabilities, seniors and children”?


From: Xxxxx Xxxxxxx
To: Regan Burke


Yes, I did walk the perimeter of the building early today. I don’t agree with your assessment at all.

As my note below says, we’ll continue to attend to snow removal diligently and thoroughly — as always.