A couple of years ago, when I lived in lovely Nolita, I would wake up early every morning and walk a few blocks to the gym. At the end of my block, there was a cute little Euro-style bistro and they had a tiny bench tucked under their window facing the side street.
One day, a large man with long salt and pepper hair, a matching beard, and a drug store cane sat on the bench. He was wearing ridiculously over-sized sunglasses and he had an old school cassette/radio Walkman with crummy looking headphones shoved in his ears. He was singing Sam Cooke and he had an awesome voice. I smiled, not knowing if he was blind or not. He smiled back.
The next morning, there he was again. I walked past him for several days, each time nodding and smiling, until finally I said “you have a nice voice.” I introduced myself and said I lived in the neighborhood and assumed he did too, since he was there everyday. He confirmed he lived around the corner and he told me he loved sitting on the bench and watching all the happy people stroll by. Dave was his name – he thanked me for stopping to say hello – “most people just pass me by.” Thus began our friendship.
Every day for the next week or so, I talked with Dave about the passers by, what he was listening to, and so on. Then one morning at the end of our chat, he called me back as I was walking away, “Wait Nicole, I got somethin’ I need to tell ya.” He was nervous and he looked a little sad. “Remember I told you I live in your neighborhood?” I nodded. “Well, what if I told you I wasn’t your neighbor?…What if I told you I live on The Bowery? In the Mission. What if I told you I’m homeless?” He took his glasses off and exposed his tired eyes, swollen with tears that hadn’t yet fallen to this cheeks. “I’d say you’re still my neighbor, Dave. And I’d say none of that matters to me. You’re still my friend.” We hugged. There were tears of relief.
I began to stay a little longer with each visit. Dave told me all about the tragic car accident that led to his financial ruin. The hospital stays, the operations, the divorce. He was blinded-sided while he was driving a truck. Never saw the other car coming. After the accident, he learned to shuffle along with a cane. And he had to be careful not to expose his eyes to sun or else he’d have a seizure – hence the enormous sunglasses. Still, every day he made the arduous two block walk to the bench because he “couldn’t bare to be cooped up inside with those nasty people.”
One day, I asked him if he ever went down to the garden about half a block away. “There’s a garden here?” So we walked. I sat with him for about an hour, hopping from bench to bench, chasing the shade so he didn’t get too much sun exposure. His favorite topic was trying to figure out why I wasn’t married. I was dating someone at the time. Dave never met him, but he looked at me and said “I can already tell he ain’t the one. Keep lookin’ for a better one, kid.”
That was the last time I saw Dave. I wanted to tell him goodbye before I moved from the neighborhood, but one day he just wasn’t there anymore. I have no idea what happened. It’s probably better that way. I prefer to have his kind smile and his lovely voice visit me in my memories. I do miss his hugs and hearing him yell half way down the block “Have a lovely day, Nicole!”
So many of us could very easily be like Dave – one tragedy away from homelessness. In light of the sad times we’re living in right now, I hope the story about my unlikely friendship with Dave will remind us all that we’re more alike than we are different. We are all here to spread light and love. We are all one.
Musical pairing to enhance your reading pleasure: