His name is Santiago López. On Labor Day morning, he was playing the accordion and singing in front of a shuttered storefront on an otherwise quiet block of 4th Avenue in Sunset Park; I was halfway through an easy 6 mile training run along the NYC marathon course.
Accordion music is a weakness of mine. After passing him (his improvised lyrics referred to “una mujer bonita”), I jogged to the next street, hesitated there, and turned around (“regresa la mujer bonita”).
“I love accordions,” I burbled, fumbling for a dollar in my hardly-sweaty-at-all plastic bag. A dollar, a photograph, a thank you, and an attempted riff of my own, in bad Spanish, about the next time I return, I’ll be running the marathon.
El maratón! He told me how that was him, in 1992, no, 1991. How he went to the United Nations. (We were speaking half in English, half in Spanish, and I was having a hard time following. I guessed he was referring to the pre-marathon event for international runners, which starts with a ceremony at the UN.) Here, he had a picture to show me.
He fumbled around and produced, out of somewhere, a cheap plastic portfolio – the kind that ties shut. He undid the tie, opened it up, and showed me his newspaper clippings.
Except they weren’t about the marathon. There was the front page of El Diario, dated October 22, 1991, with the screaming red headline, “Un charro armado en la ONU” and a picture of a much younger man wearing a cowboy hat and shiny black glasses. Continue reading