I was biking fast down Damen last Saturday night when I heard a siren. I turned and saw an ambulance behind me. The siren seemed louder than usual, perhaps to get the crowds on Damen and North to scram so the EMT guys could do their job. I had a party to go to, so I kept going. I started to smell something rotten, or maybe fecal, or both. I thought nothing of it; big cities are full of terrible smells as scattered as Midwestern thunderstorms. I’ve gotten used to them. The smell grew worse, but it didn’t matter – I just wanted to clear Wicker Park and the congestion and get to my friend’s event.
Wicker Park is such a noisy spectacle, especially on weekends. Guys mounted on unicycles juggling flaming stuff, lines like tentacles leading out of every bar and restaurant and venue, cabs honking and honking and honking at wasted college kids who are waving them down or maybe waving at their buddies across the street and blocking traffic which causes the cabs to honk and honk and honk some more. But this is every night I’ve ever spent in Wicker Park. It’s all just noise to me. I was taught at a young age that to assimilate in big busy cities, you stare straight ahead, look like you’ve lived there several lifetimes, and look like nothing happening around you is anything new. But I’m a writer – I have to take notes.
So that’s what I did. I biked straight ahead and took notes. I took note of crowds and traffic to avoid collisions; I took note of how busy Big Star is on Saturday nights, and now know to never take friends from out of town there on weekends; I took note of a middle-aged-looking black man lying facedown on the sidewalk, a dark substance orbiting his head; I took note of the few people standing a few yards from him, some scrunching their faces, others talking in conjecture; I took note of the smell subsiding a few blocks up and the ambulance’s siren stopping. I kept going, staring straight ahead.
When I got to the party, I thought about telling someone what I’d seen, but decided it would be disrespectful so soon after I’d seen it; besides, who brings up seeing a dead body at a party?
I checked the news online a few days later, taking a break from a copywriting assignment. I learned that a man had been shot in the head and killed Saturday in Wicker Park. The thing is, though, the man was 19 years old, killed early Saturday morning, two blocks over, two weeks earlier.
Maybe my guy wasn’t even dead. Maybe my guy was just wasted and fell over and busted his head open on the sidewalk, which would explain the blood, and shat himself, which would explain the smell.
Maybe he’s okay after all.
I pushed the matter aside, reopened my Excel document, and got back to work.