I took some time to consider the best way to introduce myself, and it didn’t take me long at all to come up with the answer. I am going to share with you one of my favorite things – a story. A little story about a young girl’s summer in the city – how she discovers secrets of humanity in sidewalk subtleties. I am going to tell you the story of how I met my friend Sunny under an awning on the streets of Manhattan.
I wonder if, from behind those dark glasses, he sees me. Does he know I’m here? Does he watch me watching him? I think he’s probably handsome, under there somewhere beneath the long, unruly dark hair. Behind the oversized, outdated, too-dark sunglasses. He wears a suit every day, the same one – white once. Just right over the shoes, but a tad too short in the sleeves. It is dirty, but not torn.
And here I am, standing in pale pink Bandolino (when will I learn to wear tennies for the commute?) heels, purse held in school girl fashion across my knees, waiting. My brother Jon will be here soon to meet me for our train ride home, back to Brooklyn. #10 Cambridge Place – I think our address has a lovely, old world romance to it. It sounds heavenly, and it is, for a Brooklyn brownstone.
Sunny is here everyday, standing on a neat square of cardboard a polite distance from the theater’s box office that occupies the corner space. He is always smiling – holding out the cup, but never asking with words. Looking toward something none of the rest of us sees, he glows with some secret happiness. That’s why I call him Sunny. I don’t know his real name, but I’ve become attached to him – to the familiarity of him being here everyday. The promise I made to my brother to not talk to strangers withstanding, I decided to give him a name at least to use in my own mind.
The shift changes in the box office, as it does every day at this time, and Old Vinnie takes up his post. I made up his name, too. Everyone should have a name, don’t you think? Once Vinnie counts his drawer and settles in on his worn leather stool, he starts watching. He watches me, watches the gathering crowd near the train station steps – people waiting until the last minute to descend into the tunnels, enjoying as much of the fresh air as they can. As much as I can. Then, I wait for it. I wait for that moment when Old Vinnie sprouts wings and a halo.
He looks over his shoulder, reaches into his pocket for some coin, tosses it into the register, and taps the window. Grabbing a snack-sized Doritos from the hanging display, he taps the window again, motioning to Sunny. Sunny takes a few long strides, grabs the Doritos, gives a dazzling smile, and returns to his square, not a word is exchanged between the two men. It happens every day, this unassuming act of kindness, and it makes me smile, feeling content as I observe the compassions of fellow man. There are, afterall, some good people left in the world.
Then, one day, he isn’t there, on the squared patch of sidewalk by the box office. It is empty space, and I am alone in a sea of people, worried for my friend whose face I’ve never seen, but find myself missing.
A day goes by, and then a weekend of wondering, a Monday of waiting. And, he’s back. The upwelling of elation in my heart, the return to normal, the knowing that my friend is back and safe is cut short, replaced by a hot anger when I see the bruising, the scrapes, the bandages. Stark white against his shabby suit, they are freshly placed. Another angel, unseen, is taking care of him, too. And, I am ashamed. What have I done to help this man, other than enjoy a delight in the well-doing of others?
It is time for the shift change, and I am ready. This time, when Old Vinnie looks at me, I look back. Walking over to the box office, I look at Sunny, boldly trying to see through the glasses, to make contact. He looks vaguely in my direction and smiles. Whether he sees me or not, I’ll never know. I pass the bills under the glass, speak the words, and walk back to my waiting place. Old Vinnie had said nothing, but as I stand near the curb, I see his cracks and wrinkles hiked up in a lop-sided smile. He knows I know his secret. Dropping out of sight for a few moments, he returns with a styrofoam carton full to overflowing with a steaming hot dog and cheesy nachos. He sets down a cold drink on the counter and taps the window.
Sunny walks over, a little slower than usual. Is there surprise in his eyes when he sees the little feast, a little extra happiness in his heart? Will he remember me after I’ve left New York? I’ll never know, and I don’t need to know. But, I do know that I will always remember him.