1/04 Phillip left me with Janet's phone number in the
Rockaways before leaving for Louisiana in October of 2001. I called
once or twice, but I didn't feel comfortable leaving a message on the
answering machine. That winter someone broke into my apartment and stole
my computer, so the number was lost. I hope that Phillip's still in
the Southland living the good life.
3/07 Last week I recieved
a call from Sweet Leif. She has been in a twenty eight day rehabilitation
program in the Rockaways and is well on her way to become a Certified
Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor.
to Sweet Leif's social worker she is still in the detox program.
4/05 I bumped into Sweet Leif frequently in the early winter panhandling
on Avenue A. She told me that the court made her enter a detox program.
I haven't seen her for four months.
1/04 Sweet Leif returned to the park in June and fell back into to
the same situation
as when I originally met her. Some time in September some of her friends
organized an intervention and persuaded her to enter detox. She now
has over ninety days clean and is living with a friend and walking
dogs in the neighborhood.
8/04 Sweet Leif relapsed again in April and then disappeared. I met
up with her a few days ago in the park, and she told me that she had
been arrested for selling and was now on two years probation.
Monster 212-252-5130 (voicemail)
I hadn’t seen chess for the past few months until I bumped into
him in front of Graffiti’s Church on Seventh Street. He told
me that he’s been so involved in church activities that he doesn’t
have much time to sit in the park.
Chess is still playing chess in the park and is currently living in
a local church.
11/05 The Villager recently ran a feature article on Chess. Click
8/04 In May Chess
traveled with Nelson Hall and me to speak at Brooklyn College. He
found a friend who is letting him stay in a room on Avenue A. The
street market for Stranger to the System in the East Village is essentially
saturated, so Chess Monster now lugs his large table lined with promotional
posters to the library on 5th Ave.
1/04 Chess Monster has become one of Curbside Press's top vendors.
He can often be found selling on Avenue A and 7th Street while playing
chess on a new magnetic board that he constructed himself. During
the day Chess sleeps in a storage facility.
Corcoran RIP 6/04
8/04 Vinny emerged from the hospital in early April.
Late one Friday night I found him posted out in front of Ray's Candy
Store, his eyes glazed over with childlike contentment as he talked
to a group of young men he had known when he was still working construction.
Soon after, the weather took a turn for the worse and he spent two
excruciating weeks battling the elements. On cold nights his hands
would be so numb that he couldn’t even tie a knot in the string
that held up his pants. After Vinny was taken to the hospital, I had
word that he had entered a program and wasn’t drinking.
In early June I got word from the Chess Monster that Vinny passed
away in a local hospital. I've tried to get in touch with Vinny's
sister several times, but I haven't left a message on her machine.
Vinny has been in and out of the hospital for two weeks. His health
is deteriorating, but he would rather sleep on 7th Street than enter
Ward's Island shelter. Last weekend Vinny was taken to Beth Israel,
and I have word that they may amputate his leg.
Nancy Lane Smith RIP 1/23/05
Beth Israel Hospital
days before Christmas, Nancy had a siezure and hit her head on the
sidewalk. She passed away shortly after at Beth Israel Hospital. When
the news spread through the park some of the regulars assembled a
makeshift memorial out of a cardboard box, signining their names and
leaving trinkets and momentos. The box eventually found it's way to
Leroy's sprawling pile of possessions on the corner of Seventh and
A where it was eventually thrown away by Sanitation.
Patient privacy laws prevented Beth Israel from releasing any details
to me about Nancy's passing. You can read her obituary in the Villager
Sleep easy, little sister. You are missed.
12/05 Two weeks ago I witnessed Nancy having a seizure on Avenue A.
Crazy Jay the book vendor held her as she squirmed through tortured
contortions upon the sidewalk until the ambulance arrived to take
her to Beth Israel. When Nancy emmerged she told me that the hospital
staff had thrown her a birthday party. I last spoke to her about a
week before Christmas.
Nancy is still living on the street as of last weekend.
3/05 On Good Friday I stopped to chat with Nancy on Avenue A. She
told me that she had spent the winter living in a friend's apartment
but was now back out on the street. As we spoke a police van rolled
over to the side of the curb and several officers came out and informed
Nancy that they were taking her to the courthouse to take care of
her warrants. Nancy protested as they poured the contents of her pocket
into a plastic bag, but when the officers promised that she'd be a
free woman in an hour, she agreed to get inside the van. Good to their
word, Nancy was back on Avenue A by the end of the night.
8/04 Nancy’s still out on the street, and her health is deteriorating.
Last night she told me that she had just gotten out of Beth Israel.
A large plastic pump attached to a canister of asthma medication
rested in the garbage on the curb.
1/04 Nancy is still homeless in Tompkins Square Park. She occasionally
spends the night with men who live in apartments, but invariably leaves
when they beat her. Last month a man broke Nancy's arm.
