Sleeping on Grace


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He’s been a neighbor for most of the summer. Bald, egg shaped head poking out of the blankets, he sleeps under the bridge on Grace Street.

Rumbling Metra Trains zoom cut through the night overhead. Cars stop and start. He’s tucked in a corner, steps from pedestrians stumbling back from the bars of Wrigley Field.

Early in the mornings, unsuspecting drivers slow at the Stop sign, glance over wide-eyed and see him stretched out on the sidewalk. Walking up to get a newspaper, I see only his bald head and wonder, chemo?

Two, three, minutes later, newspaper folded under my arm, I walk back home and he’s gone. I guess he’s tall, about ½ my age, but I really don’t know because I’ve only really seen him lying down.

Across Grace, up the embankment, a sliver of the green grass wild that runs along the railroad tracks, three bulky brown garbage bags. It’s where he stores his stuff.

And in this summer of apocalyptic rains, he is out there underneath the bridge. As the winds tear down bending, snapping trees to send with a ruthless indifference into arbitrary bedrooms so seemingly safe; he is out there underneath the bridge. As the water rises. The late night SUV rolls by. The train runs on time. He’s out there.

What lets him sleep?

A song rises up. Becker and Fagen—Steely Dan– sing,

“I was on the other side of no tomorrow.”

Perhaps he sleeps by dreams of being saved.

“You walked in.
And my life began again”

Maybe there was a day when he scraped the bottom. He knew Katy would be leaving. The job ended. The doctor brought news or the bank just won. Like the song says, he “spent the last piaster he could borrow”— he used up his last dime. Lights out. Game over.

Then every point of view broke loose and went spiraling.

“Katy tried,” said the song
I was halfway crucified “

Just who was the drug? The one come to save him?
And where was the doctor?

Becker and Fagen. All those masterful studio cats who played along on the song;

“Are you with me Doctor Wu?
Are you really just a shadow
Of the man that I once knew?
Are you crazy are you high?
Or just an ordinary guy?
Have you done all you can do?
Are you with me Doctor?”

That last question hurled up into the rain
Just before his new bridge home.
And somewhere after that long, cool saxophone solo
Katy left him under the bridge
The bridge on Grace.

Where sometimes
In the morning
Just before the early commuter train rumbles up above his head
On that concrete pillow
He remembers,

Just like the songwriters said

All night long
We would sing that stupid song
And every word we sang
I knew was true.”

He remembers every word was true.
Just before he stuffs his blankets in the garbage bags and meets the day.
He remembers every word we sang
Was true.

2 Responses to “Sleeping on Grace”

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    Roger, this is a wonderful post as usual. I spent the 4th of July in Asbury Park, New Jersey, as it was the day after my 40th birthday. The homelessness epidemic in Chicago is enough to create the feeling that nobody has a real home in the USA anymore; nobody wins unless everybody wins. The national crisis of homelessness was callously ignored in the early 1980’s by St. Raygun (“Ray” refers to the rays of sunshine/smoke that Douche, uh, Dutch blew up the fat butts of the American people for 8 painful years, and “gun” refers to Ronnie’s unwavering support for NRA lunatics in spite of the fact that he was nearly killed by a gun on March 30, 1981). This land was made for you and me.

  2. chicagoguy12 Says:

    Paul–If you are 40, then I must be. . .wait . . .noooo!!!!!!!!

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