Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tipped in their favor: Andy, Lety and all that followed

Being an attorney, Andy is constantly trying to tip an otherwise balanced scale in favor of his clients. When he talks about how he fell in love with his now-wife, Lety, he makes a motion that comes naturally to him: hands out, palms up, one moving up while the other dips. He recalls the moment when his nascent attraction to Lety was on a scale like that:

"Was I going to call her? Was I not going to...?"

Finally, he made up his mind: he wasn't. Andy lost track of Lety's number, and didn't call.

I had a good time with Andy, Lety and the kids at the Chicago Botanic Garden

But the scale tipped back.

Andy first met Lety in 1998 through a function of the church they both attended, and liked what he saw. But a lawyer's training directs him to study each move before making it, and Andy put the idea of a romantic pursuit of Lety on the scale.

"He took my number, but he never called me back," Lety said.

Andy, Jr.

But sharing a social circle gave Andy another chance: he spotted Lety again at another social function months later.

He spoke candidly to me about his second impression. If you ever meet Lety, you'll understand this quickly: she is a woman of amazing grace.

"She wasn't dressed up as nicely, but the conversation was a little more substantive," Andy told me.

Andy asked Lety for her number again. Gracefully, she handed it over again.

This time, Andy called. Many more substantive conversations followed.

"We had similar goals, similar aspirations," he told me. "I could tell her anything and everything."

On March 11, 2000, Andy knelt down and asked Lety to dress up for him again. Lety accepted. Their lives merged, and Diana and Andy, Jr. followed.

The scale is tipped heavily these days, but Andy said he feels balanced now.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Phil and Amy: "I believed what she was singing"

The irony in Phil’s telling of the story of how he met Amy, fell in love with her and married her is that while he loads most of it with rich details, he cannot remember the most crucial point.

“I blacked out during the proposal,” he told me during our pre-wedding interview.

He then turned to his bride for help remembering.

“What did I do?”

The story of how these two came together begins decades before either of them were born, in a jewelry store in Indiana; it includes hospital rooms, blues nightclubs and Ball State University. It does not include any NFL playoff games, and we’ll get to the reason why in a few paragraphs. But it also include’s Amy’s cat, Saffron, and Amy’s reminder to Phil that she was feeding Saffron is what brought the crucial detail of his proposal back to his mind.

“As soon as you said ‘cat food,’ it all came back to me,” he said, his face lighting up again.

The backstory of Phil and Amy begins in rural Indiana, probably in the early 1940s. No one knows who made the ring that Phil slid onto his bride’s finger, but its style is indicative of World War II work: white gold, with diamonds in a design halfway between an oval and a marquee. Phil’s step-grandfather, Merle Russell, was a jeweler, but the ring Amy wore does not bear much resemblance to any of his other pieces; he likely acquired it somehow, and may have lost track of it…

….And that might be how it ended up in a black bag, tucked into the back of one of his safes. Merle died in 1981, and when his descendants cleaned out his store, the mysterious ring surfaced.

“My mom pulled it out, she loved it, so that was my mom’s ring,” Phil told me.

The story pauses for two decades. In October 2000, Amy had been in publishing for years, and now worked for a music-production company called Chick Singer Night; she was a chick singer herself, an alto who loved to sing blues, and her first gig at a Chick Singer Night event was coming up. Phil was a professional drummer, inspired by Coliauta, Gadd and Williams; he often played with a house band, and he loved the blues. For her first concert, Amy would be singing in front of a house band.

Hours before showtime, Amy rehearsed with the group. During the down time that divides rehearsal from performance, Amy sat at the bar, and the drummer pulled up next to her.

“We were talking, and we discovered that we both went to Ball State,” she recalled.

The two conversed, and time passed, and their talk had to conclude when showtime arrived.

“Internally, I have such stage fright,” Amy told me.

“I never really noticed it,” the man who played drums for her that night told me.

“I don’t remember my performance,” Amy said.

“I remember her performance vividly,” and Phil pulled it back to the present, in sharp detail,15 years after it happened. “I’m not going to sugar-coat it: I thought she was a decent singer,” he said. “But I believed what she was singing.”

But the time was not right — the two parted ways, and nearly 10 years went by. Amy and her friend Becca founded the Singer Spotlight series in January 2001, and celebrated its ninth anniversary in January 2010; Phil came to that show to watch some of his friends, who were in the house band. Greg, the bassist, had become a friend of both Phil and Amy.

“Greg told me we’d be great together,” Phil recalled. “I himmed and hawed around about it for a while. Finally, I Facebooked her, and asked if if she’d like to go out with me.

“She told me she’d take a raincheck on it.”

Amy took Phil’s request for a date, and her postponement, to her business partner. Her business partner disapproved of this move.

“Becca just reamed me out,” Amy said. “She was like ‘You are dumb, this is a great guy!’

