I’ll admit I’m getting a bit worried. The homeless man who hangs out at Grand Army Plaza every morning hasn’t shown up for about a week now. He has been there for years without fail, save one brief period, occupying a seat on the platform during the morning commute, and gone in the evening. When a homeless person doesn’t make his appointed stops, there’s a reason. We all have our routines.
There’s something about this guy that’s a little bit different. Something about him I like. He’s Burmese (as I overheard him tell another woman one day) with stringy gray hair down the middle of his back, but so sparse on top his scalp is visible. He pushes a shopping cart that’s been rigged like this: the front end has been sawed off so that only the handle and back wheels are in tact, and in place of the missing basket is a granny cart held on by bungee cords.
Despite the fact that all of his earthly possessions fit inside a shopping cart (or perhaps because of it) he seems, to me, to be a genuinely happy guy. He works on the sudoku puzzle in one of the free morning newspapers. He eats bagged salad with chopsticks and washes it down with Coke swigged from the bottle. He watches the comings and goings of the trains like a Buddha. He laughs a lot. I don’t know if it’s with us frantic commuters or at us.
Maybe he moved on to greener pastures like Union Square, suddenly deciding that Grand Army Plaza was no longer appealing. The last time he disappeared for several days, he returned with this latest cart incarnation. Of course the cynical side of me assumes that the old one had been cart-jacked during some sort of scuffle, but he might have just figured he needed new wheels.
I know one other Burmese man who goes by the name So. So works in my building as a greeter. (Though knowing my company, his official title is probably something along the lines of Executive Salutation Assistant.) This is the happiest man alive. He is relentlessly cheerful. He says hello to everyone who appears from the elevator bank in a grand sing-songy voice. There is something about So’s energy that is so peaceful and calm, your spirits are lifted immediately. Even the normally grumpy bike messengers offer a handshake and a wave when they see him. Now he’s trying to expand his English by watching television and picking up bits and pieces from his co-workers.
“Hello! It crazy, sick cold outside, yes?” (Laugh) “My bum about to freeze off from Jack Frost. (Another laugh) “You got one package waiting here for you, okay?”
I’ve been teaching him a few words in Italian because he wanted to know. Now he also says things like, “Ciao! Buon giorno!” as he walks the halls for his hourly rounds. In exchange he tells me things about his country. “We like food things hot, hot, hot. Too hot for you, yes. But a-okay for me!” (Smile and laugh)
I don’t know much about So’s life in Burma (now Myanmar ), but I suspect it wasn’t cushy, probably much like my friend on the train platform. Yet they both give off a serenity and happiness that can’t be faked. Is it because they have learned to be truly grateful for what little they may already have rather than deciding to be happy only when they acquire a laundry list of things? Maybe it’s as So succinctly put it one day, “It so easy. You just smile. Okay?”
I hope I see the guy on the Grand Army platform again soon. I’ll give him a big smile and the sudoku puzzle book I’ve taken to carrying around with me. Just in case.