At the risk of sounding insensitive - I normally have zero patience for whining panhandlers. I had an unpleasant experience a couple of years ago when I bought a homeless guy a slice of pizza. He then showed up five minutes later, with his friend, asking if I could buy them both a beef patty. Another source of my harbored resentment is the fact that often when someone on the street asks me (unsuccessfully) for money, they get hostile when I say, "No."
As if I owe them something.
I also do not like this one dude who lives on the platform of 34th Street/Herald Square. He shrieks and stomps around like he's having a temper tantrum. I guess he did not get enough attention as a child.
But on a Saturday afternoon in March, I had two pleasant encounters with homeless men within the same one-hour time frame. The first encounter happened on my way to an audition – a "go-see." It was for a Joss Stone music video, and they had called and invited me to stop by the casting office in the afternoon. I had stayed at my boyfriend's on the Upper East Side the night before, and the next day I struggled (as I always do) to get dressed and made-up. The casting office was located on W. 28th and 7th. The thought of maneuvering the streets and subways of New York in my stilettos and tight jeans - when I was already close to missing my appointment - made me want to just give up and go back to bed. So I hailed a cab, against my better fiscal judgment.
I fell onto the leather cab seat, retreating from the peaceful and temperate Saturday afternoon outside. The cab sped down Lexington Avenue, hitting every red light with a jerky halt, making me queasy. I impatiently tapped my toe while I checked the time on my cell phone. The cab stopped on 6th Avenue, "Is it okay if I let you out here? There is a parade on 7th," the cab driver said.
"That's fine," I said. My mathematically challenged brain fumbled to figure out how much cash I needed to pay and give a tip. I rose from my seat, ankles balancing on thin heels, as I opened the cab door in order to exit on the sidewalk.
A scary looking ragamuffin bellowed, "WATCH IT!!!"
Apparently I had almost assaulted his unwashed body with the cab door. I rose from the open door onto the street as he looked me over, "You anorexic bitch!" I immediately felt shaken at this sudden onslaught of hostility, but then I realized what he had called me: "Anorexic?"
"Awesome!" I thought. Having gained about 12 lbs since last summer, I have been feeling quite body conscious, questioning whether I should even go on model-type auditions anymore. But here, from this angry man came the affirmation I needed. A large grin appeared on my face, and I confidently strode in to my appointment.»
About five minutes after entering the casting office I was back outside. In the casting office a sour-faced girl took a Polaroid of me while I held a sign with the number 4 on it. So I really am just a number. After taking the snapshot they sent me on my way. "Goodbye Number 4," they said in my imagination.
From 28th and 7th I walked to the 6 train on 28th and Park. It was a lovely day - sunny and breezy. I wanted to walk longer. But I also wanted to go home to my boyfriend's apartment and change into a more comfortable outfit. So there I got on the train for what I hoped would be a quick ride back to the upper 80's.
Luckily I did not wait long for a train. I hate crowds and subways, and this Saturday was no different in that there were plenty of people on the train, going about their weekend errands and shopping. As the train stopped in the stuffy station, I looked for a nearby car with seats available. My feet were killing me. I walked into the subway car, wondering why there was an abundance of seats on one side. I quickly realized why. There was a man who looked an awful lot like Woody Allen sitting down. He certainly was not Woody Allen, however, because he had a growth on his nose, missing teeth, dirt smeared on his face, and about four layers of frayed earth-toned clothing and a large sack. Unlike some men of his kind, it was not his odor that caused people to avoid him, but his cavalier attitude about being in a public place. He was singing, in a nasal toned voice. His voice made the Woody Allen resemblance even stronger. Although his singing was not professional quality, he could carry a tune. I sat across from him as he sang a selection of Disney songs.
Besides his resemblance to one of my favorite (yet morally flawed) movie directors, what made this man stand out among his peers was that he was not singing with a cup in his hand, hoping for pity change. He was simply singing for the enjoyment of it - just like I do when I'm in the shower. He had a wistful smile on his face and a thoughtful look in his eye while he handled his repertoire. After finishing a song, he would give a bit of background about when he first heard the song and what it meant to him, then he would look at me or the one other "brave" soul sitting across from him, smile and say, "How was that? pretty good huh?"
I gave him what I hoped was an encouraging glance as I got off at my stop. He was not singing to induce straphangers to give him alcohol money. He was simply doing something many people do in the privacy of their own homes. The subway car probably is his home, there just happened to be other people around.