I am a blastocyst. A rapidly, oft-dividing bundle of cells. An emerging raspberry of life. To this point all has gone beautifully. I achieve zygotehood, as one half of the cells separate out to become, well, me. Perhaps the basis of me. The seedling. The other separated half of the zygote--in a fit of necessary, primal, bio-cannibalism--allows itself to be consumed in order to nurture the first. Could this be why so many of us spend our lives searching for completion?
I feel wanted. Am wanted. Planned and desired. I am consciousness.
Decatur, Illinois, Tuesday, November 25th, 1924. Late fall. During the day a balmy 42 degrees but dropping quickly toward a low that night of 18. At 6 pm it’s already cold and pitch black. Hyman Rubinstein, 52, sits behind a glass counter in his shoe store on 835 North Water Street. It’s neat, though crowded with items. Twenty-seven years earlier, Hyman had immigrated from Russia where he’d been conscripted into the Russian military, not a wonderful occupation for a Jew. Another name for the position: cannon fodder. But he survived--in fact, he was chosen to become a member of Prince Nicolas’s personal military guard. After a year-long stop in Sweden, he’d made it to America. Over time, he met his wife Hannah. Had a daughter Lillian and then two sons, Harry and Meyer. Established this shoe store.
Harry his elder son has gone home for supper. Only Hyman is left behind to mind the shop.
At 6:35, the small bell over the door rings as a disheveled man in filthy clothes with wild eyes throws open, then SLAMS the door behind him. Rising from his chair Hyman, a tall man, sees a protrusion in the ratty overcoat where the man’s right hand rests. John Stacey shouts to Mr. Rubinstein to “put his hands up,” but before he can, Stacy fires. A muzzle flash flares out from what is now a hole in the man’s jacket pocket, made by his cheap American Bull Dog .38 caliber, octagonal barreled, 5 shot revolver. Until that moment, fully loaded.
Still in uniform, with overcoats and hats worn atop, two off-duty waitresses, Mrs. Dorothy Daniels and Mrs. Mary Baldwin are walking by the store front and turn suddenly when they hear the shot. Glancing in through the window, they see Rubinstein, a tall man, “struggling" with Stacy. They dart across the street to the Elliott Filling Station at the corner of Water Street and Central Avenue and shout to the attendant, J.D. McCool.
McCool, having been held up twice himself, was made a special Officer with the Decatur PD so was licensed to carry a firearm. He quickly wipes the grease from his hands onto his uniform pants and “grabbed up my revolver and… telephoned the police.” He then bolts toward the shoe store.
According to a statement McCool gave later to a reporter from the Decatur Daliy Review: “As I ran I could hear the old man yelling for help. When I reached the store the old man was lying on the floor with the bandit astride him. They were not more than four feet from the door and directly in front of it. I pressed the muzzle of my gun to the glass and shouted to the bandit to stick ‘em up.“
“Get ‘em clear up or I will kill you where you are!”
Still astride Rubenstein’s [sic] body, the shooter slowly put his hands up. Just then Attorney Howard Halmick and another man came along.… “They broke the door open for me and I jumped in and grabbed the man by the collar and stuck my gun in his side and held him until the officers arrived."
Simon Burstein, a successful local haberdasher, happens by as Hyman is loaded into the ambulance and he jumps in and rides to the hospital with him. A still conscious Rubinstein tells Burstein what had happened. “I was sitting in the store waiting for my son to return from supper when the man came in the front door. There was a spring lock on the door and he pushed it shut and it locked. I got up to wait on him and the man said to put up my hands. I told him I had only a little money and that he was welcome to it but before I could raise my hands he shot. He tried to get away but I held him, tried to hold him, until the police came.”
Although unclear as to its veracity, family lore has it that one of the gunman's bullets ricocheted off the wall lodging into the door's lock, trapping the killer inside.
As they reach the Decatur and Macon County Hospital, hoping to make out a will, Hyman asks Burstein for paper and pen. Though provided, it will never be written. Hyman was now too weak.
State’s Attorney C.F. Evens, alerted to the crime, rushed to the hospital. Hyman survives just long enough to give a statement. Evidently before McCool arrived, Stacy had grabbed Hyman and shot him a second time at close range. At 9:17PM Hyman Rubinstein is declared dead.
Simon Burstein who rode along in the ambulance was thought to be a stranger. Until he spoke to the reporter from the Review.
“We were boys together,” said Simon Burstein, when referring to Mr. Rubenstein. “We grew up together in a little village in Poland. When I went to England, he entered the Russian army as did all young men of his age. He served six years and he told me he was a member of the Imperial Body-guard of Czar Nicholas when he ascended the throne. He came to the United States reaching Decatur in 1902."
