Tent City Blues

Kim Smyth

© Copyright 2020 by Kim Smyth

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash.
Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

Beyond the cracked sidewalk, and the telephone pole with layers of flyers in a rainbow of colors, and the patch of dry brown grass there stood a ten-foot-high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint. There was a small shrine at the foot of it, with burnt-out candles and dead flowers and a few soggy teddy bears. One word of graffiti-filled the wall, red letters on a gold background: Rejoice!

Across the street was a ragged encampment known to the locals as Tent City. Emerging from his tent one cold and dreary morning in February of the year 2017, a bedraggled man of about twenty years of age stared across the street at the sign and small shrine and thought to himself, “Rejoice? What the hell is there to rejoice about anyway? Just another lousy day in Tent City.” Rubbing the back of his neck, he walked across the street to the smoking bench beside the shrine and contemplated going back to bed or setting off to forage for food.

His name was Harlan and he considered himself cursed from the day he learned it. His life had not been an easy one, whether that was due to his name or just bad luck in general, he wasn’t sure. He had flunked out of high school about four years earlier, somehow made his way to this encampment and had been here ever since. When he’d first showed up, he’d had to hang around the locals a while, getting to know them before they ever invited him to stay.

His name was Harlan and he considered himself cursed from the day he learned it.

He’d proven himself useful, raiding trash cans and dumpsters and bringing treasures like food just tossed out that morning, or matches he would swipe from local bars. Soon, the self-appointed leader of this here Tent City, (because in Chicago there are many such cities), a man named Dean offered him the tent of a lady who had moved on to greener pastures, the rest, as they say, was history.

Harlan was a white boy, in fact, most of the residents of this tent city were, with a smattering of Latinos and Blacks. Everyone got along well here because they had to, or else. Dean ran a tight ship. No stealing was allowed, nor fighting, and you were expected to get out every day and scrounge for whatever you could bring to the table or find yourself kicked out. He did his best to try and belong, he was quiet but listened and observed everything around him. He may not have been book smart, yet he was savvy in the ways of the world. He stayed on Dean’s good side by providing whatever he could find.

Dean himself watched over the entire encampment, looked after the residents, provided what he could to the neediest and gave protection to the women. He was around fifty Harlan guessed, said he was ex-military, but his family had left him when he lost his job, so he had wandered down to this park on the east side of Chicago and set up his own tent. The rest had grown around him, he’d been here around ten years or so he said. Dean was in pretty good shape, just starting to gray around the temples and always wore a cap of some kind, usually a drab green one like the guys in the Army wore. He had kind eyes, but the set of his mouth let everyone know he took no BS from anyone.

Harlan inquired.

Harlan wandered the streets for miles every day, trying to see whom he could befriend or steal from, finding himself in a different neighborhood every week or so. Most people worked that lived in Cook County, or were enrolled in school, yet he stumbled on some stay-at-home moms occasionally. Unfortunately, they got to know his face after a bit, his begging had become tiresome, so they mostly kept the doors shut tight. He was persistent though, and most of the time it paid off. He wished he had a regular, someone he could count on to lend a hand, some supplies, or a snack every now and then. Maybe even find a friend.

Eventually, he met a kid who had been playing hooky from school, riding his skateboard in his driveway. “Hey” Harlan had called out to him. “Hi,” the kid said back. “What’s your name?” Harlan inquired. The kid said, “Scotty, what’s yours?” Harlan told him his name and asked him why he wasn’t in school. Scotty told him he just didn’t feel like going, so when his folks left for work, he decided he was skipping for the day. Harlan asked him if he had any food he could spare and Scotty had gone in the house and brought him a slice of cold, pepperoni pizza on a napkin. They had sat on lawn chairs in the kid’s driveway and gotten to know each other.

From that day on, Scotty was known only to Harlan as “pizza kid.” He told him that he lived in Tent City, where it was located, and to come and see him sometime and he’d show him his rare collection of baseball cards, the only worthwhile thing he had in his possession. Scotty promised he would come to visit, maybe after school one day, or on the weekends. He loved baseball and was anxious to see Harlan’s collection.

From that day on, Scotty was known only to Harlan as “pizza kid.”

