Coney Island Prophet
Vim, vigor and vitality… virtues to be desired by anyone, especially someone having accumulated seventy-five years and still breathing the air-apparent of New York City, were embodied in the little man. Even his slight limp could not detract from the swagger he projected and his cane was more prop than tool.
The swirling breezes caught the man's long, white hair and forced it to dance in rhythm with a universal downbeat. I watched his approach as he stepped off the bus, and wondered why the man had chosen to disembark here. This part of the lower east side held little in the way of museums or shopping, apart from the occasional obscure book store pock-marking the storefront landscape. The longer I watched him the more I grinned. Perhaps grandfather is meeting his ‘niece’ for a brief interlude of slap-and-tickle. Go get ‘em, Pops!
As the old man approached my hotdog cart, he stopped abruptly, looked around and produced a note and wire-rimmed spectacles from his breast pocket. Briefly, he examined the slip of paper and once again looked around.
“What are you lookin’ for, Pops?”
‘Pops’ took off his glasses, stared at me for a second, and walked towards my cart, the Spirit of Pawtucket. “Young man, why do you call me ‘Pops’? Perhaps I remind you of your long-deceased father, and it is your desire to recall his life through me?”
“No, sir… not really.” I found his German accent disconcerting.
“Ah! Well, then, when you ask what I’m looking for, are you speaking metaphysically, or are you genuinely concerned about my immediate welfare?” Pops now assumed the posture of a clergyman delivering his homily, fingers intertwined at his chest and sad eyes searching for my soul.
“Well, neither… I mere—“
“Oh… then you wish to sell me a sandwich, and you were inquiring as to which selection I would be unable to resist?”
“Sure, if you want…” This dude is crackers!
“Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere! Well, tell me Mr. Sandwich-seller, what varieties of sandwich can you offer me today? A corned beef on rye or perhaps a nice turkey breast with gorgonzola on pumpernickel?”
“Uh, no. I only sell hot dogs.”
“Yes… well, would these happen to be turkey-hot dogs, perchance?” Pops was running his hand along the counter now, periodically checking his palm for dust.
Here we go… “No, I don’t think so, I think they’re pork, like every other hot dog in Manhattan.” Why me? Why do I get all the Bellevue rejects?
Now Pops rubbed his chin with his fingers, giving the appearance of a man torn by a dilemma. “Well, this is a problem, Mr. Street Vendor, you see, I’m Jewish, and I keep to my dietary restrictions.”
“Would it help if I told you they’re Kosher wieners?” Yank, yank.
“So the premise is mitigation? You overcome my objection with a proposal satisfying my underlying ethical problem without discernibly changing anything, at no additional cost to yourself. I see… well, tell me, is it true? Are they authentic Kosher pork wieners, the only ones made anywhere on this planet? If so, I’d like to buy all you have, and any others for which we can negotiate a price!”
A taxi horn broke the silence, somewhere up the block. I took out a notepad from my pocket, scrawled a few words on it and handed it to Pops.
“Moscowitz Deli-- two blocks over, on the corner. You can’t miss it.”
Pops held the paper in front of him, thought for a few seconds and replied, “Young man, you’re not much of a businessman and your penmanship is atrocious, but you seem to possess a kind soul. It has been a pleasure sharing a few minutes with you, if not a sandwich. I wish you well.” From his breast pocket he withdrew a business card and handed it to me.
With that, he walked away, offering no opportunity for rebuttal. I read the card as I watched the man’s already diminutive form get smaller and smaller. There must be something to this relativity thing. Nice to meet you, Professor Einstein.