I was staring at the waves at the beach. It was the summer solstice, and I had no desire to step foot into Coney Island’s murky waters. I was occupying space on a blanket, which was provided by my homeless friend Johnny. His friend, Vince, who I assumed was a little more than just a friend, sat on the blanket, bored out of his mind, and restless. His attempts to annoy Johnny into leaving were met with indifference. “Shut up, before I smack you!” yelled Johnny, repeatedly, visibly losing patience behind his wraparound sunglasses. It was a beautiful afternoon and I found myself lounging on the beach, with two homeless men, whose ridiculous spousal disputes I was trying to mediate.
Vince would eventually make his exit, but not without letting it be known that laying around like a beached whale was such a humdrum activity. Upon his departure, I offered to get a bite to eat — a few chicken tenders and fries. When I returned, Johnny apologized for Vince’s behavior and waved over the guy selling Heineken’s and shots of rum. Despite my protest, Johnny insisted he pay for the drinks since I had bought lunch. Later that night, he would accompany me on a party bus that would escort us to a boat with burlesque, music, food and more booze. That’s how I spent my entrance into the summer of 2013.
Unlike most New Yorkers, I don’t pity, nor am I repulsed by the homeless that inhabit this city. I’m well aware that many of them yield questionable hygiene, tip the scales of mental health in favor of insanity, and are inherently irresponsible individuals…but so are hipsters and I don’t hold that against them, either. There’s no way I can get a grasp of this seemingly ineffable liaison I’ve developed with the homeless, all I know is that it exists. Is there a reason for its existence? I don’t know. What I do know is that it has existed for a while.
As a teen, I once needed directions to get to a specific ticket booth at the Times Square — 42nd Street Port Authority Bus Terminal. I asked a homeless guy for directions and he not only escorted me to where I needed to go, but he also gave me a quick tour of the immediate area, which I wasn’t too familiar with at the time.
Once, I was on my way to a job interview, and I had intended to buy some gum before I hopped on the train for my appointment. Unfortunately, at the time, I was painfully broke and, aside from my train fare, I only had a quarter in my pocket to spare. Lucky, I thought. I wasn’t (and I’m still not) an avid gum consumer, and so my assumption was that a pack of gum was still selling for 25 cents. Wrong! Apparently the price skyrocketed to the steep price of 35 cents, which left me to fervently dig in my pockets for a dime that wasn’t there but hoped would fly out my ass.
A spaced out homeless guy stared at me as his buddy was doing some grocery shopping in the bodega. He never said a word. He just sorted through all the coins he was holding in his pocket, picked enough out to pay for the gum and gave them to me. I thanked him as we gazed at each other, bewildered by the occurrence, and the nodding of his head signaled the conclusion of this ironic episode of beneficence.
When I speak to people about the homeless, I’m usually met with feelings that border on abhorrence and loathing, because no one likes the homeless. I wouldn’t expect anyone to love them. It just seems that, based on the stories I’m told, no one ever gives them the respect or even recognize them as a fellow human being. Worse yet, most people don’t even familiarize themselves with their story — the lost loved ones, their overbearing demons, and the broken dreams that have removed the mirthful cloak from their faces.
At work last winter, I used to package some food and drinks for a man named Victor. He was a soft-spoken gentleman who would stop by on a Wednesday or Thursday night. At first, I noticed he’d rummage through the garbage bags of nearby restaurants, looking for food. When I approached him, he claimed to be a part of small clique of homeless people. He was responsible for bringing dinner back for those designated nights. During a slow evening, I would stand outside anticipating his arrival. Then one night he stopped showing up. It’s been months since I’ve seen Victor. I hope he’s okay, wherever he is.