Saturday, January 7, 2012
There was a man who used to sleep on the benches on Riverside Drive, across the street from my apartment building. He would sleep there all year long; winter, summer, rain, snow - he was always there. His name was Sam.
Sam was a wiry, dark-skinned, African-American man, probably in his sixties. He always wore a suit-jacket and tie, often a muffler, and carried a small suitcase. He never asked for money. Usually he was quiet and polite, nodding good morning, etc., but on occasion, he would talk to himself loudly or mutter angry and indiscernible things to passersby, perhaps suggestive that he'd missed taking his medication or was having some kind of episode.
Sam used to have a thing going on about the trash cans on the Drive and right inside Riverside park. He would move them around and rearrange them all the time. Often, after having cleaned up after my dog, in the park, I'd find that the trash can where I'd usually toss the baggied refuse had been moved clear across the field from where it usually sat. It also wasn't an uncommon thing to see Sam dragging a heavy metal trash can behind him as he walked up Riverside Drive, or around one of the meandering paths in the park.
Sam lived on the street for years. People would often leave food for him. Once, on my way home from food shopping, I offered him some fruit. He refused it.
People in the neighborhood, the dog people in the park, doormen, etc., always talked about Sam. Some of the talk, mostly from the more recent nouveau riche additions to the neighborhood, was concern at the unpleasantness of such an 'unseemly character' hanging around what was supposed to be a 'nice' neighborhood. But the majority of the talk was curiosity, or even concern about someone who we saw everyday - a neighbor.
About four year ago, during the winter, Sam died. One day, he just wasn't there anymore. There was really no more information about what had happened to him. It might have been because he was ill, it might have been exposure to the elements. No one seemed to know. There were vases of flowers placed in the snow against the wall to the park, and bouquets laid out on benches along the Drive for weeks after his death. There was also a small sign explaining to the folks in the neighborhood that Sam had passed away.
While I don't know if there was ever any confirmation about this, the word was that Sam had an apartment on 79th Street, right off of Riverside, that he used to rent out. He was apparently financially stable, and was once a successful young man, then one day he came home to find that his wife and young daughter had perished in a house fire. He'd been living on the streets since. Whether that's true, or a tragic story that someone made up along the way, I don't know. Certainly, if true, something like that would drastically change a person.
Sam's story suggests an excellent example to the testament that it is best not to judge people by their outward appearances. You just never know...