Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Homeless Reappearing (& Vanishing)

There's been all this panicked talk recently about an increased visibility of homeless people. The neoliberal media is worried about a return to the city's "bad old days." Mayor de Blasio just sent a swarm of NYPD to guard Tompkins Square Park from the people who sleep in it. Again, there has been no recent spike in the homeless population--the massive increase happened under Bloomberg's stingy policies. They're just not getting hassled, dragged away, and imprisoned like they were under our previous two mayors. The homeless have always been with us.

Which brings me to a 1960 essay by Jack Kerouac, "The Vanishing American Hobo." Wrote Kerouac, "The American Hobo has a hard time hoboing nowadays due to the increase in police surveillance." Prosperous towns "don’t want old bums any more."

Bums, hobos, homeless--they don't vanish because the city takes care of them, giving them psychiatric care and affordable housing. They "vanish" because they are put in jail or swept to the margins. Bloomberg even hatched a scheme to load them onto old cruise ships and push them out to sea.

Anyway, here's a selection from Kerouac's essay in which he focuses on the old Bowery.

from Lionel Rogosin's The Bowery

The Bowery is the haven for hobos who came to the big city to make the big time by getting pushcarts and collecting cardboard. -- Lots of Bowery bums are Scandinavian, lots of them bleed easily because they drink too much. -- When winter comes bums drink a drink called smoke, it consists of wood alcohol and a drop of iodine and a scab of lemon, this they gulp down and wham! they hibernate all winter so as not to catch cold, because they dont live anywhere, and it gets very cold outside in the city in winter. -- Sometimes hobos sleep arm-in-arm to keep warm, right on the sidewalk. Bowery Mission veterans say that the beer-drinking bums are the most belligerent of the lot.

Fred Bunz is the great Howard Johnson's of the bums -- it is located on 277 Bowery in New York. They write the menu in soap on the windows. -- You see the bums reluctantly paying fifteen cents for pig brains, twenty-five cents for goulash, and shuffling out in thin cotton shirts in the cold November night to go and make the lunar Bowery with a smash of broken bottle in an alley where they stand against a wall like naughty boys. -- Some of them wear adventurous rainy hats picked up by the track in Hugo Colorado or blasted shoes kicked off by Indians in the dumps of Juarez, or coats from the lugubrious salon of the seal and fish. --Bum hotels are white and tiled and seem as though they were upright johns. -- Used to be bums told tourists that they once were successful doctors, now they tell tourists they were once guides for movie stars or directors in Africa and that when TV came into being they lost their safari rights.


Fred Bunz, where Whole Foods is today

American hobo Lou Jenkins from Allentown Pennsylvania was interviewed at Fred Bunz's on the Bowery. -- "What you wanta know all this info for, what you want?"

"I understand that you've been a hobo travelin' around the country."

"How about givin' a fella a few bits for some wine before we talk."

"Al, go get the wine."

"Where's this gonna be in, the Daily News?"

"No, in a book."

"What are you young kids doing here, I mean where's the drink?"

"Al's gone to the liquor store -- You wanted Thunderbird, wasn't it?"


Lou Jenkins then grew worse----"How about a few bits for a flop tonight?"

"Okay, we just wanta ask you a few questions like why did you leave Allentown?"

"My wife. -- My wife, -- Never get married. You'll never live it down. You mean to say it's gonna be in a book hey what I'm sayin'?"

"Come on say something about bums or something."

"Well, whattya wanta know about bums? Lot of 'em around, kinda tough these days, no money -- lissen, how about a good meal?"

"See you in the Sagamore." (Respectable bums' cafeteria at Third and Cooper Union.)

"Okay kid, thanks a lot." -- He opens the Thunderbird bottle with one expert flip of the plastic seal. -- Glub, as the moon rises resplendent as a rose he swallows with big ugly lips thirsty to gulp the throat down, Sclup! and down goes the drink and his eyes be-pop themselves and he licks tongue on top lip and says "H-a-h!" And he shouts "Don't forget my name is spelled Jenkins, J-e-n-k-y-n-s. --"

Another character -- "You say that your name is Ephram Freece of Pawling New York?"

