It was a Saturday afternoon and a friend was launching the first ever Bastille Day celebration in Chicago. We decided to go support him.
When we arrived it was pretty sad. A huge parking lot with lots of tents and tables, but aside from the vendors, no one showed up. We tried to cajoling our friend over the apparently failed event. We started drinking. A couple hours later, people started showing up. By then we were pretty lit.
I got bored and started talking to an older gentleman with a walking cane. He was Hispanic, handsome and in good physical shape. He was a petite man who’s stature resembled a flamenco dancer and he carried himself accordingly. However, he walked with a cane. A Ricardo Montalban type. He was dressed in a light blue oxford shirt and pleated slacks. I never would have guessed that he was homeless. His nature was soft spoken.
By now my ex and I were bickering about something. I preferred the company of “‘Nardo”. (The man’s Hispanic man’s name. Short for Bernardo.) I bought Nardo a couple beers as he told me his story.
Evidently, he was homeless and had trouble finding work because he had just spent the last 50 years in prison for murder!! He said he was innocent. That he was just was a kid when his friends told him they could make easy money by hitting a liquor store.
“I didn’t kill anyone. But the guy got killed and I got nailed for it. My friends lied. I was just a stupid kid. I never should have been there.”
What was once his youthful lust for cash, clearly had resolved into a deep sense of regret and loss over what might have been a decent life.
We chatted for several hours. I bought him some food from the festival vendors and we dined together. You might find it strange that I would dine with a murderer. Who was I to judge him? He served his time.
I introduced him to my husband and our friend, Tom. It turned into a hot summer Chicago day. We ate, drank and laughed with one another until it started getting late. By now, one of Nardo’s street buddies had joined us. He possessed none of ‘Nardo’s gentility and was not only was he rough around the edges, but he was parasitic.
“We should get going. It was great meeting you! Where will you stay tonight?” I asked.
Nardo had a few beers in him as well.
“I don’t know. I never know.” he replied.
“Come stay with us!” I blurted out. (I was homeless myself once, albeit for a short time. But that post is for another day. I have great empathy for the homeless.)
Tom looked at me as though I had two heads! Then he looked to my husband, as though he would counter my insanity with the voice of reason. Ron was pretty tanked.
“Ron! Blossom wants to have Nardo spend the night at your place.”
“Really?” he replied. “Sure! Why not? Come on home with us Nardo! Get a good night’s sleep!” I will say one thing for him, when Ron and I decided to be a team, we were unstoppable. But I was usually the madwoman behind the wheel.
Tom’s eyes were already a bit bulging by design. But now they really popped.
Nardo’s buddy chimed in.
“Man, you ain’t goin’ home with these people?” he said, incredulously. “You crazy! They could kill you in your sleep. Don’t do it!”
“I’ll be fine, man.” He reassured.
We hailed a cab and hauled it home. It was a long day.
We lived in a 2 bedroom 2 flat on the second floor. The other bedroom was my office. So I made up the sofa for him as he washed up. I brought him a glass of ice water, turned on the TV for him and started explaining the remote as he began taking off his shirt to reveal a “wife beater” underneath. It was a rather sobering moment. Did I really just invite a convicted murderer to sleep on my sofa?
I went to bed. Although it was a bit late to be asking that question, I said, “Ron, This is ok? Right?” Ron was useless. He passed out.
I sneaked into the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife I could find, just in case. (I had a 12 in long Henckels carving knife, but the tip was a round. better than nothing. ) I decided to sleep with it under my pillow. If things got weird, someone had to protect us.
I didn’t get much sleep because of the booze. Albeit, my mind also kept wandering to Nardo’s life in a prison cell as a young man. It must have been terrifying. Then to watch it waste away for 50 years…I eventually nodded off. I woke to make coffee.
We were scheduled to go to Starved Rock State Park with one of Ron’s friends today. It’s about a two hour drive. I was woefully hungover. But we committed to going. Maybe I can sleep on the way.
I didn’t want to hurt Nardo’s feelings. But it’s not like I asked him to move in. I thought I’d soften the blow by offering him a cinnamon roll and coffee.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into the living room to find him dressed, sitting on the sofa with the linens neatly folded. Perhaps a byproduct of 50 years in prison.
“Good morning Nardo! Did you sleep well?” I asked.
“Yes. Thank you”. He seemed a bit dazed wondering how he got there. I offered him some coffee, explaining that we had to get a move on as friends were on their way. He seemed relieved. He took a couple sips, grabbed his roll, said “Thank you”, and left like like a thief in the night. It was funny the way he bolted. I think he was grateful that he wasn’t stabbed in his sleep!
Lesson: Snobbery is not exclusive to a specific socio-economic group. It is however, born of fear, something we all have in common. We tend to want to be with people if like minds because it reinforces or beliefs. I don’t care if you’re a fan if Jon Stewart or Bill O’Reilly! A talking head is a talking head. Two sides of the same coin. They both have agendas and profit greatly by the gaining devotees.
Nardo and I were clearly a bit nervous about the other because we came from different backgrounds. But nobody got hurt. That’s the part I relish!