Poor, Old ManShawn Mihalik
Poor, Old Man
by Robert Isaac Brown
I exited the 2-train at Borough Hall. It was June and the subway station smelled like urine. I stopped at a kiosk and bought gummy bears and walked up from the station. It was evening and the busy crowd in downtown Brooklyn was thick, some rushing home to their families and others to bars for happy hour with colleagues and friends.
An old man was sitting on a crate, watching the busyness, at the corner of Court Street and Livingston Street. He wore a bucket hat, a toggle coat, stained sweatpants, and military boots. His dog—its white coat now beige—sat under him, its tongue out. The old man held out a torn, dirt styrofoam cup and shook it at me. I had two dollars from the change I’d been given back from the plump lady at the kiosk; I gave them to the man. His eyes lit up and he smiled. His teeth were the color of a dusty bloodwood tabletop. His unkempt hair came to his neck.
“Thank you, young man,” he said. “Hey, Paco!” He whistled to the dog. “Trucco! Trucco!”
The dog balanced itself on two hind legs, hopped and turned, and reached out a paw. I grabbed the dog’s right paw. It barked and went back by the man and huddled under his legs in the shade.
I looked at my watch. I was supposed to be meeting friends for dinner at Buttermilk Channel. I had a few more minutes to spare. “Great dog,” I said.
“Where you from, young man?” the poor, old man asked.
He raised his eyebrows. “A Southerner.”
“You’re a young fellow. I always see you around these parts. Live close?”
“On Livingston”—I pointed—“just around the corner.”
“Hear that, Paco? This gentleman is rich!” He stroked the dog’s back.
“I don’t know about that.”
“Living in Brooklyn Heights? Indeed you are! Look at you!”
The man shook his cup at an Asian couple who walked by. He mumbled something when they ignored him. He looked back at me. “I used to be rich once. Isn’t that right, Paco?” He put the cup down, leaned back, gripped his knees. “This city was good to me at one point in time.”
A teenage girl dropped three quarters in his cup. He thanked her and the dog did the trick again.
“Life comes back to bite us all in the ass.” He shook his head.
“Rather not. . . .”
I sat my briefcase on the ground, unbuttoned the top button of my shirt, loosened my tie.
“Did dreams lead you to here?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” he said. “They say if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. I say bullshit. I don’t believe in dreams anyway, even though I do believe I happen to have the best ones.”
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“All over—Washington, Kansas, Michigan, Tuscany, you name it.” He paused. “Doesn’t matter where I was born. Hell, I’d rather not remember.”
I looked at my watch.
He pointed. “Look at the slaves. Slaves to the almighty dollar.” He grinned. “I used to be a slave once, until I got too greedy.
“Rather not. . . .”
“Ever thought about getting help?”
“Rather not. . . . Happiest I ever been and penniless as ever, me and my Paco. All these rich folk, unhappy committing suicide. Shit on that. I’m fine.”
Three kids were playing around their elderly caretaker and made her drop a glass vase.
The poor, old man gasped, putting his palm over his chest. “There goes my heart.”
A group of women walked by. The poor, old man shook his cup at them. He stood and raised his hands. “Where’s the love, lovelies? Where’s the love?” He sat back on the crate.
It started drizzling. I looked at the sky, picked up my suitcase. The poor, old man stood and lifted his sagging sweatpants.
“I must be going,” I said.
He nodded. “I’ll be seeing you around, Southerner. How about another dollar?”
I reached in my pocket and felt one, crisp bill. I put it in the cup. The poor, old man’s eyes widened. “A twenty dollar bill, Paco!”
I swore under my breath and wanted to take the twenty out of the cup, but what was done was done. We shook hands. I leaned down, reached out my hand to the dog. It barked and did the trick again.
Robert Issac Brown is the author of two poetry collections and one novella. He lives in New Orleans, Louisiana You can purchase his new poetry collection, On the Other Side of Grief, below.