Nancy and I hang out a few times a week while I sell the book on Avenue
A. Despite all the hardship she's going through, she always seems
to keep a smile on her face (and beer in her cup.) One weekend we
stood on the corner for an hour and a half without selling a single
book. I handed Nancy the sign and went to use the bathroom. When I
got back she had sold two copies.
I give Nancy a free book or two to sell once in a while, but I don't
think she's ready to be a regular vendor. In her present state a hundred
dollars in her pocket could kill her.
Thunder RIP 9/28/2003
Thunder and Jim Flynn 8/03 photo Bob Arihood
When I first sat
down to talk with Rino, I was a curious stranger. As I gradually got
to know the man, we shared a depth of feeling that I had never imagined
possible between two people so separated by space and time. I respect
Rino for telling the truth about the hellish despair to which he had
succumbed. There were many forces that actively stacked the odds against
him, but he never denied his own role in the mistakes that cost him
so dearly in the end.
Rino knew that the only way out of his predicament was to leave the
community he had known and loved for twenty years and be whisked away
to dreaded isolation in an institution. Though we all wished otherwise,
that was a decision he could not make. Rino didn’t stay in the
park just because he was an alcoholic. He stayed because he feared
being alone more than he feared death. There may not have been a roof
over his head, but Tompkins Square was indeed a home. Though the cold
sidewalks and fleeting comforts of the bottle would eventually claim
his body, through all his torment, Rino never surrendered his fierce
pride. Though there were times when I hated the man for what he had
become, I will always love him as the defiant warrior who he was.
2/07 At two o’clock
in the morning last Saturday I received a call from Gray Wolf. He
had since vacated his post in Grand Central Station and is now living
indoors with a friend in Queens. He greeted me ecstatically with the
news that his song "Give me Shelter" had been played on
the shock jock Opie and Anthony radio show. He then humbly asked me
if he could use my credit card to set up a Paypal account to charge
his fans to download an extended version of his masterpiece. After
telling Gray Wolf that I didn't have a credit card, a quick Google
search led me to me to the Opie and Anthony homepage. Over the past
several years Gray Wolf had participated in an annual Opie and Anthony
tradition known as the Homeless Shopping Spree, in which the two radio
hosts charter a bus to take people living on the streets in midtown
shopping at the Short Hills New Jersey shopping mall, allegedly providing
them with beer. (Director of the New York City Coalition for the Homeless
Mary Brosnahan expressed “outrage” at the event in an
interview on the O’Reily Factor.)
During the shopping spree
Opie and Anthony aired Gray Wolf’s accapello version of Shelter
Me. The track was later remixed by prominent urban DJ Dru Boogie and
put back on the air. The remix received 12,465 plays on the Opie and
Though Graywolf was living
indoors for the Christmas 2006 shopping spree Opie and Anthony invited
him along for the trip and featured a web video of him being reunited
for the first time in ten years with his son.
After reveling in the glow
of his internet superstardom Gray Wolf told me that he had recently
called his former wife and inadvertantly spoken to his estranged daughter.
He misses her dearly.
photo: Bob Arihood
continues to frequent the platform by the shuttle train at Grand Central.
When I saw him there two weeks ago he was well into a fifth of vodka.
He says he misses the East Village but doesn't want his daughter to
see him in his debilitated state.
11/05 About a month ago I ran into Grey Wolf playing flute in Grand
Central Station. He's currently sober and has agreed with his ex wife
not to return to the East Village in order to avoid a chance encounter
with his daughter.
4/05 Gray Wolf never called me. Two weeks ago, I was returning from
the protest in Central Park, and bumped into Gray Wolf's wife and
daughter on the train. She approached me subtlety and cautioned me
not to mention Gray Wolf's name, as it brought up painful memories
for her daughter. She went on to tell me that Gray Wolf had not spoken
to her in months and was probably living on the streets of Chelsea.
She had given up hope of getting back together.
8/04 Gray Wolf graduated from a substance abuse program and is now
living in Queens. Last weekend he called my cell phone and wanted
me to make a trip by his place so he could pick up some more books.
I gave him my address on Avenue C, but he told me that there are certain
people in the neighborhood he wants to avoid. We plan to meet in midtown
1/04 Gray Wolf's printed epilogue states that he is living upstate
and saving money to buy a house. Unfortunately, during the time that
the book went to press he suffered a relapse and found himself once
again living on the streets around the park. He had tremendous success
selling the book for the two weeks after publication, and a picture
of him selling a book to a police officer ran in The Villager. Unfortunately,
he didn't seem to be saving any of his money for productive purposes.
I last spoke to Gray Wolf a month ago and am hoping that he has since
found a way to get out of the streets for the winter.
