I went to college, upstate. It used to be so cold there in Winter that once you stepped outside, the breath in your nostrils would freeze your nose hairs together. It was a weird sensation. Living up there for four years taught me how to layer up for single digits and how dangerous exposure is.
In New York City, it doesn’t really happen like that. It gets as cold sometimes, but you just don’t feel the danger as instantly. The cold just hits you like a brick wall, but you think that’s it; it’s just cold. Nothing to it. The danger creeps up on you in the city. Your nose hairs don’t freeze together. There’s no early warning sign. You don’t feel the instant power of what the temperature is doing to you.
So, tonight, tonight was that kind of cold. And I can’t believe I spent tonight at work until 1 am -- Friday night, babysitting Philip Armonde, my boss’s nephew, my second, full-time, job.
I just want to go home and go to sleep so he can’t call me and ask me to set up a car service to take him home from the bar. Call a cab, asshole. Gold-diggers aren’t impressed by you summoning me at 3:00 am.
Another thing to add to this abysmal day? The train by me isn’t running already because of weekend track work. I have to schlep to Times Square to catch the 7.
Merry Christmas, Miranda Pockets. This is what life has given you this year.
I do like passing by Times Square though. It’s weird, but I find the artificial daylight from all the signs really comforting, and tonight is special because it’s so empty, and so cold. It almost feels clinically sterilized.
No one is here, except me; except cold. I am alone and king of this wasteland exposure.
I get to the 42nd Street station and there’s a few people out now. We’re all scurrying like rats, except, there’s one of those old Chinese guys who paints your name on a board, he’s still out; still hustling. He’s got his head buried in his coat’s chest. I wonder how long he’s been sitting out there. Oh my god. Is he alive? I should check and call 311.
“Sir, sir, are you okay?”
He lifts his head up, and says, “Name?”
“No name. Are you okay? Do you have somewhere to go?”
He points to the ground, and says, “Here.” He nods. He pulls out a pad and pen, indicating that I should write my name.
I should break out my Chinese. My dad is white, but my mom is Chinese, and this guy reminds me of her dad, my grandpa.
“Shifu, are you okay? Do you have a home to go to? Do you need me to call someone?”
“No, don’t call the police. I’m okay. I’m warm. I have to stay here.”
“Shifu, why do you have to stay here? It’s too cold. You can’t stay here.”
“Your Chinese is so good, miss. I don’t have anywhere to go. No one to call. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry about me.”
He Cheshire smiles convincingly and looks kind of like my grandpa, in the way that all old people sag into that face and look alike, a fusion of identities, into just being old.
I give him all the loose cash I have in my wallet, $40, and tell him to use it for food and a warm place to sit. His eyes water a little. He tucks it away into one of his zippered pockets and I start to walk away.
I get to the subway entrance, and I look back. He’s still sitting out there, sitting in this 5-degree weather at 1:30 am, trying to sell nameplates to no one. He’ll be fine, right? He knows how to survive. This is not my problem anymore.
Miranda Pockets lets out a little deflated exhaled sigh.
She turns around and walks back to Mr. Ong.
“I live in Flushing and have a spare room. You can stay with me tonight. Don’t stay out here, Shifu. Come on, I’ll help you with your stuff.”
He nods twice and there’s tears in his eyes.
About The Artist
Jon Mayren is a dual citizen and proud immigrant from South America. Jon grew up in New York and was nurtured by public education in the shadow of Lady Liberty. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Political Science from a state university. In their work, Jon strives for relatability and reflection of the times, as Jon Mayren believes that despite each of us having our own, separate, story, ultimately, all stories repeat, intersect, and build on one another.
No one is special. Everyone is special. No one is alone.
Jon Mayren created the images in this piece and titled them: Dirty Windshield Ocean, Stormy Home on the Range, Citrus and Black Pepper, Crushed Stone Profile and Emerald Cut.
For inquiries: writerJMayren@gmail.com