Every day, heading to and from work, I cross Ben White at South First. Usually on the way home, I would see Santa. Santa was a homeless guy with a white beard, who often wore a red hoodie pulled up over his head, even in the worst heat.
I mentioned him in passing once to Jason, because I was curious as to why he would do that in summertime. Jason knew who Santa was as his former employer was officed just a block away. Jason had heard that inappropriate clothing was a sign of mental illness. And many mentally ill people can find themselves on the street, this I know.
Every day when driving home, I'd look for Santa. He lived, I finally determined, under a blue tarp in front of Chuck E Cheese on the North East side of the Ben White/ S. First intersection. I think it was supported by a few shopping carts. He'd always be at a bus stop, or walking along the street. He never had the obligatory cardboard sign asking for a donation, and he never seemed much interested in either the cars or pedestrians.
As winter came down, I was a little worried for Santa. Even with all the coats, and the beard to keep him warm... you know?
A while back, when headed into work, I saw someone leaning down to Santa's makeshift home and talking to him. The person wore a plastic ID badge of some sort, and was dressed like a professional. I wondered what might be going on. I'd hoped that it was a homeless advocacy group checking up on him in winter.
Not so long ago, I saw Santa in a new hoodie, walking from the southside of S. First.
And then Santa was gone. It was a few days before I noticed I wasn't seeing him. And then I saw his shopping cart/ tarp home was no longer there. Just a patch of dead grass and some refuse to suggest he'd ever been there.
But every day, both coming and going from work, I'd look for Santa. But every day, I kind of suspected... You know he wasn't the healthiest looking guy. He lived near heavy traffic. Sometimes things happen. Maybe that lady wasn't there to help him as much as I hoped she was...
And then yesterday when I was driving in to work, there was this weird, ghostly image of Santa, sitting, waiting for the bus. It looked like him. Legs out, hood pulled down. But inside, he was a shadow. He was all in white, but inside... was nothing. Someone had made a sculpture of some sort of Santa. Someone else was looking for Santa, too.
The image of the empty hood bothered me. When I go to work, I e-mailed Jason. "Have you seen Santa? I haven't seen him in a while. I think he might be dead."
You don't make statues to homeless guys who've just moved on.
On the way home, I saw the statue was still there, sitting as Santa would in the weather, hood pulled down. But with no Santa inside. Instead, in his arms he held flowers. And people were there, paying respects.
And just like I did every day, I drove home, and I didn't think much about Santa once I was home. Until I woke up this morning, and that image came back to me. The white hoodie statue, with nothing to look back.
This evening Jason sent me this article.
Apparently I am not the only one who looked forward to seeing Santa twice a day as we headed up and back S. First on our way to work and home. Or who wondered what happened to the face we saw every day, but whose name we didn't know... so how are you going to look after him?
I don't know what's become of Santa/ Jerry. I hope the story has a happy ending. Most often, these kinds of stories don't.
It's odd that so many, myself included, felt some sense of confusion when Jerry disappeared. And I am not alone in the sense of loss when I saw the statue on the side of the road.
I am reminded of one morning, now several years ago, when stuck in traffic headed south on Lamar beneath the train tracks just before 5th street, I looked at the memorial painted on the support beam for the bridge, the same way I had, literally hundreds of times before.
"Fair Sailing, Tall Boy".
The words had been there as long as I could remember. Even when the bridge was repainted, the memorial graffiti found its way back to the bridge within a week.
Some days things mean more than on other days.
In time the statue of Jerry will be taken away. Or melt in the awful weather we've had the past few days. But I wish it wouldn't. It would be nice to know that the statue can be there for us all to remember Jerry for just a minute every day, just as we watched him with curiosity each day on our way to work. Just checking in to see what he was doing this morning. Or maybe this evening. And to remind ourselves that we maybe should have had more to say to Jerry before he was gone.