New York Elusive: Good Pie
"I sing fo' money. I'm no begga' man," the man hummed as he talked in long rambling sentences. He had shining, moving eyes that rarely met other eyes and he smilingly displayed teeth of many colors. He wore layers of clothes in June and smelled of several days. He had just boarded the subway on the final stop before our drop. My wife squeezed my hand tightly as we rode the subway between Union and 69th, heading back to our temporary upper east side home after desperately, and successfully, completing an authentic New York date. It was 2:00 a.m.; we were road weary and full on a midnight breakfast at L'Masho de Bucluer. Earlier, from the sidewalk patio, we drank coffee and heard nothing but the streets in between discussions of dreams coming true and the merits of extended travel. When the door of the subway slammed shut we were alone with the man and a sleeping, hooded figure slumped in the corner. Just riding and sleeping, I guessed. The man kept on, "Hows 'bout a sweet song for the lovely lady?". He seemed truly impressed with the loveliness of my wife. With pride I ordered a tune.
The man began beating his cane on the floor of the subway car. It was evident he had done this many times and with added vocal percussions he began....
with blinded eyes, I will not see
notice the wounds that cover me
"Got a five? Need food. Got a ten?” he begged clearly and loudly between verses the entire song, never missing a beat with his cane and continuing with the song quickly. It was impressive. His voice was wild and raw and he was moving in a quick jump dance. During the roughly 2 minutes before our final stop, as we were captive audience to this brilliant performer and his brilliant performance, New York was not elusive.
"Oh, wonderful! " my wife beamed after the song, clapping and smiling at the man. "You were just wonderful." She was already pulling money from her small date purse and gave the man several neatly stacked bills. The small, old, and slightly stooped man took the money and with a graceful bow never seen on a stage, grasped my wife's left hand and raised it up.
"Just fo' the lovely misses", his speech was slowed, "A song only fo' you. Gawd bleeess you woman." He looked at her and held her hand for several moments. He was looking at an angel, as was she, but the performance was not over. I rifled through my pockets and pulled out a twenty. This made him smile as he cut his eyes to me and quickly grabbed it from my outstretched hand. As we reached the 69th Street stop the man stuffed all the cash he earned the previous few minutes into his overcoat front chest pocket. Sixty to seventy dollars, I speculated. I never asked my wife exactly how much she coughed up, but I was aware of our general vacation finances. We then jumped off the subway, hit the turnstiles, took a flight of stairs to the street and walked along quiet Upper East Side sidewalks hearing an occasional truck horn from a distance.
The night was mild with an occasional cool wind. We walked slow, holding hands and admiring everything. I silently imagined stories in every house, lunch at every bistro, and picking fruit at every corner produce stand. She just smiled peacefully, occasionally remarking on things of beauty and prayer.
As we passed the Pizza Palace Pizzaria, I remembered a talk from the day before. When the owner found out where I was from, he had asked how much money a builder in Texas could make a year. "Builder of what?” I had asked back.
"Residential,” he had shouted as his workers scurried in the back for my order. I answered unknowingly, but confirmed his construction prospects in Texas. My daughters pulled closer as we ordered lunch, the four of us having just moved from our Times Square Hotel to our second New York vacation home on 71st. He kept his eyes on everything, but somehow seemed to always look out the window, almost willing hungry people into his corner eatery. Practically everything in the small, tidy place cost something, although the owner made a point to inform us that ice was free. The pizza was very good, the salad was small, and the alfredo sauce was bland (two fifty-cent containers of grated parmesan cheese helped). As we left, the busy, street toughish owner had rushed to the front and waved, "Aye, aye, thanks for coming to Pizza Palace. Tell the Texans to come see us." He quickly went back to work.
"You bet we will buddy." I had turned and answered with an enriched Texas twang, "Good pie."