I was just on the F train to 14th Street, on my way to drop off a sample at my urologist’s office. Shortly before the 2nd Avenue stop a guy, probably 19 or 20 years old, got on the train with a largish dog. The dog looked like a cross between a rottweiler and a lab, and looked on stoically as the guy said, “Sorry everyone, he’s actually a good dog, well-behaved. Look, I’m not gonna bullshit you, I got nowhere to go, I guess I’m homeless. I just wanna feed my dog when we get off the train here. If you could spare anything, I’d really appreciate it.”
I kept reading my book, Elena Passarello’s Let Me Clear My Throat, as he walked by me with his hat out, his dog tethered to a post. I was deeply immersed in her essay on disgust, and wanted to finish it before my stop. I avoided eye contact as I usually do, at least with the guy. I couldn’t help looking at the dog though. It was looking at no one, its eyes both dignified and kind. I couldn’t help wondering if this dog really belonged to the guy, or if it was a prop to elicit sympathy and dollar bills.
Then I looked directly across the train at a girl, probably 10 years old, sitting with her iPad in her lap and her mother next to her. The little girl was looking at the dog, and sobbing. After collecting his dough, the guy untethered his dog and got off at West 4th Street. The little girl's eyes followed the dog, absentmindedly rubbing the screen of her iPad while her mother piddled around on her iPhone. She was shaking. Her mother put down her phone, put her arm around her, and said, “I’m sorry.” The little girl melted into her mother’s side, weeping uncontrollably.
I got off at 14th Street and stood in the tunnel, thinking heavily. I finally decided that this was a good thing that just happened, that this reaffirmed a certain capacity for human empathy, in both that little girl and myself. I looked over, and a homeless man was urinating on the bench where I was planning to type this on my laptop. So I went to the next bench.
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