It was toward the end of one of our infamous date nights. We’d enjoyed a ton of food for very little money at one of the few Chinatown restaurants we had not yet tried. Barry was particularly jubilant at having found a $20 bill on the floor with no one around to claim it. He stuck it in his pocket with a solid plan for after dinner to completely overindulge ourselves with goodies from the bakeries lining the street.
We dodged the snow and slush, darting in and out of the various bake shops, trying to remember which had the best red bean paste buns and who killed it with their sesame balls, Barry sampling everything with his signature excitement over all things edible.
As we headed to the subway to make the trip home (we’d met at Barry’s office to which I had taken the train…so not my thing) we stayed in step with the foot traffic through downtown, holding hands both as a show of affection and protection from wiping out. As we scooted past a doorman escorting a guest into an upscale hotel, a man on the street joked with Barry, “Hey, man, whatchya doing with my girl?” Always affable Barry, stealing a page from my playbook responded, “Want her?” Laughter ensued.
As we engaged in friendly banter, the stranger shooed us past the hotel doors, mumbling something about “the rich folks at the hotel getting mad if he loiters around.” We stopped a few feet away and got to know Eddie. His first remark, “Please don’t judge me.”
He sleeps under a bridge. He has a son in college. His wife overdosed, although he did not specify on what. On at least a half-dozen occasions he looked to the sky and thanked Jesus for what he still had left.
“We are no different” he said and we agreed.
I asked him what happened.
Eddie, it turns out, lost his temper and hit someone with a shovel. We didn’t pry, but gathered that his victim did not fair well from the attack. Upon telling us, he dropped his gaze, waiting for us to judge. We felt empathy rather than judgement.
He had an easy smile, and, if we are being honest, the not so faint smell of alcohol on his breath. I asked him if he was hungry. He responded silently but clearly and Barry, without fanfare or discussion, slid him the $20 bill he’d found earlier in the evening. So, too, did he give him a warm hat that he had in his pocket. Eddie’s eyes shifted, dropped and glistened as he graciously accepted the offer.
Much to my pleasure and amusement, he’d been good-naturedly ribbing Barry about my fantasticness and his (Barry’s) incredible good fortune in landing me. Silently noting my arrogance at the banter, he did the dude thing and tossed Barry a (well deserved) bone: “You know something, Julie, if I were to put on a dress, I would look better than you.” (Well that stung, but I have to give him props for having impeccable timing.) Again, we all burst out laughing, strangers in the street.
As I always do, I asked if we could take a picture. He happily obliged, thanking us for treating him like a human and for bringing joy to his life. As I was about to snap the photo he joyfully announced, “Just remember, Julie, once you go black you never go back.”
He said we made his day. He actually made ours.