December 10, 2017 3:30 PM
Margaret “Maggie” Atwood, after recently experiencing her regular afternoon High Tea at The Lobby on Superior Street, walks west on Chicago Avenue. The thirty-degree temperatures, even with a stiff breeze out of the north, don’t bother her; wearing a $25,000 mink fur coat she remains toasty. But why is she walking west on Chicago Avenue? She lives in a penthouse condo on N. Michigan Avenue, at the 535 Residences, just north of the Tribune Tower. She should be walking south.
Alone now, her husband Herbert having died last year, Maggie lives the best life old money can afford. Her children and grandchildren visit often and one of the delights of her life is taking her grandkids shopping on the Magnificent Mile and buying them whatever their little heart’s desire. With Herbert alive, she lived a nice life, but with him gone, the money he left behind allows her to live however she chooses. And she chooses well.
Her health has been good, her most recent checkup indicating the heart of a much younger woman, but regulating her blood pressure medicines has been a bother of late. And sometimes she forgets to take them. Or she takes too many. She gets confused. And now she isn’t sure if she took too many today, or if she took them at all. She feels lightheaded and disoriented.
Coming upon a group of five men standing in front of the McDonald’s on Chicago Avenue, she overhears them mention Michigan Avenue and she interjects, “Are you looking for Michigan Avenue?” Not awaiting a response, she turns and points east, “Michigan Avenue is just a few blocks that way.”
One of the men interrupts her and says, “Well, actually, we are looking for homeless people. We have hats and gloves and socks to give them.”
Maggie, with a sneer on her face, says, “The homeless? Why, it’s terrible. They congregate in front of Water Tower Place and it’s almost impossible to get around them. And when I tried to shop at Tiffany’s this morning, it was all I could do to shoo them away. It’s pathetic. Something should be done about it.”
The men, ranging in age from fourteen to sixty, stand with mouths hung open. Their spokesperson, Chad, says, “Well, thank you. I think we can find our way to Michigan Avenue.”
Maggie spins on her heel and crosses Chicago Avenue, and then heads south on N. Wabash avenue. Her lightheadedness has returned. Now, where am I going? What street is this? She begins to stagger and weave down the sidewalk.
December 10, 2017 3:30 p.m.
Heading East on Chicago Avenue, Chad and his four companions stop in front of McDonald’s to assess their next move. For the past three hours, they, and a group of others, have traveled up and down Michigan Avenue, State Street, and Dearborn Avenue, seeking out the homeless. Armed with backpacks full of stocking caps, gloves, socks, hand warmers, and McDonald gift cards, they have experienced another successful Hats and Gloves. Between the two groups, they have encountered forty homeless people, and of their nine years doing it, this ranks as one of the better. One year, a particularly cold one, they met and served over sixty homeless folks, meeting their immediate needs to the best of their ability.
As they stand on the sidewalk, one of the five says, “Should we go on over to Michigan and work our way down?”
An elderly woman, overhearing part of their conversation, says to Chad, “Are you looking for Michigan Avenue?” Before he can answer, she turns and points to the east, “It’s just a few blocks that way.”
Chad smiles and says, “Well, actually, we’re looking for the homeless. We have hats and gloves and socks we’re giving away.”
Maggie, wearing a sneer, says, ““The homeless? Why, it’s terrible. They congregate in front of Water Tower Place and it’s almost impossible to get around them. And when I tried to shop at Tiffany’s this morning, it was all I could do to shoo them away. It’s pathetic. Something should be done about it.”
Chad frowns and says, “Well, thank you for your help. We can find Michigan avenue.”
As the elderly woman walks away, the fourteen-year-old turns to his father and says, “That lady was rude. Does she really see the homeless that way?”
His father, in his best teachable moment tone, says, “I took her comments differently. I think she may have been saying that the number of homeless is a shame. And maybe something could be done to solve the problem.”
His son shook his head. “I thought so too, but when she called them pathetic, that did it for me. Did you see that fur coat she had on? And those sunglasses? The cost of them alone could feed the homeless for a year.”
As the lady in the fur coat steps away from them, Chad watches her go, and wonders if at one time, Raymond or Raven or Tyrone, or Wawa or Florica (and Kitty Poo) or Mercy, or any of the rest of those he met today, who live on the street and count on the kindness of others, were ever in the position of the fur coat lady. He wonders from where it is they’ve all come. And he wonders if the fur coat lady will ever understand.
December 10, 2017 3:45 p.m.
Alexander leans against a lamppost on N. Wabash and watches the Christmas shoppers stroll up and down the avenue, oblivious to him. He struggles to stand upright, understandably so after finishing a Slurpee cup full of vodka and cherry slush. He celebrates his fortieth birthday alone. Earlier a group of men stopped by and greeted him, offering him hats, gloves, socks, and a McDonald’s gift card. He isn’t hungry right now, but will keep the card for when the booze wears off and the aching in his stomach begins.
