- Introduction: As I contemplated writing this I realized it would be a story without an ending. I hate stories like that… I was never good at filling in the blanks. But in this case there was no choice. It’s a true story and as is my custom, I mentally reviewed any details that might need a bit of research to keep things as accurate as the frailties of the human mind will allow. During those activities, it came to pass that the end of story was written before the actual story, possibly in testimony to powers that we do not fully understand. However, as with any tale, it’s best to read it here from beginning to end.
It started when I was a youngster and it was more than 60 years before it resolved.
Our family lived on Chicago’s west side and the Lake Street Rapid Transit was the preferred transportation downtown. At first it just caught the corner of my eye for some unknown reason. A dirty, dusty nondescript building on the north side of Lake Street next to the elevated structure. The Declan Mould Company. It was not unlike many other buildings along the route of this rusting framework loosely referred to as “the el.” I didn’t make a point of it, but when I was at a window seat on the correct side of the train, my eye would be drawn to it as if by some silent force. It was decidedly unpleasant, but I didn’t know why. It continued each time I had occasion to ride past… if anything the attraction intensified and the sense of foreboding deepened over the years.
Even in the 1940’s the building was old. It was a bleak, utilitarian structure bereft of any styling save perhaps for a rotting wooden sign edged with rounded trim that proclaimed “Declan Mould Company” in dark gray on gray. In later years the sign would be replaced with one that Americanized the company name; “Declan Mold Company.” As near as I could establish, they manufactured heavy cardboard type forms for casting concrete. Why would a 10 year old be drawn to such a place?
Then in my college years, I took a part time job with what was now called the Chicago Transit Authority. I found myself on the el almost daily, many times on the Lake Street route. I changed my seating habit now and purposely positioned myself on the side of the car that would afford me a glimpse of the Declan Mould Company. Each time I passed I would experience a visceral gnawing, deep in my inner self, inexplicable and of unknown origins. Why did I seek out the window seat with the best view? Why does the moth seek out the flame and flirt with it until the slightest shift in breeze results in its fiery demise?
The entire building had a grayish pall. Concrete dust I assumed. On the west side was a parking lot with a few randomly parked trucks. Although I could not see it from the train, I knew there was a loading dock. Incandescent bulbs coated with thick gray dust dot the ceiling of the dock, adding to the ghostly ambiance, making the scene macabre and surreal. There were colorless metal doors that led to a warehouse and offices. How could I envision a place that I had never been?
Then suddenly my world changed. I graduated college and took a job in New York City and the Declan Mould Company faded from memory. From a thousand, miles away that worrisome place could do me no harm and thoughts of it no longer disturbed my sense of well-being.
Years passed and in a career quirk of fate I found myself at the Chicago Police Academy as a recruit. Near the end of our classroom exercises we were assigned to training districts for one week, prior to our actual graduation. My assignment was the Fillmore District. The Declan Mold Company, now sporting the new sign, was in the Fillmore District. A chill went down my spine at that gruesome thought but I could not explain it with any sense of reason. There was no verbal explanation. Even now, as I write, words fail me as I contemplate the anxious, frightening countenance visited upon me each time I passed the building. Discussing it with anyone was out of the question. Where would I start? What words would I use?
Field training week is filled with unspeakable stress and tension for all police recruits, but each time my Field Training Officer cruised by the Declan Mold Company I shuddered. It was the first time I had seen it from street level and the site filled me with dread. I knew that this was the week that I would die and I knew exactly where it would happen. When I was allowed to drive, I avoided Lake Street at all costs. My training officer didn’t seem to notice.
Training week ended and I reported back to the academy in one piece. Had I cheated fate? Or was this just not the time?
At the conclusion of recruit training I was assigned to the East Chicago Avenue District. Rush Street, Old Town and the Cabrini Housing Projects. I would work the Martin Luther King Riots and the ’68 Democratic National Convention there, about as close to outright urban warfare as any police officer could experience. But it was all miles from the Declan Mold Company. It was highly unlikely that my duties would ever take me there. Once again, the thoughts faded.
Then a promotion… Area Four Homicide. Area 4 included the Fillmore District. The Declan Mold Company roller coaster of emotions started its long climb again. I needed a defense mechanism. Up to this point in life I hadn’t much pondered the concept of destiny or fate. If there was such a thing, I decided, it could not be altered by mere mortals. What would be, would be. I had no choice but to accept my destiny and try to push it from my mind.
Eleven years passed on the street in Area Four. On rare occasion I would drive by the building, but the acceptance mode lessened the tension. Whatever, I would just have to live with it, or more likely, die with it. In some strange way, I was okay with that.
A couple of promotions found me safely ensconced in an administrative office setting. Had I cheated destiny? Maybe not. As I approached the final month of employment prior to retirement, I was suddenly transferred back to street duties in the Austin District. The Austin District boundary was just two blocks from the Declan Mold Company.
Unaware of my intent to retire, my new commander allowed me to reschedule some vacation time before reporting for duty. By combining that with some shifts in my day off schedule, I was left with the two final days of my police career to work the streets in Austin.
So this is how it would end.
I could envision the human interest obituary; “Career officer killed one day before retirement.” I felt saddened, but strangely not frightened. Acceptance of one’s fate can be a powerful coping mechanism.
My final retirement papers reached the Commanders’ desk. He called me at home sounding more than a bit irritated.
“Hell, you only have two days left… and you probably don’t remember shit about working district patrol. Why don’t you just take comp time and come in and pick up your papers on your last day?”
Not being one to challenge authority, I did as I was told. My final day of work I retrieved my signed retirement papers from the district and drove downtown to headquarters, prudently avoiding Lake Street and the Declan Mold Company. I walked away from the police department alive and intact.
Still, as the years passed, the Declan Mold Company lurked in the lurid shadows of my mind. The issue, whatever it was, had not been settled. To finish this story, I needed to see that building one more time. What was this compelling, recurring moth/flame thing? Would my trip there be a final act of foolishness? My own fiery demise as the flame finally consumes the moth?
* * *
I drive northbound on Cicero and turn east under the elevated structure. What will I do when I get there? Should I once and for all leave my car and walk onto that ghostly loading dock that exists so clearly in some dark recess of my brain? I am certain that that would provide resolution, but at what cost? I approach slowly… again the moth to the flame. I pull to the curb across from the address. The building is gone! …replaced by a clean modern structure, housing a parts warehouse of some sort. I am confused for a moment. This place was my irrefutable and tragic destiny, but it is gone. I stare almost in disbelief. Slowly the realization begins to sink in… this place… this ominous place of suffering and death was not my destiny… it was my history.
Who was I?
What happened to me there?