"Well, no, my name is James Russell Hubbard."

"You look pretty respectable for a bum."

"My grandfather was a Kentucky colonel."



"Whatever made you come here to Third Avenue?"

"I really cant do it, I don't care, I cant be bothered, I feel nothing, I dont care anymore. I'm sorry but --somebody stole my razor blade last night, if you can lay some money on me I'll buy myself a Schick razor."

"Where will you plug it in? Do you have such facilities?"

"A Schick injector."


"And I always carry this book with me -- The Rules of St. Benedict. A dreary book, but well I got another book in my pack. A dreary book too I guess."

"Why do you read it then?"

"Because I found it -- I found it in Bristol last year."

"What are you interested in? You like interested in something?"

"Well, this other book I got there is er, yee, er, a big strange book -- you shouldn't be interviewing me. Talk to that old nigra fella over there with the harmonica -- I'm no good for nothing, all I want is to be left alone."

"I see you smoke a pipe."

"Yeah -- Granger tobacco. Want some?"

"Will you show me the book?"

"No, I aint got it with me, I only got this with me." -- He points to his pipe and tobacco.

"Can you say something?"

"Lightin flash."


Anonymous said...

The old town hobo is usually a cool dude. Used to hang with them in my old 'burb town for drinks and laughs.
Used to hand out cigs to street kids in Tompkins for the same.
They're just people, you dont have to be afraid of them. They really dont harm anyone, just wanna get loaded.
We all get loaded in our own way---to each their own.

laura r said...

many of these people now are addicts & mentaly ill. no joke. they need help, they are not your entertainment. last place i would want to live is thompkins sq park. so now its filty mess you all got your wish. enjoy it & pay $5000 for an apt w/a view.

Anonymous said...

Soylent Green is Squeegie Guys.

Anonymous said...

Today they erected the NYPD Auschwitz guard tower that looms over the area of Tompkins where the Krishna tree resides. It's un-fucking-nerving. Osama Halliburton

Anonymous said...

Another disturbing event that now is occurring in Tompkins is the church lady forcing the hungry to sing hymns for two hours before giving them their "free" meal. So on one side you sit with the NYPD Auschwitz tower with it's multiple surveillance cameras watching you, and about thirty yards away you have hungry NYer's being forced to sing Christian spirituals in order to receive a meal. This city is scarier to me now than it ever was in the 70's or 80's. These mono-cultists will soon being brewing up the kool-aid... Osama Halliburton

Anonymous said...

You could organize a group and feed them without singing. But that would require effort. Easier for you and your ilk to bitch here about how 'suburban' the city is. Its not difficult to make sandwiches and give them out along with baby wipes and socks. Put it in a lunch bag and hand em out. Not complicated. And all the missions have these services. Bowery has service before lunch and dinner. Thats just how it is.

laura rubin said...

anon 1:51am, dont flatter yourself. the NYCP is not watching you. they are watching the addicts & the metally ill. they are protecting the residents. now its auschwitz? dont insult holocaust surviors. dont like thompkins sq? move out. as for the church lady, she is giving food. are you? no one is being forced to sing. boy you can spin & spin& spin. go work w/MSNBC or NPR.

Justin Samuels said...

All cities always at various points have homeless problems. With that said every time they think the problem is out of control the NYPD will respond accordingly.

Now if these people are New Yorkers they should be helped by social services and mental health services. If they are hobos and drifters from other states they need to be put back on the bus to wherever they are from. If they insist on coming back here to be homeless give them a home in NY, in an upstate PRISON!

I do not hate poor or homeless people, but it's not right for drifters to come to a place and complete with those who are from here and truly homeless (compete with them for donations, food,and other resources.)

These gutter punks or crusties are all WHITE. Much whiter than the population that actually lives in NYC. Now I'm not racist but it is just ridiculous to go to a city with no intention of getting a job, going to school, etc. Instead in order to be an anarchist/punk you come to a place to be HOMELESS!

Anonymous said...

