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The man who gives out flowers

The man who gives out flowers

2 of 2 occurrences marked by the author on the coldest Valentine’s Day in NYC recorded history.

It was on Valentine’s Day at about 9pm on the C train, heading towards Brooklyn, clacking all the way and screeching in the turns. A black man about 60 reclining back, long legs spread wide on either side of two giant bags full of recent purchases (a small appliance in one; an inflatable mattress in the other) stacked one on top of the other. The train wasn’t very crowded, so no one cared that he took up so much space. Dressed in a nice coat, with nice black slacks and nice walking shoes. Blue knit cap. Takes a Corona out of one of the bags, opens it quick and starts drinking, hiding it in the open bag between swigs. His underjaw juts a little too far forward. He is tall and though starting to age a little in the face and getting a little paunchy in the middle, still looks pretty strong, sturdy, vigorous. He looks forward beneath his knit cap with a slight pursed smile–like both his eyes and lips purse forward a little in a gamesome smiling.

A heavyset gumdrop-shaped (while seated anyway) black lady; 40ish; light brown skin; with big thighs in tight green sweats (of a substantial fabric and probably with at least tights beneath–there was a heartiness to the outfit that reminded one of a thick layer of blubber). A thick brown jacket coat, open for the train ride and with a light blue hooded sweatshirt beneath. Leaning forward with her elbows on her thighs, one hand holding a nice new athletic backpack, the other holding a clear cup with some milky coffee drink. Looking towards the rubbery subway flooring; tired half-opened lizard eyes; mouth a little compressed, forcing her round, full cheeks out a bit more. A tired person, done for the day.

The man across from her pulls a bouquet of flowers out of one of his bags and presents it to her, gesturing it forward as he asks if she’d like them. Her face lights up. She smiles big and overawed like she’s about to burst out with delighted laughter. But she doesn’t laugh. She accepts the flowers with a big smile. Smells them. “Thank you! Thank you!” He gives a little nod and takes another swig of his beer, which makes her big grateful eyes wobble a bit, but not drastically. “I’m going to put these next to my heart tonight–when I sleep–I’m going to keep them next to my heart.” He, with half-shut cool eyes and a knowing half-smile and half backwards-nod (as in you nod backwards–assenting) says, “be well.” She has a mild Brooklyn accent. She repeats her plan and he repeats, “Be well!”

He finishes that beer and begins another (he drank the last beer in about a minute). She is still smiling over at him, and so she notices the quick beer progression. She’s sitting up a little more now–still leaning a bit forward but no longer with her arms on her shoulders and no longer looking down–looking towards him with a shy, blink-away-and-return smile. Now she pulls her shoulders back and straightens up and looks up and over to him, her gaze arching: “I don’t like beer” she says smiling thin, shaking her head a little from side to side. “Me neither” he says with a pouty smile. “I used to drink that–when I was a teenager–but …” He nods slight, judicious. She turns to one side, looking now down the fuselage, not quite across. At the next spot she looks around from side to side, as if she isn’t sure if this is her stop or not; then she gets off, thanking him again as she leaves, “thank you papi, thank you papi, thank you!–!”

At that stop a tall pretty early-40s thin black woman with high cheekbones and an elegant, shoulders-back, chin-up ease strolls on the subway. She stands by the pole by the door–diagonal to the man with the flowers and the beer. She’s left her faux-fur-lined hood up. He takes out another bouquet and offers it to her. She smiles but with a skeptical twist in her lips, small nose, big eyes: “No!” with that fixed smile through knitted brow and ironic eyes that one gives to a perhaps harmless but still dubious proposal. He, with a slight forward-shrug, puts the bouquet away and sips his beer.

He got off when we got off. I saw it.

Witness: AMW, dramatic recreation: BW; accuracy we can vouch for: not all the details, but something like this.

Two homeless men

Two homeless men

1 of 2 stories from the coldest Valentine’s Day in NYC history.

