Alex Levy and Sara Walsh
DescriptionSara, 28, interviews her boyfriend, Alex, 30, about growing up on Chicago’s South Side.
- Alex Levy
- Sara Walsh
Recording LocationWorld Trade Center StoryBooth
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00:12 My name is Sara Walsh. I'm 28 years old. Today is Saturday September 16th, and I'm sitting in the storycorps booth in the World Trade Center.
00:26 I'm talking to Alex my boyfriend.
00:31 And I'm Alex Levy and 30 years old at its September 16th in the storycorps Boost at the World Trade Center, and I'm serious boyfriend.
00:45 Okay, Alex. Can you just start by telling me when and where you were born was born on August 16th 1976 on the southside of Chicago University of Chicago hospitals.
01:05 Besides, you know, my mom was there. I know my dad was there I think actually in in the room I had believed that went by the time I was born and fathers were actually in the delivery room technique for my older brother that he was pacing in a waiting room and I'm pretty sure that my brothers had dumped on my grandparents for the event on your mom's.
01:38 Where did you grow up? I grew up in Hyde Park on the southside of Chicago around the University of Chicago House on my lights down at the same room. They bought it just a year or so before I was born and still have it today 30 years later. Well, I mean physically it's changed at a fair amount who said it's a really old house. It's about a hundred years old little older than a hundred years old. It's a beautiful house and they are
02:16 Physically, they changed it a lot with the renovating it that the first big project was nice kid when they redid All the bathrooms and literally gutted them to the point where they were finding things that were sealed into the walls when it was built good thing. There's a will there's a beer bottle on my parents mantle right now, which is not due to some great night with me, but rather with a bottle that somebody had drunk it as they were building the house and just tossed into the into the walls that was discovered 90 years later or so.
02:55 Nobody's though, but I mean interesting than more than physically it's changed a lot because you know, it's a it's a fairly big house 3 story house and being the youngest I have a lot of memory of it always being full and now it's just my parents there and it's it feels very different. It's gone from being a house full of children to their to their house only you think they're happy though.
03:29 Or is not to argue. So what was it like growing up in your neighborhood?
03:37 It was a great neighborhood crop. Chicago's South Side has a
03:45 A huge sort of Mythology to it almost it's at in Chicago still and especially when I was growing up a really very segregated City and end at the time. I was growing up not so much anymore. It was mostly black and white and black slipped on the south side and whites live on the North side so park with a little bit of an exception to it. It's about half and half black and white but surrounded by entirely black neighborhoods and and largely working class and poor neighborhoods, especially when I was growing up. So too did the great trip black Metropolis that existed in Chicago in the 40s and 50s had disappeared by the seven days when I was going to but do you think you want to wear this when you were eight? It was something that died in census. I mean, obviously I didn't know it in the insert of a larger picture and and
04:45 Dementia, and I didn't know about the great migrations from the South but what I did know was that there was an incredible Pride around the south side of it being basically its own city that was built by blacks in one of the only places at the time and and there was a history to it. And so did they cried around the southside of Chicago that I that even as a young white child grew up in and knowing about I'd of the years later. I was talking to a friend who grew up in in Massachusetts needs to protect the Revolution War. I started that way in New England that you grew up knowing about the Revolutionary War sword of backwards and forwards and whose parents get where where and who was who is in the country then and and it's sort of like that growing up on the southside of Chicago you live in the history of Brownsville.
05:37 Did you feel who did you play with when you were there? Like you just feel like it was you and a whole bunch of black kids Pinterest know I did I wouldn't have said that. In fact, I would have been conscious of it at all. I think it's a kid, but it's interesting. I wonder sometimes he'll girls felt growing up in Hyde Park and I suspect it's a little bit different because one of my school was about halfway. I have to have other actually cuz there was an Asian population in Chicago to it was intended to be a little more private going a little more money, but around the neighborhood you met kids by playing sports and so in the little league and then and then pick up games in on the Park's is where you meant a lot of kids and I don't know I'm in there may be a female equivalent of that but I don't know what it is. So a lot of kids I met who I I knew only because you know,
06:37 They play basketball when they played baseball and football and and there were only you know, if you parks to plan so we all played together.
