I was standing on the platform on Kings Highway waiting on the F train to take me to the city when I saw an elderly man sitting on the bench. I knew this man since I was a child, seen him around my neighborhood; standing upright and boisterous.
He was the kind of man who would walk into a room and everyone would know it before they even recognized his face. He had that dynamic mystique, while not good looking and fit; he had a persona that was like an open door promising warmth and good cheer.
So many scenes swept me up in a conspiracy of time travel that I felt dizzied by the theater of it all.
He sat there and had a look on his face of confusion? As if he had gotten off the train at an unfamiliar stop somewhere? Or was it his eyes brows rising on the outer parts, sinking in the inner; his face unevenly shaved and his shirt unevenly buttoned up that made him seem lost?
How old was he? I thought to myself and then a familiar smile burst forth and a hand thrust towards me in greeting.
“How you doing Zalta?” That familiar voice which used to fill up the streets or the schoolyard on east 2nd street as a game was played with the intensity of a black cup of Turkish coffee.
“I am good, its great to see you, Mr. ____.”
“Ah, I miss your father, what a man! A legend!” As always a tear streaked through my mind whenever someone mentioned my father.
“He was a legend — one in a million.” Never modest when it comes to my parents.
“You still playing stickball?” He asked me as if I were a retired professional.
“Not recently — there’s no place to play anymore. Remember that time we played, you, me and Mickey?”
“I couldn’t touch his curveball — another legend…”
“Oh yeah, our world is less because of their absence.”
“No doubt about it. We could use some of that generation these days. Are you still in the travel business?”
“No, I left there a while ago, thought the grass was greener.”
“Yeah, well, my business, I had to close it down. Now I am a 70 year old gopher for my son in law. He is very nice, put up a desk for me, gives me things to do…” He wasn’t convincing, I let it go.
“He is a good guy, your son in law.” I was lying, I wont get into it here.
“Well, my daughter is happy, that’s all that matters.” He stood up as the train made its way into the station.
We sat down next to each other and he opened up his New York Post as I took out the book I was reading, “A Man in Full,” by Tom Wolfe. I couldn’t concentrate on the words so I put it down and I asked him how his wife was.
“She is beautiful — threw me out of the house this morning when I asked her to drive me to the station. She doesn’t let me get away with using older as an excuse. Stands by me through it all.”
“She is a beautiful lady; I remember we all had a crush on her when she was our teacher.” I laughed and he smiled remembering, perhaps even always seeing her the same way despite the years.
“She looked like Jaclyn Smith from ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ remember that show? People used to stop her all the time.”
“Of course.” I smiled. He never stopped smiling as he seemed to traverse through a photo album of his wife. He seemed to be lost in his thoughts so I kept quiet. I got an alert on my phone from Chase — account is low again, it’ll be over drawn by this afternoon. I closed my eyes and wondered what I needed to do to keep in the black. I looked at Mr. ___ and he was sleeping or dreaming. On his wrist was a watch worth more than my monthly salary; it didn’t matter; I realized I’d rather be here now, in my shitty financial position than in his position. You see, his wife had passed away a couple of years ago, so wherever he was now, he was happier than he should have been.
We got to 34th Street and we walked together to his office; I told him I hoped to see him again on the train and he smiled.
“You think I am crazy?” He said still smiling.
“No, we all have our coping system — I admire you, Mr. ___.” We shook hands and said goodbye.
I sent my wife a text message with a simple, “I love you.” I wasn’t ready to have to cope and I said a silent prayer that I never would have to. Somehow I know that there was a plan for me somewhere to make this world a better place. I know it will have to do with my words, my gift of writing and creativity. It was given to me for a reason. As I walked towards my building I was filled with hope. Without hope, what else is there?