Made some new friends tonight. Probably three times my age, their bodies a few pounds heavier, and their lungs a few shades darker.
Their names were Mark and Carol.
First saw Carol smoking on the steps of the train station lobby area on Albany. Heavy set, filthy clothes and her winter hat had nearly covered up her tired eyes. She was puffing her favorite merchandise-- Newports. On the occasional passerby, Carol will say "hey, want to buy some cigarettes? I have Newports." She's so well-connected in our New Brunswick neighborhood that she has a tab, (that's right, a TAB) for her cigarettes at a nearby convenient store. She said the owner's name was 'Carl', and she paid off the tab once a month. She's a girlfriend, a TCNJ alum of '75, and a long-winded storyteller.
Mark was hiding in the corner, settled down between the metal gate and the blue ATM. His possessions were few, whatever was in his heavy winter jacket, and a few cups of 'beverages'. Yes, non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks alike. He was quiet fellow, his eyes were a dull blue, and his face was fiercely wrinkled. He looked atleast sixty. When he smiles, his front teeth are nowhere to be seen. But he had something that many people value, something I felt like if I were homeless, this would be the first thing in my back pocket-- a sense of humor.
Andrew and Dan and I were just hanging out, like young adults on a cold winter night. Andrew had a friend who was homeless that hung around here for years, but was nowhere to be seen. According to Mark, this friend Wes had a seizure around Christmas Day, and was sent to the nearby Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. So we decided to go and pay him a visit with our new friends.
Andrew's station wagon smelled old and homey when we first got in. When we stepped out of the car, it smelled like an awkward marriage of chocolate, urine, and cigarette smoke. We grabbed a wheel chair for Carol, and wheeled on up to the 7th floor. Wes wasn't awake.
We sat in the visitor's room listening to Carol's stories and talking about religion and the odd jobs that they carried over the years. Mark opened up one of the magazines on strokes and, using it like a serving plate, poured out a bag of crunchy fritos onto the magazine spread. He was grateful for the little things, telling us we didn't have to share food with him.
In reality, who are we to not share? We're spoiled, pampered, selfish materialistic asian american children who wouldn't blink twice at spending $10 at Noodle Gourmet when $3.00 could buy a new selection of socks for a homeless man's blistered feet. We take the luxuries for granted when some people's basics are not a *cell phone and a *laptop, but rather five Daily Targums to lay on the ground and have something clean to sleep on at night.
Mark tried to rescue us from one of Carol's long winded stories (long winded as in 30+ minutes for a single story) by telling Carol there was someone around the corner who was calling her name because they wanted to buy cigarettes from her. Note, we're still on the 7th floor of the RWJUH and it's nearly 1am. And of course, no one was shopping for ciggys.
When we were leaving, we walked by our hospitalized friend's room, and he was AWAKE! When We gathered around to pray for him, Andrew asked if it was okay to say a prayer before we left. He looked up and spoke softly, "No, it's not okay.... It's perfect."
That was our night.