The DEAD MAN

(Bus routes, train routes, walking patterns and thinking jags)

Riding the #22 Clark Street bus north on a fall evening in Chicago, 1978, getting off at the Armitage stop, descending the few stairs to the oval expanse of park benches, just in front of the Natural History Museum, my eye instantly focused on an old bag lady, sitting on the green bench, and the old man lying on the ground stretched out in front of her.

I approached her and looked down at the old gent. He was a translucent yellowy greenish-grey. His eyes were open and so was his mouth. His right leg was bent upward and I seem to remember a fly coursing over his dry lips.

The Dead Man by Julius Klein
drawing by Julius Klein

“Is he OK??!!” I asked.

“Yes, Yes,” she replied. “He’s been drinking a lot.”

I looked down and said “He doesn’t look so good,” and it occurred to me that he was dead.

Realizing that she was nuts, I turned to the street and looked for a pay phone to call 911. I found one to the south but it was not working. I frantically ran into the busy street and stopped a cab and asked if he could radio in a call for an ambulance??

“THERE’S A DEAD MAN LYING ON THE GROUND,” I shouted as he pulled away.

I kept my arm in the front window, as he drove forward, trotting alongside. “Can you call on your radio, there’s a dead man?” I yelled.

“A DEAD MAN??” came echoing out of the back seat. “STOP THE CAB!” a woman’s voice rang out. The driver stopped and three beautiful sexy ladies filed out.

“Are you sure there’s a DEAD MAN?” one of them asked.

“Yes Yes, he is lying over there!!”

We left the cab door open, and walked the ten paces or so, and indeed, as stated, there was a DEAD MAN.

I noticed the old gal traipsing off to the north, her bags knocking against her legs. She gave me a look, back over her shoulder, of utter befuddlement. I looked at the bench; there was a bag with a mans small-brimmed grey-brown hat resting on it.

A squad car pulled up. Cops got out, people started to gather.

The girls took me to where they were initially headed, to RJ Grunts, a restaurant a few blocks away, where they worked.

I was still in high school, a seventeen-year-old, long-haired boy of the seventies.

The girls were all in a tizzy. “OH, THE DEAD MAN!!!”

“We need PINA COLADAS!!! COCAINE, COCAINE, COCAINE!”

These were real woman, with fully developed breasts, wearing grown-up outfits, and I was their hero. Maybe more like their younger brother, but still, their hero.

* * *

On a rainy cold night some years later, buzzed on LSD, I stumbled upon that very spot. I lay myself down in the exact position that I remembered the DEAD MAN lying.

Bending my right leg at the knee, recreating the DEAD MAN’S repose as best I could recollect it, I felt a jolting lighting force beneath me, electrically shooting me upward off the sidewalk. I ran in terror south on Clark Street, along dark Lincoln Park, kicking my legs high in the wet air, my feet splashing on the shiny, broken, long-tunneled sidewalk.

“I must die now, I should have never laid in that spot, it’s a portal of death!”

As I ran, a very large, dark silhouette loomed ahead of me. Slowing down, I realized that it was the statue of La Salle, or de La Salle, looking south towards the Chicago Commodities Exchange, on the north end of the long street that bears his name.

I gazed up at the regal edifies, the noble bronze, a sword about to be drawn. I spotted an orange traffic cone on the vacant street.

“What a fine hat it would make you, sir.”

Cone in hand, I climbed the statue and placed it on its large, well-maned head. It was an absolutely perfectly proportioned Dunce Hat.

I climbed down; all fear had left me. As I looked upwards, admiring my work, the “hat” shifted to one side, and I swear the bronze eye gave me a wink, sending me howling with crazed laughter into the foggy haze of the morning.

–Julius Klein