I am a blastocyst. A rapidly, oft-dividing bundle of cells. An emerging raspberry of life. Up 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 we spend our lives searching for completion?
I feel wanted. Am wanted. Planned and desired. I am consciousness.
Decatur, Illinois, Tuesday, November 25th, 1924 — 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 Nicholas’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 Stacy 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 coat pocket, made by his cheap American Bull Dog .38 caliber, octagonal barreled, 5 shot revolver. Until that moment, fully loaded. The bullet strikes Rubinstein in the stomach, just below the rib.
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 “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 would later give 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. 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 a 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, rushes to the hospital. He gently removes his fedora as he approaches the critically wounded man and pulls out a notepad. Hyman survives just long enough to give his statement. Evidently before McCool arrived, Stacy had grabbed Hyman and shot him a second time at close range, so close that the flair burns Mr. Rubenstein’s clothes. 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 Daily 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."
Following the warmer weather, Rubinstein’s killer, John Stacy, 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 vest 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 vest pocket for the rest of his days.
Though his family begged him not to go, Meyer would not be dissuaded. Sensing it was his duty, he attended the hanging of his father’s killer, the only member to witness what would be the final execution by hanging in Illinois history.
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. I’m 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 to share dinner and some exciting news. 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 very 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 moved into the house on Oakmore.
Mickey supervised the building of their new home, begun two years after the end of WWII, even completing 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.
Though Mickey was an unlikely car salesman: warm, funny, deeply moral, he and his partner Oscar Voight were able to establish the most successful Kaiser Frazier Dealership in the Western United States. Set on the southeast corner of Manchester and Western, he would name it Kaiser Korner. Due in large part to Mickey’s fascination with new technologies, when tv was still something of a novelty, they decided to sponsor a local live television program, The Marriage Game which played their catchy commercial jingle. The result, Kaiser Korner of Manchester and Western became widely known, throughout Los Angeles. While the showroom occupied that corner, their inventory of over 300 used cars took up the rest of a full city block and formed the backbone of their business. It seemed Mickey’s ship, following years of financial struggle, had finally come in.
The marriage game spilled into the family’s private life. One night, while taking in Mort Sahl’s act at the Mocambo on the Strip, Gil slipped a ring onto Joni’s finger. Returning home to Oakmore they announced their engagement, her fiancé by all accounts, already adored by the family. And a good thing too. For far beyond the obvious reasons.
In January of ’54, Gil graduated with an accounting degree from UCLA and along with his diploma, arrived the end of his student deferment. Hoping to speed up the inevitable, he volunteered and one month later was shipped off to Fort Ord in Monterey, California to complete Army basic training. 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?
Weeks later, when granted his first leave, Gil took his first airplane flight, heading back to L.A. to attend the wedding of a close friend. Once there, his future father in law Mickey sold him a beautiful used yellow and black 1951 Kaiser Virginian which he immediately drove north, his weekend pass at its end.
The rain poured down that night without letting up, and shortly before reaching the base, Gil’s car skidded on the rain-slicked highway. The last thing he remembers is losing control of the beautiful Kaiser and it tumbling over and over, down a steep embankment, nearly ending his young life. And would have had it not been for Mickey selling him a Kaiser with two brand new safety innovations; a padded dash and more importantly, the very first curved, pop-out windshield. Meeting Joanne might very well have saved his life. As the car rolled, his head slammed into the glass which ejected, rather than shattering, likely decapitating him. He was found unconscious by a stopping motorist, half his body still inside the Kaiser, half splayed out over the hood.
Once recovered he was posted to Dallas, Joanne left behind to plan their wedding. Days before the ceremony, Gil flew home unannounced, surprising his bride to be by standing outside her childhood bedroom window on Oakmore. He begins to serenade her with Blue Moon, lowering his voice to approximate a favorite singer and band leader Billy Eckstine.