1/04 A friend
told me that he had bumped into John in Tompkins Square in late August
and showed him a copy of the book. I have no other news, and his sister's
phone number vanished when my computer was stolen.
Hall and Jim Flynn photo: Erik Lippe
Nelson is still typing away at his memoirs in East Harlem. He's since
bought an acoustic guitar and is passing his idle hours learing to
playing the blues.
4/06 Nelson has
begun writing his memoirs. He is still living in the SRO in East Harlem
but is currently looking to relocate to more spacious accomodations.
11/05 Nelson is still living in Harlem and has begun actively painting.
4/05 Last fall Nelson received a phone call from an aunt who had come
across the book and found his number posted on this site. It was the
first time he had heard from his family in twelve years.
Nelson has returned
to painting and is sharing a studio in Brooklyn with some old friends.
We spoke at NYU before Christmas, and will be visiting other colleges
8/04 Despite the
kind efforts of UN Kearney English professor Darcy Shultz, Nebraska
never came through. Nelson, The Chess Monster, and I did speak
at Brooklyn College in April. Nelson is currently outfitting his room
with three computers and a digital recording studio.
1/04 Nelson completed the Able House program and is now living in
an SRO apartment in East Harlem. He is building a sleeping loft in
his tiny room and is dabbling with writing and art. In December, we
performed a few songs to a great crowd at the Sidewalk Cafe. This
spring, Nelson will be traveling to the University of Nebraska to
speak about his experience. He can occasionally be found selling Stranger
to the System at Union Square.
spent the summer of 2006 living on the streets of the East Village,
sleeping in the daytime and scouring the night streets for cans. We'd
often cross paths late at night and his easy drawl would flow with
humorous tales of his nocturnal adventures. He always confessed a
fear that if he were to quit drinking he'd lose his affable, gregarious
nature. Though Juan always seemed energetic and eager to converse,
even when the weather was cool beads of sweat clung to his head while
his hands shook with subdued trembling.
Several times in the fall Juan sought refuge at the Bowery Residents
Committee but always ended up leaving the program after failing to
make curfew. As the weather grew colder he began to spend nights in
the Broadway Lafayette subway station. He said that as long as he
could drink a forty-ounce beer before descending underground the benches
were almost as comfortable as a bed.
One night in November I bumped into Juan on Third Street. A neighbor
had just given him some old clothes and a sparkling, slick pair of
leather loafers. When I complemented him on the new look he told me
that the shoes were actually much too small and that his feet were
killing him. He also said that his health had taken a turn for the
worse and he planned on entering a long-term detox soon. When I discovered
that Juan also wore a size 13 shoe, I relinquished my old pair of
Converse and rode my bike home in stocking feet. A week later Juan
thanked me profusely for the sneakers and then told me that if he
hadn’t gotten some new footwear he probably would have already
entered a program. Though I was constantly urging Juan to go to detox,
I began to wonder whether our chance encounters were helping to keep
him on the street.
In early February Juan left a message on my voicemail from The New
York Addiction Institute at St. Luke’s Hospital where he was
undergoing a 28 day detox program. I was only able to return his call
because his counselor had been gracious enough to allow Juan use his
personal number, otherwise he would have been completely isolated.
Juan seemed ill at ease in his new surroundings but told me that he
was committed to his recovery because that doctors had discovered
that his liver was in bad shape and that if he continued drinking
he would likely not have much time left. Unfortunately, I happened
to be out of town for the next two visiting days, so I couldn't visit.
Juan gave me a call this morning and told me that he would soon be
entering a "three quarters of the way" house on Gates Avenue
I bumped into Juan last week as he was returning his cans at Key Food
grocery on Avenue A. He told me that he had abandoned his latest attempt
at rehab and was back to living on the streets.
Juan is still living in a shelter. I last saw him two weeks ago in
Chelsea and he appeared to be healthy.
8/04 In February an attorney left a message on my answering machine
and informed me that Juan had been arrested and was trying to contact
me. I returned the call, but couldn't get any information.
few weeks ago I came across Juan picking up cans outside my apartment
on 7th Street. He told me that he was released directly from Central
Booking and spent a short period at Project Renewal but is now back
on the street.
Juan's jovial sway makes him an excellent salesman and each time I
see him he hits me up for a few copies of the book. He has no trouble
getting rid of them, but I'm worried about what he's doing with the
money he earns. On Thursday September 23rd I opened up the Metro Section
of the New York Times to find a picture of Juan standing with two
young ladies holding open copies of Stranger to the System.
after the article in the Times, Juan called me from a rehabilitation
program upstate and I sent him a dozen books. A few weeks later, I
found him bagging groceries at Key Food, and he told me that he was
living at a shelter on Lafayette Street and going to AA meetings.
Juan called me again two weeks ago from a hospital detox.
