Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Gigolo Is Up

After college, I got a job in Chicago. I spent my lunch hours walking along Michigan Avenue. About a week into my job, I noticed someone who shared my habit—a guy whose fashion sense was hopelessly stranded in about 1975. He had a droopy walrus moustache, sideburns, and feathered David Cassidy-style hair. He always wore a dark blue, three-piece suit with flared trousers, a shiny polyester shirt with a whammo-bird collar (open to mid-chest), flashy gold necklaces and a matching bracelet, and zip-up ankle boots. Such a get-up might not have stood out so much in Las Vegas, but in Chicago it was quite arresting.

Now bear in mind that Chicago is a city of 3.5 million. Nevertheless, I saw this guy all the time—usually at lunchtime but in the evenings and mornings, too. I started seeing him in other parts of Downtown as well. He was always alone and always on foot. He never carried anything like a briefcase or an umbrella. He just walked, strangely aloof amid the hordes of shoppers and office workers. I never saw him talk to anyone or even make eye contact. Freaky!

I, of course, found him fascinating and soon formulated a hypothesis to explain his alien presence in Chicago. I decided that he had a gig playing lounge piano in one of the stodgy hotels on Michigan Avenue. My hypothesis, admittedly, had a few holes in it. For one thing, it did not explain why he was so often sighted around lunchtime in full lounge regalia when, surely, his services wouldn’t be needed until late evening. It was the best I could come up with though.

Even after I stopped working Downtown, I still saw him regularly whenever I happened to be Downtown. It was uncanny and seemed to defy the laws of statistics. The last few times I saw him before I moved to Portland, I noticed that his suit (the same one he’d been wearing all these years?) looked ever-so-slightly shabby and that he had aged—but after all, it had been more than a decade since I first saw him.

So last Friday I was in downtown Chicago around 1:00 PM walking with my brother on a nearly deserted path near Lake Michigan. Who should we see coming toward us but the guy! What are the chances of that???!!! He was dressed exactly as he always had been, except the zip-up boots had been replaced with black rubber-soled walking shoes. He looked distinctly down at the heel. His hair was longer than I’d ever seen it (although still feathered), but a breeze that lifted his coif revealed a huge swathe of white hair beneath a superficial layer of dark brown. It looked as if he’d dyed his hair himself and missed a bit (a rather large bit) in the back.

Although my brother had never seen him before, he agreed that this guy was highly unusual and that evening told his girlfriend about him. She later told me that she knows exactly who we saw and that this guy is a gigolo and that “everyone in the graphics arts community knows about him.” Whaaaa? At the time she mentioned this, I was engaged in a cutthroat game of Trivial Pursuit, so it didn’t dawn on me until later how very bizarre her statement was.

A gigolo!!!! Well, call me naive or skeptical, but I think gigolos are an invention of Hollywood. In real life, women do not have to pay for sex. And even if gigolos do exist, this purported “mid-day cowboy” couldn’t possibly have been making his living as a gigolo. His demeanor is so peculiarly otherworldy and lacking in charisma that it would put off even the most enthusiastic/desparate customer. The 30-year-old suit and the sloppy dye job aren’t doing him any favors either.

In conclusion, I have to say that this guy and his raison d’etre remain a mystery, but that seeing him again has reignited my curiosity. I don't know how well I've conveyed just how puzzled and intrigued I am by his steadfast refusal to update his wardrobe and the fact that he and I have crossed paths probably more than 100 times since the 1980s. I will have to cross-question my brother’s girlfriend about the gigolo statement, but I have a feeling that it's one of those instances where speculation gradually evolved to “fact.”


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10:01 AM  

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