Another storm was approaching when he beckoned for me. Toting a wimpy broom, he stood on the top step of his brownstone – the 10 other steps covered by light coats of snow. His weight shifted onto a cane. He reminded me of the man in East Harlem I’d seen earlier that day. That man sat in his electric wheelchair, one of its motorized wheels caked in mud and spinning like mad, unable to gain traction.
I was up there for a meeting when I saw the man in his wheelchair in the middle of a path that cut through a housing development near 106th Street. Snow had mostly melted, leaving mud along paths and untended gardens – public space turned to wastelands. When he veered off the path, the right wheel sank into the mud. He tried backing out without effect. He tried again and pulled himself onto the path. But the wheel spun and spun and spun around.
I walked past him, noting he’d be getting nowhere soon, the meeting and approaching storm still on my mind.
Now, as I stood below the man atop his stoop, I wondered if, like the man in his wheelchair, he’d ever get loose, ever get going down the stairs – if he’d move forward. In passing, I looked up and he called to me.
“Sweep my stairs,” he said blankly. I figured I’d help with that.
At the bottom I looked up, only a few feet from where I’d stood minutes before. The steps were cleared of snow now. The street was still quiet except for a passing car. He said thank you and I felt as though I needed to help him, perhaps because I didn’t want the second one to get stuck in the coming storm.