Today, a story in the Free Press of “a person dressed in women’s clothing” found shot to death near Woodward and McNichols in Detroit.   Neighbors say the area is “plagued with prostitution … women prostitutes and prostitutes who are men dressed like women” and that made me remember.

In 1980s Chicago along Madison Street were ‘heshes’.  That’s pronounced he-she with an ‘s’ for the plural.  Men dressed like women.  Black men picked up by white men who would drive into the neighborhood, Chicago’s Near West Side, and then drive away with a shehe.

This was a regular thing.  Gail got so incensed that one day she began writing down license plate numbers thinking that she would blow this thing wide open probably with the help of the newspapers, TV and radio stations, Mayor Washington, etc.  Never got to it.  Though she did compile a fairly impressive list. 

What to do?  For a season we held meetings on the sidewalk outside our front door on Madison Street, just east of Ogden.  With a little public address system we preached, prayed, sang.  It’s a form of Salvation Army activity known among Army oldtimers as an open air meeting.  Our location was perfect.  Plenty of people to harass/bless with our open air.  It got to the point where a pimp warned us to stop it or else.  Made us nervous.

Talking about pimps, there was a summer afternoon one with his entourage stopped to harass us as we conducted outdoor Bible school for young people across Ogden to the west in Union Park.  Then it turned into a semi-meaningful conversation.  He shared that he had attended Bible school at the Salvation Army.  Memorized Bible verses, lots of them, maybe it was a hundred verses.  He even recited some of them to us in Union Park.  I remember us saying later ‘a lot of good that did’.  Maybe if he had lingered we would have made him a teacher.

Back to Madison Street …

One evening after programs, Gail and our children were at the building waiting for me to return with the van after dropping off children in the neighborhood.  When I returned Gail was excited and a little shook up.  She had watched a drama in our sprawling overgrown neglected parking lot behind the corps building.  The lot was surrounded by old rusting wire fence.  It made for a very effective World War I battlefield.  That fence had trapped two heshes trying to escape some young white guy driving an SUV trying to run them over.  Gail said it was horrifying and hilarious.  Here were two creatures running for their lives best they could in high heels, dresses (very revealing dresses), wigs, makeup.  Heshes were always, shall I say slender.  Could fool you for a moment at least into thinking, yes, they could walk down the fashion runway.  But now two were frantically running from one side of Verdun to the other, looking for an opening in the fence to get away.

Gail phoned the police who responded with a yawn.  So, she watched, from behind a locked door.  Actually, the way our doors operated, once locked you couldn’t open them if you wanted from either inside or outside without some lengthy mechanical process.  That’s another story.

Then one of the heshes ran up to the door as if ‘HELP!’  All Gail could do was helplessly look.  But for just one second, eye to eye, it was as if looking into death.  It chilled her.

The heshe turned and ran.  The SUV was almost on him/her/it. 

Eventually one slipped through the fence.  And then the other.  The SUV left.  Leaving Gail and our three children standing at the door.

We guessed what probably happened.  The SUV driver thought he was picking up two women.  Surprise.  Thus the scene.

Men dressed like women.  One more story to share another time.

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