Remembering Don Becker
On that evening of Aug. 12, 1986, over a game of gin rummy with friends, Becker began to feel the chill of death in his feet, clawing its way up his body. As he added and discarded playing cards, he made a plan. Then he threw down his cards and a few dollars, ran from the room, and drove his Subaru wagon to the 15th Street viaduct. In the dark car he stared at the nearby train tracks, mustering up the courage to carry out the voices' ultimatum. He sprinted from his car to the tracks and--just to be safe--he deliberately, calmly pressed both arms to the quivering track. Beneath the sound of grinding metal and screeching brakes, he recited the Lord's Prayer. In an instant, the train was upon him. The wheels tore through his flesh. Blood darkened the dirt beneath the rails. The heavy rumbling and haunting whistle faded as Becker fell back from the tracks, battered and bloodied. He looked down at his mutilated limbs and felt a searing, powerful sense of relief. He remembers musing that he'd never play the piano. A passerby eventually noticed Becker sitting calmly in the dark, mangled arms still dangling from his body. When the man offered help, Becker asked him to pull a cigarette from his bloody shirt pocket and light it for him. The comic smoked, slowly pulling the hot smoke into his lungs while the panicked stranger ran to find a phone.The award-winning photo of Becker, which opens the piece, is one of the most brutally honest portraits you'll ever see.
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