Picture it. Harlem. 6:39AM. A downtown IRT #3 train picks me up to my destination, downtown Wall Street. I board as usual, paper in tow, reading about all the moves the Yankees are about to make, how baseball is gonna somehow crack down on steroids, a modern day madam (they still exist!?!) and about another soldier from Brooklyn who died in Iraq.
[Quick aside: Anyone who really knows me will tell you that I'm only scared of three things in life. Fire. Performance mimes that appear at weddings. And Nick Ashford. These are just really, really scary things to me. And truthfully, as bad as fire and mimes are, Nick is probably my greatest fear. And you know why? Because of his hair. Of course there's the weird eyes, the freakish dance moves and the otherworldy almost demonistic voice, but to me, its the hair. The mane, the beard...I cringe just writing this.]
What I will say about the man is that he didn't have that pungent odor that usually clings to NYC homeless people like a scared child to a mother's leg at a mall. Granted, he was no Febreeze commercial, either. But not the usual stink. So here he comes. He goes into the usual blather about nto having any place to be, how he would appreciate anything we have, and yada yada yada...he's in front of me. So I assume the position. NO, not that position. LOL The head-down-in-the-paper-reading-the-article-on-alternate-side-of-the-street-parking-like-Langston-Hughes-wrote-it position. Intense. Focused. Avoiding. Scared of hair-ing. LOL
And you know what he did? He plopped down on the floor in front of me. Slid down the pole, and crash landed by my feet. On purpose. I mean, he was trying to readily get my attention. So it comes down to a test of wills. I.will.win. He does everything short of singing O Danny Boy and Oh Susanna, feverishly jingling the cup o' change in front of me, all the while telling me how much the holidays should be about giving, sharing, of giving to those who have no money.
That...is when I looked up. On some ole "Slowly I Turned..." type stuff from I Love.Lucy. I looked him dead in the place where he eyes would've been if not covered by hair and said, "I have no money."
[And I was serious. Payday isn't until next week and I'm living off of groceries right now. Times are so bad, I refuse to open a bag of salad I have in the fridge because I've labeled it SUNDAY'S DINNER! I used some pennies I had in a jar to pay for the paper this morning. This week, this season, I'm more broke than the ground that helped cushion Michelle's fall that day on 106 & Park. Broke, I tell ya.]
He had the nerve to call me a liar. And we proceeded to engage in a verbal exchange that rivaled The Dozens. LOL
Him: I'm so broke, pigeons stop and give ME bread crumbs.
Me: I'm so broke, I returned carts at the local supermarket so could get the quarters to pay for my newspaper.
This went on for at least 4 stops and we were nearing Chambers Street. Some people laughed, some were non-plused, some told us to pipe down. (Seriously, this old man told us to PIPE DOWN!!! LOL) I was ready to. I was tired of trying to keep up with the beast. I was in a no-win situation. It was just like Panama's post the other day about fighting midgets. Even if I win, I lose. Besides, he had game.
And then he looked at me. And then held out his cup. I thought I had swayed him, made him realize that although homelessness is bad, not being able to eat was the same all over. Thought he empathized with me and was willing to share whatever was in his cup. It looked like he gave me an approving nod, told me to dig in and have a little bit.
So...I did. Came back with a quarter and two dimes. One more nickel and I would've been able to keep my paper all day, even do the crossword puzzle while eating the popcorn I packed for lunch. I felt good--not only did I win the verbal exchange, I got some physical change to boot.
Boy, was I wrong. Before I could deposit the change in my coat pocket, Grizzly started yelling to all within earshot (read: the entire train car) that I had robbed him. ME, non-threatening black guy. Rented Paper, Growling Stomach. All the people on the train turned on me...and contacted the conductor, who promptly turned me in. No one took up for me. All the bleary-eyed passengers on the 6:39 just shook their heads in disgust, that I would have the nerve to take money from a homeless man. Even though he offered it. Or did he? Was I too caught up in my victory haze that I didn't think that maybe he didn't believe a word I said and was still begging for change? Why didn't I think that maybe, just maybe, he thought I should pay him since he whupped my ass in The Dozens?
Oh, the humiliation. I had a Malcolm X moment: I was bamboozled. Run amok. Led astray. I didn't land on 45 cents, the 45 cents almost landed me in jail.
I talked to the cops. Explained to them what happened. Gave back the 45 cents. They reprimanded me for talking to him in the first place, took my newspaper, and I walked down the hill to work, knowing that I will never board another 3 train without the memory of being punked by Hairy Dozens, Master Bum.
I should've known better than to think that you can get something in life for nothing. Today, I learned the following--never underestimate the power of a hairy man.
I hate you, Nick.Ash.ford. Sigh.
posted by Will at 5:53 AM
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Here is where I will blog my daily travails on the New York City subway system...Something I'm dubbing The Homeboy Journals.
Will.Writer.Live from Harlem.Lefty.Thoughtful.Determined to figure out life.One day.Rambling into reality in the meantime...
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