JAMES L. IANNONE, a native of Mineola, Long Island (NY), is a recent graduate of the Emory University School of Law. While in college studying politics, he incited many heated debates with his controversial student newspaper articles. Iannone lives in Dix Hills, NY.
PHOTOGRAPHY Neil Garcia shot the photo of "Charlie", a New York City homeless man, as a part of his award-winning photo essay. View the complete essay online Contact Garcia via email at email@example.com.
JAMES L. IANNONE
Only last week at this time I was on top of the world. After months of waiting in agony for my Bar results, I learned to my amazement that I had passed. All of the doubt and worrying melted away and I experienced a feeling of pride and sense of accomplishment that had been long absent. I resolved to remain in this state of grateful bliss for a long time.
And I did - for two or three days, until the old concerns and issues returned. Issues that I swore didn't matter at all while I was praying to pass the Bar, which, I convinced myself, was the only thing that I wanted. But as the adulation receded, I found myself comparing myself to my friends and being upset that I did not make as much money as some of my friends, or that I wasn't saving as much money as I wanted.
These thoughts were mulling around my head as I sat in a deposition one morning and afternoon. As I listened to the attorneys trade viscous barbs back and forth, my attention was fixed on the pressing issue of being 25-years-old and not yet figuring out how to conquer the world. My other concerns soon gave way to the gnawing in my stomach. It was well past three in the afternoon and my stomach was in full-scale revolt over not eating anything but a dry bagel 8 hours earlier.
"I am so hungry I could digest my intestines," I whimsically uttered to my boss as we walked into a deli after the deposition mercifully ended. To prove my point, I ordered a foot long Dijon chicken hero along with a chocolate glazed doughnut. I had to wait to consume the enormous hero since it was literally too big to eat and drive. So, in the meantime I started devouring the doughnut while I searched for a gas station on our return trip to the office. While the attendant was filling up the tank and my boss was busy on his cell phone, I stepped out of the car to throw away the empty bag containing a couple of chocolate crumbs. Few remnants of food remained as I walked over to what looked like a garbage can and discarded the wrapper.
No sooner had the paper bag hit the bottom of the receptacle that I saw I hand reach in the can and retrieve it. My first instinct was discomfort - I figured I had mistaken a storage bin for a garbage can and was prepared to get an earful from an irate gas station attendant. I saw the hand pull the wrapper close to the man's face. The man ran his hands over it carefully, as if he were a wealthy socialite inspecting the craftsmanship of a Prada pocketbook. I watched as he dejectedly deposited the empty wrapper back in the garbage. As he did so, our eyes met. At once, the somber face and sullen eyes pierced my skin. I stood frozen, my face framed a dumbfounded, helpless look of confusion and pity.
He turned and walked towards his sole possession - a shopping cart of discarded soda cans and bottles, maybe enough to get him something warm to eat on a blustery New York November night. In an instant, I found myself diving in the backseat of my boss's car tearing the massive hero in half and placing it in a bag. I immediately looked around, but the man seemed to vanish into the desolate urban landscape. My chest began to pound and I let out a deep sigh, dumbly holding half a sandwich in my hand. Suddenly, those sad eyes were in front of my again. He stood there, sizing me up, perhaps wondering if his encounter with me would be another cruel, humiliating events. I held out the bag to him and offered weakly "Here, I just bought this. Its fresh." He accepted without ever saying a word. His lips managed a smile but there was no respite for the dejected, defeated look cast in his eyes.
While I was driving back to work and my boss was negotiating settlement deals on his cell phone, I replayed the brief encounter countless times. I was happy for being able to so something decent for a fellow human being. A stranger who hasn't known much decency. I felt somewhat stupid for not giving him the whole hero (it never even dawned on me at the time). And I thought about just how desensitized I had become to the plight of the truly downtrodden. It has become the national obsession to forget about these people, to sweep them away and hide them in the dark recesses of our alleyways. But most of all, I was overcome with a feeling of sadness. Shamefully, my sadness was not predicated as much for the anonymous man's plight, but based on my own guilty conscious. I had become so consumed by the all important status decathlon of upper middle class existence that I foolishly had forgotten so quickly how blessed I am.
As I sat at my desk later that evening, I finished my half of the dinner I shared with the man at the gas station. My mind flashed a picture of him as I last saw him, rummaging threw a garbage dumpster, searching for some cans to scrounge up enough money for another meal. A somber aura swept over me - for I knew all too well that today's encounter and the valuable lesson bestowed upon me would soon be forgotten.
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PICTURE copyright ©1998 Neil Garcia. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.