What is Best in Life?

By John Kass

January 4, 2023

We were coming down in the elevator at Northwestern Hospital, bickering ever so slightly in the way of married couples who know how to bicker politely in public. I was a bit nervous about having shoulder surgery this week. And Betty was nervous that I was nervous.

So, we bickered, ever so slightly, about that gold Greek Orthodox cross that wasn’t around my neck. Its absence vexed me. If there’s one thing married couples know how to do well, is to bicker in hospital elevators with their masks on. We were so good at the bickering that we forgot there was someone else in the elevator with us.

She was a nice woman, a loyal reader and subscriber to johnkassnews.com

Betty bought that cross for me years ago from our friend Odyss Tsarouhis of Reichman Jeweler’s in Oak Lawn. He and his partner are closing their doors after 40 years in business. The reason? You guessed it. Violent crime. This time the robbers shot Odyss in the chest and left him on the floor to die. He’s tough. He didn’t die. Now he shows reporters his scars.

But he is closing his door. “It’s just too dangerous,” he said. And he’s right.

Years ago, When Oak Lawn was an Outfit town there was never any violence against shopkeepers. No stickup crew from Chicago would ever dare hit a place in Oak Lawn. Even during the Outfit chop shop wars in the ‘70s, Oak Lawn was safe. The wiseguys used shotguns on each other, but they didn’t go around shooting innocent business owners in Oak Lawn.

Oak Lawn?

What I’m going through is nothing like what Odyss went through. Rotator cuff surgery doesn’t take courage. I’ll just sit quietly on my behind like I usually do. The only things I won’t be able to do for a few days is type, or fish, or throw curveballs. But I kept reaching for the cross that wasn’t there.

I’d taken the cross off for the MRI. I thought Betty had it. She didn’t. I must have put it in my jeans, but it wasn’t there. So, she didn’t have it. And I didn’t have it. Where was it?

“Excuse me,” said the third person in the elevator. We’d forgotten about her. “Good luck with the shoulder surgery,” she said.

What? We stopped bickering. How did she know?

“I just wanted to tell you that I’ve renewed my subscription to johnkassnews,” she said. “I knew you from your voice.”

I guess I don’t have the voice of a nightingale.

“No,” she agreed. “You don’t.”

We all had masks on like criminals in the hospital, but you could see by her eyes she was smiling. Her voice was smiling. Betty and I thanked her and I apologized for bickering.

“Get that shoulder fixed,” she said.

I’ll be throwing a curveball before you know it, I told her. But just not for a bit. Even typing might take a few days. The left shoulder took a few days out of me. The right one should take a few too.

I will get to the Golden Moutza of the month column, and I have the perfect winner. If there’s anyone more deserving of the award, I don’t know who is. But I won’t spoil it. You’ll just have to wait until Sunday. This Golden Moutza will sting this guy for years.

I might need a couple days with good friends lending a hand with guest columns, me sleeping in the recliner, enjoying an ice sleeve and the pain pills, streaming “1923” on video and itching to get my arm strong again.

Why? To get back to life, to fish for steelhead and salmon in that river up north. To work in the garden. To work with a serious working line German Shepherd Dog in the sport of Shutzhund.

 And to hold a hunting hawk. What’s that you say? Thinking of a hawk for hunting is a fantasy? You don’t have to tell me it’s a fantasy. I already know that. But it would be something, wouldn’t it?

Mongolian Man and his Eagle, 2018 by NuclearApples

I’m not crazy enough to think I could handle an eagle, like the Mongolian man in the photo. You ever stand next to an eagle, two or three feet away, close enough that it could reach you? I have. It was a Golden Eagle.

 The first thing you realize is that it’s a killer. You realize the power of it, that it could kill you if it wanted, and there would be nothing you could do about it. The beak could break your skull, as if Mike Tyson was determined to punch you in the mouth. What would you do? Nothing.

Most Americans remember a line or two from the movie “Conan the Barbarian” the screen play written by John Milius and Oliver Stone. What they remember is the Genghis Kahn character asking his son and Conan the eternal question: What is best in life.

