City Streets: Selfies with David

We’re in Chicago, and on our way to a Whole Foods. My brother and I have been traveling around the city with our whole family, so it’s a relief for it to be just the two of us. All I want is a salad bar.

On our way in we pass two men sitting about fifty feet apart, both requesting help of any kind. The second one spoke to us.

“Can you help?”

“I don’t have anything.”

“You can get something in there.”

“What do you want?”

“A hot breakfast sandwich and some juice? It’s hard, because I can’t chew.”

Once inside we realize that, since it’s 2pm, a hot breakfast sandwich will be hard to find. We put together two bags, each with a fortified juice, hot chicken, and some watermelon.

We hand a bag to the man who spoke to us, then head down the block to where the second man sits.

“Would you like some food?”

“Oh thank you!”

“May I sit with you?”

In only a few minutes, Duncan and I will cross the street, and stand on the corner of State and Huron, looking at a map on my phone to see where to go next, and I’ll regret not sitting with David longer. We have no plans to rush off to. I’ll regret not stopping to talk to the first man. But in this moment I sit with David, and try to make small talk.

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“You’re the most dapper man on the street that I’ve ever seen!”

He tells me about a man who bought clothes for him: four shirts, two suit jackets, and matching pants.

“And there was another man, he was on his way out of town, rolling his suitcase behind him, and he didn’t have any cash. But he gave me his shoes and they fit perfectly!” He straightens his legs, showing us the clean loafers on his feet.

I thank him for his time, and stand up.

“God bless you, both of you.”

We smile and say the same.

 

Grief on a Train: Meeting Marguerite

She’s the absolute picture of grief: petite, aged, black coat draped across her torso and fingers pressed against her lips as she looks blankly towards the curtained window.

“Are you alright?”

She shakes her head no, the tears springing up immediately. She opens up the slim volume in front of her– Psalms and Proverbs, maybe a few other books as well- and shows me a picture of a lovely woman, dyed blond hair, in her forties.

“My daughter,” she says, in an accented voice, “She’s had a five year battle with cancer.”

I’ve started rubbing her shoulder almost immediately. Her sweater is soft, and I try to make my eyes sympathetic.

“She’s beautiful.”

“She was only forty-seven. Too young…what’s your name?”

“Chloe.”

“I’m Marguerite.”

 

Sweet Cherry-Hots

“Daddy, will you sing the Cherry Hot song?” I twisted and squirmed until I found a comfortable position, chin pressed against my soft Barney the Dinosaur sheets. My teeth were brushed, my nightgown was on, it’s time for bed.

“Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home…”

I finally rested my head on my pillow, face turned towards his. He ran his finger over my forehead and down my nose, again and again.

“Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home…”

It was hard to keep my eyes open; with each stroke of his finger, I’d blink, and my eyes would open a little slower each time.

His voice swung low, tone-deaf, but I couldn’t tell. Its deepness resonated through my chest.

The words didn’t matter, it was just the cadence with which he said them, the same way he did in church when I’d rest my head against his chest and hear his deepness resonating out through vibrations into my ear. No one else could hear the way he shook the earth with each word, but I could.

“Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home…”

He’s what brings me home.

High-Fives From The Trees

When I was little, I biked through the streets of suburbia, attempting to get lost in the maze of tract homes, all made from four  different floor plans but flipped and painted to create the illusion of variety. My own house was such a nondescript shade that I couldn’t tell you if it was gray or green or blue, merely that it was on the corner of Maria and Stone Creek Drive.

Sometimes I would ride with my eyes on the sky, craning my neck to keep track of where the flocks of birds were going and attempting to modify my route through the streets to match their path above the rooftops. I imagined I was like DaVinci, studying their movements and trying to understand how they flew.

Other times, I’d race down the sidewalks and imagine that all the trees were cheering me on. They reached out to give me high fives with their overhanging branches, and I let the leaves slap against my outstretched palm, one hand gripping the handle bar, the other reaching out to receive the encouragement.

Eventually I’d park the bike behind a bush, and climb up into my tree, up into the smaller branches until I was as high as they would allow. The wind against my face felt like the world reaffirming my right to enjoy the day; I was Pocahontas, watching the horizon for any strange clouds that might come to change my life.

