Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Man Around the Corner: The Story of Coral Graf and a Homeless Cardboard Box

“Here’s your daily cup of coffee,” nine-year-old Coral Graf said to The Man Around the Corner. 

Since the summertime, Coral had been giving The Man Around the Corner a cup of coffee from her family’s Jewish deli. When he moved into the neighborhood in his cardboard box, it was warmer, but the wintertime had been frightful.

“Thanks, Coral. Don’t be late for school. Run along,” The Man Around the Corner said, sitting in his cardboard box. He pulled his scarf around his neck and shut the door to his small home on the New York City street corner. 

Snowflakes fell from the winter sky and blew into his box in sudden gusts, causing him to shiver. 

“I’m worried that the snow is going to soak through your cardboard box,” Coral said, giving him her pennies.

“Now I can go buy soup for lunch,” he said as she dumped the change into his open guitar case.

Every day, The Man Upstairs dropped pennies through the heating vent in Coral’s family apartment. The pennies collected in her tin can under the vent, and Coral promised The Man Upstairs to give them away. Coral knew that even a gift as small as a penny had the ability to change someone’s circumstance for the good.

“I don’t understand why other people are not giving you money,” Coral said, peering at The Man Around the Corner. “The change in your guitar case is mostly from The Man Upstairs. What is wrong with everyone?”

“I’ll see you on your walk home from school later today,” The Man Around the Corner said, coughing.

“Okay, but I don’t think soup is going to be enough for you to eat. We’ll talk about this later,” Coral said.

After school when Coral was walking home, she came across a man with a bullhorn, and his voice carried for blocks.

“No more bullets,” he yelled, as he protested gun violence in public schools and asked for stricter regulations.

“Where did you get that speaker? Can I borrow it, please?” Coral said, grabbing it from the protestor in the snowstorm. 

“Hey! I didn’t say you could have my bullhorn! Fine, keep it. Maybe your voice needs to be heard,” he said, shouting.

As Coral approached The Man Around the Corner, she spoke into the bullhorn, and it reached her parents’ windows. 

“Give to The Man Around the Corner! Give now! Stop walking past him, pretending that you don’t see him!” Coral said.

As Coral protested with her bullhorn, snowflakes stacked on the sidewalk. “Soon I can build an igloo,” she said.

“Is that Coral?” Mr. Graf said, opening the apartment window and sticking his head out the window in the snowstorm.

“The Man Around the Corner needs your help! I gave him my pennies from The Man Upstairs,” Coral announced. “The rest of the neighborhood needs to contribute, so he can move from his homeless cardboard box. I am living with The Man Around the Corner until the neighborhood moves him from his current home. You can put your pennies in his guitar case. I don’t want to hear any more excuses from anyone. Give!”

“She is absolutely not living with him!” Mrs. Graf said, grabbing her winter coat and food from the refrigerator.

“Coral, I’m sure your mom and dad won’t let you live with me,” The Man Around the Corner said, sneezing. “Several people are angry that I’m even taking up space on the street corner, but I have nowhere else to go.”

“I can’t believe that people would walk past your cardboard box,” she said, tossing her book bag in his home.

“What are you studying in school? I learned this stuff years ago,” he said to Coral, paging through her math book.

“If The Man Upstairs ever gave you anything, you’d keep it for yourselves,” Coral said through the bullhorn. “You are selfish and mean. You need to think about other people and their lives and feelings.”

“I’ve met The Man Upstairs, and he does give me wads of cash when I’m hungry,” The Man Around the Corner said. 

“Really? I’ve never met him in person,” Coral said to The Man Around the Corner. “We talk through the heating vent.”

Thanks to Coral’s tenacity, spare change and dollars bills piled up in The Man Around the Corner’s open guitar case.

“Well, we’re making progress,” Coral said, counting the money that fell into the instrument casing.

Then Coral looked up to see her mother and father standing in front of her with a tray full of food from the family deli.

“Coral, what in the world are you doing?” Mr. Graf said, handing The Man Around the Corner a brisket sandwich. 

“We can hear you all the way down the street from the apartment,” Mrs. Graf said, holding a bag of desserts.

“He can’t live out here in the cardboard box anymore. Can he come home with us?” Coral said to her parents. “We’ve been getting more donations in the guitar case, but I think he needs a job at the family deli.”

“Yes, he can come home with us,” Mr. Graf said, looking at his wife with compassion. “It’s too cold outside.”

“Maybe he can help your dad in the deli with the meats,” Mrs. Graf said. “We always need help with the display case.”

“Good! You can stay with us until The Man Upstairs gives you enough pennies to move into your own place,” Coral said, hugging The Man Around the Corner. “We’ll have fun! I watch cartoons on Saturday morning and eat desserts.”

“Thank you so much, Coral,” The Man Around the Corner said, crawling from his soggy cardboard box. 

“I knew my pennies were enough to change even the worst situation,” Coral said, walking back to her warm apartment. 

As Coral’s parents and The Man Around the Corner walked with Coral in the snow, she looked at her empty tin can, knowing it would soon be full again.


Copyright 2015 Jennifer Waters

Sequel to "The Man Upstairs: The Story of Coral Graf and Pennies from a Tin Can" (1/3/15), "The Man Downstairs: The Story of Coral Graf and Her Missing Pennies" (7/13/15), "The Man Next Door: The Story of Coral Graf and the Neighborhood Pennies" (8/5/15), and "The Man Across the Street: The Story of Coral Graf, a Hanukkah Miracle, and the Landlord with a Cigar" (9/10/15).

Dedicated to my grandmother, Augusta Renner Graf Waters. 

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