Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Wandering Stranger of Schermerhorn Street

He is a wandering stranger and here he is (once again) on Schermerhorn Street. If you want to get a sense of the NYC economy, visit Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn. The food stamp offices, the welfare offices, the unemployment offices, they all have their lines, their ennui, and their quiet desperation that spills onto the streets everyday. Until recently, a homeless shelter was there also, built under the parking garage on Bond Street. I have been passing through that neighborhood on foot for several years on my way to work in the Heights. Since last spring, I noticed a number of homeless folks camped outside along the side of the garage on Schermerhorn Street, sleeping on broken office furniture, with sleeping bags, rolling suitcases, some who looked as though they had lived on the streets for awhile, others who seemed new to that existence. I read recently that the homeless shelter, I think this one, had been closed. Suddenly, the homeless folks were once again gone.

This week however, the wandering stranger was back. I have seen him camped out, surrounded by a mass of ripped black trashbags with his possessions, sitting on the sidewalk, gazing off into space, or into mysterious universes that most of us will never see. Unlike even the most scruffy of the usual homeless crew on Schermerhorn Street, the wandering stranger inhabits another place altogether. He is incredibly unkempt and filthy. His hair black, matted, skin filthy through ripped clothes. I have seen him over and over again for the past several years. He must travel around the borough, or the city, perhaps the planet. Eventually making his way back to Schermerhorn Street, never bathing or changing his torn clothes. Carrying the same gear, only more tattered than the last time, looking like he is sitting in a pile of trash but actually surrounded by what seem to be his earthly possessions.

He is like a mountain man, surviving, he finds a spot. Once he returns, he will seem rooted to the same spot until he disappears and, hopefully for him, returns again. This time I wondered, is he was waiting for the homeless shelter to reopen ? Each time, in the early morning or evenings, he sits, barely moving, his back to the canyon of new coops and luxury rentals that have popped up on the other side of the street since his last visit, a season or two ago. He doesn't beg and avoids the glances of passersby, as we avoid him. As I passed yesterday, a man was berating the wandering stranger, how he is a disgrace, what is wrong with him, etc. He took no notice. Perhaps he is mentally ill, or perhaps he inhabits a place beyond the material, beyond the need for home or clean, comfortable clothes. Does he feel free, like Jeremiah Johnson, like a mountain man? Existentially free? Pitying us poor fools with our office-cubicle prisons or welfare humiliations? It is certainly beyond my ability to tell. But meanwhile he will remain rooted to his spot, with his trash and his visions, until it is time for him to move on again.

--Brooklyn Beat

5 comments:

  1. I've seen what sounds like the same man repeatedly at the same part of the eastbound platform at Hoyt-Schermerhorn. He just stands there, with his collection of ripped black plastic bags on the platform, and never gets on a train.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have seen this man sitting in the pile of black trash bags - I passed by one day and didn't realize there was a person in the bags when I saw his eyes peeking out - as if he was part of the trash. It was one of those moments I will never forget. I went home nearby on Schermerhorn st and got some leftovers from a restaurant the night before and brought them back to him. he kindly accepted them and disappeared back into the black plastic bags - his black hair and body slipping back into the mysterious world in which he lived. It made me sad - he seemed like a gentle and kind person.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I haven't seen him since but I often look for him in the garbage bags when exiting the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice to know I'm not the only one who looks for that guy. I've seen him on the corner of Schermerhorn and Bond off and on for about 4 years.

    After a 6 month hiatus, I finally saw him twice about two months ago. Haven't seen him at all since.

    I think a new cast of characters has taken over the block...

    ReplyDelete

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