Monday, June 30, 2008

Tying Off The Loose Ends

In July of 1986, I was a busy guy. I was working as a law clerk during the week and as a waiter at a downtown Chicago restaurant on the weekends. I was not quite a year out of college, so I was paying back student loans and trying to get on my feet financially. After working seven days a week for nearly a year, I decided it was a time for a break.

I arranged for a weekend off from my restaurant job, and talked to my office mate at the law firm to cover me for playing hooky from work that Friday so that I'd have three whole days off.

That Friday, after calling in "sick," I had a nice breakfast and then went over to a local liquor store to arrange to buy a keg for the party that I was having Saturday night. After running some errands, I took the el downtown to see the movie Aliens. It was one of the best film-watching experiences I've ever had-- grist for another post.

Afterward, I went to the fabled Chicago punk bar The Exit, which was then still in Lincoln Park. All in all, it was an incredibly fun evening.

The next morning, I went to a large garage sale that some local old ladies in my new neighborhood were having. I scored, along with a bunch of household items, a set of the old big-bulb Christmas lights. A couple of the ladies were also trying to get me to date their granddaughters.

Afterward, I took the el downtown again, and treated myself to a late breakfast/lunch of a Reuben sandwich and a Budweiser at a long-gone diner and walked over to the Art Institute, where I spent a couple of hours.

I got back on the train to go home because my friend Bob Buehler was driving over so that he could help me get the keg over to my apartment-- I did not own a car at the time.

After we dropped the keg off and iced it down, we went out to hit the resale stores before the party started. We bought the two ugliest lamps in Chicago-- mine, decorated with fake plastic chandelier pieces, was legendary and graced various apartments I had for over a decade after.

The party was a wild success. Dozens of my friends from college showed up, despite it being about 120 degrees in my apartment. Among the guests were Steve (nicknamed "Chiffon") who is in the picture at the top, to the left, and the guy on the right, my friend Mark, whose nickname was "Atwood" after the downstate Illinois town he'd gone to high school in, had helped me move into the place a couple of months before-- another friend with a car.

When Mark was shot to death in a robbery in June of 2006, almost exactly 20 years after this picture, his large circle of friends scrambled to find pictures of him to share. It was as if we were struggling to find some part of him that was left for us to cling to.

Later, when the guy who killed him was arrested, I discovered that he'd been born in February of 1986. He was about five months old when I snapped this picture of Mark and Steve. I had no way of knowing that somewhere in this city, there was a baby whose life would collide fatally with my friend's two decades later.

Another guy who was at that party, my dear friend Tim, didn't end up in the pictures. But after a quarter century, Tim and I are still close friends.

On Saturday, Tim and I went to the branch bank that I opened up a "community" checking account two years ago to hold the money that was pouring in from the large and marvelous group of friends that Mark had accumulated over the years. The money was for a reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the person or persons who had murdered Mark. In the end, it was over $10,000. I would love to be able to tell the guy who killed him-- in a robbery that netted three dollars-- that a bunch of working stiffs were able to raise ten grand to catch him.

But in the end, we didn't need the money to catch him. Some very able detective work by the Chicago police caught him late last year.

We had discussed what was going to happen with the money in the event that either the killer was never captured or that he was captured without the reward. We talked of a scholarship in Mark's name at Eastern Illinois University, where he, Tim, me and a bunch of other lifelong friends had met in the early eighties.

Tim and I filled out the forms to send the money to the EIU Foundation, which set up the Mark "Atwood" Evans Memorial Scholarship Fund. Over the past few months, we'd hammered out the parameters of the scholarship. An art student from Central Illinois. Financial need was to be considered. And a C average. None of us were "A" students.

Yesterday morning, I got an email from the woman who was helping us set up the scholarship. The wire transfer had gone through. She needed a few more details-- specifically the mailing address of Dave, one of the other trustees, besides Tim, Matt, myself and a couple of others, of the fund.

As I left my Microbiology class yesterday, I called Dave, who was driving along I-80, along with his wife and kids, to drive from California, where he lives, to Chicago to visit his family. Dave gave me his address, which I forwarded to the lady setting up the scholarship, and the Mark Evans Memorial Fund officially became the Mark "Atwood" Evans Memorial Scholarship.

Before that, though, on the way home, I stopped at Jewel's, the local grocery store to take care of some banking and to pick up some green beans that I know my son likes. Before I went into the store, I called Tim to let him know that I had Dave's information. Tim thanked me for what I'd done in all this-- setting up the checking account and other things, and I shook my head and chuckled a little bit. Tim has done as much or more than I did. But most of all, he loved Mark as much as I did, and his friendship has been one of the things that has helped me get through this.

We talked for a moment about planning for a trip down to Charleston, Illinois, where Eastern Illinois University is. The folks at Eastern are putting together an event. They want to tie the awarding of the first Mark Evans Scholarship to the reopening of the newly-renovated Doudna Fine Arts Center at the school. We talked about taking the awardee out for a beer afterward, and how we were going to tell him a little about the guy who the scholarship was named after. We talked about stopping to see his grave during the trip.

Later, I thought about Tim, Dave and I-- that the three of us are fathers, and how much the three of us, bad little bohemian boys in the old days, love being parents. Mark wasn't a parent and wasn't interested in being a parent. He already had a family-- us. And finding a guy like Mark in the world made us better people for it. There's a little bit of Mark in our kids.

I went into the store and stopped at the bank that is in the store to deposit money I'd made over the last few days at the restaurant. The bank manager happened to be the person taking care of me, and she asked, routinely, if there was anything else she could help me with. There was, in fact. The bank was also where the Mark Evans Memorial Fund was. I asked her to officially shut down that account. She proceeded to do this for me.

I thanked her and went off to do my shopping, not just to go get the green beans, but because I realized I was about to cry.


Bubs said...

Oh man.

Great post. God bless you.

Anonymous said...

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check it out ..

Freida Bee said...

Johhny- This is a beautiful. What a dear friend to Mark you have been.

Incidentally, maybe Jason would like to donate some of his extra income to the scholarship fund.

vikkitikkitavi said...

great story, JY

The Pope said...

Great post. Can't believe I was off the grid when this happened. Atwood was a good man. Did a lot of my show poster. Good to be back in touch.