From Vol. 1, No. 4, 1998
(June, 1997) It was another nice day in New York when I wandered down to the East Village, not too hot, sunny, lots of people walking around without being too much of a dense crowd. Not like 5th Ave., that’s for sure.
Sure enough as I got to Avenue A down St. Mark’s and looked over at Sok’s Grocery, there he was, still shaking his cup o’ change. I was really happy to see him there, ‘cause you never know what might happen after three months on the street.
I went up to him, he saw me, we shook hands pretty hard. “Louis, man, I didn’t know if you were gonna come back, but Sandra she said just the other day ‘I think our boy’s gonna come back from Montreal soon, it feels about that time when he comes.’”
“Well, I’m here,” I said.
He told me what was up right away–
“We got an apartment! Yeah!”
I was like “Alright! Did the welfare finally come through?”
“Yeah, we just got it the other day. We got a nice place, it’s beautiful, big bedroom, big living room. It’s in the Bronx. But man, it’s been tough since you left here. Me & Sandra were back out on the street, she wasn’t getting along with her mother and we had to leave.”
“Shit!” I said.
“Yeah, man, it was hard.”
“When did that happen?”
“Right after you left. We spent three months outside, right in front of the library. They were nice there, though, they let us stay there.”
We walked over to the park to sit on a bench and talk. He called out to Sandra, yelling it super-loud as he always does: “San-DRA! San-DRA!” I noticed all the other people in the park who know them looking around for her.
She came walking up, he said “Look who’s here!”
She came up to me and gave me a huge hug, and said to Jerry “I told you he was gonna come, you didn’t believe me but I told you.” She thanked me for the Fish Piss thing, said she’d been showing it to everybody. She looked at me and hugged me again, very happily.
She went off to get something at the store, and Jerry and I tried to find an empty bench. It was hard to find somewhere quiet— in the middle of the park, a big gospel group was going at it full blast, singing and hollering joyously. Jerry said they were having a mass right there. It was loud, beautiful music, especially with the beautiful sunny day and the kids screaming their fun in the play area and everyone walking around with their dogs and stuff. We picked a bench over by the kid’s play area near the corner at Ave. A. A cop car was sitting there parked, as well as one of those three-wheeler golf-cart things traffic cops weave through traffic with. Some small black children were hanging around the cop-cart, sitting inside it, honking the horn, a white cop standing on the other side smiling. At some point I remembered to turn on the tape recorder while we sat there,
catching up on each other…
Jerry: I’m glad you came today, everything worked out perfect today.
Louis: Yeah, you were on the street until— yesterday.
Jerry: I was struggling, Louis, I was really struggling, you know, staying out in the hot sun. Now all I wanna do is go home, and chill.
Louis: So last I saw you, I think it was February, what was that, four months?
L: You seemed to be doing fine at your mother-in-law’s, back then.
J: Yeah, you see right after that, it was like a nightmare. Sandra and her mother, they weren’t getting along, you know, and… when I got taken in by the police, you know, I’m the type of person, I didn’t say nothing because, I have respect for people. They see me, they see a panhandler, you know, they just think they have to do their job. I couldn’t do nothing.
L: They were new guys?
J: Yeah. But once I got in there, the old policemen that saw me, they said “Not my man Jerry!” So they let me out, they said “Let that man go.”
L: Oh yeah?
J: Yeah, but I was scared, you know, ‘cause I had no wallet or nothing like that. The whole thing was like… everybody who knows me, even people were fightin for me. People, people were like…
L: So what was happening, you were just standing on the street—
J: Yeah, undercover police, came and took me over there. The guy in the station, he said “What did he do?” The young cops said “Uh,…” and he said “What he do?” and then he said “Let my man go now please? He’s known around there, he’s known.” So they were like, “Ok,” and he let me go. And I was like, oh God!
L: Right on!
J: Now everytime he sees me, he comes around, the new police, “oh god, he knows everybody.” They don’t know nobody. They get drunks, alcoholics, druggies, but not me.
