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.