The growing list of characters in my life could easily resurrect P.T. Barnum, the latest one being an old black man in a wheelchair.
I see him when I go early to a particular Starbucks as he rolls himself in with the grace of an Olympic skier.
He’s clearly not homeless and must live in that neighborhood since it’s the only one I see him in, occasionally waiting for a bus on 86th and Lex to go uptown.
There’s something stylish about him in his jeans, polo shirt and saucy cap if you discount a stain here and there. But the trait I can’t help but to admire is his fierce independence.
We first met when I held the door for him and he cursed me for it. “When I need help, I’ll ask for it.”
The cashier said he doesn’t like anyone feeling sorry for him. Hey, I just opened the door, I didn’t put him in my will.
Of course, those of you who know me know, that wasn’t the end of it. God forbid I just let this snappy man be.
One day at 5 a.m. I see him out there in the rain trying to shield himself under the eaves of a building. I sip my coffee watching him get wet…it was that kind of rain that found you no matter where you were.
Okay, not my twenty, as they say in the Bronx meaning…I can’t just sit here and do nothing.
So out I go, umbrella in hand, crossing the street in the inky blackness practically absorbing him in its mist. I say, “Hey, I’m giving you this. Will you please take it?”
He doesn’t say anything, but now he’s drenched. “Come into Starbucks where it’s dry… “come on, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.” He’s still looking at me like I have three heads, and I do by the way…just keep them hidden in my hoodie.
He suddenly says with the diction of a college professor, “I don’t care for Starbucks coffee.”
“What kind of coffee do you like?” He points to the vendor on the corner that of course only takes cash.
“Well, all I have is a credit card…what about Dunkin Donuts.”
“No, don’t like it there either….so, are you broke?”
“No, just low on cash.” He laughs. “You’re broke. I should buy you coffee.”
Meanwhile, now we’re both sopping wet because my little 5 dollar on-the-street umbrella isn’t even keeping me dry.
“Can I ask your name?”
“You could ask, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to tell you.”
“You know, I’m only trying to help, and I know, you didn’t ask for it, but well, I just can’t sit by while you drown.” He laughs again.
“You need a husband.”
“No, I really don’t…a bagel maybe.” I finally give up.
As I start crossing the street, I hear, “Willie, my name’s Willie.”
I turn hiding a grin and say, “good to know you Willie, I’m Joan… ya know, of Arc?”
It pleases me to no end he gets my joke.