People have told me about how there’s a whole lot of gangs in prison, too. I’m glad they let me go, I ain’t got no record, man leave me alone.
L: You must’ve seen guys come in and out of jail & shit through the years.
J: Yeah. But they’ll come out, and get crazy. A normal guy goes into jail around here, he ain’t normal no more. I dunno what happens.
L: I guess it doesn’t stop the drugs at all, either.
J: No, no, no (shaking his head vigourously). They come out and get worser.
We looked out at the kids playing again, the cops watching them, then got back to talking.
J: I wanted to get off the street. Even though I know everybody around here, it was a total nightmare. I had this other guy named Calvin sleeping out here, too, right. And you know what? I gave him, like, advice, like you did with me, right, to get off the street.
L: To go and get welfare and everything?
J: Yeah. He got up, now he’s about 65, and I was totally amazed, ‘cause he got up, we went down there, he said Alright, Jerry, I say alright Calvin, go all the way. He’s a real nice guy. And he went all the way.
L: Does he drink?
J: Yeah, he’s an alcoholic, he just walks around here and everything you know. I encourage him and now he’s doing good. He got hisself an apartment and everything, you know. But he’s trying hard, now. You know how it is, you gotta fill out these papers, your rent, your heat, all that.
L: When was the last time you had your own place?
J: Aw, man….. going on thirteen years. Man, it’s been hell since then. They were hard times, really hard. Nobody give a damn that I live out here. They say Hi, I got a whole lot of friends, but you know what? They gotta walk right past ‘cause they all gotta look out for themselves. And this rent change, you heard about that, about how the rents are going up?
J: Yeah, out here, a whole lotta people looking for apartments now out here. It went way up, went up a thousand dollars and up.
L: Holy Fuck.
J: Yeah, there’s a whole lot of shit. People losing their apartments. And half of them, a whole lot of them out here now are homeless.
L: When you were sleeping outside, where were you…
J: At the library. I was sleeping by the door, right. So everybody knows me, they don’t really bother me. And my wife was sleeping out here with me.
L: Maybe you could show me after, was it just on that street you stayed on?
J: Yeah. Sure, we can check it out.
L: How have things been with Sandra?
J: We been through a whole lot. She’s the only woman in the world, the only woman who sticks with me.
L: So last night was your
first night sleeping inside
for a long time?
J: Aw, yeah, man. I took a
shower. I was so wanting
to get off there, I was so glad, man. I went to the shower, I had the soap in my hand… (he smiles a wide smile and makes like he’s scrubbing)
L: So now you’re on the work program, to pay the rent and everything…
J: Yeah, I have to keep on going to the program.
L: Do you get any extra money for doing the work, compared to welfare?
J: Uh, fifteen dollars for carfare. But I don’t care (laughing.) Definitely an improvement for me, I have to move up, you know.
L: This might lead to a real job, too, eh?
J: Yeah, I hope so, ‘cause I’m a good worker. I just need that chance in life, you know. I don’t like to basically give up on life anyway. I like to keep on fighting because, when you give up, you never accomplish nothing.
For awhile, Jerry tells me about some of the shit that happened before his mother-in-law kicked them out last winter, arguments and stuff…
J: And then we started sleeping by the library steps, y’know. I got to make sure when she needs to go pee that I watch our spot here. I mean this street is crazy.
L: What did you have when you were sleeping on the street there, a blanket?
J: Yeah, we did, we did. I got something like four blankets. Clothes, right. That’s my responsibility, I hide them there, walk over, get them. And I was going to sleep, right, at three or four o’clock in the morning, because there’s junkies and everything right down the street. So we can’t go to sleep until they’ve done their business. That kind of people you cannot trust. They’re into it so much, they’ll do anything, you know what I’m saying? So I say no, I’m gonna fight you guys. Now I
L: How long after I saw you did you have to leave your mother-in-law’s place, couple weeks?
J: Yeah. About a month. It was hard, very hard.
L: It must’ve been hard for welfare if you had no address to work from.
