Tony Lain is dead

By Christopher Wink | May 06, 2008

There is a suddenness to life in this city.

Surely it is exaggerated in the minds of those who live mostly in fears of their own creation. Four hundred dead of 1.5 million isn’t anything to the pain and poverty of many in this world, but murders on the streets of Philadelphia require a viciousness that can’t possibly come naturally.

The stories come and seem to portray great tragedies in their crushing art.

Tony Lain was a 42-year-old married father of two from Mayfair, a neighborhood of runaways from the gritty, urban decay of Kensington’s old Irish Catholic blocks.

He worked for Petro Oil in Southhampton, a working class man of flaws and simplicities.

On Nov. 7, 2007, Lain was working overtime, making extra money for the coming Christmas season, his wife would tell TV news crews. Wearing an Eagles sweatshirt and holding a tissue, white against the gray background and her red eyes.

Before 6 p.m., late fall cold having already squeezed that day dry, he walked from his locked work van to a rowhome on Woodstock Street, off the 1800 block of West Norris Street.

A neighborhood like too many, where enough have fled to leave a vacuum of humanity. One of the neighborhoods that abut Temple University, where students go for cheap rent and a quick walk to the different universe of higher education.

Where perhaps a terrified family clutches on to abandoned buildings and crack dens for the only sense of stability around, a door from a home of college students. Like on Woodstock Street where Lain was headed to before 6 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2007 in the waning moments of his 42-years of life.

“We just can’t have this in the city anymore,” his wife told a TV news crew, wearing an Eagles sweatshirt and holding that white, white tissue.

Lain got to the house in a neighborhood like neighborhoods he had been to before. He didn’t carry cash. He was helping people.

“They need their heat,” he would tell his wife.

He slipped a note under the door – where the Temple students out – and he walked back to his van. Somewhere between note and van he was shot once in the head.

There was no evidence of a struggle. His wallet was left. His daughters were 10 and 16, his wife said as she dabbed her sniffling, an Eagles sweatshirt and white tissue the only details worth remembering.

Victims are easy to come by in this city. The killed and the killers. Their families. Their neighbors. The Temple students who came home to find a crime scene, a note and at least a vague sense of involvement in the death of a 42-year-old married father of two.

There are moments when strangers can be closer to each other in death than the most intimate of friends could ever be in life.

Lessons even the most temporary of Philadelphians might encounter.

Tony Lain’s death was sudden, tragic, we might say to a TV news crew. What it surely must be is frustrating and disheartening and why the fuck do we treat each other worse than dogs?

Tony Lain was by no means innocent. No one is innocent. There are the simpler reasons why. The Inquirer reported he had a  prison sentence for his role in a multivehicle DUI accident on I-95 in Bucks County that killed a 21-year-old woman on Nov. 13, 1991, 16 years earlier. He also was waiting on a hearing for an assault charge in October 2007.

If nothing else, it is important to know so that we might more appropriately humanize Tony Lain, a 42-year-old married father of two. To understand that a death is not – cannot – be simple, expected or acceptable. Nature and cycles be damned.

These are lessons you might learn, 400 murdered in your home, or just one even further away.