Perspective on Milwaukee Ave.

Time to Settle Accounts

June 19, 2011: Perspective on Milwaukee Ave.

I got off the Blue Line at Division at twenty to 11 and went to Subway for a foot long flatbread chicken, bacon, and provolone sandwich. I planned to eat half and save the other half for the afternoon, or give the other half to someone in the neighborhood. I was wearing the cleanest of my need-to-be-cleaned white tees, heading home to do laundry and edit an interview, sweat building between my back and my backpack, my shirt sticking to the hair on my belly and the sides of my arms as I walked Milwaukee Ave.

Up ahead at the Walgreen’s, my friend Clyde was sweating as well, as he sold the recent Father’s Day issue of StreetWise. He listens to a single headphone while working, and when I walked up he took it out and said “Hey Jack.”

“Hey Clyde.” We bumped fists. “What’s going on?”

“Just working. Wish I was in bed.”

“Where’s Lawrence?”

“Lawrence, Lawrence…” he said of our friend Lawrence, the person who usually mans this Walgreen’s. Clyde’s usual post is the Starbucks on Division and Paulina. “Don’t know. I went to the office this morning to get a cup of coffee and check in, and they said, ‘You’re working Lawrence’s spot.’ Man, I could be relaxing. Oh!” He snapped his fingers. “Got something for you.” He reached in his bag and pulled out my copy of The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. “I ended up reading it four times.”

“Told you! I read it twice in the first week. Excited to crack it again.”

“I know. Man!” he said. “That’s some kind of book. I couldn’t stop.” He handed me the book. “Thank you.”

A pair of shoppers approached the door and Clyde called out “StreetWise!” The shopper nearer to us flashed a look of discomfort along with half a smile, mostly reflex. “I never get that,” Clyde said. “I’m working on a Saturday, selling this, and they’re out shopping and they’re frowning and I’m laughing,” he said with a chuckle. “Like they would want to trade jobs or something.” He lifted his arm and wiped sweat from his forehead. “What’s up for your day?” he asked me.

“Laundry and writing. Carrie’s at volleyball right now, and we’re meeting later for a barbeque at her new neighbors’ apartment.”

He looked at the sandwich in my hand. “You’re eating now and going to a barbeque?”

“The barbeque’s much later. This is for now. You want half?”

“I can’t eat in the morning. Messes up my stomach. I just drink coffee.”

I unwrapped the first half and started eating. “If you’re having stomach issues, you shouldn’t drink coffee. That will mess you up.”

“Coffee and soda don’t hurt it. Just eating in the morning.”

“How much coffee do you drink in a day?”

“Nine cups or so.”

“Jesus!” I said.

Clyde shrugged. “People leave this place and just pass ‘em to me. ‘Here you go,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Line ‘em up! I’ll keep drinking them.’ Because why not?”

A man walked out of Walgreen’s holding a plastic bag. “Have a good morning,” Clyde said, and the man nodded and continued to the parking lot. Clyde shook his head again, incredulous. I finished my sandwich and crumbled my napkins and threw them away. “I’m off,” I said.

“Alright Jack. Have a good day,” he said.

“Have a good day,” I said.

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