I have been, I suspect, terribly tricked.
I was sitting outside our tortured park, beloved, wasting away another high-priced chance to earn my educated birthright.
One of the first spring days but I’m bogged and bitter, resting my eyes on a nearby bench. Attempting responsibility, I boxed up the day’s time, patting myself on the back for this mad effort.
Some hurried girl I could have been a year ago passes by, and I’m glad she’s-- I’m-- not.
She’s late and looks it, and I can't help but laugh as she's reminded of the fact, crossing the street.
"You're late!" , screams a little old man- that damned nuisance with a pocket watch! Herald of all things obvious and irritating, he growls, “Get to class!”
I watch him at his strange post, increasingly forlorn as he's abandoned.
It's just ten past after two, and even the tardy are long gone.
And summoned, perhaps, the eerie devil starts walking down the park’s main aisle.
“You Sir!” I call out, impulsively respectful.
He keeps walking so it’s a dare now: “Hey, Sir!” I yell, “Yeah-You! Hey!” and he turns around.
“I was wondering, Sir”, I say, mock-studiously and out-of-the-blue, “Are you affiliated with NYU?”
He’s not surprised as I’d expect, and actually winks, sitting on the bench behind me. “Not at all”.
“You’re the one at the corner, always, right? …I was wondering”. He nods.
“Telling people they’re late all the time…well, and ten and five minutes and stuff”.
“Yeah...” and he winks again, “I always stand there because the kids all used to come up this way- you know, before the construction and stuff.”
“Yeah, I did, too!” I jump in. “I was just…wanted to know- why do you do it?”
“Tell people the time?”
“Yeah. My whole class was wondering, actually.”
“Well, you know, kids were always on their cell phones. Always checking the time and then that texting…. And they don’t look where they’re going!” His voice goes shrill in a benign threat, the loving violence of moral men. I nod.
He continues, “…and the cars would go right around the corner- That corner, right there.” “And the kids- they think everyone’s gonna stop for them.“ -he checks himself- “they walk like they do, Two years ago a kid broke both this legs- and another time, a long time ago, seven years maybe, this girl….” He trails off for a moment.
“This was around that corner,” (he directs my attention), “where the cars would go fast and speed up at the green, though they shouldn’t…well, anyway. So one day this car turns- and this girl- she’s not looking- she walks right into it. And I an ambulance comes, and I see the ambulance- and it was right over there- her blood was on the sidewalk- a mess! The poor girl! Turns out she cracked her head on the sidewalk….”
“Yeah. And of course it’s the car’s fault- though he was tryin to get where he was going, and maybe it’s the girl’s a little, too, but…” he looks down in discomfort, self-conscious of the implication. “They don’t look!”
I could see that- me, maybe, or the girl I saw before-high-strung music, shoes untied-
I smiled, sadly, falling in empathy for his outrage.
“It’s easy to do that,” I murmur, “Everyone’s running late- and they’ve got things running around in their head all the time. I’ve done that.”
“Well, you gotta look.”
“And another thing! They don’t come to class on time!” (I laugh). “You’re paying, what is it now, forty, forty-five thousand a year- and you don’t come to class on time?”
“Well,” I smile, “Things happen”.
“But you’re paying for it!”
“Yeah. But things come up.”
“When you’ve paid for it…” He shrugs. “So a while ago I started standing there- telling people to watch out and such…after a while, I got this watch here- and this way no one’s checking their cell phones. And I figure, hey, now they don’t have to wonder how much time they’ve got”. He grins in good humor, toothless and charmed.
“Everyone’s always wonderin’- who is that old dwarf at the corner” And he winks once more: “But I’m nobody! Noone! I’m not your mom or your dad, I’m not your parents! I’m not NYU or the police- I’m nobody!”- I nearly start to protest- “No one at all!”
“Why I’m doin this” he adds, “is because I want people to feel someone’s lookin out for them. Because I’m nobody, right? But I want ‘em to know that someone cares…”
Silly and self-conscious of the common cliché, I nonetheless said, firmly; “That’s beautiful. It is. And Thank You! Thank you a lot...it’s beautiful, what you do”
“How long have you been here?” I ask.
“Oh, I dunno. Here? Twenty-five years- I live- over there in a buildin’. Been doin this for, uh, eight years, maybe?”
“That’s beautiful” I say again. In the air was a hint of closure, and I moved to observe the laws of charmed life.
“I’ve got to get going,” I smiled, collecting my things, “I’ve got a meeting. But thank you. Thanks again.”
And I caught a last wink.