>Hot summer had taken a holiday; a little spring breeze tickled me, pushed tendrils or evaporated sweat and the world was out in summer profusion. Bare midriffs, street food, bikes and busy sidewalks at lunchtime.
I was walking on the wide swath of 23rd Street before it comes to Fifth Avenue. My gym is here and I try to come as often as life permits. I was still walking my bike; as I decided whether or not to allow myself the indulgence of an eight-dollar salad or if it was better to peddle home to leftovers.
As I walked east, I saw a young dark-eyed woman sitting with her back against a post box; she was holding a sign, the ubiquitous kind written on cardboard in black ink describing sadness, woe and poverty.
She sat cross-legged with her dark, ocular pools cast downward. I walked by. I stopped. She had on the cleanest socks I had ever seen. They were navy blue and white and the contrast between the two colors popped. We are all cautioned against grifters, and con artists who ply the trade of playing on our emotions to extract funds for nefarious business. We know that young women or babies, all can be utilized to maximize the effect, and so I wondered.
I sat watching this girl, she never spoke, her plea was silent and intense; I saw another woman stop to regard this mendicant. I walked over to her. She was older than I am, gray hair and walked with a cane. She was very beautiful and upright, an elegant woman. We both now watched together; it was as if we had slipped into the cast of an impromptu play and tried to quickly come up to speed on the back-story.
I turned and said, “I always wonder about these folks, who is real and who not. And how do we know?” The woman with the cane turned to me, “Yes, I do as well, but what puzzles me about this one is…” then we both said, as if on cue “Those socks are SO CLEAN!”
We talked some more about wanting to help, but that if you gave everything away how would you know where and when and to whom and then who would take care of you? I said I was going to ask her if I could purchase her some lunch from the cart whose aroma was wafting over to us and I was sure was reaching the young cross-legged woman as well.
I approached her and inquired. Yes, she would like food. No, she couldn’t walk with me to pick what she wanted, as a woman had promised to come back to her spot and give her a job. She had shiny black hair tied back in a ponytail, those dark eyes and clean socks. Her accent confused me; I asked if she spoke French, she said her mother did, but she spoke Romanian.
I walked to the cart and bought a combo platter and a bottle of water. Whether she was shaming the passersby or not, it is still lovely to be offered free lunch and someone who stops to inquire about our state of being.
We all need that, clean socks or dirty.