“So I wrote him back, and said ‘How about that raincheck?’”

Their first date was on a Saturday; they planned to tour the modern art wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. Phil had a problem: his favorite NFL team, the Indianapolis Colts, was in the playoffs, and had a do-or-die game during that time.

So they had an “unofficial,” as Amy put it, preview date the night before: Becca’s birthday party at Fitzgerald’s. They stayed until 3 a.m. The next day, they met at the Art Institute.

“That date ended up being eight or nine hours,” Amy told me. “After that date, we called each other almost every day.”

Phil skipped the game. The Colts won. His team was on their way to Super Bowl XLIV.

But he was on his way to securing his own grand prize.

“She laughs at my dumb jokes,” Phil told me. “Which aren’t dumb, but, after you hear them for the ninth time, maybe they are. I feel loved and cared for in a new and refreshing way.”

“I think, intellectually, we’re on the same plane,” Amy explained. “I never get tired of talking about things with him.”

Amy and her mother, Kathy
But there was more going on in Amy’s personal life than a blossoming romance. Her mother, Kathy, was suffering from stage-four breast cancer, which had metastasized to her bones. Doctors told Amy that she would lose her mother soon.

She did not. Kathy celebrated her 81st birthday in September, then watched her daughter marry Phil in October.

“She’s a woman of amazing strength and determination,” Amy told me. But at the time, Amy was frightened, and spending as much time as she could with her mother, in the hospital.

Phil had been trying to sneak questions about Amy’s ring size into conversations around that time. At home one evening, when he knew that she would be rushing between work and the hospital, he wanted to get her complete attention for a moment.

He had Merle’s ring with him. His mom had taken it off of her own finger, resized it and given it to him, so he could propose with it.

Kathy shows a guest Amy's baby photos
Amidst sorting things out and getting ready to visit Kathy, Amy stopped for a second to feed her cat. She turned around — and Phil was holding an open box. The ring his mother wore was inside.

“He was like ‘So, do you want to get married?’” Amy recalled.

“She was ‘gobsmacked,’ I call it,” Phil told me.

“And I was like ‘Yeah,’” Amy said. “After he proposed, I calmed down a little bit.”

In trying to tell his side of all this to me, Phil got stuck at trying to describe the proposal. What jogged his memory: Amy mentioned the kidney disease Saffron was struggling with, and how she was feeding him Royal Canine cat food. Once she mentioned that, Phil’s “blackout” moment filled with light.

On their wedding day, Merle’s ring filled the Frederick Graue House with light.

Full gallery

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The future's better than what it used to be

I've staged plenty of for-sale houses with real estate agents, but this was the first time a client asked me to not make a site look better. Welcome Home Chicago Properties is doing residential construction a bit different than most: To make their final product look great, they tear the starting materials out.

Reconstruction has begun at 3029 N. Menard Ave.
Welcome Home turns used houses into new houses through a system that nears demolition: They work with Simmons Home Construction to shear the building down to its frame. Rickety old staircases and weather-worn roofs have to go. Once the slate is nearly blank, they install new everything; when that is complete, they partner with the specialists of Team Lighthouse at real-estate firm Exit Strategy to market the final product.

A heavy tarp protects the currently topless 4859 W. Patterson Ave.

We traveled from site to site in style — via Second City Trolley
They brought me along for one of their "rehab tours," during which investors, buyers and other interested parties see what the Welcome Home process looks like. We examined a just-purchased home that had not been gutted yet, then saw other sites in progressive steps of dismantlement and reconstruction...

The tour group got the view from the roof — and up to it — at 2904 N. Nagle Ave. 

...Until we got to 4341 N. Meade Ave., where we looked at a Welcome Home final product. When we arrived, the firm had a home-made lunch ready for us, including meats grilled by managing partner Adam Barrera. The organizers even knew that two people in our trolley had celebrated birthdays earlier in the week, and everyone got cake.

"Welcome home" to a couple that will soon be property owners

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Anya's 16th: the big, bright birthday

The birthday girl made neon the dress code 
I've photographed plenty of birthday parties that used some variety of "happy birthday" backdrop for portraits. It always sounds like a great idea to parents — who usually find out about 15 minutes into the evening that the kids don't think it's that cool.

This party was one of the few, though.

Center of attention: the lovely Miss Anya dances through her backyard party
Anya and her friends are either very close, or very secure, or maybe both. She and I had to work the backdrop all afternoon and all night, as party people came and went, and it never seemed to get old. Kids dragged out of the back-patio-dance-floor to pose for a second or third time.

Anya made neon attire the theme for her event, and I was surprised at the number of kids — even guys — who played along. Either the '80s are back in style, or Anya is that girl who can bring something into style at will.

