This is a New York Christmas story, of which there are many. We only have to walk onto the street from our cozy apartments to find them. Sometimes they find us. Few families I know have not been touched by the recession this year, including my own. Hardships everywhere, downsizing, lay-offs. Writers keep writing through it all. And gathering stories.
So I suppose, given our hard, strange times, that I wasn't surprised when a slightly demented disabled man in a wheelchair sitting next to me on the Broadway bus looked normal to me. In fact, the expression on his face--compared to the other sullen passengers-- was open and jolly, Santa Claus jolly. He was dressed in ragged clothes, his face was dirty, and he was missing most of his front teeth. I was sitting next to him--no surprise that this seat was empty at rush hour--and heard all his mumblings and rumblings. And then a fancy woman appeared. Fancy was his word; he was a natural story teller I soon learned. And he turned to me and said, "She looks very independent." She was standing over him balancing a heavy bag from a fancy store and she was wearing a white and gray fur coat and fussing with her Blackberry. And this man in a wheelchair was utterly invisible to her. Nonetheless, he carried on. Somehow, he'd gotten her number. How many New Yorkers in furs do we see on the bus? Not many. A fur signals taxi, a buffer from the the hoi polloi. But this woman was on the bus, busy with her packages, her phone, her fur, in her own world. "I suppose you've been doing some Christmas shopping," the man said. No answer. "And that you've been shopping mostly for yourself."
Well, well. That raised a few heads. The man's voice was baritone, sonorous as it hissed through the gaps in his teeth.
"What about you?" I asked. "How are you doing?"
"Surviving. Every day I survive is Christmas."
"How are you coping in this cold weather?" I asked.
"Well, you know I am from Miami and when I was growing up I only saw snow once. Just little flakes that came down and we all ran outside and then they were gone. Snowflakes. I love them."
Then he chuckled, blessed me, and wished me a Happy Holiday as I got up to get off the bus.
I thought about him on the way to the east side to listen to serene Gregorian chants in the Medieval Hall at the Metropolitan Museum. Men in black, posing as monks, all with angelic voices. And I realized I'd met an angel on the bus or, perhaps, Santa Claus.