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TONELLI'S RUN
Alexander Wolff
January 27, 2003
Trapped in a hell where the bravest thing a man could do was to just stay alive, Motts Tonelli clung to hope—and his Notre Dame class ring
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January 27, 2003

Tonelli's Run

Trapped in a hell where the bravest thing a man could do was to just stay alive, Motts Tonelli clung to hope—and his Notre Dame class ring

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Few at Schaller's know his liver is failing. But all know of his frequent stays in the hospital, all traceable to the schistosomiasis, and many wish him well as he leaves.

Traffic is backed up around the Loop, so Tonelli has a captive listener for the ride home. There must be something about a brutal captivity that nurtures the reformer in a man. (See: Senator John McCain.) "A politician takes all this money from somebody, and what, he's not supposed to do what that guy who's bought him wants him to do?" Tonelli says, the coffle of cars on the Kennedy Expressway giving him unlimited time to make his case. "The problem with politics is that too often politicians don't serve the public."

If you didn't know better, you'd suspect that he had a perverse nostalgia for the camps—where no man wore more than a G-string, and a malarial mosquito knew no distinctions of nationality, and an officer was as likely as an enlisted man to see the business end of a bayonet. "Everyone was the same. You know why? Because none of us had anything. All you had was your life, and you helped each other to keep that.

"The world is getting greedy, and we're getting greedy. Americans are spoiled. It doesn't take a lot to make people happy if they don't have much."

You pull up to his house. He shuffles from the car toward the front door of his home. He stops and pats at his pockets. He looks up and pats again. He has forgotten a key.

"I have another one," he says, urging you to continue to O'Hare lest you miss your flight. You don't want to leave until you see him safely out of a Chicago winter, but he waves you off with the hint of a smile. Slowly he turns and minces down an alley, out of sight, to break into his own home.

Epilogue: Many of Motts Tonelli's pals at Schaller's reassembled three weeks later, on Jan. 11, for a funeral mass after Tonelli's liver finally gave up. Bagpipes bleated out a medley of Amazing Grace, America the Beautiful and the Notre Dame Victory March—though church officials declared that Tonelli's request of My Way was ecclesiastically inappropriate.

The deceased had chosen a Polish restaurant for friends and family to gather after the burial. To get there, mourners turned left out of the cemetery, then right onto Highway 58.

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