Who’s Invincible?


Shepherding 7 teenagers down a crowded, horn-honking, sidewalk. Chicago’s money dripping mecca of retail, Michigan Avenue. And Tina, short blond hair and wild eyes, calmly turns to stroll off into the passing traffic. Six feet and three seconds away from being slammed down dead by a taxicab.

I lunge for her upper arm. Even then, a voice that has become as ingrained as a bloodstream screams in my head, “The upper arm is where you grab the kid.” She has one foot poised over the street when I pull her back. The breeze from the cab is the only clue as to what just about happened.

An electrical current that singes through the rest of the kids, because they all saw. Teenage hormones infused with a cocktail of crazy. They are all inpatients on the adolescent psych ward. I’m a counselor. And not exactly a paragon of maturity myself. So I steady my voice before letting it come out. “Tina, if you walk into the street, the cars will hit you and it will hurt.”

She answers, “Oh, I’ve been hit by cars before. It doesn’t hurt.”

Twenty years later. Right now. With so many in the world standing in the endless line to try and find work, I wonder if she’s working. And if she is, how did she get herself that job? How do the invincible find work?

————–

Sitting in the dirt in my front yard yesterday. A summer day of promise. Planting cheap but hearty looking ground cover. And a giant flat bed semi, big as a railroad car, chugs around the corner and pulls to a stop a couple of doors down. On the flatbed truck, gift wrapped, fully grown trees. Five guys with shovels appear. And the one who looks like the boss rings the doorbell of the neighbors who now own not just their house, but also the two adjoining lots, where they have demolished two houses.

Spacious grassy meadows in the middle of the city. Protected by a black wrought iron fence. A small soccer field. Ice rink in the winter. A gazebo. Hot tub. Basketball courts. Perhaps horses will be romping tomorrow. But today, as I cradle my fragile bloom of ground cover, today is tree delivery day. By night there will be tastefully designed shade to bless the sheep’s meadow on my street.

No judgment on the neighbors. Good for them. The summer breeze while I sat in the dirt brought a wave of incredulity that I even lived on a block where giant trees got delivered by semi trucks. But I couldn’t help but wonder, how do the invincible find the work that buys that land, those trees, and the steam wafting up from the hot tub?

———————

Walking up Grace Street to the neighborhood hot dog stand. Polish and a fries and large coke with a side of Jack Reacher—Lee Child’s brilliant character—who also is invincible and never seems to lack for work. And Herman from the neighborhood comes in and begins to circle the corner storefront. Eyes down. Mumbling. He stops in front of the lottery machine. Gently taps his forehead three times on the top of the machine, where the lottery tickets sit behind slide up clear plastic doors like sandwiches and pieces of cherry pie used to sit in old time automats. And Herman mumbles quietly to the floor, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, he mumbles, “Sure I’ll find a job, and you can’t touch me. You can’t touch me. Nothing and nobody can touch me.”

I sip my coke. The owner scans the room. Everyone knows Herman. Knows he’ll soon be gone. After he leaves, the owner comes over to talk and says, “And what’s really something, is that he didn’t used to be that way. Quiet guy. Came in once a week for lunch. Worked around here somewhere. But then one day about three years ago . . .”

And again I wonder . . .how do the invincible find work?

That night, in the empty orange light of the alley, just about to lift the top of the garbage bin and dump the kitchen trash, when the raccoon rolls out about two feet away and gets up on its hind legs to face me. None of this “they’re more scared of us than we are of them” stuff. The gleaming feral eyes spoke only of a fight for food, for flight from a million different forces of terror. Ready for the fight right now.

Seeing how the invincible survived, I backed away. Inside my broken hinged fence. Who’s got money to fix a fence gate?

And I remembered a time when I thought that if I’d only find the right river. And follow that river to the sea. If i’d just find the right river . . . .

Then I’d be invincible too.

2 Responses to “Who’s Invincible?”

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Captain America (Peter Fonda) were not invincible in spite of their admirable search for freedom; it was the shotgun carrying rednecks who brought them back down to the unpleasant place of reality, which is what the unemployment crisis has done to so many Americans. The new reality has made all of us feel so much more vulnerable and mortal, but there are still some things that ease the pain: music, good writing, and the food from that hot dog stand on Grace Street. “Take me from this road to some other town.”
    Paul Haider, Chicago

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger,

    Invincible? I sometimes wonder that myself, how people comfortably retire, how certain people can live in large homes, drive cars worth triple what I paid (8 years ago new) and in general how they appear invincible. I have seen it written where “the end of excess” is good for America but I don’t fully understand. Since the recession hit (for some) it has changed what we value, how we live and what we expect since many of the jobs lost will never be coming back. For some it is business as usual – I guess they are invincible.

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