Tony has been on the Telegraph street scene for at least 20 years. I have a personal connection with Tony because we were both diagnosed with glaucoma around the same time back in 2009. So we used to regularly check in with each other about our respective conditions. Tony went completely blind. And I ended up going half-blind (my right eye still works). So when I see Tony nowadays, I often get that “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-goes-I” kind of feeling.
When the eye doctor first diagnosed me with glaucoma, he tried to impress on me the seriousness of my condition: “Ace, if you end up out there living on the streets, blind and homeless, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.” And I often think of that line when I see Tony. Tony is black, blind, and homeless. So he has his issues to deal with for sure.
The other day, Tony was panhandling on Telegraph.
“Hey Ace, do you gotta’ cigarette?”
“Oh, no man. I quit smoking after Hate Man died,” I said.
“I miss ole’ Hate Man and them Virginia Slims.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Tony.
I gave him a buck towards the cigarette fund.
“Thank you, Ace.”
“You hang in there, Tony.”
“I am hanging in there,” he said, firmly.
And he is. I don’t know how he does it. But he does. He looked pretty solid. He’s hanging in there.
For years Tony got around with the help of a cane. And he moved around pretty well. You’d often see him bounding up the lawn of People’s Park in the direction of Hate Camp, bellowing: “HATE MAN!! GET YOUR DIRTY ROTTEN ASS UP AND PUSH SHOULDERS FOR A CIGARETTE, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!!”
And Hate Man would shout back:
“I HEAR YOU, YOU SLIMY CUNT!! I’M WILLING TO PUSH!!”
The shouting back and forth was a way for Tony to know which direction Hate Man was at.
Then they’d push shoulders for a couple of minutes. And then sit down, light up their smokes, and hang out together smoking their cigarettes.
(my life probably doesn’t make a helluva’ lot of sense to normal people on the outside looking in).
Nowadays Tony has ditched the cane and gets around in a wheelchair. Probably because it’s easier. And plus, he always has a place to sit. Which can be hard to find sometimes when you’re on the streets. A place to rest your ass.
Later that night I ran into Tony on Dwight Way. “Hey Ace, would you push me across the street to Regent Street?
“Sure thing, Tony,” I said.
I pushed him across the street to Regent Street. It made me realize how the simplest things — like crossing the street — could be an incredibly difficult ordeal when you’re blind.
“Are you going to be all right, Tony?”
“Yeah. As long as I’m on Regent Street I’ll be all right.”
I left him there, sitting there in the middle of the sidewalk in his wheelchair. And I just wondered how the hell I would be able to find a crash-spot for myself if I happened to be sitting there in total and complete darkness.