What the best city, country kids offer

Teenagers are not normally part of my world. But in the past month I have had two important encounters with the under-20 crowd.

Liz Born is now 17 and recently graduated from North Side Prep?an elite magnet school with a strong arts program. I have known her since she was small enough to sleep in an improvised bassinet that we made from a dresser drawer when her parents, Dan and Mary Born, were visitors in my home a long time ago.

She had a one-woman art show June 9 at the Morpho Gallery on the north side of Chicago. I volunteered to help serve food and run errands.

She had hundreds of pieces of her whimsical grotesques on display, ranging from lobster ladies to Mayan warriors. As they sold, she put a red dot on the frame. By the end of the evening she had sold more than three quarters of them?thus selling more in one evening than Vincent Van Gogh sold in his lifetime.

Even I bought a small painting of a Mayan warrior who has a nice uniform and a few extra arms.

But mostly I was the anonymous old guy wearing a red apron and restocking the food and drink table watching several hundred of her friends, their parents and artists crowd into the tiny gallery and spill out to the sidewalk.

At the end of the evening a band played. ?Caw Caw? is a group of her friends from high school. I retreated to the sidewalk and found a lawn chair, believing I was not tough enough to listen to teenage garage-band angst.

But I was wrong. These fellows performed original music in the style of U-2 and David Byrne with gentle humor and irony. I regretted not keeping my seat inside.

These are Chicago kids headed for, or already are, freshmen at elite colleges and universities. They were relaxed, soft-spoken and courteous, unified by a collective style that steered between the extremes of alienation and innocence.

They seemed pleased to be with their parents?but not displeased when their parents went home. On a perfect summer night in Chicago, kids seem to have at least three social events in an evening.

Many stayed to help clean up when the show closed.

This weekend my great-nephews, Tyler and Michael Suderman, and their friend, Josh Kenney, stayed at my place for their first visit to Chicago?newly eighteen and newly Hillsboro High School graduates.

We did the Chicago tourist trail, including an Ethiopian meal, a walk along the lakefront, coffee atop the Hancock building, ambling through Millennium Park, a brief tour of the University of Chicago, plus a drive through the ghetto on the West Side.

They then went to a John Mayer concert at the Chase Pavilion on the lakefront on Friday. (I went to bed early.)

They were fun to have around. They were too sophisticated to be cool or blas?. Plus, they had enough adult maturity to show child-like enthusiasm for the spectacular and things new to them.

They were even humble enough to take my advice: ?Go to the Art Institute even if you only have an hour. And, take a cab home if you are out late at night. Cabs are more expensive but far safer.?

Plus they cleaned up the house before they left.

Both the Chicago and Hillsboro teenagers have so many aspirations and dreams they will need to live to be a hundred to accomplish even half of them. But I am not laughing about this. Because one of the questions I often ask my clients?the addicts and felons of our city?is, ?What were your dreams when you were a teenager?? Almost all of them say, ?I never had a dream about what I wanted to do. I just thought I could party the rest of my life.?

In June, I listened to the best of city kids and country kids. One thing they have in common is their addiction to cell phones. If this continues I suspect in the evolutionary development of humanity, we are only centuries away from babies born with cell phones already in their ears.

But the second commonality is bright, creative, kind and thoughtful kids filled with dreams and enthusiasms. Someday, these will turn into careers and vocations.

Thus we have new folks not only to fund our Social Security benefits but also people to tend to our planet.

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