Unlike Conan, who became one of those establishment Republicans favoring endless wars, I really don’t want to crush my enemies, drive them before me while I listen to the lamentation of their women.

I suppose I’ll never make a good barbarian. Or a neo-con policy hawk.

The Khan’s son would fall to Conan. But he wanted what I wanted. The hunting bird and a good horse. And maybe out in Montana or Wyoming?

And Zeus the Wonder Dog quartering the field in front of me? Just the thought of it is enough to get me through the next few days. Then back to the race for mayor as soon as I can, before these candidates start panicking and tearing up the city.

What is it about the hunting hawk thing? As a little boy who was sickly, with a mom who tried keeping me out of sports until finally she couldn’t stop me, I did a lot of reading. It was either that or go mad. And I read everything from Robert Louis Stevenson to stories about the saints, and treacherous kings, and others involving the man-eating cyclops Polyphemus. I’d sit out on the back steps of the two flat on Peoria Street, and later in a lawn chair on the patio in Oak Lawn and read.

I also learned from the Arthurian stories that hunting with hawks was big sport in olden times.

In the 5th grade I ordered a special book from the Scholastic Book Club, “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. It was book about a boy named Sam Gribley, who runs away from home to his grandfather’s land up in the Catskill Mountains of New York. And there Sam survives alone in the wilderness with his friend, the brave falcon named Frightful.

We took a late summer vacation that year, the only one of our childhood. My parents took us to Montreal, to the world exposition or Expo ’67. We avoided Detroit—even as an 11-year-old I knew Detroit was cracking under the weight of violence and crime, just as Chicago is now. We headed up to Guelph for Uncle Bill’s wedding, and then on to Quebec.

For eternities I stared out the window, mile after mile in that big ’62 blue Caddy going 100 miles an hour, my father smoking in the front seat, no one wearing seat belts, past endless fields of corn and beans, looking for only one thing: The sight of a hawk.

We stopped at a highway picnic ground, we had bread and cheese and Pepsi for lunch. The wasps ran us off. And back in the car, out the window to my left, there were brown stubbly fields.

I saw motion before anything else, a shadow, and then the flash of the bright underside of wings, yellow talons extended reaching to grab a brown rabbit on the edge of dirt.

I told myself that I would never, ever forget that day.

There have been many things I’ve forgotten, from the names of long haired girls I thought I loved, and triumphs I once thought were important.

But I did not forget that day. And I know why. It involved a hawk.

-30-

(Copyright 2023 John Kass)

Comments 57

  1. John, after you heal up, I’d like to hear more about Zeus. We have a pup, 6 months old today also from serious Schutzhund lines. My early name preference was Zeus but his name is Clancy. His grandfather is a VA1 dog from the German (World) and US shows. Gonna be a big fella. We probably will skip the protection but obedience, agility and tracking are in the plans.

  2. Best wishes for the surgery and a speedy recovery and for Betty to get the rest she needs while helping you out during recovery. Chicago, Illinois, and the country needs your writing.

  3. I’ll tell you one thing that is best in life, waking up to the prose of John Kass – it doesn’t get any better! Rest up; pray up. We need coverage soon on Vallas’ path to victory!

  4. Wishing you a speedy recovery. I renewed and look forward to more “tell it like it is” journalism.

    I also share your lamenting the inch-by-inch decline of Oak Lawn. I grew up there from 1961-1976.

  5. All the best with shoulder surgery…been there…done that. Takes some time to recover. I used to exercise in a pool with the water chin high. It is much easier to move your arm with consistent resistance. I have fully (98%) recovered from a broken upper arm and shoulder.

  6. Another wonderful column. Hang in there John, the cross will turn up soon and you will be soaring with the hawks before you know it.

    All the best

    Lou

  7. I’m sure the cross will turn up; they probably would not have allowed you to wear it for the surgery anyway. Prayers for a speedy and complete recovery!

  8. Good luck with the surgery. If you can’t find the cross, get yourself a brown scapular from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, my “no-drown string” that has kept me safe lo these past 74 years. I just renewed my subscription cuz Kass is my guy. God bless!

