Apr 17, 2013

Hey there, young man!

'Hey, there young man!' he called out to any passerby over 6 and under 60. The women got 'lovely' or 'beautiful'.

And his smile. His smile.

He was peddling a newsletter called 'Spare Change'. The 'Homeless Empowerment Project' supplies it to the homeless for a pittance so they can sell for profit and find their feet.

Harvard square at 5:30 pm is bustling with life regardless of weather. On that 50 degree day at the end of a hard winter and frigid spring, you couldn't keep people in if you tried. Students and professors scurrying to meetings and appointments, tourists gawking, well-heeled couples ambling along to soak up the mild weather - all streaming through the area. The iconic 'Au Bon Pain' coffee store by the News Stand remains as good a spot as ever to people-watch as you wait for a friend.

I nursed my cup of Earl Grey and watched the peddler lob cheerful greetings and beaming smiles from the middle of the sidewalk at the human stream breaking around him. A few smiled back at him, even fewer bought a paper off him. Most ignored him. They swerved as far away as the available sidewalk allowed. Eye contact was avoided, chins tucked further in and even pre-emptive brush-offs executed with either a dismissive hand wave or an apologetic shrug.

The interesting thing was that he did'nt once, in my 20 minutes of fascinated watching, actively peddle. He did'nt push or hawk anything and his grin and cheer didn't waver a bit inspite of the relentless string of dismissals.

He eventually took a cigarette break, perching on the railing of the outdoor seating area near me to take a swig of water then light up. I went over and asked if I could buy a paper and a cup of something for him. Just because he made me smile. He told me he was fine but thanks for asking. I did'nt ask and he did'nt confirm that he was homeless. I told him I thought it was inspiring that he did'nt let the brush-offs get to him and confessed I was  much less patient than he. He grinned, shrugged and said 'Well, people, they're busy, you know?'. Or something like that. He let me take a picture for my blog, asked politely about it then thanked me for noticing his smiles.

There was too much dignity and kindness there for me to probe any further. Besides I did'nt even want to. His geniality might have just been sound sales strategy. Or he might have been adpet at that old Jedi mind trick we all know that let's us unhook our mouths from our mind, leaving the latter free to wander. I decided it was just his personality. Because it's a choice I am free to make. Also, it felt enough that I'd told him what I saw and that he heard me.

My freind Nan arrived on the sidewalk shortly after, scanning the crowded area for me as I tried to catch her eye.
She didn't see my frantic waving. But he did.
He called out to her and pointed my way.
When she'd set off towards me, he tipped his hat with one last brilliant smile and turned back to his sidewalk.

1 comment:

  1. Really nice portrait of the Lost and unwanted, the new global tribe that most of us now belong to.
    Staying alive in the post-Enron bullshit economy is no easy task and this guy was probably an out of work professor or concert pianist or something.