#167: The Man Who Laughs

May 22nd, 2013

The Loop wasn’t busy yet, wouldn’t be for an hour.

It would be the second moment of busyness for the day, the third if you count the momentary fluster around lunch. It would be the flock of the same people who looked so pretty and proper in the morning, now with ties askew and dresses rumpled. The ruby-red lips of the morning commute would be muted and wiped away for the ride home, the one to come in about an hour.

No one’s pretty on the ride back. No one’s happy going home.

But the p.m. rush was, as mentioned, an hour away. The towers and castles along the muck-brown river were still packed full of workers trying to get the last report figured, the last brief filed before they could sneak out early into the bright spring sun.

There were a few wanderers on these paths between castles. Some early leavers from office jobs. Some early arrivers for service work. And a shirtless man lying on the State Street bridge walking path, laughing at nothing.

He seemed tall, but could just have been skeletal, his lack of breadth exaggerating the height. He was sprawled, of course, so his height was hard to tell. There was no “taller than _____,” no “just about reached _____.” You can judge a man’s height by seeing if he reaches a window you know or whether a handrail goes up to his navel or knee. I don’t know how long a man should be compared to a bridge walking path.

And he laughed.

He was skeletal, with dusty skin the color of a chestnut. He wore black pants turned gray with filth and leaned his shoulder and neck against the base of the bridge house at the foot of the corncob towers of Marina City.

And he laughed.

He laughed toothless, with hair and beard that hadn’t seen clippers in months or years. He laughed rolling slightly, holding one rawbone arm up to his mouth as he shook.

He laughed at the pigeons that flew off at the growing trickle of askew-tied office workers. Or he laughed at the office workers. Or at the blue sky and tall buildings. Maybe he laughed at the sun or the wind or the state of events that made some of us amoeba descendents into office workers with wiped-off lipstick and some of us disturbed homeless men lying on a bridge walking path.

He was disturbed, of course, troubled in a way that makes me feel a bit bad for turning him into a story. But I do it without judgement. I do it not as the watcher, but as the watched.

Whatever the reason, whatever the source of humor as he rolled on a bridge walking path under the view of pigeons and corncobs, this man looked into a world where he was the storyteller and I was a wandering bit of scenery. This was a tale he narrated.

And whatever it was he saw, it made him laugh.

Comment on this story

More people-watching in Chicago

What's this?

You are currently reading #167: The Man Who Laughs by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.