06:47 Want me to parents like when you were growing up when you are this kid running around playing sports and that my parents were were my father's a professor at the University of Chicago. And and so they were during which sort of part of that culture in Hyde Park which is a big part of Hyde Park one of the nice things about the University of Chicago is almost everybody who works there or goes to school there and lives in the same neighborhood. So you see your colleagues in your professors and your students just walking around at the grocery store and everywhere else. Which is something that I thought all colleges would like until I got older but I've eaten in hindsight really loved about it that you are you really did have a community there. But at the same time the University of Chicago is sort of an isolated little island with in Hyde Park and and in ways that I think adults don't mix
07:47 With with people that they run into in the park that in ways that kids do I don't think my parents had exactly the same relationship to the Southside that I did, you know, they also didn't grow up and in very integrated neighborhoods more than many neighborhoods were in the 30s 40s 50s when they were growing up but not like that. I parked with your best memory with your father when you were a kid like grade school.
08:25 Great question. I have it. It's not as a singular memory, but I have memories my father even now it's almost 70 is a compulsive biker and its intestines go that fast, but but it goes far and
08:44 And when we were growing up and I remember this more is him and me than my brothers and him and I think partly because they were older than me and maybe had stopped by the time I could remember it, but he would one way or another gas on a bike and take us up somewhere when I was little he put me on a little seat on the back of bike, which I do remember when I was old enough to start pedaling on my own go up there with me and and oftentimes he take us to places far away but places that you could drive us with a little bit. So we bike up to the zoo in Lincoln Park or we pick up to Wrigley Field and
09:25 You know going with my father, although he was
09:29 He was always so too. Did you know that this plan we did hear the phrase wait till your father gets home. He was also the one who would who would cheat and so when you went out with just my father you get ice cream in the middle of the day you get it or you get something like that in a lot of the time it was his idea. I said you let you know you weren't even trouble for asking for it and you know, you ended up at the zoo or at the ball game or something.
09:54 What about your mom?
09:59 Memories for my mom was sort of
10:02 The opposite I remember my mom and not that she image move. She was not a stay-at-home mom, but I remember her at home a lot. I remember sitting in the kitchen as she cooked every day and and watching TV which we weren't allowed to watch a lot of it with watch before dinner and should usually have it on in the kitchen while she was frantically cooking for 5 people and being a Jewish mother that meant she was cooking for 50 people and I remember sitting in the kitchen with her a lot during those times. I remember
10:42 I remember sitting in the the laundry room with her. She folded clothes things like that more than events. I have more memories of my mother in daily life, but but
10:57 But the two of us, you know, it's sitting there talking and sharing in whatever it was. That was the job at hand.
11:07 Do you feel like she had a pretty good grasp of what your day today life was?
11:13 Yeah, I think so.
11:17 I don't I mean, I'm sure we did I don't remember it being I what did you do at school today kind of thing, but but I was around her a lot. And so I suspected she was a woman certainly when it came to sort of knowing who my friends were in things like that. She was much more likely than my dad but
11:40 But it was not I don't know a damn if it wasn't sort of an active thing in certain ways. It was just you know, we were around each other a lot. I know I don't remember feeling forced or anything like that. How did your relationship with her change as he went into high school? And can you talk a little bit about your grandmother?
12:08 Weather it when I come in. I think my relationship with my mother did change as I got older because
12:21 Because she raised all boys and and so
12:26 I think she was she was often careful not to to embarrass us in many ways and ways that extra it in hindsight probably distance her from us to not overly mother Us in ceramic tree with shoe is currently protective and I remember script curfews and I remember not being able to walk around and I didn't think like that but I don't remember her at people's homes for our people do things like that nearly as much and when we can try they would loan us the car so it wasn't so much about picking as often things either.
13:07 I do have a really firm memory of her when I've been the youngest when I graduated high school and my brother Michael and I graduated graduate from college the same day. I graduated from high school. So my parents were splitting so they could each be at one of her graduation to my dad was actually stain from mine. So before that my mom, I don't know where my dad was. He must have been out of town for something, but my mom took me and my brother and
13:45 I think my girlfriend at the time and there's somebody else there, but I remember her just being vocalizing it which is rare for her how proud she was to have him raise these three sons who were going to college.
14:04 Which channel College was sort of expected of us? So it wasn't a big deal until that moment I think for me.
14:11 My grandmother's my mother's mother Elsie lived in Gary, which is only about 45 minutes from from Hyde Park. So we went up there a lot and I spent a lot of time that we sort of my even though Gary is a very Urban sort of rough City itself. There there are stretches and it read along Lake Michigan in that are very sweet.
14:44 Out in the middle of nowhere and I'm pretty and my grandmother will not on the lake was in one of those neighborhoods. And so it was sort of Our Country Escape in some way and I remember my brother's my playing ball in her driveway and just having a driveway was a big deal on that nnn and raccoons coming up to her backyard being a big deal and we used to take our dog out there and when he got loose it wasn't a fear of him getting hit by a car and and or eating rat poison or things like that that you worry about in the city. It was pretty find his way home a little bit.
