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


  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.

  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.

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

  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...


Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo