A coupla weeks later, John comes walking on the narrow walkway that cuts through the park from 72nd street to 73rd street. He looks smaller and skinnier than I remember.
I see him and call out, "Hey John." He stops and looks at me while I walk over and ask, "What size shoes do you wear?"
"My size is 8 & 1/2 but I wear any size." he says.
I say, "I have some size 11 sneakers that are in pretty good shape. Can you use them?" "Sure." he says. "OK, I'll put them in my car. Next time I see you, you can have them."
The park kind of adopts him. He is always polite, shows a quick wit and he is available to do stuff, if someone asks. And he was always, always pleasant. I might offer him a buck or so which he always accepted with a certain grace considering, and I would always say something like, " Now remember, this is not for food. Not for food! Got it. Wine is OK, beer too or you know what you like, but no food." He never had that surprised look again, the one he had the first time I said something dumb like that.
And then there was the time he went missing for about 8 days. "John", I said when he showed up, "You didn't do something stupid like getting married or going to work did you?"
"No, no", he said, "Don't worry, I didn't take no job."
So he became kinda of a fixture.
And the time there was this kid who came running into the park. It looked like he was being chased. John took a racket from a kid's bag, and handed it to the running kid. He took it, not missing a step and joined a foursome, one court over, which was changing sides. This made an odd man of one of the kids who had been playing. This guy slowly walked into the men's room as a policeman entered the park.. The policemen slowed down and then continued slowly down the path, scrutinizing all the kids.. He kept walking slowly until he left the park through the exit gate on the 72nd street side.
Another day. I'm talking to John and he tells me its his birthday on Saturday. "No kidding," I say "How old are you going to be?" "50", he says. "50?" I ask? "John" I say, "Wow, you don't look a day over 84". . . . He never took offense at my smartass remarks.
Happy 50th John
On Saturday its drizzling a bit. I go into the staff office and tell Darlene that its John's birthday. I ask if she will help me put some stuff together for a party. She knows John and is very agreeable. I go and come back from Publix with a chocolate cake, some candles, a few large bottles of pop, a bag of ice and bags of Doritos and Potato Chips and other like stuff and some paper plates and cups and . . . .
Back at the park I manage to get the stuff into the office unobserved and after we prepare everything I go and get John. All the kids in the park gather and are watching. Three of us pick up the card table with party stuff on it, carry it outside and put it under the overhang and start singing, "Happy birthday to you, happy . . . . . ."
For a moment or two he doesn't get it . We lite the 6 candles on the cake (1 for good luck, 1 for each 10 years.) He doesn't know how to behave. We get him to make a wish and blow the candles out. He looks at me and I say, "Look John, its just a trick to get you to eat some food."
He didn't cry or anything, but his eyes said he wanted to.
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