My friend Nathan sees things.
A driver for a medical supply company, he’s the one who has delivered bariatric toilets for people too fat for regular crappers, who has hit a car on the far South Side and watched it speed away from the impending police. He’s seen patients smoking through trach holes and homeless people who defecated their pants clean off in park drinking fountains.
We trade stories of the weird. We swap pictures of unintentionally funny signs we’ve seen. I told him about the abandoned movie theater in Gary, Ind., with a hole straight through it. He told me about the delivery to a Chicago projects where the elevator door opened and he saw five teenagers just punching things.
And he told me the story of T-Shirt.
Nathan was on the Blue Line, coming from his two-flat at Fullerton and Pulaski down to visit me at my then-apartment near Division and Western. Across from him sat a thin, not-very-tall white guy with blond hair, a bucket of window-cleaning supplies and a button-up shirt airbrushed with Al Pacino as Tony Montana.
“He had a presence,” Nathan said. “He’s a very confident dude.”
Nathan and the man sat in silence on the train until the man’s phone got involved.
“I think he was making a call, or he got one,” Nathan said. “He picked up the phone and said, ‘Yo! It’s Shirt!’ Pause. ‘T-Shirt!’”
The man’s name was T-Shirt. Or Tee Shirt, T’Shirt or T. Shirt for Thomas Shirt of the New England Shirts. All Nathan knows is that T-Shirt wasn’t wearing one. That earned a chuckle once Nathan got to my place for beer.
About six months later, I got a call while coming home from work.
“I saw T-Shirt again,” he said.
“Holy shit,” said I.
This time, T-Shirt was walking down Pulaski. He was still carrying his bucket of window-cleaning supplies, even though this time he was wearing a French-cuffed dress shirt complete with cufflinks.
Six months after that, Nathan saw T-Shirt on Pulaski again. Window-cleaning supplies again and the shirt still not a T. This time, he was dressed head to toe in denim.
“Denim shirt, denim shorts – I don’t think his shoes were denim. That would be too perfect,” Nathan said. “He’s always got window-cleaning supplies with him at all times. Apparently it keeps him in fantastic non-T-shirt shirts.”
Every Chicagoan has their set strangers, the people who they don’t know but see again and again and again. I used to come across Nathan’s doppelganger, an exact duplicate but with thick-framed glasses where Nathan’s are wire-framed. A few years before that, in more attractive times, I would ride the same L as two identical twin redheads.
We notice the odd or outstanding people again and again. I can’t imagine the twins or the doppelnathan noticed me – I tend to blend.
Nathan is tall and thin with long red hair. I think what would make me happiest about this tale is if somewhere out there, T-Shirt is riding the train or walking down Pulaski when he looks to the left, puts down his bucket of window-cleaning supplies and calls a friend of his.
“Yo! It’s Shirt! T-Shirt! I saw that guy again.”