From Chicago Boomer:
on Being Born and Raised in Chicago
In many ways my mother was a typical stay at home mom teleported directly from the 1950’s. She cooked and cleaned for our family, sold her handmade crafts at local art festivals and when needed, she helped my dad run his restaurants.
An occasional Bunco gathering or a Tupperware party at a friend’s home was about as exciting as her life got, so one day when the mailman delivered a notice for jury duty you would have thought that she won a new car on The Price is Right.
She didn’t sleep for days and every night she paid extra attention to the news so that she would be ready for any questions the attorneys threw at her. My mom was so afraid of coming across as an uneducated housewife that she insisted that we quiz her every afternoon on what the morning newspapers had reported.
When the big day arrived, my dad took her out for breakfast and then drove her downtown to the federal courthouse, sure that in a few hours, she, like almost everyone else called for jury duty, would be dismissed from the jury pool and sent home.
We were all in for a big surprise when we picked her up at the end of the day and learned that she had been selected to be on a Federal Grand Jury. To celebrate her impending civic duty, we stopped in Chinatown for dinner and spent the entire meal listening to her excitement as she told us every detail about the process of being selected for a grand jury and what the difference was between a grand jury and a trial jury. I honestly didn’t think that I had ever seen her so excited in the fifteen years since my birth.
On that first day and every day for the next few weeks she came home feeling more important than she had in years. You could see the pride in her eyes and that small change made her simply radiant. I was proud of how responsibly my mom was handling her duty as a grand juror and thought that maybe this was the beginning of a new type of confidence that would expand her life.
About three weeks into this process I arrived home from school to find a sheriff’s squad car parked right in front of our house. My heart started racing. I quickened my pace and then practically ran up our front stairs. I burst into the living room to see a deputy calmly filling out paperwork on our sofa and another deputy checking the locks on our windows. Ignoring both of them I made my way to the kitchen where my dad was pacing back and forth, and my mother was sitting at the table with tears running down her face.
Alarmed, I asked who died. My dad shook his head and said that no one had died. He paused for a moment and then added the word, “Yet.” With that, he gestured for me to sit down at the table. Once I sat down, I carefully drew a deep breath and evenly asked who was going to jail, him or my brother Benny.
My dad made a disgusted face and waved my words away. He continued talking, his voice kind of shaky, “The Grand Jury that your mother served on was supposed to be deciding whether or not there was enough evidence to bring murder charges against Vincent “The Claw” Corleone...”
I cut him off, “Isn’t he supposed to be a hit man for the old school Chicago Mob? Is he even still alive?”
My dad got up to pour himself another shot of vodka. After downing it and savoring its warmth he said, “Oh yeah... He’s still alive, and this one...” He pointed at my mom and then got choked up. Starting again he said, “This one, in her first foray into the real world in nearly twenty years... Attracts this!” With that statement he thrust a crumpled paper at me that ended up being an official notification from The Federal Judiciary of The United States.
The notice informed my mother that the names and home addresses of the Grand Jurors on the Vincent Corleone case had been compromised and that it is believed that the Corleone family may try to intimidate the grand jurors, but that each juror will be assigned a sheriff’s deputy in a squad car that will be guarding their home and that each juror will now be driven to and from the courthouse in a bomb proof sheriff’s bus. It said that both protective measures would continue until the grand jury was dismissed.
What the notice did not say was, “You’re on your own suckers! If necessary, your next of kin may cash your ten bucks a day Grand Jury Payments in accordance to the percentages stated in your wills. Thanks for playing Chicago Grand Jury! Good luck to you all. P.S. The Mayor’s brother owns The Bridgeport Mortuary and gives discounts to those experiencing unexpected funeral expenses.”
I didn’t say anything for a few moments, but then I started laughing hysterically. Gasping for air I managed to squeeze out, “Are you fucking kidding me? Everyone knows that the stupid deputy sitting out front in the squad car is the first victim killed in any movie...”
With this my mother threw her head back and started wailing like Lucy Ricardo. This just made me laugh harder. There was nothing else I could do.
I am relieved to report that nothing ever happened to our family regarding my mother’s grand jury experience, but because few people really want to be on a jury, any kind of jury, my Uncle Paulie took this opportunity to start holding seminars at the local bars, educating fellow drinkers about the dangers of jury duty, of course citing my mother’s experience. He drummed up a lot of business when he invented a third child (my mom and dad only had two kids) that mysteriously disappeared and had yet to be found and returned to our family.
If you bought him a drink he would tell you what you could say or do in order to get dismissed from the jury pool and believe me when I say that he was so twisted that he never gave the same advice twice and therefore was never caught. None of the drunks attending his tavern seminars ever had to serve on a jury and this made his reputation grow exponentially over the years. After the Corleone incident, I don’t think he ever had to buy himself a drink again.
