On Wednesday, I wrote a piece here on Highland Park and, among other things, I mentioned that I knew someone who was elected to the City Council there. I phrased it that way because I wasn't 100% sure she was still on the council. So, yesterday afternoon I went to check. And it turns out that she is currently on the City Council, Kim Stone. But -- and I'm gobsmacked about this -- so, too, is a guy I'm actually longtime friends with! Tony Blumberg. In fact, his family lived down the block from us in Glencoe for a few years, just five houses away, before they moved to Highland Park, and he was also a camper at my summer Camp Nebagamon when I was a counselor. Moreover, when I once wrote a four-person play for the camp, I cast Tony in one of the roles. (And two other people who I cast -- Tony's longtime friend Adam Bezark and now-Rabbi Ken Kanter -- were also from Highland Park…) Tony and I chat regularly on Facebook, but he never mentioned he was on the City Council. I haven't seen him in person for many years, though I did see his parents a few years ago when they visited my dad at his residence.
Last night, a friend mentioned to me that he sensed instinctively this event would affect me very deeply "for all the obvious reasons." As he put it, "That place represents your childhood and family. I know how jarring it would be for me if I saw carnage on streets where I grew up."
The thing is, though, I absolutely knew from the beginning how impactful this mass shooting was to me because of Glencoe and Highland Park overlapping one another, more than most communities. It didn't sneak up on me. While there's an affinity between Glencoe and the other towns that also border it -- Deerfield, Northbrook, Winnetka -- it's nothing like the close, almost familial relationship between Glencoe and Highland Park. A very small circle. Those other towns are your neighbors that you would visit on occasion, but Highland Park and Glencoe are like crossing your fingers.
(That's my house marked in a red dot, right below the Turnbull Woods, off of Lake Michigan. If you look directly above the woods you can see a red line -- it's the street dividing Glencoe and Highland Park. Less than half-a-mile, an easy walk, even easier if you cut through the forest. Just above it you can also see the Ravinia Festival marked. That's how close and overlapping it all is.)
I knew well all the connections I have with Highland Park, they're too intimate to my life not to. I intentionally didn't overplay them initially because, as many close overlaps as I had with it -- my dad working there for 35 years, my folks' country club where we'd go regularly, my mother's favorite grocery store, me working at the Ravinia Festival there, in fact my first "real" job at Convenient Food Mart that I loved -- before getting let go for being too young to be legally employed, and all the rest, far more (and I've left out a great, great many) -- it still was not my "hometown," and I didn't want to make it seem like it was. This was tragic to me, and I felt it horribly, sickeningly, but it was their tragedy and I didn't want to feel like I was "claiming it" as mine. Almost intruding on their grief, their parade, their neighbors.
But the truth is, too, that as time passes and you get over the initial horror, and the stories pile up, you can be affected by it even more. The sadness becomes pervasive. Also, I assumed I would find more connections to what was going on.
One of those new connections was especially eerie, making the small circle even smaller. I checked a map and opened up street view to get a photo look at the area -- and confirmed that Convenient Food Mart, my first "real" job, is the exact same location as today Bob's Pantry and Deli, owned by the father of the killer.
(Furthermore, I had discovered its address when finding out it was on St. Johns Ave., a mile south of my dad's medical office, on St. Johns.)
But there were so many more connections. And some were sort of ethereal. So, to discover that a guy I know well -- who grew up literally just a few houses away -- is actually on the City Council was sort of stunning. And to personally know two people on the City Council -- when there are only six!! -- is amazing. It just drives home the connection even more.
Tony and I have been trading notes since I discovered this. He's a successful attorney with his own firm and had a funny comment, boggled that he could have avoided mentioning he'd been elected to the Highland Park City Council. He also noted, "I want to add that the entire Council and our Mayor have been a privilege to work with. Especially in this difficult time."
While I was very pleased to find out that Tony was there in an official position, it is so tinged with sadness for what Highland Park is going through. It's a great place -- but they're also lucky to have Tony and Kim Stone helping everyone get through.
It's just a shame that Tony pretty much hates most musicals. Other than that, he's a terrific guy.
And as the City Council and all of Highland Park make their way along, one overriding thought has finally broken through. It's ruminated in my mind for the past few years, but now it's made it into the light. I've come to the realization that the gun "debate" is over for me. There is no argument for protecting "gun rights" that has merit. Gun owners are not members of a militia. Arguing against reform laws is the very opposite of "well-regulated." Every country in the world has mental illness. And video games. And schools with more than one door. And if you're going back to what the Founding Fathers wanted when they wrote the 2nd Amendment, then understand that a flint-lock rifle took 2-3 minutes to reload for a second shot. Putting an argument up against all that and 1-1/2 mass shootings every single week is no legitimate argument, but just empty, selfish words.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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