“He came dressed in an overcoat and civilian clothes and sunglasses and a hat, like some kind of character out of a spy book.”

—A description of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in John Conroy’s “Cardinal Sins,” a tale of intrigue, June 5.


September 3, 1987

They Came in Through the Bathroom Mirror

A Murder in the Projects

“They throwed the cabinet down,” Ruthie May McCoy frantically told the police dispatcher. “They want to come through the bathroom.” By the time the police got there she was dead. The Reader‘s Steve Bogira explained that McCoy’s 15-story building in the Abbott Homes project was designed so medicine cabinets in adjacent apartments backed against each other and were easily popped out. That’s how plumbers reached the pipes in the wall—but kids discovered they could slither past the pipes. “It’s the way to go from one apartment to the next even if you’re not killing nobody,” a janitor told Bogira.

Bogira wrote: A claustrophobe in a closet might be more at ease than a paranoid like McCoy in an Abbott high rise; the buildings feature dark, malfunctioning elevators, pitch-black stairwells, and cocaine and PCP addicts on nearly every floor. Fiends really are lurking in the shadows here; in these towers, you're crazy if you're not always looking over your shoulder.

Jerry Sullivan

Besides publishing them, the Reader never knew what to do with its writers. It didn’t tout them or run their pictures or plant them on talk shows. Jerry Sulivan wrote the Reader‘s Field & Street column from 1984 to 1993 as an open secret on the back pages. When he died in 2000 it was time enough for me to allow, gratefully, that “he could write a column in which every single piece of information was foreign to most readers, including the name of the bird or beast the column was about, and make it all seem as familiar as our backyards.”

From a few 1987 columns:

May 22: The grasslands of the North American interior began developing in the Eocene epoch about 50 million years ago after the Rocky Mountains arose in the west and threw a rain shadow across the heart of North America. With brief interruptions by glaciers, the prairie has been here ever since. With all that time to develop, the tall-grass prairie became a complex system of about 300 different plants and thousands of species of insects, mites, spiders, nematodes, birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

June 19: Almost nobody has anything bad to say about bluebirds. They are birds of happiness—gentle of demeanor, sweet of voice, confiding of disposition, beautiful of plumage, colored, it is said, like the sky above and the fresh turned earth below. They also have a very high tolerance for human beings.

July 3: There are two ways to attract a butterfly. One is to put out a bait consisting of elderly fruit—bananas are particularly good—mixed with molasses, beer, and yeast. The other is to piss on the ground.

July 17: Woodpeckers are very important animals. The nest cavities they dig, use, and then abandon will be next year’s nests for everything from the great crested flycatcher to the common goldeneye—a species of duck—to the flying squirrel.

December 4: “If a person knows only four birds,” wrote Edward Forbush, “one of them will be the crow.”