“My sister’s a cop! My sister’s a cop! My sister’s a cop!” he screamed in that way people in fights do, as if the other person just didn’t hear them the first time. “If you touch me, I’ll get you arrested!”
There used to be chess tables in the southwest corner of Wicker Park — the park itself and not the neighborhood that surrounds it. But the tables attracted crime. They attracted vagrants who sat there and slept there and did drugs there and occasionally fought and yelled there as moms pushing ergonomic Scandinavian strollers would push past and try to look the other way.
So they tore out the chess tables, replaced them with ones designed to discourage, to get the vagrants to move on and leave the tables for moms and families and, god forbid, people who wanted to play chess.
It didn’t work.
The man screamed about his sister. He screamed insults and challenges, which were met in turn with more yells. They circled each other with a third vagrant trying to keep peace in the middle. They shoved toward each other, the third man blocking each parry.
They screamed words unrepeatable, yelled threats physically impossible. A crowd of rubberneckers gathered. A female security guard from the nearby street festival that had closed down Damen fingered a walkie-talkie, annoyed at the wait time for a response.
The men pushed and shoved and yelled.
“Ice-cold lemonade 75 cents! Ice-cold lemonade 75 cents!” she screamed in the way little girls do, cupping her hands to her mouth as a megaphone, an impression of an impression of someone’s impression of an 1800s newsboy. “Do you want some lemonade?”
The little barker yelled to the pedestrians as three other girls lounged against a fence on the sidewalk less than a block south of the park. They didn’t have a stand so much as an overturned plastic storage bin with a pitcher on top and a few bright blue plastic cups nearby.
The girls sat on the pavement, smiling and laughing at everything that went by. One plucked at a few strands of grass from the other side of the fence. Another clutched a zippered bag full of cash, her important task. The last one was just there, happily enjoying a sunny day running a lemonade stand.
Feet and yards from the screaming vagrants. Feet and yards from the worried, annoyed security guard and the gawking crowd. Feet and yards from words unrepeatable and threats physically impossible.
Feet and yards from that, children enjoyed childhood. I can’t tell if it’s sad or inspiring. I can’t tell if it’s good or bad. But the lemonade was sweet and, despite the world around them, the girls seemed to be enjoying their day.