From the vaults… an interview with the one and only Carl Leukaufe! Dubbed a master of the vibraphone by Chicago Jazz Magazine, Carl was a musical genius who had a heart of gold and an outrageous sense of humor. I had the good fortune to live with Carl for several years, along with a multigenerational bunch of eccentric, loving artists in a home that we called "the asylum." Carl triumphed over addiction and illness in his sixties to resume playing music after a long hiatus, moving out of the YMCA and into our home, where we listened to his mallets fly across the cool keys of his vibes in the basement every afternoon. In 2007, I interviewed him about growing up in Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s. His original words are below.
Oh yeah, there were still horses in Chicago then. Our neighbor had a horse and carriage. He went around selling fruit and vegetables, and coal and ice. You could still find horse apples in the alley. That’s what we called their shit. We picked ‘em up and threw ‘em at each other.
These black guys would come to shovel coal into our basement. I remember, two guys came once and they brought a quart of gin and a lemon meringue pie. That was their lunch. I was like, Whoa!
My ma’s name was Vera. She was a housewife, back when being a housewife really meant something. I mean, she washed all our clothes by hand on one o’ them roller things. Crocheted… knitted…. cooked three meals a day. I took it for granted how hard she worked.
Well, she got married at 16. When my dad met her she was a maid.
She was born in Hungary. She was so shy! When my dad died – she didn’t know how to take the bus, how to use the phone – he had done everything.
Black people didn’t come in our area. If they did, there was fights. They’d get jumped! They’d get beat up ‘cause they were outnumbered. Some black kids came to a school dance once at Waller High and the kids threw eggs at ‘em. I never liked that shit. It always bothered me.
Ms. Morph was my teacher when I was 8 or 9, she was big and loud and mean. Ooh! She’d lock you in the closet! You got in trouble, she’d take construction paper and make you a dog collar.
Yeah, I got in trouble! I called myself the Black Arrow. Went around breaking up hopscotch games and stuff.
I smoked dope for about a year before I ever felt anything. One day, I was shooting pool… and I smiled. Hee hee! It had taken effect.
In World War II everything was rationed. My mom had a footlong cigarette she bought for a dollar and she’d smoke a couple puffs and put it out.
You could buy stamps for a dime for the war effort. After so many you’d redeem ‘em, get the money back but it was worth more, like a bond. We’d collect paper for the war effort, and scrap metal. Heh! Imagine people doing that today.
My dad bought a house on Lill Avenue. The FBI came a couple times looking for the guy who lived there before, they told my dad he was a creep. He swapped underwear in the mail. In the basement my brother and I found a 55 gallon drum full of used sanitary pads. My brother said, “It must be something for the war.”
Downtown had all the great movie houses and live shows would play there too. I went and saw Bob Hope, Lana Turner, and Les Brown, all for $2.50. It seemed like a hell of a lot of money.
Oh, I miss the streetcars. Streetcars were great. They would go, ding ding ding! And they’d sway like this. Whoa!