(Coolest) Humans of Harlem

I just returned from running, then picnicking in the park on this gorgeous spring day.

I sat alone in the middle of a park bench and quietly ate my bodega-made sandwich while a turtle and two geese sunned themselves a few feet in front of me. Dogs, children, mothers, nannies, businessmen, teenagers, families and runners passed by without incident.

“Hello there,” a man’s voice boomed.

I looked up.

He was impeccably dressed in a black suit, bright red shirt and red vest. I immediately noticed his shiny red, patent leather, snakeskin shoes. A cream trench coat hung loosely against his thin frame, and his dyed-blonde hair was covered with a crisp, black fedora. Delicate, arthritic fingers clasped a marble-topped, wooden cane.

He grinned.

“May I have some of your sandwich, young lady?”

“Would you like half?” I smiled, and prepared to hand the wrapped, uneaten portion to him.

He laughed.

“Well, you are such a nice lady! But what would your man say if he knew you were sittin’ there with your shoes off, eatin’ a sandwich and talkin’ to a stranger?”

“Oh! Well, I like to talk to people. And I don’t have a man,” I answered, truthfully.

He leaned in and gripped his cane. “Now, you lyin’! What’s a girl like you doin’ without a man?! Who you gonna go home to?!”

I chuckled.

“Well, sir, I’m not really looking for a man right now. I’m taking some time for myself.”

“What’s your address?” He joked.

I laughed, and we exchanged a few more pleasantries. He turned to walk away.

“You promise me you’ll get yourself a man soon,” he said over his shoulder. “It’s a waste for a good woman like you to be all by herself! You promise?”

“I promise.”

“Aight now.”

Halfway down the long, green park bench sat another man, wearing a T-shirt, sweats and sunglasses. High atop his head perched a green beanie that read, “HARLEM.” As the older gentleman passed him by, he shouted, “That man is supa fly! He da pimp!”

I burst out laughing. He shifted his body in my direction.

“I heard every word he said to you! He an ol’ pimp! Mister G! His shoes musta cost more than my whole getup. Ha!” He threw his head back and cackled, loudly. I could feel the vibrations of his laughter through the wooden slats of our shared bench.

“You know,” he yelled, “I’m just sittin’ here, mindin’ my business and enjoying this beautiful day.”

“Me too!” I replied.

“It’s been the worst winter!” He shouted. “This is probably the nicest day we have had in a long time!”

“I agree! It’s a blessing,” I shouted back at him.

“YES!! I like the way you think, girl! It is a blessing!”

Feeling a little inspired, I yelled, “GOD IS GOOD!”

The man cackled again and threw his hands towards the heavens. “YES!!! HE IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!”

Our laughter echoed across the sparkling Harlem Meer.

“You know, girl,” my new friend called to me, “I am just enjoying the sunshine, drinking my drink and praying to God I don’t get arrested for being black!”

I raised my Diet Dr. Pepper to him. “Me, too!”

“HA!” He continued.  “I ask the cops, ‘Why you gotta stop-and-frisk? Why don’t you just stop and sip?'”

We howled.

Eventually, he got up to leave. He approached me gingerly, but extended his hand.

“Lady, I hope you have a nice day. You’re the coolest white woman I ever met. Most women like you would never talk to a black man like me.”

I smiled and shook his hand. “Well, I’m black, too, you know.”

He clapped his hands, threw his head back and delivered a final, boisterous laugh.

“You stay away from that pimp now, ya hear?”

I laughed with him. “Will do.”

As I watched him walk away, I chuckled to myself and shook my head. Another man spoke. He was sitting to my right.

“I heard that.” His tone sounded slightly scolding. He put his book down, rose from the bench and approached me.

I looked into his eyes, and noticed they were kind, despite the deep creases around them. His temples shone with flecks of grey hair.

“Excuse me, Miss. I just have to say that someday, I hope the honor will be ‘coolest human.’ Because you are definitely that.”







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