  9. Kasso, I just paid my 50 bucks to renew my subscription. Good luck with the surgery. I hope you can rehab and are able to enjoy the outdoors and all the activities you want to do in the future.

    I’m sorry to hear about your friend the Jeweler from Oak Lawn. As you’ve pointed out, we’ve always needed protection from the crooks, murderers, and thieves. I remember the Black hand from The Godfather. Sometimes you’ve got to pay the thieves to leave you alone I guess.

    If government officials, especially Democrats really cared a crap for the public, they’d beef up public safety, mental health services, build shelter for the homeless and hire the Cops, security guards, social workers, janitors to make it small happen. But the do not really care, do they?

    Look at California John. They spend billions to fight homelessness, and it only gets worse. And you have the angelic Democrats, the “good guys”, in charge of the Governorship, House, Senate, most of the counties. They’re awash in money, and yet, cannot keep the streets safe, clean, and the quality of life for a regular working person just keeps getting worse and worse.

    I ask my fellow liberals out there, “How are the Democrats and better than the Republicans?” I defy anyone out there to defend out current system that gives us Lousy, and less lousy as choices on the ballot, and the complicit media that carries the water for these crooked politicians. I’m sure you know that conservative media, though much smaller that the mainstream media, is just as skewed and peddles lies and a party line of talking points from their respective parties.

    Why do we chumbolones tolerate this garbage?

    You said there is a path for Paul Vallas to become Mayor. Will you lay it out for us?

    Thanks.

  10. Kasso, I just paid my 50 bucks to renew my subscription. Good luck with the surgery. I hope you can rehab and are able to enjoy the outdoors and all the activities you want to do in the future.

    I’m sorry to hear about your friend the Jeweler from Oak Lawn. As you’ve pointed out, we’ve always needed protection from the crooks, murderers, and thieves. I remember the Black hand from The Godfather. Sometimes you’ve got to pay the thieves to leave you alone I guess.

    If government officials, especially Democrats really cared a crap for the public, they’d beef up public safety, mental health services, build shelter for the homeless and hire the Cops, security guards, social workers, janitors to make it small happen. But the do not really care, do they?

    Look at California John. They spend billions to fight homelessness, and it only gets worse. And you have the angelic Democrats, the “good guys”, in charge of the Governorship, House, Senate, most of the counties. They’re awash in money, and yet, cannot keep the streets safe, clean, and the quality of life for a regular working person just keeps getting worse and worse.

    You said there is a path for Paul Vallas to become Mayor. Will you lay it out for us?

    Thanks.

  11. Kasso, I just paid my 50 bucks to renew my subscription. Good luck with the surgery. I hope you can rehab and are able to enjoy the outdoors and all the activities you want to do in the future.

    I’m sorry to hear about your friend the Jeweler from Oak Lawn. As you’ve pointed out, we’ve always needed protection from the crooks, murderers, and thieves. I remember the Black hand from The Godfather. Sometimes you’ve got to pay the thieves to leave you alone I guess.

    If government officials, especially Democrats really cared a crap for the public, they’d beef up public safety, mental health services, build shelter for the homeless and hire the Cops, security guards, social workers, janitors to make it small happen. But the do not really care, do they?

    You said there is a path for Paul Vallas to become Mayor. Will you lay it out for us?

    Thanks.

  12. Another excellent example of John Kass at his best. Will keep you in my prayers for a successful surgery and a quick recovery. I’m certain Betty will find your cross, just as my wife always finds the things I “lose”.

  13. Best wishes on your surgery, you’ll be fine and writing the truth in no time, just keep using the “ice sleeve” or “Polar Cube” until the pain goes away. Although I’ve always believed that “Pain Builds Character”, trust me, your character is very solid as is.
    Your mention of the “Scholastic Book Club” brought back some great memories. I loved to read as a kid, and remember one summer where our grade school gave us mimeographed drawings of a U.S. Map. As we would read a book we would go to the library and they would put a sticker on a state until the map was complete.

