With the downtime we all now have, I've set about writing a non-fiction book about a life spent interviewing and talking intimately to people about traumatic events - either as a medical/forensic photographer, a temporary secretary or a television producer. I'm working on the book with poet/editor Lisa Andrews (https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Room-Lisa-Andrews/dp/1945023155) and artist/illustrator, Tony Geiger (tonygeiger.com). Here is one of the essays. I'd love to hear any feedback you have since this is something of an experiment. All stories are based on real events that I have experienced myself or heard direct from source and then supplemented with historical research.
On Being Human - Part 1 of 2
Thirty-seven year old Frank Klein knocked on the door of the bathroom at the used auto dealership where he’d worked for a decade. Who was making such a racket inside and why were they taking so long? Jesus H. Christ, Frank had to pee and it was freezing outside. If he didn’t make a move, he was going to wet his pants. That’s the last thing he needed to do to impress, he joked to himself. Turning away from the bathroom door, Frank’s anxiety about his bladder sent his head first looking to the sky for guidance. He snapped his fingers as the answer to the problem came to him and he walked over to his bosses’ desk, where there lay a set of car keys. Cadillacs were their specialty, and Frank decided he would drive a finely polished ’62 Coupe de Ville up the street four blocks to the grocery store, where he knew he’d find a men’s room. He felt embarrassed as he ran across the lot, but his mind was focused. He forgot his hat. Should he run back? No time.
Starting up the car, he gave it a little gas. The weather was only in the teens on January 7, 1966 and the engine needed a moment to heat up. “Dear Lord, please don’t let it take long”, Frank thought. He laughed at himself as he imagined urine tears floating down his cheeks and freezing. When he pulled the gear shift into drive, the car leapt forward just a little, eager to go. Frank was on his way up Madison Street heading west on Chicago’s west side. He could spot the orange and white “Jewel” grocery sign up ahead. He was going to make it.
Sally Fohrman was at home at her apartment, inside a steely high-rise, putting together salami and mustard sandwiches for her and her 4-year old daughter, Elizabeth. She looked out the window onto Lake Michigan as snow flurries were blowing in. The wind brought a cold chill through the minuscule crevices in the molding and she paused for a moment to shiver with her arms crossed in front of her. Even a warm cup of tea beside Sally could only eek out small wisps of steam as it became more tepid.
Little Elizabeth smiled adorably, with one of her front teeth missing. Sally smiled back as she put the sandwich and a glass of milk in front of Elizabeth at the round kitchen table. “I made it with the soft rye bread so you can chew easier.” Sally sat at the chair closest to the window, a small gesture of protection from the cold for her little girl.
They both looked off into the distance, eating silently. On the table sat the newspaper and Elizabeth asked, “What does the word “disgust” mean?” Sally smiled again and thought about it a moment. What would be the best way to let Elizabeth know the definition of “disgust”?
“Where did you see that, Honey?”
“It’s right here.”
Sally looked at an announcement about the Chicago campaign of Dr. Martin Luther King, which was starting that day. As she scanned the article, her face dropped into concern. The thrust of it was about the conundrum of Jewish landlords who exploited black tenants in previously Jewish neighborhoods and anti-Semitism growing in the black community as a result. Dr. King was quoted as saying anti-Semitism should be looked at with “disgust and disdain” and he went on to describe the special relationship blacks and Jews had in the fight for civil rights.
Sally thought about the Jewishness of her family, about their emigration to the United States from Germany at the turn-of-the-century. She was from a family who were hard-working and liberal-minded. She had disgust for Jewish landlords who behaved in such an ungodly way, knowing they gave devout Jews a bad name.
“Disgust means you really don’t like something. Dr. Martin Luther King really doesn’t like it when people don’t play fair. Does that make sense?”
Elizabeth seemed satisfied by Sally’s reply. The two went back to finishing their sandwiches, with Elizabeth scanning the remainder of the newspaper page that lay open before her. Sally was glad to be raising such a curious and intelligent girl. Elizabeth was the apple of her eye, along with Sally’s husband, Edward.
