Saturday, January 24, 2009

You’ll Need My Help

On the Fort Totten Metro platform, transferring from the Red to the Green Line, I heard a conversation behind me.

“Hey, Good Clothes. You got a dollar?”

“Naw, man. I don’t have it.”

Turning, I walked back to a black guy sitting on a bench, the only one in sight who could have asked the question. I gave him a buck.

“Thank you,” he said. “I appreciate this.” As he spoke, he slid over on the bench, clearly inviting me to sit down next to him.

I sat. “Did you just call that guy ‘Good Clothes?’”

“Yeah, I did. He was dressed nice. And who are you, man?”

“My name’s Jeff,” I said, holding out my hand.

“Gray.” And shook my hand. “What’re you doing? Where you going?”

He sounded more than curious, maybe a little stunned that we were fraternizing. I know I was.

“I’m going over to Georgia Ave.”

“Oh, I’m not going that far,” Gray said, as the train pulled in.

We got on together. Gray again asked where I was going and I again told him Georgia Ave. and he again told me that he wasn’t going that far.

He evidently thought I had boarded the DC Metro with the goal of traveling to the state of Georgia, not a stop on the Green Line. “Are you confused, man? Georgia Ave. is the next stop.”

He didn’t answer directly. “What time is it?”

“Almost six,” I estimated.

“OK. OK. I’ll be riding the train for hours.” His voice lowered as he checked to see if anybody else on the train might be listening in. “I live in a shelter.”

I smiled and mumbled affirming sounds. Gray kept talking. “How come you sat down next to me?”

“When you said, ‘Hey, Good Clothes,’ I just liked the feel of that. How it sounded,” but Gray didn’t seem to get what I was saying, so I elaborated. “You know what I heard when you said that?”


“I heard you saying something like ‘Hey, man, sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. Right now, you’re looking good, you’re up, and I need your help. Maybe next time …”

Gray finished for me, “you’ll need my help.”

“I’ll be up,” I said. “And You’ll Need My Help.”

Gray laughed. “That’s cool, man. I thank you.”

My stop was coming and I stood up.

“When will I see you, again?” I asked him.

“You and me, we’ll both be around.”

We gestured toward each other. I offered Gray a power shake, he offered me a fist bump. We switched. I offered a fist bump, Gray came back with a power shake. We both laughed. I grabbed his hand, now in a fist, to keep it that way. With my other hand, we finally fist bumped.

Gray smiled one last time. “You don’t wanna shake hands,” he said. “Too many diseases these days.”

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