  14. Hi John,
    I, too, will never forget the day my 12 year old daughter and I walked through the lush green forest at Ashford Castle in Ireland. Both if us had a majestic hawk perched upon our gloved hand and wrist. Literally, the power of nature was never so close. Face to face with the magnificent hawk, my daughters eyes were simultaneously filled with amazement and fear as the hawk took off and soared high above the trees. A minute or two past and the hawk would gracefully return for a piece of raw chicken which was on the gloved hand.
    Yes, it was a Best in Life experience! One that I will never forget.
    Wishing you and yours good health in 2023!

  15. Good Luck with your surgery and recovery, John, your medal will turn up, and will be back in your hands soon, I’m sure.
    I just renewed, and look forward to many more columns.
    Sending prayers 🙏

  16. Good luck w/ the surgery John…say, while you’re there, ask around and see if they offer Frontal Lobotomies – might be the answer to all the political trials and tribulations you write about. At the very least it would make the debates a lot more interesting.

  17. Yianni,
    Have faith, your cross will turn up! Meanwhile, say a prayer for God to guide your doc’s hands, and that he had a good night’s sleep before your surgery! And XRONIA POLLA for your upcoming namesday on Jan 7th! Kai tou xronou me egeia and eftixia!

  18. I do feel bad about Reichman Jewelers. They had been robbed several times and I’m glad no one was killed. By the way, there are hawks flying in Oak Lawn, as well as, coyotes and deer from the railroad tracks and Stony Creek. A few years ago I saw two bald eagles in Burbank. The wild life is out there returning to the city and suburbs. Happy, healthy New Year to you and your Family. Give it a rest and get well.

  19. Great article John! I’ll pray your surgery and recovery are successful! When you’re well enough I hope you go to Papagalino in Niles and try their Greek meat combination plate and Bougatsa. They’re awesome!
    It may not change what’s best in life, but it may give it a run for its money.

  20. John, good luck with your surgery and recovery. You will be in my prayers. I always look forward to your columns. Thanks for the reminder to renew, which I did happily. Best $50.00 spent. Also good luck to Betty. Happy New Year and good health.

  21. Good Morning John,

    If you never find your cross, I pray the person who has it needs it more than you. There is sentimentality to the missing one. I am sure they are still making them.
    There are two types of shoulder surgeries. I have a total and the new way is a reverse.
    Friends who have had the reverse recover much more quickly, so I hope they are doing yours with a reverse method. That will allow you to get back to the column writing device; typewriter, word processor or computer.

    I too have just renewed my subscription. Canceling the former great Tribune gives me the funds to seek the truth.

  22. Good luck with the shoulder surgery, John. My wife dislocated her shoulder in August of 2021 and is still undergoing physical therapy for it. She’ll probably never have full range of motion in that arm again.

    My subscription auto-renewed a few days ago.

    Looking forward to the Moutza award, there are so many ‘worthy’ candidates that this could almost be a weekly if not a daily feature!

  23. Sending prayers for a speedy recovery. 🙏 As you said, you know more what to expect this time – & so much to look forward to! Hoping you found your cross; be sure to ask the MRI lab if they found anything in the changing rooms. BTW, you had me at describing married couples quietly bickering in elevators – so relatable! 😂💖

    1. I was thinking the same thing, Karen. I’ve had lots of experience at Northwestern, and have always received excellent care. The staff may well have found the cross and it may be waiting for John to pick it up. To John, best wishes on having a successful surgery and a full recovery. My thoughts are with you, and I’ll say a little prayer too. Your mention of the crime in Oak Lawn is tragic! I had relatives who lived there, and it was always a very peaceful place to visit. I’m convinced that if the government officials wanted to reduce crime, they could do so. My proof is what happened in New York City once
      Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor.

  24. We had an immature Cooper’s Hawk on our back patio the other day, about the size of a large crow. It had flown into the kitchen window and was perched on the top of a chair recovering, and probably looking around for something to eat. My son and I got a couple pictures of it.

  25. John, wishing you a speedy recovery!
    I like many others have re-upped my subscription for another year. Looking forward to another year of your top notch on the money writings.

  26. An old buddy of mine, Jim Frogge of Martinton, IL, used say to our students, “Suffering enobles the weak and is of no consequence to the strong”

    Be well and remember what that gentleman farmer, scholar and coach said.