J: Aw, yeah, they had us running back and forth, back and forth here, here, we were running left and right. Go to the rent agency, gotta find the place, give the person’s name to welfare, then get another thing at welfare and give it to a new agent. It was a nightmare. It’s hard, too. You gotta go around here, then go to Brooklyn, right, for the agencies. Then I gotta stand out here to make money to travel all this. It’s hard, then you gotta wait for hours before you get in there. It used to be so fast.
L: There’s so many people trying for that stuff now.
J: Yeah, so many people.
L: It’s weird, cause in Canada right now we keep hearing how the States are doing better than they ever have been. Everybody’s got jobs, they say, even though that’s just compared to Canada.
J: You know what they’re talking about? That the crime went down, that’s what they’re talking about here. Houses, forget it, people losing their houses around here, the rent’s all going up. They aren’t talking about that. Out here, it’s been going up like crazy, man, like it’s bad, people used to be paying five hundred, now they’re paying a thousand, two thousand. All out here. They had a meeting out here in the park yesterday about that. About the landlord robbing them blind and all.
L: I guess it’s because the people who are doing well, they all wanna come to New York, and they’re squeezing these people out.
J: A whole lot of people are moving out of the East Side, right, they’re moving to Brooklyn, they’re living in the Bronx like I live now. They can’t afford it here.
L: It’s too bad. Why don’t they just set everyone up a little better right here? Why do they make it so everyone has to move away from their friends and everything? If this keeps on a couple years, it’s not gonna be like this at all around here.
J: It’s not. That’s what they’re saying, L: What about this crime thing? Do you really think crime has been going down?
J: No, the kids, they’re still more wild, because, it’s blowing up, right, kids fighting out here. They got a gang out here now, with the yellow shirts, there’s a whole lot of them. They live around the park right over here, all over. They come over here, hang out in the park. And… oh yeah, I gotta tell you this, too. The old man, Paul, right. Paul was sleeping over here one day, they punched him in the face, they hit him with a stick and everything. I wasn’t here, me and Sandra weren’t here.
L: Was this the sixty-five year-old guy?
J: Calvin, no, that’s not him, Paul’s a little older than that. And they hit him for no reason, he wasn’t doing anything.
L: And they beat him up, just like that?
J: Just like that. And I was saying, God, we have kids that do something like that…
L: Did you find him there after?
J: Yeah, he still went back to his spot, to sleep, he still went back there. Because, I guess he said “I ain’t got no place else to go.” But you see, he bring it on hisself in a way, because, he go out here, do that karate stuff, you know, like tai chi and everything, doing all this, doing all that, you know, like kicking, on his own on the grass. So they’ll sit there and see him and say, I don’t like him, or something, and after that they’ll like, wait for him.
L: But still, if he’s just doing that for fun…
J: Yeah, he’s a drunk, he’s alcoholic and, you know how alcoholics can be, they’ll do anything just to get people’s attention sometimes. He’d curse me out, I used to just look at him. But you know what, I always asked him things, he’d start talking, and I know the brother don’t mean no harm.
I know it’s just the liquor talking,
‘cause I’ve been there, I did
it, I used to drink like the
long-time drunks in the street.
That’s why I would never criticize nobody, like, I know where he is.
I had a whole lot of problems, too, cause, when you’re cut off from your family, when you ain’t got no family, see, the only reason I was living out here, living a rough life, I couldn’t go to my mom’s. Mom’s dead, my father’s dead, it was loneliness, you know. Even though I had a wife, it’s like, I still didn’t feel much better. You know, I feel hurt, and all that. I wanted to enjoy life anyway that I could, so I’d get me a bottle of wine. Until one day I stepped out of it, I woke up, I knew a lot of people who got killed, I said “no, no, wake up.” I’ve been around, I’ve been through everything.
Jerry had told me all about his past before, how he stopped drinking and all that (all of which should be published in a book of his life soon—stay tuned!), so we paused again and looked around at the park. The gospel group was really pumping, with a huge impromptu congregation singing joyously. A woman walked by and handed us a pamphlet about Jesus, said “God bless” and moved along. We got back to talking.
