3/31/05 Class of 2005 of Bishop Carney HS in Vancouver British Columbia visiting Tompkins Square to meet the park regulars after reading Stranger to the System.

Individual Updates 4/06

* new updates
 

Albert RIP
Alvin T Walker
Bolt
Cheneke
Chess Monster*
Chris Gamble*
Crystal
Doug RIP
Erik RIP
Frank
Fu RIP
George RIP
Graywolf *


Gypsy
Heather MacKay

Hotdog
John Connors

Juan Ferguson*
Justin
Lawrence LaDoucer
*
Leroy Lesane*
Monte
Nancy Smith RIP*
Nelson Hall*
Oscar
Phillip

Phoenix Mercury*
Rino Thunder RIP

Robert Romero*
Silver Fish
Stephanie
Sugar Bear
Sweet Leif
Vic RIP
Victor*
Vince Hunter
Vinny RIP
Vinny Harcuail RIP

 

 

 




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Phillip
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.

Sweet Leif

11/05 According 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.

Chess Monster 212-252-5130 (voicemail)

4/06 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 here to read.

8/04 In May Chess traveled with Nelson Hall and me to speak at Brooklyn College. He has since 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. 

Vinny 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.

1/04 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


Nancy Lane Smith RIP 1/23/05
Beth Israel Hospital

2/05 Two 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 here. 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.

11/05 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.

 

Rino Thunder RIP 9/28/2003
Bellevue Hospital

Rino 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.

Rest in peace Uncle Rino.
Now you know.

For more information about Rino's last days click here
You can also read his obituary in the Villager

Gray Wolf

photo: Bob Arihood

4/06 Graywolf 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 next week.

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.

John Connors

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.

Nelson Hall 917-498-9602

Nelson Hall and Jim Flynn photo: Erik Lippe

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 this spring.

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.

Juan (Ferguson) Taylor

4/06 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.

11/05 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.

A 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.

Soon 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.

I 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.

Alvin T Walker (The Escape Artist)

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 Fem.

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.


Bobby and Vinny RIP

11/05 According 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 back wall.”

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.

 

Sugar Bear

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.

Albert 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.

Victor

photo Jim Flynn

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 months.

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.

Hotdog (Marlene)

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 into a quiet, rational woman.

1/04 Hotdog is reportedly in jail for indecent exposure.

Gypsy

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 call. 917-622-3982

Stephanie twatrot666@hotmail.com

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

11/05 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. Marks.

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.

 

 

George Liberty RIP

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.

Doug RIP

4/05 Crystal dropped me an email confirming Doug's passing.

8/04 I have unconfirmed word that Doug died of a heroin overdose last year.

 

Heather MacKay

8/04 About a month ago I ran into Heather drinking beer with some friends on the steps of PS 68 on 6th Street. Earlier that day she had ODed on heroin and had to be taken to the hospital. She asked me if she looked fucked up, and I told her yeah. I haven’t seen Heather since.

1/04 MacKay: Heather sold a few books in August, but suddenly left town complaining that police patrols in East River Park had intensified.

Phoenix Mercury

04/06 G is can often be found reciting his raps on the corner of Seventh and A.

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 kid.

 

Fu RIP
I recieved word that Fu hanged himself last year.

Oscar noderailers@hotmail.com

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.

Monte

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.

Silver Fish

4/05 Oscar's friend Wingnut gave me word that Heather is living with her sister in Phoenix.

Crystal

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.

 

Erik Waugh RIP

1/04 Erik was beaten to death last August on the streets of Pittsburgh. You can read the article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review here.

Lawrence LaDoucer

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 connection.

Lately Lawrence 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.

04/05 Lawrence 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.

 

 

Cheneke

1/04 One of Cheneke's friends told me that he was now married and running an arts and crafts store in California.

Frank

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.

Vince 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.

Chris Gamble

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.

Justin

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.

Vic RIP

1/04 Vic's real name was Richard Torres. He passed away from complications arising from diabetes last year.

Leroy Lesane 718-857-1971 (Oxford Nursing Home)


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.

Towards 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, i he would let us help him up. 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.
They 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!"

Christine gathered 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 operation.

A month 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 Villager here.

After 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 translation.

Leroy 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.

A 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 the fence.

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 Social Security.

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 inside 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.

 

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