Wednesday, August 15, 2018

American dreams revisited

There but by the grace of god go I. Remember these words when you meet people who are disabled or downtrodden or not doing well, who are homeless or indigents or just need a smile of reassurance....

The mall was empty this time of the morning. The loving embrace of my warm comfy bed, a wishful memory . It would be possible, without too much effort, to pity my plight in life. The Newark brick city skyline loomed closer as the bus pulled over the Clay Street Bridge, and this was as good a place as any, to embark on my journey of self pity.

I always took the same bus and sat in the rear. I kept a low profile, the kind that draws the least attention. I never looked for a spare seat, though by that time that would have been a rarity. My journey took me from the well kept streets of Kearny, to the city's heart, and I would wonder where all the travelers on the bus were coming from, what forsaken time of the day did these souls leave their loving embraces behind?

They had become a familiar cast. The guy who held onto the shoulder strap and drank his hot coffee every morning always boarded in Harrison. He looked as if he had never spoken in his life, just brooded and stared under those heavy, gray brows. There was the pretty young girl who dressed with style. She was always engrossed in some conversation, with someone, day after day. Then there was the guy in the wheel chair, the bus driver said he was a drunk and stole it, but everyday she’d pick him up at the same stop, and it would take 20 or so minutes to get him on the bus and locked in.

In a more measured time, I would have buried myself in a book, yet I was still held by the fancy of youth, and savored in casting my gaze between the passengers, and in watching the green of the suburbs give way to the inner-city brick prison, under that lucid, revealing light.

All, it seemed, had it's place, inside and out, as well ordered as a balance sheet, handed down from above. Yet, there was something out of place, and, that misfit was me. What was I doing here? It felt like I was playing out a role, not living. I was barely 18, a young 18, and at that time of morning my friends were still getting ready for school, and here I was, with a ticket to... to where? My future? It was too late to go back. Only the newness of the whole experience stopped me from falling completely into self-pity. Certainly the career high-rope I found myself on, NJIT school for postal employees, was not one to inspire my morning blues to bloom into more colorful rainbows.

But, if this was the path for me, I’d follow it; I was one of the sheeple, just a number, Just let me join the flock, pull the wool over my eyes. I wanted so much more, I hoped for fortune, fame, glory, what kid in America didn’t?

It was just after 8:00 am, that the bus arrived at Broad and Route 21, enough to give me time to kill each morning, before the walk to the main Post Office. Coming off the bus early to the little strip mall on Route 21 was something I started a few weeks earlier, here there was a Dunkin' Donuts, and I’d stop in to see the counter girl, her name was Juanita, and she was beautiful; she always gave me an extra donut with my coffee latte. Alighting from the bus, I noticed an older woman, sitting on the bus stop bench, agitated, waving her hand, and beseeching passers-by.

The rush hour masses were avoiding her .. and was I not one of them? I veered a path, to avoid her frenzied questioning line of sight, and with chin planted in chest, ran her gauntlet. By now, I could hear what she was saying to all within shouting distance, "Scuse me, 'scuse me, please, 'scuse me..".

By now, I could see her, in the corner of my eye; she was a homeless old woman, tattered and life-beaten. I had seen her a few times picking through the dumpster at the McDonald's on Broad and Market…

"Excuse me, young sir?" She had seen me, and I knew her question was aimed at me.

"Excuse me, yea you young fella?" There was a human, plaintive tone in her request, that however I longed to ignore, I knew I could not. Why had she chosen me, from the crowd, to direct her question so personally? I turned to her, and looked her in the eye. For a moment, all she did was stare, as if taken aback. I gingerly walked toward her, I felt compelled to answer.

"Yes, ma’am?”

"Ahh, good for you, I didn't think you'd stop. Do you know what time it is?"

A reasonable enough request, except she was sitting directly under the bank temperature and time clock, that lit the time and the temperature every few seconds.. it could easily be seen from where she was. I was probably the only one, of the passers-by, who wasn't wearing a watch. I never needed one.

"There's a big clock right over there, by the Bank of New York….see? You can
see it from here.”