Sitting there, crowded subway. People squished on either side–arm around your girlfriend and her shiny, slippery, puffy coat; and the wide round thighs and big black coat of the person on your right spilling into your experience, hemming you in, holding you tight. People all along the overhead poles, standing in front of you closer than people normally get, leaning over you, their coats unzipped and faces staring at an ad-lined concaving wall over your head.

A young white man enters by the door across and eight feet over. Subway’s not yet so crowded that you can’t see him clearly. He’s unshaven with a stubble growing long, looking like porcupine quills lying down. A thick blue jacket. Not a thin guy, but not fat either–a little stocky, chunky, horse-shoe-shaped. Gray hood and blue knit cap over his head; a fringe of dark hair showing beneath the cap. Dirty faded blue jeans. Pale face a little horseshoe shaped and not quite fat but not quite thin or square, kind of edging towards heavy; and the corners of the eyes and lips slanting down sadly, in resignation, which matches his monotone that is a little nasally and maybe borders on whine but that is more like the pained, self-conscious deadpan of an AA confession: (the speaker pauses to glance down from time to time; then he revs back up–head babybirds a bit back and up as he plaintive shouts the top of his next volley, a height from which his delivery soon drops down into a steady doldrum) “Hello, I’m very sorry to disturb you. My name’s (witness honestly forgets). I am 29 years old and I am here because I am homeless and I am out of work. I can promise you that I will not be out of work forever; I am going to get a job and get myself back on my feet as soon as I can–that’s a promise I’ve made to myself. And even though I’ve got an education, I don’t care–I’ll wash dishes if I have to, anything it takes. I’ve promised myself that much. But today I am here asking for some help because I am homeless and out of work. I tried to find a place to sleep all last night, but I couldn’t lie down anywhere for more than a few minutes without feeling like I was going into hypothermia.” He went on to say that he checked himself into the ER last night because he was so cold. They kicked him out after 45 minutes but it was worth it just to warm up for a little while. He’s been trying to get enough money for a warm meal; he’s about halfway there; if anyone could be kind enough to help him out–. A 40ish black lady sitting behind and to one side of him, stout and wrapped up in her coat and hood and hat like a baby in a papoose, poked at him; he reached back with a cupped hand and she inserted something into it. She had a round face, a small, flat, round-edged nose, big eyes, a slight smile on her full lips as she looked a little up and to her left towards the troubled young man.

The man heads away from you, and you can’t see him in the crowd. At the next stop a medium-build, sharp-cheeked black man in a sturdy green workman’s coat (the kind that looks more solid than puffy and more matte than shiny–you see them on construction workers) and worn but clean and wrinkle-free black jeans. He gives his speech in a clear voice with his head up. He’s homeless and he’s out of work, but he’s not looking for a handout. He’s got these papers from a local homeless advocacy organization that he is selling for a dollar, two dollars–whatever you want to pay.

The newcomer heads towards the same direction as the other guy. Then there’s a little bubble in the crowd like when a pebble makes ripples in a creek. Arms overhead, stumbling back a little: “.. I didn’t even know …” Backpedals towards your spot, talking loud and stern towards the direction he came: “But do it the right way! Do it the right way! Do it the right way.” And a little later, looking over with a flash in his eyes like he heard something offensive; but he’s right next to you and you heard nothing; it could also just be the pique of recalling and further unpacking a past grievance: “you’re 37?! I’m 53! I’m retired! I’ve been at this since 9:30 in the morning!” (It is about 2pm) “And what is this? [arm stretched out long, but limply, pathetically] You gonna just hold out your hand and say oh, gimme gimme gimme–what is that? And you wonder why people don’t give you nothin! You can do better than that–you can do better than that, son,–you can do much better than that!”

Where was the original guy? You can’t see him. The new comer finishes scolding and exits when the doors open at the next stop. You feel sad, overwhelmed.

Witness: AMW; Author: BW; Accuracy: Not all the details, but something like that.