1/04 Shortly after I collected his story in spring of 2002 Juan was
arrested for open container and convicted of parole violation and
spent more than a year upstate. In late August a vendor on Astor Place
informed that Juan was a free man and had returned to living on the
streets downtown. The next day I bumped into him panhandling in front
of the liquor store on Avenue A. He vigorously embraced me and begged
to see the book. After a long talk, Juan told me that his real last
name was in fact Taylor.
Juan wrote a book in jail called The Puzzle, but the manuscript was
stolen once he returned to New York.
last spoke to him two weeks ago while he was panhandling in front
of the liquor store. He made me laugh so hard it hurt.
T Walker (The Escape Artist)
10/06 I spoke to Alving
several times over the summer. He had been living at Peter's Place
homeless shelter on 23rd Street in Chelsea where he was able to spend
nights sleeping in a chair but not able to fully recline. He remained
commited to drawing his comic books but was upset when hundreds of
hours of work vanished after his portfolio was stolen.
11/05 Alvin is
still living indoors and drawing comics.
4/05 Alvin finally found a job as a security guard at a local high
school. He plans on giving me a call once his comics are finished.
8/04 I saw Alvin two weeks ago walking through Tompkins Square Park
in a suit and tie. He told me that he was not having much luck with
a job search, but had been drawing a lot. He reached into a his briefcase
and removed a sketchbook full of drawings for a strip called Super
Alvin is still living in his program sponsored SRO in Harlem. I gave
him my contact information so that he could send me a copy of his
work to post on the web.
1/04 Alvin has entered a program called Ready Willing and Able in
Harlem and is living in an SRO and working 40 hours a week as a street
sweeper. I tried to sell him on becoming a Curbside Press vendor,
but he says that he wants nothing to do with his former life. Alvin
still draws comic books.
and Vinny RIP
3/06 No word of Bobby has
been heard in the park.
to the American Indian Community House Vinny passed away this summer.
Bobby became deeply depressed after Vinny's disapearence, and his
health began to deteriorate. The last time I saw him was on St. Marks
and First Avenue, he was severely intoxicated and asked me to call
an ambulance. I have not seen him since.
4/05 Bobby is still out on the street, but I haven't seen Vinny for
months. Even Bobby doesn't know where he is and it's causing him great
distress. Last weekend I found him babbling incoherently sitting on
the stairway at St. Marks and first with an empty fifth of vodka at
his feet. He asked me to call the ambulance, and the paramedics arrived
within a few minutes and took him to Bellevue.
8/04 Bobby and Vinny are still out on St. Marks. Yesterday, they told
me about one freezing night last February when their regular basement
refuge was unexpectedly locked. Bobby and Vinny knew they wouldn’t
make it through the night outside, so they both walked down 1st Avenue
tugging on all the metal basement doors recessed in the sidewalk.
After a few blocks they finally sprung a hatch and descended into
a restaurant basement.
“And me and Vinny start feeling around to see where we should
lay down. I end up bumping into something and I hear a little rattle,
kinda like glass. Vinny sparks his lighter, and all the sudden we’re
looking at about fifty bottles a liquor all lined up all against the
If you want to find out how the story ended you have to stop and talk
to Vinny and Bobby at St. Marks and 1st.
4/04 Bobby and Vinny have probably the strongest friendship of any
of the regulars, and it's rare that I don't find them together in
front of the red wall at St. Marks and 1st. Just about every time
I visit these two, Bobby breaks out a story about how Vinny found
a shopping cart with a dead body in it, and the police took him into
custody for two days before realizing he didn't kill the man. Vinny
will occasionally hit me up for a book, and then go sell it to a book
vendor for a few bucks. Last I heard Bobby was in Cabrini. Vinny is
still out on the street.
1/04 Sugar Bear relocated to upstate New York and is no longer living
on the street. He returned to the park for a visit several months
ago and appeared healthy and alert.
RIP and Pork Chop (Marcel)
8/04 Albert died
of a heroin overdose last March.
1/04 Marcel spends a lot of time with the park regulars, but she is
not homeless. Albert is still living on the street.
photo Jim Flynn
12/06 Victor was
reportedly taken to the hospital shortly before Christmas and has
yet to reappear on Avenue A.
04/06 I see Victor panhandling in front of the bodega on 6th and A
from time to time, but I don't think he's living on the street right
now. Sometimes he can be found chattering away in Polish with the
old timers across from St. Marks.
11/05 Last summer Victor decided not to return to the hospital on
Roosevelt Island and has been living on the streets for the past three
4/05 Victor is now living in a residential hospital on Roosevelt Island
where he is undergoing physical therapy in the hopes that he'll be
able to walk with a prosthesis. He occasionally rides the train down
to the Lower East Side and panhandles enough change outside Village
Farms for a few beers and then returns home. Last week he told me
that he misses Hotdog and hopes to see her soon.
