One Good Thing
I was catching up on some paperwork at one of the bars last week when I took a break to grab a sandwich at Subway. I had just sat down at a table to eat when I noticed someone looking at me through the window. She was a large black woman and she was smiling and waving. She was obviously hoping to hustle me for money, so I looked back down at my sandwich and pretended that I hadn’t really seen her. But it was too late: out of the corner of my eye I could see her heading for the door into the restaurant. “Great,” I thought, “she’s gonna hustle me right here at the freaking table.”
I quickly ran through what I’d say: “Sorry, I have no change,” or “I’ll get you a sandwich on my way out,” depending on where my mood was in the next few seconds.
She walked straight for my table.
“Alfredo! How you doin’ baby?” she said with a big smile on her face. It took me a second to recognize her.
“Shirley!?!” I sputtered back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you when you were standing outside.”
“That’s okay, baby, I just wanted to say hello and wish you a very happy and prosperous new year.”
“ You look so different – I haven’t seen you in forever. How’ve you been?”
The last time I saw Shirley, about two years ago, was in front of Radio Bar, her usual panhandling spot. Her standard line was, “I’m pregnant and I need money for diapers.” By my estimate, Shirley was pregnant for four years.
Back then she wore a filthy, baggy coat, a sloppy doo rag and her legs were bloated and scabby.
“I’m blessed,” she answered.
Her hair was cut short and stylish, a fringe of gray crowning her forehead. She had lost some weight, was wearing lipstick, and was dressed in a plain, but clean sweat suit. The one bit of bling she did have – and if you’re only gonna have one bit of bling, this is the bit to have – was a set of engraved gold grills.
“You look great, Shirley. Healthy, happy.”
She smiled wide.
“I am truly blessed, Alfredo. I just wanted to say hi and thank you and Silvia and everyone for all you done for me when I was down. I’m getting myself right now.” (my bartender Silvia and I were the softest touches when it came to Shirley – I came to love her pregnancy line, especially when I figured out it couldn’t be possible. And in return, she’d come into the bar and give me a head’s up if a late night meter maid was coming by or another street person was bumming cigarettes too aggressively).
“I’ll let you finish your lunch, baby, I just wanted to say hi.”
As I watched her go, my emotions ping ponged. I felt guilty for going to my defensive “I’ve-got-no-change” default mode just because I saw a large black woman waving at me in a shady neighborhood. On the other hand, I felt a moment of genuine warmth and unexpected fulfillment, thinking that the most modest of gestures from me and Silvia and others had actually made a difference to Shirley, and even prompted her to walk into a Subway to thank me.
Happy New Year to you, too, Shirley, and to all our readers!
One Bad Thing
Subway bacon. That stuff is nasty, even by crappy bacon standards. It’s super fatty – which might be tolerable if it was burnt to a crisp – but because it’s heated up in that industrial strength microwave, it comes out soggy and nasty. I normally get plain turkey. Don’t know what I was thinking getting the melt. Damn, I try to expand my horizons and see what happens? I get thumped for it.