Posts Tagged ‘Homelessness’

Blurred shot of Manhattan at night Image: Jefft

Hanging outside my lower Manhattan local with D., who has lived in Soho since the 1980’s . . .

A guy came up to us, holding what looked like a $20 dollar bill. He had the usual NY homeless look, with bundles of clothes wrapped around his body and his head so only his craggy, bearded face was visible. The glazed look of days and nights on the street, booze and who knows. The guy showed D the bill, the laughed and pulled it apart to reveal that it was fake.

“Not bad huh? They’re gettin’ better at these things.”

His voice was hoarse, like he didn’t use it much anymore. D laughed as well, and gave him a cigarette and they examined the bill and I gathered they knew each other. Then the guy said he was going to try and pass the bill at the Koreans up the street. When he was gone D said:

“I’ve known that guy siince I first came to the city. He used to deal weed in Washington Square. The Jamaican dealers in the park kicked the shit out of him ’cause they didn’t want the competition. You know, like a turf thing. I saw him afterward – he had one of those wire things around his jaw.
“He lost his place after that and ended up on the street. The amazing thing is he stayed clean – once he came up to me with a big bag of coke, all rolled up, he’d found on the street somewhere and wanted to know if I wanted it. I had no interest at the time so I didn’t take it, but it says something about where he was at then.

“Once he got to that place where he was down, he couldn’t get up again. I’ve never forgotten that. You slip through the cracks and you can’t come back. He started going downhill a few years ago. All those years on the street. People give me grief for giving these guys money. ‘They’ll just blow it on drugs!’ they say. But hey, I’m glad they blow it on drugs! Wouldn’t you blow everything you got on drugs if you were living on the street?”

D claimed a good panhandler in NY can make 20 grand a year. “You know, the ones that are personable, have the patter down, know where to go. But I don’t think our friend’s at that point anymore, if he ever was. The Koreans won’t pass that one, they’re open 24 hours, they see everything . . .”

I wonder how many people slip through the cracks, even as I”m writing this.

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Sunshine morning, 9 am . . .

A dozen Mexican guys gathered around a pavillion. We say ‘Mexican’, but they could have come from Mexic0 or central America, or even Ecuador or Peru. Down the boardwalk, Russians, middle-aged and older, clustered around the benches, taking in the bright morning sun.

Two of the Mexicans on the sand, shadowboxing, while the others looked on. At first it looked they were playfighting, but one started yelling ‘Puta! Puta!’ at the other guy, taunting him and finally the first guy moved towards him, whipping off his belt with a heavy buckle and swinging it over his head as he chased the other guy who was still taunting him, down the boardwalk, the pair of them weaving between the groups of Russians. Who paid them no attention, until an older Hispanic guy, who had been sitting with a bunch of other older Hispanic guys grabbed the guy with the belt buckle and held him back. The guy with the belt buckle kept searching for his tormentor, trying to get at him while the older man admonished him, scolded him, and dragged him to a bench and sat him down. It was now obvious that the guy with the belt was very drunk, his eyes dulled by liquor and rage.

The other guy came back, swinging what looked like a walking cane. He seemed relaxed, laughing and joking with the others. The others welcomed him and I had the sense that this fight, or fights like it, went on all day.

A parks guy drove up. He was a tall, thin black guy, elegant and efficient in his movements like some black guys can be. He walked up to the Mexicans and they waved when they saw him: “You keepin’ good now,” he said, laughing. Reaching over to a guy sitting on a bench and pulling up his crutch. “Hey Juan, you had this thing three years now! Ain’t you ever going to walk again” Then, pointing to a guy weaving between the benches and holding a can in a paper bag. “Hey, a beer! You know there’s no drinking beer on the beach . . . ”

He didn’t take the guy’s beer but slipped between the Mexicans, sweeping up the trash around the men’s feet. “How come you guys come here every day? Don’t you go to work? What do you mean, there’s no work? You just got to LOOK!” Then, spotting a bunch of cans on the sand. “C’mon now. We gotta get this cleaned up.”

He did all this with authority and I guess all he had to do to get rid of the Mexicans was radio the cops. Nonetheless, the Mexican guys picked up around them, helping him put stuff in the trash can and one guy went around to the sand to pick up the bottles and even went up and down by the boardwalk, picking up random trash. Up close, he looked not only drunk, but worn down by disappointment, intense fatigue, cold nights on the beach and a lot of cheap booze. I wondered how those guys had ended up there¬† – these guys were only the latest of a lot of Mexican-looking guys I’ve seen drinking or crashed out in parks and derelict areas around the city of late – maybe they’d been working on construction sites or restaurant kitchens before the recession kicked them onto the street, and they couldn’t go back to Mexico or wherever they were from, and found themselves stranded here on the Coney Island boardwalk . . .

I left and came back. The guy with the belt buckled still hadn’t come back. The guy with the walking stick ambled by. His ‘walking stick’ was a metal rod and his face was tough and hard and blank. An old Russian man in a blue cap was sitting at a table next to the Mexicans, staring out to sea. The Mexicans had broken into what sounded like a melancholy love ballad, singing in Spanish.¬† I wondered what the Russians thought of these drunk Mexican guys singing on the boardwalk first thing in the mornings then realized that in the old country this would likely be nothing out of the ordinary . . .

Space Mermaid Mural across from Coney Island Subway Stop

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