Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Theme Thursday: One Man's Trash, or, The Return of the Bums of New York

As I watch, New York City is turning back to its former glory. Graffiti, crime, rats, panhandlers, and crazy bums. Lots and lots of crazy bums. I haven't seen so many bums since the '80s. Where were they during these last 20 years? I guess maybe city services had enough staffing and funding to medicate them and get them sheltered. Just long enough so that the annoying ex-urb yuppies (notice my use of a retro-'80s word!) could move here, jack up the rental and real estate prices, pretend that Brooklyn was the suburbs...

At this juncture, re-enter the Bums of New York. They're bearded, they're paranoid schizophrenic, they love to menace their imaginary enemies and sometimes, just sometimes, they'll push you into the subway tracks. It seems bizarre to me, but the yuppies are too politically correct even to admit that they notice the sudden proliferation of bums, let alone to call the cops on them when they loiter around children's playgrounds carrying on a formal duel with themselves.

And right here I'm going to admit to you: I like the bums. They really have a special sort of charisma in their eccentricities. And like fingerprints, no two are alike. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Bum Connoisseur. I treasure the little details that go into their delusional, shambling existences. Take the bum who confronted me and my sister the other day. He shouted garbled imprecations, then flung a handful of something at us. He managed a really spectacular throw, and the objects caught the sunlight high above our heads before they came to rest, scattered, at our feet. I looked. They were red and yellow Chiclets. Was he giving us a gift in the only way he knew how? Maybe. Was he a performance artist fallen on hard times? Could be that too. Who knows the motives of bums, but really, they intrigue me.

More important, they have a foul odor that's somehow more honest than the smell of new money. Ironically, their appearance might be the harbinger, Oh how I'm hoping, of a place once again for the middle class in this city. Perhaps eventually all the transplants will have enough of the screamed obscenities, the visible cases of lice, and the psychotic menacing, will get to a point where they can no longer deny the grit of the city, and will pack up their annoying lifestyles and move back to whence they came.

All this ranting gets me to the topic of Theme Thursday: suitcase.

Pictured above is the scene outside my livingroom window this afternoon: a bum had taken up temporary residence in the playground across the street, having parked his "suitcase" in the middle of the street. Said suitcase was actually more of a towering mound of burstingly full garbage bags, stacked on his stolen shopping cart in a brilliant feat of engineering. What was in those garbage bags? Beats hell out of me. But this suitcase stood a majestic seven feet tall.

Now that's a suitcase.


The Clever Pup said...

Completely original. I never would have expected this for TT. A great passionate piece and well-written.

I think we should never judge someone until we can walk a mile in his shoes. Poor or well-heeled. But I feel the same about the 20-somethings with their SUV-size strollers proliferating my neighbourhood, acting as if they've invented motherhood.

That being said, I own a 91 Volvo and like nice cheese.

Do you want the Yuppies to call the cops on the homeless or do you want to live side-by-side with them?

and...I've got to hand it to your yuppies for infilling your neighbourhood and rejecting sprawling suburbia.

The Idle Devil said...

Awesome! I wonder how he could carry that entire suitcase everywhere he went.

Karen ^..^ said...

This post was great, and REAL.

Check this out:

You will enjoy this.

Also, the bums most often scare me, at least the ones here, as they get violent from time to time, and one actually raped a mentally challenged girl under the causeway. But I know what you mean about their appeal. They remind me of Sirius Black, kinda. They all have their own stories to tell, and only want someone to stand still long enough to tell it.

I saw one of the bums in my old town, and it shocked me to realize that I had cut this man's hair about 8 years back. He was a professor, and incredibly intelligent. To see him rocking back and forth on a bench, wearing a helmet so that they government owned genetically altered mosquitoes wouldn't bite him and inject him with their mind reading elixir was quite startling to me. I wanted to go and talk to him, to gain some insight on what had happened to him. He was such an amazing man, such a mind. It was sad to see him like that.

Brian Miller said...

great post! most amazing. i have spent time with the bums, in soup kitchens. i like to go and sit and talk with them. hear their stories. help where i can. really they help me. reminding me i was one decision away from where they are. several i call friend and several i will never see again.

an incredible suitcase...great post!

MJ said...

I like the bums.

Great! You’re welcome to OURS! Come and get ‘em!

I’ll just regurgitate some of what I said on Old Knudsen’s post about public transit…

I’m standing alone at a bus stop at night and a panhandler gets off the bus and immediately holds out his cap and asks me for spare change.

