The City #7

I was walking to the subway the other day after work. There were a lot of people on the street and Lord and Taylor just completed their Christmas decorating, so lots of tourists were out and about in the area. Of course, I work only a few blocks from the Empire State Building, which creates its own world of tourists along the block on which it sits.
Anyway, as I was passing DataVision I sensed this moving object on my left, just behind me. At first I thought it was a little kid on a scooter or skateboard rolling along with his parents. The object, or kid, just kind of stayed there as I walked along. Finally, I slowed down and let them pass.
Well, it wasn’t a kid I noticed rolling by. I though, at first, why is that grown man sitting on his skateboard? Then, I noticed that he wasn’t “sitting.” He had no legs.
This young, good looking, well dressed in a sweater and scarf guy rolled by me on his skateboard with camera in hand. I was amazed. He used his white leather clad hands to push himself along, agilely weaving through the crowd. I don’t really know how to describe him. His torso, covered in what looked like a woolen “sock” covering his lower body that sat upon the skateboard. I don’t know where his torso actually ended – whether he had lower parts or whether he may not have been born with legs at all. This may sound insensitive, but he looked like a wooden stump plopped down on his skateboard.
I followed him the block or so to the subway. I was amazed at what I perceived to be his sense of comfort and ease as he pushed himself along. I don’t know whether he was a tourist or a native. His shoulders were broad, probably because, I suspect, he used them as his sole means of transport and support. Truly, this guy was not “handicapped,” despite missing his whole lower body.
I watched other people as they passed him by. Some heads turned, some never noticed him, and others simply glanced. I was particularly interested in how those standing up against the buildings, not walking, responded to him. Again, most just looked and watched as he passed by.
This brings to mind all the other young people who are around the city begging for money or food or some other thing. Discounting those street people who truly have mental and emotional disorders (there are a lot of them) and those why may truly find themselves in a bad sort for a time, I still see a lot of younger folks sitting out on the sidewalks begging. This one couple sat for almost an entire year in one spot upon a large pile of blankets and sleeping bags with their dog by their side. They begged, had signs requesting help, and down-and-out stories. They sat there for almost a year reading books. They sat on the same corner as the building around them was torn down and construction on a new one began. I suspect they were finally forced to move.
I have a hard time with some of these people. I give money to street people, but I’ve come to the point where I give to those who are obviously mentally problemed. Many younger people I see, and it is only my initial perception and gut instinct, could easily work. They could find work in the City, but I suspect the kind of work they would initially find would not be to their liking. So what!
And then, I see this guy on his skateboard. What am I to think of those able-bodied people, now? “Get a job.” I know that there are a myriad of reasons why people do what they do, but I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for those street folk begging for money when I see this guy. He, truly, is one who must overcome tremendous obstacles in his attempt to live a normal life. I noticed him holding back as the light changed waiting until it seemed that all the cars that were turning had done so. It would be frightening to simply cross the street. Cabbies and truck drives, really anyone, could easily miss him as he crossed the street. Yet, he continues, he travels, he overcomes his problems and lives. He isn’t begging for money. I doubt he is feeling sorry for himself.
I don’t know. I’ve worked multiple jobs at one time trying to support myself in years past. I know I could do it again. While I may find myself at some point in the future being brought low and having to beg for money, I just don’t think I could be a “beggar,” particularly when I see people like this young guy making his way through the streets of New York City.