I was on Carmine Street near the East Village en route to an appointment. There’s a fellow in a wheelchair, no more than 30, who sits in front of a variety store. I’ve seen him before. He doesn’t ask for money, but clearly it’s his spot all year long.
As I came out of the store buying Tic Tacs, I heard taunting from across the street. Now for me to hear it so clearly, it was loud.
There were four boys I’d say in their late teens making fun of this guy calling him gimp, bum. One screamed, “Hey, Willie, who’s gonna change your drawers today.” I was beside myself with outrage, frozen where I stood. But oddly enough my natural leanings all set to explode were usurped by a construction worker who abruptly stopped his bulldozer descending as if someone said CUT, like on a movie set.
He climbed down, wiped his hands on his jeans and marched over to this group of boys.
“You think you’re better than that boy just cause you can walk? I’m talkin to you. You’re pussies all a’ya. You couldn’t stand what he goes through every day.”
One unfortunate kid yelled, “Hey fuck you man.”
“Fuck me, you wanna fuck me?” He lunged after this boy grabbing him by his neck shaking him right off the ground.” I remember thinking…would it be tacky if I took a few notes?
The kid in the wheelchair looked horrified. I went over and said, “This man is great. Look how he’s standing up for you.”
“Yeah, but lady. He’ll leave and they’ll beat the shit outta me.” This is where I came in.
I called for the man to stop. “Please, enough…that’s enough.” Hard Hat looked at me happily opting for manners rather than scorn (I was wearing a dress and kitten heels so my Jackie O’ness prevailed).
“I think these youngsters should be spoken to rather than beaten…I do, so please though I appreciate you standing up more than you know, let them be.”
Who the fuck was I channeling, Gandhi?
He let the kid, who now had a bloody nose, go. “You think talkin ta them will change anything?”
“Well, I see how young they are (I suddenly became their lawyer) and do think a conservation might be more useful.”
I was waiting for a fuck you to come my way, but these boys were scared since now we had three more hard hats behind Hard Hat.
I looked at these kids in all their perfection. Beautiful bodies in nice jeans and tight Tees showing off chiseled arms. Then I gazed at the guy in the wheelchair and my heart went.
“You fellas are so lucky,” I said. “Look at you. I bet you all play sports, right?”
One guy nodded.
“You see him (pointing to Willie)? He can never play ball, hit a homer, run around the bases like you can. You should protect him, not make it harder by being cruel. What would your mothers say if they were here?” (mentioning their mother was like pouring water over their heads).
I handed the kid whose nose was bleeding more napkins. Hard Hat was standing near me like Luca Brasi ready to kill-em all.
I thought, this is probably going nowhere, but then another kid went and picked up Willie’s Boston Red Soxs cap that had fallen on the ground, handing it to him.
“You’re not even a Yankee fan Willie.”
“Yeah I am, I just ain’t got a hat.”
I don’t know what happened then, but Hard Hat went back to his bulldozer while I walked to the train.
“You have a nice day ma’am,” he said giving me a well worn wink. “and don’t worry about Willie, I got his back.”
Heroes…you never know when you’re going to meet one.