Alexander lives with his girl, down in the homeless village on Lower Wacker Drive. He has no affection for Franny, she yells at him most days, but she helps him keep warm underneath his cardboard blankets on a cold winter’s night. She said she was going to work the bridge on State street today, to see if she couldn’t score some cash. Alexander’s mind runs immediately to another bottle of Skol.
With his head relatively clear, he spots an elderly lady coming down Wabash, weaving from side to side, in and out of the street. Cars honk as the old lady veers out into traffic. With the dinner hour approaching, the foot traffic has begun to thin. Alexander, his senses on high alert, sees an opportunity. With the sun now dipping behind the tall buildings, the street lights have flickered on, offsetting the early onset of twilight.
Passing by her as an early test, he finds her disoriented, as she stumbles forward and stops repeatedly to stare up at the tall buildings towering over either side of the street. He also notices and salivates at her perceived wealth. Her fur coat, sunglasses, jewelry, watch, thigh high black boots, and the rock on her ring finger—all of it worth more than Alexander will see in a lifetime—all beckon him. If I bring this stuff home to Franny, maybe she won’t yell at me no more.
Standing at the mouth of an alley adjacent to Wabash, across from Holy Cathedral, Alexander waits. The old lady approaches from the south. As she nears, he calls out to her, “Hello, ma’am. You look lost. Can I help you find your way?”
The old lady, a confused look on her face, looks up at him. “Where is Michigan Avenue? I need to find my way home.”
Alexander, hiding a smile, slips his hand into the crook of the old lady’s arm and leads her into the alley. “Come with me, ma’am. I’ll take you home.”
Placing his arm around her shoulder, he steers the old lady deep into the dank and dirty alley. When he reaches a spot between two large metal dumpsters, Alexander looks first one way and then the other, and convinced no one is around, he shoves the lady, hard, in the back, and she falls forward and cracks her head against a weld at the bottom of the metal container.
Alexander makes quick work of it. Dumping the contents of a black plastic trash bag into the dumpster, he removes her handbag, fur coat, sun glasses, diamond ring, cameo broach, earrings, and winter gloves. Shoving them into the plastic trash bag, he stands over her. My Franny would look good in that top and leather pants and boots. He removes her blouse and boots, leaving her in only a camisole and panties, shoves them into his bag, and then pulls her over between the dumpster and the wall, leaving her face down in a pool of urine and vomit.
As Alexander slings his bag of goodies over his shoulder and steps out onto Wabash, the snow begins to fall.
December 10, 2017 6:15 p.m.
Officer Thomas “Tom” Clancy, has walked this beat for thirty years and in that time, he swears he’s seen it all. He strolls north on N. Wabash and the accumulating snowfall almost causes him to miss the bare legs protruding from behind a dumpster down a side alley. Over the years, he’s discovered dead bums, drunk bums, drugged out bums, in alleys just like this one, but still he hurries to investigate.
Reaching the dumpster, he finds the body of a woman, nude, save for a thin camisole and a layer of white snow. Kneeling by her side, he checks for a pulse, and after indicating one, he gently shakes her awake. After getting her to a sitting position, he places his coat around her shoulders. “Ma’am, we need to get you out of the cold. Can you tell me where you live?”
Her face, muddied from the ground, her hair a wet mess, the lipstick on her lips nearly washed away and smeared onto her cheek, and reeking of vomit and urine, Maggie looks up at him. “Is it time for tea?” she asks.
Knowing what he has on his hands, Officer Clancy asks her name. Her eyes dart from side to side and she won’t look him in the face. Shaking, she says, “I think I’m going home.”
“But, what’s your name? Do you have a name?”
Still confused, she knits her brow, trying to think. “Maggie. I’m Maggie.”
Knowing of a homeless shelter a few blocks north on Dearborn, he says, “Well, Maggie, we need to get you to a warm place and into some dry clothes.” He radios for a squad car and when it arrives, he accompanies Maggie on her ride to The Covenant House. Once there, Officer Clancy finds an administrator and explains the situation.
Meanwhile, Maggie becomes agitated and points at a group of men with backpacks standing across the room. “I know them. I know them.”
Officer Clancy approaches the five men and speaks to the group. “I’m sorry men, but this homeless lady thinks she knows you.”
One of the men reaches out his hand to shake. “Hello, officer. My name’s Chad and the five of us have been handing out hats and gloves to the homeless all day.” Peering at the nearly nude older woman, Chad says, “And I’m sure I would have remembered seeing her.” The two briefly chuckle at the humor, but before the officer turns away, Chad says, “Here, please give her these.” He hands the officer a stocking hat, a pair of gloves and socks, hand warmers, and a McDonald’s gift card inscribed—FROM: JESUS—TO: YOU—$10