This is Gene
I met Gene while he was sitting on a bench in Giuseppe Verdi Park engrossed in his sudoku puzzle. I sat down next to him and he looked up and gave me a smile and a hello. I asked him about the puzzle and he explained that it was a way to pass the time. He told me he was a retired graphic artist and would like to get back into working again. Retirement has left him too idle and he needs to feel productive.
Gene is a New Yorker through and through. He will be 74 soon. Born in Brooklyn, he lived his childhood in Bed-Sty and attended Boys High School. Gene and I are about the same age and he talked about his days at Boys High and their basketball team in the early 1960s. I remember that team well because Jamaica High School (where I attended) played Boys High in the quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden. The outstanding player that year (1960) was Connie Hawkins. We were defeated easily as Boys High and Connie Hawkins went on undefeated and won the 1960 PSAL title. Hawkins then signed a scholarship offer to play at the University of Iowa.
I asked Gene if he has any children and that brought up a very sad subject. He said about 28 years ago, he lost his son to drugs and alcohol. He talked about the young kids today and what he termed as a crazy social environment. He and his wife will often sit at the local McDonalds and watch what he described as horrible behavior. He said that he doesn't like the way young men relate to the young women, cursing about them and often touching them inappropriately. Of course, this led to a conversation about Donald Trump. Gene said he thinks Trump's sexist words and behavior gives these kids permission to do the same. "What kind of role model is that guy anyway?"
Gene lives on 72nd Street with his wife who he described as an unofficial Social Worker doing a lot of work in their church. He told me the story of how they came to their apartment in Manhattan. He and his wife were living in Bed-Sty at the time and had been looking for a place to live in Manhattan. As they passed a building on 72nd street they saw a "for rent" sign and a gentleman sitting on the stoop. They asked him to see the super and the gentleman indicated that he was the super, but also appeared to be drunk. However, he did show them the one-bedroom apartment and they took it. Three years later a two-bedroom apartment became available in the building which was going co-op at the time. That meant they would have to come up with the money to purchase it. Gene said that several banks turned them down for a mortgage. He looked at me and said, "you know why, don't you?" And we both agreed it was because he and his wife are black. Luckily, Chase Manhattan came through a day before the deadline for them to purchase the apartment. They have been living there for over 20 years.
After a time, Gene said he'd better be getting home soon because the ice cream may be melting. So, despite the perishables in his grocery bags, Gene felt that getting out was important enough to sit and talk to a stranger that he was willing to let the ice cream melt. We exchanged email addresses and as he left he said he had enjoyed our conversation and that he hoped we would meet again in the park. Sure enough, when I got home there was an email from Gene thanking me for taking the time to sit and talk. And I promised him some prints of the photos. I look forward to meeting up with Gene again.