Unorthodox Angles/Andrew Gramling


Tales Across Time: Welcome Home? Part 2

I had only a few minutes to think about what was possibly going on with my friend Chavez as I drove to his apartment in the neighborhood behind Taco Bell on East Washington. It was a short distance from the town of Blooming Grove, where my father and I lived. I wanted to get out of our old neighborhood on the south side right after I graduated from high school in order to help preserve my mental health at such a critical time when it was severely tested by unusual and unforeseen circumstances. My parents actually brought me to a clinic once where they suggested putting me on medication, but I told them that whatever I was going through, even though I could barely understand it, was something I had to get through myself, despite it seeming almost impossible that I ever would. I can’t explain the faith I had to overcome such a difficult situation.

Blooming Grove was a small and relatively quiet suburb where I had a little more control over how much noise was happening around me. I thought the key to life was changing my environment rather than changing myself to adapt to external circumstances. The fallacy with that logic is that sometimes, or perhaps most of the time, a person doesn’t have control of their external environment.

Aside from loud engines accelerating cars onto the steep Highway 30 entrance ramp, and a slightly territorial neighbor on one side who called the cops on me one time for playing a video game late at night that I could barely hear myself, life was indeed quieter for me. There was a night where something unusual happened, however.

My friend Jared, before he moved to Florida, needed a place to stay. He had been staying with us for several months starting in the beginning of 2000, when the police knocked on the front door and asked us if we knew anything about a robbery. Neither Jared nor I knew anything about it, but we saw an empty car sitting in the middle of the street in front of the house. The police said that someone robbed a bar on the other side of the fence called Bailey’s on Fair Oaks Avenue, drove around the block to our side, got out, and ran on foot. The police asked if they could search our yard for evidence or the possible whereabouts of the suspect and we agreed.

Jared and I went up on top of the second-floor balcony to follow the police’s actions. The second floor was a bit odd because it had been added on sometime after the house’s initial construction and it was clearly visible from the outside where the two floors were divided. The old wood painted white on the outside of the house appeared to be decaying, and I didn’t always feel completely safe whenever I was on the balcony.

The police began to walk through the backyard with flashlights searching the ground down below us.

“I think I see some money on the ground,” Jared said from a bird’s eye view.

One of the policemen proceeded to the location Jared pointed to and tripped and fell on his back. Jared and I couldn’t help laughing, and ducked over the side of the balcony to laugh quietly. We weren’t on the best terms with the police; Jared having a short and petty criminal record, and me always pressing the limits of what I could get away with. I didn’t dislike the police, and could usually speak well with them when my activities were in question, but to me, they were an obstacle that always tried to block my fun, as risky as it was sometimes.

The policeman regained his footing after being helped back up by another officer, and they discovered a large amount of money.

“Why did you have to tell him about that?” I thought to myself.

The police also found a gun and a few other belongings the suspect must’ve dropped while running through our backyard. I had no idea why he would’ve headed back toward the place he just robbed on foot. The guy must’ve had no idea what he was doing.

2024, the Present

Interestingly, a few months ago, my father and I attended a musical event at the Overture Center. There was a pre-event gathering with snacks and drinks being served. My father and I got what we wanted from the food and drink table then tried to find a spot to sit down at. Each of the small four-person tables were occupied, so it became a decision about which people we would sit with. It didn’t take long. There was a couple in their sixties or so sitting at a table near the edge of the seating area. We approached them first, and nothing inside of me told me to look elsewhere, so we asked them if we could sit with them.

For some reason, our conversations with them flowed pretty easily, more than one would expect from total strangers. They talked about the Fireside Dinner Theater located in Fort Atkinson which I had always been interested in going to, and my interest only increased. The real climax of the conversation occurred when I asked them where they live.

“We live in Blooming Grove,” the wife said.

“Oh! We used to live there too!” I said.

“We lived on Christianson Avenue,” my father said.

“We live on Christianson!” the husband said.

Through our conversation, we found out they not only lived on the same street as us, but they lived ACROSS THE STREET from us! They remembered the Bailey’s robbery. They remembered the man who lived next door to us, and explained more about his situation to us.

“He was a military veteran. He eventually went all the way off and he and his wife got divorced. A sad story,” the husband said.

“I knew there was something going on with that guy!” I said, after finally getting a 20 year-old question answered.

In 2001

I parked outside of Chavez’s apartment and headed inside. It was a rectangular apartment building with four units on the first floor and four units on the second floor. I didn’t know what I did to get Chavez so angry. He had gotten out of control with me once before as we were walking down the street because he had a lot to drink. Maybe he was pretty intoxicated this time as well. That would explain why his voice sounded a little strange on the telephone.

I went up to the second floor and knocked on Chavez’s door and stood there with my hands behind my back, ready for the confrontation with a slightly elevated heart-rate. Nobody answered.

I tried knocking again and still there was no answer. The door next to Chavez’s creaked open and a man in his thirties stuck his head out. He had a mustache, a baseball cap, and was slightly heavy but not disproportionately so. He opened Chavez’s door and looked around inside.

“Nobody's there?” he said.

Then he turned back and looked at me.

“You must be looking for me,” he said.

“I guess, if you’re the person I talked to on the phone I said,” keeping my same stance with my hands behind my back.

“What’s it gonna be?” he said as he put his hands up.

I thought this was rather strange behavior. Why was he putting his hands up like that and asking ME what it’s gonna be?

“You’re the one who told me to come over here. You tell me what it’s gonna be,” I said.

We went back and forth a few times without any escalation, when suddenly the man appeared to have some neurons form a new connection inside of his head.

