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Jeffrey Zaslow’s 1986 Article I’ve Never Forgotten

12 February, 2012

[Jeffrey Zaslow died in a car crash in Michigan on Friday, 10 Feb at age 53.]

I moved to Chicago in 1983 and lived on what was then the frontlines of gentrification in Lincoln Park. I used to see this homeless guy on the same block of Clark St regularly; as I’d cruise past on the bus I’d see irritated yuppies angling past him, their expressions making it plain that he and his bags of stuff and his inescapable smell were not welcome.

One day he disappeared and I wondered what had happened to him. Not enough mind you to actually do anything substantive or helpful, but I wondered none-the-less. Then I saw this feature in the Wall Street Journal on December 1, 1986 written by Jeffrey Zaslow 9see link below). It explained that the homeless guy was named Jim and that he’d been set on fire mysteriously one night. At the time I was greatly moved by the article and called Zaslow to tell him how much I appreciated it. He was rather flustered with the praise and we didn’t talk long.

But I’ve always remembered that story and the way Zaslow reported and wrote it – just last month I was telling somebody about it. The end is haunting and has stuck with me since; often I ask myself if I would actually help someone in need or simply not see them at all.