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Jewish World Review June 22, 2001 / 1 Tamuz, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

30 years that deserve a great evening out -- THIS weekend, Greg Molinari will turn 30. His mother wants to do something wonderful for him.

Some parents, by the time their children reach their 30th birthdays, don't see their grown sons and daughters very often.

Greg Molinari's parents see him every day. He lives with them at their home in LaGrange Park, Ill., as he always has. His life hasn't been an easy one.

When he was 8, he began experiencing health problems. No one was certain what was wrong -- but tests eventually revealed a brain tumor. There was pressure against the optic nerve. Surgeons removed the tumor, and the child underwent radiation therapy. But damage had been done -- the boy's vision had been so affected that he was legally blind.

He could see, but not well. His health remained uneven; the tumor had altered some of the physical skills most boys and girls take for granted, and high school especially was a difficult time for him. "He was very quiet -- he was shy and some of the kids thought he was kind of backward," his mother, Lois Molinari, said. "He was always being given trouble on the school bus."

Despite his limitations, he determined that he wanted to make something of himself. He attended the College of DuPage, and although it took him longer than most students, he made it through. He took special courses in library science because -- even though he must move his face extremely close to printed material in order to read it -- he is in love with books.

He has a job now -- he works at the Brookfield Public Library. His shift ends after dark, and his parents pick him up to bring him home. Three times in the past two years he has been hospitalized for continuing health problems; the last time he was in a coma, and on a ventilator. But he's back at work at the library now.

His mother wanted to make a special day out of his birthday. She tried to get tickets to "Mamma Mia!", the stage show based on the music of ABBA, playing at the Cadillac Palace in Chicago. Her hope was to buy six tickets for this Saturday night -- for Greg, for her and her husband, for another son, and for their daughter and her husband. No luck -- the show is very popular, and there was nothing available.

She asked if I had any suggestions. "Greg's only night out is when he goes to the local bingo hall," she said. "He gets his paycheck every two weeks, and on that day he takes my husband and me out to dinner."

She said that her son has never known romance: "I know there's someone special out there for him. Young women, I know, are looking for their handsome, perfect prince -- it will take someone more mature to appreciate Greg. But if she comes along, she's going to be a lucky woman."

The Molinaris are not wealthy. Mrs. Molinari asked if I could come up with any ideas at all about what they could do for Greg's 30th birthday this weekend.

I happen to have an anniversary of sorts coming up next week myself.

Next week marks 30 years since I began writing a newspaper column in Chicago. I've always thought it's not a good idea to celebrate such moments -- my thinking, right or wrong, is that if you stop to commemorate something, you're not moving ahead.

But this gives me an opportunity. For me, these have been 30 gratifying, often thrilling, years. I've been fortunate beyond words to be allowed to do this. Greg Molinari's last 30 years have been a lot tougher than mine -- and what he has accomplished, in light of the obstacles placed in front of him, has been a lot more impressive.

So I think I'll call in some favors built up over 30 years. It would be nice for Greg and his family to attend some great entertainment this weekend. Maybe tickets to "Mamma Mia!" will magically become available, or maybe one of you will think of something else. It would be nice if the Molinari family could have a great meal at a great Chicago restaurant. It would be nice if some limousine company -- accustomed to chauffeuring rock stars and corporate CEOs -- could free up a car for the evening. It would be nice if . . .

Well, a lot of things would be nice, if they came Greg's way. If you have any ideas on how to congratulate Greg for 30 inspiring years, let me know. I'm not hard to find.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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