L: When the cops stopped you, was that before you got kicked out of your mother’s house?
J: No, I was at my mother-in-law’s. I said, well let me go out there and make some money, mind my own business. They had a new person on the beat or something. I only saw him one time after that, he passed by and said “Hi, how you doin.’” But you see, the young cops, they’re coming up to be mean, nasty.
L: Montreal, too, it’s really bad, they have bad attitudes, they don’t know what’s going on. I guess they just came out of cop school, they tell them “it’s real bad out there” and they hit the streets thinking there’s a war on and just spread aggressive vibes.
J: They got new cops out here we call ‘em Batman and Robin. One of them is a Karate expert, he got a black belt in Karate. They’re nasty, too. They go around, I’ve seen him take people down that they don’t like. They get big respect around here. And you don’t have to be doin’ nothin’, you’re sittin there, and if they don’t like you for some reason, they come up and say, “Let me talk to you. What are you doing in the park?” “I’m just sitting down here, reading the paper.” “Oh, Ok.”
L: Man, they’re like professional assholes or something.
J: Yeah, yeah, yeah, ah!
L: So if you don’t have money, then…
J: Yeah, you don’t have nothin’, get outta here. “What you doin’, you need to be in jail.” I don’t understand it, though, it’s crazy to me.
L: I don’t know what they’re trying to do, it does seem that they’re trying to make Manhattan strictly for the rich.
J: Yeah, they’re doing it, they are doin it, they’re pushing the poor out. It goes like this, if you don’t have enough money to live in Manhattan, you’re going elsewhere.
L: It’s like you’re exiled from home.
J: Like when they picked me up, I know they let me go, but, the whole point, I was just trying to make money for me and my wife. Their whole point is, though, you can’t be a hobo here. They don’t want that anymore.
L: But even with this work program, and the welfare and everything, it’s still squeezing you off Manhattan.
J: I’m not gonna stop, though, if I can get a better job I’m gonna keep going. I still have to ask for more money, for the house now, we gotta lot of stuff to get, clothes and everything.
L: So you’re still going to be on the corner for awhile?
J: For awhile. I’ve got to keep doing what I gotta do.
Just then Paul passed by right in front of our bench.
J: Whassup Paul? Whassup Paul? Alright, how you doin’. I was just telling him about that kid, that guy who attacked you? That little kid who was sitting down here that day, little kid who beat you up with a stick? Yeah, I was telling him about that.
L: Yeah, that’s bad shit.
J: (introduces us) Yeah, this is one of my best friends, Louis.
L: How you doin’ Paul. (He looks like a nice, if slightly crazy old black man, greying beard, short frizzy hair, dignified looking though, but kind of drunk and smelling like beer.)
Paul: I was sittin down drinkin beer. He come along up there and hit me with a stick. No reason, nothin.
L: That’s fucked up, man.
Paul: Hey! But I took the stick away from ‘im.
Paul: But he didn’t break the skin. Thank God for that. (he keeps standing there, saying nothing.)
J: Alright, talk to you later, Paul. Take it easy, man.
Paul: (who’s still standing there, staring at my machine) A radio or a… a telephone?
L: A tape recorder.
Paul: Oh, tape recorder. Alright, I gotta run over here. (he walks away, Jerry and I look on. Pause, then…)
J: Yeah, see, it’s like he’s out of it, and never in.
L: Seems like a happy drunk, though.
J: Yeah, basically a happy drunk. But… he is drunk, and… he’s not all there, too. So you know, he needs to straighten up. He’s a good person, if he didn’t drink, he’d be a really good person. Yeah. He’s doin’ it now, he’s tryin to get out of the park, too. He’s trying to get his life together too.
L: He might be old enough to get a pension, too, if he’s around 65.
J: Yeah. He was in the army, so he could get, what you call that, VA or something?
L: Veteran’s aid?
J: Veterans, right.
L: Was he in a war, too?
J: No, crazy in the head, so…
L: So he got discharged from the army.
J: Yeah. He’s been here for a long time, a long time. He had a girlfriend, too, I couldn’t believe it!
J: Ye-ah! One time, I was around here in the afternoon, I look in the bathroom right here, he had his girlfriend there & they were making love in the bathroom. He’s cra-zy! Nobody else was in there.
L: She was an older woman, I guess?
J: Yeah, she homeless too, you know. I said “What you doin’, man, it’s the men’s bathroom!” He said “Fuck that, I don’t care!” Both of them were drunk, I’s like ‘Oh god.’ (Jerry rolls his eyes, I laugh.)
L: Was it just that one time?
J: Yeah. Just one time. Crazy, man, crazy.
L: I wouldn’t have thought it, seeing him.
L: Well, I guess everybody’s gotta have fun, somehow.
J: Yeah, but damn. Outside in the park? You don’t have no respect for yourself, then, man. You gotta have respect, I don’t care.
L: What would you usually do before 3am, before you could crash at your spot?
J: Hang around, walking around like two lost souls, right. Sitting on a bench. But our life is getting better and better, so I thank God.
L: I guess you’d have to wake up before the library opened?
J: Yeah, like Saturday, it opened at twelve in the afternoon.
L: Would you wake up first or would they tell you to leave?
J: No, see, and that’s a funny part. They were so nice to us, they know us, right. ‘Good morning,’ you know, they work there. You wanna see our library?
L: Sure. (We get up off the bench and start walking towards the gate. The Gospel group is still belting it out, the tape fill with the sounds of kids playing as we pass the play area. We pass some cops sitting around at the gate, and keep chatting while walking out of the park.)
L: I don’t get these cops. Last weekend in Montreal, there were two riots… (on St. Jean Baptiste Day)
J: Yeah? Aw man…
L: One guy, this punk kid, he had a beer on him, you know you’re not supposed to have a beer on the street. So they pushed him on the ground, there were six cops around him, he was face down on the sidewalk and they were kicking him and stuff. And all these people gathered around and started pushing the cops, saying ‘Hey, get off this guy, it’s, like, six on one!’ So what do the cops do? They call the riot squad to come in, and then more people gather around, and go up to the cops. When the cops showed up with shields and helmets, it made people mad, not just punks but normal people, ‘cause they were just trying to keep the cops from beating up the guy, you know. Then this small army of cops shows up to make ‘em all leave, just because they cared about this person getting beat up. All just for one beer..
J: Aw, man. Once they start something…
(By then we’re on 7th St., walking down the sidewalk across the street from the tennis courts at the edge of the park. It’s much quieter here.)
L: I don’t know how you do it, man. I had to sleep in the cold one night, last September. Freezing cold, it was out in the woods. Fuck, I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t know if I was gonna wake up alive, or what. I couldn’t even sleep, it was so cold, I just shivered, waiting for the sun to come up so I could sit in it…
J: When it gets cold, and you’re sleeping out here, you’ve gotta be strong. You got a whole lot of people out here, they freeze and die.
(Jerry stops walking suddenly, we’re standing on the sidewalk in front of a library.)
J: Here, this is my second home, right here. Paul would sleep right here. Calvin used to be right here. (He points to the sidewalk we’re on, I stare at it blankly.) Me and Sandra, we used to sleep right there. We used to have to leave before it opened, see the schedule right there on the door. Most days we woke up earlier, because of the sun. It was a nightmare. People would walk by us all night, and everything. (pause.)
This used to be my home, right here. (pause)
L: (quietly, almost to myself) A spot on the ground… I guess I wasn’t really expecting anything, except maybe inside the front doors there or something…
J: Uh-uh, no, you couldn’t do that.
L: What about right down there (at the bottom of a staircase leading down below the street.)
No, not allowed in there.
L: (I almost said ‘I’m sorry’, but held it back, still feeling all awkward while Jerry just stood there all confident like he owned the whole place.) Did the police ever bother you while you were laying down there?