“He was a good man in every way, industrious, devoted to his family and devout in the faith of his fathers. He attended strictly to his own affairs. I do not believe he ever did a wrongful act to any man. If he had I would have known it, for I have known him all my life and no one has ever spoken a word against him."
At the start of the killer’s trial, the Klan rode into town in a show of support for this white man who had merely killed a Jew. Stacey, had ridden the rails from Louisville, Kentucky and admitted to eating 15 cans of Sterno aka ‘canned heat’ on the day of the murder. Normally used to heat chaffing dishes, the desperate used them as a source of alcohol. A not uncommon practice by those who craved but had no access to booze during the days of Prohibition. Often the cause of death or of 'erratic behavior'. This time sadly, it was the latter.
Stacy was hanged just before noon, bizarrely on Valentine's Day 1925, only a few months after the commission of his crime and following a supposed jailhouse conversion to Christ. Already a pious man, Hyman Rubinstein always carried a small prayer book containing a copy of the mourner’s kaddish in his breast pocket, the Jewish prayer recited for the dead, transliterated into Hebrew from the original Aramaic. Stacy’s revolver had put a bullet right through the center of the prayer.
Hyman’s younger son Meyer wrapped it in wax paper, bound it by a rubber band and carried it in his breast pocket for the rest of his days.
It began as an experience of conception, the joining of egg and sperm. Soon, twenty-three chromosomes merge with twenty-three others. But first, in a massive, metaphysical flash, instantaneous bolts of lightning strike in interconnected tendrils radiating outward from the center, exploding out of the void in a nanosecond, all against a field of absolute blackness.
A droning hum, alive with billions of bits of information. Decodable white noise. The endless playing of a single string of Tony Conrad’s violin. One cell in rotating motion divides to become two, then four, sixteen, two-fifty-six. Am floating in perfect amniotic bliss, enveloped in a glowing warmth of idyllic contentedness. That which I will come to regard as me is launching.
Los Angeles, California, Easter Sunday, April 21, 1957. Around 4 in the afternoon. Gilbert and young wife Joanne arrive at the house of her mother Yetta and father Mickey on 9407 Oakmore Road in the Beverlywood neighborhood. It was the house Joanne had lived in throughout her adolescence, the one she moved to just before entering the 8th grade. To Joni, as she was then known, and younger brother Jerry, Oakmore was a palace.
When Joni was 6 and Jerry 3, the family moved out from Chicago. Mickey and Yetta, (her eldest grandchild would later call her Nana, a name that stuck) rented a small apartment on First and Flores in L.A. Jerry and Joni shared a room and all four shared one tiny bathroom. Happily, after eight years in that undersized unit they built and moved into the house on Oakmore. Though Mickey was an unlikely car salesman, both warm and funny and deeply moral, he and his partner Oscar established the most successful Kaiser Frazier Dealership in the Western United States. Set on the southeast corner of Manchester and Western, it seemed his ship, following years of financial struggle, had finally come in.
Mickey, supervised the building of their new home, begun two years after the end of WWII, even accomplishing some of the finish work himself. Each child now had their very own room, sharing only a Jack and Jill bathroom and a small sliding wood panel which, when opened, allowed the two, who forever remained close, to speak to each other. This is the house Joanne would always think of as home, right up until the day she married Gilbert. Following their wedding day and a brief honeymoon in Acapulco, they moved to Dallas where Gil had been stationed. He had recently finished his undergraduate accounting degree at UCLA and then was immediately conscripted into the Army, his student deferment ended. Somehow, this generation missed the years that the baby boomers were subsequently afforded to head out to find themselves. Perhaps they didn’t need to look. Why did we?
Following Dallas, Gilbert was sent to the Red River Armory in picturesque Texarkana, Texas, where for the next year and a half, he’d finish his mandatory service. Gil drove to the base each day listening to a local radio station that began playing new sounding music from a young trucker with the strange name of Elvis. While stationed there, Gil became the de facto cantor for the local Temple that served the 30 or so Jewish families in that part of Texas. A high pressure job because of the congregation's practice of an additional Southern-based religion. Friday night services needed to be completed by seven, in time to get to the high school's football game prior to kickoff.
Once in Texas, Joni, now Joanne, secretaried for the dean of a local college. Sitting behind the admissions desk, she would sneak college catalogues, below the Dean's line of sight, to prospective black students who were applying to small Texarkana College for the first time in its history. This, following the Warren Court’s mandatory desegregation order. So thrilled was the College's administration when they caught wind of her actions, that they bestowed upon her the loving epithet, “damn yankee!"
