Wise men recall how 'elevator men know their building'

By John Kass

Chicago Tribune

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

“They say, ‘That’s pretty cool.’” Feeley said. “They like it. When new people come into the building, they are, ‘Wow! I didn’t know this existed anymore. A manually operated elevator — that’s cool!’ The reaction is always pretty positive.”

How did you become an elevator operator?

“The old-fashioned way. I knew somebody who knew somebody,” Feeley said. “I was basically out of work, and this is a full-time job.”

It got me thinking about the great Norman “Pops” McGarrity, an old-time prize fighter and South Side butcher.

When I was a boy, Pops worked for my dad in our little supermarket. He was like a member of the family. He was in his late 70s then, a little guy, about 5-foot-5, but with real shoulders on him.

He was light on his feet and had big hands and long arms. He had a friend, another old fighter, a guy named “Spider” who’d show up every once in a while.

And every night after work, we’d drive Pops to the Half Moon tavern, in a stretch of bars where Irish immigrants went to find work in the mornings on nonunion construction crews.

During the day at the butcher shop, Pops would putter around, slice some steaks, chop a chicken, but soon the heavy saw work became too much for him. His eyes were going, and we didn’t want him to cut his fingers off.

So he’d sit in the corner on the end of a wooden Pepsi crate, drink coffee and in his brogue tell my brothers and me his stories of the great Irish fighters of an even older time.

Finally, after months of this, my father said he could no longer afford to pay Pops to sit around. Pops understood, told us not to worry and said he’d go find something. He was half blind and we were sad, but he put on a good front.

A few days later, he returned to the store with some astounding news.

“Boys!” shouted Pops. “I got me a new job!”

What kind of job, Pops?

“I’m an elevator operator at City Hall!”

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him email at jskasstribune.com.

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