J: Well, basically, they pass by, and if they know who you are they won’t mess with you. They know me and my wife are staying out here, so they just pass by. But the new ones are very negative, very negative. They don’t care who you are, or what. One look at them, and they’ll lock you up.
L: Are these the younger cops?
J: Younger mostly, yeah, but old ones too.
L: White, black,…
J: I don’t care what colour, man, we all got the same blood. But if they ain’t like the way you look, how you act, they’ll take you in. Most of them, though, they’d stop, look at us funny. What they would do is all along the corner, they’d go down there and tell you to move (on Avenue B, where all the bars and restaurants are.) The gay bar, that was right over here (we walk two buildings past the library, and there’s the bar.) They’d come out there at four, acting all loud, they’d call to us passing by. I’d have to watch out at that time, watch our stuff.
L: I guess some of them would beat you up just for two bucks, eh?
J: Oh yeah, they’ll take anything. It’s crazy. Then out here, at night, see that tree? We’d go there and do what we had to do, you know, pee or something like that.
L: What about the bathroom in the library?
J: Oh, you could never use that. Eight o’clock when it opened up, we’d go wash up in the bathroom in the park. (He pauses, as I look around, confused at seeing this park & thinking of it like part of your house…)
J: It’s still rough, it may seem simple…
L: No no, fuck man! So, like, two nights ago you guys were out here?
J: Yeah, yeah. If we hadn’t gotten the apartment yesterday, we’d still be out here.
L: So even though it’s gettin’ more dangerous out here, there’s still a lot of people sleeping out here?
J: Right here, you mean?
J: Like, right here? (he points to the patch of sidewalk we were standing on.)
L: Well, I mean in general, around here.
J: Around here, oh yeah. They’re all over now. All over. Most homeless people are drug addicts, junkies, criminals and all that. Some of them just have no place to stay, though.
The guy in the store, he likes me too. Sometimes if I’m short of cash, he lets me go, and I pay him later. I really don’t have too much trouble with the people, it’s really just the drug addicts, and the gangs.
L: Are the gangs mostly young people, or is it a wide age group?
J: It’s a pretty wide age group.
L: Have you seen them carrying guns?
J: No, but I heard about some things where somebody was killed, you know.
L: I guess a lot of that, the cops might not even find out, no one will find out.
J: They don’t care.
L: So you have a fridge and a stove now?
J: Ah, (immediately smiling upon remembering the apartment) we got the stove, but the fridge didn’t get there yet. It’s getting there tomorrow. Oh, this my boy Calvin over here.
J: What’s up, Cal-vin! What’s up, Cal? This my ol’ friend. This my friend Louis. (we shake hands loosely. Calvin’s real, real old, looks like he’s in his late sixties or early seventies at least. His voice is as gruff and gravelly as you could imagine, and I don’t understand anything he says.)
L: Always amazes me how you can live that long, and everybody always says, if you don’t have a house, if you don’t have health care, if you don’t have this or that, you’re not gonna live ‘til whenever…
J: See, I learned in life, right, as a kid, you only gotta be strong. Now maybe you don’t have nothing, but if you have the will to live, you’ll live.
(We walk back into the park, the outdoor church service is over, it’s almost six & things are quieter from people going to eat supper and stuff. We stop and look at one of the big lawns all fenced around, a couple of couples are laying down together casually mooching in the sun, couple guys laying on the grass with books and walkmans…)
L: So this whole area was tents, am I right?
J: Yeah, all through there, you had to go around them around here. You had to go around, it was all full up with tents. The whole thing. And at the bathroom, you had to pay to use the bathroom.
L: What, you had to pay some guy standing in front?
J: Yeah, you had to fight the guy to use the bathroom, he was like, a bully. The only way we had to go to the bathroom was if a whole lotta of guys over here got mad and had to go, we would get together to jump him and hurt him.
