Identifying the Corpse on the Blue Line’s Third Rail
CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT YOU SAW? I asked the young man in chinos and a dress shirt with short hair. The chinos hung off of him like drapes. The shirt was soaked with sweat down his entire back. His haircut was standard for a Big 10 football fan. He probably graduated from Iowa State. I figured he worked in finance.
“He just kind of, I dunno, fell,” the financier said.
How about you? What did you see? This woman was older but had a younger sense of fashion. Tall, black combat boots (in the dead of summer?), a short black and white plaid skirt, and a black t-shirt with white lettering: I [heart] FARTS. Her eye makeup looked like it’d been applied with a paint roller. She was a hair stylist. The tattoo of a stylist’s shears on her forearm dripping with blood were a dead giveaway.
“He must’ve been ill,” she said.
How do you figure?
“Why else would someone jump onto the third rail like that? Mental illness is a real problem in this country. And we don’t even care. Do you?”
“Yeah. You. You’re an authority figure. Some kind of detective, right? I’m sure you deal with this all the time. You see a lot of mentally ill people, don’t you? Yeah, you do. And do you even care?”
“I think he was drunk.”
I turned around. There were wakes of glistening human coolant running down this woman’s forehead. They were almost as long as her airbrushed and bedazzled fingernails. It was too hot for a weave that thick. She kept tapping at it, itchy from all that sweat spewing out from the top of her head. The nails, the hair — how does she function in this kind of heat? There’s no way she worked a desk job, or any job that requires her to type on a keyboard of any kind.
“I see this shit all the time working for the CTA,” the sweaty woman said. “He’s just some gutter punk.”
“How do you know?” Stylist asked.
“Look at him. All dirty and grimy. Like he ain’t showered in six months.”
“How can you be sure he was a he?”
“What the fuck?” Sweaty CTA swung around to face the voice that belonged to a statuesque woman with a perfectly mussed strawberry blonde high pony.
She was wearing form-fitting white jeans and a dark auburn blazer with the sleeves rolled up. Her white t-shirt underneath had big block letters that read: #METOO. I noticed a small tattoo on her right wrist in the shape of a watch. The band was made up of cursive lettering that spelled out, “time’s up • stronger together • love.”
I asked MeToo, Did you see what happened?
“No. But we can’t assume that this person was a he. Perhaps they threw themselves onto the tracks because they were confused, or tired of being persecuted.”
“Pssht. You’re funny,” Sweaty CTA mocked.
“Maybe,” Financier said.
“How you figure?” Sweaty CTA asked.
“Look at his socks. They’re rainbow. Isn’t that, like, gay or something?”
“It’s not ‘gay.’ It’s LGBTQIAPK.” MeToo said.
“Then he wasn’t a gutter punk,” Stylist chimed in.
“Why? You knew him? Probably,” Sweaty CTA said.
“No, I didn’t. But no gutter punk would wear socks like that. Too clean.”
“What’s a gutter punk?” asked Financier.
“Why do you even live in this neighborhood?” Stylist asked. “Shouldn’t you be in Lakeview or some shit? South Loop, maybe?”
“More apartment for your buck in Logan Square. It’s up and coming, you know. Gotta make investments—”
“I’m going to stop you right there, Chad.”
“How’d you know my name is Chad?”
“Oh, honey, please. There ain’t no one in this city who looks more like a Chad than you,” Sweaty CTA said.
“And I suppose your name is, what, Shawnequa?” Chad said.
“Not cool, Chad,” Stylist said.
“Typical white man,” MeToo said.
Stop. All of you. Did any of you see anything that can help me understand what happened here? Did he stumble? Was it accidental? Was it deliberate? Did someone push him?
“You know, they got cameras. Maybe you try looking at the tapes instead of talking to these fools.”
“He’s talking to you, too,” MeToo said. “Does that make you a fool, too?”
Sweaty CTA cocked her neck back in disbelief. She eyed the other woman up and down then said, simply, “Me, too. Pssht. Yeah, right, Laura. I gotta get to my shift.”
Sweaty CTA walked away before I could get her name and information. I let it slide because if I needed it, I’m sure I could track her down easily enough. I turned to MeToo. Is your name Laura?
“No,” she said defiantly. “It’s Lauren.”
Stylist laughed. Chad was staring at her shirt. Or, rather, staring at the shapes underneath her shirt.
“Can I help you with something, Chad?” she said, catching him.
“What? No. I—”
“Don’t. Just don’t. So typical.”
“Excuse me, officer?”
I turned around and was greeted by an elderly man wearing a light blue denim shirt tucked into dark blue jeans. He had a thin, gray mustache and wore trifocals that kept sliding down his sweaty nose. Yes?
“That person down there? He’s… he’s my son.”
Lauren reached out to hug the man, “Oh, sir! I’m so sorry!” Stylist grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
“He called me. Not long ago. I assume right before he, um, stepped onto… He told me he was going to.”
“Mental illness. I told you,” Stylist said.
“He had been going through some rough patches… He used to work downtown. Did something in finance. I don’t know. I never could understand what he did. I’m an electrician. Proud IBEW union member. Fifty-eight years this October. I’m retired now… He got fired for showing up drunk to work. I guess he had been making a habit of it. Anyway… his wife left him and he started drinking. They had a two-year-old boy. His name was Chad. My grandson. First for us. Then the drugs, heroin mostly. Guess it’s pretty easy to get these days. He’d been living on the street for a while and…”
I’m sorry for your loss, sir. What’s his name?
“Like the president!?” Lauren interjected.
I shot her a look. Stylist verbalized exactly what I meant. “Shut the fuck up, Laura.”
“Why does everyone hate Trump?” Chad asked.
“Shut the fuck up, Chad!” Lauren and Stylist said in unison.
“Whatever. I’m going to be late for work. Sorry about your son, mister. Sucks he had to do it during rush hour.”