Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Vicki, the Tattooed Armenian Motorcycle Chick…Needs a Break…by Robert M. Katzman

by Robert M. Katzman © June 3, 2018

Recently, a year after my wife died, I decided to get “back on the horse,” a mysterious phrase some older people say and see if I could find a new relationship online. Like I had a clue what I was doing. But after a few weeks of zero responses, late one night I got this letter from Vicky with a picture of petite her astride a very large motorcycle, saying she’d like to meet me, and against all the rules I read online that are supposed to protect women from dangerous men, she included her phone number. I waited until morning and decided to call her.

We talked for a while and it was clear very quickly from her story that while we weren’t a good match in many ways beside the motorcycle. Vicki’s life was in shambles and I got this idea that perhaps I could possibly help her by writing about her life. I’ve been so absorbed by my own loneliness and misery that it never occurred to me that I might be helpful to another person worse off than I am. In Jewish culture, this is called a “mitzvah” or a good deed. It is up to each person to decide whether to choose to help, or not. I decided to call and meet with her and see what Vicki thought about this idea, if she was comfortable meeting with me.

I asked her to meet me at the bottom of the steps off Racine’s Main Street right in front of the Library’s door at 9:30 AM on Friday, June 1st. She was right on time and waiting as I drove up and parked by the lake, the area where no parking tickets are given because there are no meters there. She was sitting on the stairs, one hundred yards away, small, blue-jeaned, dark complexioned, smiling and waving to me. I waved back and in minutes we were talking like old friends. Funny how that works, that some people have no barriers, or maybe I’m easy to talk to. I hope so.

After listening for a while to her machine-gun rat-a-tat delivery of more words than I could absorb, and the cold wind on that June morning was making both of us shiver as we stood near the big blue Lake Michigan with its crashing waves and white lacey sprays of water. It was supposed to be festival time because it was Racine’s “First Friday of the Month” and there would be outside events and food for sale and lots of people there. But at 10 AM Downtown Racine, Wisconsin was windswept, empty of people and all the stores were closed.

Maybe nobody got the memo.

We wandered around and avoided the sidewalks under construction, looking for coffee and shelter from the wind. Then we spied some guys on a ladder, one on top of it and the other one on the ground holding the ladder steady, pasting a graphic sign over grey steel that was going to say: Mrs Bettys Kitchen

We crossed the street and saw a little sign that the new place was open so we went in, and it was full of people except for one table in back and we took that one. Better for talking, I thought, and to gently break it to Vicki that this wasn’t really a “date”, but an interview–with her permission–to see if I could make people aware of her bad times and maybe someone would be moved to help her in some way. Not that I’m such a prize in the eyes of women, and that my last “date” was in 1967, but better to be straight so we were all in agreement, or not.

I told her that I’d read that some men meet women online purely seeking sex and that was not in any way my intent; she looked off to the side and murmured that she hadn’t had sex in years and years.

In general, in my complicated, sometimes violent, sometimes caught up in the wheels of corrupt Chicago’s managers of their infamous Political Machine, a person is “straight” or he ain’t. I prefer to be the first one. In the long run, if all kinds of people trust you, even evil people who know you won’t talk about them later, the world is a safer place to be. Maybe more thorns than roses in my often rough life, but for guy who’s been around,safer.

Vicki gave me this kind of a smirking smile, like “Aw, gee, well…okay” and then began talking faster than ever. This nice-looking tanned waitress named Lori Jones brought both of us coffee then took Vicki’s order for biscuits and gravy, and I order scrambled eggs. I began writing her words down, or trying to keep up with the torrent.

Her Mom was Armenian, born in Istanbul, Turkey where many Armenians lived despite the terror of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks. Her mom’s name was Sally Hagopian. Her father was in the Navy and they lived in Key West before Vicki was born in 1956. Her father divorced her mother when she was five.

She told me her father’s father, her grandfather, worked at JI Case and rode a horse to get to work in 1921.

