the years seemed but days

With sun-sweat beading,
He shines my shoes while telling
Me old stories. Tip.

photo: Osvaldo Zoom



I have seen things today.

Like the man pictured below on 37th and Broadway at about 2:30 p.m., when I walked across the street to Starbucks. He was shouting, “Hi! Here I am! Hi!”

On 82nd and West End Avenue, later this afternoon and strewn at the side of a pre-war building on the northwest corner, there was a collection of six or seven children’s items on the sidewalk: two pairs of pajama bottoms (one was camouflage), one plastic abacus, a shirt, a pair of sneakers with the shoelaces still tied. The building Superintendent, a short man with thinning hair, came from under the forest-green awning to join another man. They both looked up, and I saw the Super mouth the words, “Fifth floor.” He had a grease stain on the front of his blue work-shirt.

Catty-corner to that, there was an espresso-skin man with a brilliant bouquet of balloons—pink and white and some silver. The sun, retreating over the Hudson, shone against them, and the man’s face disappeared behind them as he looked south on West End to see if he could cross.

photo: Howard Freeman

“Moshiach is Coming”

There is a young Hasidic Jewish man who weaves frenetically through the pedestrians on Broadway in the Garment District—I see him usually after 6 p.m.—with a stack of used paperback books forming a pilaster on his chest between his clenched hands at his waist and his neck.

He swivels his head from side to side, looking for people to whom he might give a book. He is choosing from among the crowd of Germans, Scandinavians, Japanese and commuters who traipse north and south on the Great White Way. In front of my office building at 36th Street and Broadway, there is occasionally a parked 40-foot RV with “Moshiach is Coming” painted in plum and teal on the side and music playing from a loudspeaker. Next to the writing there is a picture of a man in a black hat and long white beard, with a slight smile, which invites in passers-by. He looks kind, and serious. People enter by a five-step staircase toward the front of the RV and exit 25 feet or so toward the back. On a recent Monday, I saw a man from my floor coming out of the vehicle, smiling and talking to someone behind him who remained in the RV. He’s a businessman, and from my albeit brief exchanges with him I would not have guessed he was very religious. Young men, somewhere between 14 and 21 years old, wearing black hats and suits with white shirts open at the collar, the fringe of the tallit katan falling to their thighs, stand a few feet apart facing opposite directions in front of the RV handing out tracts, directing people to the entrance steps. They first ask, “Are you Jewish?” They don’t ask everyone. They ask me this. Over the summer a young man with red hair and fair skin asked me multiple times on different days. One time he asked me on my way to the gym and again on my way back. I always answered “no.” He was undeterred, moving on to the next person, letting me walk by without a second glance or visible trace of disappointment.

photo: ashi