The beggar stood outside the Strand Bookstore at Broadway and East 12th, shaking an empty Folger’s tin and dancing from side to side.
“My fellow Americans, we are going to Make America Great Again. Vote for me and I will give every American one white bottle of Viagra pills. Love and marriage, love and marriage,” he sang. “These boots were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. One bottle of Viagra pills.”
At his feet were a dry cleaner’s sack and a paper bag from Trader Joes. Passersby sunk into their scarves and stared at the sidewalk as he saluted them.
“My fellow Americans, we are going to Make America Great Again. Give me one one-hundred-dollar bill and give me your vote. I won’t get a job; it’s against my religion. Hello miss, take my picture, go ahead. Summertime and the livin’ is eaaasyy. I take one-hundred-dollar bills, two-hundred-dollar bills, fifty-dollar bills. My fellow Americans…” The contents of his coffee tin jingled: just coins. He spoke as if he were missing a tooth. The pained amusement on the faces moving past betrayed a shame that everyone shared but refused to acknowledge. United by denial and the relief of anonymity, they surrendered to the sidewalk’s tide and were swept away from the sound of his singing. “Para bailar la bambaaa… Para bailar la bamba se necesita una poca de gracia.”
Our eyes met for a moment, two fixed points in the sea of bundled bodies. He step-shuffled and called out with the cadence of a maniac, but his gaze betrayed the resolve of a man putting on a show. His jacket was blue, the scruff on his jaw was black, and his eyes were green and steady.
“I’m like a virginnn. My fellow Americans, give me your vote and I will give you all one white bottle of Viagra pills. Give me your vote and I will Make America Great Again.”
The streetlights around him came to life and burned white against the January night. Perhaps he was wondering why no one filled his can. We had money to give, but our vote was gone, and it hadn’t done us any good. So we guarded what we still had within down jackets and walked by with downward gazes. He wasn’t asking too much. He was just a little too late.