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My father-in-law, Jack Woltjen, sold eucalyptus oil. He hawked it in two-ounce bottles at flea markets and county fairs. He took orders over the phone and then the Internet, and convinced local health stores to carry it. And he handed out samples to friends and strangers alike, including to his neighbors and the UPS man.
Jack named the oil, which was extracted from an Australian eucalyptus tree, V-Vax, derived from the Latin word vivax, which means tenacious for life. He believed it soothed bee stings and burns, that it cured everything from the common cold to kidney stones; he was also convinced that it helped slow the progress of AIDS. A confident, easygoing man who rarely got flustered, Jack could--and did--persuade almost everyone he met of V-Vax's curative properties. My wife, to this day, uses it for cold sores. Because the medicinal oil would eat through plastic, Jack had to package it in glass bottles. But he made a point of tell- ing anyone who'd listen that he drank the stuff. Every morning, he poured a few drops into his orange juice. "I down it like a shot of whiskey, just like John Wayne," he once told a reporter for a local weekly.
Chicago, after all, is a place of passion and hustle, or as the early explorer René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, wrote: "The typical man who grows up here must be an enterprising man. Each day as he rises he will exclaim, 'I act, I move, I push.' " And so my wife's father was celebrated here, for his entrepreneurial spirit and for his unwavering belief in himself. One of Jack's longtime friends told me, "I was never completely convinced of the healing power of V-Vax, but Jack was such a strong and caring person, and he never seemed to have any doubt that just his touch would have a healing effect, eucalyptus oil or not. He used to persuade elderly women that V-Vax had restorative powers. He didn't do this disrespectfully--he really believed it. He wasn't conning anyone. He said the women loved the feel of it on their hands."
Jack was a ruggedly handsome man, and I can easily imagine those elderly women swooning over him. At six foot two, he was built like an oak, firm and straight-backed. Even into his seventies, he ran five miles a day. He had an open and empathic face, and more often than not he was in high spirits. He also had an uncanny ability to make everyone feel as if he shared a special intimacy with them. Even when Jack got angry, which was usually out of indignation rather than due to some personal slight, his eyes still flickered with a measure of mischievousness.
Jack did things his way. He hung posters of paintings by the masters in his house, and while he thought that these works were good, they weren't as good as they could be. In a Matisse, he whited out a line which he thought didn't belong. In a Gauguin, he added a cat. Just about all Jack listened to was Pink Floyd, and at his funeral, his children played The Wall on a boombox, much to the priest's dismay.
Jack, who died in 1999, personified the city, a place eternally in transition, always finding yet another way to think of itself, a city never satisfied. It's a city marked by its impermanence, though unlike, say, Los Angeles, which is regularly scorched and scarred and shattered by natural forces, Chicago's metamorphoses are generally shaped by human hands, the Great Fire of 1871 notwithstanding. It's a practical place--a city of necessity--where man has actually beaten nature. In 1900, for instance, when it became apparent that the sewage flowing from the Chicago River into Lake Michigan might contaminate the drinking...
Posted June 23, 2012
Posted August 24, 2007
Growing up in the Northwest side of Chicago, there were many things I never knew about the city. After reading this book, I was privileged with knowing about the people of the city, not just the ones that surrounded me in the Jefferson Park area of town. Through the use of people, Alex Kotlowitz makes the story of the city jump with excitement. Hearing the stories of the old steel mill workers to the troubles of Cicero, you see how these people have been affected. If you want to know a little on Chicago history, I urge you to read this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 14, 2005
Based on Kotlowitz's previous books, I expected something that hit a lot harder. This book is more about characters in certain neighborhoods than it is about the city itself. Ignored in the book is the southwest and northwest sides of Chicago. Here the more educated, more affluent, but just as tough residents live. Because the neighborhoods are stable, have good schools and low crime, the author must have found these regions too boring to write about.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 3, 2011
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Posted July 22, 2012
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