Saturday, March 06, 2010

Did My Eyes Deceive Me?

New Yorkers know well that the subway system hosts a whole lot of panhandlers. I'm not talking about people from, say, the panhandle of Florida. I'm talking about the people who sell, perform, or otherwise ask for cash on the trains.

When you do same commute every day (in my case, it's two different commutes, depending on circumstances), you get to see a lot of the same panhandlers. There's a dapper little violinist who, despite his playing ten hours a day, really doesn't know how to play the violin. There's a saxophonist I try to avoid on the F train. There are several mariachi combos on the 7 train. There are the kids who sell their candy, "not for basketball uniforms, but to earn a little money and keep me off the streets." There's often a blind dude at the 7 to F transfer.

During my evening commute this week, while walking down the steps to the 7 train, I noticed a dude who looked a bit down on his luck. The train was pulling into the station, and he scurried to the back car. I wandered into the second-to-last car and didn't give him another thought.

Until a seriously disabled panhandler staggered into our car. He was shaking from head-to-toe and could barely walk. He was hunched over and held tightly to the various handrails available for support. It was the same dude I saw walking down the stairs, except that this version of him would never had made it up or down the stairs.

He announced that he was going to take up the next ten or fifteen minutes of our time. This is unheard of. Most panhandlers do their thing and move on quickly.

I was listening to music, so I didn't catch everything the man said as he staggered up and down the car, very slowly, but he talked about injuries, mentioned something about 9/11, and offered to help anyone else in the car who might be hungry.

But it was the physicality that was truly remarkable. People get on and off the trains, of course, and over ten or fifteen minutes, you pull through approximately five to eight stops. One woman, wanting to catch the transfer across the platform, reached out to give him a dollar, couldn't get her money in his little bag (which he'd placed on the floor next to a handrail), and laid the bill next to it so she wouldn't miss her train. He worked desperately to bend, holding the rail for dear life, trying to get the bill until another rider grabbed the bill and put it in his bag for him.

This fella was so convincing in his physical performance that I began to question if he was really the same man I saw walking down the stairs at the station. Even now, thinking back, I don't feel so sure. His performance was that good, B&E readers.

He was doing pretty well for himself money-wise in my car, and he was still going on when I got off the train at my stop.

It was downright spooky. And impressive. Cirque du Soleil should totally hire him.

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At 8:51 PM , Blogger Ali said...

Sounds like the guy earned his cash. Well done, panhandler.


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