Walking Cross-Town. Children of a Lesser God.


It’s late afternoon Thursday. We’re walking up 47th street dodging the lingering jewelers, puffing on their Marlboros, blowing smoke rings, their arms out with pamphlets: “We buy Gold Sir, top price.” If I had gold, I wouldn’t be traipsing up 47th street rushing to catch a commuter train. Step back.

My colleague is in front. I’m trailing. He’s a New Yorker to the core, from birth, wily and confident. And you, you Friend, are country, and you can’t take Country out of the Boy.

I catch him and finish sharing a moment:

“I just can’t let it go. I’ve been carrying this with me for two days.”

He pauses: “Are you nuts?  Don’t give it another thought. This is New York. Anything could have happened.”

He veers right.

“You’re right. See you tomorrow.”  I push on to Grand Central.

Anything could have happened.

It was Tuesday morning, early.

I exit Grand Central. It was brisk, and dark. I wait for the light to turn, and I cross Madison. There’s plenty of time before my morning meeting, no need to push it. Music is streaming in.  I’m lip synching James Taylor’s Country Road : “But I could feel it Lord, on a Country Road, Walk on Down…But you know I could feel it child, yeah – Walking on a country road, I guess I know where my feet want me to go.” 

I hit repeat, and James sweeps me away again. Lightly Child, Lightly. And on this morning, I’m right there in that sweet groove with Ahab, “he never thinks, he just feels, feels, feels.” And on this morning, here I am, a tall sunflower leaning into the Sun. Sweet Jesus, why can’t I find this place more often.

I pass into a dim section of the street.

He appears directly in front of me from Nowhere.

Unshaven. 5’9″. Tattered corduroys, dark windbreaker.  And in my space. I step back, and lift my hand up signaling back, my torso trembling. I re-grip my case. I pull the ear buds out. And Brace.

He points to his ears and emits a muffled: “I’m deaf. I need help.”

He comes at me again, into my space. He then raises an ID card inches from my face. NYC scam. Or worse. I look around for his accomplice. I can cover this guy but a 2 on 1, hmmmmm.

I step back again. He hands me a crumpled note card, words scratched in pencil. It’s illegible. I can’t understand a word of what it says. And, I can’t understand a word he is saying. Marlee Matlin thrashing In Children of a Lesser God.

He closes in on me again. I step back. He’s looking directly at me. Desperate, Crazy or Dangerous? I glance around me, Silence. No other pedestrians. No street traffic. Time has stopped.

I raise my hand to slide it into my jacket for the bill fold, he’s watching. I stop and retract. And if he pulls a gun, a knife, or his buddy pops out of the shadows? 

He closes in again.

I hand him his note card, his hands wrinkled and caloused.

And then hand him his ID, which slips out of his hand and tumbles to the ground.

He bends down to grab it, and as he reaches down, I bolt across the street into the lights, leaving him standing.

I turn my head to see him standing in spot, stoic. He stares at me. Me at him. I look away and walk.

McDonalds ahead, Egg McMuffins fill my lungs.

Darkness rolls in. The Sunflower tucks in and down.

Not hungry.

Not hungry anymore.

Inspired by:

[A]fter all, what are ghosts? Memories that write themselves inedibly into flesh, perhaps, like pain from an amputate limb.

~ Philip Holden, Heaven Has Eyes



  1. I understand the caution. Sometimes, you just don’t know the best reaction. Walk on, Sunflower.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. A difficult decision. Always has been, always will be.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The fact that this lingers reveals the struggle between trust and fear. You capture it so well! Perhaps the next time it will be different. Noone knows until the opportunity presents itself… 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  4. wow we dont feel this in Lossiemouth (popln 6873)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The not knowing for sure nibbles at your conscience. Fear has won this one. Move on.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Empathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Anything could have happened…
    It’s the “anything”.
    It would hang on for two days (and more) for me too and in that way like a dream feels so real…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It always breaks my heart to pieces when fear for our own safety stops us from helping.
    It kills me.
    And the thing is, I’m always fearful in situations like this.