15:22 And I was we did that for years and until my grandmother basically became too ill to to live out there and then we moved her to Hyde Park.
15:35 And my grandmother on my father's side mini lived in just outside of Cleveland. And so it was more of an event when we saw her and we used to
15:48 When are the kids used to live across from the track? So that was exciting we would occasionally allowed to go there instead of swimming pool, which was too exciting for us, but it's meant we would go to her building. I remember that to that. We actually almost none of Cleveland considering up in their 50 * 100 * +.
16:11 And so call Cleveland was this one building in my brain?
16:19 But when your mother's mother when her health started deteriorating were your other brothers around?
16:29 They weren't in Chicago now May.
16:37 They weren't in the house Michael Western layaway at school by then.
16:44 And I'm trying to remember if John John must have been in Chicago, but but
16:51 And I don't remember for sure where he was living at the time but might one night when my grandmother got sick. She had if she went into.
17:02 What Might Have Been Alzheimer's which would certainly was was pretty severe dementia then. And so it was a tough time and she was at is still at the matriarch of the family so it was especially hard I think and in my aunt said had died a few years before so it was just my mother and it was a it was a hard time we would bring her over to the house every week for dinner and it was
17:32 It was a bit of a madhouse when we did that and and eventually she had to go into a nursing home which was which was
17:42 Not what my mother imagined having to do and I'm thinking it was certainly the right thing to do, but it was the hardest thing I ever watched her to.
17:54 What what do you think you learned? I mean at least in retrospect learned about your mother and about how
18:03 Families work from from both going through this and watching your mother have to go through her first times and few times even still.
18:16 My mother was not my mother, but she was a person and she was a
18:22 And not found upon that's not the right word. But she was she was able to be weak and she was able to not so to fix anything that need to be fixed she dealt with it, but it was at the time the second time. I'd seen my mother cry in the first time it only been a year or two before when her sister died.
18:44 It was that one of the only times I saw her with so much doubt. I think she knew it had to be done, but she
18:54 It was that that mean that she was okay with doing it.
18:59 And when it when we actually had to make the move at night my father at we just got back from a trip from Israel. My father was still there. I think my brothers were too. So what at that for those few days for a few days. It was just me and my mother and that's why I marry at work for my family for almost 30 years. I just 25 years and maybe starting and that.
19:26 She was there and an enormous help for my mother and more and more help than I was.
19:37 We should probably just take a second. If you want to talk about your brothers and just like if you can say how old they are and then give me give me a little anecdote from your childhood. Maybe it's story any any story will do, you know the ones I like butt and he still my brothers and I were all born four years apart Michael John almost to the day which meant that we entered our next section of school as soon as one finished it usually so I went into it too, but we called middle school, but I guess it's junior high as soon as my brother Michael came out of it and he had done the same with John and high school and college all those happen one of us would finish the next one would enter and we went to a school that
20:33 That UL do you sort of changed buildings? You went from Kindred Nursery School even all the way up to high school. So there was a large Legacy of levees by the time I got there at 10 or 12 straight years of us went wherever I got to Adair just noticed I was the third and that but we never went to school together.
20:55 Which was which was sort of interesting. So people knew of noumea Celebi, but I didn't know them within this context of the schools and then true form.
21:08 But there's three boys in the house and a dog who is 4 years younger than me. I think my parents are done having kids but felt the need to do something for you and you know the joke around the house is that my brothers were continuously put him in the hospital being the youngest I tried to do what they were doing often and was unable to do so, I don't I don't think either my brothers ever made a trip that I made that trait that but certainly that I can remember and I think maybe literally true ever made a trip to the emergency room. I had three broken arms for a couple thoughts alarms. Do you know it was a joke that I was bi the regular there and I do have a memory and this wasn't the store is planning on telling but I do have a memory.
22:08 If my brother and I had been sort of house and I don't know if we're wrestling playing football in the house, which we did a lot and he tripped me into a wall and split my head open and it was back when we had one car as a family and my mother was somewhere else and so my dad my dad had the three of us and it was I don't know 9 or 10 at night and so he did what came instinctively to my father and got the bikes out my brothers on theirs. I think me and the back of his and we bike to the emergency room to get stitched up and I remember also as you know, I would I did need stitches but I wasn't in dire shape. So we had to wait a while and my brother's being I don't
22:57 12 and 16 maybe something like that. We're sort of bored and then being a pain I think so. I remember my father giving them money to go get ice cream from the cafeteria and the thought crossed my mind that I wonder if every time I went to the emergency room, my brother's got ice cream and I remember my mother coming home actually assuming because my father didn't want to leave a note saying and this was before cell phones don't want to leave a note saying I went to the emergency room. He just sort of laughed and she came home to this empty house in assuming that maybe he had to educate I said, my father was want to do maybe taking us out for ice cream or something like that until I walked in with a huge bandage.
