Tuesday I needed to deliver some art to Logan Square. I texted Marie the night before to see if she wanted to have a picnic lunch after I was done. She said there’d be thunderstorms; I said let’s see what it’s like day of. Forecasts are often wrong. My plan was to meet Skyler for a walk after dropping off the art, then to text Marie to see if the picnic was on.
It was scorching hot by the time I got to Logan Square. I was pouring sweat. I bought some mineral water at a liquor store and sat waiting for Skyler in the park by the monument. We ran into Jim Becker and the two of them commiserated about how much they missed playing music with friends. This plague has hit musicians especially hard because theirs is an art that depends on live collaboration and audience. We made a couple of loops around the neighborhood, catching up. The last time we took a walk like this was over a month ago.
We parted and I texted Marie. Still barely a cloud in the sky. She gave me the address of a Middle Eastern place to pick up falafel sandwiches. Ten minutes after starting the ride toward her Garfield Park home, the rain started. It felt good after the day’s humidity and there were blue skies in all directions beyond the dark cloud I was passing under. But as soon as I rang her doorbell it began to pour.
She let me in, making sure to rub it in about doubting her meteorological predictions. She left the front door open and we set up a makeshift place to eat. She sat on the staircase; I sat on an ottoman left in the alcove. We drank white wine out of paper cups. No sooner than taking a bite from our sandwiches, five or six shots rang out in quick succession. They sounded like they came from right outside the door. After freezing a moment, Marie ran up to the door and closed it so whoever was out there shooting couldn’t run in. Seconds later, there was children’s wailing and pounding at the door. Marie let in a neighbor and her terrified children.
We peered out at the corner a couple doors to the right and saw a white SUV at the far end of the intersection, its doors open, one man on the ground, another slumped over out of the vehicle. Sirens blared from all directions. Within minutes the area was swarmed by cop cars. We went back in to finish eating. Neighbors gathered and bunched the sidewalks, talking and taking cellphone pictures. Soon there was yellow crime-scene tape cutting off all access to the block.
There’s no proper way to act under such conditions. Was it wrong that we kept eating while a young man and possibly others lay dead on the ground fifty yards away? In the middle of all this Bill texted to tell me his favorite uncle had passed away from Covid. He’d mentioned the uncle was in the hospital when we saw each other a few days before. I texted condolences, then went back out to the doorway to look again.
Now there was a sheet covering the man on the ground. Clusters of people crowded the periphery of the yellow tape. A few professional-looking cameramen had appeared. A cop was taking a statement from a young woman next to us. She was worried her relation was one of the victims. An older woman—the mother of the man in question—had to be taken away as she screamed she had to see him. Thankfully, it turned out he had only been grazed in the leg. An ambulance had snapped a length of yellow tape blocking Hamlin coming to pick up the body of the man on the ground. A few minutes later a young man and a cop met in the middle of the street, each holding half of the ripped tape. The young man handed over his end to the cop so he could tie the ends together.
Marie apologized for the thunderstorm and murder which marred our picnic plans. This is how we jcommunicate. What else is there to do? If it had remained sunny, we might have had a front row seat to the killings. Every event, whether extreme or forgettable, is contingent on so many factors of timing and conditions. All the neighbors watching this crime scene talked about this: where they were when the gunshots rang out. Where they might’ve been. A few seconds this way or that and we could have been caught in the crossfire.
Marie ran upstairs and came back with some zucchini bread for me to take home. I walked my bike around the taped-off perimeter, climbed a little hill into the park and came out onto Washington Boulevard. The sun was back out and it was a sauna as I pedaled east. I thought about Bill’s uncle and the young men lying in the street outside Marie’s house. They were victims of two different plagues. There’s a worldwide effort to find a vaccine for one and little collective will to address the other. Long after Covid is forgotten people will continue to be gunned down in America’s streets. And every one of us who isn’t personally affected will go on as if nothing’s wrong.
We’ll put down our sandwiches for a minute or two, but then, after satisfying our curiosity, we’ll go back to eating.