Friday, February 27, 2009
Walking with Jameson
Jameson is about to be hit by a van on Michigan Street. You’ve seen him. Thirties, longish hair, gaunt face, walking the downtown streets. And his neck: it looks like someone wedged it down between his shoulders and jammed it back so he’s always staring up. He can’t turn his head. One look at him, crossing in front of your warm, locked car at the light and you think, homeless guy. And with that single judgment he becomes invisible. Just part of the landscape, a grey shadow passing across your retina.
Turns out he lives in my neighborhood. My girls and I were sitting on our front steps in the inner city, late one August, cherry popsicle juice dripping down our arms. And here he comes: long shirt, jeans, lace-up work boots, striding up the sidewalk hard like he’s going to miss the bus. “What’s wrong with his neck?” says my daughter. “I dunno,” I say. I lift my popsicle. “How’s it going?” I say. He keeps walking. “Want one?” No response. Then my daughter says, “What’s your name?” He pauses, “Jameson.” Then he’s gone.
From then on, we start seeing Jameson, all over. Walking the shoulder on Lincoln Way West. Down on Sample Street. Out on Western Avenue. Day time, night time, always by himself. December. He’s walking in the snow up on 31, past Notre Dame. March. Forty degrees, raining out by Cleveland Road, there’s Jameson, soaking wet, no body fat, no coat. I roll down the window. “Hey Jameson, want a ride?” He shakes his head, keeps moving. July. I’m up in Niles across the state line. There’s Jameson, walking north! This guy is epic. No sports drinks, no running shoes, no cell phone. Just his work boots, plaid shirt, and a fierce intensity that mocks us all. Our precious gospel of convention and security: our GPS units, retirement funds, health plans, home security systems, extended warranties… Who is this guy? Some Old Testament prophet? An escapee from a group home? A saint?
October. My daughter blows on her jasmine tea in the Chocolate Café. “Hey dad,” she whispers. There’s Jameson. Over in the corner, just sitting there, with a cup of coffee. I gotta ask him about it all, his travels, his neck, the meaning of life. I walk over.
“Jameson. Can I join you? I’m not a cop or anything--” He slides out of the booth and leaves.
Then last week, on my bike, I see him again. On Michigan street, in the shoulder, walking north past Memorial Hospital. Behind him, a line of traffic waits at the light at Bartlett. The light flashes green and a van, six cars and a semi lurch ahead toward Jameson. He continues striding ahead, then without turning his head… he changes course, left, into the road! He’s crossing a 4-lane highway without looking! The van roars up on Jameson’s back. If he were a woman, a child, a man in a suit they’d slow down. If he were a dog or a duck there’d be brake lights, honks, lane changes. Instead, it’s like he’s just a box of clothes that fell off someone’s pickup. The van just misses Jameson’s elbow, blowing his hair forward. But he continues on the diagonal, striding across the oncoming lanes, makes it all the way to the opposite shoulder, and walks away.
I realize I’m holding my bike wheel off the ground. I set it down, and ask myself what all this could mean.
Maybe after all those years of being invisible, of just looking up to the sky, not being able to look down, not seeing the judgments or hearing all the negativity…maybe a person gets healed of their difficulties. Walks every road, without fear.