December 14, 2017


I noticed him long ago. He stands outside the entrance to the F train, at Warren and Smith. Sometimes he sits rather stands, his back against the brick wall behind him.

What he’s doing is begging, although I’ve yet to see him beg. He just stands there, silent. Often he looks down. He has no sign. I’ve seen him there at all hours, which has made me wonder where—and when—he sleeps. I’ve yet to see anyone speak to him, or give him money, or even look at him, although it would impossible not to notice him there.

Two days ago, at about 7am, as I was returning from Starbucks, I found him in his usual spot, but sitting this time. He had his head down and his knees up and was holding a lidded cup of coffee to his lips. He was completely still, as though frozen in place, which seemed entirely possible given how cold it was.

I moved closer, just to make sure he was alive. I watched his jacket for signs of breathing. There weren’t any.

I’m not proud of this, but my next thought was of what would happen if he was dead, what I would need to do—the police, the questions, standing there while his corpse was put on a stretcher and lifted into an ambulance or whatever sort of vehicle the city uses to transport the dead.

For the briefest moment I thought of walking away, of leaving him, or rather leaving the problem he represented, for someone else to deal with. But that was not, I knew, what I would do. This man was a man at the top of the stairs to the F train, as alone as a man could be, whether living or dead. I could not, and would not, walk away.

Instead I took another step toward him and extended my hand, touching him lightly on the shoulder.

“Sir,” I said. “Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not okay,” he said, looking up at me. “But it appears I’m still alive.”