Saturday, June 07, 2008

Crazy Like A Foxhole


I was walking through the Pacific Street subway station Thursday night when I passed this Hispanic man who was standing on the platform with a long wooden staff that was covered with clothespins and wire.

I had no idea what that thing was supposed to be and for a second I even though it might be a modern piece depicting man’s inhumanity to laundry or some other weighty topic.

I went a few more feet and then realized that this guy was a street vendor and the clothespins had been holding stuffed animals, or hats, or something of that nature.

The fact that he was down to nothing but clothespins indicated that he had a good day at the office.

I’m glad somebody’s doing well because after the Dow’s suicide leap on Friday, I’m a little nervous.

Earlier this week, I was riding home on the D train when we came to the Manhattan Bridge, my favorite part of the daily grind. It was a beautiful spring day and I spotted some bicycle riders on the pedestrian walkway making the same trip to Brooklyn.

I like to watch the bike riders and imagine what it’s like to be out there instead of crammed into a subway car. It looks like fun, or at least this portion of it does, when you’re over the water and the wind is blowing in your face.

And you don't have to buy gasoline at 4 bucks a gallon either.

Once you get off the bridge, though, you have to deal with traffic and cars, buses and trucks coming at you from all direction.

The train picked up speed and we left the bike riders behind. As we got to the other side of the bridge, the train came to a grinding halt.

I happened to look out the window just then and I saw a homeless man who had settled into a little alcove in the bridge's support section. It was the last place in the world I expected to see a human being.

He was huddled in there like a soldier hiding in a foxhole. In the daily battle for survival, this man was on the front lines.

I found myself staring at him until we locked eyes and I turned away. I’m so used to observing people from the train I never thought that they could look back.

When I was a reporter in the Poconos, the homeless people used to live under the bridges--as they do in a lot places. A bridge is an inviting form of shelter when you've got nothing else.

And while everybody else uses them to get from one place to another, others take root underneath them.

I once interviewed some men living under the bridge. I was a little nervous walking back there, but they turned out to be decent people.

"We're the homeless," one man with white hair and a full beard declared to me with a backhanded kind of pride.

I don’t know how the man I saw in the Manhattan Bridge came to be in this situation. But it makes you think, or at least it should. I think about how the stock market tanked on Friday, and how I keep reading or seeing stories on TV about food kitchens that are running of food.

I saw a story on the news last week about one of these food kitchens in the south, where so many of the people going there never thought they would be in such a situation in their lives.

One woman stood on line with her young daughter and began crying, describing how hard it was to be forced to ask for food in front of her child.

Closer to home, Crain’s New York Business had a story about Hanson Place United Methodist Church food pantry turning away people because there was no food.

The scariest thing we do in my adult swimming class is practice in the deep end of the pool.

Even with a flotation belt strapped around your waist, you get nervous as your feet struggle to touch the bottom, though logically, of course, you know that its impossible to reach that far.

I think even people on dry land are stretching, trying to reach the bottom.

Job losses jumped on Friday and this, combined with spiraling oil prices makes me nervous. I’m not getting any younger and being a fairly new hire, I could be the first to go if things go sour at the office.

It disturbs me that after all these years as an alleged adult, I have yet to find a job that really offers me a good fit. Every position I've had since I graduated from college has been temporary in my way of thinking--just for now.

I don't want to think about losing my job right now, no matter how much I complain about it, I thank God I have it.

If the worst happens, I don't know. Maybe I’ll be out there selling stuffed animals to passersby and I’ll be grateful when I come home with nothing but clothespins.

And I think about that man I saw in the bridge and I wonder if there’s enough room in his foxhole for two.

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