When my brother was eventually called for Jury Duty, he was too cheap to buy Uncle Paulie a drink, so he settled on picking his nose and making a big show of examining his boogers before carefully placing them in a Tic Tac box. To this day, he’s never had to serve on any jury.
My dad, who just couldn’t bring himself to pick his nose in public, settled on pretending he was hard of hearing and every time an attorney asked him a question he would yell, “What? What did you say? WHAT?” He was always dismissed.
My best friend Nicholas was called only once and never served because he had an anxiety attack in the jury room and was sent home. Here’s what happened…
During the juror’s lunch break, he called me to say that he was never going to commit a crime because, “These people are not my peers.” He was sort of whispering, so I told him that he had to talk louder so I could hear him.
Quite shaken by something I had neither seen nor heard, he loudly hiss-whispered, “I SAID that this is NOT a jury of MY peers.”
Another juror overheard this and called him an asshole. Nicholas panicked and yelled at me that he was sure that he was going to get shanked before the afternoon was over and because of this premonition he wanted me to know that if he should die, he had left me all his Hallmark Christmas Ornaments and that I had his permission to fight his nieces for them.
I was asking him where I could get a copy of his will when I heard some deputies approach him and gently explain that for his own safety they were going to escort him out of the courthouse and to his car. There was some discussion over whether or not he was calm enough to drive himself home. I quickly hung up before anyone asked me to come and get him.
My ex-husband Greg was always picked for jury duty. I’m sure that this was because he usually looked so innocent and eager that both sides thought they could convince him of anything.
On the other hand, I was always dismissed and never got to serve on a jury. Probably because everyone in the courtroom could see a million questions churning behind my eyes and no one wanted to open that can of worms.
Time marches on and right after his nineteenth birthday my son Chris got his first jury summons in the mail. He had to report to the courthouse in downtown Chicago, bright and early on a Monday morning in July.
Chris was four years old when we moved out to the suburbs and he had little experience navigating downtown Chicago on his own, so my intention was to drive him to the Orange Line stop on Archer and Pulaski and let him experience Chicago’s famous elevated train system (The “L”) on his own. It would take him within blocks of where he needed to be. What could go wrong? Right?
On the big day, I wanted to take Chris out for breakfast the way my dad had taken my mother out for breakfast when she served on that infamous grand jury so many years ago. We left early and went to a twenty-four- hour diner on Archer and Cicero that I had once worked at (for one day) when I was a teenager.
We had a very relaxed and yet productive talk over our meal of French toast and bacon. When I had answered all of Chris’s questions thoroughly and was confident that he was ready to take on downtown Chicago on his own, out the door we went.
I pulled out of the restaurant parking lot and was heading northeast on Archer Avenue when we were stopped by a northbound freight train about six blocks from the Orange Line station. Freight trains were usually very long on this railroad track, so I put the car in park and Chris and I continued having a conversation about whether or not he thought graduate school was worth the time and money when I noticed a light colored, rusted sedan glide up on our right and settle about one car ahead of us in the next lane.
The car’s left rear bumper was practically touching our right front bumper, so I had a great view of the entire vehicle (this is important later). After a moment or two the driver’s door opened and a middle-aged man dressed in khakis and a white dress shirt got out of the car and calmly walked to his trunk, popped it open and started rummaging around inside. I was only mildly interested in him until he straightened up holding a black crowbar.
When he whacked the palm of his hand a few times to test the crowbar’s weight I knew that shit was going to hit the fan and I knew that Chris and I were going to be right in the middle of it.
I called 911 as soon as this guy started smashing the hood of the silver Mercedes that was stopped right behind him and right next to us.
“911, what is your emergency?”
Very slowly and carefully I said, “My name is Josie Garrett. My teenage son and I are stopped on the west side of the train tracks in front of Bobak’s Deli on Archer Avenue. There is a man with a crowbar attacking the car next to us. He’s just broken the driver’s windshield. I am afraid that he’ll kill him if he gets inside the car. Please send a squad car as quickly as you can...”
The operator interrupted me, “How do you spell your name ma’am?”
I stopped talking for a moment and then asked her if she heard what I said.
“Yes. I did hear you ma’am...”
“Do you have a squad car on the way?”
“We’ll get to that in a minute ma’am, now how do you spell your name?”
I was more freaked out by this 911 response than I was with the crowbar wielding man who was now calmly sitting in his car doing God knows what. At one point the 911 operator asked me if the driver of the Mercedes knew the man with the crowbar.
I sputtered, “I don’t know. How the hell would I know that?”
