“Do you want to see a ghost?” he said, leaning forward in his wheelchair to me, his new friend.
He was long-haired and unkempt, with dirt dug deep under lengthening nails. He had the typical homeless earthy smell, coupled with that wet dog odor only white people seem to get.
I liked him a great deal.
He had pull-rolled himself up to me at the bus stop a few minutes before. It was early evening, and I was returning from a yearly shopping cart charity race I help judge.
To the north, people filtered in and out of a brightly lit liquor store. Cars raced up and down Western. And a man pulled his wheelchair up to me to ask for a cigarette.
Not a smoker, I had none, but gave him a little airplane bottle of vodka one of the shopping cart racers had given me as a little perk of judging.
“Oooooooooooooooeeeeeeeeee,” he said, appreciatively eying the bottle I shouldn’t have given him.
That’s when he asked if I wanted to see a ghost.
“Sure,” I said.
He pulled out his phone. It was a small, white burner phone with a crackled screen and worn buttons. He jabbed at a few buttons until turning his phone.
It was a picture of an empty street at night. I looked again for someone loitering in the bushes, peeking a face from behind a corner or streetlamp.
Nothing. It was just an empty street with most of the photo staring at the street.
“I took this by Hubbard. There’s a pothole there and I wanted to take a picture so the city would know.”
It was a glistening patch on dark pavement, a reflection of streetlight above.
The glisten looked face-ish, sure. Less like a face than the Man in the Moon, more like a face than your average stick man head.
“I saw this and I was like,” he blinked widely a few times for comedic effect, rubbed his eyes like a drunk in an old Looney Tunes who just saw a pink elephant. “I couldn’t get to sleep. Just seeing that. I drank a whole pint’a peach schnapps and I still couldn’t sleep.”
It’s hard to say what makes you like a person. I liked his enthusiasm, sure. And I liked his big, scattertooth smile. I still shouldn’t have given him liquor, but I could tell this was not someone who went without.
I guess I liked him because he wanted to document potholes. He cared a little, and cared for someone not him. He had no car and I doubt he took his wheelchair in the street, or at least down main drags.
He’s another bum in a city of bums. He’s a drunk, a rummy, a stinking hobo who bums for cigarettes and change and goes “Oooooooooooooooeeeeeeeeee,” at little airline bottles of vodka.
But he wants the city to fix potholes. He believes in ghosts and wants to share it. He smiles broadly and wants to talk to strangers.
He’s another person in a city of people. Pull-rolling his chair down darkened streets with a phone full of ghosts, he’s another Chicagoan in this city of stories.