The Story of Gloves

It gets cold in the Bowery during wintertime. That's why Meyer Michael Greenberg always went there with gloves. Many pairs of gloves.

This was not the elegant, proper Bowery of today. This was the improper Bowery of flophouses and dive bars and men without homes or hopes. And this was the Bowery Mr. Greenberg and his gloves went to. Skid Row, to be precise. The most down and out street of the whole down and out area.

From the 1960s until the 1980s, Mr. Greenberg, a small man with a full mustache, spent much of December handing out gloves there.

He'd purchased the gloves throughout the year. Three with each paycheck from his job as a print coordinator at an ad agency. A friend took to calling Mr. Greenberg's small apartment the Greenberg Glove Compartment.

It would've been easier to go to shelters. Just unload a bunch of gloves at once. But Mr. Greenberg wasn't about ease or volume. "I prefer to go looking for the people I want. The ones who avoid eye contact," he said back in 1984. "It is not so much the gloves, but telling people they count."

Mr. Greenberg grew up several blocks and one bridge away from the Bowery in Brooklyn. He'd spent cold, early mornings with his father pushing a cart of baked goods to a corner market in Williamsburg. For him, being rich was being warm. "Don't deprive yourself," his father used to tell him, "of the joy of giving."

In 1963, Mr. Greenberg's father died. And Mr. Greenberg took to the Bowery streets to pay tribute to him by giving away gloves. He charged people a handshake. People called him 'Gloves Greenberg.'

Sometimes, Mr. Greenberg saw people turn around and sell the gloves he'd given them. Or use them to clean off cars. "That's not my concern," he shrugged. "When you give a gift, you let it go." So, he gave and let go, gave and let go, up and down Skid Row in the Bowery.

And it gets cold in the Bowery during wintertime. But for 30 years, a small man with a full mustache made it a little warmer.

The Lightning Notes is funded by kind donors. If something here strikes you, I'd be grateful if you'd consider donating. Click to Donate!