When I moved in, he was the first person on the block that I noticed. A tall elderly gentleman somewhere between his early 80’s and late 100’s. Always outside. Always moving. Always talking. With a full head of white hair, and usually wearing suspenders over a crisply ironed short-sleeve shirt, he stands out on a block that is home to lots of seniors. I often see him charming the old widows on the benches in front of the Lenox Hill Center at the end of the block.
Seems like he knows everybody on United Jerusalem Place. If the sun is shining, he’s usually out there talking to the doormen, the supers, the delivery people. People on the block call him “the mayor”. He talks more than a little bit too loudly, but I’d guess that with the huge hearing-aids he wears in his huge comical ears, folks understand. On most days, the mayor has his dog with him, an elderly, chubby little terrier with startling white cataracts in both eyes.
I’ve heard the mayor gently urge his dog along the sidewalk. “Come on Little Man, we don’t have all day.” I’m not sure that Little Man is the dog’s actual name, but I’ve never heard the mayor call him anything else. The mayor stops frequently on his hourly patrols up and down the block, chatting with anybody who will humor him. Little Man trails slowly behind, taking obviously pained little steps, the long garish green and gold leash lying slack on the sidewalk as he blindly smells his way up to his master.
Years ago, I once stupidly reached down to pet Little Man and he immediately bared his teeth and snapped at me. The mayor chuckled and said, “Well, you know he don’t see too good but he can smell when it’s not me!” I apologized of course, but the mayor said, “Oh, don’t you worry about it!”. Then he added, “I can’t hear and he can’t see but we do OK, isn’t that right, Little Man?” Then he reached into his pocket and produced a treat for Little Man, who suddenly got a little more spry. I watched that chubby dog waddle away and thought that maybe the mayor needs to cut back on the treats.
Last year, a friend of mine noticed Little Man near my front door and commented that maybe it was time for the mayor to put him to sleep, saying, “I think it’s cruel to keep dragging that old sick blind dog around,” forgetting that my own Edison had just passed away the previous spring at the age of 17, also blind and infirm. Edison had suffered from epilepsy since he was a young dog, and after two particulary bad seizures in as many days, we finally said goodbye. We’ve never regretted keeping Edison long past when many people would have, he was a happy little dog right up until the end. So I vigorously defended the mayor to my friend.
This Saturday I passed the mayor on the sidewalk outside my building, but uncharacteriscally, he didn’t greet me, which I didn’t realize until a couple of hours later when I saw him again, in the Food Emporium. I turned the corner in search of paper towels and came upon him standing in the center of the aisle, staring at the dog food. I excused myself to get by, but again was ignored. He didn’t have Little Man under his arm, as I’ve seen him do when in stores.