Vicki began drinking as she put it, cheap wine, in Horlicks High School in 1973, and later she smoked pot. Then she was kicked out of that school and went to the Racine Alternate School, which she described as an Academy for Misfits. She didn’t graduate. Then later she went to Gateway College and got her GED.

But before that, her high school sweetheart got her pregnant and her son, Reggie, was born when Vicki was seventeen, on February 11, 1974. They both lived upstairs in a tiny apartment at 326 1/2 Main Street. Reggie died in a car accident in 1983, at nine, when his dad was driving and the car went into a tailspin and then crashed. That’s when Vicki began drinking more heavily. She’d been working locally at Insinkerator in shipping and receiving but she lost that job due to her drinking. Vicki is currently unemployed.

At nineteen in 1975 she received her first OWI–which being from Illinois I’d never heard of–but which means Operating a vehicle While Intoxicated. First time she said the judge gave her a “slap on the hand” and she walked. But in 1986 Vicki spent a night in jail.

She married at 28 in 1984 to a man who moved houses after propping them up on jacks. They had bought a house together before they were married. Vicki told me her mother insisted that it be an Armenian ceremony which is called Apostolic Armenian, which she told me was sort of close to being Catholic. Racine has two Armenia churches and they were married at Saint Mesrob in south Racine. She described the wedding as both of them sitting on thrones and both wear crowns. Her husband had to undergo a kind of conversion to make him “Armenian” sort of, to become acceptable to her mother and that took a while, but he did it. He studied Armenian culture for a year and then was approved by church officials in New York City.

But her husband beat her up all the time, Vicki told me, and once knocked out her front tooth and blackened her eyes. Another time he through a cue ball at her in a bar after her became drunk. Anyone who ever played pool or knows about it, knows that a cue ball is a deadly weapon.

Besides her educational and marital misadventures, Vicki told me she used to speed skate beginning when she was seven at Lincoln, Nebraska but stopped because it was too far away for her mother to drive. She also speed skated competitively in Wisconsin in 1994, once coming in 4th in a competition. She began riding a motorcycle at 22 in 1978; a Harley-Davidson because Vicki said that’s all there is as far as she’s concerned. She told me not too many Racine girls rode their own Harleys.

Vicki has many tattoos, beginning when she was 21. Her first piercing was five years ago. On her arm is in script: “God Granted Me Serenity, Courage and Wisdom”. There is a Harley-Davidson on her upper back–I didn’t question her about this and she kept all her clothes on in Mrs Bettys Kitchen. The cycle is a FXSTC with a sky blue gas tank, with a green dragon blowing fire from its mouth and a naked woman–Vicki said it was supposed to be her–riding the beast.

On Vicki’s lower back is a tattoo of a gothic motorcycle, which she calls her “Tramp Stamp” because many woman strippers and other adventurous women have that stamp on their (very) lower backs. She has two more Harley’s printed on each of her shoulders and a big gothic dragon on her mid-back, a man-in-the-moon with a red rose on her right breast, which she apologized about her warm clothing because it was too high up on her neck for her to show me her tattoos, then a flower vine on her right thigh and her belly is pierced.

Over time in dealing with her alcoholism Vicki has sought help and comfort from Pastor “doc” Ralph at the A & D Biker Ministry in Racine. It is non-denominational and a person doesn’t need a bike to go there for help. Vicki’s AA sponsor is Flora, who calls her every day so Vicki can let her know what she’s doing and to help prevent Vicki from going back to the Racine County Jail.

Vicki has also gone to a local organization called IOP, which is a Behavior Health Center and or a Workforce Development Center, and the letters stand for Intensive Outpatient Care. Vicki had brain surgery after a car accident on September 21, 2017 and has since had memory and balance problems.