    But like Walt Whitman in your post from yesterday……

    “The spirit in which you treat them, and bestow your donations, is just as important as the gifts themselves; sometimes more so.”

    Last winter I was on my way home, few blocks away from home here in Little India, driving in a blizzard.
    I stopped at an intersection and a young woman in the 30s wearing almost nothing, barefoot crossed the street in front of me, with down syndrome. Rolled the window down as I called 911. She started walking around the car, then on her own opened the door to the passenger seat and came in.

    I could not get her to talk. She was freezing.
    Then I see two big guys running frantically in all directions caking out a girls name.
    I gestured to them that she’s with me.

    Both, BIG men, 6′ 4″ at least.
    Each one of the men opened one of the back seats and got in. The talked to the beautiful girl in Amharic.

    They asked me to drive them home. In the opposite direction of where I was going. They said they’ve been out looking for her for 20 minutes and would appreciate the drive home since she’s almost naked.

    I would be a liar if I say I didn’t think this was a scam and this is the end of me. But the 911 lady was with me on the phone.

    I drove them home.
    Then the police came and verified she is their sister.

    Then I drove home, swimming in an ocean of tears of fear, shame, and disgust.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think these recent days make our antennae alert first towards fear, and then once the moment passes, perhaps regret – for what if this was an opportunity to help and we turned away? These are far from easy times, my friend – and there will be a next time, when the thought that lingers is one of greater peace, for your first instinct will be different.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Oh David…this is so sad. I kept expecting him to return to the Man. to go to McDonalds and return with food…I wrestle with many things, but reaching out and compassion isn’t one of them…Now I understand why he’s carried it around for 2 days…

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    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh, this brought me to tears, and I just remembered another story.

    I’m Arab, half Muslim, half Jew.
    Besides our reputation as evil and terrorists, we are very famous for our hospitality and generosity.

    The is this story of a very kind and generous Arab King. The nation did not know hunger during his times.
    He would part with anything, but one thing.
    One of his horses was very dear to his heart. That was the one thing he wouldn’t let go of. Not for all the money in the world.

    A thief decided to scam the king. There was one way to scam a generous soul.

    He knew the King took his dear horse out for a ride, same time, same path, everyday. So, he threw himself on the ground, on the kings path, screaming that he’s been hit and robbed by thieves.

    The king came down off of his dear horse, and ran to help this man.
    He hit the king, and ran to ride the beautiful horse away.

    The king asked him for one thing,
    “Can you please not tell anyone how you took my horse?”

    The thief said, laughing, “Why, are you afraid they’ll call you a fool?”

    “No.” The King replied. “I fear people in my kingdom will not be stopping for a man in need anymore.”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My heart was racing and I was only reading this experience David! ❤
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

  13. That’s a tough one. But aren’t there places that help deaf people? Surely there’s no need for a person who is deaf to be panhandling. There seemed to have been more going on than just the deafness. Just because a person is deaf, doesn’t mean he should be hitting up people on the street (in a dimly lit area). That would be very scary because you don’t know what else is coming – a second person, a knife? Maybe just a thank you, but you don’t know that.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Reminds me a little of that dark dead end street I was on in Queens, and I ended up having to back out quite a ways. Narrowest street I’ve ever been on, and the words of my friend Nina echoing in my ear, her advice to me for my trip to NYC:
    “Be careful and always be aware of your surroundings”

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I think these experiences always make us question our reactions and thoughts and I think we face these situations to learn more about who we are. Great writing Dave, glad you survived! 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  16. an epic battle between your heart and head. your heart won the battle when it was too late to act, but it will prepare you for the next encounter, perhaps with a different outcome. in that way, the lesson was a good one and meant to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Isn’t it so horrible that we are so afraid now…more than ever. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Nope. There’s no way I’d feel bad about reacting as you did. Maybe boundaries are different in NYC, but a man coming at me in a dim place is not WANTED. At that point, I don’t care what he needs.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Just let it go. The gods were not aligned for any other outcome.

    Liked by 1 person

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