This little friendship had not escaped the eyes of Dean. That guy saw everything. He didn’t care really if there was no breaking the rules, you could bring a friend to visit. He just couldn’t understand what Scotty saw in Harlan, except that maybe they were close in age. Scotty was clean-cut, polite, and from the “right side of the tracks.” Harlan was scruffy, long-haired and quiet. He didn’t care much about his personal hygiene. Dean figured everyone needed a friend though, so he didn’t push the issue.

Harlan was friends with a few other residents in Tent City, but not many. He’d met a lady named Francine who had a toddler boy of about three. He kind of watched over her made sure no one stole her stuff when she went out foraging every day. Some days they would walk to the soup kitchen around the corner for a bowl of hot soup and a cup of hot, black coffee. You learned to like it when that’s all there was. They had shared their sad stories with each other. That’s all anyone in Tent City really had anyway.

Francine had survived a brutal marriage of about 4 years, however, when her husband threatened to whip her child, she gathered a few belongings and snuck off in the dark of night. She stayed in a shelter until they kicked her out, she had not been able to find work or a sitter for Darian, her son, so she had to move on. That’s how most people wound up in this park Harlan had said. They weren’t bad people, just down on their luck. Francine had considered herself lucky she got away from her abuser, a Cuban with a horrible temper, she knew a tent was not the best home for her and her child, yet it would have to do until she could arrange something better.

Tent City was in Calumet Park and was arranged in rows of ten to a row. They all faced the concrete wall across the street yet had zippers to close against the harsh elements of the Illinois winter. Each resident was provided with a cot and a tent. The rest they had to figure out for themselves. There was greenery around, the park was home to many species of trees, a hedgerow here, a few bushes there. It provided a small bit of protection from the elements. Dean walked the rows daily, checking on residents, tending to the ill, sharing supplies he somehow managed to procure from his vast network of connections.

Harlan remembered the night Francine had wandered up to the park, carrying a heavy backpack and pushing Darian in a stroller. He and Dean had been across the street on a bench next to the wall with its shrine, they had been sharing a smoke when Francine approached. She’d stopped when she saw them from her spot on the sidewalk. “You got any place for me to stay Mister?” She had asked Dean. Harlan recalled how frightened she had seemed, she was literally shaking, and doubt was written all over her face. Taking a step back, she looked ready to bolt if Dean had said no. She was pretty, she had skin like Halle Berry and looked about as fit. Her eyes were haunted though, he could tell she’d seen her share of bad times.

Dean and Harlan looked her over, bent their heads and came up with a plan. Dean said, “I’ll shack up with him for the night, nodding his head at Harlan, and you can take my tent. We’ll get you set up right tomorrow. “Oh, thank you so much!” Francine had gushed, tears streaming down her face. She had been so scared she would not find anywhere to shelter her baby. “It’s ok lady, come on, let me move my stuff and you two can get settled for the night.” Cautiously, warily, Francine followed him. She did not trust strange men much, yet literally had nowhere else to go.

Dean took them to his tent which was at the very end of row one, not far from where he and Harlan had been sitting across the street. His was the only two-man tent in the encampment, something he got from an old Army buddy back in the day. Moving his stuff off the cot, he left her the bedroll, a couple of bottles of water, and bade them goodnight. Francine sat in stunned silence at the man’s generosity. She had known nothing but fear and violence for the last four years. “Thanks again”, she said as Dean left the tent. “See you tomorrow.” was all he said back.

The next day Dean showed up at her tent around mid-morning asking if they were up. “We are now!” Francine had answered. Dean asked to come in and handed her a bedroll and showed her to another tent, on the opposite end of row number two. Miraculously, it had been vacated in the night. No one ever found out what became of the former occupant, Harlan guessed he’d gotten a better opportunity somewhere else. That’s how it was in Tent City, people came and went, sometimes places at the local shelter became available, other times people’s family helped. It was an ever-evolving community. Dean had connections with the local VA, that was how he came to be able to provide the tents and bedrolls, sometimes water, food, matches, and socks. Whatever deals could be made, Dean tried his best to provide.

On the other side of town, in the neighborhood where pizza boy lived, he had woken up the day after meeting Harlan to the sound of whining outside his bedroom window. He had peeked through the blinds to see a scruffy looking small dog of some curly-type breed shivering between the bushes under his window. He threw on a robe, walked outside and scooped her up, and carried her into his garage. She was small in stature, with many different colors of fur-brown, white, black, tan. She had white whiskers and one white paw, she looked malnourished and like she had not been brushed in a month. “C’mon little lady, let’s get you warm.” She was shivering from hunger or cold, Scotty wasn’t sure.

