Christmas Moment #2

Danny Ray Suitcase perched on the balls of his feet. 3rd bench on the left in Millennium Park off Michigan Avenue in Chicago just before sunrise on a coming cold morning.

All the benches empty except for Danny Ray, his 5 battered suitcases and whoever it is he’s speaking to that the rest of us can’t see. Flushed red face and distended gut hint at some kind of medical malaise that will never be treated. Some kind of pain that will never be soothed.

Danny Ray’s bench is in the shadow of the giant city Christmas tree. The park itself rivaling any city park in the world. Visitors from across the globe. All with their own street corner symphony. Laughing children, bright eyed lovers—her arm hooked through his—and the elders who walk remembering when this treasured park used to be a swampy railroad yard. The place where a train called ‘The City of New Orleans’ would pull into Chicago chock full of dreams not all that different than those of the teenagers looking up for a moment from their phones at a giant silver sculpture named ‘Cloudgate’ that everybody calls ‘The Bean.’
It’s cold, so people don’t stay in the park like they do in other times, they’ll toss lunchtime trash in the bins and keep walking while Danny leaves his suitcases and rummages the bin for food. The swelling of the crowds from Christmas builds through the day.

Four blocks west in the lobby of the Daley Court Building fronting Picasso’s gift to the city; a south side choir is signing about Jesus with a power and a beat that shakes the foundations of all the big buildings.

While in the plaza a German Market has popped up and you can smell the bratwurst and onions, taste the hot chocolate or hot apple cider walk past the sales of all the Christmas ornaments and scarves Aunt Martha would love.

Night coming all too soon. The shoppers and workers departing. Danny starts to rope together his suitcases. Security in the park. They don’t pay him no mind in the light of day. They barely see him. But it’s a different story at night. Packed up now as night settles in, Danny heads out to Michigan Avenue and touches one of the white, concrete barriers that now ring most public gathering places and keep them safe from people who want to drive cars with bombs into crowds.
Danny starts traipsing north. Checking garbage bins as he goes. Still having that conversation with himself. Where he sleeps will depend on what he finds, on who is near and how well he can make himself invisible. He’s been on the streets for two years now. He’s been in the shelters. But sometimes he forgets where they are. He remembers one that had knives. Lots of knives. And so he only goes to shelters if he can find one without the knives. One where they won’t call him crazy.

Danny rolls across Randolph Street, hears Jimmy the Bird crying, “Hey brother? Got a dollar you can spare?” Jimmy sees Danny and says, “Hey my crazy talking friend, Mister Suitcase man. I got me a pizza! I mean it is hot, it is sausage and it is untouched. And this being Christmas my brother? You and I gonna chow down on this thick crust baby with pleasure!”

So Jimmy and Danny set out walking north then east to a patch of concrete under Lake Shore Drive where Danny would sleep that night.
“Merry Christmas my brother,” Jimmy says to Danny Ray Suitcase.

Jimmy puts the pizza box on the concrete, opens it up, and what happened next in the 30 degree cold under that highway in Chicago with only headlights for stars is something I really can’t explain.

What happed next was that the pizza was still warm. Cheese melted, steam rising warm. “What the. . . .” Jimmy stares wide eyed at the pizza but doesn’t’ finish. The smell of that pizza was so all consuming that he just has to take a bite. Then Danny Ray does too.

And just for that one Christmas moment, Danny Ray Suitcase smiles.

6 Responses to “Christmas Moment #2”

  1. toritto Says:

    Geez you’re good Roger. You can pull heart strings better than anyone I know. Best from Florida

  2. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Thanks Frank!

  3. Naomi de Plume Says:

    I love this. I want to believe these moments happen more than any of us know. I want to believe that the universe looks out for us on occasion. And you allow me to do that. Thanks, ChiGuy

    • Paul Haider Says:

      Homelessness is quite an epidemic in Chicago, and I feel terrible for the people who are sleeping under the viaducts under Lake Shore Drive in these frigid temperatures. “Everybody needs a place to rest/Everybody want to have a home/Don’t make no difference what nobody says/Ain’t nobody like to be alone”- Bruce Springsteen, 1980

      • chicagoguy14 Says:

        Paul–I’m scared that my heat will go out. And I have a house! Sleeping out in this is terrifying.

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      Naomi–Thanks for “getting” the message here. That the moments are out there and that they happen more than we know. They are often tiny and fast. Most of them we don’t see. But they are there. It’s not just a “good news/bad news” kind of thing. It’s moments. It’s also the theme of the book I’m promising to finish this year. So thanks for the encouragement on that!

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