City Streets: Selfies with Spaceman

He sits on the corner with a helmet high up on his head, demanding change from the people walking down Hyde St. When I shake my head at his request, he said, “Well, how about a hug?”

There are broken CDs taped to the outside of his helmet, and as I hug him, I can see through the clear visor that it’s stuffed with various articles of clothing: a glove, a sock.”My name is Spaceman, and my helmet is good all over the universe. It works in space, but also on bikes and motorcycles and helicopters.”

I ask about about the metal chimes hanging from his chest, and he tells me he uses them to do Hare Krishna.

“Like this,” and he claps them together, beginning at tuneless chant of “Hare Kirshna Hare Krishna.” When a tall young man dances across the street in time with his chanting, Spaceman shouts after him, “Hey! How about some change for the music? I play, you pay!”

Spaceman tells me that he wants to buy something from the convenience store across the street, but he’s nine cents short. When I ask if I can take a picture from him, he insists I give him some change. I relent, but he hears the rest of the change in my wallet, and won’t even look at the camera before bargaining for more.

spaceman

“Where you goin’ girl? You gonna get on the BART?”

“No, I’m just filling up my Clipper card, then heading to yoga.”

“Oh right, gotta do your yoga. You’re probably a vegetarian and you eat yogurt.”

“I am a vegetarian, but I don’t like yogurt.”

“Yeah, well there are lots of things that you don’t like that you have to put in your body, because they’re good for you. Kids these days, they get drug education, sex education. I’m 64, and we didn’t have none of that when I was a kid.”

“Yeah, ok, I gotta go.”

“Oh, okay. You eat your fruits and veggies.”

“I will. Bye, it was nice to meet you.”

But he’s already lost interest, and returns to badgering anyone who walks by.

 

City Streets: Selfies with Steve

I was on my way into a Bartell Drugs when he caught my eye.

“Hey sweetheart, you dropped something!”

I patted the bags strewn/flung across my back. I was pretty sure there was no way I’d dropped anything.

After the brief pause, he delivered the punchline: “Your smile!”

I smile of course, and then gesture towards the store. “Can I get you anything?”

“Uhhmmmm,” he considers, “An egg salad sandwich?”

Steve and Me on the windy streets of Seattle

Steve and me on the windy streets of Seattle

When I come back out, he thanks me for the egg salad sandwich.

“How are you today?”

“Oh, not too bad,” he replies. “But all these people! They walk around so miserable!”

“It’s true, and it’s not even raining today!”

“People gotta have something to smile about.”

Before I leave, he sticks out his hand and introduces himself.

“I’m Steve.”

“I’m Chloe, it was nice to meet you.”

“Keep smilin’. Oh, and bless you!”

 

Anaheim

I’d just arrived in Anaheim via train, coming from Costa Mesa where we drank sake and sat in the garden and talked about spirituality.

Turn up the volume and turn on the lights: in Anaheim I was visiting theater friends who all work at Disneyland. Here we crowded into a plastic booth at Del Taco with our burritos on greasy paper in front of us. Here, three crude and charismatic guys folded their long limbs around the table, laughing loudly as they brainstormed names for their softball team. Cly’s Taurus, Clyde’s Tortoise (sound them out…) or maybe Matt’s Ass, but written as Matt Sass, to avoid censorship.

Later that night, we congregated in the cramped hallway of their Stanton apartment, and they immersed themselves in the process of creating a medley of “Timber” by Pitbull ft Ke$ha and “Shiver My Timbers” from the movie Muppet Treasure Island. Curtis played the harmonica for “Timber.” Meanwhile, Matt was in his room learning the sax part of “Baker Street.” It’s hard to pick one favorite moment from the night, but Matt blasting out that solo in the hallway is a serious contender. (I can’t remember if he was wearing his Doctor Who pajamas at that point, but let’s just imagine that he was.)

Later I joined Megan in the kitchen as Hank and Curtis recorded Pitbull’s part of the song. We had to stifle laughs when Curtis said the lines,”…like Miley Cyrus, clothes off, twerkin’ in their bras and thonngggs. Face down, booty up…” Considering that Curtis and I grew up in the church together, it was hard to take his rap seriously, but they kept at it until two or three am. And that’s a wild Monday night with actor folk. One of these days they’ll finish the medley, and I’ll be able to link you to it.