Wednesday, January 31, 2018

There’s a new guy panhandling on the F train lately. You can tell he’s coming. It starts with a little commotion, a spasm in that gauzy atmosphere that unites and separates us all on our way home from work. Is it a fight? A lunatic? A few heads turn. Most don’t bother. But then he appears, marching down the car and shouting: “I’m HUNGRY. Can SOMEBODY HELP ME OUT? I’m HUNGRY. Can SOMEBODY HELP ME OUT?”

The choice of words. The emphatic, urgent declaration. Then the more delicate question—not “Can someone give me money?” Not “Can someone spare some change?” Can somebody help me out? Could mean anything, really. Up to you. The words lie there on the floor, inviting us to pick and poke at them.

I thought he’d walked by when I realized he’d stopped his litany and taken a seat across from me. Like any other rider I suppose. He was eating a slice of chocolate-frosted cake from a clear plastic single-serve container. The kind you see at the deli and never, ever buy. When he was done he cast the trash beneath the bench and pulled out a wad of cash. He tossed it in a heap on the empty seat beside him. A mound of bills, some balled up and some in clumpy piles. Then he gathered it all up again and began to count. Singles, some fives. There must have been, I don’t know. Thirty dollars, forty?