May 25, 2018

Last of the Newsies?

“So many hurricanes I can remember,” he said with a rueful chuckle. “Three hundred and 65 days, without fail.”

He has an uneasy relationship with this White House, which has alternately welcomed and shunned him; the current administration has restricted entry to a foyer where Mr. Singh would shelter on the coldest and wettest nights. The past months’ relentless chill has been especially punishing.

But there are two good reasons Mr. Singh has prevailed so long at this Upper West Side corner: his iron devotion to the job, and his customers’ devotion to him.

Photo
Mr. Singh in more bustling times (note the number of papers available for sale).

One by one over the years, they have each made the silent decision to continue buying from him, paying full newsstand prices and often walking blocks out of their way, past other vendors, rather than reading the news online or getting home delivery.

They fetch his takeout meals and draw him into conversation. They buy him warm coats and scarves and sneakers. Some trade emails about his health, which has been remarkably robust despite an occasional scare. (“He didn’t get to the corner until 5:30 instead of his usual 3,” a neighbor messaged to another on a morning in 2014. “He said he has to down cough syrup twice in the night now, and this time it knocked him out.”)

A physician in the White House arranged for a free chest X-ray. The superintendent at another building lets Mr. Singh into the basement for bathroom breaks. Customers stand guard over his papers until he returns.

A man of quiet ways, Mr. Singh can be gloomy and taciturn one day, lively and opinionated the next; his mood varies with the weather and the headlines. Yet his regulars, most of them middle-aged or older, speak of him with warmth, and something more.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

“I’ve stayed with Singh out of loyalty,” said Ken Coughlin, who runs a legal-information website and has been buying The New York Times from him every day for at least 20 years, at a cost now of about $1,250 a year. “He’s a fixture in the neighborhood, a fixture in my life. I want to support him.”

Lee Herman, a curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History, has been a patron since Mr. Singh first showed up. “You see this guy, with wind chill of 11 below, out there selling papers,” Mr. Herman said. “He’s got a life that’s extraordinary — what he has to go through to live.”

These neighbors know little about that life, or one another’s, but Mr. Singh knows all their preferences and quirks. He notices when they miss a day, and offers to save their papers. He serves noncustomers, too — clearing trash from the sidewalk, warning subway riders when trains aren’t running, feeding the birds and dogs (“my other customers,” he calls them), holding the door when White House residents need a hand.

His own home is a rent-controlled apartment in an S.R.O. hotel 20 blocks north, where he lives alone. He has no family in the United States. For Mr. Singh, it’s all about the corner.

“If I am not there for my neighbors, then I feel bad,” he said. “I like my customers. I do my duty.”

Continue reading the main story

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/dining/last-of-the-newsies.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Speak Your Mind