A couple of Saturdays ago, Adam and I sat down to watch a movie. I gave him a choice: the newly-released DVD of the 1960 version of The Lost World, John Frankenheimer's classic political thriller Seven Days In May and Grand Theft Parsons. He chose "d, none of the above." He wanted to see one of his favorites, Midnight Run, instead. It reminded me to tell him how often I have found myself surrounded by a bunch of people with guns.
Right after I got out of college, I lived for a few months at my aunt's apartment in the southside Chicago Beverly neighborhood. Since Beverly had nothing going on for a twenty-something year old guy and I hated her live-in boyfriend (now her husband), I moved out as soon as I got a job.
I lived for a few months in the north side Rogers Park neighborhood. When our landlord sold our building and ended our month-to-month lease, I suddenly had to find another place to live. Fortunately, a co-worker offered to let me stay with him in his Lakeview apartment. It worked out well for both of us-- I didn't have to rush so much to find a place, and he got someone to split the rent with for a couple of months.
One night, when I was living there, I went out for a walk. In 1986, Lakeview was a much rougher neighborhood than it is now. I was walking for a while, when suddenly I noticed that there were about twenty cops crouched down behind cars to my left. A couple of them shouted for me to get the "F" out of there-- that there was a guy in the building to my right barricaded in there with a gun. I took their advice hastily.
About a year later, I was getting off of the el downtown, at the Lake Street station. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I expected the Loop to be very quiet. As I got off the el, near the old Trailways bus station, I realized that I was once again surrounded by guys with guns-- maybe 75 or 100 of them. At first I thought I'd once again walked into a shootout. Then I noticed cameras and realized that I had walked into a movie set. It turned out that it was the scene in Midnight Run where Deniro and Grodin get off the bus to find both the FBI and the Mafia waiting for them, to capture and kill them, respectively. I'm always reminded of that moment whenever I see that scene in the movie.
The last time it happened was in 1993. I was in the now-gone Aspidistra Book Store on Clark Street. I was rummaging through a bin of used books and was thrilled to find Patrick McCarthy's biography of Albert Camus. I'd last seen the book in 1982 new in a bookstore, but having been a poor college student, couldn't then afford it.
As I excitedly perused the book, I began to realize that I was once again surrounded by guys with guns-- this time, well-dressed guys with guns. My first thought was that they were detectives about to arrest someone. I noticed that they all had radios with ear buds. I looked to my side and saw why they were there. I was standing next to the governor of Illinois, Jim Edgar.
It so happens that he and I are both graduates of Eastern Illinois University. I chatted him up for a moment, mentioning this fact. He joked that he probably went there a few years before I did. I laughed, talked to him for a minute more and let him continue shopping.
I later thought about how often I seem to be surrounded by gun-toting guys. It's happened three times. Maybe-- I hope, at least-- that like celebrity deaths, these things happen in threes, and that I'm done with it.