Gil almost didn’t make it to Texas. Stationed in Fort Ord, CA for boot camp just prior to his marriage, he was driving back from L.A. one weekend after attending a friend’s wedding when he rolled the yellow and black 1951 Kaiser Virginian he'd purchased from his soon to be father-in-law. Skidding on the rain-slicked highway, the Kaiser tumbled down an embankment, almost ending his life and would have had it not been for Mickey selling him the Kaiser with two brand new safety innovations; a padded dash and more importantly, the very first curved, pop-out windshield. Meeting Joanne had literally saved his life. As the car rolled over and over, his head slammed into the glass which ejected rather than shattering and decapitating him.
Now, they were back on Oakmore Road, on the seventh day of Passover and Easter Sunday, for a day of celebration which had little to do with the holidays. Joanne, following an early miscarriage, was pregnant again. Just. Though she'd spilled the beans to her mother, tonight at dinner she would finally be able to tell her beloved Papa. This would be his first grandchild. There was a palpable excitement in the air. Joanne was all of 22. These days one might deeply consider whether to let someone her age raise a puppy.
Mickey could use some good news…
Kaiser sent it's last car down the assembly line two years earlier in 1955 before shuttering it's automotive business. Mickey and his partner Oscar were forced to shut down their previously successful lot.
Mickey's next idea was to purchase used cars and sell them directly to dealers opening (Name of Business). To this end he took out a loan from City National Bank to build an inventory. He set up a lot to house the cars on the Southeast corner of Pico and La Brea.
Mickey's former partner Oscar Voight along with his son (name) also came up with a plan. To open a used car lot of their own. Oscar went to Micky, asking to borrow part of what he had taken out from City National, so that they could begin purchasing cars as well. A kind hearted man, Mickey acquiesced, though his obvious concern about the arrangement could be seen by the fact that he neglected to share the information with his wife Yetta, not wanting to worry her. Strangely he did choose to confide in his smart, handsome 18 year old son Jerry.
To make matters worse, much, the automotive business itself then took a hit, experiencing a major downturn following the implementation of Regulation W, an initiation by the Eisenhower Administration to stem the tide of over lending on credit without adequate collateral. The hope was to stabilize U.S. Banks and their affiliates, those insured by the Federal Reserve, by greatly limiting their potential losses. Regulation W so changed the way lending took place at that time including a mandated increase in interest rates, that they greatly impacted how cars were, or more likely now were not financed. Car sales plummeted along with Mickey and Oscar's fortunes.
When the news of the regulation was announced, Mickey flew back early from the first cruise that he and Yetta had ever taken together. The ship docked in Honolulu where they stayed at the great, pink palace, the Royal Hawaiian, at the time one of the few hotels on Waikiki Beach. They loved it there.
From a cliff high above cast and crew, Mickey even took 8mm home movies of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling around in the surf during the filming of From Here to Eternity.
But Regulation W once announced, so threatened the success of Mickey's business that he was forced to leave his wife on Oahu and fly home immediately.
That Easter Sunday, the eighth day of Passover, Mickey had driven over to meet Voight. He desperately hoped that today Voight would finally be able to pay back the part of the loan that Mickey had given him, the note now far past due.
Yetta, a wonderful cook continued to prepare the meal of brisket, potatoes, and carrots. She glanced up at the red bakelite kitchen clock. Everything was ready, but Mickey was not back. It wasn't his style to be late, or certainly not to call. They tried calling Voight’s office, but to no avail.
Even today Joanne remembers a creeping sense of dread, accompanied by a feeling of nausea. It’s strange what etches into our memories. She can go right back to that moment, with Harry Belafonte singing the Banana Boat song on the TV that Mickey had installed high up on the wall in a recessed nook, in a rare design flaw, too high to watch without craning one’s neck.
Gil and brother-in-law Jerry jump into Gil’s car and tear off to try to find Mickey. Jerry, keeper of the secret, knew he would be at Voight's lot on Manchester. It wasn’t far.
Joanne kept dialing. Instinct led her to a phone in the master bedroom, as far from her mother in the kitchen as she could get. Finally, an answer. But by an unfamiliar male voice. She immediately felt dizzy and sat down hard on the bed. “I’m calling for my father Mickey.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”
“But my dad, just tell me he’s okay, please tell me that nothing’s happened.”
The voice continued, now pleading, “Please stop asking, I can’t tell you anything.” Then hung up.
As their car approaches Voight’s lot, Jerry and Gil see police cars parked facing every direction, their colored ‘gum-ball’ roof lights lit and spinning. Jerry bursts out of the car. As Voight's son’s turns away from the cops he and Jerry lock eyes. Seeing Voight’s ashen, tear-stained face, Jerry knows something is terribly wrong. Grief stricken, he gives Jerry the tragic news.