Open all night: some guests wanted multiple appearances with Anya and the backdrop

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Double Barrel Daryl, the Toothpaste Go-Go Girl and the broken rose

Daryl decided it was time to show Mary how he felt, so he bought her a single rose. Mary broke it in half and gave it back to him.

And their romance began.

I toured the Lincoln Park Zoo with Amelia, Logan and the grown-ups
The story of how a snapped rose became the spark of true love has three different beginnings — 1994, 1991 and the late 1980s. Way back then, Daryl was a psychology student at Kansas State University, and he also drew a comic strip for the school newspaper; Mary was a high school student in a nearby town who picked up the KSU paper from time to time. The “Double Barreled” strip made a strong impression on her…not in a positive way.

“I remember reading his cartoons when I was in high school and thinking ‘Wow, this guy is weird,’” she tells me.

She was soon to meet Mr. Double Barrel.

“We kept crossing paths,” she tells me, “we just didn’t know it.”

Mary checks out one of the parrots
By 1991, Mary had enrolled at K-State, and Daryl had paused his publishing career to focus on psychology classes. His advisor put together a collection of upper- and underclassmen for a mentoring program; Daryl and Mary signed up, and happened to attend the same gathering.

“The only thing I remember about that meeting was the girl across the table from me,” Daryl recalls.

Two things about this girl stood out to Daryl:
1. She was beautiful.
2. She had a gob of toothpaste drying on a corner of her mouth.

The group talked a bit, and Daryl made some time with The Toothpaste Girl (who had no idea she was talking to Double Barrel), but he let her leave without getting her name. And that was very nearly the one and only end to what would have been a pointless story…except for Mary’s sister being a fashion major. And over-protective.

By 1994, Double Barrel had “extended my stay” at KSU by adding graphic design to a double major; one day, he dropped by the student union and spotted a fashion show going on. Mary’s sister, Sandy, organized this event to display styles from past decades, but when she found herself in need of a model from the 1960s, she recruited Mary and outfitted her with their mother’s DayGlo orange go-go dress.

“All of the sudden, I see Toothpaste Girl coming down the runway!” Daryl tells me. “She just stuck out in my mind.”

But Daryl made no move. The Toothpaste Girl got away again.

I captured Amelia in her natural state — chilling
But Daryl got another chance, because his roommate volunteered at the student union — with The Toothpaste Go-Go Girl. They bumped into each other again when Mary came over to their place to meet his roommate…right as Daryl got out of the shower.

“I had to put clothes on, and stuff like that,” he told me.

So an acquaintanceship began. Daryl liked Mary a lot, but was uncertain of what to do; Mary warmed up to Daryl, but was waiting for him to make a move.

By the night of her 21st birthday, Mary was still waiting — but she’d invited Daryl along for the party. Sandy organized a bar-hopping tour for her baby sister…but she was not excited about that Daryl guy coming.

In one of the bars, a woman was walking around selling roses, of many colors. Daryl decided that the moment had arrived — he would reveal his real feelings to Mary with one of those roses. But he knew nothing about what rose colors symbolize…

…So he went to Sandy for counsel. Sandy advised him to give Mary a yellow rose, assuring him that the yellow rose symbolized “forever.”

“Never listen to my sister,” Mary cautions me.

Family fist-bump
Daryl handed the girl he was attracted to a rose that he did not know actually meant “friendship.” Mary knew what it meant, and was perturbed about receiving it from the guy she really liked.

So she went to the bathroom, snapped the stem in half, returned and handed the broken flower back to him.

“It wouldn’t be broken,” she told him, “if it was red.”

Daryl recoiled for a moment — but even he knew what a red rose symbolized. He now knew what Mary wanted from him.

“I took this as a good thing,” he told me.

And starting soon afterward, Double-Barrel Daryl and The Toothpaste Go-Go Girl dated for five years. Their love came to a fourth beginning in 1999, at their wedding.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lamonte, Joyce and the big scene

The centerpiece of every wedding is obvious: The bride's entrance.

The afterthought of almost every wedding is the groom's entrance — usually through a side door, so as not to make a big scene.

But Lamonte decided that he had earned a big scene.

And then...look below. There's no need to discuss what Joyce did when she walked in.

As she entered, I turned around to grab a few shots of Lamonte's expression. Clearly, Joyce made the bigger entrance.

And the rest of the night...that was one big scene after another.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cat food: the key to the pre-wedding interview

Phil and Amy have, for the most part, great memory recall. When we sat down earlier today for their pre-wedding interview, they gave me a nuanced, layered story of how they met and fell in love. I'll write that tale after their ceremony, in October.

The story involves antiques, breast cancer, the Singer Spotlight program at FitzGerald's Nightclub, a cat named Saffron, and her food. Phil was trying to tell me how he proposed, but said he had a mental black-out as he popped the question, and couldn't remember how he did it — until Amy reminded him about the cat food.

After that, Phil remembered everything.