One day, years ago, I was walking down Madison Avenue on lunch break from my dayjob at a law firm. I was on the west side of the street between 39th and 40th, when a chubby little man with a bad haircut, wearing an ill-fitting, brown blazer, handed me a business card as he walked past. The card had the name of some employment agency on it, and I tossed it into the next trashcan I came to.
A few months later, he did it again. I was on lunch break, on Madison, near the spot where I saw him before, and he handed me the same card. “What is this?” I asked.
He looked a little startled when I spoke to him. “It’s about a job,” he said.
“What kind of job?”
The question seemed to make him uncomfortable. “You have to call,” he said, sidling away.
When I got back to my office, I did call. A woman answered. “Hi,” I said. “A gentleman gave me your card and suggested I call about a job.”
“You’ll have to come in to the office, “ said the woman.
“What kind of jobs do you have?” I asked. “Are you a temp agency?”
“I can’t talk about it on the phone,” she said. “You have to come in and see us.” Of course, I never did.
After that I noticed that the card man was usually around Madison at lunchtime, but I avoided him after that and never spoke to him again. Then I left the law firm and went about having the rest of my life. I didn’t go to midtown very much, until a couple of years ago when I got the job at the dog magazine. During my first week on the job I walked down Madison on my lunch break, and there was the card man, standing in front of the Citibank on 42nd Street. He was still tubby, still sporting his bad haircut, still dressed in a baggy brown blazer—still handing out cards. I watched him for a little while, and noticed that he handed out cards only to young women in office clothes—attractive women, but not TOO attractive, in nice clothes that weren’t TOO nice: paralegals, executive assistants, junior bank tellers—that sort of girl. When I saw one of them toss her card on the sidewalk, I swooped down and picked it up. As far as I could tell, it was the same as the one the card man had given me all those years ago.
Being older and wiser, I have a better idea now of what kind of job the card man is offering. I started paying attention, and found that the card man stood in front of the Citibank every day from noon to 2 PM. It fascinated me that no one but me seemed to notice him: Hello! He’s there every day! It amazed me that someone could have the same job for at least 14 years, especially a job like handing out business cards on Madison Avenue. How much does something like that pay? Not much, judging by the card man’s haircut and clothes, but who knows? Maybe he’s part owner of the business and put his daughter through dental school by handing out cards. I decided to call his office again. I dialed the number when I got back to the dog magazine, but nobody answered. That’s when I decided, finally, to go visit the card man’s “agency.”
The address wasn’t far from the building where I work now, and I walked down there at lunch the next day. I had to sign in at the security desk in the lobby, and I realized I was very nervous. I imagined walking into a small reception area and trying to explain that the card man had approached me about 14 years ago and I just wanted to know what it was they actually did there. Like they would tell me. So I didn’t know what I would say, or what they would say, or what would happen after that, but as it turned out, nothing happened at all. I took the elevator up and stood in the hallway outside the door. It was an old-fashioned building, and the offices all had those wooden doors with the pebbled glass panels. The name painted on the glass of the office was not the same as the name on the card, and on the other side of the door I heard men answering phones and shouting at each other and laughing. It sounded like what I imagined a stock-scam boiler-room operation would sound like. I left without going in.
I kept watching the card man, though. After a while I began to find it kind of reassuring to see him every day at his station in front of Citibank, handing out his cards and luring young ladies into a life of vice. The card man was an eternal verity in a constantly changing world. One day I didn’t get out to lunch until very late, and I saw the card man as he was leaving for the day. He glanced at his watch, adjusted his jacket, and turned and headed up Madison. I had an intense urge to follow him and find out where he goes when he’s not handing out cards, but I had errands to run and decided I couldn’t take the time. “What if this is the last time I ever see him?” I thought. “What if he walks away and I never see him again?” But then I thought that was silly. The next day he was back at his post, and all was well with the world. It wasn’t until the following week that he disappeared.
The card man was gone. I checked every day for a week or two: No card man. “Was he okay?” I wondered. “Did something happen to him?” I could make up lots of stories about what might happen to someone like that, and they weren’t happy, he-just-won-the-lottery kinds of stories, they all involved Bellevue Hospital, or Riker’s Island, or worse. Poor card man. But then, after a few weeks, after I’d given up even looking for him any more, there he was. He was standing back in front of Citibank, handing out his cards, looking even worse than he’d looked before, with just about the most godawful haircut I’ve ever seen on a human being. Of course, I can’t just go up and say welcome back, and ask what happened, and tell him I was worried about him. Instead, I pretended to be a tourist taking pictures, and I got a couple of him but I could tell that he could tell I was photographing him and it was making him fretful, so I had to stop. Since he’s come back, he’s not there every day, either. Every time he’s not there, I think that’s it, he’s gone for good, but then I see him again. So he’s back, but it’s different: That’s just the way it is now. But I still don’t think anyone but me notices if he’s there or not.
Thanks for reading my blog entry this week, and may God bless.