The Guy I Met on the Way to the House
The guy I met on the way to the house had about four days of growth on his chin. He wasn’t the sort of man who just, you know, miraculously sprouts a beard. There were mysterious bare patches. Were I to view the landscape of his cheek in a pixilated image of black and white I may have mistaken it for Mars.
He appeared at the corner by the graveyard, behind the church, where I make my left hand turn to the house. He was crossing E. 21st St. towards Flatbush, towards me.
I was thinking about a poem—it was the beginning of a poem. The word “rush,” the sound of a seagull headed for Coney Island, the smell of processed cheese on a pizza—all of it somehow making me feel in love.
I was thinking about how I’m a sucker for love. How I have fallen in love with untied shoelaces just so I could stoop over and loop the string myself.
The man did not look easy to fall in love with. He looked as if he may not ever have been loved, or if he had been loved, that it had come and gone the way a box of french fries does, leaving only a greasy, heartburned, feeling of regret.
This of course made me love him. But he could see that. Because I am a sucker for love some people make the mistake of thinking I’m just a sucker.
“Miss,” he said. “Do you have a minute?”
“Um,” I said.
“I need five dollars,” he said. “Five dollars for diapers. You see my kids live in this place with their mom, and I spent all my money getting on the bus up here and I get there and there’s no diapers.”
I knew exactly how much money I had in my back pocket. I had one ten dollar bill, two ones, and exactly fifty-seven cents. A few hours earlier it had been one single twenty. But I’d bought myself an egg and cheese sandwich with tomato slices, a cup of coffee, and a carton of fresh squeezed orange juice.
I could still taste the orange juice and the coffee, and the egg a little, though not as much, in my mouth. For a moment I had a daydream where I ate the whole meal again, relishing in it, just calling it lunch.
The man looked at me with eyes that were pointy. They were like his fingernails, a little speckled in the white parts, and a little too sharp.
From the corner I could see our house, the house we build with great ideas, the bricks, the flowers that Stephen and CJ planted, Helen’s bicycle resting and shackled against the wrought iron gate. I could also see the man’s eyes. They were saying give me five dollars. They were saying if you love everything then give me this. They were saying I might not have any kids and I might not need any damn diapers, but this is the way it works around here.
I could see the graveyard and its sleeping skeletons, one of them a Vanderbilt who was probably poor as dirt because she was born before Cornelius and I could see the pizzeria and the Modell’s and the Brooklyn Nets hat on the guy across the street who was looking very fresh, if I do say so myself.
I could see the sea gull, another sea gull. He was making his way to Coney Island, to the Wonder Wheel and the open brown colored mighty Atlantic, home to who knows how many starfish.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they’ve found water on Mars. There are deep bare patches where an ocean, or lake, or a swimming pool used to live.
I focused on the scanty growth on the man’s left cheek. I wanted to give him everything. But everything means something different to everybody. And there were bare patches of me, too, things that weren’t growing the way I’d hoped. And there went another sea gull, and the caw from his beak said, “rush, rush.” And, well, so, and then some, and then well, and—
“I’m sorry,” I told the man.
“No you’re not,” he said.
And then he huffed by me, and I noticed he had a limp.