“Wait! What is your name?” he asked very inquisitively.

“Andrew,” I said.

The man went through Chavez’s door, went into the fridge, grabbed a couple of beers, then told me to come in and sit down. I came into Chavez’s apartment, unsure of what was happening but still going with it.

“Chavez is my brother,” he said.


“My name is Frank,” he said.

Then it occurred to me why he sounded like Chavez over the phone but not exactly like him. As his younger brother, they would have some similarities. They didn’t look much alike, but they had that same fiery spirit. Chavez was always talking about fighting, and his favorite word to use when he described himself hitting someone was “WHAM!” Frank didn’t look as rough as Chavez, but he still looked like he could handle things out there.

“Don’t ever put your hands behind your back when you’re in a confrontation. I thought you had a gun or a knife in your hands,” he said.

That provided the reason why he put his hands up and was asking me what it was going to be.

“You look like a…a bean, but I don’t know. Maybe you ARE the guy who would’ve taken me down,” he said.

I was feeling slightly more comfortable even though Frank was trying to give me a lecture.

“Yeah, Chavez said a lot about you, but you know what? **** what he said! The fact that you showed up here shows me that you got HEART!” Frank said.

I really didn’t know what I was getting into, and if it was foolish pride or a sincere interest in resolving the matter that took precedence.

We then went over to Chavez’s neighbor’s apartment unit, the one Frank was in when I arrived. He introduced me to Stefan, a dark-skinned man who was very thin and spoke with an accent. His black hair reminded me of a mop the way it appeared to have been plopped on his head by somebody. He was originally from South America, and his Indian roots were strong in his appearance. He was very friendly as well.

“I heard you two talking in the hallway. I said to myself, ‘That guy knows what he’s talkin’ about!’” Stefan said.

I smiled, still slightly unprepared for the whole situation as an inexperienced 20 year-old would be.

Somehow the subject of fighting got brought up, not surprisingly, and Stefan revealed that his fighting strategy was to build up his cardio so he can run, turn around and pop somebody in the face, and turn back around and keep running; repeat when necessary.

Chavez had a couple of other brothers as well. I met both of them, one after a night out when we crashed at his place. I woke up in the morning hearing voices (not the ones in my head), and I thought somehow I was in the warehouse at North Farm. When my eyes finally came into focus, I saw Chavez sitting at a table and his brother cooking something.

“Oh. Are you gonna make eggs and pancakes and stuff?” I asked.

“Nah! We havin’ MEXICAN stuff!” Chavez said.

This brother had a similar face and build with Frank, but without the mustache.
His personality was a lot different too. He didn’t seem like the kind to get in fights.

When breakfast was ready, I wasn’t sure where to start because I had never had food like this for breakfast. It was chorizo and eggs with tortillas.

“Mmm, this is good,” I said as I vacuumed up everything on my plate.

“Yeah, you’re all hungover eating like, ‘This is good,’ Chavez’s brother said.

I wasn’t sure if he was mocking me or what.

“Well, it’s not barf quality,” I said.

Chavez laughed.

I met Chavez’s third brother one day outside when we all had a picnic. He was there with his son who was about five years-old. He kept laughing at me, saying I was standing there like a superhero with my hands at my hips. I wasn’t trying to be anything. I just didn’t know where else to put my hands. Chavez and his whole family were some characters. This third brother seemed to be the comedian of the fold.

Back to 2002, Finally

I arrived at the Klinic after calling Chavez to invite him. The first thing I saw when I opened up the front door was my old friend Josh playing pool by himself.

“Whoa! You’re here?” I asked rhetorically.

“Yeah, I’m just hangin’ out, havin’ some drinks, shootin’ pool,” he said.

“Oh. I just had a feeling to come here for some reason. My friend Chavez is on his way over. I’m gonna see if Jared can come out too,” I said.

Chavez showed up about 20 minutes later wearing a cowboy hat I had never seen him wear before. I hadn’t seen him since I went to Florida.

After about 30 minutes, I suddenly had a sensation run straight through me and I perked up.

“I think Jared just got here,” I said without thinking, then went out the front door.

It was about 11:00 pm. Lanes of endless streams of cars were driving up and down Park Street, and I was able to instantly pick out Jared’s father’s car he was borrowing while he was up in Wisconsin visiting among them. I guess knowing him so well made it easy to pick up on his presence. It definitely wasn’t the first time.

Another old friend I first remembered as far back as kindergarten named Mardi was also at The Klinic. Besides Tony Frank’s, this was basically the only other south side bar where folks who grew up in the area hung out at. There also seemed to be a lot of folks from Chicago at the bar. I heard they were doing “business” through the bar. I almost got into it with one of them because he took something I said the wrong way, but he wasn’t able to match the intensity and left it alone. Those Floridians taught me how to be more expressive.


There were a couple of girls hanging around, and Jared started talking to one of them. The rest of us went outside in the side parking lot. The bricks on the side of the building were barely visible as everything in this backspace was dark. The yellow strips of parking lanes beneath our feet on the black surface stood out more than anything.

Out of nowhere, the girl Jared was talking to started to freak out.

“Oh my God! My friend, she got in the car with these Mexican guys and I don’t know where they went!” she said.

I remembered seeing the girl but didn’t notice her leaving.

“That guy right there! He knows them!” she said.

There was another young man about five years older than me or more hanging out in the small parking lot as well.

“Hey, do you know those guys who left in a car with some girl?” I asked.

The stranger turned towards me.

“What you got, man?” he asked.

His arm was making sudden tense jerking motions.

With all the characters involved, I should’ve known what kind of night this was going to be.