Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I ♥ New York

City Stories: Danny and the Homeless

Image by Francis Joseph

Rainy day, umbrellas turn over, bump into each other, poke one another. The usual crowded subways, which on days like these seem even more unpleasant. The cramped up cars become cramped up with people’s somber moods very much influenced by the grey skies. On New York trains, people never look you in the face--at least not the locals. But some have a hard time looking away, trying not to meet anybody else’s eyes, like me. However, it seems like a part of New York’s culture, and maybe it is an American thing--one looks away, trying to be extra discrete.

New Yorkers spend a lot of time on the subway, and half its riders bring along a book or paper or magazine to read to make time pass. Luckily I had my book when I heard the following.

“ Hi my name is Danny, I used to get paid until I lost my job because I broke one shoulder. Since I am from Brazil I don’t see no food stamps, no welfare, nothing. Basically I have no money to pay for food or rent, so if you could help out with a dollar, a quarter, a dime, anything will help, thank you, god bless you.”

When people hear words like that, they usually try not to look. Sometimes it makes you shrug when someone yells out something like that while you are really into your book. Danny had a very loud, strong, almost intruding voice. I felt disturbed and was glad I had my book, since it becomes harder not to look up when someone is soliciting on the train. Danny looked like he was a young man in his mid twenties. I noticed his neatly shaped beard. I was wondering how he affords rent now, and why he would not find work that would not demand his shoulder. I didn’t know if that was a fair thought or not.

Danny passed me, collected some coins, which I heard pinging into his cup, and I went back to my book.

Minutes later another man enters the subway car. His appearance differs greatly from Danny’s. He is not very tall, his hood covers most of his face, he has a wildly grown full beard and his clothes are baggy and dirty. His voice is soft and way quieter.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am homeless looking for help. If you can assist me with some money or food, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, sorry to disturb.”

Out of the sudden another voice raises.

“You should learn how to juggle”, says a tall man in a black long coat and jeans.


“You should learn how to juggle. People usually have to work in order to earn money for food, so if you learn how to do something, too, people are willing to pay you for your efforts.”

“Ok, I will try”, said the homeless man quietly and strove along through the subway car.

I could not help but be surprised at both men reactions. Although I feel like the guy had a point to what he was saying, he sounded kind of rude. Regardless, the homeless guy did respond politely and sounded like he would actually take learning to juggle into account.

I was thinking that Danny’s approach was wrong, too intrusive. Unfortunately, we are too used to homeless people asking for money on trains; therefore, different approaches could definitely be refreshing and enable someone to raise more money. At the same time, people are really in need, and I don’t know who would feel like entertaining a crowd on an empty stomach, after a possible cold, sleepless night outside…


  1. Well written, I am right there with you on the train ride. On a day like this when panhandlers come by the dozen, it can be hard or it can be easy to find out who really needs the help. Danny's story seemed a bit scripted, but then again you never know. I am not always able to give out cash, but I try to share if I am able. Perhaps Danny was new to the biz, however the second man was humbled by years of experience...


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