Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reach Out and Touch (a homeless man's hand)

Did you ever make a great connection with someone even though you didn't really know them? Sure, we all think we make connections with people on television, news reporters, Hollywood stars, et cetera. In my case, I made a real connection with a homeless man, Bernard, who lives somewhere on the same block as my office building. Who could have thought?

I work Downtown in River North, which is fantastic because all day I am surrounded by some of the most unique art galleries and furniture galleries in the country. It's also the design district of the City, so there is a very high concentration of architecture firms, interior design firms, urban planning firms, as well as the largest interior design showroom that I've ever encountered: the Merchandise Mart.

View from the Loop into River North - The Merchandise Mart is
the art deco building at the far left.

With its own ZIP code, its own subway stop, and taking up every bit of it's 2 square blocks on the river, it's any design professional's dream! Room after loaded showroom with bathtubs that cost more than my apartment, every sort of paint color you can imagine and more, lighting fixtures galore, drawer pulls and knobs by the thousands, faucets and countertops, and tile. The endlessness of this gigantic building is incomprehensible.

To add to the plethora of items to catch the eye in my work neighborhood is Bernard. His ever- animated style, sharp but polite tongue, and faithfulness to that block make him one of the highlights of my day. He's been there for as long as I can remember working in this area, and that's been nearly 5 years. Winter, summer, rain, you name it he's out there. He always shakes my hand in the morning, and once in awhile I bring him coffee or give him a few bucks, though he rarely asks for it directly. He always has a joke for me, or tells me I look sharp in my new coat, or shows me something he found that he is able to use. It's always a good start to my morning.

A few weeks ago I had just finished my first day back at work after a nice vacation. It was an extremely hectic day (not the kind you want after your first day back to the office!), and I ended up being at work until around 10:30 pm. Very late indeed. But we had to meet a deadline, so I really had no choice, and I'm pretty used to it. When I left the office and locked the front door, Bernard was on the street in front. He greeted me, and then I noticed that the Shamrock Club next door and the Kinzie Chophouse on the corner were completely hopping. I was nearly drawn in because I definitely could have used a drink, or 10, after the day I had.

Kinzie Chophouse with The Shamrock Club in the background

But I put the thought out of my head. As I walked down the street I talked a little with Bernard. I was really crabby, my mind was still racing from work, and definitely ready to just get something to eat, and get home to relax. He said I seemed out of it, so I explained why. He couldn't seem to comprehend it. He merely said, "Aw, it's not all that bad. Go home and put your feet up." You know what? He was absolutely right. It's not all that bad. I have a job. I have a home. I don't have to look for things in a dumpster that might be useful to me. I don't have to scrounge up enough money to (maybe) get an entire meal. I don't have to sleep on a matress in the alley. He didn't make this connection for me at all, he just told me, "it's not all that bad." When I realized how inconsiderate I (may have) been given the fact that things really could be a lot worse, I thanked him and made my way to the subway. I thought about it the entire ride home. Bernard really made me realize how lucky I am in comparison with the way it could be. He humbled me, completely, and that's exactly what I needed.

A problem still remains though, and that is what do I get this guy for Christmas? I know. It seems a little silly. Actually it seems a lot silly. I want it to be something he will find useful; not just some Peppermint Bark and a bottle of Scotch. So I am continuing to ponder this one. I have a few months yet, and I'm definitely open to suggestions.

So just like Diana Ross said; "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand." Because if you do, you might be getting a whole lot more than just a handshake. And in this case, that was a good thing. I got an entire 5-course meal of one of life's little lessons: humility.


Dr. Phyl said...

Nice. Very nice. I'm looking forward to your views, both written and visual. They'll keep me in touch with the city, and you.

Lisa O'Keefe said...

Abe, this is why I think so much of you. Bernard sounds like a cool man. Talk to him a little more, listen, find out what he likes and needs.

I look forward to reading more from you.

kathryn said...

Hey abe-love the blog!Give Bernard a kiss for me! :)

c said...

humility is important. so is reaching out and touching someone...keep it up;)

c said...

humility is important, so is reaching out and touching someone;) keep it up

Anonymous said...

I am a friend of Tara Mozden and she turned me on to your wonderful blog. I will be in touch on this subject, however, I thought I'd make a suggestion for Bernard. How about a gift card for a month for a health club where he can feel like a 'king for a day', get a hot shower and use the pool.....maybe I'm naive, but it's just a thought. ~ Rach from Wisconsin (a fellow Chi-town ogler)