The other stranger I had a conversation with was a guy hawking pamphlets on Broadway, near Zabar's. I had just finished one of my favorite pasttimes at the 82nd St. Barnes & Nobles (reading for free and drinking a small beverage to cover the costs of my freeloading) and I was heading to the 79th Street Number 1 train stop. Each time one of these sidewalk loiterers thrust paper at me, I consciously have to shift my reaction because at first blush I feel invaded and imposed upon by their sheer cheek. I want to scream at them "LEAVE ME ALONE!!" That's Crazy Little Alan talking.
So I change that by looking the hawker in the eye as they stick their wares in my face and I look for a reason not to cuss them out then and there.
And I usually find it.
Usually, they are an immigrant, possibly with no command of my language at all, just doing whatever they can to survive. Somebody swooped them up to stand out on the corner and become the most unpopular person in a 10-block radius, beside the homeless guy carrying around his poop in a jar (hypothetically speaking). I can't be mad at them once I look in their eyes. Because when I do, they look back into mine. And it seems like they're saying "Please get me off this corner. Please?"
So then I just respond to their offer with a "No thank you," soaked with empathy for their position. Because God in his Heaven knows I'd not want to be doing what they're doing any more than they probably want to. I can only hope that speaking to them and offering a smile, even if I don't take the crap they're handing out, makes their job just a little more tolerable in that split second. Sometimes I get a smile back, which makes me think that yeah, they appreciated it.
Well, yesterday, the hawker matched none of these demographics. He was a middle-aged, articulate white guy with salt-and-pepper hair wild over his head like Gene Wilder in his heyday. But I did the same thing I always do, because hey--I'm me. I looked him in the eyes and smiled and told him, "No thank you."
Mind you, I knew this guy was articulate because he was all loud in his delivery with all the passersby. He couldn't just hand out the flyer, no. He had to cover up his embarassment and debasedness with middle-class, well-enunciated pap. Whatever, dude. I'm just trying to keep from cussing your ass out as you push all up in my grille with your bullcrap.
But what did he say to me--that's the point of this whole post. The exact words, I cannot remember. But it went to the tune of this;
"Well, thank you sir!"
And I kept walking on a bit, so that he now had to call out after me, "What a nice gentleman you are! And so handsome!"
I ish you not. The man called across a crowded sidewalk that I was handsome. My face erupted in a smile that I could not have prevented for love nor money. I turned back around to him and I said, "I really appreciate you saying that!"
And he said, "I really appreciate you too!"
I swear. Dozens of people heard this conversation between us. And off I went to the subway stop, walking ten feet off the ground.
I would have just flown the rest of the way home, but I'd already paid into my subway pass and I didn't want to waste my money. :-)
Being nice to people! It's what's for dinner!