“I’ll fuck you up, don’t think I won’t. I will fuck. You. Up,” he said, inches from my face, his breath tasting of sweet liquor and decay.
With each new threat he jabbed a finger in the air. He saw I wasn’t responding other than to say I had meant no offense. He saw no fear or fight in my eyes, no wincing at each jab of the finger.
He took a long look at me and then, boink. He poked me in the cheek and walked off.
I turned back to the crowd, smiled and continued the tour.
If there’s one group that exemplifies the spirit of Chicago, it’s the homeless.
Yes, everyone has their own idea of a real Chicagoan, from Da Bears superfans screeching against ketchup on hot dogs to Chipmunk Soul hip hoppers to the Chads popping collar to smooth Trixies at The Cubby Bear.
But you’re all wrong. It’s the homeless. They’re tough, obdurate and tenacious, everything the city takes pride in but presented in a form most want to pretend doesn’t exist.
They’re the mirror this city doesn’t want to see. They’re Algren’s “hustler’s blood” made flesh, they’re the post-Fire “I Will” spirit (“The I will get you before you will get me spirit,” to swipe Royko’s twist on the slogan).
They are us. There is no divide. And that’s why they’re so hated.
And one of them boinked me on the cheek.
Basically, I was gathering a group for one of the walking tours I give, a homeless guy started working the crowd. I asked him to leave and, after a little back and forth, he did.
It had already been a hell of a day (an MCC guard who had trouble with the concept of “public sidewalks” had already asked us to move away from the jail twice), so when the guy finally left, I exhaled “Hell of a day” to the crowd.
The crowd laughed and the guy heard it. I apologized because I needed to apologize (correct or incorrect, my saying that out loud was a jerk move), he didn’t accept the apology, a waft of sweet liquor and decay and then boink.
It was a quick, swift gesture I don’t know if anyone saw. I know the friend of mine who was readying himself for a tussle right behind me didn’t see it, at least.
And I didn’t mind it, really. The guy seemed to get something out of it, some pride in emasculating the man he thought made a joke of him.
But I didn’t feel emasculated. As the trace of the man’s finger burned hot on my cheek and I chattered happily about Chicago’s old First Ward, I just kept thinking, “Man, what a jerk.”
It was a nothing interaction, a Jack-in-the-Box onomatopoeia. Wind the crank and then, boink! Something springs out.
I’m sorry I wound the crank. But I’m glad that in a world where I’m doing much better than him, this guy got some pride out of boinking some jackass on the cheek.
Other stories of the homeless:
- The Human Addict
- “Where Do You Go When it Rains?”
- Forms of Man and Why I Bought Her a Croissant
- Trunnion Bascule