“Well, can you ask him?” Her tone made it clear that she thought I was the stupid one in this exchange.
I leaned over Chris and opened the window a crack and with exaggerated mouth movements in case I was lucky and the guy could lip-read, I asked him if he knew the crowbar guy. When the driver of the Mercedes shook his head no and threw up his hands, the entire situation changed for me. If there had not been a previous altercation that caused this attack, then this crowbar guy was simply crazy and all of us around him, including Chris and I, were in danger.
I told the 911 operator that the Mercedes driver did not know him, I gave her a description of the crowbar guy, the vehicle and his license plate number. I told her I had to hang up and she needed to send a squad car immediately.
After I ended the call I took a few calming breaths and told Chris that I needed him to get the baseball bat that was in the trunk.
Chris looked at me incredulously and said, “We have a baseball bat in the trunk?”
Never taking my eyes off of crowbar guy’s car I told him that every Chicagoan has a baseball bat in their car for situations just like this. Chris shook his head as if nothing surprised him anymore and then he opened the car door. I grabbed his arm and told him to close the fucking door immediately.
Alarmed, Chris shut the door and said, “How the hell am I supposed to get the baseball bat out of the trunk if I don’t open the door to get to the trunk?”
“Jesus Christ Chris. There is a crazy man with a crowbar outside. You don’t go outside the car to get to the trunk…” I caught myself before I called him an idiot and instead I gave him further instructions, “Crawl over your seat, get in the back, pull down one of those seats and then reach into the trunk to get the bat.”
Chris did as he was told and I knew that he had the bat when I heard him ask why there was a gym sock on it. He handed me the sock and I yelled at him to put the sock back on the bat.
He stared me down for a moment and then insisted on delving into the darkness of my upbringing and asked, “Why do you need a sock on the bat, mother dear?”
Annoyed that I had raised such a clueless innocent, I lowered my voice and tightly explained, “If I swing the bat at him, he’ll try to grab it and pull it out of my hands, but when he tries this, the sock will slip off, he’ll lose his balance, maybe even fall to the ground, but the bat will still be in my hands and I’ll have a few more seconds to try to split his head open...”
Chris recoiled, “Oh my God! Who are you?”
I ignored his question. Despite the suburban soccer mom cover, under it all, I was still a streetwise kid from Chicago and I was going to survive whatever this was.
Everyone in every car that was stopped in front of the deli seemed really quiet. The only sound readily heard was the chugging of the train as it continued its slow roll over the tracks. It seemed as if everyone saw what happened and we were all waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Crowbar guy had left his door open and I kept an eye on his left leg, which was outside the car, firmly planted on the ground. I kept alternating my watch between his leg and my rearview mirror, hoping that I would see the lights of the requested squad car before I saw crowbar guy get out of his car again.
On one security sweep I did a double take. In my rearview mirror, in the row between my car and the crowbar/Mercedes drama, I saw a young man in blue jeans and an open plaid shirt staggering toward us. He was in a stupor and trying to open a car door, any car door. He was barefoot and covered in blood from head to toe.
Not taking my eyes off the blood-covered man coming up behind us, I asked Chris if his door was locked. He asked me why. I told him to turn around.
“What the fuck! Who’s that?”
“I don’t know. Call 911 and hand me the phone.”
“911, what is your emergency?”
Oh. Fuck. Me. It was the same operator. We were all going to die.
“Hey, this is Josie Garrett. I called you about ten minutes ago regarding the man with the crowbar on Archer Avenue that was smashing a Mercedes up. Do you remember me?”
“Yes ma’am, I do.”
“Great. We have another problem. There is a different man, barefoot and totally covered in blood staggering around in between the stopped cars over here. He is trying to get into someone’s car. I would also send an ambulance. You have sent the squad car, right?”
“Ma’am, is this man connected to the man with the crowbar?”
I thought for a moment, “I don’t know. I don’t think so... but... I really don’t know.”
“Okay then, let’s start again, “How do you spell your name?”
“I WANT TO SPEAK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR!”
“Okay ma’am, please, just calm down...”
I looked up just in time to see bloody zombie guy pass up our car and try to get into the crowbar guy’s car. Crowbar guy pushed him back, drew his leg into his vehicle and shut the door. Zombie guy pounded on his window and then threw himself over the hood of crowbar guy’s car, sliding around in his own blood.
I guess what goes around comes around...
I heard sirens, saw lights and noticed that the train had passed and the railroad crossing gates were going up. I shifted into drive and followed the rest of the cars going northeast on Archer Avenue. We all drove on as if nothing unusual had happened.
Welcome to Chicago folks! Hope you enjoy your visit….