From behind the rack of Time and Life and National Geographic magazines, he reached out his hand. I placed mine in his expecting a squeeze, but he led it to his lips. Crumble went the first wall. Whoosh went the second. Boom went the third. I blinked several times in the swirl of debris. A kiss on the hand is rare these days. And you do have to be careful because a kiss on the hand has as much likelihood of putting you under a spell as it does waking you up from one.
It was at a newsstand near my school that I first met the Newsstand man. I walked by everyday on my way to teach. I would buy gum and the occasional copy of Architectural Digest. He allowed my students to scavenge the glossy magazines even when they had no intention of buying one. He praised my teaching skills without knowing them. Maybe he just knew who I was simply being in the space between my students and me.
Every couple of months I’d take students to the newsstand. I’ve forgotten now what the assignment was exactly. The Newsstand man would tell them how lucky they were to be in my class. He’d look out into the distance and say something profound. “Soon kids won’t know what magazines are. We’re not here for long. Just riding the last wave. It’s coming. Almost at the shore. The wave is almost gone.”
Then one day I noticed the roller doors were pulled down to the sidewalk and locked. The newsstand was closed. The Newsstand man was gone.
Then, in another part of town, there was another sidewalk I’d been walking on all those several passing years. And one day there he was! The Newsstand man! He was leaning back on his newsstand, arms crossed with one sneaker heel propped on the other’s toe. My old friend had been found. Print had not died yet. The covers of hundreds of magazines shined bright behind him. The quirky conspiracy of the universe had set it up for our paths to cross again. I waved and he remembered me. I insisted we take a selfie because that’s how you honor sacred moments. We struggled with the selfie. A passerby offered to take the picture.
But today, the Newsstand man took it one step further. He broke a spell with his kiss.
He lowered my hand from his lips.
“Thank you,” I said. “It’s really been feeling like a battle lately.”
He squinted. His blue eyes cut through the swirling bits of rubble. He said:
“If it’s not a battle, you ain’t living.”