He was tall and thin and carried a black garbage bag onto the subway car. His skin was dark and his face unshaven.
I remember looking at another homeless man that day on the F. He walked on to the train at the 14th street station by Union Square, and just stood there across from where I was standing.
And people gave him his “room” too, because that’s what you do when the homeless walk onto your train, you just give them their space, and hope they don’t bother you.
I just stared at him and looked at his eyes, because the eyes never change, even when you’re homeless.
He looked back at me, his eyes were as dark as coal, he said nothing.
I know he felt strange when I saw him too. So he just walked away and sat down on a seat facing the opposite direction so I couldn’t notice who he was.
The people sitting next to him all got up and found other seats in the subway car.
I walked towards him though, and sat beside him.
“Hey Donald, remember me? it’s Ronnie from Art & Design”
He turned his head towards me, but didn’t look in my eyes this time.
“How you doin man?” is all he said
“I’m fine Don, I’m fine”
“Yeah, well, you know since High School things have been a little rough for me” “I’m ok, but things are just not that good”
I remember my first day of high school back in 1972, Donald was one of the first people I sat with at the lunch table in the back of the cafeteria.
Donald always wore these really cool tinted sunglasses and had a small goatee. While most other kids weren’t even shaving yet, including me, Don looked like he may have been about 20 years old.
Along with Donald, I also sat with Ernest and Sandy. Donald and Ernest were black, while Sandy was Jewish. We were certainly a cross section of New York, but hey. That’s what made the High School of Art and Design so cool back in 1972.
Yeah, the High School of Art and Design. I never knew some of my best friends were gay until my senior year. And to tell you the truth it never really mattered either. Because we were all such good friends, and all artists anyway. All going to a school were nobody cared about “what” you were. And no one felt they were better than anyone else.
We all just loved that school so much, including my friend Donald.
“Hey man I’m getting off here”
I reached into by jacket and gave Donald a twenty-dollar bill.
Donald just looked at me and said “thanks”.
That was about 25 years ago and I haven’t seen Donald since. But the memory of that day will stay with me forever, because Donald was a friend of mine.
So the next time you see someone riding the F-train with a bundle of sorrow. Think about my friend Donald, and never ever feel that you’re better than anyone else. Because someday that person might just be you.
The next time you’re walking from the subway on Church Avenue, make sure to make a left into the "T-Mobile Store".
Take out that two dollars you have in your pocket, and hand it to the lady in the ticket booth on the side where that guy sells all the hats and gloves.
She will probably not smile and give you a small "Admit One" ticket. You will then walk up the long entranceway that leads inside the Beverly and immediately start to smell stale popcorn. But not to worry, because you see them popping it in the machine on the other side of the heavy wooden doors.
As you open the door to the go inside, a young man will be standing there to take your ticket. You hand it to him and he rips it in two, one half goes into a wooden box, the other you put in your pocket.
Hey, how about some fresh popcorn and a Coke? You walk up to the concession stand and immediately notice a roach under the glass, walking upside down. You pass on the popcorn and opt for "Snow Caps" instead. You hand the woman a dollar and wait for your change, you think for a second about telling her you saw a roach.
But hey, this is the Beverly and Church Avenue isn't exactly Madison. So you just walk away and up the ramp that leads to the main theater. And there it is again, no matter how many times you've been to the Beverly the chandelier that’s bigger than a house is just beautiful as ever, hanging from the ceiling. It must have over a thousand lights, and hundreds and hundreds of crystals. It simply gleams like a star in the darkness, even though it's covered with dust.
The 70's have not been good to the Beverly and you wonder what that place was like when your Mom was young. Did the screen still have that giant stain on it? Was the floor always sticky? were the seats always torn?. Suddenly the lights dim to black, the screen awakens and the movie starts.
You just sit there staring at that big magnificent chandelier, its crystals still sparkling in the darkness, and you can't help but imagine a Beverly that you never knew, a long, long time ago.
His fingers, yes there was something so beautiful about his fingers. They were the longest and most gentle fingers you have ever seen.
And he stood like a giant too. He had legs that just seemed to go on forever, and arms that could reach as far as the Brooklyn Bridge.
Oh, his uniform, let me tell you about his uniform. It was always the brightest of white you know, and clean as a whistle. He also wore a little white hat too, it looked something like a ship captains hat.
And with long nicotine stained fingers as cold as ice and as yellow as corn, Morris would gently pick the change out of the palm of your hand and then lean down and give you your ice cream bar.
Yeah, just like the giant in “Gulliver’s Travels”, that was Morris.
I think he also wore one of those change machines on his belt too, it was silver and had these different cylinders for pennies, nickels, quarters and dimes.
You see, Morris was our ice cream man. Not anyone else’s ice cream man. No, just ours alone.
The bells on his truck had a very distinctive ring too. They jingled like those on Santa’s sleigh. Full of music, full of life. Nothing at all like the cheap sound of the Good Humor man. No, Morris’s bells were probably made of sterling silver instead of tin.
And what made Morris special to us was his kindness. Pure gentle kindness from a man who probably would have scared the living daylights out of anyone if he wasn’t dressed in an ice cream man’s uniform.
You see Morris had to stand about six feet five, was as skinny as a flagpole and chain-smoked to no end. From what I remember too, he smoked the same brand as my dad. That distinctive “Camel” could always be seen sticking out of his shirt pocket.
And Morris also died young, just like my dad. Too many “Camels” bought him a headstone way before his time, and only left us with a nasty Good Humor man who never liked us.
Yeah, I could just see him like it was yesterday, his truck parked on Avenue C between East 3rd and East 4th, long tall and lean standing there like a gentle giant. Waiting for us hand him our dimes and quarters after another day at PS 179.
And if you didn’t have enough money, Morris would let you slide and pay him another day. Or he would even break an ice pop in two pieces, if you only had a nickel. Just the gentle kindness of a man who drove an ice cream truck and knew all our names.
Yes, The ice cream man of Kensington. Not anyone else’s ice cream man. No, just ours alone.