I walk away from him and he throws his coffee at me. Luckily, it missed me by a couple of inches.

I was alone with him on the platform, I should add.

A few days ago a drunk got on the bus with two huge garbage bags filled with dripping empties and he asked me to give up my seat for him.

I refused so he pestered someone else into getting up for him.

The next 15 minutes was filled with his loudly ranting about how he was a murderer who spent 10 years in prison for killing bitches and that the only good whore is a dead whore. On and on and on.

This is my daily commute.

They spit on the bus drivers if they can’t get a free ride.

They assault you if you don’t give them spare change.

Let’s take the recent example of a man who gave spare change every day for months, without fail, to a panhandler. One day he left the house without change. The panhandler asked him for his usual handout. The man explained he didn’t have any change that day. The panhandler assaulted him and sent him to hospital.

Fun with bums. Yeah, they’re great.

*sends plethora of Yuppies along with them*

MJ said...

p.s. On a cheerier note, you guessed the Blogger over at mine!

Mike129 said...

I like bums, too. I like them best attached to attractive ladies.

As a "Bum Connoisseur," do you prefer them large and firm or small and tight? I guess you might like them big and flabby, too. Who am I to judge? I am not sure I am a connoisseur, but I'd be happy to act as a judge in a "Best Bum" contest (ladies division, of course).

Who know we had so much in common?


Leah said...

OMG, these comments are great.

Pup--don't worry, a '91 Volvo doesn't count as long as you don't park along two spots. And I too actually love the good artisanal cheese. I hypocritically benefit from the yuppie influence. I also love government cheese, but that's another story...

I guess I both love the bums and call the cops on them.

See, I'm a mass of contradictions!!

Devil--I really couldn't figure out how he was even pushing the thing without the load toppling. It wasn't even tied down! Maybe he was secretly a wizard!

Karen--that was a great article. You have no idea how insane the Bugaboos drive me. They're all over my nabe. Literally everywhere. They are so fucking expensive. I am very resentful.

those are also some incredibly disturbing bum stories. I think here in NYC don't realize just how dangerous the bums can be. Most are MICA (mentally ill chemically addicted) and really are paranoid. People think it's not pc to admit they're dangerous, but really they can be. VERY sad about the prof. That's my greatest fear...

Brian--the bums of NY can be quite extraordinary. I have so many many stories. I'm thinking of doing a series of posts featuring some of my very favorites.

MJ--yes, I agree, they're not so much fun when you're dealing with them and they're infringing on your space. That's the bad thing about bums. They really can be awful. In truth, I have mixed feelings. I've seen every manner of behavior that a bum can exhibit, from the horrifying (I won't mention it here) to the hilarious to the touching. When all is said and done, I'm tongue in cheek but only partly.

Leah said...

MJ--Just call me The Identifier!

Mike--alas, you've put me in mind of bums' bums. And I suspect that's not a pretty thing at all...

Ronda Laveen said...

I don't mind bums either. When I managed a bowling center close to the freeway, we would get many in during the heat of summer and cold of winter. I usually had to send them out of the building when patrons were there because they would complain. But I always told my staff in the kitchen to make sure the were fed if they were hungry.

Now, I am also a "bum connoisseur." Mainly because I am a massage therapist. But I don't ever peek. No, never;)

nick said...

Can't say I'm either a bum connoisseur or a Yuppie/ wealthy infiller. Bums are just achingly sad and I wish they could all get the proper help they need to cope with unemployment, drug-addiction, mental illness and all the other problems that have brought them down. I find some of them frightening too. Fortunately there aren't many bums in Belfast, mainly Eastern Europeans begging money next to ATMs.

The infillers with their expensive, pretentious tastes, their gated communities and their haughty superiority annoy me intensely. Fortunately not many of them here either, most of the locals are pretty down to earth types and hate pretension of any kind.

Books,Coffee,etc.... said...

Hi! Leah,
Today I find myself
"piggybacking on fellow TT members, comments. Because I quite agree with The Clever Pup and most definitely, with Brian Miller.

I think it's a very "sad"commentary about society, that people in this world...have to suffer or be in need...when those with the most should at least try to assist those with the least. If only we can get those who "have" to show a little "empathy" for the have "nots."

Thanks, Leah, for sharing!

