I'm not sure what's worse: the belligerent, drunk, incoherent, paranoid, accusatory, schizophrenic, Tourettes' bum; or the overly friendly, generous, supportive, paternal, homeless man.
Hanging out on Avenue A at 5 a.m., working at the world's only 24-hour record store/hangout for the unemployable, I'm more than used to dealing with the former. They come in with garbage they've found somewhere and try to hock it to us before they pass out in Tompkins Square Park across the street. Usually a simple menacingly glare and a 'No Thank You" will shoo them away easily enough before they start screaming at me.
This older guy came in with a stack of maybe 50 LPs and 45s in his grocery cart early this morning. The records were all in terrible condition, scratched, wet and torn, but he had some awesome titles. A lot of them were 1960s South American mambo and garage rock albums. The coolest featured some kind of Latin Sammy Davis Jr. in a gay pirate costume on the cover. The artwork alone was worth picking them up for a look. The owner of the store took a little time to examine the records to see if any were worth buying for the store.
In the meanwhile, the homeless guy started talking to me. He asked where I'm from and if the traffic there was as bad as it is in New York. Then asked me what famous people are from Baltimore (he knew Johnny Unitas, but not Cal Ripken).
"Well, you can be a famous person from Baltimore," he said.
"I'm working on it," I said and smiled.
"Good, what do you do?" he asked.
"I write," I replied.
"Fiction or nonfiction," the 56-year-old gentleman asked politely.
"Mainly nonfiction," I said.
"Do you have anything written or published?" he queried.
"I've had stories in some newspapers and magazines," I said, surprised by his inquisitiveness.
"Do you have anything with you? I'd like to read it," he said.
I told him that I didn't have any of my clips on me.
"Well, bring some here. I'll stop by again and see if you left anything for me," he told me. "You're gonna make it. If you try, you can accomplish anything."
By this point, the owner had gone through the albums and determined that only a handful were sellable. The man gave the owner the whole pile rather than carry them around. He just wanted them to have a good home, he said.
As he walked away, he pulled something out of his cart and handed it to me.
"Here's a present for you," he said.
The eternal optimist shoved a red, Tickle Me Elmo doll in my hand. Both the owner and I were completely baffled by the gesture.
"No thanks, that's very nice of you, but you keep it," I said.
"No. I'm going to go sleep in the park," he told me with a smile. "It makes too much noise."
Then he grabbed his cart and ambled across the street. I pressed the stomach of the damp Elmo doll. It began to giggle maniacally.
"Oh boy!" Elmo laughed. "That tickles."
I gave the owner the doll for the store, and he set it out to dry when the sun came up. I couldn't tell if the old man was the nicest person I've met in New York, the craziest or the funniest.
About an hour later, as the sun was coming up, one of the balding, cackling, nonsense-talking homeless guys came running down the sidewalk. He picked up the Elmo doll and a look of sheer joy crossed his face.
"That's ours," the owner of the store said. "That's not trash."
The guy held up the Elmo doll and squeezed it in his outstretched hands, smiled and laughed. "Tickle Me Elmo!" he giggled before setting it down and running off.
I had know idea that a child's toy could make grown men so happy. Are they showing Sesame Street in flophouses now? Now I'm going to have to start bringing the friendly homeless man my clips. At least my mom won't be the only one excited about them.
Perhaps I am going overboard being so self-referential today, but now that you have read his take on the homeless men and their treasure/trash, here's what I had to say about it.