The Subway Samaritan

March 27th 2013

 

He was crazy.

At least I thought so.

At least at first.

You see,

I was standing on the subway train. In a green trench coat.

green trench

Traveling home from Leah’s midtown apartment after an evening chock-full of good conversations and chocolate-dipped bananas when

 

<<<<< A Pelham Bay Park 6 Train Was Approaching The Station

The train stopped.

The doors                                         opened.

 

And I stepped onto the train and into the

only              vacant             seat.

 

 

And almost immediately,

 

I noticed a darting vision kiss the left side of my cheek.

 

It was a man.

He was looking at me.

Then looking away

Then back at me

Then away again.

 

 

And eventually I looked at him too.

And we both smiled.

 

 

He wore a raggedy red hat.

And a big, blue coat.

He had a dark complexion.

With dark eyes.

 

 

 

And a mental disorder.

I could tell.

In his eyes

In his body language.

In his speech.

 

And I noticed it  most when he began to speak to me. Amidst the vibrations of the swiftly moving train that drowned out the stutter in his mumbling. But I heard a little bit. And the little bit was this:

 

“Hi you have you…have….you have pretty eyes…very pretty. I like them…they’re good eyes and and and and I am…I AM a good person who needs people because I am good…I am…I am good.  I am. And sometimes…SOMETIMES people don know that beeeecause they they think because I look like thisss and t-t-talk like this I am crazy. I just like to talk. To people. I like to talk to them, okay? Okay? I’m so s-s-s-sorry.”

 

His raggedy red hat was barely threaded together.

His big blue coat wore aged stains from the city.

His hands

His face

His body

were the product of his estranged cousin, hygiene.

And I liked him.

And I’ll tell you why

He continued to talk

 

“I just like to talk and and also I go. And I buy these grocery bags of f-f-foood. Not for me though. No no…not for me. For the homeless. The people. Those people who who who don’t have homes and then I go to the stores. To the many stores and I put these snacks in bags. Good snacks. And I leave them un-der the seat on the subways. Just in case, j-j-just in case they they find them.”

 

By this time the people across the way were half-smiling in my direction, hoping to make eye contact with the girl in the green trench coat. Eye contact that said “this man is crazy!” And it really wasn’t until I glanced my eyes in their direction that I noticed a small white grocery bag crinkled beneath their feet.

image

  I looked back at the man with the raggedy red hat, and noticed an identical bag wrapped around his fingers, swinging from his  hands. And in the bag I saw a wrapper for ramen noodles, some candy, some juice, some crackers, a few –

“Ladies and Gentleman! I hope you are having a lovely day!”

The familiar tune of the homeless beg echoed throughout the train. The impoverished man stepped onto the subway and began to recite his speech, clutching an empty box under his left arm. And pacing the train from

 

Left 

 

To

Right

He looked terrible.

Even worse than the man in the raggedy red hat.

He was tall and frail with wrinkles that dripped 

down from his eyes.

 

He looked tired. And desperate. Much like all of them looked. And told us a story about how he was homeless. Much like all of them did. He said he didn’t mean any harm. And if we could please please spare some change  then he would really appre-

“S-s-s-stop! St-op! You you don’t have to do that.”

By this time the man in the raggedy red hat had completely stood uP, inadvertently drawing the attention of the entire train. He unraveled the grocery bag from his fingers and handed it to the wrinkle-dripped man. And then he said

 

“I have I have I have been looking for you. And hoping that if I was not he-re. You’d at least find this. P-p-p-please don’t be hungry. And p-p-p-lease don’t beg because of it. Okay? Okay? This is for you.”

 

The wrinkle-dripped man looked at the bag.

And then back at him.

His body was so close to me. Close enough that I could see every scar worn on his face. Every unthreaded stripe

u

     n

r

     a

v

     e

l

     i

n

     g

from his cotton sweater. Every strand of his uncombed hair. All the clothes that were worn unwashed. And he said thank you. No, he yelled it. He yelled:

Thank you. Thank you so much. And may god bless him.

 

And the man in the raggedy red hat told him

He should never beg for something he deserved.

And one stop later – he exited the train.

 

And as soon as he did.

 

The girl in the green trench coat glanced across the train to make eye contact with the rest. Eye contact that said “That was incredible!” But instead saw them laughing. And then I heard a voice behind me. It was a woman. Talking to another woman. The one in front of me wore a feather down jacket. And the one behind me was neatly pinned in a camel-colored coat.

image_1

And then woman in the camel-colored coat

Had light hair

And light eyes

And perfect speech.

 

I could tell when I heard her speak. Amidst the vibrations of the swiftly moving train that drowned out her spontaneous judgments. But I heard a little bit. And the little bit was this:

“What a creep! What kind of creep leaves food for people?! That’s so dangerous! And disgusting. He probably poisoned it for all we know. There are some sick people out there. No way I’d trust a guy like that.”

 

And I couldn’t help but wonder

If I told the woman in the camel-colored coat

That it was me

who left the bags.

The bags of food of ramen and crackers

For the homeless to find.

Just in case.

Would she have said what she said?

 

Would she trust the girl in the clean green trench coat, well-washed hair and perfectly sound speech…instead? And if so, would that be why? Would my appearances and genetically unscathed mindset, make the same deed, a good one? A better one?

 

And wondering how often good deeds are measured in relevance to the person who does them rather…than what they actually are.

 

And why.

When a celebrity performs a good deed

It makes headlines.

 

And why.

When we give back to the community.

It reserves a spot on our resume and a solid pat on the back.

 

And why.

The person who treats you so well

Sits beneath the person who only treats you well sometimes

 

And why.

I would get praised for leaving bags of food on the subway.

But the stuttering man would not.

 

And how unfair that really was.

 

 

And it kind of made me think. About how we live within this not so invisible hierarchy. How 2 people can recite the same line, the same idea, the same action. And how one can go unnoticed while the other turns to gold. How:

 

2 Equally qualified men in business suits can sit down for an interview.

But the better-looking one will walk away with the prize

How 2 people can make the same joke

But the more popular person will get the laugh

How my friend told me the other day that an exec in her office helped her pick up papers that he she had dropped

But never mentioning that the man in the mail room that helped her every day.

 

And how we’ve all been that person once. And how it’s okay to remind ourselves that we really are worth what we do. And everyone else is too.