Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Faces in the Crowd


You can see a lot by just looking. ~Yogi Berra

Two men left the same building at the same time and they could not have been more different.

I was taking the elevator going last night when a man in a wheelchair got on board at the 12th floor. His body was shrunken, misshapen, and from what I could see, he only had the use of one arm.

I had my usual feelings of sympathy and guilt--whining about my health issues seemed pretty pathetic in light of this man's terrible condition. His whole life is a health issue.

When we got out into the lobby, I watched him roll toward the door, ready to be the good citizen and help him out.

As he rolled toward the door, a man who was pretty much his polar opposite stepped out from another bank of elevators. This man was tall, with broad, weightlifter shoulders. He wore an immaculate, expensive suit and, of course, he had a cell phone plastered to his head.

In my instant analysis, I decided this guy had it all. Great job, beautiful woman, maybe a few of them, fabulous apartment, and a kind of confidence that could repel artillery blasts and stampeding elephants. I felt obligated to hate him, but my heart wasn't really in it. It's no crime to be successful, though somedays I wish it were.

There are millions of people in this city and so many of them walk down Wall Street at 5 p.m. But I couldn't take my eyes off these two. They barely noticed each other as they headed to the revolving door, parting company only when the wheelchair man rolled toward the side door with the handicapped button.

The door was closing and the wheelchair man was about to turn back when I rushed up and hit the button for him. The door gently opened and he looked at me.

"Thank you," he said before wheeling out to the world with his good arm and joining the river of humanity.

I stopped and looked once more at the cell phone guy. He was outside the building, still on the cell phone. I thought of that movie "Unbreakable" where Samuel L. Jackson's character goes to maniacal lengths to find his polar opposite, a man whose body is as resilient as Jackson's is fragile. I had a feeling I was watching my own version of this movie right outside 14 Wall.

I found myself in a kind of limbo, floating between these two men, infinity more fortunate than one, not where near as lucky as the other.

I wonder what it would be liked if they switched places for a few minutes, so the handicapped man could know what it's like to be strong and powerful, and the cell phone man could get a taste of what its like to be so helpless you needed people to open doors for you.

I don't know what any of this means, if it means anything at all. Maybe I should mind my own business, clean up my act, and get a life.

Hell, I could be completely off base on this. The wheelchair man could be perfectly happy and going home to a lovely wife and a 20-room mansion. And the cellphone guy could be on the phone with his lawyer preparing a plea bargain agreement that just might keep him out of the joint.

Tonight I came home after work and after the gym and there was a blind man tapping his way up the steps of the train station with his cane. One passenger steered him toward the turnstiles so the blind man could get out.

I stood and watched to see what direction the blind man would take. I was tired and I really feel like helping anybody, but I have a need to be a hero I guess.

The blind man walked to the opposite staircase, away from me and thus, I decided, out of my jurisdiction. I went up the stairs on my side of the street and went home.

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