Time Gone By

Hi, friends.

Yeah, just me again, hoping to regale you with some more stories of adventure, weird coincidence and occasionally quixotic notions, all with plenty of empathy and self-deprecation sprinkled in!

And today – for Day 21 – this anecdote will include almost none of those things. (Accept, of course, for a little self-deprecation, maybe. (-:)

Yeah, 21. Man, where to start?


‘Ya know, sometimes I think people forget that a past is only truly a past when you cover all of it. Yeah, when you acknowledge both the good, the bad, even all the uneventful stuff that, at least at the time, seems almost completely forgettable.

Perhaps in a noble attempt at fostering optimism, William Shakespeare once wrote “Past is prologue.” Now, as per the above, and for purposes of example, I’ll try not to renege on the idea that the following anecdote won’t be presented with rose-colored glasses. (Apologies in advance, gang, it ends up hurting like hell sometimes, but I guess I was born to be a believer. )-:)

Anyway, while it’s certainly open to interpretation, I think Shakespeare was basically saying that everything that has occurred in the past serves as preparation for the many opportunities to come. But on that long ago New Year’s Eve way back when, just a few months after my 21st birthday, the only aspect of time I really cared about was the notion that the night would eventually have to end.

You know when you make plans for something big. Yeah, some big event that you just don’t want to miss/can’t miss. (C’mon, you know what I mean. Both my daughters have been talking to me about the gnawing fear of missing out (FOMO) since they were little girls.)

So, that night, when my best laid plans went up in smoke, I had to improvise.

Not feeling my best (more on that later), I tried my best to rally. I showered and shaved, threw on some decent clothes, including this great bulky overcoat that I got from my uncle (more on that later, too) and headed for New York City. (And I almost forgot…Even though my friends bailed on the idea of running in a midnight race in and around Central Park, NYC, I still wanted to try it. So, I threw my gym bag with all my running stuff in it over my shoulder and hopped on a Manhattan-bound train.)

The train was crowded, but the “buzz” was palpable. And soon, I started to feel pretty good about my 11th-hour plans starting to show some real promise.

Then we got to Grand Central Station. And well, then the night really got going.

Let’s just say that the New York City of the mid-1980s was a far, far cry from today. If you’ve seen any news clips of that time period, all those graffiti-ridden subway cars and large amounts of homeless people. Simply put, those things were real. More real that I even knew, as it turned out.

I’d heard about a party in a neighborhood called Gramercy Park (about 20 blocks south of Grand Central), and it was wrong from the start. Somewhere between running into an old girlfriend who seemed intent on showing off her new guy, trying to keep up with a discussion on Moby Dick (which although I’ve read it since, I lied about reading that night) and having one too many mixed drinks (tough going for a lightweight like me), I stumbled out into the street. And just for esses and gees, I managed to leave my gym bag and all my running gear behind.

It was still only about 10pm at this point, but I decided to head back to the train station. After all, in the words of Dirty Harry Callahan, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

I mentioned earlier how bad the homeless problem was back then, and in lieu of giving away money, I thought it might be a nice thing to pick up a few candy bars and give those away instead.

I stepped onto the subway at 23Rd Street, and the train was packed with people. A homeless man with a badly damaged right eye, wearing pants that were held up by a piece of rope, shuffled past me, preparing to address the subway riders, hoping to appeal to their collective generosity.

Standing by with my own gesture of kindness, I moved in front of him, handing him a Chunky candy bar. (For those of you who aren’t familiar, “Chunky” was the actual brand name and is still made today.)

I smiled at the man, feeling good about my plan to do good. He responded in kind, smiling widely. And then he promptly vomited on me, right on the left sleeve of my uncle’s vintage overcoat.

The other riders didn’t know what to do, at first, not quite certain about what had just happened. There were some “ewws” and “Oh nos” and a smattering of “Holy shit did you just see that’s,” but that was about it.

For his part, the homeless man gingerly walked to another car, without uttering a single word, my Chunky bar in his right hand.

When I finally got back to Grand Central, I made a stop at the men’s room to try to clean myself up a little. There was heavy traffic in there, everything from drunken revelers to guys in tuxedos to a few more homeless dudes, taking a break from the cold.

When I finally got back on the train towards the burbs, I was hoping that the ordeal was just about over.

Of course that was before I slept through my stop and had to travel several miles up the line, just to get off the train and head back in the other direction.

Because I’d managed to fall asleep (yes, pretty impressive I know, given the circumstances) on the secondary line, I was basically stranded. Even though it was New Year’s Eve, cabs never really came out there. So, I decided to walk.

After I’d walked a few miles, now exhausted and still reeking from my earlier subway ride, I got a break. A bellhop from the Marriott hotel in a nearby town, took mercy on me, stopping to give me a ride.

We talked a little, not about that night’s escapade, but more about the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Of course, I never saw the guy before or any time after that. Yet, in the many New Year’s Eve’s since, I’ve thought of him, stopping in an old Dodge Duster, dropping me within shouting distance of my parents’ home and refusing to take any money for the ride.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I made plenty of tips tonight.” Then, wishing me a Happy New Year, he drove up the quiet street, leaving me just enough time to catch up with Dick Clark.

Not sure if there’s a moral to this story, except maybe that even though your past may not define you, it is part of who you are.

You guys have a good night, and feel free to have a chuckle at my expense the next time you find yourself in a candy store.


@Copyright 2023 by John L. Fischer

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