The Big City

The Big City

A Story by Tim W

Jim and his Dad are in Time Square where life lessons are uh-plenty.


My son Jim reached out his hand as we prepared to cross 46th and 8th. He is nine and loves Time Square. The passing thunderstorm pounded the city. The strike was quick but fleeting. Long Island now prepares for the fury. I grabbed Jim's hand and told him to wait, hoping, silently, that he takes in the moment and just observes. Time Square glows at night. The lights hit you from every conceivable direction. Wet pavement is a light's best canvas. In Time Square, the lights and wet streets collide, creating an explosion of color, ricocheting off taxi cabs and tour buses. "See the lights reflecting off the pavement son?" He's not paying attention. I conceded. My son sees his reflection in a puddle and holds up a peace sign. A give him rabbit ears and he chuckles. "Daaaaaaad!" I could only grin, silently acknowledging that father's are the greatest pranksters.

The honking horns and humming from a hundred-thousand conversations cocoons Time Square. The tourists are legion. So are the hustlers. I squeeze my son's hand and we hustle to the next corner. He takes two steps for every one of mine. All day, Jim’s adrenaline has masked the physical exertion of walking Manhattan. Finally succumbing to exhaustion, my son asks me for a hot dog. Every kid should get the opportunity to experience a New York City hotdog and slice of pizza. We stop at the corner of 47th and 8th and see a hotdog stand on the sidewalk. The stand is coated in a soft, orangish hue from its beautiful marquee lights that line all straight edges. A sign reads, "Hot Dogs." "Clear and concise," I think to myself. The red paint is peeling off the front of the stand and the tire rims are rusty. My son reaches for a piece of peeling red paint and rips it off. He looks at me, anticipating the look of disapproval that I immediately return. Without hesitating, he places his hand down by his side and drops the paint chip. Jim pretends he never had it, or so it appears. Shamefully, he looks down, his gaze penetrating the wet side walk. He'll die an old man knowing I found humor in this silent encounter of discipline.

"Two dogs with ketchup," I say to the old man who’s skillfully working this corner like he owns it. The man's beard stubble is patchy and his face is weathered. For a second, I wonder what or who, weathered his face.

"What's your name old man?" I ask. "Jimmy," he says with a rattled voice. "Mine too!" my son shouts in astonishment.

Hotdog Jimmy chuckled. "Yeah kid, probably a million of us running around here. You're in good company. By the way, I've been working this corner for nine years and I have the best dogs in the city. Best roasted cashews too. Want a bag of those?"

"Son, want some roasted nuts?"

My son shakes his head yes. He's not really paying attention now. Something else is tugging at his attentiveness. I’m surprised, considering how hungry he must be after walking all day. Hotdog Jimmy hands me two plump dogs with ketchup, a hot bag of nuts that smell sweet and smoky, and two bottles of water. The water bottles were missing the little plastic rings. I grabbed the bottles and smiled in Jimmy's direction. He winked and I was thirsty.

"Hey Jimmy?” I shouted over Time Square's roaring madness, as my son and I begin walking away. "Any street advice for my son, little Jimmy here? I never call my son Jimmy but I’m hoping this will entice some truthfulness. “This is only his second time in the big city.”

Jimmy looked at my son. He knows I never call my son Jimmy. His weak smile vanished and his personality withdrew into the shadows of the hotdog stand. "Deceptions," he said as he wiped ketchup on his apron and tipped his faded Yankees cap in our direction. He had new customers now. They were an older, Asian couple, with cameras draped around both of their necks. As I walked away, I heard Hotdog Jimmy’s customers ask for two bottles of water.

Jim and I began the slow stroll down 7th, hugging the concrete buildings as we juggled dogs, dripping ketchup, hot nuts, and water bottles minus the protective seal. Jim didn't notice the missing seal. He was thirsty. So was I. Jim's white denim shorts had already been victimized by pizza sauce earlier, around noon. It didn't take long for the ketchup to infiltrate a large patch of empty white space. Only a single Dad would put his kid in white shorts for a day-long trip into NYC. “Amateur move,” I thought. Jim finished his dog before me and was now fist deep into the cashew bag. It wasn't long before the bag was tilted towards the puddles, cashew dust pouring down Jim's throat. Gravity now confirmed, the cashews were gone and Jim appeared satisfied, now sipping on his bottle of water that had no seal.

"What were you looking at back at the hotdog stand?" I asked Jim. 

"What do you mean Dad?”

"You were looking at something behind you when we were talking to the hotdog man. What was it?"

"Awww nuthin," Jim said as his voice weakened. I was going to let it go when suddenly, Jim's demeanor quickly erupted into curiosity. "Dad, why are people homeless?"

I paused before answering, knowing that a conversation like this was probably better reserved for an area without hustlers. ”Many reasons Jim,” I said, hoping my answer would suffice, knowing it wouldn’t.

"Like what?" Jim asked.

Anticipating his question, I said, "Well, some times people become homeless when they get into bad things like drugs, or make other bad choices, or hang out with bad people, or sometimes they become homeless because of misfortune."

"What's misfortune mean Dad?"

"Bad luck son. Everyone gets it. Some recover, some don't." I try and keep the conversation at a child's level. Suddenly, Jim spots a homeless man sitting on the curb as we’re retreating from Time Square’s chaos, trying to catch the 10:20 p.m. train to Long Island where the thunderstorm looms.

The homeless man is probably in his forties, dark skinned, with a sliver of grey in his hair and a pierced ear lobe with no earring. His blue jeans are peppered with holes and he's wearing a dark colored shirt with the words, "Good Faith," printed in a neon-yellow, Graffitti type font.

The streets are still wet but this man does not appear to be. His shoes are. "Maybe someone just gave him those?” I thought to myself.

Jim walked up to the man and read his cardboard sign no bigger than a piece of notebook paper. It read in black marker, "Homeless. Help. God Bless You." The sign was not wet. Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out two quarters I had left over from the Cortland Street Subway station. In front of the homeless man lie a tin bucket. The Madison Avenue street lights shimmered off the sides of the metal and it was late. The man stared at Jim, then gently reached for his bucket and tilted it slightly in Jim's direction. I stood close by but I could not see inside the bucket. Jim dropped two quarters in the man’s bucket. It made a dull, thudding sound. The bucket was not empty. The man was not wet and he said, "God bless you young man.”

Jim took two steps towards me and reached for my hand. As we began walking down Madison Avenue, Jim's steps were bouncy. He was light on his feet and appeared satisfied. Without warning he asked, "Dad, are you proud of me for giving that homeless man two quarters?" I shifted my gaze from the large, art deco styled bank off to my left that was most likely crafted by a thousand hands. Water slowly dripped off the bank’s facade, colliding with the concrete below. I connected with Jim's blue eyes and boyish smile. "How do you know that man was homeless?" I said, smiling back. The streets were nearly empty but they were still wet. “A beautiful canvas for the light’s reflection. I wonder if Jim notices?” I thought to myself. 

© 2015 Tim W

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Added on August 14, 2015
Last Updated on August 14, 2015
Tags: Time Square, deceptions, father and son story


Tim W
Tim W

New Haven, CT

I retire in October, 2015 after 20 years in the US Coast Guard. Writing is my passion and I'm trying to rediscover myself. more..

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