To the editors:
I was disappointed in the article written by my neighbor, Roger Kerson, especially the caricature comparing me to Peter Sellers in Being There ["Lot of Trouble," November 30]. While I love gardening, I would not stay on after a house was sold to continue gardening as the Sellers character did.
I was also offended by Kerson's discussion of my 1915 house with a rental unit "$200 less than similar units" and having "virtually no monthly expenses." Did Kerson expect the reader to believe there are no expenses in a 75 year old house? I don't know how he got the rent figure either, or just what he had in mind. In any case the rent I assess my tenants has no relevance to the article.
And, I most assuredly do not talk about what people "do at night," either. I don't pry and I don't gossip. Kerson seems to have missed the point about people's behavior in "an earlier era." Yes, they were less anonymous in their apartments, and yes they talked more with each other. But, they also respected each other's privacy; they would never discuss expenses or money for instance.
Furthermore, they would never discuss a law case in progress as Kerson did both in the article (toward the end) and while the trial was going on. He was there, and the third day of five days, he returned to the neighborhood and "spread it around" that "things were not going well" for me and the neighborhood association. I asked him not to discuss the case. My impression was that he didn't think he had done anything improper. In view of his attitude then, the insensitivity of the Reader article should not have come as a surprise to me.
There are a few more objections I have about the article. For example, it's too bad Georgia Retamal was not interviewed since she works only a few blocks away. Kerson would have discovered that Robert was not the lonely man Attorney Davis painted him (to discredit his signature on the Graceland West deed). Robert had constant visitors of friends and relatives. Also, he enjoyed outings to the 1440 property to see the "Children's Fantasy Garden." Roxanne (not Sandra) Garrett, Robert's friend and nurse, might have opened Kerson's eyes a bit had he interviewed her, too.
Perhaps, our young reporter was mesmerized by Joe Davis, whose litigation style was highly dramatic. Davis paced all around the courtroom, forcing witnesses' eyes to follow him, while Mark Leitson, plaintiff (an attorney himself, by the way) sat frantically flipping through law tomes advising Davis on the next question to the witness. I understand Leitson did much of the legal research himself. Maybe the fees weren't the tens of thousands after all, which Kerson accepted without question. Incidentally, the demotion lien was $3500, not $4500 or $4900 (Kerson stated both the latter as the lien cost). He might have double-checked that, too.
Timothy McGonegle, our attorney, devoted hours and hours, pro bono (for the good), not "for free" (a different emphasis). His briefs were masterpieces of careful advance research, no last minute courtroom research for Tim. His performance was calm, rational and efficient. When he cross-examined one of their witnesses, he was courteous. And what's more, our heads didn't have to go bobbing back and forth; he stayed put. His style may have been a bit boring for Kerson. He reported on Tim's disputed motions, not any of the winning points. An objective journalist might have written about the overruled motions of Davis, too, but Kerson didn't report on the many times the judge had to halt Davis in his examination of witnesses. Admittedly, it wasn't always obvious where Davis was headed in his questions of the witness. For example, Davis kept me on the stand for three hours of grueling, rude questions. Davis was hell-bent on trying to prove that my interest in open lands in the city was insincere since I had failed to purchase other property for park development. Everyone was patient, including the judge, but all his questions to me were irrelevant to the main question of who had the properly executed, notarized deed. Incidentally, none of Winick's and Leitson's deeds were notarized with the notary present!
On the last day, both attorneys summed up, true to character. Tim stuck to the facts; Davis called me a bunch of names which Kerson quoted in the article and serving no special purpose in the article. The remarks were deeply insulting and preposterous then and hurtful as I read the piece in the article now.
Warner Park and Gardens and the 1440 lot have been a "Lot of Joy and Pleasure" not a "Lot of Trouble." Awards have helped to cancel out the insults of Davis. The North Side Real Estate Board awarded me A Good Neighbor Award, 1989. Also, I was named Volunteer of the Year by the Hull House Association. The park was winner of the Chicago Botanic Garden's Best Community Flower Garden in Chicago, 1990.
Warner Park & Gardens is a place where people sit and talk, pitch in and work, tend their individual gardens. The people include mothers with babies and young children, emotionally disturbed children, a child recovering from open heart surgery, an elderly lady who brings microscopes and books for the children, a music teacher who plants an herb garden and trees, two young boys who became good friends through gardening together, a young man, new to the community, who built a beautiful rock garden. The park is supported by Helen Shiller, the 46th ward Alderman. With her help, the Chicago Cubs donated $10,000 for bricks and water and plants, which we spent immediately. We're asking them for a donation this year for the playground. We have one English teak bench donated by a neighbor in loving memory of her father. A man in Michigan recently donated another bench in loving memory of his wife who used to live on Warner Avenue. There is even a beautiful garden in the parkway, carefully and lovingly executed by a devotee of The Grateful Dead. Next spring we'll build a gazebo (if we meet our goal). Tulips in the spring, too. Pumpkin carving in October; concerts in the park. It's nice.
I hope this letter provides a more objective and complete view than Kerson's distorted article.
Roger Kerson replies:
I exaggerated when I wrote that Buenger had "virtually no monthly expenses" on her property before assuming a second mortgage. She had lower than usual expenses, not no expenses.
Tim McGonegle, Buenger's attorney, told me that Robert Retamal's nurse was named Sandra Garrett.
A legal brief filed on February 6, 1990, by McGonegle states: "Winick and Leitson paid . . . $4,911.82 for the release of the city's judgement." This sum is referred to in one place as "about $4,500" and in a second place as "$4,900." The more precise figure should have been used both times.
Buenger states that I "accepted without question" Winick and Leitson's claim that they spent tens of thousands of dollars developing the Warner Street property. There were no figures to check, since Winick refused to mention any numbers when I interviewed him. That's why I reported an estimate rather than an exact dollar figure. There were two sources for this estimate. The first was Buenger, who told me that she thought Winick and Leitson might claim damages against her for as much as $40,000. The second was arithmetic. Winick and Leitson paid $12,500 to acquire the Warner Street property. Tim McGonegle said that if he were earning a fee in this case, it would be about $25,000--so I assumed that Winick and Leitson had legal bills somewhere in the neighborhood. Add in whatever they spent for architectural and design fees, and you have a figure in the tens of thousands of dollars.