And these gates weren’t here, it was more open. It was big, big. They remodelled everything. There were people here were from Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Jersey, all around here. And Cher, you know Cher? She came in here one time, and her bodyguard gave us some clothes and stuff.
L: Did people have their own tents?
J: Yeah, definitely.
L: Did you have to buy a tent?
J: No, you’d always find a way to get your own thing set up. I used to get those plastics, right, and milk crates on each side, put the plastic down and wrap it around to cover them up.
(Later, we’re trying to find Sandra. Up around where the chess tables are, Jerry asks this one guy if he saw her around.) “I don’t know, she just was here. She’s worried about you, she said something about, (he pauses very gravely) she’s pissed off.”
A black woman who look about 45 says to Jerry from a bench: I read what you said in Fish Piss, Jerry. That sounded good. The reason why they let homeless people die? You were right, Jerry. They’re just waiting for us to die.
First guy, with a voice tougher and stronger than even George Clinton’s in ‘Chocolate City’, says this to me about Jerry: He’s a wise man, he’s the only guy in the park who can walk around and say he got his shit together. And you know why he come this far? He said he was gonna be some-body.
Jerry: We been out here since the beginning, man.
First guy: Yeah, we did it, man. We been through this shit, and goddamn, (he looks over at me) now we got them coming back with a mission.
I wanted to talk with the guy a bit, but Jerry and I wander off past him to look for Sandra. The guy keeps talking passionately with the woman.
L: He’s a pretty energetic guy.
L: You know him from awhile back?
J: Yeah, from Tent City, way back. He’s a drunk, though.
L: Well, better that than drugs, though.
J: (not too convincingly) Yeah.
L: Hey, there she is (we spot Sandra.)
We go over to her. Sandra asks me for some more Fish Pisses, saying ‘A lotta people want them around here.’
L: I can give you more, if you want. You know, you find some good people and give it to them.
Jerry still had to do some panhandling before they could go back home for the night, so I left them to it and said I’d pass by again in a couple of days. When I walked by there on my way to a bar that night, I noticed people sleeping all up and down the sides of the park, on both sides of the street, at least a couple of hundred people in all.
A couple of days later I went back there in the afternoon and sure enough saw Jerry in front of Sok’s Grocery shaking his cup again. He looked shaken up, and I asked him what’s going on.
J: Man, this kid from around here was shootin’ up right there on the corner, man.
L: Right in the open? Right there?
J: Yeah! I was lookin’ over at him, thinkin’ “Oh man, what a mess,” and he saw me lookin’ and came running up tryin’ to stick his needle in me!
L: What?Holy fuck, man, did he get you?
J: No, man, he was just fucking with me, trying to scare me you know, he thought it was funny or somethin’ but man, I don’t need shit like that. Everybody knows him around here, he’s got AIDS and everything, everyone knows he’s gonna die soon so they let him do his thing, you know. But that’s his business, man, I don’t want nothin’ to do with that shit. Man.
I shook my head, basically shaking away the thought of being stuck in a situation like that. Jerry and I talked for a little while on the corner there, and I said my goodbyes ‘cause I was leaving the next day. He really had to make some money to help pay for their fridge so we didn’t talk for very long. He promised he’d give me a call once they got their phone number, and we’d keep in touch.
I talked to him and Sandra a few times since then. They really freaked out when they got their first hydro bill, it fucked them right up and Jerry had to spend long hours panhandling to pay it off. He said it’s harder coming out to stand on the corner while working a job at the same time. I sent him a bit of Canadian cash to help pay for it, but after the exchange I doubt it helped much.
Their apartment is an improvement over living on the street, no doubt. It still seems like he’s being taken advantage of, though. They know he’s used to nothing so they’re giving him as little as possible, just four hundred dollars a month for full-time work. He’s still hoping this experience can lead to a ‘real’ job someday, but the fact is that cleaning parks is only done by people on welfare now, as are more and more of that kind of job. Now that the city can get such cheap welfare labor to do this stuff with, they’re not about to start hiring non-welfare people at higher salaries.