Guest columnist Paul Curran shows how sharp his skills of observation and interpretation are for us all to soak in today. Take it away for your Sunday spotlight, my Canadian friend.
Welcome to the weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today and I’m happy to be here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the living room. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B, have prepared a nice, warm, comfy place for us so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. The weather this morning is cloudy with showers and a high just over 50º F. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer. We have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger to warm up. We can relax with a cuppa while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. How has your week been? Have a piece of cake (or any of the sweets on the next table) – electronic sweets are all calorie-free!
So, Friday I was standing on the front porch waiting for my ride to dialysis, when a bevy of four men – two white and two black — approached and greeted me. I stand pretty tall and wide so I felt safe enough. One black guy and one hardened-looking older white guy entered the building door next to mine. The older white guy came back out in a few seconds and demanded that the white guy outside trade backpacks with him. After some grumbling the exchange was made and as the backpack went by, I saw it was so full of liquor that it couldn’t be zipped closed.
The two left outside sat on the steps – not permitted in our building – and the white dude identified himself as Johnny. He was about 45, and I had spoken to him before. He is very outgoing and always drunk – as he was Friday. He began telling me how he had quit his job roofing because he was scared of heights now – something that wasn’t so when he was younger. He began to talk about his Mom, who he said was 63 and a drug addict – crack being her choice of poison. He said he worried about her and had once broken down her door when she wouldn’t answer it and he knew she was in there. Then he said that his Dad had died two years ago today at 59 – and with raised voice – how sad it was that his Dad worked hard all his life and died before he could retire. How unfair was that?! At this point he found it important to give me a hug – which I accepted. Johnny was grubby as most are but passable.
Meanwhile the black guy sitting there said nothing; he just sat and stared at the ground. He was rail-thin, although dressed clean and neat in army surplus clothes. His hair was well-trimmed and his teeth white – his fingernails clean and well-kept. He looked absolutely beaten and seemed he could barely get the energy to walk. I suspect he may have had AIDS but there was no physical indication other than the thinness and lack of strength.
The two others emerged from the building with empty bags and said they were going to the food bank – which is about five blocks up the road. Johnny said he would join them later and continued with his life history. The thin black man started off with the others but behind them. It was only a few minutes before he staggered back and sat down again. When I asked if he was going to the food bank he whispered he was but remained sitting. After a few minutes Johnny wound down and saying “C’mon, let’s go” to the black man, started down the street. The black man didn’t move. I asked if he was joining Johnny, and he shook his head whispering in a voice that barely had the strength to exist “I can’t walk with him” and he pointed to add, “look.”
Sure enough, Johnny had stopped to have a loud conversation with another tenant about four buildings down who was standing on the second-floor balcony. They shouted back and forth, and in the end Johnny pulled down his pants and mooned the guy – and for good measure turned and mooned us, too. While Johnny was laughing his head off, the black guy just shook his head. I figured that Johnny’s antics were more than he wanted to endure, and that was the reason he wouldn’t walk with him. I would find out differently.
Would you like another cuppa? Perhaps a sweet? The black guy looked so sad, and he whispered that he was going inside now. And then he realized he had lost his key. He asked if I could open the outer door, and I explained that I lived next door (the two doors are side by side and share the same porch). It took a few minutes and some explaining and pointing for him to understand there were two separate entrances side by side. The concept seemed hard for him. He asked if I could stop anyone who was coming out of his door and get them to hold it for him – all this in a whisper that required numerous repetitions before I got it. He said he had to go to his crib and lie down. He sat back down as if he did not have the strength to stand. I told him he should go see the manager if he needed a key, and he agreed. I watched him stagger off toward the office and a few minutes later stagger back. He whispered that the manager wasn’t in and sat back down. About 10 minutes later another tenant came out of the door and we got him to hold it while the thin man, gripping the door frame, pulled himself inside.
Later that evening, after dialysis, I was home checking blogs when my friend Steve knocked on the door. He plopped down in my visitor’s chair and set two bags of groceries on the floor. He had also been over to the food bank and had picked up some groceries for me as well. Because of dialysis and my inability to walk very far I have a hard time getting to the food bank, so Steve, bless his heart, goes with a note from me and my ID and picks up food on my behalf. Steve told a story about standing in line at the food bank. Apparently Johnny showed up before the doors opened and got in line. He began to talk very loud about how immigrants were taking his food, directing his comments at the non-Caucasians in the line. The food bank personnel came out and told Johnny to stop the prejudiced talk. He continued to loudly proclaim that the immigrants did not have any right to his food and how Canadians were starving while those who didn’t belong took their food.
It wasn’t long before the police showed up and told Johnny that if he didn’t stop, he would be arrested for promoting hate statements in public. At this point Johnny told them he was hungry and had no food and he needed to get to the food bank. Then he proceeded to try to convince the cops that the immigrants had to go. Ha! Instead, it was Johnny who went – into the back of the cop car in handcuffs charged with hate, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, public intoxication and numerous other tidbits.
It was at this point in Steve’s story that I suddenly realized why the thin, quiet black man had whispered “I can’t walk with him.”
That’s about all we have room for this week folks, so it’s time to settle in with another cuppa and pat Ellie B. Sweets anyone? Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Have a great week.