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  • Saturday is one of the few days I can hit my neighborhood thrift store after I get out of work. This one day a week, they stay open an hour later than we do and as long as I don’t dilly-dally, I have about twenty minutes to peruse the aisles. It’s plenty of time. I check the jewelry case, bee-line to the back, house-wares...swing by the books, if there is time...and a quick scan over the CD’s if my glasses are easy to get to in my magic sac. It’s just an old army bag that I got off of a flea market floor for five bucks about eight years ago...but I like to think of it as a magic sac. Funny, that I work in a shop that sells high-end designer bags and I walk around with this worn and weathered rucksac...but whoaaa...I’m getting off topic!

    I didn’t see any treasures, but for the plastic and gold, cameo brooch, that suddenly appealed to me. Cameo’s?! I must be entering a new phase...

    After a quick chat at the counter with the friendly, church-punk-grunge volunteers, I made my way up the stairs into the light of the day’s setting sun. I pinned the brooch to the strap of my magic sac and looked down to see the display. I didn’t like the way the Philadelphia Folk Festival pin looked between the vintage, red enameled bull and the new cameo appearance. I unpinned it and tucked it in my palm.

    Hmm...what can I do with this pin?...

    As I crossed the intersection my eyes fell into focus on this petite, bent over, elderly black man. He was wearing rasta-wear and dreadlocks of many colors, moving slowly with a smooth and curved walking stick taller than himself.

    I made another bee-line.

    “Would you like this pin?”

    I held it up to his clouded eyes to show him the banjo-smiley-face-button.

    It looked like he tried to speak but nothing came out and he didn’t shake his head “yes” or “no”.

    “Everybody needs a smile, right?”

    He put his index finger up and started burrowing into his magic sac. He came out with one of those microphones that you stick in your neck to talk through.

    His voice, even through the mic, came out quietly.

    “Did you say I have a nice smile?”

    I realized he wasn’t smiling, at all...and I didn’t want to lie. I knew he would know I was bullshitting.

    “No. I said everyone needs a smile, sometimes...but of course you have a nice smile! Everybody has a beautiful smile if they open it up and let it out there!”

    A man waiting for the bus, whom I had not noticed, mumbled, “Oh...that’s nice.”

    I looked over at him and without describing my instant profiling, I could tell he wasn’t used to seeing people being nice to each other.

    I included him in the conversation until he grew uncomfortable.

    The rasta man told me his name was Nicholas and he asked me my name. I told him, and asked him again if he’d like the pin. He nodded yes, and said, “Put it on me.” Without hesitation, I put my hand inside the collar of his shirt and pinned it next to one of the many pins he was already wearing. He smiled and put the mic up to say something else, but I was starting to grow weary and wondered what I had gotten myself into. Geez! I just wanted to hand off the pin to a passing stranger and be on my way. I'm hungry! Nicholas walked closer to the other man again and was talking to him closely through the mic. I took that as an opportunity to bail out of our moment. I felt my job was done.

    “Wait! Wait! He wants to tell you something! He’s not done talking to you!”

    I sighed a little and doubled back.

    I leaned in as close as I could without being inside of him. Broad Street is loud. It’s why I was growing weary. It was difficult to hear him through the low volume emitting through his hand-held voice.

    His voice was breaking through it. I thought it was static on the line until I actually heard what he was saying.

    “My son was shot last Sunday. Twice in the back.”

    “Oh! Oh, my! Peace, my friend. I know this is not a peaceful time, but peace to you, my friend! I am so sorry!”

    He nodded...his eyes sadly piercing mine.

    “I guess we really all do need an extra smile sometimes, don’t we?...when we can’t find our own...”

    He nodded and touched the pin.

    We stepped back and bowed towards each other.

    I walked the rest of the way home...Assured.

    (Then I got an impromptu invite to dinner a few doors down and after thick swordfish steaks (cooked to perfection by Mr. Bold!), two born-n-raised Souf Filly girls, Tina and Maria, burst through the door bearing a bowl of tender calamari and peas (pronounced, "gahlamahd") in what could be the best homemade “gravy” I’ve had since my step-gran passed. Then, these two tiny tornadoes spun what was left of the evening into a crazy dance party. That could be a whole other chapter...but somehow I felt the need to include it, here...as not an ending...but perhaps another part of the continuum.)
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