23:45 But there are a lot of trips like that nothing nothing serious, but I had she said to stitches my head. They are almost in the exact same place which left a pretty good scar in it.
23:57 But lucky for you, since you met me I'm the one who goes to be in pretty good in my adult life.
24:07 Can you describe the what a perfect day would have been like when you were saying like sixth grade? Maybe fifth grade? Like right before girls. I don't know. What a perfect day would have been like I can tell you what a pretty typical day was like, I know it was I think I mean, you know, I go to school and then they were they were always
24:35 There's three or four of us who always walked home together and then should have 5 6 7 8 that would rotate in and out and
24:45 We would often go to tomori's which which no longer exists space at the Swift chain of delis across Hyde Park, and there's one right in the UFC's.
24:57 The Reynolds club which two caught a student center sort of hype's it up a little bit at the you see everything is sort of dark and Gothic Inn in the Reynolds Club. Certainly is it you can film horror movie there, but there was nothing there is a deli there and would go into the pool a lot of their money into you don't gain as much sort of candy and french fries as we could afford that day and annoy college students probably for a while and then go out back into the quads and play football until it got dark and then and then get home before we got in trouble with her parents. I think we all had to be home before before dark. I'm in the cliche is before the streetlights came on to that was pretty much at and
25:40 And so we would surprise home and do that lets summer spring or fall or winter when we used to it. We still love playing football in 3 feet of snow and coming home drenched and none of us were very good. It wasn't it said you know that we were a bunch of jocks, but I don't think that's true of any of us that it was it was the daily thing to do soon ice cream football annoying people. That was pretty much are Twitter life revolved around
26:16 Can you tell me what kind of touched on this when we talk about food? But what religion where you raised him Josh? Can you talk a little bit about what your spiritual beliefs are?
26:38 It's interesting. I think in certain ways I've I've I wouldn't say I can't come back to Judaism because I don't think I have it left in and I don't think I've come back that far but
26:49 Growing up there thinks that you should have had to do and I think I hated it because I had to do it in certain ways. I'm glad I did but you know every Sunday I had Sunday school every Wednesday keeper school, which although they were a fair amount of Jews around my neighborhood it wasn't it by any means all Jewish. We're still a minority and to have to not play football that day because you had to go to Hebrew school was about the most humiliating that could happen and used to make I remember trying to make up other reasons why I couldn't accept it was always Wednesday and I don't think anybody felt and
27:33 And so a lot of it was stuff that you just had to do an end that made you stand out I guess and and wasn't sort of valued within your group of friends. So I didn't want to do it for those reasons. But in a lot of my friends weren't you at midnight of the kids who I went to Sunday school with you know, I wasn't unfriendly with but I don't think I need my closest friends were there.
28:02 And when I went to college, I sort of found myself a bit surprised that I die still did sort of the things that one does, you know, I went to you know, when I was on my own and didn't have my parents make him into it that I still went to services for the holidays and I still tried to get home for Passover and and things like that and I think
28:29 I think I also just had a sense of
28:33 Of the culture in the community and and I think it meant something specific where I was growing up having grown up around you say Jews that it was sort of an intellectual religion and religion that wasn't based on rules, but about debating and searching in and that it was a bit malleable and that you weren't getting Commandments to a baby rather you were you were expected to reason and nnn adapt and make sure that
29:04 That everything was up for grabs in certain senses that you weren't supposed to do things because you were supposed to do them. You're supposed to understand why and and make it mean something and then something's didn't mean anything and wouldn't do that. Any crap in the kosher family. I didn't grow up. I don't like that. Services every Friday. I remember having to get my grandfather was a rabbi. So I remember when we went out to Gary we had to go to shabbat Services FedEx it was
29:34 It was something that that unlike some of my friends have different religions wasn't about you do it because you're supposed to know you were supposed to figure out why you do it.
29:46 That's the way I grew up in.
29:52 Kind of truisms, I guess the
29:55 You through Judaism that you think I have really helped you determine how you want to live your life that you think came from Judaism.
30:11 I think that.
30:14 The most of it isn't is probably not unique to Judaism and groupthink knowing that you were supposed to take care of people that you were supposed to.