Following their wedding at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and a brief honeymoon in Acapulco, they return to Dallas before Gil was posted again, now to the Red River Arsenal in picturesque Texarkana, Texas, where for the next year and a half, he’d complete his mandatory service. Gil drove to the base each morning listening to a local country radio station that began playing a new sound from a young, white trucker out of Tupelo with an interesting voice and an odd first name.
While stationed in Texarkana, Gil became the de facto cantor for the local Temple that served the 30 or so Jewish families in the area, that was not really known for it’s large Semitic population. Nonetheless, a high pressure job because of the congregation's practice of an additional Southern-based religion. Friday night services must be completed by seven, in time to get to the high school football game prior to kickoff.
Once in Texas, Joni, now Joanne, secretaried for the dean of a local college. Sitting behind the admissions desk and below the Dean's line of sight she would sneak college catalogues 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 with her practice, that they bestowed upon her the loving epithet, “damn yankee!"
Now, they’d returned to Oakmore Road, this seventh day of Passover, Easter Sunday, for a day of celebration that had little to do with the holidays. Joanne, following an early miscarriage, was pregnant again. Just. She'd only spilled the beans to her mother, not another soul. 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 take raise a puppy.
Mickey could use some good news…
Kaiser sent it's last car down the assembly line two years before in 1955. shuttering it's automotive business. To make matters worse, much, the car industry itself took a hit, experiencing a major downturn following the implementation of Regulation W, an initiation by the Eisenhower Administration that altered the equation car dealers used to finance their inventory, leading to the slashing of potential profits. The hope in part was to stabilize U.S. Banks and their affiliates, those insured by the Federal Reserve, by limiting potential losses. The end result was that profits from used car sales, the life blood of Kaiser Korner, plummeted along with Mickey and Oscar's fortunes.
Weeks earlier, Mickey and Yetta were finally able to take their first cruise. It was on the Ocean Liner, SS Lurline that steamed from San Pedro to Oahu, it’s departure festooned by downpours of multicolored confetti and streamers as was the custom at the time. Hundreds waved and shouted from dock and deck. Arriving in Honolulu they moved into the great, pink Royal Hawaiian. At the time one of the few hotels on Waikiki Beach, they were enchanted with the place.
From a cliff high above cast and crew, Mickey took 8mm home movies of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling around in the surf during the filming of From Here to Eternity. But once Mickey read the news, he immediately recognized that Regulation W so threatened the success of his business that he was forced to cut short his vacation and fly straight back to L.A. leaving Yetta on Oahu. Ultimately there was little that could be done. Months later Mickey and his partner closed the dealership.
Rebounding, Mickey came up with his next business idea. To sell used cars directly to dealerships. He took out a large loan from the newly formed City National Bank to build an inventory and set up a lot to house the cars on the Southeast corner of Pico and La Brea. He named the enterprise Dealers Auto Exchange. Because of his relationships with many car dealers around town and a working knowledge of the types of vehicles each could sell to their particular clientele, as well as what trade-ins they were eager to rid themselves of, Mickey did well. Things were looking up again.
Mickey's former partner Oscar Voight also had a plan. To open a used car lot with his own son Bill. Voight went to Mickey, asking to borrow part of the loan from City National so that he too could begin purchasing cars. A kind hearted man, Mickey acquiesced, though his obvious concern was evidenced by the decision not to share this information with his wife, not wanting her to worry. Strangely he did confide in his smart, handsome, 18 year old son Jerry. Never the amount, only that he had agreed to loan the money and critically, that Voight was missing all of his scheduled payments.
That Easter Sunday Mickey drove to his ex-partners lot, desperately hoping that today Voight would finally be able to pay back the money that Mickey had loaned him, the note long 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. Phone calls were made to Voight’s office, 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’d be at Voight's lot on Manchester. And it wasn’t far.
Joanne continued to dial. Instinct led her to a phone in the master bedroom, as far from her mother in the kitchen as possible. Finally, an answer.
“Is Mickey there?”
A pained, unfamiliar voice, “I… I can’t tell you.”
“What do you mean you can’t tell me? I need to speak to my Father. Where is he?”