8/04 In February Victor’s trailer was towed and he returned
to the streets for a week or so in his wheelchair. I have not seen
him since March.
1/04 Victor had to have his leg amputated due to poor circulation.
He is currently living with a friend in a trailer under one of the
bridges in the area. He is no longer dating Hotdog.
2/07 Hotdog relapsed shortly before Christmas and ended up spending
some time living on the streets. I last saw her panhandling on Avenue
A on a bitter cold February day. Her picture appeared in a recent
edition of the Villager: http://www.thevillager.com/villager_191/holidayspirits.html
11/05 I have word that Hotdog is still in rehab.
8/04 Hot Dog has entered a rehabilitation program in Brooklyn and
is no longer drinking. She occasionally returns to the neighborhood
for brief visits. The regulars are shocked at her transformation to
a quiet, rational woman.
1/04 Hotdog is reportedly in jail for indecent exposure.
8/04 Gypsy gave me a call, and I’ve met up with him a few times
on the street. I still haven’t had the right opportunity to
ask him to elaborate on the reality of his situation. Many sensitive
questions hang in the balance, and I won’t not relate what I
don’t have permission to convey.
1/04 I spent a lot of time hanging out with Gypsy while selling books
this summer. One night he confessed to me that he was holding back
a lot of the details of his situation when we composed his story.
Now that I know the truth I am more understanding of his situation
and sympathetic to his plight. I haven't seen Gypsy for over a month,
but if you happen to see him on the sidewalk tell him to give me a
3/05 Stephanie is currently living in an apartment in Oakland and
apprenticing at a tattoo parlor.
1/04 Stephanie is now in her second year of community college. She's
since spoken to Bolt, and they've reconciled, but remain separated.
Stephanie is vigilant about answering her email, so you can drop her
a line, and she'll probably get back to you.
Bolt is currently living on his wife's parents' farm in Oregon.
1/04 I didn't hear from Bolt for about a year since I last saw him
dangling above the East River. One of the regulars told me that he
got killed by skinheads in Oregon over the winter. In August I was
selling books on Avenue A, and Bolt rode up on a skateboard. He told
me that he had spent the winter and spring working at his new wife's
parents' farm in Oregon where he completely cleansed his system of
booze and drugs. He looked healthy.
Bolt gave me a call a week later and I met him and his wife on the
street and gave him a copy of his departed friend Chaos's picture
to send to his son. Last I heard, Bolt was living indoors and working
at a tattoo parlor in Chinatown. He is responsible for at least one
of the full facial tattoos that are sprouting up on the kids on St.
Several people have reported seeing Bolt in New York, but I haven’t
run into him. One contact had him holding a sign up in front of Port
Authority saying he needed $30 to get to Chicago. Another sighting
placed him stepping out of a car in a collared shirt and clean pressed
pants on 3rd Avenue.
1/04 In September a woman who had read the book approached me on Avenue
A and told me that she was a good friend of George. She identified
the body and oversaw his burial in New Jersey. She also has a picture
of George that I will include if we print a second edition.
Crystal dropped me an email confirming Doug's passing.
8/04 I have unconfirmed word that Doug died of a heroin overdose last
3/06 I recently
recieved an email from a a friend stating that Heather had a job making
puppets and children's toys and is living indoors.
04/06 G is can often be found reciting his raps on the corner of Seventh
11/05 G has returned to the city and is living in See Squat.
8/04 I have word that G got married moved to the country and had a
I recieved word that Fu hanged himself last year.
4/05 Last summer
I sent Oscar another copy of the book to the halfway house he was
staying at in Iowa. Last week he emailed me and said that he plans
on relocating to Indiana once his parole expires in two months.
8/04 I’ve since heard that Oscar ran into a bit of trouble and
is now staying for free in a very large hotel.
1 /04 I sent Oscar a copy of the book general delivery to a post office
in Nebraska where he was harvesting corn.
8/04 Monte returned to New York this June after a two year absence.
He was excited to hear that a photo he had given me was used for an
article in New York Press. Monte still hops trains.
4/05 Oscar's friend Wingnut gave me word that Heather is living with
her sister in Phoenix.
4/05 Crystal gave me a call last August and told me that she's found
a job and staying away from the elements that led her to the street.
She says that it was hard for her to read the book, because it brought
back painful memories.
1/04 In October I came across one of Crystal's friends who told me
that she was living indoors upstate and getting her life back together.
I gave her a copy to pass on.
3/07 Three weeks
ago I received a call from Erik's sister. She had not seen him in
1/04 Erik was beaten to death last August on the streets of Pittsburgh.
