Of all the foot messengers who visited the busy media company I used to work for, Mo was my favorite. Usually in late afternoon, when reception was quiet and the sun filled the room, he would step of the elevator, and smile at me. I always stood up from my desk chair for him, so that we could talk on equal height.
Mo was in his late 50s. He had long gray hair that came down past his waist. He wore it in a pony tail but he was balding a bit on the top. He always wore sandals and a pair of jeans with a plain white T-shirt, sometimes with a veterans slogan on the front. I liken his demeanor to a Care Bear. He had a cartoon character voice -- not high pitched, but extremely enthusiastic. Everything he said was an exclamation but also full of reverence and respect.
One Halloween, he came off the elevator and I stood up excitedly.
"Mo!" I said.
"Hi Ariel, how are you?" he asked. He passed me the package and asked if I had been busy. I said that I was. I commented that the package he brought had only been requested thirty minutes ago -- he was the fastest delivery guy of the group.
I opened my desk drawer where I'd bought Halloween candy to pass out to the messengers. They were hired by a third party company and most of them were living in shelters or not-quite-homeless. Sometimes they'd spout off monologues to me about "the man." They carried walkie talkies, and their dispatcher was always yelling at them addresses and codes. God, I couldn't imagine their job, riding the subways all day. Sure, Halloween candy isn't a free meal or a place to stay but they enjoyed it. None of them refused my offer. Most asked for second helpings.
I offered Mo candy and he laughed. "Ariel you are so kind hearted!" but he declined. He looked at his watch and noted that he had another delivery and left.
A few weeks later I was exiting a train at Spring Street and as the wave of crowds reached the turnstiles, I saw someone running at an impressive speed, then jumping over the turnstiles without fanfare and bolting up the stairs two by two. It was Mo. No wonder the packages were delivered so fast! I went up the stairs and at street level I looked around but he was gone.
For months I reflected on that scene. Why would anyone be so intense? On all my pensive walks to the office up foggy Crosby Street I thought about Mo and I thought about work. At the time, I was a brat. It was 2009, back when every one on TV was upper-middle class (think "The OC" "Gossip Girl" etc,) and I thought status was everything. My inner monologue at the office was "I'm too good for this" while I put mail in mailboxes and delivered packages and brought coffees to guests on the couch. Mo took pride in being a messenger. But why? I remember thinking in my immature brain. Then one day, as if struck by the idea, the answer came to me: you work with pride because there are people who can't work, there are people without jobs, because my physical body is able, because I am grateful. Forever after, I delivered packages with gigantic smiles and bounced through the office with a spring in my step. I took extra assignments that kept me at work late. It was a small, imperceptible shift in attitude.
I saw Mo once a month at least. He was always on time and wearing his broad smile. Summer came. I got a card in the mail. No one was ever sending cards to me. I opened it, it was a white card with an American flag on the front. The inside read: "Happy Fourth of July from Mo." There was $15 inside. The office manager stepped out of his office and into the reception area. He saw me holding my card.
"I got one too! With ten bucks!" We were both aghast.
A while later I was promoted to a new job and never saw Mo around the office to thank him. There was not a return address on the card. Seven years later I had a different job altogether. During my annual reviews I always got the comments that I was "really positive" and that I had a "calming presence" in the office, both qualities I learned from him. Two years ago, while walking through Times Square I saw a blur running from the shuttle train. It was Mo dashing up a staircase, a pack of commuters struggling to catch up. I guessed that if I'd seen his face, he would have been smiling.