The A train has just left the Times Square Station when a disheveled 30-something Hispanic man in a wheelchair pries open the doors between the cars and pulls himself in.
In a harsh, raspy voice, doubly loud to compete with the train rattle, he starts his spiel. Words like “disability,” “children,” “hardship” spill out until finally in a voice dripping with desperation he pleads: “Any. Little. Thing. Will. Help.”
Backs stiffen and passengers stare into space as he plows through the car. When he is within touching distance of Savannah and me he stops, and in matador-fashion, rips off his prostatic leg to reveal a dirty-bandaged stump.
“Oh, my God! That’s so sad,” Savannah gasps, voicing the sentiments of the entire car.
Wallets immediately pop open and passengers begin digging in their purses and pockets. It wasn’t just for dimes and pennies. I see green.
I am not surprise. I long ago realized that New Yorkers’ faux indifference is a survival mechanism, a result of living in a crowded city where every societal problem – poverty, crime, addiction, mental illness, and homelessness – is shoved in your face. Rich or poor, there’s no escaping it.
At one time I lived few doors from Susan Sarandon’s multi-million dollar loft, but next to the city’s largest soup kitchen. Every Sunday 1,500 of the city’s down and out would invade the block and wait for a free meal.
Growing up in Ohio, among neighbors of the same ilk, I never saw a homeless person standing on our street, much less in our neighborhood. Savannah, age 8, sees it all the time.
Another reminder of the vast difference between my childhood and my kid’s.