I was standing on the back porch on one of the last pleasant nights of the fall when I saw him through the gangway reading the newspaper over a garbage can. I watched silently, and he read silently –– for what must have been five minutes. Finally, overwhelmed by curiosity, I went out and introduced myself.
“What you reading?” I asked.
“Sports section,” he said. “I love my Bears. I just wanted to see how they’re doing.”
Larry, Larry Jones
His name is Larry. Larry Jones. He is 60 years old, he told me, and he grew up around what is now the Apple Store at Halsted and Clybourn. When he got married, he and his wife moved to Des Plaines, but Larry had an affinity for the bottle. So when his wife said it’s either her or the bottle, he moved out.
He moved in with his mother in the Lathrop Homes at Damen and Diversey. That’s where he lived for the next 20 years until she died five years ago. Back on the street, he lives now in the back of an abandoned car nearby.
I asked him what he’s going to do when Chicago turns cold.
“I’m going to Florida,” he said. “We’ve been lucky the last two years, but it can’t hold up.”
Too Much Preaching
I suggested he try going to a homeless shelter.
“I went to Pacific Gardens a couple times,” he said. “But you have to get preached at for three hours before they serve you a meal. I can’t do that.”
I told him about my favorite homeless shelter, the Mission of San Luis Obrero in PIlsen. Clean rooms, only 40 residents, no preaching, great food, and a 90-day program to help residents transition back into school courses or jobs. “But you have to be sober,” I said.
He pointed at the bottle in a bag crooked under his arm. “I guess that leaves me out.”
“So,” I asked, “how are you going to get to Florida?”
“I’m always working,” he said. “I got a job now. They’re tearing down a 12-story building over on the west side and I go by every day to take stuff to the scrap yard. I can make about $100 a day, and that should last through November. Two years ago, I made $29,000 hauling away construction. Last year, it was $14,000. This year, I’m doing around $10,000. “
“And when you don’t have a building, what do you do?” I asked.
“Well, I used to work the ramp right over here on Fullerton,” he said. “But it’s gotten kind of crowded, you know what I mean? Now, I work the corner at State and Randolph.”
Besides the Bears, what do read about?
“This is a pretty good can,” he said. “It’s got The Sunday Tribune and The New York Times. You don’t get many of those. I read whatever interests me,” he said.
Are you reading about the government shutdown?
“I read about it, but who am I to them?” he asked. “If my mother were still alive, it would affect her social security. That wouldn’t be good. But me, I’m faceless.”
I asked Larry if I could take his picture. He posed in a number of ways then walked off down the alley. Abruptly, he spun around and came back.
“Forgot my cup,” he said, grabbing a plastic cup off the top of another garbage can. “I’ll need this in the morning.”