Again, “I can’t… Please don’t ask!”
Joanne feels dizzy. She sits down hard on the bed and begins to tremble. “Is he sick? Did he have heart attack? Is he in the hospital? I want to go to him!”
Now distraught, “Please don’t ask me any more questions!”
“But my dad, just tell me he’s okay, please tell me that nothing’s happened.”
The voice continued, finally pleading, “Please stop asking, I can’t tell you anything!” He hangs up.
Joanne is now shaking badly and works to avoid running into her mother, knowing that if her mother sees her face…
As their car approaches Voight’s lot, Jerry and Gil see police cars scattered like children’s toys, parked in every direction, their colored ‘gum-ball’ roof lights lit and spinning. Jerry bursts out of the car and runs toward the trailer office. Voight's son Bill turns away from the cops and spotting Jerry grabs him by the arm. Seeing Bill’s ashen, tear-stained face, Jerry knows immediately that something was terribly wrong. Grief stricken, Bill gives Jerry the tragic news.
Gil watches from the driver’s seat. Somehow understanding it was too late, he never exits 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 fully, it would be his only chance. Instead, with each bet, he fell deeper and deeper in the hole, finally losing it all. Voight proceeded to get roaring drunk and drive straight back to L.A., taking pulls on a fifth of whiskey along the way.
To this day, Voight’s logic seems completely impenetrable. Could his concern about upsetting Mickey been so great? Or perhaps his own pain and wounded ego have been so thoroughly overwhelming that it forced out the consideration of any other rational alternatives? No one can nor will ever know.
All that is known is that Voight brought a pistol to the meeting and when Mickey entered the trailer office, he pulled it from a desk drawer and pulled the trigger, fatally shooting Mickey before turning 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 somewhat 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, I feel tightly squeezed. So difficult to breath. Fighting on. Then…
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 in 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 Findeisen’s kind eyes. Face framed by bobbed grey and blond hair. Stanford educated, tiny and in her sixties, 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 containing 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 much 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 even of the chance to 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 but forgotten the details. Then recreated the experience in the regression work to match this hidden memory.
It simply didn't matter to me. It was enough to now 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 during the first, second, third trimesters.
Could this possibly have been a contributing factor in a lifetime spent battling clinical depression? Perhaps a root cause? And how different might my life and the lives of each of my beloved family members have been if the Grandfathers paths had not crossed, had their glowing lights not been extinguished by the likes of John Stacy. 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 breast pocket ever since the murder of his own father, when he, like his own son that day, was 18. As if in some 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 small 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.
We know that two men with guns will wreak havoc well beyond the murders they commit. That the pain they cause continues to wound future generations. If we dig down deep enough, we may discover, as did I, that our life paths have been impacted by those very same bullets, those desperate, violent acts.
Hillside Memorial Park, Los Angeles April 24, 1957 — By 9:30, so many mourners have arrived that the service has to be moved from the chapel to out of doors. Rabbi Bernard Harrison, dear friend of Mickey and of his family, speaks to the assembled crowd:
“…Mickey lived his life like he danced--with gracefulness that was a delight to behold. He knew the secret of happiness. He found it in a free flowing love and affection that knew no boundaries or limits. It was there for everyone—for young and old, for anyone who was in need. Instinctively he knew the art of life…”
The art of life.
Well then, please excuse me while I go see whether my Grandpa Mickey and Great-Grandfather Hyman would care to dance.
A native Angeleno, MICHAEL SEGEL returned to Venice, CA twenty five years ago following many years, living and working around the globe including time spent studying at U.C. Berkeley, NYU Film School and The Second City. His career in film spanned well over three decades taking him to locations on nearly every continent. In addition to his unending love for his daughter Rachel River, Michael is deeply grateful to his parents Joanne and Gilbert Segel, his Uncle Jerry Rubinstein and all of his forefathers and mothers And also to his writing mentor and dear friend Jill Schary (however many last names she’d like to use) who stoked his passion for writing immeasurably and made it all possible.