At the Steve Goodman Post Office


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I will turn their mourning into joy.

Jeremiah 31:13

“There are 15 cars and 15 restless riders. Three conductors and 25 sacks of mail.”
Steve Goodman

October’s winds in Chicago this year blew hurricane force grey terrifying. For two days straight. Bending trees to the ground, snapping power lines, shaking the foundations of houses and souls, shattering car windshields and making dogs whimper.

But it was round about this hard autumn that the solid squat concrete federal fortress that had stood forever at the corner of Southport and Irving Park Road was somehow renamed the Steve Goodman Post Office.

Now below the Works Progress Administration mural that lines the top of one wall, it’s colors still celebrating the clink clank hammer pounding rhythm of accomplishment to be heard when the people of the last Great Depression would go back to work; below that mural swirling through the lines for stamps and packages parcel post, there would be now and forever the smiling elfin spirit of the great musician from Skokie, Illinois, Steve Goodman. His bright eyes shining, guitar strumming music from the time he learned to play guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music, listening to Bob Gibson, from that time on to forever and a day.
And as the October gale force winds calmed and the sky turned achingly brilliant blue against the orange and yellow autumn leaves miraculously still left on the trees; I am taken by the calmer autumn winds of time and find myself in summer.
A gymnasium on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield Minnesota. A warm July night. Packed to the rafters with 3,000 souls and no one is breathing.

For 5 full seconds. No one took a breath. Caught and held by Steve Goodman on a stage alone. Without even his guitar, he took us all totally into the life of a young woman named Penny Evans. A widow in the war that’s being fought in Viet Nam. At when he bowed his head finished singing the story, no one could breathe for 5 seconds. I remember counting them. Because as the 5 seconds ended and the thunder of the applause shook the building, I looked around me and felt the panic rise in my throat.

One of my charges, one of the 6 kids I was supposed to be watching, was gone. I say kids, now with a wistful smile. They were 16-17 years old. I was maybe 19. But they were patients in a residential treatment center. One for emotionally disturbed kids. I was a counselor. A college intern. And I was in trouble.

We were all standing on the floor of the gym, clustered around the stage. At the beginning of the song Vicki, 16 and scars like railroad ties slit running from each wrist up to each elbow, Vicki was right next to me. At the end of Penny Evans, as the tears came pouring in the stunned silence of the room, Vicki was gone.

So I herded my other five kids into a circle around Gail, the other counselor. “Vicki’s gone! Watch everybody! I’ll be back!” And I pushed, much to the annoyance of the people around me, through the crowd to the doors where the crowd had spilled out on to the steps and into the July breezes.

About 10 seconds later, the panic stopped. I saw Vicki. Calmly standing on the steps. Having a serious conversation with Steve Goodman. Who could not have been listening more intently.

Walking, now with my fear gone, up behind her, I heard her say to Steve Goodman, “Well, what it really is, is a mental hospital. But you’d be surprised. Most everybody seems pretty normal. We’re here with 2 counselors tonight. One of them is a guy from Chicago. He likes you a lot. So he arranged this. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you’d like to come back with us after the concert. Everybody would like you. I know they would.”

To which Steve Goodman answered, “Well Vicki I appreciate that. I really do. But I’ve got to drive back to Chicago tonight. Because tomorrow I need to catch a plane to go somewhere else. But thank you!”

“OK said Vicki. Oh, there’s a counselor now. But listen, I just wanted to tell you. You are a really good singer.”

“Why thank you Vicki! Thank you so much!” said Steve Goodman, his face beaming like an eternal sun. He saw me motion Vicki over, wipe the sweat off my brow in a gesture of ‘whew, thank goodness I found her.’ I gave him a wave and mouthed the words “thank you.”

And Steve Goodman just smiled.

One Response to “At the Steve Goodman Post Office”

  1. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger,

    Very neat ‘slice of life’ story. It is amazing over the years how you have been involved in such a variety of events and with such a variety of common folks and not so common folks. Your stories continue to transport me instantly to wherever you are taking the reader. Thanks for being a writer and a teller of stories.

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