There’s a certain homeless man who became a fixture on the corner of my East Village block. All day nearly every day, he would lean against the wall, observing life move around him. He rarely spoke, and asked for change or food even less often.
Thin — emaciated, really — with a faded denim baseball cap and ill-fitting denim jacket, his upper lip shadowed by a thick caterpillar mustache, he was a reassuring presence outside my apartment building. Never threatening, never demanding, always ready with a smile or a nod in greeting.
Most afternoons after getting home from work, I would come back outside to enjoy a cigarette on my front stoop. The homeless man would always be there, too, leaning against the wall just a few yards away. Sometimes, he would look over and make a simple motion, raising two fingers to his lips in a peace sign while slowly exhaling. The international sign for “cigarette.”
We’d sit there on the stairs, not sharing a word, until our cigarettes were stubbed out under our shoes. Some Sunday afternoons we would watch the churchgoers flood out onto the sidewalks from the adjacent church. One caught his attention.
“Oh man!” He began to laugh, and turned to grab my shoulder as he pointed to a middle-aged Hispanic woman with an unfortunate amount of fuzz on her upper lip. “Do you see that? Her mustache is bigger than mine! Jesus!”
Those are the only words I ever heard him spoke, and also the only time I saw him laugh out loud.
Honestly, though, it was no exaggeration. Her mustache was very full and bushy; a razor could have done wonders.