30:25 Consider those your neighbor's is people that you're responsible for and and that wasn't a nice thing to do. That's what you are obligated to do and we supposed to do but I think a lot of religions probably sit this think that and value that certainly there's a history. You know, I'm just a
30:46 What people have done and then sort of the diaspora of Judaism?
30:55 And I think this this this this conversation about you don't do things because you're told but you do things, you know, you're expected to reason that you're not supposed to follow blindly and I have friends who don't feel relate who grew up in religious family. So you don't feel that way about their religion. I think that's sort of hard and sad at the idea that that you're responsible to figure that out. And also, I guess one of those things that that's different about Judaism as well and rabbis are important things. They aren't essential that, you know, there's their leaders within the community, but they don't have any real special powers and speak and so that the idea that you are our chest it.
31:42 An equal part of that in the community as just an individual and that there's no sort hierarchy. I guess we're so it isn't important thing as well. I got a lot L do not directly from him because he died when I say it there's a lot for my grandfather's that obvious leap.
31:59 Focus my mother and I think my father in certain ways were there to measure or not and has been passed on to my brothers and me.
32:11 Can you?
32:15 What was your first memory of me?
32:23 My first memory of you is
32:28 Is having been brought in by that Jack McCall is a friend and a Scenic designer who was doing a show at my theater company. I'm interested. There's this guy painter I worked with and not trying to be a big-time picture on your user and Friends of of mine knew you from college. So I mean that was literally the first memory the first memory of
32:56 Of us interacting really is is Minnesota to I remember.
33:03 I remember going to Starbucks with Maya.
33:07 With my boss at the time trying to kind of most and you were out front smoking and but I used it as an excuse to talk to you that friend to go buy you a cup of coffee for working so hard I didn't really care how I heard you were working that was a cup of coffee. But you said yes, so I thought that was a good sign and I remember attack for that show when I don't know.
33:40 I didn't have a lot of responsibility. So I started supposed to be there in case I was needed. I'm not sure why you were there. But I remember being in the offices downstairs. So exhausted from attacking 16-hour days or whatever it is and that being our first conversation. Yes about my brothers tried convincing me that that is that if I put my head under the garage door that it would bounce right back up and as it turned out it didn't end I was struck with my head in the garage doors. I think ran away to not get in trouble. That was at my grandmother's house when you didn't like me.
34:30 I like that answer. How would you describe me?
34:37 Describe a dangerous question.
34:42 Did you give her that was struck by I've been struck by a couple things here. That's one of a fireball you have endless energy which chat and and and bound around rooms with your five foot nothing and it seem to take up lots of space as your abstract Always by your kindness that your capacity for kindness and and and then sort of everyday life that that instinct despair in Paris in to talk about in all ways. Of course, you know, your humor and your warrant and
35:29 And you know, you're your excitement towards life.
35:36 So I'm an excited Fireball and answer.
35:46 In in certain ways. I think I did. You know, I'd respond the opposite of you. I think I'm fairly.
35:55 Passage spoken and then having a cheap but don't don't sit sort of bound around rooms that same way but, you know, please enable to match some of your warmth then and humor and and and excitement for life.
36:14 Real quick. Is there anything that we didn't talk about that you would like to say or you would like to ask me if we get to know I sent you know.
36:34 I think it's an interesting time in our lives right now.
36:40 I'm still living in Chicago and you are are in graduates going in New York. And I think it's sort of interesting us doing this at this time in our lives. I wonder how we will how we will look at this time, and I'm 20 years from now.
37:02 But I think you'd be interested in a few just talk about this time in your life. You know, what is brought your hearing at this time in your life is to you.
37:15 I was brought here by really wanting to study Scenic Design. It was something that I I knew that I want to go to graduate school. And so I decided that other the course of study that I knew the least amount and wanted to know the most about with Scenic Design and kind of felt like either I went now or I never went it's turned out to be really exciting in some ways. It's just hard because I feel like I'm starting on another path and that's
37:49 Hard because you're not with me then.
37:56 Did some of the the ways that living in New York and studying this are best for me involve me staying in New York and that's scary. I don't necessarily like that or want to do it. But I do think that that's where I get the most out of this.
38:14 And a night. I miss you. I got really used to having you with me all the time.
38:19 And I feel like you you even me out and then I need somebody to even me out and I don't I don't have that here.
38:32 But at the same time, I think I think that neither of us really knew how much we were meant for each other until until it wasn't there anymore.
38:43 It really made me realize how perfect you are and I just want to say real quick cuz we're kind of at the end of our children that I really love you really glad that you're here with me right now.