Dino works six days a week as a porter in my apartment building, cleaning walls and floors, removing trash, distributing recyclables. He’s one of those essential workers who are suddenly on the front lines. We’ve always been friendly.
I’ve been hibernating in my apartment for days, because it’s what we’re all supposed to do, and also because I have a bad cold. Today, when I ventured out of my apartment for 30 seconds to toss a trash bag down the chute, Dino was hard at work decontaminating the hallway. For the first time that I know of, he was wearing a respiratory face mask. I stood about twelve feet from him, smiled and waved, embarrassed to be in sleepwear in the middle of the day but glad to see a friendly pair of eyes.
Dino asked if I had a respiratory mask. I told him no—the stores have been sold out for months—but not to worry about me. He said he had an extra. I was, like, you need it more. He insisted. Won’t you take? For when you go shopping?
Finally I stopped being polite and guilty and class-conscious and embarrassed and allowed him to give me the mask. Finally we stopped being two players in an economic system and were just two souls in New York trying to survive the day and the next few months.
It has been eight hours since Dino’s act of kindness, and I’m still thinking about it, still thinking how I can pay it forward to someone who needs my help.