DeeDee ;-D

Candie Bracci said...


kylie said...

hi leah
it seems that when i come here i often say "great post" and this time is no different.
if only i could be a bit more specific............

this time i think what i like is an unusual choice of topic and a completely personal take on it


Maria said...

Hey, Bing and I will be in New York city in late July. We plan to visit a friend of ours in Brooklyn while we are there. Any good restaurants in Brooklyn we can suggest to take she and her boyfriend out to dinner? She lives on Bergen street and says it is a pretty rough neighborhood, but they've just transplanted from Detroit (she got an editing job at McGraw Hill, I am green with jealousy) and this was all that they could afford. Her betrothed now has a job with the New York public library, so they are looking for new digs. But, I would really like to take them out to a nice, not too expensive place and I know if I ask them to choose, they will choose very, very cheap for us, mindful of our pocketbooks.

I have wanted to see Brooklyn ever since I read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.....

Baino said...

I don't share your 'liking' of bums (we prefer to call them homeless). The fact they exist is testament to the lack of appropriate social services but I do recognise the affection for local characters. The sad thing is that most are indeed in need of mental health care or drug assistance and don't get it. I see charitable organisations all athe time providing sandwiches, blankets and coffee late at nigh to people who should be with their families. I'm a bit partial to a guy who sleeps in a bus shelter in Elizabeth street in Sydney. You know he's going shout at you and wave madly until you give him a couple of dollars, only to spend his dosh on booze but I can't help giving him money when I'm there. He's almost a city institution. They do remind us though of how little we need to survive.

Leah said...

Ronda--so you have up close and personal experience of the freeway bums! It's kind that you fed them. I think in NYC they don't seem to have much trouble finding food; they certainly don't appear to be going hungry. My husband has a story about a guy near where we worked in Manhattan who would panhandle by saying "can you spare seven dollars for a burger deluxe platter?"

nick--NYC is a striking mix of extremes, seemingly all the more so now. The true lament is the death of the middle class. No one with a "normal" salary can afford to live here with anything like a good quality of life, unless they're somehow grandfathered in like I am...

Books, Coffee--these bums of which I speak are a very specific phenomenon. They are "in need" and although social services are available to them, they are often too crazy to avail themselves of these services. In times of budget cuts, I think the social workers have too much on their plates to advocate for and track down every crazy bum. Also, these bums' situation is usually the result of their mental illness. Very, very tricky to deal with.

Candie--I think it's kinda funny too, but I don't want to be too politically incorrect, I've probably already overstepped a line...

Kylie!--it's wacky, I know. But I've been thinking about it lately, and then the gigantic bum "suitcase" presented itself...

The Clever Pup said...

Great dialogue here today.

We have lots of "bums" here in Toronto since a ruling in about 1995 reduced welfare payments by about 60%. (Thanks Mike Harris).

I don't know if it's because we are polite Canadians or just politically correct but we don't call them bums; they are either "The Homeless" or "Street People." Personally, I'm just to empathetic and I would never call them "Bums". I'm always aware, as is Brian, that we are only one or two steps away from this becoming our reality.

Every corner in downtown Toronto has Street People or teenage runaways - in the dead of winter too.

Passing outside my local west-end grocery store every day is like running the gauntlet. I had a pleasant relationship with one such person who lived in our city's large wooded park who would sell drawings outside the grocers. He killed himself.

And Nick, by infilling I mean, yuppies moving into loft spaces or condos built on abandoned city land. That is so much more useful and environmentally conscious than the urban sprawl we see around Toronto. We only see "gated" communities in the suburbs.

Great post Leah. Got people thinking.

Leah said...

Maria--You're coming to Brooklyn! I hope you love it as much as I do. Whereabouts on Bergen Street (you don't have to tell me the exact address of course, just the general nabe)? Bergen Street is long, and it also begins right near me, in a neighborhood called Cobble Hill, which is actually very lovely. They must live further down though.

I have to say first of all that a trip to the Middle Eastern section on Atlantic Avenue between Court Street and Clinton is a must-do. It's not a restaurant, but I recommend going to Sahadi's and also the fantabulous Damascus Bakery right next door, for all sorts of snacks. If your friends haven't been to these two places yet, you can be the ones to introduce them and they'll always thank you!

There is also the casual but super-yummy Lebanese Fountain Cafe at 183 Atlantic Avenue, and another Lebanese restaurant called Tripoli. I recommend heartily the Fountain, but haven't been to Tripoli in years so am not sure about it.

