I Loved It Under the Viaduct; Still Do
FOR nearly 13 years between 1994 and 2007, I wandered the streets of New York, a nomad in the town where I was born in 1949. To say that I was homeless is true and yet not the whole truth. I had a mobile home of sorts — my wagon — the most recent, a grocery cart I liberated from the Costco in Long Island City. In it, I carried everything I needed: bedding, clothes, a camp stove, beach chairs, an umbrella, pots and pans, a first-aid kit and 20 or so paperbacks.
Every morning, I’d get up and say to myself: Where to today? And I’d turn my wagon either right or left and just keep going in that direction. Eventually I rolled my way through all the boroughs except Staten Island, stopping to live for a while in one place or another. I supported myself mainly by “canning” — collecting and redeeming recyclable bottles and cans. On an average day, I might make $20; on a good day, I could top a hundred.
I expected to die on the streets, a fate I’d seen befall so many of my homeless brothers: Nacho, Old Crow, Joe the Bum, Billy, Petey, Wahoo, Pachunga. One day we’re here, the next day gone, picked up by the meat wagon from the morgue, dropped off at Bellevue or Kings County hospitals, and stored for up to 60 days in the fridge. Then, if our bodies are still unclaimed by relatives or friends, we’re ferried for one last ride across the East River to the potter’s field at Hart Island, where inmates from Rikers Island on burial detail stack our plywood coffins in a long trench and cover us with dirt. I call that place the Land of the Lost Souls. That’s where I was bound.( Collapse )