On Encounters with the Homeless
As the train approached, an empty car squealed in front of me. We all know what an empty car on a crowded train means. As we entered the car, I didn't smell anything so bad, but I saw him: A man sleeping in the corner. After the doors closed, people started moving to the other end of the car. A woman sprayed perfume into the air and shared a look with strangers across from her.
Only then did I look closer.
As he was curled up on the seat, I noted 2 shoes, set neatly on the floor. Not throw, not still on the seat, getting everything dirty. Neatly. Like the Japanese do at the edge of a room.
In that moment I saw someone homeless in a way I never have before. This was a clear reminder of something else that happened to me tonight.
I met a man under a bridge.
He has lived in the Upper East Side in the same apt since he was 11. Recently, his mother and father died, and not on the lease, he was evicted. Now he lives under a bridge.
As I started our conversation, I kept my distance. My initial intention was an awkward encounter in which I didn't want to be impolite. I never walked closer than 6 feet from him, although as we spoke, I wished I could be less cautious.
"My girlfriend and I sleep here sometimes."
We stood at the edge of a circular terrace, 50 feet across, a valley surrounded by landscaped flowers and old, enveloping trees. It was completely under water.
"We're lucky we moved the mattress to higher ground before it flooded." Everything sunk in then. He continued to speak, telling me he only has to make it through the weekend, and had some money on the way. "We only have to do this until Tuesday."
The man beneath the bridge asked me what I did. I almost didn't return the question to him, knowing he was homeless. After a hesitation, I did ask. "I'm a plumber," he replied.
"How long," I asked.
I felt foolish for assuming he didn't have a job. I began to see him in a different light, and wished I could think of more thing