Where Is It Now?

by Tom Ashley

A recent New York Times article more than caught my eye. A Chicago landmark restaurant, the Cape Cod Room, had closed its doors. Opened in 1933 in the equally famed Drake Hotel, the eatery had served up cocktails and dinner to generations of Chicago titans along with notables such as Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Michael Jordan, the Beatles and seven U.S. Presidents. It was also a second home to my one-time boss, ad genius Leo Burnett.

Post college I toiled for Leo for a decade. Intense meetings often rolled down the street after 6pm and continued at the ‘Codder’ and usually ended as the doors closed at midnight.

In 1974 I accepted a position as Director of Marketing for Ralston Purina, a Burnett client, with blessings from Leo.

I moved to St. Louis but found myself back for two days every other week. I always stayed at the Drake and was considered family in the Cape Cod Room.

While in Chicago on June 24, 1984 my life changed forever.

I had an early dinner alone and remember going to the bar for a nightcap before retiring to my room. My recollections are vague from that point on. I often have to catch myself from adding details to my storyline that I can’t quite separate from a dream. The one certainty is that I was found in my darkened hotel room barely clinging to life. I was in excruciating pain and had been bound with duct tape. I desperately didn’t want to die. I had been perspiring profusely and in a pool of blood. Somehow I managed to slip one sweaty hand free to slide my blinking telephone to the ground, dislodging its receiver. Did I plead for help or pass out? I don’t know.

Five days later I awoke in the intensive care unit of Northwestern University Hospital (ironically my alma mater) and was greeted by frightened stares from my wife, my twelve year old son, doctors, nurses and a pair of uniformed police officers. Claustrophobia enveloped me. In addition to people there were noises, wires, monitors and tubes extending from a half-dozen bags of fluid and into my body.

I said nothing. My wife and and son, in tears, drew close telling me they loved me and that I was going to pull through. All I recall was thinking — this is what it’s like to be shot. I was wrong.

“Mr. Carlisle, try not to move and keep as silent as possible,” a doctor said to me. “You were kidnapped by a ruthless gang who drugged you with chloroform and harvested your left kidney.”

I didn’t want to lift a finger. I wanted pain medication. I wanted to sleep. I remained at Northwestern for another two months with my emotional state shifting between unstoppable tears and an overjoyed reality that I was still alive. Every day I would look into a mirror and see my bloated face slowly begin to return to normal bit by bit. My physical therapy provided a constant source of progress and pride. I took four hours of a pounding workout seven days a week. Even with daily sessions of work with brilliant psychologists, my mental state has never returned to anything close to normal. I’m terrified of hotels and now, paranoid, carry a fully loaded 38 Special with me at all times, even by my bedside.

In 1984 there were few cameras in hotel lobbies, restaurants, elevators or hallways. Protecting my remaining kidney forced me to give up alcohol and live on a boring macrobiotic diet. Long ago I settled my lawsuit with the owners of The Drake with a nondisclosure agreement so money will never be an issue. It still doesn’t make me close to whole.

Funny thing…the Chicago Police Department, which was getting nowhere with the case, had a breakthrough. In 2007 DNA evidence led them to the the leader of the gang. His name was Leslie Schorr and he had died in Chico State Prison, killed by inmates. There were no tears from me.

Funny thing – my gallows humor has me wondering who has my kidney. I’d like to meet that man or woman and get his or her side of the story.

After a lifetime in broadcasting sales and production, I found a love of writing at the IRP thanks to the support of my coordinators and classmates.