#596: The Human Web

February 17th, 2016

On Western Avenue, one of the spots where the highway crosses, just south of the movie theater where $15.08 on a Fandango gift card will get you a widescreen superhero flick with assigned stadium seating and surround sound, a human web was plastered to an underpass.

It was a web of tarps, of cloth. Of mattresses and bed sheets and blankets and shirts and any other bit of fabric the homeless men who lived there could cement, glue, shove or staple into the slight corner made by the underpass supports.

Filling every corner and crevice of the underpass edge, it looked like nothing but a trapdoor spider’s web.

A gentle flame licked out from inside. The cloth home had a trashcan fire inside to keep the men warm.

“They’re clearing out the underpass on North Avenue, I heard,” my friend Tommy said, his thoughts having silently turned with mine toward this odd little lair.

A minute or two later, I got out a “Where will they go?”

Outside, the world continued. It always does. Movies let out, buses whooshed by, teenagers smooched by the skate park across an underpass from where living, breathing human beings live and breathe in a cloth home they had to make themselves.

And stick a fire inside to keep warm in a snowy February.

A man shuffled by, asking for change. We were across Logan Boulevard from the web, watching the trashcan flame flicker from afar while we waited for the light to change.

The man was maybe in his 40s, white, in Carhartt-style work clothing. He didn’t make eye contact as he muttered for change. I said we had none.

It was true — we legitimately had no change — but I would have lied to him anyway.

He stopped, turned, looked me in the eye and said something. He paused, waiting for his words to sink in.

I had no idea what he said. It was muttery and I wasn’t paying attention anyway. He stared at us, waiting for a response. We stared back, waiting for an explanation.

After a few moments, I said “I’m sorry.”

It was true, but I would have lied to him anyway. I just needed something to break the silence.

The man in the Carhartt-style work clothes shuffled off into the street, against the light. He looked angry, I think, or just frustrated at the two fools who couldn’t understand plain muttered English.

He shuffled and muttered across the road, making his way into the home he made of cloth and tarps, bed sheets, mattresses and fire. He pushed aside a flap and slid into his trapdoor spider’s web.

Read about a street person who feels human

Read about a street person and a drunk momentarily becoming friends

Talking to the beggars of Michigan Avenue

Help support 1,001 Chicago Afternoons on Patreon

What's this?

You are currently reading #596: The Human Web 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.