This is New York: Show Your Teeth

"You know… I want to quit.  But I wanna use more than I wanna quit."
 He stared at me with hands outstretched. Then Richard looked towards the ground and folded his arms over his chest, contemplating the next sentence with a persistent tapping of the foot.  

“He’s given me enough rope to hang myself, but I haven’t yet. So He must want me for something.”

I grinned.  We’d been talking for about 15 minutes. “Want some soup?”
“Nah… no soup. Still have any hot chocolate though?”
“Yep. Follow me.”

We left the florescent belly of Penn Station and broke free into the night air. Homeless men and women lined the entrance of the building, some speaking, some silent. A church from Virginia was passing out food. I joined them for the evening to help with their goal and to catch up with friends from home.

But there was one thing I noticed.

These people? They were all… smiley. I mean sure, I smile. But not really when I’m walking anywhere within 100 yards of Penn Station. Our visitors to the city though… they didn’t mind smiling one bit. They weren’t tired or apathetic and that jaded sort of mind-set wasn’t leaching away at their thoughts.

It made them vulnerable.

These people? They stood out. And not in the “I-like-her-outfit” kind of way. And not in the “He-knows-the-best-spots” kind of way. They stood out in the “They-must-not-be-from-here” kind of way. 

And then, I hated to think that something as simple as smiling is so foreign to city life that it becomes odd, or worse forgotten. I’m sure beneath the headphones, and layers of clothes, and bags of necessities, and bags of nonsense I’m still quite capable of a perfectly good smile to a perfectly great stranger.

Now of course, there are reasons we don’t smile and reasons why the city changes us (because it certainly does – no argument there). But then again, sometimes we must regress to go forward. Sometimes we must remember something from the “before” to ever advance to what’s next. After all, didn’t it once work for us?

Richard stood next to me. “I think I’ll go to that shelter in the Village tonight.” He sipped his hot chocolate and smiled.
So did I.
And I even showed my teeth.

(Editor’s Note: Richard’s history was a long and complicated one of drug abuse, clean streaks, and darkness. But he was a delight to talk with, and I’m very grateful he shared bits of his story. I don’t know what happened to him after that night, but he certainly reminded me of the beauty within the idea of perspective.)

I'd smile at that.