Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Walking Dude: What's His Deal?

Last November I made a trip back to Chicago to visit my family and had an interesting encounter, which I documented on my blog. Here’s an abridged version of the entry:

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!

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. 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/desperate 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.”

Last night my brother e-mailed me several links, which made it clear that I am not the only person who has spent years wondering who this guy is. In fact, someone surreptitiously followed him around and made a little film about him called “The Walking Dude: What’s His Deal?” where you can see him in full “shabby Yanni” mode striding through the streets of Chicago, taking care of nonexistent business. It is absolutely fantastic, and I am happy to report that you can view it here. Please do so immediately; it’s only about a minute long. It will be a minute well spent and will leave no question as to why I (and so many others) are fascinated with this guy. Alternatively (if you don’t have broadband) there’s a gallery of stills from the “dudementary” here. And a discussion/speculation (some of it quite hilarious) on this blog and this one, too. Be sure to read the comments.


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