Tuesday, February 23, 2010


An old black man sits beneath a small grocery store awning, watching as we pass, knowing I must be a distant acquaintance to the city by the way I pause at every building entrance to look again at my handwritten notecard.

"We're on the wrong side of Manhattan."
I tell my mother and sisters, whose feet bitch and throb from our unexpectedly long walk. "We were supposed to go west on 44th Street, not east." We turn around.

As we pass the old man and the small grocery store for the second time, he says something to us. I look over. One of his boots has been pulled off. Must be shaking a pebble out, I figure. But then I see the real reason why. It is to show me his tragedy, his dark stump cracked with dry white lines. Diabetes took his toes, he tells me. Can he have some money? I look away and walk faster as my mind meshes: teach a man to fish so he doesn't buy drugs because if you give him money, you should give her and her and him and him a little money as well. And let's face it, you're pretty broke yourself.

I do not acknowledge this desperate man with anything. He took his boot off for me. He took his boot off in hopes that I would have pity and give him money. He troubled himself because he doesn't know me. He doesn't know that I shy from panhandlers, petitioners and salesmen. That I have crossed dangerous streets and even walked through a CVS Pharmacy just to avoid saying, no I'm sorry I can't. He doesn't know that I am afraid to give and equally afraid not to give and therefore I usually pretend I haven't been asked to give. Because if he did know me, he would have kept his boot on and saved himself the hassle and embarrassment of exposing his diseased, naked foot to a cold stranger on East 44th street.