He would have to keep her hidden from his folks, he thought, so he found a box, lined it with an old blanket, and set her inside. He sat stroking her until she calmed, then went to find a bottle of water and something to feed her. When he returned, she looked up at him from the box with huge scared-looking eyes. He picked her up and twirled her around saying, “What’s your name, little lady? Where did you come from?” She whimpered a bit, yet her shaking did not subside. Scotty looked her over and declared, “I think I’ll call you Rainbow, for all of your blended colors.” He carried her as he searched the garage for something soft to cover the box with, once he located some items to make her comfortable, he carried her back to the original box he’d set the blanket in. It was too small to put dishes in for food and water, so he took a different tack.

When the ride ended, she was lifted again. The kid slid her body onto a soft pile of clothing among the boxes in the garage. He pulled an old coat over the top, creating a cave that emanated the sweetness of old ladies who frequently powdered themselves—a light rose motif that played ironically well in the deep recesses of Rainbow’s ancestral brain. The pizza kid lifted her head to help her lap water from a hubcap. He broke bits of pepperoni and crust into bite-sized pieces and left them where her tongue could reach them. Much later, she heard him practicing his orations like songs. Like monks chanting in the distance, they were a comfort.

Scotty left the dog for the moment and ran all the way to Tent City to tell Harlan the news. His tent was still zipped so he quietly scratched on the canvas and said, “Harlan! Get up, I gotta tell you something!” Harlan emerged, bleary-eyed and groggy. “What’s all the fuss, Gus?” Scotty giggled and said, “I got me a stray dog and I’m hiding her in my garage. Want to come and see?” He pulled him along, telling him the story of how he found the mutt he’d named Rainbow for all the different colors of fur she had. “You sure she doesn’t have the mange, right?” Harlan asked as they walked. He itched just considering the possibility. “I don’t think so,” replied Scotty.

Harlan for his part wanted nothing to do with a stray dog, but if coffee or pizza was available, he was all ears. “Ok, Ok!” He laughed and let himself be dragged all the way to Scotty’s neighborhood. “Say, when we get there, you think you could spare a piece of pizza or a cup of something hot?” “Sure, sure,” said Scotty, “But first I want to show you the dog!” Fifteen minutes later, with a cup of soup in hand, Harlan and Scotty stared down into the sad eyes of a very sick dog. He thought it was a Terrier of some sort, yet he wasn’t up to speed on all breeds of dogs. Swallowing hard as he looked at her condition, Harlan felt he should warn Scotty the outlook was grim.

Um, I don’t know how to tell you this buddy, but she doesn’t look so good.” Scotty visibly recoiled and said, “Aw, don’t say that man. She just needs some TLC. Maybe I can even get my folks to help nurse her back to health.” “Yeah, good luck with that,” Harlan said. “Listen, I’d help if I could but I gotta get back. Got a new lady showed up with a kid and she needs stuff too.” He thanked pizza kid for the soup and asked if he could spare anything for Francine and the baby. Scotty looked around the boxes in the garage, stacked a few and found some old clothes to put in them. He handed them to Harlan and said he would see what else he could find and bring it down later. Harlan thanked him and made his way back to camp. He felt somewhat sorry for Rainbow and hoped Scotty could save her and keep her. If the boy’s parents were anything like his had been, the odds were not in his favor. He liked pizza boy though, so he hoped for the best.

When he got close, he saw Francine and Dean swapping stuff into each other’s tents, as he was helping her get situated in her new home. Harlan approached and said, “Morning Francine, my friend offered these here clothes and a few boxes to get you started. “Thank him for me, will you? That was ever so nice. Right now, I’m going to get down to the soup kitchen and find something for this boy to eat.” Darian was currently pitching one heck of a fit, and Francine looked at Harlan with apologetic eyes. Harlan told her it was not a problem and shuffled on out of her tent.

That was not all, she would need to find much more to take care of a three-year-old that was barely potty trained. ‘One thing at a time, Francine’ she thought to herself. She just could not believe her luck that a tent had opened, and she would have a safe place of her own. Her husband would never think to look for her here. Dean and Harlan were truly godsends. For now, though, her only concern was food, and maybe some extra blankets so Darian would have his own place to sleep, a cot was too small for the two of them. Perhaps someone at the soup kitchen could help her find a few things to tide her over. She knew that was optimistic, but one could hope, right?