I always have to put in a plug for the Middle Eastern fare in my nabe, just because it's so wonderful and special and I want it to always be here.

If you do happen to go to Sahadi's, right around the corner is a lovely locally-owned coffee and tea store (not a cafe) that's been there for decades. Called Two for the Pot, it's located at 200 Clinton St at the corner of Atlantic. It's open, well, somewhat sporadically, so good luck LOL! But worth a visit.

We have another very favorite restaurant, which might be a hike for you, but you could always cab it. It's in Brooklyn Heights, my neighborhood, and called "Noodle Pudding." Silly name, divine Italian food. It's a little fancier, but oh so very atmospheric. It's located at 38 Henry Street and the phone number is 718-625-3737.

Another absolutely lovely Italian restaurant is located in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn is Frankie's 457. I love this place, but I'm not sure of the vegetarian selection (Bing's a vegetarian, right?). But I bet you would love it--it's dark and lively and romantic and atmospheric and the food is AWESOME.

Okay. One more. Our personal haunt, we go there at least once a week, is Tazza, a charming cafe with a few tables outdoors as well. It is great for breakfast (the oatmeal is super) and lunch, the panninis are yummy and they have huge beautiful salads AND a liquor license. Plus you'll get the occasional celebrity, laying low at the bar. I won't say who just keep your eyes open...

Wait--just. one. more. Totally casual, delicious Polish food, huge selection, good egg creams, and plenty of vegetarian dishes. 80 Montague Street, right near the Promenade--I also highly recommend a stroll there, perhaps with some ice cream cones?

I hope that's not too confusing. I'm leaving out so many many possibilities, but these are some of my personal favorites...

email me if you have any other questions! I heart Brooklyn! I'm like the Brooklyn Ambassador to the rest of the country--or at least I wish I could be!!!


Leah said...

Maria--just forgot to say the name of the Polish restaurant--it's Teresa's.

Leah said...

Baino--Local characters is well-put and true...the guys we get around here, though, aren't strictly speaking "homeless"-- many if not most of them have access either to SROs (single room occupancies) or are on the rolls in group homes. I think the issue is that their severe mental illness prevents them from settling into any sort of stable living situation...

They definitely will spend the cash on booze, but hey, who am I to tell them to go get a nice salad instead, LOL...

merelyme said...

...what Kylie said! No kidding! I am looking forward to Thursdays for your posts more than Post Secret now! That's success!!!!

Used to walk downtown Pittsburgh with my sister and all the street people would hug! She knew their names and they was incredible. Some MICA's, lots of different degrees of "clean" took me a couple before I didn't turn rigid on 'em.

Wings said...

Guess that is more of a home than a suitcase.

Poetikat said...

As rants go, I thought this was just brilliant! You really need to see the movie "Happy Go-Lucky" (see my Friday Film Festival post of the same name). There is a classic scene with a homeless man that you will definitely "get".

I loved this!


Leah said...

Clever Pup--Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments! I do appreciate them. I actually thought more people would object to me calling them "bums"--but I can't stop, I think the "bum" moniker is part of the dubious charm...because, as I said in another comment, most of them aren't actually homeless anyway, it's much much more complicated...I do admit that I'm definitely as far from p.c. as anyone could ever be, I lost all my political correctness about two months into a gig as a counselor at a domestic abuse crisis center--I learned that there's much more grey than black and white--but maybe that's a story for another post--

anyway, the idea of "infilling" is interesting and sounds positive--here in NYC, it's more what I would call "infiltrating." Yuppies move into nabes that were formerly not-so-great, they sort of half-gentrify these neighborhoods and price the long-time residents out, but now the tide is definitely turning and some of the gentrification is reverting.

merelyme--what a compliment! I'm kvelling on behalf of myself. I like your story. I would have a hard time with a hug, but maybe could learn to accept it...

Wings--actually, you're right. And come to think of it, I believe I saw a bed and a kitchen sink tucked in there somewhere.

Kat--thank you! And I will definitely see the film and keep my eye out for that scene.

Jaime said...

great post. i've noticed ny starting to revert back to its former glory... the guys are back outside yankee stadium washing windshields and making them more filthy than before the "washing"

Leah said...

Jaime--holy crap, are you serious? the squeegee men are back? That totally clinches it.

Marianna said...