Vicki’s current situation is that she was arrested recently for drinking while driving her car, and her car was hauled away and kept in storage while she was put in the Racine County Jail which is on Main Street across from the Racine Historical Society. It cost her $400 in storage fees, which she told me she paid out of her small savings, and that she also lost her Signature-Bond for $2,000. She pulled her pants up off of her ankle to show me she was wearing a “Scram” electric anklet to prevent her from leaving town before her trial or sentencing on July 21, 2018, where she is being represented by a public defender she told me was named Nick Della Santa, although she wasn’t certain about the spelling of his name.

If convicted, Vicki can be sentenced from 45 days to three years, although she will get credit for the 40 days she was already in jail. Her last experience in Racine’s local jail was in a room with a bunk bed, so two women to a room, an open toilet, with walls on three sides and bars on the front exit. She got ten minutes to shower a day, had access to books and a TV in a common area, ate three times a day: oatmeal or grits for breakfast, lunch,which Vicki called the big meal of the day, she was served regular food, and for dinner she had cold cuts.

Her roommate went to solitary three times, so part of the time Vicki had a room to herself. All the guards were female. She has a number of prescriptions from her head surgery but the jail didn’t get her dosage correct. She had the use of a walker while she was in the jail, but they took that away from her when she left.

Vicki isn’t so much involved with her Armenian culture, but remembered two things her grandmother said to her in Turkish: Nasil Sin or “How are you?” and Ashek which Vicki thinks means “you are an ass”.

I had hoped my title to Vicki’s story might attract some sort of help from the Armenian community, which I became aware of after I moved here and was asked if I was Armenian five times, which Vicki confirmed was possible, after first looking at my old olive-colored Jewish mug. There must be enough people here to sustain two different churches north and south of Downtown Racine, while my own temple, Beth Israel Sinai on Washington is on its last legs, at the moment. But when I was a kid in trouble in Chicago, there were Jewish organizations and lawyers freely available to help me. Maybe the Armenians have that here, too.

We went for a walk after we left the diner, and after the nice waitress asked what I was writing about on my yellow legal pad, and then told me that she was Armenian, too, her full name being Lori Jones Vartevarian. I was feeling surrounded. As we wandered down Main Street, she showed me the skinny little door to where she first lived with her boyfriend. Then I told her I once met this tiny woman in a store near here who told me she was Armenian, and Vicki said,

“Yeah, Mary, at the Main Street General Store”.

So we walked there.

The man who was there–and from a guy in retail all my life I never met a more charming or culturally aware man than Mary’s husband who preferred I didn’t use his name–asked Vicki if she knew Leo Hagopian in Las Vegas, and Vicki said,

“Yeah, he’s my uncle!”

This was getting stranger for me, like every other person here either WAS Armenian or knew of another one within 2,000 miles of Racine. Then we walked back south, I offered her a ride back to her house and she thanked me, told me she’d rather take the bus and we hugged good-bye.

I left her at the bus stop, and went inside of the Racine Historical Society’s museum across the street for the first time since I moved here three years ago, and wandered around. The building was built with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie, a millionaire from a century ago who paid to build libraries all over America’s little towns. When a new library was built nearby, the old beautiful building was purchased to become what it is today. I looked around the first floor, then the second. Upstairs, I looked out of the window on the second floor and saw Vicki still waiting for that bus half an hour later, with her former jail right behind her. Small towns cram everything together, I guess. Then I went down to the basement where there were a few more exhibits.

As I was about to leave, on the left side of the glass display case and facing the men’s bathroom was a long yellowing scroll of paper describing the destruction and murder of the Armenian people by the Turks in 1915, one million five hundred thousand defenseless souls.

The last thing written on the scroll was a comment Hitler made in 1939 as he was preparing the destruction and murder of my people, the Jews of Europe. It quoted him, because it gave him encouragement to move forward with his own genocidal plans:

“Well, look what happened to the Armenians. It was so long ago any nobody remembers them anymore.

That was only 24 years after the 1915 Armenian Holocaust. Now it is more than a century later and plenty of people, even or maybe especially the Jewish people very well remember what happened to them and who did it. And that Hitler was dead six years later, too.

