This is Milton
When I met Milton he was sitting on his scooter in Verdi park enjoying the sunshine, and like most New Yorkers at this time, wishing Spring would arrive already. I got myself a cup of coffee and sat down next to him. Most New Yorkers would have chosen to maintain space rather than sit right next to a stranger, so it was clear I wanted to talk. It didn't take more than a hello and Milton and I were right into conversation. I mentioned that the sunshine felt good and he added: "but it is still too cold." I agreed. He added that this is climate change and that dummy in the White House doesn't even understand it. Of course, that led to a slew of complaints about the powers that be and what is wrong with this country.
Milton is a New Yorker through and through. He was born in Harlem Hospital and quickly added: The old Harlem Hospital. signaling that he was no newcomer to the Big Apple . He did live in Atlanta, Georgia for six years when he was married, but said he missed New York too much and returned. His wife liked Atlanta and they divorced. He has four children, three sons who live in New York and whom he sees often. His daughter stayed in Atlanta with his ex-wife.
Skellsy is a sidewalk game with nine boxes drawn with chalk that one goes from box to box shooting a bottle cap usually filled with a melted crayon or wax. I don't know if this game is known outside of New York City. Milton lamented that kids don't go outside to play very much, they are at home in front of screens, playing computer games. He also spoke of how the city has changed. The park we were now sitting in-Verdi Park - used to be known as "needle park" and that you wouldn't want to be here then because it was a known drug hang out. This is how some things are so much better.
Of course, I asked how important it is for him to get out and he said he has to get out. He doesn't like staying alone in his apartment and he will get out every day even if he is ill or the weather is inclement. He said he needs the fresh air. Otherwise, he feels cooped up. I enjoyed our chat and look forward to meeting up with Milton again soon.
Milton was a maintenance worker for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA.) Retired for ten years, he is now 64 years old. He spoke of how things at NYCHA have deteriorated. He grew up in a housing project in Harlem and he believes things were much better then. He also lived in the Lower East Side for part of his youth and attended Seward Park High School. I told Milton that my mother also attended Seward Park High and that brought a big smile, a laugh and a high five. Our connection as "real" New Yorkers was getting stronger as we shared our experiences. I had let him know that I also grew up in New York Housing project in Queens and we both agreed that it was different and better then. He reminisced about what it was like for him as a child playing basketball and baseball in the neighborhood. He mentioned another street game that I played but hadn't thought about since my childhood - skellsy.
Milton does not have it easy these days. He has cancer, glaucoma and migraine headaches. He is trying to register for medical marijuana to get relief from the cancer pain and the migraine headaches. He talked about all the people of color who were arrested for marijuana possession, the years they spent in jail. Now everyone is talking about making it legal and touting its benefits.