    St. Augustine wrote this:

    “Though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked.”
    ― Augustine of Hippo, City of God

  27. Hey John Kass….get that surgery done, get that rehab done, and then, we all want to hear about your fishing trip!! God bless you John Kass. I hope you did the magic marker on which shoulder to work on….the devil made me say that….God will see you through and we ALL will be able to relish your words and stories along with the Golden Moutza coming up…

  28. Good luck finding your cross – maybe say a prayer to St Anthony! It’s not a great feeling to lose anything, but in particular sentimental things. I’m sure it will turn up.

  29. Get Well Mr. K, be kind and patient with poor Betty.

    Take your time, get off the IR, we need Chicagos only real journalist, back out there on the prowl in Sin City, Sin County and Sin State..

    Illinois makes New Jersey and Rhode Island corruption look like misdemeanors, just lapses in judgement; but we have the CHICAGO WAY.

  30. I too went to Expo ’67. I don’t remember the drive but your depiction sounds as if you were me. I always loved looking for hawks, still do. Now though I get them on my bird feeder, not for the seed of course, but that is where their food is. Twice now I’ve watched a hawk take down a duck, once in this house and once in our house on the Fox River in Algonquin. My wife that time wanted to run out and scare it away. She likes ducks. I reminded her that nature takes it’s course, and to her delight, the duck got away. Both times.

  31. Another one, eh? Trying to catch up with me. I had both rotators done, then tore the right one again. It was so destroyed that I had a reverse total shoulder replacement instead.

    And keep up the great columns. They may not be in that rag formerly touting itself as The World’s Greatest Newspaper, but that’s better, since no “editor” can eviscerate your writing.

  32. Get well Mr. Kass. I feel your pain; I’ve had both shoulders done. The surgeon I used was very good and my recovery involved both an ice machine and a motorized motion machine. Very beneficial. 🤞🏻

  33. You are in my prayers for a speedy recovery.

    I have a red-shouldered hawk that lives in the wooded area behind my house. We also have a great horned owl couple that nest in one of the trees in the neighborhood. The male likes to scare the crap out of me when I’m walking the dog on summer evenings.
    I also read My Side of the Mountain when I was a teenager. I thought the movie was kind of a disappointment.
    Get well soon boss!

  34. I am looking forward to your articles in 2023. You have a great way to focus on real issues that count in our every day lives. I have had two shoulder replacement and a rotator cuff surgery. Not much fun but keeps y0u active. You will be back in good shape buy Spring.

  35. john, that’s the second time you have mentioned a german shepherd joining your family. what happened to Zeus the Wonder Dog? did i miss his passing?

    good luck with your surgery. i, too, have had both shoulders repaired. one was from violence…the other from Life as a boy, father, homeowner, veteran.

  36. John,
    Your writing always impresses me and promotes thoughtful reflection. Keep up the good work. On the Mayor race, it will make little difference for the violent crime in the City. The problem is beyond the Mayor’s office. It started with the consent decree that handcuffed the police and destroyed morale. Vallas was part of that. Next Kim Foxx declared that victims do not count only criminals. Then the Chief Judge and Sheriff instructed the judges to empty the prisons. Governor toilet has now pushed the legislature to enshrine the anti-victim, pro criminal policies into State Law. The criminals are not too dumb to read the policies that favor them and act out, because they will not be incarcerated for their criminal acts. The entire system has been turned around over the past few years, and it will take a substantial effort by the voters to eliminate those who created this mess. I see no willingness for the voter to change the leadership from Democrat to common sense. The voter has what they want, live with it.

  37. Greetings from the Purple south state of Georgia. Embarrassed to say we have similar garbage happening in the great city that is Atlanta. Kaseen Reid and Keisha Lance Bottoms left quite a legacy for our current mayor to live up to: Andre Dickens. None of these fine democrats have ever seen a tax they don’t love. The good news is there are some conservatives running the state legislature and they seem to be able to keep the city in check. I miss Chicago and Gurnee a lot – it’s been 9 years since we escaped the high taxes and red light traffic cameras in Gurnee. Saddened me to see them proliferate. Good luck in your recovery John Kass!

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