One morning, all four of them, Dean, Harlan, Francine, and baby Darian headed out for the soup kitchen together and that is where Francine and Harlan learned the story of the shrine by the concrete wall. It hadn’t always been painted to say “Rejoice.” That had been more recent. The shrine was for a child that had been killed in a drive-by, while some kids from a neighboring community were playing on the lot in front of the wall. Dean hunched over his bowl of steaming, hot soup and told them the sad story.

The kids had just been playing stickball, minding their own business when this car drove up and fired into the group and then drove off. No apparent reason. Who does that???” Harlan had his own opinion but kept it to himself. He had seen his share of gang bangers in his life. They didn’t need a reason; they were just pure evil. Dean had told them it was lucky only one tragedy had come of it. The victim had been an eight-year-old boy, an innocent child. Francine and Harlan stared at Dean as he related the story, they were properly horrified at the tale. “Now Mr. Dean,” Francine started, “I have to say that concerns me quite a bit. I feel horrible for that child and I’m afraid for my own once he gets older if we have to worry about crazy fools and such!”

Well it ought to concern you, Miss,” Dean answered, “But I don’t know what we can do about it. We do what we can to keep each other safe, you can’t account for a random act of violence, these are the mean streets of Chicago, remember?” Francine nodded her head and looked down into her soup. She would have to figure out somewhere else to be soon. As if reading her thoughts Harlan said, “I don’t figure you’ll be around long anyway, what with that extra mouth to feed. You need to find a job and a better place to stay, am I right?”

Francine agreed with that all right. Just where to find a job was the issue. Who would care for Darian, and how would she get to work anyway? Where in the world was she going to live, if not here? These were all problems she needed to solve as quickly as she could. Maybe if all three of them put their heads together, they might come up with a plan. Dean had resources and Harlan had some friends. She told them her thoughts and soon the ideas started flowing.

Harlan suggested that maybe she ask someone right here at the soup kitchen about volunteering her time. No, it wouldn’t be a paid gig, but maybe they had some connections and after she earned their trust, they might have some ideas about a real position somewhere in the neighborhood. Maybe she could find houses to clean or old folks that needed a caregiver. Dean told her to check out the local VA and see what they could offer her in the way of resources. He also knew a few folks that might have extra blankets and other supplies she could borrow.

Well, aren’t you two just a wealth of information?” Francine said after sipping her awful brew. “Maybe I can teach them how to make a decent cup of coffee too.” The guys just looked at her and laughed a knowing laugh. “Not likely,” Dean quipped. “Why don’t you leave Darian here with us and go on over and talk to Madge. She runs the place anyway. Right over there at the doorway to the kitchen. See her standing there with the ladle in her hand?” Dean thought it was odd that Darian was still in a stroller at his age, yet he kept that opinion to himself. Maybe it was just easier for Francine to transport him this way.

Francine cast a wary eye over at Madge, then back to Dean and Harlan. “Well, if you’re sure you don’t mind.” After tucking him tighter in the stroller, Francine told Darian to sit tight with the guys and she would be right back. She timidly made her way over to Madge who turned her soulful brown eyes to her as she approached. For twenty minutes or so, they discussed her situation, and when Francine walked away, she had a new respect for Madge and the other volunteers, as well as a job if she wanted it. Madge didn’t have much help and the people she did have looked pretty worn out.

Madge told her she could start tomorrow and at the end of her shift, she would give her a box of supplies like paper plates, cups, and plastic cutlery. She also knew a lady that could watch Darian while she worked her shift, she would introduce them before she left with Dean and Harlan. She said she lived across the street from the soup kitchen and watched a few other volunteer’s babies. Francine could not be more grateful. She just could not believe her luck, or was it her faith in God that helped her situation?

When the trio got back to Tent City, they were surprised to see the pizza kid waiting for them on the bench by the shrine, a box of goodies sat at his feet. Harlan ran ahead to see what he had brought and squealed with excitement for Dean and Francine to “come and take a look-see.” “Glad to make your acquaintance, “Scotty said as he reached for Francine’s hand. Dean nodded hello as he walked up. Scotty’s mom had packed the box with blankets and clothing, baby wipes and diapers, bottles and a few toys for Darian. Francine leaned in with obvious amazement. She looked from the box to Scotty and slowly shook her head.

