Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Flashback 2007: "The hook man got him"


      Happy Halloween! Though honestly, I'm not feeling the "happy" part, what with the relentlessly grim news. Nor the "Halloween" ... all those grinning skeletons and cartoon ghouls, cardboard memento mori at a time when actual death is already all too present. You want to snarl "Read the room!" and send them packing, scrambling back to the red hell from whence they came. 
    So what then? I glanced into the vault and found this, with manages to combine both concern for Israel and the demons of the seasons, but in a more light-hearted fashion. It was from when the column filled a page, and I left in the original subheads.


     Israel has a problem with Palestinians blowing themselves up in public places.
     So it built a fence, to keep bombers from infiltrating Israel. And it started pulling down the houses of the families of suicide bombers, since it's hard to punish somebody who has blown himself up.
     Not the most extreme governmental action in this woeful world, yet one that sends certain idealistic Americans into a frenzy, such as the protesters who broke up the Caterpillar annual stockholder meeting in St. Charles this week. They don't want the company to sell Israel bulldozers.
     Why stop at bulldozers? I bet Israeli soldiers eat corn flakes. Shouldn't they also picket Kellogg's? And the Jews who support Israel drive Fords. Better demonstrate against Ford, too.
     And the sun — it shines upon the Israelis, warming them, doesn't it? Maybe it can be boycotted, the way British academics are shunning Israeli universities.
     It's silly. One can criticize Israel. It makes mistakes, like any other nation. I don't equate condemning Israel with anti-Semitism, though both can sure smell similar. To be an American, to survey this world of bloodshed and repression — the charnel house of Africa, the slave camp of China, the rigid theocracies of the oil states — and to decide to shout down companies doing business with spunky democratic Israel is out-of-balance, almost perverse. I'd be indignant, but these people are mere stooges, more to be pitied.


     An article — a fake article, running down the right side of this column, headlined:

                              "TOP COP SLAMS HOOK MAN FEAR"

     As I put together the tent poles, I merrily composed the article in my mind:
     "Northbrook Chief of Police Buck Jackman assured parents there is no reason to be concerned about the 50th anniversary of the escape of the deranged killer known only as 'The Hook Man.'
     "'All usual summertime activities, including sleepovers, should proceed as normal,' said Chief Jackman. "'The myth of his return on the anniversary to kill again is only that, a myth.' 
       "It was June 13, 1957 — exactly 50 years ago Wednesday when a serial killer whose right hand was replaced with a razor-sharp hook escaped from the Northwest Suburban Facility for the Criminally Insane. The same night, four boys camping in Harms Woods were found brutally slaughtered . . ."
     I would fold the paper over, hiding the part that explained the joke to readers, and pass it across the kitchen table to the birthday boy.
     "Look at that," I'd say, idly. "We'd better not tell your friends. Wouldn't want them to be frightened . . ."
     But I had already turned in Wednesday's column. I briefly considered phoning the paper and having them tear up the page. But the copy desk might look askance at that . . .
     So I let it go. The party proceeded as planned. Bocce ball and dinner at Pinstripes. Home for a ballgame, the pinata, gifts.
     Darkness fell. The boys were settled in the tent to play poker, and I was getting ready to go to sleep when my younger son appeared. His older brother was teasing his friends.
     I went into the yard, found Son No. 1 raking his fingers across the outside of the tent and crooning about a Hook Man — it must be in the genes. I sent him to his room, established that the five boys within were calm, and hit the hay.
     At 3:45 a.m. one of the boys appeared in our room — feeling ill, he said, no doubt a combination of massive sugar infusion, late hours and excitement. His folks were called and they returned him to the comfort of his own room.
     "The boys are going to wonder where he went when they wake up," my wife mused, in the 4 a.m. darkness. Then she smiled — I could hear it. "It must be you guys rubbing off on me, but I'm tempted to tell them that the Hook Man got him."
         — Originally published in the Sun-Times, June 15, 2007


  1. I haven't seen guys with hooks instead of hands in a very long time. The first time I saw one, he broke up a fight between a friend and me -- we weren't really fighting, just wrestling and rolling around on the ground, but I guess he thought we were: gave us a stern lecture about settling differences without violence and we thought as a veteran (an assumption of course, he may have lost his hand dealing from the bottom of the deck for all we knew) his opinion mattered. We humbly promised to eschew fighting and take to talking. Anyway, I was no good at fighting and couldn't see the point: no glory in beating someone smaller and beating someone bigger was highly unlikely.


  2. the Israeli government was known to use bulldozers to level homes of suicide bombers families as well as entire towns and parts of east Jerusalem. Hence the protest against Caterpillar .

    From examining recent sattelitte photos published in the NYT, the practice continues. Seems a reasonable objection to their use.

    I support Israels level of response to the October 6th attack by Hamas . I also understand peoples objection to it.

  3. I remember seeing guys with hooks as a kid. Amputees receive functioning hands now. Probably the most famous "Hook Man" in my lifetime was Harold Russell] (1914–2002), the World War II veteran and actor.

    After losing his hands during a demolition training accident , Russell was cast in the epic film "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), which earned him an Academy Award. He was the first non-professional actor to win an Academy Award for acting, and the first Oscar recipient to sell his award (in 1992).

    On June 6, 1944 (yes, on D-Day), while he was an Army instructor teaching demolition work in North Carolina, a defective fuse detonated TNT explosives that he was handling. He lost both hands and was given two hooks to serve as hands.

    After his recovery, while attending Boston University, Russell was featured in "Diary of a Sergeant." It was an Army film about the rehabilitation of war veterans. (I own a VHS copy. It's amazing. He could light his own cigarettes!) When film director William Wyler saw the film, he cast him in "The Best Years of Our Lives." Russell played the role of Homer Parrish, a Navy sailor who had lost both hands during the war.

    Russell won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1947. He was also awarded an honorary Oscar for ''bringing aid and comfort to disabled veterans through the medium of motion pictures.'' It was the only time in Oscar history that the academy awarded two Oscars for the same performance.

  4. "Northwest Suburban Facility for the Criminally Insane"
    They changed their name a few years ago.
    It's now called Glenbrook North High School.

  5. It was 1970, I was working the graveyard shift at the ARCO gas station at Oakton and Milwaukee. I was waiting to be called to active duty in the Navy so couldn't take a real job. The night shift paid a 10 percent override, thank you Jimmy Hoffa, and I would get occasional day work with Neptune movers when I got off at 7AM. It was a convenient situation and nights sometimes provided interesting entertainment. I can still see him clearly after 50 years but have failed many attempts at adequately describing him. He was riding an old Harley, big and low slung with the wide seat, like a farm tractor, but upholstered. Dismounted he towered above my 6 foot height, some where between 6'4' to 6'8", allowing for the exaggeration of memory over time, but probably closer to the taller number. He had the heavy boots and classic leather jacket festooned with chrome studs and other regalia. The Harley hat would excite an American Picker, well worn and floppy like a B-17 pilots. A scraggly beard framed a crooked mouth and a stub of cigar occupied its corner, a permanent round notch in the stogies shape. Bikers could tell us which hand was a hook, the bikes controls setup I forget but I can still see the device. It was three quarter round with the open portion having a strap that he used to secure it to the accelerator, his good hand on the other handle bar grip. He was soft spoken and congenial, if terse.He used the facilities, gassed up and departed. The memory remained.


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