My Newspaper Man

My Paper Man

My son hasn’t taken the school bus to get to school. Ever. There’s a wide variety of reasons for that, most legitimate, some not. At some point, I got addicted to the gifts  in driving 180 days every year for the past 10 years. 1800 days (rounded to the nearest hundred). There have been more positives than I could imagine. Here’s one of them.

In August Jordan began high school. I had to master a new 30 minute commute  to a new high school. (yes, I rock.)  After surviving downtown traffic, the road opened up to 8 lanes – and a paper man balanced himself and his stack of morning papers in the middle esplanade.

Earphones in, he swayed to music and rhythmically pointed to every single passing car. He looked at every driver. It wasn’t a mindless dance. It was intentional. He’s blessing every car. I thought. I have NEVER had a paper man before. Ever. I was halfway between stunned that one will now be a part of my mornings and stunned that I couldn’t figure out how to get to him. I just started pointing back to him.

It took me about a week to figure out how to navigate all the traffic, lights, and lanes. Finally, I pretended I was in 8am,  I-95 traffic in downtown New Haven, CT and within a day, I bought a paper. I do this every Friday.

Every Friday we have the same interchange.

“Good Morning Miss!”

“One paper please” and I smile because he has no idea how glad I am he’s there.

I give him the money and he says every time, “You keep that pretty smile and have a blessed day!”

“You too sir!”

And I drive off- unless there’s a red light. Then he tells me the highlights, “Coupons in this one.” Or “Information on the circus on page 4”. One day he told me his name is Gregory and allowed me to take a photo of him.

 Gregory

                   Since August, I have been blessed not because he points at my car. Not because I point back  (although some days, it’s good to remember someone had my back for unselfish good in the beginning of the day).

I’m blessed because he’s there.

His presence remains a monument to stability, community and spirit.

From my second post until now, you know that the one thing I absolutely never take for granted is paper men. Especially when there is one every morning on my route.

When Paper Men Matter- Part 2

Image

Image courtesy of the Delta Arts Center, Winston Salem, NC

My husband Kevin and I went to the Delta Arts Center on May 20th, and experienced opening night of Christine Kirouac’s exhibit, “Hawkers”.  As soon as we walked in the door, Byron, one of the featured paper men, welcomed and thanked us for coming. He gave a firm handshake with a soft hand.

We walked into the space where large 20” by 20” black and white prints hung on the wall. One face to each frame with their names underneath.  Kenny Ray, another paper man, played jazz piano in a tan suit as guests mingled with paper men, in print and in person.

About five photos in, James was standing in front of his likeness, reaching out to shake our hands. “Hello. This is me. I had Bell’s Palsy during the photo shoot, that’s why my face was hanging a little.” I had a good friend in college who suffered with this so we chatted.

He described his day on the street and how he gives out a few free papers every day because sometimes others need it. One person even brought him lunch and said, “let’s keep the good going.” He told us about his mother who had arthritis and how he understood how much pain she was in. It was because of her that he tries to give to others.  I told him about why I was here and how a dead paper man in my mom’s hometown in Connecticut made me stop and think to thank them. He smiled. We connected.

Kevin and I  continued to move around the room. After the first pass, I chatted with a woman waking up every morning as a widow. “I live alone. The first person who says ‘Good Morning’ to me every day is the paper man.” I wondered how many others in the room felt the same about being alone  and how a “Good Morning” changes the day.

On the second pass in front of 20 men’s images, I became more deliberate in noticing each one. Some stared straight ahead.  Some smiled. One showed the back of his neck. One had only one arm and wore a vest that held papers.

I was catching a glimpse of community through a different lens – eyes and souls.  “Hawkers” allowed for an acknowledgement that lasted longer than a stop-light. I took a minute to notice the wrinkles, the sunglasses, and the name tag.

Or, the gray whiskers, the cigarette, the hand on hip.

Some look up as if divinely appointed to their profession. Others look away, as if in thought about something else.

Every photo reminded me that their life stories go beyond the corner. The framed prints of each offer an opportunity to care. That’s what community is about – caring.

It meant I could expand my vision of “them” to include “us”.

It meant I could listen, and learn and smile and shake hands and reconsider who the “paper men” are in my daily life – the cashiers, or the mail carrier. The mass of nameless that intersect my life daily don’t have to be faceless.

On our way out, I met the artist, Christine Kirouac. I told her about Jimmy, the dead paper man in Connecticut. I thanked her for honoring these guys while they are alive and not just when there is a tragedy. She is struck, as a Northern Canadian white woman that they are part of her community and now her friends.  “If you have eyes open and heart open you find community all around you regardless of where you’re from.”

That’s what I learned. Stop and look. Acknowledge. Thank someone and look eye to eye. Maybe ask how they are or what they’re up to. Connection is in our DNA and we can all start somewhere.

I would like to imagine Jimmy, the paper carrier looking over his corner, had a mission. Part of it was to use his life to say,  “I’m here, and you’re here. I’ll start by waving and acknowledging you. Now you do this for others.”

And one by one community starts.

If you would like to visit “Hawkers” by Christine Kirouac, please visit the Delta Arts Center before June 30th, 2012.