“Hungry Jew” Revisited

For some reason, I walked up Fifth Avenue, rather than Broadway, on my way home from the gym this morning. (Yes, I go on the weekends too. Don’t hate me because I’m dedicated.) I prefer the Broadway route because it affords me a view of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company clock tower, the Chrysler Building, and the Empire State Building. But anyway, Fifth Avenue it was, and I regretted it almost immediately.
The problem was that I just had to look across the street and see a homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk with a dog. So of course I couldn’t continue home without crossing the street to give the guy a dollar. Because, yes, I have an extremely soft (nougaty and yielding, like the center of a Three Musketeers bar) spot for animals who are companions to homeless people. Regular, garden variety, run-of-the-mill homeless people? Nah. But park a dog at a homeless guy’s feet or show me the guy snuggling two kittens against his threadbare jacket, and there I am.
And there I was. So I stopped. Instantly I recognized the guy. It was Eric, whom I’d met last October. He still had the “Hungry Jew” sign and the shopping cart. But in place of the baseball cap he wore a dirty white yarmulke.
I put a dollar in his cardboard box. “Thank you, pretty lady!” he said. Pretty sweaty lady with her hair atop her head, looking exactly like the drawing at the top of this page (minus the necklace).
Like an idiot, I said, “I remember you from last year!”
That, of course, was an invitation for conversation, because Eric is garrulous. He told me how he’d left the city in November and returned in March. He told me the story of how he saw a Staffordshire Terrier (one year and five months old) advertised in Loot and travelled to Brooklyn three days ago to buy him for $100, and how he wasn’t able to get a cab ride back into Manhattan with such a big dog but he was able to get the dog onto the subway. And how, that very day, some guy offered him $600 or $700 for the dog, whom he’d named Sun. “No way,” said Eric. “I couldn’t do that.”
Although there was a rather generous serving of beans, rice, and kibble in a bowl by Eric’s side, Sun was chewing on a dirty white fleecy mat. “I don’t want him doing that,” Eric said. “I sleep on that. What he really needs is a chew bone.” I told him I may have an extra one at home and if I passed by some other time, I’d bring it. I had plans today, I said. As if I had to explain why, quite possibly, it wouldn’t be today.
Somewhere along the line, Eric asked me for more money. I lied and told him I only had $20s (big spender). “Could you get me something from the store, then, rather than give me money?” he asked. I asked what he wanted. “Two diet sodas and a quart of milk.”
“What kind of diet soda?” I asked. “And what kind of milk? Skim? Whole?”
“Two Diet Cokes and any kind of milk,” he said. “A quart.”
So I did it. I did it because I hoped the dog would get one of the Diet Cokes and some of the milk. (I bought whole. I spent $3.50, using the last three singles that I pretended I didn’t have in my wallet when Eric asked if I could spare some more money.)
I walked back to Eric and his dog, and handed Eric the bag. “Thank you so much,” he said. “Thank you.”
“Well, I have to be going,” I said. “I’ll see you some other time, if you’re still here.”
“OK,” he said. “And thank you again.” He indicated the soda and milk. “About that chew bone …” he said as I turned to leave. “Could you bring it by today? And if you do, could you make it before 3:00?”
It is now 3:34. I have been inside since coming home this morning. It may be because it’s raining and the sun is not out, at least not the one in the sky. The one on the sidewalk, with his shabby companion, may still be.
Taxi gets a new meaty bone every Saturday (behold the xylobone!), and I know he wouldn’t mind donating one from his “vintage” collection. Meanwhile, as I sit here thinking that I’m teaching Eric a lesson that “Beggars can’t be choosers”, I still feel like running down Fifth Avenue with a bone for Sun.