Thomas Wictor

We met in the supermarket in the summer of 1992

We met in the supermarket in the summer of 1992

We met in the supermarket in the summer of 1992. My memory is hazy because I’d just lost the love of my life by telling her about my past. The market was on Geary Boulevard in San Francsico, near my apartment on 8th Avenue. This must’ve been around August 18, because I unburdened myself to “Carmen” on August 12, 1992, and by the next day she hated me.

Carmen didn’t hate me, really. She hated the knowledge that she now had of me. I was born in Venezuela to American parents. We lived in oil camps that were surrounded by Venezuelan shanty towns. At night the Venezuelans would come into the camps to see what they could steal. The Venezuelan National Guard and our camp security looked the other way, as long as they got a cut of the takings. So the oil companies hired Americans to keep down the loss rate, no questions asked.

One such man who dissuaded Venezuelans from stealing oil-company property was a family friend named Hank.


After Hank died, I researched him and discovered that he was a mafia contract killer for the Louis Fratto crime family. Photos and letters prove it. Fratto was based in Des Moines, Iowa, and was known as the “Invisible Don” because he never called attention to himself. Iowa was the epicenter of the illegal manufacturing of liquor during Prohibition. The state was nothing but giant farms that the authorities lacked the resources to investigate. Al Capone peddled liquor called “Iowa swill”; my grandfather sold so many oaken barrels from his Remsen hardware store that he was investigated by the Bureau of Internal Revenue. All the sales were cash only, so the feds could never prove anything.

Al Capone was said to be terrified of the Midwestern mobsters, the most insanely violent criminals in the US. In 1926 the Shelton Gang of Little Egypt, Illinois, built armored cars and bought an army-surplus biplane to carry out aerial bombings of their rivals. Midwestern mobsters were all hunters, so they were proficient in killing, gutting, and dismembering deer.

When I was four years old in 1966, people trusted their neighbors. Our family friend Hank would take me with him on evening tours of the oil fields, since I loved pumping units. That’s me in the hardhat with my siblings Tim, Pat, Carrie, and Paul.


Hank told my parents that we were cruising the oil fields. What actually happened was that he took me on hit jobs. He called it “having a party.” To make sure that I never told anyone, Hank made me participate in his parties, which were held in empty guesthouses. He used all his Midwestern deer-hunting skills to get rid of the evidence.

From my research, I’ve determined that the main reason Hank took me with him on his jobs was to lull the target into dropping his guard. My presence made the soon-to-be corpse relax. Hank also reveled in corruption. He enjoyed ruination and causing the maximum amount of suffering. Bringing a four-year-old into his world gave him pleasure.

The men Hank “clipped” were Venezuelan criminals who’d run afoul of the Fratto family. Fratto was the only American mafioso to take full advantage of the lawlessness in South America, Central America, and Mexico. Hank fulfilled his contracts, operated a smuggling ring, collected “taxes” from casinos and brothels, and engaged in insurance fraud by burning down businesses.

From the age of four onward, I entered dissociative states when under stress.


I felt my greatest stress during birthday and holiday parties. Hank used an ice pick on his jobs; he struck with the speed of a cobra, in the middle of sentences. When facing someone, you put an ice pick through one specific portal so that it enters the brain. I saw this scene from The Battle of Britain when I was seven.


My father had to remove me from the theater because I was screaming so loudly. The flailing, helpless, doomed hand is worse than the injuries. I saw many such hands. To this day, going to the eye doctor is extremely hard. My heart races.

It wasn’t until 1991 that I started discussing my confused, fragmentary memories with my brother Tim, and he shared his own. They matched: Hank took Tim to parties too. We never revealed this to our parents. Due to so many other issues, nothing good would’ve come from adding murders to the pile.

On August 12, 1992, I asked Carmen to take us to her favorite spot in San Francisco, and there I told her about Hank. She was the only woman with whom I was able to have a lasting relationship. I thought we were going to get married.


She began crying hysterically during our conversation. After weeping for several hours, she went to sleep and woke up the next morning a hostile stranger. She refused to discuss any of what I’d told her. About a week later I was in the checkout lane of a supermarket on Geary Boulevard, buying ground chicken, hamburger buns, lettuce, tomatoes, Swiss cheese, potato chips, and some kind of deluxe mustard.

“Chicken burgers,” said a woman’s voice behind me. “Never tried them.”

I turned and saw a face that I would find again on the actress Naomi Watts.


Her voice was low, just the way I like. She wore faded jeans and a black leather jacket.

“How can a person who’s been on this earth over twenty years not have tried a chicken burger?” I asked.

“I was sheltered. Nothing as exotic as chicken burgers was allowed.”

She had an arch, ironic delivery that bespoke of exceptional intelligence. Her small, calm smile made my chest hurt. I loved her completely, after hearing just four sentences.

“Are you sheltered now?” I asked.

“Not in the least.”

“So what’s stopping you from making yourself a chicken burger?”

“I can’t cook. See?”

Inside her basket was a stack of frozen dinners.

“Anybody can cook a chicken burger,” I said. “Even former shelterees.”

“Well, the only time I eat burgers is on road trips. Then I have to stop at—”

“McDonalds,” we both said.

“I do the same thing,” I told her. “I don’t know why. I hate McDonald’s.”

She laughed, a deep chuckle. “It makes the trip more real. There’s nothing like a plastic cheeseburger when you’re on the road. It’s how you know you’re actually going somewhere. A McDonald’s cheeseburger is factory made. It’s momentum.”

I paid for my purchases and stood at the end of the counter, waiting. After the blonde woman bought her frozen dinners, she approached me.

“Which way are you headed?” I asked.


“Me too.”

We went out on the street and walked a block in silence. The sun had set; only a few minutes of grayish-blue light remained. Like the man in Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” I transformed those final moments. I knew what she’d tell me at the corner, but it was all right. We’d already spent the rest of our lives together.

“I go this way,” she said, pointing.

“Next time you go to the market, you have to buy some ground chicken,” I said. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“Okay. I promise.”

She held out her hand, and I squeezed it once. It was a strong hand, as I expected. She strode off, looked back at me once, and disappeared into the dusk. I continued down Geary, back to my apartment on 8th Avenue.

It took Carmen a year to drive me away. After I moved to LA, she sent me a letter, apologizing for everything she’d done and said. She married a multimillionaire and had two children. We spoke in 2012, when I asked for permission to write about her in my book Ghosts and Ballyhoo: Memoirs of a Failed L.A. Music Journalist.

Though she gave me her blessings, we were unable to have a conversation. She was no longer the person I’d known twenty years ago. The photos she sent for the book showed a face that bore no resemblance to the one that had hovered above mine in the darkness of our bedroom.


I think about the blonde woman a lot. The reason that she wasn’t afraid of giving me the wrong impression is that like me, she’d seen the elephant. There’s no doubt. Like me, she was mostly out the door. Not much mattered here, in this transient realm. Carmen couldn’t handle my history any more than I can go sailing. You can’t be angry at someone who gets seasick. It’s not their fault. Since I was never able find someone who doesn’t get seasick, I stopped looking in 2000.

The memories of my childhood are much more vivid now. Remembering the details has made my existence exponentially worse. Many things have become too painful to endure. This photo, for example.


I’d give my life to save that child. Without hesitation. Barring that, I’d kill the al-Quds Brigades terrorist destroying that little life. Without hesitation. I’d use an ice pick.

But it wasn’t a “missed connection” that I experienced at the supermarket on August 18, 1992. It was a connection, and it was enough.