It was one of those early spring days in the city of New York; Mid-lower Manhattan to be exact. Rainy and cool, with some gusty winds coming in from the East River, making some of the lower Manhattan cross-streets into veritable canyons of cold air. It was around 3 in the afternoon and I was, frankly, wet and tired of peddling drugs… no, not THOSE drugs, but actual medical supplies, since at the time I represented Pfizer Laboratories in parts of Manhattan and the Bronx.
I have always been an avid reader. Anything, as long as it is in print and has a defined beginning, a middle and an end. Some people can get lost in a music store. I am one of those who can get truly lost to the outside world when I am in any establishment where books are sold, leased, lent or simply available. A bookstore or a library; someone’s study room or a Dr.’s waiting room. Any one of those is fine.
I happened to be around 42th street (on the East side, a much nicer neighborhood than the West 42nd Street site in those days) and decided that a good place to go spend an hour or so, until my clothes dried out and my body began to feel human again, would be the NYC library. In that direction my tired feet took me, crossing Fifth Avenue where by some feat of radar vision and unthinking reaction grown from walking the streets, I avoided being trampled by a yellow cab. After the usual NYC street pleasantries were exchanged with the cab driver, I finally made it into the –to me- hallowed grounds of the library.
In crossing between the lion statues guarding each side of the entrance, one went into a different world. This is a fairly large research library site and a beautiful old building to boot. Behind it is one of the great small parks in NY: Bryant Park, where music flows and table games are played in the spring and summer; where a tired soul can go and relax, sit under the trees and listen to a small concerto while sipping an overpriced latte or soda from one of the vendors.
But, no matter; on to the reading room. Large desks and chairs, all exuding old school charm and warmth; the wood of the chairs worn and polished into an everlasting patina by the multitude of slacks and skirts that had sat on them over the years and desks which seemed to have built-in elbow and forearm grooves. There was nothing defined in my mind when I went there, just to get out of the cold and the rain for a while. Outside work has many perks; but inclement weather days is not one of them.
A small writing pad which always went with me wherever my “travels” took me (and still does) came out of my bag and, as I sat at the long desk, my eyes roamed around, searching for the other wet souls who were looking for some solace within these walls. My eyes stopped with a gentleman who was sitting almost across from me and, although it is hard to remember after all these years the exact words that were written then, at the end of the afternoon there was an entry that went something like this:
“His skin is almost translucent, as if the years had slowly ironed out all wrinkles etching, instead, an incredibly fine profile. A white mustache, barely visible from where I sat but which, along with the carefully combed white hair, now much thinner than it might have been some years before, gave shape and life to a face which seemed to want to defy age.” –“Come and try to get me, old reaper… I will fight you with all that I may still have left in me”
The most visually striking feature this older gent had, were his eyes. No reading glasses for him; clear, full of life sky blue eyes which looked at you with a mischievous twinkle letting you know that behind them, there was a very long history, with many a side story; a worn out but well bound book composed of many pages and many chapters; what an incredible treasure trove to be able to explore!! How many things could be learned from this old gentleman!"
As I wrote my entry, there were other things that were noticed:
"His suit was finely tailored, created out of a gray tweed cloth that, at some point in previous time, must have cost a handsome price. The elbows were a little shiny and there was an almost imperceptible fray at the edge of the sleeves. This suit had been carefully worn over many winters and, like the wearer, was doing its best to put on a defiant face to the outside world."
"He was reading the New York Times; the obituary section I noticed. Perhaps looking for the name of some friends who had departed his company and, no doubt, thinking that at some point soon it might be his turn to go on. As I wrote on and looked at him, he seemed to sense my inquiring look and started looking around, to identify the source of this vibe. My ashamed gaze averted his and I looked down at my notes, deciding whether some contact should be made."
At that moment, the sun broke through the afternoon clouds and, in one instant, the opportunity was gone.
"He looked at the sunlight through the window and then at his pocket watch. Slowly he got up, dusting his sleeves from some imaginary dust which might have had the audacity of settling on his arms and pant legs. He reached to the chair next to him and carefully put on his overcoat; a dark gray affair which some 30 years before would have been the latest fashion. Perhaps an indication of the time in which the world, as this soul knew it, had begun a repeating cycle. Then, he picked up his dark gray felt hat, which happened to be exactly the same color as the overcoat; a hat showing that infinite care had been received over many years of use, dusted it gently and put it on at exactly the right angle, with a smile on his lips. A smile that spoke of the many memories this hat brought him in just one minute of looking at it. One has to wonder how many ladies had enjoyed flirting with this handsome man, as he gently lifted his hat, by way of a happy salute... or goodbye."
"He turned and very erect, not the slightest bend on his back, walked outside the double doors of the room, disappearing from my life; a moment’s crossing which opened many possible avenues of wandering thoughts… Who, What, Where, When… Perhaps the wonder of the moment was much more interesting than what the reality might have been, had we been able to talk and share experiences.
After he left, the room became a little more dark, I also got up and left in order to go rejoin the outside world and visit my next doctor client, who was just a couple of blocks away”
That was, more or less, the entry for that day. I never came across that man again, in many subsequent visits to the library and in the many days spent walking the streets of Manhattan on behalf of Pfizer.
I came across someone yesterday and, when our eyes met for a moment, I felt a feeling of Deja-Vu; in trying to identify it, I realized this person reminded me of that one gentleman whose path I crossed on that rainy, cold afternoon in mid Manhattan so many years ago.
Back Soon; Be well…