Waiting. At The Star Market. Trying to Bend the Image.

7:05 am. Stamford station.

I’m waiting for the 2151 Acela to Baltimore. Overhead board flashes On Time, Track 2.

There are two empty seats adjacent to a scruffy, long bearded old man. He’s wearing a heavy jacket, way too heavy for August. A rollerboard stands to his right. His head bowed, sleeping. You’re asking for trouble. Find another seat. I look around, and can’t find another seat. I catch others watching me, judging, ‘The Suit won’t come near That.’

And Mind, ever so efficient, calls up a Marie Howe poem, The Star Market:

“The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday. An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps. Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them: shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay..Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself…stumbling among the people who would have been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands and knees begging for mercy. If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought, could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?”

He lifts his head, turns towards me and stares.  I freeze.  The Others are now watching. I pause, and make my move.

I take the seat next to Him.

Others watch for a moment, eyebrows raised, and then go back to their smartphones. Did you do it because you wanted a seat? Or because others would think less of You, or that you didn’t want this Suit to meet their expectations? Or because you didn’t want Him to think you thought any less of Him?

There’s one empty seat between us. But there’s tension in the gap. He turns to look at me, I can feel his eyes on me. Here it comes, Can you help me out with a few bucks, Sir?”  

He sits silently.

I set my bag down. Smooth, supple black leather. The Tumi brand tag hangs loosely, inside the latest model laptop, iPad Pro, and a money clip tightly gripping a wad of cash and five credit cards.  I grab my smartphone and turn to a News Feed.

He turns away. His hands, folded in his lap. He drops his head and falls asleep.

I’m distracted, turn away from the news feed.  He’s too large of a presence. And you, you’re too Small.

The line in front of Dunkin’ Donuts grows. Raspberry Jelly with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. A simple Glazed donut. Or a French Cruller, its thin sugar frosting melting on my tongue.  I’m 20 yards away. No. No. No. No.

He stirs, wakes.  He lifts his suitcase from the floor and places it on his lap.  He unzips it.  The stench, vacuum sealed and protected in indestructible nylon Polypropylene, explodes.  He doesn’t flinch. I do.

He starts rummaging inside.

He sets aside a beat up Tom Ford hard shell eye case. A paperback, cover tattered (I couldn’t catch the title). A baseball cap, Red Sox.  A gray hoodie.  A worn pair of chinos. A green toothbrush, handle tucked into the side pocket, bristles air drying, free of a plastic case. An extra pair of tennis shoes, soiled.

He restores his provisions back in the case, zips it up and sets it back down on the floor.

He inhales deeply, pauses for a moment, and then grabs both arms of the armrest to hoist himself up. He groans in doing so, lifting himself up ever so slightly, a few inches at a time, arms trembling under his weight.

He waits to catch his breath.  He grabs his rollerboard, looks back to his seat to see if he has left anything behind, and then ambles down the corridor.

I watch him, slouched forward, staggering forward a step at a time, dragging his case behind him.

Could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?


Notes:

  • Post and post Title Inspired by: I tried to bend this image into something kinder, but it wouldn’t budge.” ~ Jessica Francis Kane, Rules for Visiting (Penguin Publishing Group. May 14, 2019)
  • Notes: Photo: wiki commons. Marie Howe Poem: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels

Comments

  1. I was captivated until my eyes found Tumi – Dave, you caved an got a new briefcase? No more pulling along an old friend with a broken wheel? I sigh with pride. Now, onto the important stuff – does it matter why you at down? You did. Does it matter how his eyes assessed you as you assessed hum? Not a whit. You saw each other, accepted each other enough to acknowledge that humanity rests within the smelly clothes and well-pressed suit. Therein lies the image to keep.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. My ‘s’ key is sticking…’sat’ down…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mimi=nailed it.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Interesting that you were each sizing up the other. I’d love to know his thoughts about you. You each had a bag filled with things important to you, and you each were sized up by others who didn’t know you. On common ground.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Phenomenal. Thanks for the final push from my place of “too much Lisa”!

    Here’s a true story. My children and I are going somewhere and we approach an interstate ramp. We’re stuck for minute, cars in front and light red. A homeless person on the side of road is just beside the passenger windows. I do nothing, look straight ahead. My daughter asks if we should be scared. My son, about 6 years old at the time says “What if he’s Jesus?” Whoa.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. It’s a tough decision. So many possible factors, so many judgements (compassion? acceptance? rejection?), decisions, some risks. You certainly put us in the picture and had us wondering what’s the right thing to do.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Powerful story-telling Dave.

    While your reasons for sitting there are complex, his reason for moving on could be very simple… he was afraid of your closeness, afraid you might say something rude to him, or that a security person would come upon him sitting there next to you and would have stepped in to ensure he wasn’t bothering you.

    Perhaps he simply weighed the risks and decided to move on before trouble found him.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Maybe you did it because you’re a nice guy, with a smidge of hope, even in the City. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I read an article interviewing homeless people that it matters so much to them to acknowledge them, their presence, to make eye contact, to smile!
    I’m so bad at keeping cash on me.
    What if they’re not God, not jesus? just like me and you!

    We do what we can, we make eye contact, we smile, they’re kinder and more generous than us with their smile back, it never fails.

    Liked by 2 people

    • yes.