I don’t know how to thank you,” Francine said as tears filled her eyes. “Mama said don’t worry about it, she went around to some of the neighbors and they gave what they thought might help.” “Oh, my goodness, this is too much.” Francine thanked him profusely, and Harlan assisted her with the box back to her tent, then left her to sort it all out. Running back to the bench and Scotty, he shook his hand and thanked him as well. “Mama also told me to tell her that there is a lady that lives down the street from us, needs her house cleaned once a week if Francine is interested.”

Pondering this new bit of information, Harlan thanked pizza boy and slowly made his way to Francine’s tent. If he told her the news, would she still volunteer at the soup kitchen? Maybe he would suggest she start there before speaking to Scotty’s mom, or, maybe she would find a way to do both!!

Kicking rocks and pulling his coat tighter against the cold wind, he decided to have an honest discussion with her and feel her out on the subject. Francine got wide-eyed at the thought of paid employment, yet already felt committed to helping at the soup kitchen. After all, Madge had offered to help her out with the supplies and all.

Let me sleep on it, that always helps me make a tough decision.” Harlan thought that wise, yet still felt skeptical. Realizing he felt that way made a light bulb go off in his own head. As he left Francine’s tent, he decided to go talk to Madge himself and see if he could help in any way. Maybe he really cared about someone other than himself. Maybe, this would make him feel better about himself, raise his self-esteem.

Arriving at the soup kitchen about fifteen minutes later, he found Madge running around like a chicken with its head cut off. “Hey Madge,” he hollered. “What you want child, can’t ya see I’m crazy busy?” “Uh, yes ma’am, I was coming in to see if I could be of help to you somehow.” “Child! Bless your heart! Yes, sir indeed, I could use you right this minute!” Harlan felt his chest swell while simultaneously feeling a bit nervous. Rushing to her side, he asked, “What can I do, where do you need me to go?” “Well, I would love you to death if you got on that soup line, it’s very simple, just ladle the soup into the people’s bowls that's it. I’ll check up on you in a little while.”

Well that’s easy,’ Harlan thought to himself. He had no idea how standing in line for hours ladling soup might affect him, he just got in line and went to it. Seeing all the faces of the hungry being fed, made him feel useful and productive. No, it didn’t pay, yet he got a sense of satisfaction from it anyway. As he spooned steaming hot soup into heavy-duty paper bowls, he watched the faces of those receiving it. Some looked grateful, some looked blank, and others actually looked entitled. He just couldn’t figure people out these days.

As he worked, he got a fabulous idea. What if he asked pizza boy to come volunteer, and what if his mom would think volunteering for the soup kitchen meant he could keep his new furry friend? He decided right then and there to ask Madge when his shift was over if Scotty could be used here. Yes, he was just a kid, however, he might be handy in the kitchen, helping folks to a table, taking out the trash…. who knew??

Madge didn’t want to overwhelm Harlan on his first day, so she checked on him after forty-five minutes and asked him how he was feeling. “Excited!” Harlan replied. “This is amazing helping folks like this. And I have an idea I want to ask you about.” Madge’s face lit up as he spoke. “What is it, child?” “Well, I was wondering if you could use some more help. My friend, his name is Scotty, but I call him pizza boy, got a sick, stray dog he’s hiding from his parents. Anyway, I was thinking what if he could volunteer here to keep Rainbow and help you out in the process?”

Scratching her head in wonderment at this new side of Harlan, Madge just looked at him. “Child, you are full of surprises today. How long you been coming here, not once did you ever consider helping. And now look at ya. Full of ideas. Well, I think that’s a conversation for you, your friend, and his parents to have first. Then you come back and see me if they give him the okay.”

That sounds great, Madge! I’ll go see him right after I leave here. In fact, if you’re done with me for today, I could go right now.” “Yes, yes honey-child, you go on. Can I count on you to be here tomorrow, say eleven o’clock?” “Absolutely!!” Harlan was so excited; he nearly ran out with his apron on. Laughing at himself, he took it off and handing it to Madge he said, “See ya manana!!” Madge just shook her head and laughed.

