Archive for February 2nd, 2011

This Is MY Castle….. Like It?

Feb. 2nd 2011

Our encounter began over music, close to midnight in Grand Central Station, New York City. January, 2011.

I was scurrying to catch one of the last trains out of Manhattan to Stamford, Connecticut.

Strike that.

 I was RUNNING, out of breath, with inhaler-in-hand for the train wearing uncomfortable fashionable square toe dress shoes.

Those who know me, I sometimes sing in public. Here I was whizzing through Grand Central Station, singing, as the infamous Pumpkin Coach was about to turn to goosh and melt at the stroke of midnight. Great. I am about to scrub the marble  floor of  GCS if I didn’t make my train.

Wait. I meet a man standing tall next to his worldly possessions in a white plastic bag. He wears ear buds. Our paths cross in the Grand Hall next to my Track Number entrance.

I quit rushing. I ask the gentleman wearing ear buds, “What are you listening to?” I sometime ask this to people wearing i-Pods. 99% of the time my questioning  pisses people off. I’m curious. That’s all. Inquisitive by nature.

His reply breaks my heart….”Nothing Man. They stole the back of this thing.” He shows me the broken music player. It’s not an i-Pod.  “It’s mean here on the street. People steal. People take your stuff. That ain’t right. That ain’t right, man.”

“You are right. That was mean. Real mean for someone to do this to you. ”

Here is this man, with one eye permanently closed due to an untreated eye ailment, and the other eye wide open, perceptive to the world. He was listing to nothing, yet enjoying the experience of listing to something in his head.

I then said, “Since you have no music coming from that thing, let me sing you a song.”  I dug deep into my library of lyrics  and sang an old school Motown song. The the two of us spontaneously danced.

I was coming from a benefit reception for The Doug Varone Dance Company hosted by a delightful couple who live on Central Park West. Here I am in my black designer trench coat, bow tie, pressed 100% white pima cotton shirt, cuff links, and god-awful square top shoes, jamming in Grand Central Station with a man who has a soul bigger than Manhatthan and nothing in his pockets.

Embarrassment? Why be ashamed to sing and dance in Grand Central Station? New York is New York—- full of energy, vitality, and life. Sing. Dance. Be.

I look at my watch. I have 10 minutes to catch my train–yet I linger.

The gentleman asks me……..”You like Charles? What about Carmella? Buckingham Palace?  Man!”  His  discourse was rapid-fire.

My reply…….”The nerve of that CHARLES, who is next in line to be King,  cheating on Diana. Hiding in the trunk of that big ass Rolls Royce, being whisked away by bodyguards to hook up with THAT Carmella–that is not right. Married man. Cheater. What’s up with that? Then the Queen Mother. Mean to her daughter-in-laws. What’s in that big ass pocketbook of hers? And the hats. Don’t get me started……”

He replied….”Uh, ha. Amen. You down with it.”

The gentleman in the train station said, “What about the wedding? The big wedding. Who he marrying?….. Kate? Yeah, I think she Kate.”

I had  to think.

Kate……… Kate…………. 

I was at Joe’s Barber Shop in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts 6 months ago and read PEOPLE magazine while waiting for Joe to cut my thinning hair. I think  Kate is the royal bride-to-be. I believe he is correct.

This gentleman is up on his royalty. Yet I found there was a reason for this later in our conversation.

I answer. “England is broke. The US is in a economic depression. This royal wedding is going to cost a fortune. The money for her dress alone would feed us all for a lifetime. Wedding dresses, flower girls, place cards, engraved invitations, Ladies in Waiting. Gifts. Money out the window.”

“I hear ya.”  is his reply.

Then he says, “Got any money? I’m hungry. Haven’t eaten in a day. Damn.”

I open my wallet. The clock is ticking. In 5 minutes my train leaves Grand Central Station. I give him $3 dollars. Then I ask (more like lecture) “You are not going to drink or drug this money–are you?”

“No, man. I am gonna get fried chicken. Yes. FRIED chicken.”

A look of pure delight swept across his face. ” He named the EXACT place where he would find affordable fried chicken on Lexington and some cross street. I thought, $3 dollars is not going cover the cost of a hungry man’s  fried chicken dinner, so I slipped him a larger bill.” He did not take the money and run. He invited me to dinner. He said……..”The 2 of us. Let’s have us some fried chicken.”

3 minutes and my train departs.

I was weened on Southern California television game shows. This was my Monty Hall moment. Do I take the train, or go with a person living on the streets of New York and have a fried chicken dinner?  Have you noticed life tosses us dilemmas? If you have not noticed, let me inform you,” life tosses us dilemmas.”

I so wanted to buy this man a workable i-Pod or music player. I so wanted to eat chicken and learn more about his life, and share my life story, yet the “LAST CALL TO STAMFORD!……..LAST CALL TO STAMFORD!” announcement reverberates throughout the close-to-empty cavernous Grand Central Station.

I told him, “I must get back and take my train. I will take a rain check. When I’m in  New York againthis winter, I will look for you. I promise. My word is my word. I will look for you.”

He then said something utterly profound.

“Like my castle?  I love my castle.”

He was referring to Grand Central Station.

I looked above at Grand Central Station’s Robin’s egg blue painted ceiling with twinkling stars and zodiac symbols. I glanced at all the marble, chandeliers, and 2 grand descending staircases.

His perception of his living space was “spot on.”

 To the average person passing him, he is a homeless man living in a train station. To me, he is a king. Royal. He was dealt a bad deck of cards, yet surviving in one of the world’s largest cities.

I think of him often. I think  how he views his universe. I think what a shame that many homeless people suffer from mental illness. In the 21 century, mental illness still has a stigma attached to it and is not  fully acknowledged as a medical condition. Where is funding for mental health research? Where is funding to stop the systemic problem of homelessness in America—the land of plenty?

Goodnight my King of New York City. I hope you find warmth, in a corner of Grand Central Station, on this cold winter night. What tune will lull you to sleep amongst the clattering of trains and the static afflicted public address system announcing LAST CALL FOR STAMFORD!

Brendan Ben Feeney

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