Vicki Hagopian needs a break.

Someone who reads this must know someone else who gives a damn about people’s lives which seem to have been cursed. If anyone wishes to reach her and do that, contact me this way and I’ll pass on the information. I believe people should do what they can do when given the opportunity to do so even for a stranger and this is the most I can do for Vicki.

This has actually happened for me, by an Armenian, in 1964, when I was a freshman at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I was friendless, from a lesser economic class and disoriented by a sort of privileged culture I’d never experienced.

A respected biology teacher there, Richard Boyajian, then 37, realized this, and perhaps because of my keen interest and knowledge of biology, took me under his wing, paid attention to me, made me feel welcome even in an alien environment, as perhaps his own life had been like. We remained friends for decades, long after I graduated in 1968 and he himself moved on from the school to open a retail store in Hyde Park. From him, I learned a lot about compassion and the importance of caring for a stranger in a strange situation.

Now, someone else should help Vicki.

Because, maybe some hopeless day the person in real trouble with no one to call, might be you.

 

(Richard J. Boyajian’s 2007 obituary: Richard J. Boyajian, SB’46, SM’49, a biology teacher who also owned Boyajian’s Bazaar on 53rd Street in Hyde Park, died December 23 in Chicago. He was 84. A WW II veteran and founding member of Chicago’s 57th Street meeting of the Society of Friends, Boyajian became an early environmentalist and taught at South Shore High School and at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools for nearly 30 years. In 1980 he opened the 53rd Street Bazaar, drawing on his experience teaching in India to sell international handicrafts. Survivors include his wife Polly Gildersleeve Boyajian, AM’56, two daughters, a son, and four grandchildren.)

 

Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

My facebook Book site is: Don’t Go Quietly

Please visit my new website: http://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                    (262)752-(262) 752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $24.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

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I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.

5 Comments »

Comment by Keeko

June 3, 2018 @ 4:34 pm

Nicely written story about an unknown. I would like to see you write more interest stories about unknown people like Vicki. I enjoyed getting to know Vicki, and sad at the same time of her troubled past.

On another note, I wanted to correct several accidental misused words. This comes from having to type, proofread and correct many of the articles I get for our church newsletter.

Comment by Charlie Newman

June 3, 2018 @ 5:21 pm

well done, bob

Comment by James Myles Payne

June 3, 2018 @ 5:50 pm

Bob,
Again your excellence as a writer comes through along with your heart felt concern for Vicki. You made her life important for the time you listened to her and she was glad. That is all she can use and all you can do. There is no Richard B for Vicki. She can’t live under someone’s wing. Vicki has to ride her motorcycle, alone. She will ride on and be proud of her tattoos. She has lived alone and has to go on alone. To us it is a tragedy perhaps, but to Vicki it is how she can go on.

Comment by Herb Berman

June 3, 2018 @ 7:52 pm

A very sad story, Bob. I wish I could help Vicki or even knew how to help her. I don’t. Lives are forged over decades, and everyone is the sum of his experiences. Vicki hasn’t had a break, and now she’s unskilled, brain-damaged and alone. Tragically, our Vickies usually end up in the penal system, America’s poorhouses of last resort. Question: What do we do with our Vickies? The answer: Nothing. Perhaps her AA sponsor can help her. Or the Armenian community, which I know to be very tight, can give her a hand.

Once upon a time, I hired a waif, relative of a client, as a clerk for my law firm. I felt sorry for her, and thought we could teach her basic skills—getting to work on time; putting letters and documents in the correct files; answering the phone and routing the caller to the right lawyer or legal assistant; and several other routine clerical tasks. She wouldn’t or couldn’t get it right. She was adding to the workload of other clerks and generally making a nuisance of herself. It was my sad duty to let her go. I often think of her, and wonder what happened to her.

You know what they say about good intentions.

Comment by Brad Dechter

June 4, 2018 @ 5:57 am

Good luck with this Bob!
Brad

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