Twenty-four year old Donald Dean Jackson was not having a good day at all. He had only been out of jail just over a year after serving a 4-year term for armed robbery. He had been diagnosed with leukemia earlier in the week. The oldest son of a single mother with 6 children, he was expected to do right by his family but always seemed to be doing the wrong thing.
He choked back tears of anger as he began loading his sawed off shotgun in a men’s bathroom stall. He had a .22 caliber Luger in his pocket that was loaded, too, with a plastic bag of extra shotgun shells and a cartridge belt with 25 bullets for the Luger. As he took a deep breath, halfway praying to God and halfway psyching himself out, he put his sawed off shotgun under his coat.
Just for a moment, his mind’s eye took him back to church, singing hymns alongside his large, extended family. He was a handsome boy with an adorable smile, watching his mother clutch a handkerchief towards her breast, eyes tightly closed, praying. As Donald regained his focus, he opened the bathroom stall door and wiped the remaining tear lines from his face. Unexpectedly, he said aloud, “I love you, Mama. I love you.”
Donald cocked the shotgun and pulled open the bathroom door. He walked straight over to the desk of Albert Sizer, who had been trying to get an estimate for Donald to fix the car he’d bought just months before: Donald had been in three crashes since and finally disabled it. Donald moved quickly upon Albert who did not know what was suddenly at the side of his head. Still looking downward at his paperwork, Albert unconsciously pushed the barrel away gently with his two fingers. A loud clap emitted from the gun as a shell emerged and entered into the side of Albert’s head, blowing his ear clear off and upward. Albert slumped down in his chair and down to the ground. It was 1:05pm.
La Jolyn Kelly smiled as she walked up the hallway towards the records department. She had never been prouder of herself, going to work for the Chicago Police Department. Here she was at their headquarters, filing and making coffee. One of her friends passed her and asked her what she was smiling about.
“It’s gonna be a good day. I’m ready for that.”
They both giggled like the 18-year old girls they were, both from Princeton Park on Chicago’s south side. La Jolyn looked down at the wedding ring on her finger. Her job had helped her and her husband buy a brick bungalow at Forest and 99th. They were talking about starting a family.
La Jolyn hadn’t had it easy in life up until now. Her oldest brother had always been a challenge for their mother. It didn’t set a great precedent for her other two brothers, who were often in and out of jail for theft or disorderly conduct. The city of Chicago was divided in two: black and white, with black always getting the short end of the stick. La Jolyn wanted to be one who could move in both circles and moved upward. Like her two sisters, she did well in school, went to church and lived the word of the Lord. She had even seen Dr. King in person at a church service and believed he could heal the wounds so many around La Jolyn felt from systemic racism. La Jolyn believed the promised land of equal rights was possible.
As she flipped through the file folders in the top drawer of a cabinet in a long succession of them, she kept her focus on putting the new folders in alphabetically correct. Her determined accuracy was discipline for the goals she wanted to accomplish in life itself.
The shot that rang out at Fohrman Motors at 2700 West Madison Street sent customers who had previously been ogling the showroom’s Cadillacs screaming towards the exit doors and running into the parking lot en masse. Chicago Police Detective Roland Charles was in a squad car with his partner, York Anderson, when they saw the chaos. Their first impression was a robbery might be in progress. They pulled up alongside the lot as the next gunshot rang out.
Edward Fohrman had just been leaving his desk to talk with Albert Sizer when he heard a gunshot. As he rushed from his office, Donald Jackson came up on him and fired his shotgun into Edward’s head unhesitatingly. “I’m going to kill all bosses!”, Donald screamed as Edward’s blood spatter stained Donald’s face.
Donald moved fiercely into Sidney Fohrman’s office. Before Sidney could rise, Donald reloaded his shotgun and fired it into Sidney’s face as he sat at his desk chair. A man outside the office tried to throw a soda bottle at Donald to divert his attention and more shots rang out, with huge picture pane windows exploding with each boom!
Detective Charles came in through the front door with his handgun drawn. Officer Anderson simultaneously came in from the side, his gun trained on Donald. Donald evaluated what was in front of him and grabbed a young secretary to use as a shield. That sent the rest of the secretaries who weren’t already underneath their desks scurrying for cover. Weeping could be heard but not seen from every corner of the showroom. (PART 2 WILL BE IN MY NEXT POST)