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  • My house had rituals, and every morning of every school day began the same way. My dad would read my mom and I our horoscopes, following each Aquarian and Leo entry to the letter until he got about halfway through, where he would transition with a deadpan seriousness into wild, made up promises and premonitions for each of us.

    Then, on my way out the door, he always sent me off with the same advice: "Hey, learn some smart stuff." When I got home, he expected me to recount what I'd picked up that day. I got used to the idea that "smart stuff" came from the gutter as well as the classroom, so we talked about poems, love, politics, teaching, vulnerability, cruelty, history, memory, music, and writers in equal measure. We especially liked the places where these intersected, and we called that culture.

    He was so excited for me to move to Chicago, the city where he was born. I packed to move on a whim, and he insisted that simply deciding and doing is the only way we get around to doing things that scare us. He could barely walk by then, but he promised to talk me through the neighborhoods he remembered from his childhood and then let me correct his memory.

    My mom was waiting in the car to take me to the airport, and my dad stood in the garage.

    "Baby, I have three pieces of advice for you. Don't go to any Polish funerals. Don't smoke any white rock opium." He held me as tightly as he could. "And learn some smart stuff."

    My dad is on the right in the picture above, with his brothers. He died December 9, five years ago. He was hilarious, a seeker, a latent adventurer of many concentric and interior lives. There is never enough time, even when we make a little time every day.
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