#635: Just Like You

May 18th, 2016

It would be hard not to burst, I suppose, through the doors between cars on a moving ‘L’ train.

Metal clamps, security latches, slamming and rumbling on tracks that bumble north through the city — a saunter or casual stroll through those doors would be a physical unreality. The doors between cars on a moving ‘L’ train slam open, a metal crash saying, “I’m here and I’m going to ask for your money.”

The man who slammed into the car was tall, would have been handsome with a shave and a new set of clothes. What had been a curly top fade before barbers became an unreality was growing out in a way that looked almost fashionable.

You could tell he had been on the street for a while; the plaid pyjama pants he wore had been repaired several times, holes stitched up and patched over because there was no other option. His black tennis shoes were the same.

He burst through the door, took two or three steps and then stopped to gape.

Someone was already working the car.

The other beggar had come from the other end. He was slow and shy, asking for change in a voice so soft you only knew he was begging from context clues. A cup out. Approaching strangers. Calling every man “sir” and every woman “ma’am” or “miss.”

He was older, with a hangdog face peering from under a hoodie. He shuffled silently, without even the ruffle of feet or scraping of pants fabric as he took baby steps north along the car’s corridor.

The southbound beggar in the re-stitched pyjama pants halted whatever plans he had to start his pitch. Whether it was good business or just not impinging on another man’s hustle, the southbound beggar just walked to the ‘L’ car’s main doors and leaned on the Plexiglas half-wall between the door and seats, momentarily becoming just another commuter.

The northbound beggar continued his slow, quiet shuffle. “Excuse me, sir. OK thank you. Excuse me, ma’am. OK thank you.” Life as a whisper.

The normal thing happened. Some pretended not to hear, some chucked him some nickels to keep the peace, some gave the man a “Sorry” as soft, sad and silent as his pitch had been delivered.

The northbound beggar reached the southbound one, looked at him and asked for change.

The southbound beggar with the shaggy curly top fade blinked for a few moments, then shook his head softly.

“I’m out here just like you, man,” he said. “Just like you.”

The northbound whisper of a man didn’t understand for a moment, didn’t get that he was begging from a beggar. Then, it took.

I think he thanked the other man — it was still impossible to hear him — then wandered off, shuffled north from the moment of interaction with his only coworker.

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