Saturday, June 04, 2016

A real life Boo Radley

This is The Walking Dude, or Mr. Chicago, as my friend John and I have always called him. If you've spent any time in the city over the last 30 years, you've seen him. His clothes are threadbare but his hair and mustache are always, always kempt.

He walks. He seldom speaks -- I don't know anyone who has actually heard his voice -- but it's been documented that he sells wristwatches to cab drivers as they wait at cab stands. Then he resumes walking. Up and down Michigan Avenue. Throughout the Loop. In and around Lincoln Park. He'll stop to look in shop windows, observe roadwork, or watch the Chicago River flow by. Then he starts walking again.

Tour buses point him out, and while visitors shout and wave, he ignores them. Occasionally, on very cold days, he'll accept the kindness of a local coffee shop and slip in for a cup of joe. But for the most part, he enjoys silence. And walking.

Until last month, when some thug with a baseball bat assaulted him. Smashed him in the head and across the legs. Why? We don't know. Certainly Mr. Chicago had no money or belongings worth stealing. It's just another example of the rage that's taking over our streets.

I was broken hearted to hear this. So were my friends, John and Kathy. And everyone at work. And so many, many people all across the city. To date, more than 1000 Chicagoans have contributed $38,000 to help Mr. Chicago when he's released from the hospital.

Ah, but there's the rub. He doesn't want our help. 

It turns out he has family out in the suburbs, but he has long refused to live with them, preferring shelters. He has spent Thanksgiving or Christmas Day with his brother, sister and nephew, but then insists on going back on the street. To walk.

His independence is making life hard for the police and prosecutors. The man who viciously assaulted him was arrested, but Mr. Chicago refuses to press charges. Or cooperate with the police in any way. He never wants to appear in court. He wants to be left alone.

Likewise, he refuses to see his nephew or remaining siblings. Without the patient's permission, the hospital can't release any information to them about Mr. Chicago's condition, including room number. They are taking some of that $38,000 and trying to find a lawyer who can force the hospital to release him to his family's care. Because Mr. Chicago may not regain all his sight and could need a service dog. That requires training and a home.

I'm reminded of Boo Radley. Remember the end of To Kill a Mockingbird? Atticus thinks Jem killed that awful Mr. Ewell. The sheriff tells him, no it was Boo. But the official report will state that Ewell fell on his knife. Atticus still isn't following, and the sheriff has to spell it out for him. Boo did stab Ewell to defend Atticus' children, but no one must ever know.

"I never heard tell that it's against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime from being committed, which is exactly what he did, but maybe you'll say it's my duty to tell the town all about it and not hush it up. Know what would happen then? All the ladies in Maycomb, including my wife, they would be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinking, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who's done you and this town a great service and dragging him with his shy ways into the limelight. To me, that's a sin. It's a sin and I'm not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man, it'd be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch."

Similarly, this strange and gentle man doesn't want our charity or attention. Like Boo, Mr. Chicago has "shy ways" and is working hard to shun the limelight.

It just makes me sad and sick that he may no longer be able to freely wander the streets as he's long chosen to.

1 comment:

  1. I am shocked and outraged! We have a town walker, too, I refer to him as The Profit.