Thursday, May 30, 2013

With the wind at his back and the concrete sidewalk beneath his feet

Randy sits in easy pose at the top of the Caroline Street hill. A warm, beef-laced wind blows out the duct of a restaurant and calms the chill in the late afternoon air.

"Didn't I have good idea," he says,  snuggling close to the silver duct. Randy is pleased with his position: the wind is at his back, the concrete ground beneath his feet

"This city is the second richest city in New York State.  The richest is...Westchester," he muses. "You want to see how much money is here?  Wait till you see the end of July, when we got the track here," he says, watching the dusk chase the sunlight across Broadway, and towards the city's west side. The light bulbs atop the Victorian style street lamps blink and sparkle, awakening for duty on a long spring night.

"I've been homeless for four months now. There are a lot of homeless people in Saratoga." Humanity strolls past his corner.  He watches them, with their smiling faces and distant gazes, their grimaces, their laughter, and their sunken tired eyes.  "Everybody is on a mission. You know what I mean? They're all going from one place to another place, instead of sitting down to say hi."

Two youngish men pass by and pause, mid-stroll. Mr. Blue Shirt mines the pockets of his pants and emerges with a fistful of coin. Mr. White Shirt offers a cigarette that he pulls from a box pack. "Hey - hope you guys have a nice day," Randy says, pocketing the change with one hand and pulling out a disposable lighter from inside the folds of a poncho that someone gave him with the other.

"Right now - it's been hard, but I have friends. People stop. They ask me if I have something to eat.  Out on the street you get to know people.  There are so many beautiful people here that it's unbelievable."

He runs his thumb across the igniter wheel of the lighter. It sparks, but does not light.

"I've been homeless for six weeks," he says, contradicting the amount of time he earlier said that he's been living on the streets. He continues his battle with the cranky lighter. It sparks and sparks, but will not light.

"Homeless? I don't understand it. I'm having such a hard time. What happened to me?" He finally sends the lighter careening down Caroline Street. The plastic skips across the pavement and echoes down the hill, a symphony of disgust.

He says there was a family dispute over a monthly check that he was supposed to be getting that caused him to be homeless. He talks about the bread delivery truck he drove for 24 years and how he retired at the age of 43. "I'm 55 now. I took care of my kids, sir, that's the one thing I did." He thinks about his three-year-old grandson, and how he spent his own formative years growing up on Long Island., on the Suffolk County side.

"I was 16 when I came up here. At the age of 17 I went to Vietnam. I came out of Vietnam at the age of 19 and then I played baseball for Glens Falls White Sox  - the farm team - at East Field. I was a shortstop. I never made it because the women and everything else got to me."

He says he won't go to a shelter because it cost him ten dollars to get in and scoffs when he is asked if he has looked into any military veteran programs that might help him get off the streets.  "Can I honestly say I'm a veteran when I'd only been there two and a half years?"  He is a man of contradictions. And the numbers don't always add up.

"There's some stuff around here that is not right.  The thing is, I don't know where to go, what to do."  Next week he hopes to be able to move himself off the street. "I get fifteen-hundred a month, because I'm a teamster." A labor union he said he belonged to dating to back to nearly a quarter century of driving his delivery truck.

"I'm looking to get an apartment. That's what I want. Even if I don't have a piece of furniture. At least I got an apartment." He buried his hands inside the folds of his poncho, and with the warm wind at his back, he watched the lights firing up Broadway and the sun disappearing over the city's west side.

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