You can read the article in the Pittsburgh
This summer I received an email from one of Lawrence's family members
informing me of Lawrence's mother's passing. Though I crossed paths
with Lawrence several times during the fall, he is reluctant to talk
04/06 Lawrence has been in touch with his son via mail. I've since
been contacted by other members of the LaDoucer family asking for
information. Lawrence seems ill at ease with me since I've made this
has been posted on the corner Seventh and A clutching a cluster of
American flags, envoking patriotic ideals while loudly condeming the
moral decripitude of the legions of hipsters parading past on the
sidewalk. Last week a few transient punks tried to set his flag on
fire. Lawrence went beserk and the police ended up taking him to the
psych ward at Bellevue.
11/05 Last June I recieved an email from Lawrence's son in Butte Montana
asking me to help him get in touch with his father. When I conveyed
this message to Lawrence and offered to dial his son's number on my
cell phone, he told me that he'd preffer to write a letter.
returned to the streets briefly during the winter when a fire forced
him to leave his hotel. The Red Cross has since provided him with
a $200 emergency voucher and he has moved back into the hotel. Lawrence
tells me that he plans on running for president in 2008.
8/04 Lawrence never broke any windows at Leshko's. The owners of the
restaurant fabricated the charges in order to get Avenue A’s
resident prophet away from their restaurant. By the time the case
was processed, Leshko's was out of business, and the owners refused
to provide testimony. Rather than face an extended legal battle, Lawrence’s
lawyer advised him to accept a plea to a lesser charge and he was
given time served.
Lawrence never contacted me from Riker's Island, but I did meet up
with him two days after he was released. He eagerly paged to his section
in the book, and almost immediately began marking it to shreds with
a red marker, explaining that his philosophy had changed. The next
few times I saw him, Lawrence was scribbling flourishing philosophical
discourses on packing paper flowing from bottom to top. So far he’s
completed five or six masking tape bound volumes and promises to get
me a copy.
I’ve offered to give Lawrence as may copies of Stranger to the
System as he wants, but he says that he can’t sell the book,
because he might have to talk to women - a terrifying prospect. The
first time that I passed by Lawrence in the company of a lady friend,
he wouldn’t even acknowledge me. Two weeks later I introduced
him to my friend Shannon and he was kind enough to nod a hello before
jumping off into a philosophical diatribe.
About two months ago Lawrence began renting a chicken wire room in
a notorious South Williamsburg hotel/crackhouse for $450 a month
with money he receives through the government. He complains about
the constant noise and lack of real privacy but acknowledges that
living indoors has had a positive effect on his mental state and eased
his interactions with neighborhood residents. Last night I saw him
help a couple new to the neighborhood move a dresser into their apartment.
I'm not sure if it's his new found accommodations, or just three years
of familiarity, but Lawrence is now actively talking to me about his
personal situation, and I am no longer playing the role of an impartial
observer. In July of 2001 Lawrence mentioned to me that he had a “wife”:
"I didn’t overcome the tension caused by my own emotional
dysfunction until I found wedlock. See, I found a daughter in a daydream.
When I had time alone, I realized that there was somebody in my daydream
with me. She was a real person with real encounters in the present
moment. Our relationship is completely non-sexual. My wife possesses
me, but I do not possess my wife. Submissive surrender is the way
I feel. My wife was sixteen when we first met back in ’93. She’s
25 now and it’s been a week since we’ve seen each other.
We’ve never had moments alone together. We’ve always been
in public. One day, maybe we can have that time alone together. That’s
something to look forward to. I can’t divulge where I see my
wife, or even my wife’s name, because people can hurt others
just by thinking about them."
Lawrence’s “wife” is a woman working at a store
in the neighborhood. I’m subtly attempting to convince Lawrence
to give some thought to the reality of his situation.
1/04 Lawrence was arrested during the spring for breaking a window
in Leshko's Restaurant after an argument about loud music blaring
out into Avenue A. He is institutionalized on Riker's Island and awaiting
trial. Lawrence got my number from Villager photographer Bob Arihood.
I expect to visit with him sometime in the next two weeks.
1/04 One of Cheneke's friends told me that he was now married and
running an arts and crafts store in California.
1/04 I spoke with Frank last fall, and he told me that he's still
struggling with his living situation. He still hopes to someday write
his book Life on Wheels.
the Prince Hunter
4/05 Vince called me about a month ago to see if he could get some
books to sell. He's currently living indoors uptown.
3/07 This summer Chris and an underground film maker attempted to
take some footage of his place beneath Grand Central Station, but
were stopped by the police and all of the film was confiscated. I
last saw him playing chess in Tompkins Square three days ago.
4/06 Chris has
since become a "Mole Person." I can't divulge the exact
location of his underground lair, but he tells me that he has both
hot water and electricity.
11/05 Chris is still living indoors and playing chess in the park.
4 /05 Chris is currently living with a friend on Avenue A and spending
his days playing chess in the park.
1/04 Justin has gotten his life back together and is tending bar on
the Upper East Side. He bought the book from Gray Wolf for $10.
