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Walking home

Two nights ago I was walking home from hanging out with a friend downtown. I passed a homeless looking guy in a wheelchair. He had a metal prosthetic leg and the other one was wrapped up with a crusty bandage. He looked like he hadn't had a shower in quite some time. This is not such an uncommon sight in New York City. It's the kind of sight that tends to just blend into the night time background of the city. It was pretty late and there was no one else on the block. As I passed the man in the wheelchair he caught me off guard, and spoke up in a pained voice,

"Sir? Sir? Could you please push me down to the store on the corner?"

"Shit." I thought to myself. I stopped and turned back to the man. I was tired. It was hot. I had been out all night. I was a little drunk. I just wanted to get home. And I was pretty sure there was no store on the corner.

"What store?" I said. "There's no store. There's a bar?"

"I wanna go to the store sir! Please. Can you just take me to the store?" he whimpered.

The guy was in pretty bad shape. His body was twisted in the chair. I could smell the sores on his leg and his neck was bent back over his left shoulder.

"I can push you up to the corner," I said. "But there's no store up there. It's just a bar. I don't know what store-

"Sir!" The guy said, "Please stop asking me what store. Just take me up to the store. I didn't say bar. I said store! I need to go to the store."

"But there's no-"

"Sir, PLEASE!"

I started pushing the man up the block. A small group of trendy bar hoppers passed us on the sidewalk with their eyes turned down. We got to a large fissure in the sidewalk and of course his wheelchair was so beat up we barely made it over the crack without the guy falling out of his chair.

"Sir, what are you doing?" the man said.

"I'm just trying to get you over this crack." I said.

"Please sir. I need to go to the store!"

"I know, I know." I said.

We finally got to the corner. I turned to the guy, "See there's just a bar here. No store?" I was ready to leave him here at this point he but turned to me quickly and said,"Which way is up town?"

I pointed up town.

"Take me to the store up there!"

I thought I saw a small deli up the block. Maybe this is the store he was talking about? I proceeded to push the man another half block. The deli turned out to be closed. Then I pushed him up to the next corner There were no ramps on either side. We were stuck. The man looked at me and said, "Why did you stop. I need to go to the store."

I was starting to figure out this guys game. He really didn't look like he was able to wheel himself. Is this how he gets someone to push him around all night? I didn't want to just leave the guy there. He didn't look like he could take care of himself. How the hell did he get on the street in the first place? I knew there was a small clinic near where where I saw him to begin with. Why the hell was he outside? Did he get kicked out of a shelter or something? Maybe he was near where he needed to be when I found him and I had actually wheeled him 2 blocks out of the way? I started thinking maybe he would have been better off if I just ignored him from the beginning. He seemed pretty crazy. What the fuck was I supposed to do now? I started looking at strangers passing us by on the street for help.

I turned to the guy. "We can't go any further man. I can't get you over the curb. You'll fall out into the street."

He started to raise his voice again. "Sir! Please sir! Take me to the store! I NEED TO GO TO THE STORE!" He almost started crying at this point.

"I can't help you anymore man. I can't get you over the curb," I said.

As I was talking to the man I brushed his should with my hand. Suddenly he turned and shot me a glance like I'd slapped him in the face.

"Don't you fuckin' touch me you mother fucker!" he snarled. He immediately took a swing at me and punched me in the shoulder. "You goddamn mother fucker. Don't you fucking touch me!! Don't touch me!"

He was starting to scream.

At this point I knew I was going to have to leave the guy there. I didn't want people to think I was trying to mug him or something. A part of me felt relived. I also feeling guilty. As I walked home I decided to call 911 just to tell them about the guy and check up on him. I wasn't exactly sure if this was a 911 situation but I didn't know who else to call. I explained the situation to the 911 lady.

"Well, what do you want us to do about it?" she said.

"I don't know?" I said. "I mean, the guy is in pretty bad shape. He seems mentally unstable. Could someone give him a ride to a shelter or something? This stuff must happen all the time in New York right?"

"Well, unless he's hurt or there was a crime we really can't do anything," the lady said.

"I don't know if he's hurt," I said. "I don't think it's an emergency. But his leg sure didn't look so good."

After about a five minute conversation I convinced the lady to get the cops to do a drive by just to check on the guy. She asked me if I wanted to give my name and phone number. I said no. I felt bad about that but who knows what the guy would say?

As I made my way home my head just kept spinning about whether I did the right thing. I thought about all the levels of ugliness that just too place. I was wondering if things would have been different if this took place somewhere other than New York City? I don't know.

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