Al and Junior

When I worked on Wall Street, I commuted through the World Trade Center and often passed a severely disabled man in a wheelchair sitting out in front of the South Tower, running his business. He had a large, wooden tray perched in front of him filled with gum, candy, and umbrellas. A white cardboard sign which hung off the front of the tray read, “Don’t feel sorry for me. Buy something!”

Rain, shine, and biting cold, Al would be sitting there, often accompanied by his longtime friend and business partner Junior. I got to know Al and Junior over the years as I bought many Hershey bars and packs of Juicy Fruit gum. On some occasions, if the sun was shining and I wasn’t late, I tried to talk a bit with Al, although he had great difficulty speaking. But we kept at it, having ever-longer conversations.

I learned that Al had cerebral palsy and although his body was a gnarled mess, his mind was sharp as a tack. He and Junior had met thirty years earlier on the mean streets of Newark, New Jersey, when fifteen-year-old Junior had tried to steal a candy bar off Al’s cart. They now lived together at a local YWCA, where Junior took care of Al’s extensive physical needs and Al helped Junior, who was mentally disabled. They were How People for each other.

Here was an elderly, Jewish, ninety-pounds-soaking-wet, handicapped man who somehow found a simple but strong, young, black man, and they had been taking care of each other for almost three decades. God works in mysterious ways.