      When you suspect a stranger wants your attention, anyone’s attention—just a moment of the universe’s time—but you avoid eye contact or keep walking, is that being a good neighbor? I wonder what they’d say on the message board. “I don’t know, I don’t know,”

      ~ Jessica Francis Kane, Rules for Visiting (Penguin Publishing Group. May 14, 2019)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sawsan; that’s one thing I learned, living in the Paris region. If I don’t have any loose money on me, I do NOT open my bag. Never… But at home, I have a large cup where I throw my pieces of change into. Then, when going out, I nearly always have a few of them in the pocket of my jacket, coat, windbreaker or whatever… Same when in the car. I can then always hand over a piece or three through the window. Sadly, there is so much stealing and bothering people here that it’s sad for those who go short in our ‘distribution’ order, because we are simply afraid of giving any hint of our well-being….. And yes, of course, they are all ppl, such as you and me, only in different circumstances. Maybe some are Jesus or angels or Hitler?! I don’t wanna know.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Lovely and timely, David!

    No matter where on the spectrum of humanity we find ourselves, we all share in the tension between an array of extremes. Everyone has a story, but ultimately there is only one story that we share through playing our part. There’s no escape hatch, not even death. Might as well accept that we’ve each in our own uniqueness, passed the audition, whether we got the memo or not.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. “bear the look on his face” seems to go right to the heart. Are we able to look with openness if not with love? Being in the moment would take all the judgment away. However, I have the dilemma of having an acute sense of smell, and rather than “be there” and say good morning, if I sat down, I might start gagging. [I remember as a child having to stagger outside from various rooms in the Bronx Zoo…while the rest of my class on the field trip enjoyed.]

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is top shelf observation and keenly observed. On my way home last Monday I had a similar and yet very different experience. I’m not going to monopolize your blog any more but I’ll send you my ‘little experience’ by private mail, if that’s OK.
    Your sharp and smart description of your way to work (I assume) will have to go into your book…. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • 1) Thank you. 2) You never monopolize my blog. 3) you are a Light, a bright light. 4) Look forward to hearing about your little experience. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank You,
        and two more queries:
        1. What’s the relation to your former post Mr Everything?
        2. How come I so, so often ponder very similar or even same questions at the very same time as you write a blog post? Only now I read: I tried to bend this image into something kinder, but it wouldn’t budge….. and although it’s in another loop, but early this morning I wrote:
        (circumstances)…… having bent him so out of shape that nobody and nothing could unbend him fully, ever.
        Scary, or marvellous?

        Liked by 1 person

  13. That story in the bible about the lady touching the hem, its one of the ones that really gets me. I grabbed that poem from Beth a few years ago, and reposted a few days ago when it came up in my memories.
    But your story, it reminds me of something shameful in my life.
    I was raised in suburbia all my life. I’d never taken a bus or public transportation anywhere.
    About 20 years ago my kids, 5 and 7, and I had occasion to take the bus to the zoo. Our start was from their grandma’s house, in a rough part of town.
    When we got on the bus and were looking for a spot to sit, I saw all the folks on the bus—mostly low income inner city sorts of people—and I was way out of my comfort zone.
    I’ve never thought of myself as racist, class conscious, snobby, or whatever, but I spied a cop sitting about the middle of the bus.
    “Here kids, we’ll be safe here “ I said, and herded the kids into the seat in front of the cop.
    There probably isn’t a month go by that I don’t replay that little episode in my head.
    Here, 20 years later and having been about a step away from being homeless myself, I have to think that I wouldn’t feel so detached from humanity.
    At least I wouldn’t ANNOUNCE it!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love that you shared this, David. And that, for whatever reason – there need not be one – you chose to “take a chance” and sit near him. And his leaving was for his reasons as well. Humanity.
    That said, it reminded me of a book written by a fellow fictioneer Michael Wynn. https://www.amazon.com/Edge-English-Summer-doesnt-Wordsworth-ebook/dp/B07K8SFKJS/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Michael+Wynn+from+the+edge+of+an+English+summer&qid=1565972092&s=gateway&sr=8-1
    Changed my perspective on homeless people – even if this is fictional.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. beautiful post, David. Maybe he thought you were going to try and sell him some insurance? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Well done and so deeply human. I know Stamford station well, and the Amtrak, and the realities of the tensions that ripple up in transit hubs and bus stops and airports and subway cars. You’ve captured it so minutely and so clearly. I think he was sizing you up as much as you were sizing him up, though. Great writing! Thank you! Na’ama

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Most of us are the Other, waiting to see what someone else does, not doing a thing ourselves. I like that you watch what YOU do. What HE does. Listening to your inner voice chiding you for being Mr. Suit, yet knowing you wouldn’t want to be Mr. Nowhere Man. But I also like that you leave the words open enough (you don’t fill in all the spaces) so we can each put ourselves in your place, and see what we do….

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Love your writing! You capture it beautifully.👏 Pretty sure you sat down coz people were sizing you up Mr K. But I’m disappointed you didn’t give him any money. Beth said it well, we all sit holding onto our possessions, homes, and things like they are gold and hope that no one will ever find or take what we believe is rightfully ours….Quite sad really. 😔

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you!

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. […] was reminded of Jack this morning when I read David Kanigan’s powerful post, Waiting. At the Star Market. Trying to Bend the Image. on his blog, Live & Learn. (David is an exquisite writer. His posts always provoke deep […]

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