Running all the way to Scotty’s house, Harlan was full of joy. He never knew he could feel this way and marveled at himself for waiting so long to become a volunteer. He so hoped his idea would go over with pizza boy, he never even thought of the possibility that the scheme wouldn’t work. Arriving at Scotty’s house, he rang his bell and as he stood on the porch, he was unprepared to see a very depressed looking Scotty open the door. “Hey man, what’s up?” he said in an upbeat way. Scotty looked at him with sad eyes and told him his mom found out about Rainbow and was not supportive at all.

Hey, man. Don’t worry about it, I got a great idea. Can I come in and tell you about it?” “Sure, sure.” Scotty said, backing up to let him in. Harlan had never been in their living room before. “Wow, this is a nice house, man.” “Thanks.” Scotty said, still looking down. “How IS Rainbow anyway?” Harlan inquired. “That’s the problem,” Scotty told him. “Mom said we don’t have the money for a sick dog in the house.” “Aww, man. Well listen up, I’m volunteering down at the soup kitchen and I thought that maybe you could ask your mom if you could do it too to earn Rainbow’s keep. Whaddya think?” Scotty brightened for a moment and asked, “What would I do? Do you think your idea will work? You ain’t never seen my mom when she’s mad, man. I don’t know.”

Harlan thought about all this and said, “What if I stay and talk to her with you? I can tell her how good it feels to help people and maybe she will think it’s so nice she will let you do it.” “Yeah, that does sound nice,” pizza boy said, “but how will volunteering help pay for Rainbow to get well?” “Aww, man. Well, I hadn’t thought about that.” Together they waited for Scotty’s parents to arrive. They checked in on Rainbow who was looking as lethargic as ever, then Harlan told pizza boy all about how Francine was going to work there and how that gave him the idea to do it, to how good it made him feel to be helping out. Soon Scotty’s mom walked in the door and he about knocked her down in his excitement to ask the questions.

Barbara, Scotty’s mom, calmed him down and said, “Let’s go sit down and talk about it. Harlan, would you like something to drink?” He politely declined to which Barbara looked mildly shocked. “Ok, what is all the hubbub about?” Both guys started talking at once and Barbara couldn’t help but smile her amusement at the excitement pouring out of both. “My goodness! Well, I’m not sure if that is doable, but I promise I’ll discuss it with your father. In the meantime, I think you should go and look for another home for Rainbow, just in case. Maybe you should ask at the pound, they might know someone with the means to help her. I also think that you should really think about this volunteer job as an opportunity to better yourself, regardless of the outcome. Helping those who have it worse than you is a noble cause.”

Scotty looked dejected but went along as she’d asked. First, he and Harlan went to the soup kitchen and asked Madge if she could use him, in case his mom agreed. She said of course, and they chose a time that would work for him, like after school a couple of days a week. Then the guys walked down to the pound, a good five blocks from the soup kitchen. Scotty explained his situation and they said sorry, they did not need another dog to take care of now. Back at Scotty’s house, they found Barbara and Scotty’s dad, Blaine, sitting on the couch looking serious. “Hey, guys. What did you find out?” Harlan spoke up and said that Madge could use Scotty after school a couple of days a week. Then Scotty told his parents the pound was a no go. Looking at his sad face and then at each other, Blaine said, “I think it’s wonderful you want to volunteer Scotty. Let’s start with a trial run, I will take Rainbow to the vet and you can keep her in the garage until she gets well. However, the minute you shirk in your responsibilities, out she goes.”

The boys hugged each other with excitement. “Thank you, sir,” Harlan said, you don’t know how happy Madge is gonna be to have three new helpers at the soup kitchen!!” Blaine smiled at Barbara and said, “Scotty’s mother is very persuasive.” Then he winked. Harlan smiled and said to Scotty, I’ll see ya soon, man. I gotta go tell Francine she’s gonna have some company! Dean is gonna be so proud of all of us too!” With that, he practically flew all the way back to camp, barged in Francine’s tent and said, “Have I got good news for you!!” Later, after sharing the story with Dean who was thrilled as well, Harlan started across the street for a well-earned smoke and a rest on the bench. As he looked at the Rejoice! sign once again he thought to himself, ‘Now I get it.’ He lit up and sat for a while, pondering his decisions in the last two days. As he puffed, he watched all the folks moving around across the street. Now he didn’t feel quite so much like his days were crappy here, now that he had dreams, and a sense of purpose. He had learned that life is what you make it, and along with his new friends, he had a chance to make his better. Rejoice indeed!

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