[My friend and former co-worker Grace and I used to kill time at our retail job by telling each other stories. She often spoke of the need to write them down. For posterity’s sake, I suppose. Not that she needed a reason. But after I moved on, she sent me this atypical tale from the New York subway–a story of generosity, a case for caring about others, no matter how crazy. Many thanks to Grace. -jfd]
Have Not, Want Not
By Grace Ladd
The 2 Train pulled into the Interval station in the Bronx this afternoon around 5. I nudged myself between two large men who I wasn’t paying much attention to as I scrolled through my phone. When the train doors closed, anticipating the loss of service, I put my phone down and looked up at the person across from me. She was reading “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and looked like she enjoying it.
I was laughing to myself at the creepy gross smirk on the reader’s face when a little girl passed by selling fruit snacks. She quickly walked to the end of the train. Just then the guy right next to me perked up. In a rusty loud homeless voice, he yelled at the child, “Miss, miss!” He leaned forward, “Hey, miss!” The little girl came back to where we were sitting.
The homeless man reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a stack of cash wrapped in a few pieces of paper, then drew five dollars and bought five packs of candy from the little girl. He scanned the train, shared his candy with two children, a women missing a few teeth and another random lady. He kept one package for himself. The look on the reader’s face hadn’t changed even slightly. She had no idea what was going on.
The candy man watched the commuters enter and exit the train at each stop. At the 136th Street station, another curious fellow boarded the train
and sat in the handicapped seat. This particular passenger, who in no way appeared physically disabled, started yelling like a crazy person. The candy man took this as a cue that the dude was homeless. So what did my gritty candy train neighbor do next? He began shouting to the guy across the train, “Hey man! Hey, man, you want ten dollars? Come here.”
The crazy man didn’t believe him. “I’m not getting up and going over there,” he said. The candy man looked forward for a few minutes, then he just got up and give it to him. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the packet of cash, and gave the man sitting in the handicapped seat a $10 bill. Then he walked back to his seat and sat down.
The next thing I heard the crazy fellow shout across the car. “Man, I apologize. I do apologize,” he barked. “Will you accept my apology?” The candy man just looked forward as if he didn’t notice the crazy man’s shame.
I loved the awkward tension that their interaction caused the other passengers. Can you believe it? The reader, meanwhile, remained unfazed by the scene.
Now, I’m not one to talk on the train, but I was so curious about the actions of the candy man that I decided to be bold, to ask him exactly what I was thinking. In the kindest voice I could muster, I put my face to his and asked, “Why are you giving all your money away?”
He looked me straight in the eye, and through his fruit-gummy filled teeth said to me, “Have not, want not.”
That was it.
We went back to thinking and staring silently like subway passengers are expected to do. Generally speaking, I align myself a lot more with the insular reader—disillusioned by her crap that’s not even real. Beyond resting comfortably in my own little world, I hold so tightly to all my stuff and make up every excuse to not be inconvenienced by people who may even attempt to ask for money. Sometimes, I intentionally take different routes home just to avoid them.
Although I hate ending stories with a Full House type lesson, after sitting next to this dude, the candy man, I can’t help but wonder what it would look like to be exorbitantly generous. This guy had nothing, but sought people out, scanning the subways for opportunities. Not sure how to end this story other then to say I feel compelled. Guess we shall see if I am less selfish as a result. No guaranteeing anything. However, effort shall me made.