"Yeah, I had noticed it, thanks, . I've been up all night, you know, and my old bones aren't what they used to be…but that clock on the bank has been broke for over 2 years now…it never moves just say’s 12:01."

I waited for the clock to blink, and sure enough, I knew it was about 8 o”clock, so
She was right, the clock was wrong.

"Okay, no worries, I can get the time for you. Just stay there, and I'll be right back."

"Yea, sure, I’ll be holding my breath waiting for you.” She said with a cynicism that said she knew I was lying.

She needn't fear, I said I would, and that should have been good enough for her, but I was young, Freddie the freshman, the American dream still blinding my eyes.

I returned to where she was, and she hadn't missed a beat, from her earlier mantra to all passing by, as if I had never stopped, “excuse me anyone here got the time?”

"I have the time. It's quarter past eight."

"Oh my, I thought you’d left, didn’t think you’d be back though." She eyed
me curiously.

"Why would I do that for?"

"You know, it’s rush hour, no one has time to stop and give a person the time of day. Everyone’s always in a hurry. I've been sitting here for ages, and you're the first one to stop. I don't know what's happening with the world, it's changed so much. So, what are you do in' around town?"

"I'm... just off to work," It wasn't a phrase I was use to, and got caught in my throat.

"Ah.. work, huh? Good Luck to you.”

"Things aren't so bad, it's a lovely day. I'm happy to...."

She interrupted me...

"When you get to my age you realize all days are the same. You know what today is? It's the day I was born.”

"Oh-hh… happy birthday!"

"That’s a joke, right? Hey thanks anyway.” She said, shuffling again on the bench.

"Well …..anyway, enjoy your birthday. There must be something you can do today. You got the time, remember? It's quarter past eight, or just after now, you have the whole day to celebrate.”

"Haha.. yeah sure, I have the whole day... well thank you for stopping by…."

As I turned, to ascend the last set of steps, she gave me a final farewell.... "Thanks again, young man, you are a true American.“

There was something in the way she said those words, that made me feel blessed.

“Happy birthday, I didn’t catch your name.”

“My name is Regina that I will never forget. “

Well, happy birthday Regina,” and I reached into my pocket to hand her some

“What’s that?" She asked, “put that away, I don’t need that

I was humbled, and didn't know how to react. I stepped toward her, and said, “Please, take this, it’s my present to me on your birthday.”

She cackled, revealing missing teeth, while she took the offering.

Was it really so hard, for anyone else to stop for this harmless soul? I was glad I did, and I wasted little time in congratulating myself, on being a fine humanitarian... and an American.. Upon reaching the top of the stairs I felt an urge to turn around, and view the joy I had left in my wake.

And, there she was... sitting just the same as before, agitated, waving his hand, asking of all who walked by, "'Scuse me, you got the time?... do you got the time?" As if I had never been there at all. This was a defining moment in my life.

There but by the grace of god go I. I thanked whatever god might be, for allowing me
to see this old woman’s plight. I never once complained about the life I had been dealt.

I went to the brick city soup kitchen on Market Street about a week later. An old woman was ladling soup into small plastic cups to indigents, homeless and never’do wells. She eyed me suspiciously; after all I was just a young kid.

“I’d like to know if I could volunteer my services here?”

“Sure kid, we always need help around here, go see Josh in the back, and see what you
can do to help him.”

I walked into the back of the kitchen, large caldrons of soup boiling away, an old Jamaican man by the name of Josh, wearing a dread-lock cap with Bob Marley on the front and a Jamaican flag on the back, looked up, “Cool runnings man, you must’ve been sent by Jah," his spliff hanging loosely from his lips.

I grabbed an apron, and said “Put me to work, I’m ready for anything.”

He laughed loudly, “hahahaha” gafawing at me, “That makes me feel downright
aiery, well then…..I’m gonna rastaclaw your bumbaclaw…..”

“I only want to help?” I quizzed…not understanding him.

“Ah yes, of course, I bet you want to save the world…..young American dreamer.”

About the Writer

hipriestess4u is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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1 comments on American dreams revisited

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By Gracey on August 22, 2010 at 06:47 am

Beautiful. I really loved this...and it is a social commentary we should pay attention to. Thanks for the excellent read!

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