Our mom was known for her great kolacky, so light and buttery and flaky, the best cookies I’ve ever eaten. But she had that stroke and now she’s in a nursing home.

But she loves kolacky, so I picked up a delicious box at Pticek & Son Bakery, at 55th and Narragansett.

Pticek’s is a great bakery, one of my favorites. It doesn’t get the media buzz it deserves. It’s not in a trendy neighborhood. It’s in a Southwest Side working-class neighborhood of cops, firefighters, tradesmen, people who go to factories and warehouses, people who work with their hands, like the Pticeks.

This isn’t a neighborhood of people who get paid for working on laptops.

Then I drove over to the nursing home and left them at the front desk. If you have someone in a nursing home, you know the drill.

You drop off the kolacky. Someone takes the box upstairs to your mom. You walk out on the lawn, so she can see you from her window. You talk on the phone. You can see her smiling and waving up there. You smile and wave too.

On the drive home, I wondered about how the isolation is hurting the old. They can’t hug us. We can’t kiss them. Just then I caught a glimpse of my eye in the rearview mirror: I was looking at the most terrible son in the world.

And then, over the car radio, there came a name: Dr. Rachel Levine.

You know about Levine? As Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, Levine wields life-or-death power during the coronavirus.

One of Levine’s life-or-death edicts was to order nursing homes to accept patients who had tested positive for the virus. This allowed the virus to spread and thousands died.

According to news reports, even as she pushed the coronavirus infected into nursing homes, Levine took special care of her 95-year-old mother.

She pulled her mother out of the facility she was living in — a personal care home — even as she ordered coronavirus patients into long-term care facilities. All political hell broke loose. Levine tried to explain what she’d done, but what she offered were just words.

Though contemptible, Levine fits into a common understanding of what happens in a time of the coronavirus, this time of crisis and limited resources and fear. Levine lives in Pennsylvania, but human beings there are like human beings in Illinois.

Clout talks. Only suckers beef.

Chicago’s mayor told everyone to stay home during the coronavirus. She became a star on national media telling people to stay safe, including women who wanted to get their hair cut. Then what did she do? She got a haircut and posed for a selfie with the stylist.

The billionaire governor of Illinois issued his stay-at-home edicts and closed businesses. But his family wasn’t home, they were in Florida, then on to his farm in Wisconsin. He said farms are essential, and it’s essential to take care of the animals.

The governor and the mayor offered words of explanation. And then the people began to push back hard.

When politicians break or appear to break their own rules, partisan politics isn’t at the heart of it. Human nature is at the heart of it. And the human heart can rationalize all sorts of things, before directing the mouth to issue a few words.

In good times, words will do, if you can control the messaging. But these aren’t good times, what with old people dying in nursing homes, and healthy young people still ordered to stay inside, and businesses dying from the governor’s shutdown, and jobs disappearing by the minute, and those who work with their hands told to sit on them.

In Illinois, we have two classes of people now. One class has a voice. The other does not.

Those who work with their hands who are not getting paid: chefs, bartenders, servers, bussers, cleaning crews, barbers, beauticians. They’re not going to learn to code. They can’t work on laptops from home. Their homes become like jails.

Yet when they complain about wanting to get back to work, they’re mocked by the technocrats on Twitter. When they obeyed, they were working-class heroes. But now? They’re shrieked at for being selfish and not caring if others die. They’re told to shut up. And they’re on the verge of becoming deplorables.

But they can still read the news and watch TV. In Illinois, they know there are armies of government office clerks with political clout just sitting at home, getting paid, never worried about being laid off. And political armies of state public worker unions getting paid and not worrying about layoffs.

They see the politicians getting paid, and journalists, like me, and technocrats, the scientists and experts like Dr. Rachel Levine, getting paid.

As technocrats kill the economy to save us from the coronavirus, the technocrats will still have money to buy kolacky.

But the people who work with their hands?

Without jobs in a crippled economy, all they can do is watch through the window, and sit on those hands of theirs.

Listen to “The Chicago Way” podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin — at www.wgnradio.com/category/wgn-plus/thechicagoway.

(c)2020 the Chicago Tribune

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