September 22, 2003

Subway Story: The Kids with the Carrots

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

Three small skinny children sat across from me on the downtown No. 1 subway. They looked immaculate. Their WASPy ensemble was neatly pressed and the aroma of freshly washed clothes greeted me on a not-so-friendly Thursday. They sat in silence and behaved like monks in a monastery. An unusual glow hovered around them on a gloomy, humid, and wet late summer morning. Their mother handed them a clear plastic Ziplock baggie with carrot sticks. Each child took one and politely passed it to their sibling, who waited patiently. A homeless man got on the subway at 110th Street. He instantaneously launched into his sales pitch to the rest of the oblivious commuters.

“My named is Benny and I’m a Vietnam veteran. I am unable to work because of the injuries suffered from a bad accident at my job. I sued my employer and won, but all of my money went to pay for my medical bills, legal bills, and court fees. Of course my company fired me, my wife took my kids and left. Then I lost my apartment. The bastards in Washington cut my disability check in half and now I’m forced to ask for your help. Anything you can spare today will be greatly appreciated. Thank you and God bless.”

He made his way through the crowded subway and mostly everyone ignored him. Some refused to look him in the eye and stared off into nothing in particular or up at the Zima ad above their heads. A gaggle of Upper West Side yuppies buried their faces into their New York Times and Wall Street Journals or planned their busy day on their Palm Pilots. Still others pretended that they were asleep. A couple of people slipped meaningless change into a Starbuck’s coffee cup that he jingled and jangled while he trudged through the subway car. A black woman in her sixties who was reading a bible, pulled out a dollar and handed it to the man. He got down on his knees and thanked her. He rose up and looked right at me with his weathered eyes and unshaven face. I made eye contact and sternly told him, “Nope.”

He turned around and one of the pristine girls offered him the plastic baggie of carrot sticks. He politely accepted, shoved two in his mouth and continued his way onto the next subway car.

“Do you think that could have been Jesus, Momma?” one of the girls screamed over the muffled sounds of the rumbling subway as the brakes screeched to a halt when the train reached the 96th Street platform.

“You’ll never know. It very well could have been. He’ll remember what you did.”

Her angelic faced beamed with zealous pride. The doors opened and I was compelled to say something to the Jesus Freaks on my way out.

“Jesus ain’t panhandling on the subways, kid. He lives in Reno, Nevada. He deals blackjack at the Flamingo Casino. I saw him a couple of months ago. He told me to tell you to stop eating healthy. The Good Lord wants you to eat McDonald’s Happy Meals and buy cargo pants at Old Navy.”

The young thin girl turned to her mother and whispered, “Do you think that could have been Jesus?”

With a look of condemnation she rudely answered, “No. That is someone who is going straight to hell.”

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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