Last week I wrote a short story about a man I saw on the street in the city outside of a church. He was standing on the corner, enveloped by a rickety wooden information booth that looked like you could fold it up and take it home in about thirty seconds. He was old as earth and cheery as a piping whistle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man who could beam so hard out of such weak eyes. He was a crusader of knowledge, a pilgrim of navigation. I loved him. I thought about his entire life and what it was like growing up as a boy, maybe with a mother who collected coupons in a coffee can and a father who wore a red tie to work. Maybe he fell in love with a woman with a clean, pink face who gave birth to three pink animations or maybe he goes home to an empty brownstone at the end of the day. Maybe he spent most of his life going to work in a suit stiff enough to hold him up or maybe he wore a uniform with his name emblazoned on it in script writing. Maybe he found religion somewhere in between or maybe his religion became optimism and hope invested in the people that walk by him briskly on their way to where they go every day. This squat little man peddling information was so beautiful and open ended. He was the informant.
Look at him: the old man wearing a melting hat, all loose threads and a crushed bill, standing crooked at the information booth like a twisted fire poker. He is a solid presence, he has been here for years, you can tell by pins stapled proudly to his crumpled blazer lapel. He knows it all. His skin is more leather than his shoes. He battles the wind, the sun, and the rain proudly across his face. I watch that boiled red face as he smooths out his rumpled jacket with his rumpled hands. He is a guide, he is a guard, he has seen it all from this post on a corner in town. He skirmishes daily with the young, sleek pamphlets in the rack behind him, offering information without hassle of small talk. He loves people, he always has. He is wholly in a state of decrepitude like a fine oak floorboard molding through. Nothing is the way it was and he can’t offer what he used to. The pulsing crowds of people want information and he is powerless to give it to them without a smile and chatter. They want it cold. They want it straight. The world is getting bigger, he knows, but the world is full of people falling deeper into a sort of solitude, stored in mechanical devices and techno-babble, he thinks. He knows he would do better to trade in his affability for a steely attitude, toss away his crumbling hat for something sharper, but he doesn’t. He can’t. He lifts his hat and rubs his waxy forehead with a long thumbnail. I cross the street to his corner. I ask him what the best way to get to Main Street is and if there are any nice restaurants there. His eyes snap up and the lines around his eyes all fold and leap. I don’t hear what he tells me. I am too focused. His face is bread; his earnestness is honey on toast. I want to thank him. He thanks me. I walk away. He stays at his post and will be there tomorrow and the next day and the next day. His teeth are toy soldiers.