I’m on West 23rd Street by the Chelsea Hotel, a favorite spot of mine for its historical, artistic lore. It’s where Patti Smith lived with Robert Mapplethorpe and Janis Joplin and The Ramones danced and dreamed. Arthur Miller and Dylan Thomas both wrote there, and if you want to get dark, it’s where Sid killed Nancy.
I see a kid in front, all of 25, pale as me with dreadlocks streaming in the wind, packing up his sleeping bags. He has two dogs dressed in his own clothing, waiting patiently for their next move.
I’ve seen him before, way uptown, with one dog who now seems to have only one working eye. He was sprawled on a blanket, reading The Alienist, by Caleb Carr, displaying a sign that mewled in Quaker sentiment…
SOCIETY OF FRIENDS, PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN
Between the dog in a parka, and that he was reading one of my favorite books, I naturally emptied my pockets.
At least it was warmer then, not like now where he should really be in one of the many city shelters, but what you learn about the homeless is, there’s something very undignified going into one, a cold corner on the pavement, proudly preferred.
I give him the two bucks I have for the 12 step meeting I’m en route to, he needing it more.
His dogs bark as I take out my wallet, protecting their man as they should. After all, he didn’t leave them behind since, no one gets left behind, according to the U.S. Army Rangers.
Yet, this boy strikes me as being fatally forgotten.
He has another book, said he finished The Alienist, and was hoping this one lasted the day. Oh my, a passionate reader, just like me, despite his crumbling circumstances.
If the book in my bag was mine and not the library’s, it would have then been his.
I have nothing else to give, except perhaps prayer, hoping God, who’s been missing in action lately, hears me.
But what really left a mark, was not the one-eyed dog or his chihuahua brother in his much too big, gray-striped turtleneck, but the smile this young lad gave me as I took flight.
Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”
Yeah yeah. I hear God bats last. Well, he better hurry up to the plate, that’s all I know, or this soul will be lost.
As I walk away, I’m not thinking of Patti or Dylan, Sid and Nancy, or how the Chelsea has stood the test of time, or even Jesus for that matter, but this young man and his beloved pets, making their way courageously in the icy cold, along the lonely streets of New York City.