Reversal Of Fortune

Searching For What It Takes To Wake Up To Life.

IT WAS BURIED back in the Metro section, a few pages behind yet another in an apparently endless stream of shiny, happy profiles of one of our "neighbors." The headline read "Clues sought in salesman's slaying," and the brief article told of a local used-car salesman whose body was found the day before Thanksgiving in a park out near Old Tucson. He had been shot to death.

To be honest, I didn't even read the article when it first appeared. I don't read the Star much these days; I pretty much just look at Fitz's cartoons and check out the sports section. I probably wouldn't have known about it at all if we hadn't gotten the phone call.

The call came from my daughter Darlene's friend Katie. They had been basketball teammates last year and, despite an age difference of a couple years, they became great friends. Just last month Katie and her mom moved to upstate New York. She and Darlene e-mail each other all the time and occasionally talk on the phone, but this call was different.

The dead man was the father of another of Katie's friends. The two had gone through elementary and middle school together, but then went separate ways, with Katie going to Amphi and her friend to Marana.

When Darlene told me what had happened, I dug the paper out and found the article. It said that the man had left his Northwest home at 7:30 Tuesday night and his body was found around 9:30 the next morning. Frankly, with Tucson being so big now, this sort of thing happens way too often. Most times it barely registers a 1.5 on the average reader's curiosity scale.

"Gee, I wonder what really happened," we might think to ourselves. Or, "I sure hope they catch the guy(s) that did this." If we have a little time and a little faith, we might even say a prayer for him and his family.

But most of the time, we'll just shrug. We know the statistics by now. Most non-accidental gun deaths are either intra-familial or involve other types of criminal activity. The innocent person being shot to death by someone he didn't know is pretty rare. Heck, the Star even gave us a little whiff of that with this ominous paragraph:

"He recently told co-workers 'that he was short on cash and needed to pay his mortgage,' said (a Sheriff's deputy)."

We might nod knowingly and ease back our apprehension a bit. OK, this isn't going to happen to us. We hope that the police solve it pretty quickly, but whether they do or not, it's a sure bet that it'll fade from our memory soon enough.

This man's death got me to thinking. He and I went to the same church; the chances are pretty good that we even attended the same Mass. Just another face in a sea of people trying not to make eye contact with one another.

As I read the small article again, I wondered what they'd say about me. "He wrote for a small alternative weekly publication, writing columns that were occasionally amusing but more often simply infuriating. He won a bunch of awards but made very little money. He also coached a few low-level high-school sports teams. He had a great won-lost record, but kept getting fired by bosses he'd annoyed."

Pretty thin.

Oh, they might bring it home on a high note with, "Had two spectacular children who somehow miraculously managed to avoid the dregs of his gene pool, and a beautiful, successful wife who deserved much better in love and life."

It has been said that if you want to lead a good life, start with what you want your obituary to say and work backwards from there. I read a story once about Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and the man who left his enormous fortune behind for the establishment of the Nobel Prizes. Alfred's brother Ludwig was a relentless worker whose efforts earned him the unofficial title of "Oil King of Baku" (in southern Russia) and also earned him an early grave at the age of 57.

When Ludwig died, many papers around the world mistakenly ran Alfred's obituary, referring to him as a munitions maker and a merchant of death. Alfred was given the rare opportunity to read his own obit and was appalled. He immediately rewrote his will so that his enormous fortune would go to honoring those whose advancements served mankind.

The kicker of this story is that even his good intentions were tainted. Having carried on a feud with one of the world's top mathematicians of his day, Nobel made it clear in his will that there would never be a Nobel Prize in math. Petty to the end.

I'd like to think that this Tucson man's tragic death would make a difference in my life, but it probably won't, certainly not long-term.

This week I was going to write about Dick Tomey leaving the University of Arizona, but I realized that in relative terms, Tomey's story wasn't all that important.

After all, Tomey got to say a big "Screw you!" to all his detractors and the hypocrites who dogged him all season and then cried crocodile tears for the departure of a "good and decent man." And he collected several hundred thousand dollars for doing so.

This other man was forever separated from his loved ones the day before Thanksgiving.

Guess which story made the front pages.

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