Brushes With Destiny | Page 76 | Newberry

Brushes With Destiny

No, we don’t have any boring volunteers

One of our volunteers (mentioned before) made it out of Europe aboard a boatload of refugees and did not learn, until the man finally emerged in Lisbon, that author Arthur Koestler had been hidden in the hold.

One of our volunteers, who has her own ideas about why schools are failing to teach children to read, has promoted her theories to any politician who will listen. She was very impressed when a Senatorial candidate, instead of handing her page of explanations to an aide, actually put it in his own pocket and spoke pleasantly to her. She reported, “It may not happen in my lifetime, but I believe I shook the hand of our first African-American president.” She was half right: he was elected in her lifetime.

(Caution: creepy story) One of our volunteers worked at the Newberry Library when ours was not a neighborhood where nice people lingered after dark. (Another volunteer took a walk through the park across the street in the 60s and was picked up by police who said they just wanted to keep tabs on all new faces: “Nobody walks in this park unless they’re buying or selling drugs or boys; which is it with you?” A series of police raids eventually changed all that.)

She was leaving the library late one night when a man snatched her purse and threw her to the ground. A colleague ran after the mugger, but she was left dazed on the sidewalk. The impact damaged her hearing, and she recalls coming to to the faint sound of distant voices calling “Are you all right, dear?” “Can we help, love?” Several of the young male prostitutes had rushed over from the park. The police, meanwhile, noticing a man running after a man with a purse, had brought them both back. She identified her colleague, the mugger was arrested, and all the witnesses were asked for statements. (The young man skipped bail and was never heard from again.)

Weeks later, our volunteer, whom I shall call Madame X because it would amuse her very much, was at her desk when the phone rang. “Newberry Library,” she said.

“This is Lieutenant Z with the Chicago Police Department. Is there a Madame X who works there?”

“This is Madame X.”

There was a long pause. “Oh! Is there anyone at the library you know of who has been away from work without leave?”

Her own work was in personnel, so she knew there hadn’t, and asked him if that was significant. Well, a piece of paper bearing her name and a court hearing number had been found in an old pair of jeans. Lieutenant Z was wondering why.

The jeans, which obviously belonged to one of the young men who had rushed to her aid, had been buried in the basement of John W. Gacy, the killer clown.

No, we don’t have any boring volunteers.

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