FOR A SECOND
November 1951—July 1952
WE HAD SOLD our house in Chicago, which was too small for us, when we left for Los Alamos. In the late summer of 1951, I left Mici and the children in the newly built house we'd enjoyed for two years and went back to Chicago to look for a place to live. The housing situation had not improved much during our absence, and the city was locked in a muggy hot spell. After a discouraging search, I came across a nice apartment on the first floor of a three-story building on East Fiftieth Street near the university.
I arrived just as the owners, a middle-aged couple named Eckhaus, were finishing their lunch. The apartment for rent was their living quarters, and they planned to rent it complete with furnishings. I discovered almost immediately that Mrs. Eckhaus was far more eager to rent their apartment than her husband. When I mentioned that we had two small children, Mr. Eckhaus stretched back from the table in horror, obviously suffering from visions in which my children were dismantling his belongings. My heart sank. I mentioned that I was a friend of the famous Dr. Enrico Fermi and that he would surely provide a reference for me and my family. My claim produced only puzzlement: Who was Fermi?
Then Mrs. Eckhaus, observing that her husband was looking more disapproving with each passing second, said, "We must ask Maria." Maria, it turned out, was the tenant who lived on the second floor. She also seemed to be the fount of good judgment and the coordinator of peace and understanding in the house. Mrs. Eckhaus left and soon reappeared, out of breath.