Echo chamber

On the el today, I watch a yuppie and a homeless man achieve
marginal success connecting with each other on a human level. The
contact is initiated by the yuppie, who asks the homeless man how he is doing. The homeless man then gives a long, didactic but calm description of life as a homeless person, how he feels looked upon as the dregs of society by everyone else and intends to make a film about the homeless person’s perspective. (“Are you going to eat tonight?” the homeless man says, by way of illustration.) Their discussion goes on for at least 8 stops, and the yuppie, by the end, tries to give him advice on signing up for an e-mail account to aid him in his job search. This seems to frustrate the homeless man, who describes much greater barriers to finding employment.

The homeless man asks for 6 dollars for dinner. The yuppie fishes in his wallet. He’s got a 20 and three singles. He hesitates and gives him the three dollars, and the homeless man is grateful. They resume arguing, as they leave the train at the same stop, over whether or not the e-mail account will be helpful. But they argue not as complete strangers who are afraid of each other but as neighbors, one of whom is convinced that their sideyard needs a box hedge.

I am sitting here, absorbing this fascinating exchange of sincere stranger-based communication for future blogability. Then I look over my shoulder and notice a kindly white-haired black man, sketching what looks like my portrait.

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