Grumpy ol' fella', he was. The easiest way to describe him is Dave Chappelle's "The Grouch" from his skit about Sesame Street. He was a very angry man. He sat among his pile of stuff, all day and night, watching the city go by. Every once in a while he would yell out at people and annoy them, they would throw some change into his coffee cup to get him off their case and they'd rush off. His belongings formed a perfect bell curve along the wall and the floor when viewed from my balcony overhead. He sat right in the middle, as if to emphasize the fact that he's just another average hobo.
I had been living in the apartment on this semi-ghetto Brooklyn street for a few years now. Every day, I would come back home and have to traverse the cross-fire between his glares and stares at the public to reach the door of the building. I used to smile at him every once in a while and he responded with a blank look, rather than the profanities he would catapult at others. When I first moved in, it was winter. New York has an unforgiving wind that whips through the streets. I had an old coat I had used just a couple of times, so I gave it to him. During the colder times of the year, I would grab him a cup of coffee; in the summer, an ice-cold lemonade. Still, conversation was less than minimal.
On my way back home one day, I walked right past him and was fumbling for my keys when I realized something was different. I had a double-take and looked back at where he normally sat. It was organized. He sat in the same spot, but there was a shopping cart full of his things, arranged by frequency of usage from the bottom to the top. His clothes were nicely stacked in a cardboard box near him which he used as a sort of table for his cup. He was smiling. I had never seen that before.
Just then, a passer-by crossed his path. "Hey! Hey you, walking with your mobile phone," he said while swinging his arms around trying to get his attention.
"Hang on, some hobo's bothering me... I don't have ti-," the man replied, still walking.
"I don't want anything from you," the hobo said, "just a moment of your time."
"I'm going to have to call you back," the businessman said and hung up the phone.
The hobo then pointed up at the windowsill above his head and smiled, "Isn't that beautiful?" Three quarters were standing on their edges, side by side. The man shook his head and walked away murmuring, "Crazy fuckin' people in this city," under his breath.
I went up to the hobo, he was still smiling, pointing up at the coins, "What has gotten into you?"
"What do you mean? There's just beauty in that, don't you think?"
"Well, yea... but what happened to the grumpy guy on the street?" I asked.
What he told me next made me question whether he had gone insane or not, "See that garbage can over there across the street? Well, last night, some chick came down from your building and had this awesome looking thing in her hands. It was all colorful and shit."
I was kind of lost as to where this story was going, "So? What about it?"
He continued, "It was a goat head, all funky colored... kinda like reminded me of all them psychadelic shits I used to do back in the 60's. I was shocked, 'cuz she just put it down on the floor next to the garbage and talked to it, and walked away. Made me wonder if she was a little cuckoo."
At this point I was seriously questioning his sanity and replied, "Alright man..." trying to end the conversation as I shifted me feet to turn away.
"Wait, wait... hear me out now. That's not all. Not even half an hour after she left, some dude was walking around, probably going somewhere, I don't know," he was close to coming to his point, "the dude was curious, picked it up, checked it out, dusted it, and walked away with it with a smile on his face."
His voice was rising in tone, the climax was coming, "As he was leaving, the damn thing smiled at ME and winked. I'm telling you I was shocked at first, but this morning I woke up and didn't mind where I was. I was always pissed at how and where I ended up, but there is beauty in this world and we usually take it for granted until it's forgotten."
I was really speechless. All I could really blurt out was, "Wow!" I realized he was truly being sincere, "You know what, I have been here a few years now and still don't know your name"
His smile held its position and he happily answered, "Jerry. I'm Jerry. Now you go on up and get some rest after work, you look like shit."
We both laughed a little and as I waved and turned away, he said, "Have a good night, Mr. Gerebtzoff." I stopped in my tracks for a split second, wondering how in the world he would know my name. It's not even written on the buzzer at the door. "Goodnight, Jerry," I responded, still in awe, and went up to my appartment.