“Frank!” I screamed. He was back at the benches by the historical house in his wheelchair with his entourage. He’s been missing lately. He slurred, “Hello my beauty,” on his way to smashed. Once I saw him spoon with another male bum on the sidewalk. Today I wanted to give him my change from Rite Aid crumpled in my hand, but it wouldn’t have been fair to the others.
I don’t care for the one with the dreads. Once he stood by McDonald’s menacing people. I glared at him, ready. He backed off. Days later he stood in the center of the sidewalk by the historical house, facing me. He looked at me and took his dick out. He let it hang for a second before taking a piss by the wall.
On my way to work he’s usually sleeping. He surprised me with a mellifluous “Hello” one morning. He was sitting up, looking at me with doe eyes, smiling. I didn’t even know he could speak using regular words. War’s over I suppose.
Frank shares food and liquor with him. I give Frank food they give us from the café where I work. Once he was passed out drunk. I woke him to tell him I had food. He nodded, grabbed the bag and said thank you. I didn’t think it registered, but the next day, he said, “Thanks for the food my beauty. That sandwich was delicious!” He said he shared the food with his friends. He went on about how good the sandwich was.
Some are dirty and sick-looking. One was just a head in a wheelchair. Well, he had no legs and barely a torso. He’d perch in front of the subway stairs. I gasped from shock when I saw him.
The one that held the Dunkin Donuts door open for people moved to the next block. He was a sanitary hazard, filthy but friendly. He’s eyes are always red. Generally he just says hi how you doing but once he said, “You know you my baby girl.” I said, “Really? Give me some money then.”
There’s a married couple. I don’t like them. They live on the bench by the park and in a busted car. I’ll tell you about them another time because they deserve a whole post.
Yay! Spring’s here, and in spring, John comes back to live on the bench by the historical house. I don’t know where he goes in the winter and I miss him terribly. Once the lilac trees and tulips start blooming around the historical house, I look for him on the bench. There are other bums out there but he’s popular. The others are a brood of unfortunates in tattered clothes and greasy hair. Besides, the other ones can be, I’ll just say — non-communicative – one shook his penis at me before he went to take a leak behind the bushes. Now how rude was that?! And the one with the pompadour, well he mostly communicates with himself. But John knows their language and speaks to them all regularly. John has an entourage of homeless and non-homeless people and he shares his food and liquor with bums on neighboring bench units. He holds court and commands a certain respect.
I must say he’s rather good-looking — Latino, reddish brown colored. He said he was gay, but that was when he was drunk out of his ass. I get jealous when John doesn’t notice me walk by the bench where he lives because he’s talking to somebody else. Let’s say he doesn’t say hi because he’s speaking to a pretty, well-dressed woman. I wonder then if I’m unworthy and worry that he has a hierarchy of friends, and that I’m on the lower rung. After all I do work a low-skilled job, and dress like a bum, uh, I mean, I don’t dress as fashionably as some of the other types with whom he chats. Sometimes he talks to them in Spanish because he’s bilingual. I only know one language, this one — I could kick myself for not paying attention in Ms. Pina’s Spanish class! I calm myself, “Oh silly, he didn’t say hello because he simply didn’t see you. It isn’t just that he prefers someone fancier.”
John’s been in a wheelchair for the last year. His homeless son’s been pushing him around in it. Well, he said it’s his son. Another time when he was drunk cruising up Broadway in his wheelchair he yelled out that the guy pushing him in the chair was also gay and that he was his son. “Hello my lovely,” he said to me cross-eyed drunk, “This is my son. My gay son, and I love him.” I hate it when John gets like that. I was comforted to see that his son had come here to take care of him. When he’s sober he always asks me what’s new and tells me to have a good day at work. He tells me to bring an umbrella if I decide to come out later when it rains. Sometimes we kick a little neighborhood talk. We’ve talked about who really started that fire on 211th Street, and when that lady who feeds all the cats in the neighborhood was hit by a UPS truck. I used to blush terribly when he’d ask me to marry him. When he saw that I had a boyfriend, he respectfully flipped it and asked us when the wedding would be and if he could come to it. He was really nice to my boyfriend which I appreciated — I so wanted my boyfriend to feel welcome in the neighborhood. John never never ever in all of the years that I’ve known him, asked me for one red cent, except for that one time. “You know mama that I’ve never never ever in all the years that I’ve known you asked you for nothing, but this one time.” I was touched, though very concerned about his financial trouble, so I gave him a buck. In the back of my mind I wondered if this would put me in good with him, so that I’d never feel like I was on a lower rung of his hierarchy again, but then I reminded myself that I am a worthy, capable, albeit unilingual woman who doesn’t have to buy friendship from anybody.