Gil watches from the driver’s seat. Somehow understanding it was too late, he doesn't exit the car.
Jerry was allowed into the small trailer office to identify his father's body and witnesses the horrendous, unthinkable aftermath. Oscar Voight knew he wouldn't have the money to repay Mickey, so he'd driven to Vegas with a small stake, hoping to win big, enough to repay the loan, knowing it would be his only chance. Instead, with each bet, he fell deeper behind, finally losing it all. Voight proceeded to get roaring drunk and drove straight back to L.A. Fearing the consequences for Mickey, who'd put up his beautiful home on Oakmore as collateral, and using his own impenetrable logic of not wanting to upset Mickey, Voight brought a pistol to the meeting. He shot Mickey, then turned the gun on himself.
Something's gone horrendously wrong. I'm engulfed by a blinding, neon redness. My entire being feels intense burning, as if my nurturing environment has been replaced by battery acid. I struggle. The bliss, vanished. What the fuck is happening??? I'm left with a single question, "Do I continue? Go on?" Somehow I know that it’s up to me. My choice, my decision alone.
The pain is now unbearable. I struggle under the tightly tucked blankets. I feel this decision looming, do I continue to endure? And is this what life will always be, from here on? Is this what existence is like? I decide. Am determined to fight on. I want to live! But at what cost?
My choice made, gestation continues, the pain lessening over time, but never returning to that feeling of pure, ultimate bliss. Nothing close. Finally I’m pulled toward the challenges of birth.
Squirming through the birth canal. I feel tightly squeezed. So difficult to breath. Fighting on. Then. Finally. Release. I gulp for air. There is crying. Mine. Now others. Others?
I sense I am deeply needed. I have replaced someone. Someone precious. Beloved. There is pain mixed with the joy.
I blink, finally opening my eyes. I'd entered the room in beautiful afternoon light. It's now dark. I see brilliant therapist Barbara Findiesen’s kind eyes. Face framed by bobbed grey and blond hair. Stanford educated, tiny and in her early seventies, she sits silently, peacefully next to me. I am exhausted. She reaches over and shuts off the video camera, ejecting, then handing me the VHS video cassette of the entire birth regression she'd just led me through.
I walk straight to a phone in the main house of Pocket Ranch, this wooded, rustic retreat in the beautiful hills north of Calistoga, California. My parents are out of the country, so I use the office phone to call my Grandmother Yetta. "Nana, when exactly was it that Mickey died? Was it before I was born? Did he get to hold me?"
I'd always heard, for as far back as I could remember, of the murder of my namesake Meyer “Mickey” Rubinstein. My mother Joanne and grandmother Yetta, would tear up at the mention of his name. And I knew, albeit with a more remote sense, that my great Grandfather Hyman had also been murdered. But at 32, I couldn't honestly say, had no conscious awareness of exactly when Grandpa Mickey's murder took place.
A deep audible sigh. Then Yetta responds, sadness in her voice. "It was Easter Sunday, the last day of Passover. April 21, 1957."
Eight months before I was born. Two months after my conception. In fact, he wasn't Grandpa Mickey. He was my mother's father. My Nana's husband. He never did get to hold me. Was robbed of the chance to even learn that I, his first grandchild, existed.
It exactly matched my experience only moments before. Was it possible that one can actually access this most distant possible memory? Or instead, more likely perhaps, had I known at some point and forgotten the details. Then recreated the experience in the regression work to match this hidden memory.
It didn't matter to me. It was enough to have the knowledge that my poor mother had experienced, so early on in my development, the most intense period of grief of her entire life. From the moment she'd heard the horrendous news, my life support system began coursing with cortisol and a cocktail of grief-ridden neuro-chemicals. She remembers clearly being concerned about the potential effects upon my development.
I began to wonder, could this have been a factor in a lifetime spent battling clinical depression? How different would my life and the lives of my dear family have been if the Grandfathers had never crossed paths with the likes of John Stacey, Oscar Voight.
Later, the Coroner would find the folded prayer book containing the kaddish that Mickey born Meyer, the 18-year-old son of the murdered Hyman Rubinstein, had carried in his vest pocket ever since the murder of his own father, when he, like his own son that day, was 18. As if in some fucked up cosmic joke, Hyman was 52 when he was shot. Nearly the same age as was his son Mickey when he was murdered 34 years later. And that book, the one containing the Jewish prayer that is recited for the dead, was now pierced through by a second bullet hole, this one from the pistol of Oscar Voight. Just as those bullets pierced the hearts of a family.