Boy that seems like a huge...'suitcase'!! Nice post, got me thinking :)

Peace and love

Auntie, aka Dog Girl said...

What an original twist to Luggage.
And yes, I agree with you on how the city is starting to look a little like it did back in the 80s.
One man comes to our street every week collecting bottles & cans. He pushes a shopping cart.
I always greet him because most people act like they don't see him.

California Girl said...

I agree with Pup. This is terrific and engaging writing. Good stuff! Funny that you mention $1000 strollers. I watched a rerun of "The Office", a show I don't even like but there was nothing on, and one of the characters tried to destroy an indestructible $1000 stroller owned by the smug mother of a new baby. He was pissed after chipping into an office pool to buy her what was only a $300 or so stroller. Weird. I've never been to Brooklyn in all my trips to NYC. Now I feel as though I've missed something.

Suzanne said...

Hi honey. I think I'm late! You still up?!!!

Damn woman, you have some amazing friends. Yes, of course I read every comment. Wow. Brian and Clever Pup, and Baino, etc. Dear Lord. I'm going to have to visit them you know. How am I going to find time for that? *Rolls eyes in head.*

Baby, don't even get me started on this stuff. You know what I deal with every day. I love the homeless who grace my life. You already know that. They make me laugh, cry, think. They make sure I'm okay back in the woods feeding ferals. I meet homeless who know my name and give me the thumbs up or a kind word as they pass. I've never met them, but they know me. It's like Cheers! I haven't an unkind word to say about any of the Leah. Not one. You know me. It just breaks my heart.

And about plastic bags. How much of your life could you pack in a plastic bag? I see it a lot and often wonder what I'd take or keep if I ended up homeless. It's so easy to be judgemental, but so hard to be thoughtful.

This is an amazing post darling. I expect no less from you. Thanks for reminding me why I do what I do and thanks too for reminding me why I feel so grateful for all the homeless who have graced my life.

I love you dear,

PI said...

I suppose your bums are our homeless who sit on the pavement - usually with a dog, and rely on passersby for largesse. I think many of them have a tragic back story and many have a mental illness and in these days of recession and repossession I think their numbers will increase.

lettuce said...

bum connoisseur made me smile.
this is a great post

Anonymous said...

I had to re-read that! You like the bums! I thought you meant actual bottoms.....but maybe you really do mean that!

Also just a note to say thanks for commenting on my sister's blog...means a lot....thanks...

Peter x

Emerson Marks said...

Did you send him on his way or p'haps make him a cup of tea?

Mrsupole said...

Being in California and most of us rarely walking anywhere, except the homeless and the teenagers, we usually have little contact with them.

Except they wait on the Freeway exits asking for money, they stand at the end of the Drive-thru's at Fast Food places and ask for money. They wait outside of stores and accost the women to ask for money. I used to give out whatever change I had in my car or on me, but then the local news did undercover work to show how lots of them make over 70 to 90 thousand dollars a year, tax free. Some have their kids beg for money, hoping the sympathy aspect will have us give them money.

I have stopped giving money to all of them. I know family and friends who have given them food and watched them just throw it on the ground or in the trash. The local news said it is better to give your money to the actual shelters or charities. Some of the homeless are okay, but many of them are very rude and attack people who do not give them money.

I think there are going to be more homeless people if something does not change with our economy pretty soon. And I have to say, "There go I but by the grace of God." Most of us are just a paycheck away from being homeless.

I saw a story in the news about how investors are buying up houses that are being foreclosed upon and trying to change the people being forclosed upon into "Renters". This way the house stays occupied and the people are usually able to rent at a lower payment and then they do not become homeless. This story was very uplifting and I 'know' that the people no longer "own" their home, but just to see that someone thought this up was fantastic. The investors now have rental property and the families are not uprooted. I sure hope that this becomes a trend throughout the whole country.

Anyway back to "bums", I wish that they could get help, but realize that some have issues and do not want help. So I cannot say I love them, but I can say that I have sympathy for them, except the ones who have turned it into an art to earn a living.

But that guy across your street is amazing to be able to carry all those bags anywhere. Or should I say 'house'. He truly lives in a "Travel Home".

Your always write such thought provoking posts.

Thank you and God bless.

muralimanohar said...

I am not bothered by bums. They are just living their life. No probs. Only part I mind is the pissing in random corners, so you have to leave your seat and go find a more salubrious, less fragrant spot.