Mary Beth Writes


Last week I mentioned that Monday of this week would be Len’s birthday. A friend remarked to me ever so kindly later that day, “I thought his birthday was the 30th?”

It is. Len’s birthday is the 30th. This same friend has commented to me, over the years, about how much I remember.

Anyways, has this week seemed more complicated than you expected? Sometimes, I think, time (Thanksgiving was unusually early this year and no one warned me), wafting magnetic poles, sun storms 93 million miles away, and still missing one’s kitties all collides and nothing is calamitous but boy it has not been smooth sailing.

So let’s celebrate Len, shall we? As of today he enters a whole new decade. We started his new decade with no coffee because when I made a half pot midafternoon yesterday, I forgot to reset the timer. Eventually we got our coffee and played Wordle and then set about having this day.

On a date back in 1980 Len mentioned that we needed to stop at a grocery store to buy coffee because he and his sister Lindy (they shared an apartment in Logan Square) were out. I asked how much they drank. He thought and then said about two pounds per week. I stopped mid-aisle. “A week???!!!”

“Yeah. Why? How much to you go through?”

“About two pounds a year.” (I mostly bought it in the school cafeteria.)

Have you noticed that coffee is getting pricier? I hope it means they are paying workers more but I bet it’s mostly shipping costs going to oil companies. Anyway, when our favorite brand goes on sale we buy several bags. Last month a store advertised it but each time we looked they didn’t have it. Without remembering to tell me, Len ordered the minimum order to get free shipping. Imagine my surprise when suddenly we had fifteen pounds of coffee beans. I had to rearrange the kitchen to get it to fit.

As Len said to me early on, “Without coffee all would be darkness and chaos.”


His first job in advertising was writing for Spiegel’s catalog. He wrote copy for carpeting and CB radios. In case you were shopping for those items in the middle 70’s.

I asked him when he felt proud of his career. There were a lot of good moments in his 40 years in advertising and marketing and yes, he won awards for junk mail!

What he recalls though is walking out of a client’s office in downtown Chicago. The client was happy and paying well and he felt as if he belonged to the business community of the city and it felt really good.

His family always had cats. One of their cats was a big-shouldered swaggering blond guy named Tawny. I’ve always known that Tawny was Len’s cat so just now I asked him how he knew that particular cat was his. “He told me.” 

His last year of high school Len and two of his fellow nerds took a Saturday morning astronomy class at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. It was an hour drive from their town into the city, one wonders that three goofy kids did that on their own. Anyways, let me first explain that northern lights happened when charged particles shoot out from solar storms towards the earth and are attracted by magnetic bands at the north and south poles. These bands were discovered in the late 1950’s by James Van Allen and those arcs are called the Van Allen belts. Van Allen was one of the teachers of the class Len took. I suppose one has to be a special kind of geek to think this is super cool, but many of us here are just that kind of nerdy.

“Blackened fish” was brought to us via New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhome around 1987. That New Year’s Eve Len and I played hard with our little kids and wore them out and put them to bed. Now it was time for the adults to have a fabulous meal; Len was going to blacken some pricey fish we’d bought. At about 10:30PM the fish fillets finally hit the super-hot cast iron skillet - and immediately commenced burning with flames a couple feet high and smoke billowing everywhere. Every smoke detector in our house went off. The kids woke up crying, the dog howled, the cat ran past. Len pulled the skillet off the stove and put out the fire. I ran upstairs to comfort the kids. We opened every window and door in our little house, freezing winter winds blew through, smoke billowed out our doors. Our neighbors asked if we were okay.

Len has blackened fish and meat since then but only outside on the grill with the hose nearby. Blackened fish tastes great.

Last goofy thing. As I’ve mentioned before, in my 20’s I worked at a branch office of Uptown Federal S&L. Our office was on Walton, a few building west of Michigan Avenue. Chicago’s Drake Hotel was on east Walton, just the other side of Michigan Ave. Prince Charles visited Chicago in 1977 and of course, stayed at the Drake. I saw the crowds out our windows at work and at a break wandered over to gawk.

Many years later Len was talking to someone about the time he was on Michigan Avenue and there was a big crowd and someone told him it was Prince Charles so he stood around to gawk.

We met two years later.



I clearly recall the many Make A Difference Day meetings where Len (and you) provided ideas and creativity. Also lots of humor. Happy Birthday, Len!
Mary Beth's picture

Yes, you took us places!

Happy Birthday, Len! Very happy to know you!

Yes, that's how you're supposed to blacken fish, screaming and everything. Nice photos. Last one he looks like Max.

Thanks for the laugh with the blackened fish smoke.

Between me forgetting how old my son was turning on the 27th and you thinking the 27th was the 30th, I'm happy we both finally figured things out! It must be the solar flares...or whatever...because it can't be my age (64). Just sayin'.
Mary Beth's picture


Happy Birthday Leonard :) So this is a new decade hey? You got this! Love the Leonard stories, and I think it is especially appropriate that the Northern Lights are predicted to be visible here tonight......hope they are there too! I'm actually heading out in a few minutes to try to see them, we do have clear skies! Cheers to both of you!
Mary Beth's picture

We are scanning the northern skies tonight, too!

A very happy birthday to one of the most brilliant and insightful persons that I have met in my 70 years of life. An inspiration to me. Taught me how to think with impartiality.

Happy birthday to Len! After coffee and wordle, I hope he enjoyed a relaxing day of doing whatever he wanted!
Mary Beth's picture

Actually, the morning was spent at Froedtert hospital because his sister was having a necessary though non-urgent surgery. She's okay, we are all good, but it was an askew way to begin his big day. While waiting around, she and Len and i talked about food and she said we had to go to a fancy butcher shop after we left her, so we did. Lambergs talk about great food a lot. I learned this early and I'm in this game, too, now.

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The Lies We Live By


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