A tale from the pandemic . . .
DON’T WALK AWAY
by Jerry Bisantz
I’ve become a whiner. I hate this Covid bullshit. This assault on my life. This pent up anger at not being able to sit at a goddamn bar, watch a Sox game, drink a beer. People walking away from me like I am going to give them the plague. A mother and her three kids literally RAN into the forest as I went on a run recently. I hope they all got deer ticks.
So, on a day when I was supposed to drive to Western Massachusetts and climb Mt Greylock, my wife calls:
“You have to pick me up in Hartford. It’s the halfway point between Hudson, and the boys just saw an apartment there that they liked and I’m ready to go home.”
Wasn’t she supposed to come home tomorrow? Great! Just great! Well, there goes my plans for a nice climb.
Another reason to… whine…
One and a half boring hours later I am in downtown Harford, Connecticut. Is there a city in America as crushingly soulless as Hartford? If so, I would like to know. Giant buildings of glass and steel, jaggedly jutting into the sky in exultation of that greatest of all industries: INSURANCE. The vacant “covidian” streets could be used as a movie set for a dystopian world, devoid of all warmth and character. The only thing missing to complete the scene was tumble weeds rolling with the wind.
And I’m hungry as all hell.
Thank God! A Dunkin’ Donuts!! Like a parched survivor of a Sahara crossing, I launch myself across the street, visions of a glazed donut and a cup of Joe dancing in my head. . . I reach for the door.
Closed. Jesus Christ, it’s closed.
But, wait, a deli down the street! Oh, rapture! A corned beef on marble rye, maybe even some matzo ball soup floats into my addled brain. I sprint the entire city block, no worries, no human beings at all to run into. Grabbing the door I ease the . . . what the hell???
Closed. “No soup for you!” enters my mind, but I am not amused.
Not in the least.
Godamnit. Bad enough this town sucks, bad enough I missed out on my romantic and daring feats of adventure at 3400 feet, but starving to death in this cavernous crypt of a city? And, where the hell are my wife and the boys?
A plastic CVS bag blows across the street as I make my way back to my car. Damn this Covid shit, damn this ugly city, damn all this bullshit…
“Hey mister, can ya help me out?”
What the hell? A person?
“Mister, I could use a break…”
Oh, great! A beggar. Probably needs money for heroin. Next comes the “I need money for bus fare back to Boston” story.
“I’m not the kind of guy who does this, I swear…”
I walk past him, averting my eyes.
“Please Mister, don’t walk away. I ain’t never been in this kinda trouble before. I ain’t no beggar, I swear. I lost my job ‘cause of this virus thing, and because I worked under the table for a guy I can’t get no unemployment money. I really feel bad asking folks like you for help, really I do.”
I turn around. A handsome young man, mid 20’s, clothing a bit ragged, looks to be in good shape. He stands on the sidewalk, stock still, not swaying or stumbling.
Oh, how I wish I was anywhere but here at this moment.
Is that an actual tear running down his cheek? If this kid is acting, he sure as hell is good at it.
“I got nowhere to go, Mister.”
“Don’t you have family who can help out?”
“I’m all alone. Never been like this before.
“Isn’t there a shelter in this town you can go to?”
“I messed up, Mister. Can’t go back there. Bad stuff going on there. “
“Surely you must know someone who can help you out. Give you a hand.”
“I’m a loser, Mister, a loser. And I am so ashamed.”
“No one is a loser. You are hitting some hard times, that’s all. You can pick yourself up, buddy, I know you can.”
“No, Mister, I have made mistakes in my life. And I am paying for them now.”
We are standing six feet apart.
“Social distancing”, a new meaning, comparing his struggles to mine.
“I am so sorry to bother you, you look like a nice man.”
I plunge my hand into my pocket. Pull out a $20 bill.
I reach across the void, those six feet, that space that separates all of us in these crazy times.
He takes the bill. His eyes never leave that piece of paper. Looking at the ground, he stands there for a moment.
“God bless you, sir.”
The young man disappears down the empty street, swallowed whole by the immense and foreboding steel and glass structures.
I turn towards my car.
In Hartford, Connecticut.
In the time of Covid, Year Of The Lord, 2020.
And yet, I whine.