February 21st, 2017
I could not find his kite in the great expanse of blue sky above the blue of Lake Michigan. I knew it had to be there, because the man was winding fishing line with his hands and staring into the distance. Finally, I saw it far away, blue on blue. I only noticed it because of the kite’s erratic motion. It turned and dipped and slowly sank as the man wound his string. Eventually, it rested gently on the Chicago’s sandy beach.
Sabia greeted the man and complimented him on his kite. He looked at us and smiled. He asked us, “How old do you think I am?”
I thought to be polite, and I said, “You’re in your forties.”
The man laughed and said, “I’m seventy-one!” He wasn’t a local. He sounded like he was from out East.
He continued, “I’m this healthy because I eat right. That stuff from McDonald’s, I never touch it. I went to my doctor, and he said, ‘You should live until you’re 110!’, and I told him, ‘I’ll take the hundred and you can keep the ten!’ “. He laughed at his own joke, and said, “Those doctors, they are glad to sell you pills. You don’t eat right and you’ll have a cabinet full of pills.”
The man became more enthused, seeing as he had an audience. He went on, “When I was a kid, we used to have kite wars on the roofs of the projects in the Bronx. I would crush pieces of glass and then coat the string with glue. I would put the glass dust into a box with a hole, and then pull the string through the hole, so the string would get covered with sharp glass. We would put razor blades on the tails of our kites and try to cut the other guys’ strings. The little kids would wait in the streets below us for a string to get cut, and then they would grab the kite when it fell.”
He pulled out his wallet and flashed a picture at us. It was a photo of a young woman in a graduation gown. “That’s one of my daughters. Both of them went to college. This one works at the Fresno Zoo. She is getting a job in San Diego soon. She studied in Australia. She knows three languages. The other girl is a cop in Texas. She’s going to be a chief of police!”
“I raised those girls right. Kids today got no imagination because everybody gives them everything. You know what I mean? I didn’t give everything to my daughters. I made them earn their way. They wanted to drive. I showed them wear the starter was and the alternator was under the hood. I told them to learn how to change a tire themselves. Who needs a guy? I told them, ‘You have trouble with your guy? You just tell him that the house is yours and the baby is yours and that he better pay the alimony’. They don’t need to depend on no guy.”
Sabia asked, “How long have you been in Chicago?”
“I came here in 1973. I was a Vietnam vet. I got a job in a print shop. Worked there for years. Now I got my health, my pension, my social security, and my Medicare. I set myself up right. People these days don’t know how to do that.”
He paused. Then he laughed and went back to flying his kite.
We walked back toward Argyle Street. The man seemed very satisfied with his life, and quite certain that his success was his own doing. What I wondered is why he would tell his life story to total strangers? Unless he was a very lonely man. I think he was. I don’t mind that we listened to his stories. He needed us to do that. Maybe we needed it too.