Alleys & Ruins no. 94, Hallmark (2006, Chicago, IL, 1am)

I’m setting up for Alley no. 94 when a homeless man and woman walk by us and down the alley, stopping at the garbage bin down the alley and visible in the picture. The man pulls the dumpster back and grabs a few large cardboard pieces stashed behind it, taking them around the corner a few feet further up. He re-appears soon after, walking back and past us. A few minutes pass when he returns with a big bag of bread rolls. He stops and asks what we’re taking a picture of and I ask him where he got the bread, since its 1 am.

He tells me a local bakery throws it out. “I feed the rats with it. Look, I gotta keep em away from my wife, cause if I don’t feed em, they get mad and come after us.” He tells us how he tosses the bread over the fence on the other side of the alley, away from their cardboard home, and the rats feed on it.

“I love my wife more than anything and I want her to have a good sleep. I’d do anything for her. Look, I been to jail five times and she stuck with me through everything. I tell you, I’m the luckiest man alive. My wife’s a good woman - she loves me. Ain't that somethin? Look where we live...” he says, motioning toward the alley. “This woman is truly a miracle – I gotta protect her.”

He asks us if we could spare some money and we give him a few dollars. He looks at the money and says, “Hey I wanna give you guys somethin."

He heads for his cardboard home, and returns, giving each of us a big bag of condoms that he got from a nearby mission, The Night Ministry. Mike, Jim and I laugh.

“Why you guys laughin – don’t laugh, man. This gift is from my heart. It’s from my heart.

We stop laughing.“Thanks for the gift, Tyler,” I say. We shake hands and he walks back down the long alley toward his beloved wife. I stare at him and it occurs to me what a lovely light he will be sleeping under tonight. It’s almost a Hallmark picture... but not quite.

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