About 15 years ago I was patrolling in the downtown area of a low crime neighborhood when I noticed a man carrying a burlap bag. He was elderly, about 80, and I noticed that as he went from parking lot to parking lot, he tossed what appeared to be birdseed.
I pulled up to closer to the man and low and behold, it was a very familiar face. The short, white-haired man with a wide grin was the father of one of my brother’s childhood friends. I knew him as Mr. Torosi. I didn’t know much about him other than that his son had tragically died shortly after surviving a tour in the Vietnam War.
As I got close in the police car he recognized me and we chattered like long lost friends. I asked him what was up with all the bird seed. He had a heavy seed bag in one hand and was ready to toss some more bird food into a city planter when he told me that he likes to help the birds. That he goes all over Northeastern Ohio giving birds food so that they could be healthy and that they could live easier and good lives. He wondered out loud if he was breaking some kind of law. I told him not to worry, that I didn’t know of any law that he was breaking and to go right ahead and continue to do what he was doing.
Mr. Torosi dug into his front pants pocket and pulled out a brand new gold commemorative coin. One of those that look very shiny and have a president or animal on them—usually bought by collectors and worth a dollar. He said, “Take it Steve, I want you to have it. Also give one to your father.” I asked, “How come?” He said, “I collect them and just want you and your father to have one, please take them.” I took the coins and wished him safety in his travels. I watched him as he limped away tossing bird seed.
As the years went by I’d see him all over the place. In fact, often times I’d see him about 15 miles from my original encounter, in the parking lot of where my father owned a martial arts studio. I’d stop and chat with him and most of the time he’d give me a gold coin. Sometimes he’d give me several.
One night while out in Macedonia, Ohio with my wife, I saw Mr. Torosi getting into his car with his wife. He told me that about a month before, while walking out from the same restaurant that he was walking out from today, someone stuck a gun in his wife’s face and tried stealing her purse. I said, “Oh, no, what happened, how’s your wife doing?” He said, “She’s fine. I grabbed the guy’s gun and wouldn’t let go.” Mr. Torosi had to be about 85 when this happened and I said, “You did what?” “I grabbed his gun but he pulled away and started pistol whipping me with it!” “Pistol whipping you! Then what happened, I nervously asked?” He said, “I grabbed his gun again, he hit me some more but I wouldn’t let that scum hurt my wife, so I held on again.” “So then what happened, I hurriedly blurted out?” “He ran away. The piece of crap ran away. I called the police right away, but I don’t think they got him.”
I said, “Mr. Torosi, you have to be careful! You’re no spring-chicken, you know! Maybe you shouldn’t go out after dark.” He said, “It’s terrible that even good neighborhoods are getting bad. I’ll be careful but no one is going to hurt my wife, no one.” Macedonia is a safe community and isn’t known for violent crime but predators lurk and look for easy marks almost everywhere.
As the years went by I’d see Mr. Torosi all over the greater Cleveland area and one day as I was doing my banking in Bainbridge, Ohio, in walked the Birdman of Northeast Ohio himself and started talking to the clerks like they were old friends! I guess his bank was my bank. Talk about coincidences! Of course, he and I talked a bit and as he left, I saw him dropping bird seed in the grass near the parking lot.
Last week I was leaving my bank when I saw him in the parking lot with his trunk open getting a bag of bird seed. I greeted him and we chatted about my father dying and that I took over the family business near where he had dropped a ton of bird seed throughout the years. He said he had stopped there last week while feeding the birds but that we were closed during that time. He went on and told me that he goes to the Chinese restaurant across from my business and the owner told him that the rent was high and that they were having trouble making a go of it. He said several Chinese restaurants have failed in that location and that when he dines there, if his bill is fourteen or fifteen dollars, he gives them thirty dollars so they’ll have an easier time of making it. I smiled.
Christmas was right around the corner and I wished Mr. Torosi a hardy Merry Christmas and wished him a great upcoming new year. I then asked The Birdman, how old he was. “I’m ninety-six”, he said. I have aches and pains and I have trouble walking a bit, but I’m okay.”
I bid him farewell but he stopped me in mid-speak and gave me a gold coin—President Lyndon Johnson was on it. I thanked him and told him that I have a friend whose twelve-year old son collects coins and that I’ll give the coin to him. He dug back into his pocket and said, “Here’s two more, give them to the boy.” The Birdman of Northeast Ohio, if you see him, say hi. The Birdman of Northeast Ohio does Ohio proud. Does humanity proud.