1/04 Vic's real name was Richard Torres. He passed away from complications
arising from diabetes last year.
Lesane 347-564-4626 (Leroy's cell phone don't hesitate
rose to the challenge of adapting to life with his amputated foot
with fierce resolve, fervently pursuing the exercise regimen prescribed
by his physical therapist while awaiting the manufacture of a prosthesis.
In the spring of last year Leroy grew impatient and constructed his
own artificial leg out of Styrofoam cups and duct tape. Though he
was unable to walk with his creation it allowed him to stand upright.
In June I visited him at Oxford Nursing home, identifying myself as
a reporter and photographed him.
His prosthesis arrived a week later.
Leroy was elated with the quality of his new appendage and was particularly
pleased that it was manufactured in Denmark, saying, “I’d
always told people that I was part Danish, but I never knew what part.
Now I can just point to my leg.” On my next visit Leroy walked
around his shared room with the aid of a cane while spewing hammed
up Long John Silver imitations.
As Leroy’s strength returned he took an active role in the social
functions at Oxford, occasionally reading his poetry at monthly talent
shows in the common area. By the end of the summer he was elected
resident representative of the fourth floor. Leroy was soon barraged
by complaints from the residents about their treatment and he took
it upon himself to write letters of complaint to the New York State
Department of Health. By November the staff at Oxford had identified
him as mentally unstable and had him transferred to Rockland Psychiatric
Center in the Far Rockaways.
Leroy’s transfer was made on the premise that he had been hoarding
garbage in his living area. Leroy insisted that his accumulated stack
of papers was raw materials for creating collages. Several times the
staff would wait for Leroy to go to physical therapy and then throw
his piles of paper in the trash. He was infuriated.
Leroy has had a dreadful time dealing with the infantilizing restrictions
of his new accommodations. Over the past months he has weathered an
unending deluge of genuinely disturbed roommates and complains that
the staff has exhibited dictatorial demeanor. About a month ago Leroy’s
son bought him a cell phone and for several days he was accused of
talking to himself. Though Leroy was initially skeptical about the
value of his newfound means of communication he has since taken quite
a liking to his cell phone and often asks me to look up numbers of
old acquaintances on the Internet. He now spends hours at a time gabbing
Much of our conversation revolves around Leroy 's health. A month
ago he received an MRI to examine complications arising from a break
in his intestinal wall and is frustrated that no doctor has spoken
to him about the results. The complications from his hernia are worsening,
and though he had always been adamantly opposed to surgery he is now
reconsidering. Leroy has also been diagnosed with prostate cancer
and has received medication that has induced some troubling side effects.
Last week Leroy was taken to visit an independent living facility
on Fifth Avenue just north of Central Park for possible transfer but
was denied access because his social worker had overlooked the fact
that he will not officially turn 65 until August.
Though the last two months have been a troubling time for Leroy, he
has been attempting to cope with his tribulations by writing vignettes
describing the day-to-day drama of “life in the looney bin.”
I hope to visit him and post a sample in the next update.
If you are an acquaintance of Leroy, please feel free to drop him
a line. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.
photo Jim Flynn
4/06 Leroy continued to sleep on the sidewalk outside
the park through December of 05. Neighborhood
well wishers would often leave bags of clothes and take out food adding
to his towering pile of possessions. "I feel like a Hindu statue,"
said Leroy. Other homeless people would often stop by and sort through
the mix. Leroy was more than willing to share food and blankets as
long as he was awake, but he was often addled by midnight visitors
who had helped themsleves without his blessing. Whenever I visited,
he would offer me an array of splendid cuisine and relentlessly insist
that I take some of it home to my refrigerator.
the end of the month the bitter winds forced Leroy to seek shelter
behind the pile of cardboard boxes outside the Village Farms grocery.
One night I watched one of the Korean proprietors listen on in amazment
as Leroy sang a lullaby in his native tounge. About a week before
Christmas, the police raided Leroy's pile. He helplessly watched them
throw all of his blankets, styrofoam, and even his walking stick into
a garbage truck. I found him later that night shivering on the steps
of Niagra bar with nothing but his tattered cloak and some thin undergarments.
For the past three months I'd been pleading with Leroy to agree to
go to the hospital, but at first mention his eyes would harden in
stoney resolve and he'd hear none of it. That night was no different.
Leroy was adament that he wouldn't be going indoors until after New
Years. I returned with an old sleeping bag and broom handle for him
to clutch as he hobbled around, then I gathered some cardboard for
a bed and left him on the sidewalk.
