Carrie and I boarded the #22 bus the other night, having just completed a performance of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. We both live on the north side and often ride the same bus homeward. We were both kind of exhausted so there wasn’t more than a smattering of conversation between us that night. A little old lady boarded and sat about ten feet away, facing us, and I mean “little” and “old” quite literally. In spite of the cold February weather, she wore low boots with no apparent socks or stockings. A tattered, wrinkled hat covered her head, hanging low over her eyes. She could be almost completely described with two adjectives – rumpled and preoccupied. She looked as if she might be homeless, and maybe even a little kooky. This was perhaps an unfair snap judgment on my part, but that’s what I saw. In spite of her head covering, I soon became aware that she was eying us both very carefully. It was obvious that something was on her mind, and I expected her to say something at any moment. As it turned out, I didn’t have long to wait.
“Are you two actors?” Her voice sounded kindly and interested. I answered, as Carrie was nearly asleep.
“Yes we are.”
“Have I seen you in anything?”
“Well, we’re just coming home from performing in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding.”
“Oh, I saw that years ago!”
“Oh, you probably didn’t see us in it then. I’ve only been in it for three years and she just joined the show.”
She raised her left hand, brandishing a play program. “I just saw Desire Under the Elms. It was an excellent production!”
Well knock me down with a feather. I’d just read a rave review of that production a few days earlier. It’s playing currently at the Court Theatre, which is a top-drawer, prestigious local theater company. The review was written by Hedy Weiss, lead critic for the Sun-Times. I mentioned to the lady that I’d seen a good review of it. She nodded vigorously. “Yes, Hedy really liked it. I've always loved that play.”
I mentioned all of this to a coworker at my day job. She informed me that there is a name for this disconnect between one’s initial assessment of an apparent street person and the reality of that person’s life. She referred to it as the “homeless or hip” phenomenon. First I’d heard of it. Apparently, one can make quite a game out of trying to determine which category a given stranger falls into. Of course, one could certainly be both homeless and hip, but I think we’ve all seen that certain type of person whose single-minded desire to be hip drives them to make some, shall we say, extreme choices in their personal style. I’m just happy to have a new diversion on those long bus rides home up Clark Street!
Oh yeah . . . we never really answered the question of whether the lady in question was homeless or hip. Well, we know she's the latter, and I guess we'll just hope she's not the former.