American Culture

For a fine thing gone: goodbye to Jamal Place

I am heartbroken.

We just got a letter from a small charity we support in Chicago, Jamal Place. Jamal Place provided social and vocational services for underprivileged young men, many of whom had some level of disability. They are closing their doors due to lack of funding.

Today I am supposed to be doing what I get paid to do these days in my semi-retirement, writing an important speech for an important man. But instead I am sitting here, staring at the keyboard and unable to find a single noun or verb on the topic of “changing business models.” Instead the only words that will come are words of sadness for a little pissant, underfunded charity that I knew was always one bad week away from closing its doors anyway.

Five years ago, my daughter invited us to a fundraiser for Jamal Place. She and some other trendy young lakefront types had adopted this charity and set up one of those evening-with-a-little-charity auctions, a band, and a cash bar, and put the arm on their family and friends to show up and participate. It was in a dark and bricky part of town, ominous in a Chicago sort of ominous, and all of us white folks put our heads down and walked quickly from the parking lot surrounded by chain link fencing to the front door of the old factory.

It was an odd event. My daughter and her friends had pulled together a tasteful, but fairly standard silent auction, and decorated the place nicely. But the crowd was mixed–some people like my wife and me, but also some local Irish politicians and some not too well-off people of various ethnicities.

We drank at the cash bar, bid on way too much stuff, danced to a surprisingly good band, and sat at a big round table with people we didn’t know. My wife is a great dancer and decided to show off her ability to twist low, but maybe we’d had a few drinks too many because she landed flat on her butt in the middle of the dance floor. She looked up and started laughing, and in that minute I loved her as much as I ever have before or since. Not because she looked ridiculous sitting splay legged in her expensive dress, but because that’s the way love is–you forget how much you care for someone until it just hits you out of the blue  like that.

They then held the real auction, and because we could afford it and because we adore our daughter, we paid for a new roof for whatever old building Jamal Place was located in. I don’t know. We never went down there to look. At least I never did. Maybe Liz did.

The director, Ann, a busty middle-aged Irish woman, ran over and gave me a huge hug. My daughter frantically tried to pry her loose, because I don’t like to be thanked and under no circumstances do I do hugs. (And don’t even think about kisses.) But she hung on to my neck like a pit bull. Finally she had to let go to make her way up to the podium.

The high point of the night was an award to a successful graduate, or whatever they called it, of Jamal House. A young man who wanted to be a mechanic received a tool box. No tools, just a tool box. But he was thrilled and beaming. It was lovely, but sad, because anybody knows how hard it is to get from here to there with nothing but an empty toolbox.

Over time, we made Jamal Place our primary charity. In return, every Christmas we’d get a tin of cookies, which I would take into the office, and a nice note from Ann. Over time the requests for money came more frequently and desperately and then I’d be surprised that they’d managed to hang on for another year.

But this year they didn’t make it.

I’d like to be angry instead of sad. But I am not sure at whom. Myself maybe. Could we have done more? Probably. Could we have done enough? Probably not.

But still.

Maybe I should be angry at the people who don’t give, or even worse, give to bullshit things like charities for the arts. (Arts are entertainment, and by definition should not need subsidies.)

Maybe I am just pissed at Darwin for being so fucking right all the time.

I don’t know. This was a broken dream from the get-go, and as the Australians say, “Blind Freddy and his dog could see it.” But broken dreams are like broken plates: we hang on to them way too long because one day we get around to gluing them back together, but even when you do they don’t look quite right and eventually end up in the trash anyway. Just like Jamal Place.

At any rate, whoever you are and wherever you are, please take a second and raise your cup of coffee to Ann and to Jamal Place. She really tried and her trying was a fine, fine thing.

Categories: American Culture

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1 reply »

  1. Sam,
    That’s really, really sad. I teared up reading it. Thank God (literally) for Ann and people like her. The empty tool-box choked me up. Thanks for writing about Jamal Place.