Almost Feeding the Hungry

by

05/20/2009

The ACE and the F trains, New York, NY 10001

Neighborhood: Midtown

I live in New Jersey. That means that I have been known to frequent Manhattan as a somewhat out of place and bemused bridge and tunneler. A friend of mine is a rising star in the New York music scene. (This means that she occasionally gets a free beer and sometimes she even gets paid!) As a result, I find myself riding the rails more and more frequently.

One night as I prepared to depart for the city I sat in a Panera and ate soup while I reviewed my travel plans. I would ride into Penn, take the A C E to the F train and then get off at the East Broadway stop and find the 169 Bar, the evening’s venue. I smiled, proud of myself for remembering all those tricky letters and whatnot, and surveyed my plate. I’d been given a liberal hunk of bread with my soup, but hadn’t touched it. I had to leave to catch my train and I was concerned that I’d get hungry again shortly. I decided to wrap the thing in a napkin and jam it in my pocket, figuring that if I didn’t eat it on the train I could toss it when I got to Penn. I met up with a friend, we boarded our train, and we were off.

As I sat on the train the soup settled firmly in my stomach and I decided that I wouldn’t be needing the bread in my pocket after all. While the train clacked ever closer to the city, I came to a decision. One of the more unsettling things a bridge and tunnel guy like me tends to meet in his journeys is the homeless. They ask you for your money and then you feel terribly guilty for saying no or ignoring them. Furthermore, there’s that nagging doubt that these people don’t actually want money for food, they want booze or drugs. Well, I proclaimed, now I can give them the food straight away and cut out Washington and Lincoln as the middlemen. A perfect plan. I explained the plan to my companion and, as she got over the shock of me pulling a loaf of bread out of my pocket, she agreed that yeah, maybe it would be an okay idea.

Of course we didn’t see a single homeless person when we got off the train. Even the thin lady who sits on the ramp down to the downtown subways was missing, though some of her effects were there. No one approached us on the A train. No one was hungry when we transferred at West 4th. Everyone around the East Broadway stop had everything they needed. And so I showed up to a gig with a solid length of bread nestled safely (and increasingly warmer) in the pocket of my hoodie.

After the show and a few beers I left with the same friend I’d come in with. We B&T folk stick together, you know. Our return trip had the same air of we-need-nothing Zen that the ride in suffered from. Finally, as we walked along the street towards Penn, we found a man who hadn’t been stricken with the recent outbreak of nirvana. He was a large man in a wheelchair, propelling himself backwards up the sidewalk and shouting out, almost happily. He needed, or wanted, money. Since his back had been to me as he rolled towards me, I couldn’t understand him. By the time it was clear he was asking for anything at all, he’d already passed us and was quickly moving away.

“Go ahead,” my friend said. “See if he wants your bread.” I anxiously glanced at the figure rolling away into the night. What was I supposed to do? Sprint after the wheeled vagrant and thrust my bread out at him? Would he appreciate it? Would he take it as some sort of doughy insult? The choice was made for me as he spun off into the dark. I turned and kept walking the way we came; chucking the bread into a trash can outside the station. I was annoyed, but it was hard to say if I was mad at myself or frustrated with the failed attempt at charity.

I could have fed someone. But apparently they had to ask me for help directly.

 

Jeff Kyle, Jr. is a Jersey-born bridge-and-tunneler. His website is separatedchaff.com.

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