The next time I saw Leroy was on New Years Eve. It had been raining
earlier in the day, and though the temperature was above freezing,
Leroy was soaking wet and shaking erratically. Christine, an old friend
from the days when Leroy lived on Seventh Street, was pleading with
him to let her call the ambulance, but he insisted on holding out
until the ball dropped. Over the next two hours we pumped hot tea
into Leroy as he faded in and out of consciousness. I finally told
him that I would help him back to my apartment for a warm shower if
he would let us help him to his feet. For a half hour we struggled
to stand Leroy against the park fence, and I knew that the journey
to my apartment was impossibility. A passerby called 911, and Leroy
looked on in horror as the ambulance rolled down the avenue. When
the paramedics asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital, he seemed
to spring into full consciousness and began adamantly refusing. The
EMT told me that the only way they would take Leroy was if I could
prove that he was intoxicated. I lied and said he was drunk.
Leroy's eyes glazed
over like a captured animal as we forced him onto the stretcher. When
the doors slammed shut and the ambulance sped uptown, the avenue erupted
with firecrackers and boisterous shouts.
"Happy New Year!"
up Leroy's beloved cloak from the sidewalk. Two days later when she
went to wash it at the laundry mat she found hundreds of dollars in
small bills handed out by pedestrians filled with Cristmas spirit
hidden in the seams.
On the first I went to see Leroy at Beth Israel. He was barely conscious
and tubes protuded from his arms. His toes were coal black. Later
that week doctors amputated his entire left foot and the toes of his
right. Leroy refused anastesia and remained conscious for the entire
later Leroy was relocated to a room with no windows at Oxford Nursing
home in Downtown Brooklyn. I've been speaking to social workers about
trying to find a more apropriate placement, but Leroy's medical needs
make him a poor candidate for supportive housing.
Considering the trauma that he's undergone over the past few months
Leroy's in remarkably good spirits. He's now able to marginally ambulate
in a wheelchair, but is having difficulty due to chronic shoulder
pain. He's enjoying listening to the Mets and recieving regular visits
from his two sons and a brother who lives in the neighborhood.
Photo: Bob Arihood
11/05 Leroy has been sleeping on Avenue A since spring. His ever expanding
pile of personal possesions has caused some tensions with the ninth
precinct and several times Leroy has watched sanitation workers drag
his pile of earthly possesions into the dumptruck.
4/05 In fall of 2004 a crew of parks department officers, sanitation
workers visited Leroy's curbside perch and proceeded to throw all
of his earthly possessions into a garbage truck. You can read an excellent
article by Lincoln Anderson at The
Leroy's eviction from Seventh Street he set up camp under an awning
behind the church on 4th Street between A and B. I visited him dozens
of times as the weather grew colder. Our conversations mostly consisted
of unbridled academic meanderings and when I tried to bring up the
subject of Leroy's living situation, he was quick to change the subject.
Several times I offered Leroy the use of my shower and offered to
let him spend the night, but he always refused. Then, one bitter cold
night in December he decided to take me up on my offer. As we sat
on my couch watching the Passion of Christ on my laptop, Leroy had
me turn off the captions for the Latin scenes and provided his own
endured the elements on Fourth Street until the end of the month.
The last time I saw him was in the early hours of New Years Day. The
next afternoon he was gone.
week ago, I found Leroy on the F train platform at 14th St. He spent
two weeks in the hospital being treated for hypothermia and then weathered
out the rest of the winter in the subways. He had since acquired a
set of paints and is planning on returning to Tompkins Square to give
birth to his masterpiece.
8/04 Leroy left a few messages on my machine during the winter and
then emerged in Tompkins Square in mid May. Without fail, he can be
found sitting in the very southwest corner of the park amid a vast
collection of plastic bags filled with potential collage material.
Each night he drags his bags outside the gate and lies down against
Leroy spends his days listening to NPR radio and reading books. Spending
a few minutes with the guy is like reading the newspaper. He knows
it all from Bloomberg to Africa to J-Lo. On Fathers Day LeRoy rescued
a baby sparrow that had fallen out of the nest and folded it up inside
a t-shirt. He was feeding it bread crumbs, bologna, and water. Leroy
went on to tell me a bit about his family, and I let him call his
son on my cell phone while I took a walk around the block.
I am slowly starting to piece together how Leroy came to be out on
the street. The man is obviously well read and says he graduated college.
I believe him. He also told me that he was institutionalized against
his will. At the time I took the photograph of LeRoy that appears
on the cover of the book, he had just won a $3,000 lawsuit and was
carrying the cash on his person, hoping to save it until he needed
an apartment for the winter. LeRoy was robbed a few nights after I
met up with him. He receives no money from the the government and
is hoping to hold out two more years until he becomes eligible for
The bird died two days later.
1/04 Leroy disappeared without a trace in early summer of 2003. I
had long given up hope of ever seeing him again, but right before
Christmas I bumped into him in Union Square Station. He told me that
he was living in a squatter shack in a park in Canarsie, and that
he was spending his days creating collages, two of which were stolen
in the fall. Leroy doesn't know whether to be bereaved or flattered.