For half an hour, The Kuklapolitans brought us together; my father and neighbor kids who would pile in around the 12” Zenith.
Our attention was captured by Kukla, Fran, Ollie and their friends. Their version of opera, ballet and theatre, written and directed especially for kids, drew us into their fantastical world. Dad made a production of removing his suit jacket and tie, undoing the top button of his shirt, rolling up his sleeves and sitting down cross-legged among us.
After the show, it was his turn to entertain. He would address each of us by the wrong name, causing an uproar of laughter and complaint. He’d create imaginary playmates in a singsong rhyme until we caught on and could repeat the cadence or make our own; “Mar-guer-ite, go wash your feet, they stink from here clear down the street.” Above the din, as kids tried to outdo each other, he’d ask, “If you are who, and I am where, who’s why and where’s when?”
My Dad grew up in the smog of East Chicago, lungs full of waste from a childhood spent in fallen-down places. At age ten he apprenticed as a plasterer and joined the Trade Labor Union before he had reached adulthood. This was during the time skyscraper facades rose up along Lake Shore Drive, filling block after block of land lots, that used to be homes and neighborhoods. In foreman attire, he’d masquerade as a tough guy. Brooks Brothers clothier sold “the business man’s wardrobe that makes a man feel larger than life,” a double-breasted suit, a tweed overcoat, and a fedora tilted down over his eye; the armor-like uniform that completed the parody.
Jean Cassidy 2015