Monday, September 15, 2008

#74 Monday Mourning--Manny Lazar and the South Shore

Or: Sunday's Worst and Best of the Week Reconsidered. The news last week (38 years late) was both bitter and sweet, no less so than ASTONISHING. I learned of the untimely and cosmically ironic/tragic end of Emanuel "Manny" Lazar, "Mr. Wee Folks," as the kids called him--murdered by a young black man (and gang-member) only a few years past wee-folk and potential-customer age (had he not been a newcomer) of the generous spirit he snuffed out in the victim's own eponymous toy store.

In her book, The Pied Piper of South Shore: Toys and Tragedy in Chicago (2005), his daughter (an unbeknownst-till-now schoolmate of mine at Horace Mann Elementary, two-years ahead and thus an eternity apart) Caryn Lazar Amster, mentions that in the immediate aftermath of the murder she could look out the front display window and see the usual "nose-prints" of the curious and now-anxious "wee folks" for maybe the very last time. Some years earlier, those nose-prints could easily have been those of my little sister and me. For, coincidentally, before I had even read the passage, my now-grown-up little sister reminded me by phone of how we used to wishfully "press our noses to the glass," when I'd "baby-sit" her through the neighborhood, and, by the way, always stop for a Green River fountain-drink at Lazar's Drug Store (a cousin) nearby.

And the memories keep flooding back, because, interestingly, when I thought about the great little-red-wagon event, it was pretty much in relation to the magical world of the Avalon Theater. These other memories have become refreshed only after the fact, so to speak. was in the Wee Folks Toys, Hobbies, Crafts, and Furniture shop that we got my Mysto Magic Set and the Mysto Chemistry Set that I mentioned in the Steve Martin post (8/8). YES...and my first Lionel electric train--these being, I've learned, the most popular products in the Lazar inventory. Mandy Patinkin, whose most famous film role has been Inigo "Prepare-To-Die" Montoya in the "Princess Bride" (how appropriate is that, I ask you)--got his start as one of the foremost collectors of Lionel trains in the country at Manny's store--in fact, he wrote the Foreword to the book.

So, even though I still can't quite conjure up a memory of his physical presence (remember, he was more like an apparition to me than anything else on that theater stage), Manny Lazar's influence on my formative years was considerable. As it was for so many other wee folks on Chicago's South Shore-- and ON the South Shore itself. From what I understand now, his murder became symbolic, the spirit was gone, and it seemed to hasten the demise of an already-declining area, which not long after surrendered to gangland hegemony and reverted to slums.

Ominously, Caryn nee' Lazar has never gone back. I also understand that these neighborhoods south of Hyde Park have gradually become "re-gentrified"--maybe as a result of Barack Obama's community-organizing efforts. I intend to return to some more of this memoirage later, but I wanted to ASAP--once I got the news--blogofficially pay my long-delayed respects and condolences to the family of the Pied Piper of the South Shore. Pax.

1 comment:

weefolkstoys said...

Dear D.J. Bless you for keeping alive the memory of my folks and Wee Folks. People remember my parents now into the 3rd generation because of the Pied Piper book and the free email newsletter that has sprung from it The South Shore News Spot. Hundreds of people have been reunited because of these and I know my parents are smiling. This is their legacy.