Osama, I couldn't agree more with you. Having lost many relatives in concentration camps I have watched in horror as totalitarian elements are overtaking this city. It's always wrapped in "protecting" the few who are more than willing to forfeit their civil liberties. Until of course i's decided they aren't welcome either. Scary times. I've live here for 60 years an I agree this is the most disturbing time in this city I've ever witnessed.

Anonymous said...

The insult to holocaust survivors is watching a group be targeted and criminalized for being poor and needy. Let's not forget that before he Nazis took away the Jews they first targeted the "mentally weak", Then came the queers, then the degenerate artists, then the... as a Jew I fin it interesting to empathize with the moral Germans that watched as their fellow citizens, colleagues and frieds were being targeted and removed. I think it is Tutu who said, "If you remain silent in situations of intolerance, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.". -Osama

Anonymous said...

Wait til those celebrity chef wannabes get hold of this: artisanal pig brains with a curated selection of wood alcohols. (Actually you should never drink wood alcohol, aka methanol, it is for fuel use only. I used to burn wood alcohol in my chemistry-set alcohol burner when I was a kid. Ingesting it is known to cause blindness and death.)

Anonymous said...

Don't know where you are getting your demographics, but you're mistaken sir. While I can agree that most poverty in america is lived by whites, homelessness is another story. The numbers are there, easily accessible by your gov't. Contact your congresspeople, they can give them to you.

Anonymous said...

Justin- these people travel around. They are all ovet LA, Seattle ( which they call Freeattle) and Portland. They have no interest in jobs, housing etc. They are here to drink, get high, get free stuff etc. Expect to see more as word gets out about the city decriminalizing public pissing, drinking, etc. These people have overrun Venice Beach for example and turned it into a giant campground. I expect the same for TSP in the near future. Of course since everyone here hates the NYPD and loves ' the homeless' no one will care right? Its not racist to point out that these people are white and the shelters and missions are filled with people who are not. Its reality. These travellers are here to get free stuff and take advantage of the lack of NYPD 'harassment'. They arent victims of the bad economy or anything else. They chose to live like this. They need to be dealt with by the NYPD.

Anonymous said...

Laura R., Why yes, I've spent 25 years feeding, clothing and helping the homeless find housing. Five days a week to be exact. I've worked for non-profits, the City of NY and private philanthropies. When people are hungry they do feel obligated to sing hymns when those feeding them ask them to. They say grace when they are prompted to. They are hungry. Of my many complaints with the church lady is that she prolongs this to over two hours in length. I know as I've sat and watched the sordid spectacle unfold week after week. That is cruel to me. As you've stated, unless you're withdrawing your earlier observation, many of these people are mentally ill. Their symptoms often include debilitating paranoia, audio and visual hallucinations,feelings of persecution, etc. How does forcing a person to spend two hours singing carols before being fed coincide with helping them in this state? Please explain. -Osama

Anonymous said...

It is not ridiculous for them.

Anonymous said...

It would be illegal for any organization contracted by the City to provide services to require any kind of religious participation as a prerequisite to receiving the services.

The City contracts with many nonprofit organizations to provide services. It's our tax money. We the people should not be paying for the "establishment" of any religion, as the US Constitution says.

Anonymous said...

Yes and the city 'services' are horrible. They dont have a religious component. These are people spending their own time and money to help others. I know thats a shocking concept. Religious people and churches that feed the homeless have services and prayers. If you dont like it dont eat there. Period. No one is forcing you to eat free food that has been prepped and delivered to you. Go somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:45 am. What is cruel is bashing someone who feeds the homeless and spends their own money to do so. What do you do? Sit there and watch and then complain here? There are hundreds of places to eat in this town. There is no shortage of free food. You 'worked' for the city providing 'services'? Thats something to be proud of. Poverty pimps who make a healthy living perpetuating homelessness and acting self righteous should just STFU. Unionized DHS workers have no desire to end homelessness. Quite the opposite. The city spends over a billion a year on homeless services. Lotta money for 'non profits' to enjoy. You people are the worst.

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah, today the NYPD retreated after much public outrage at their tactics. They came in at 6am this morning and removed the surveillance tower. During the concert in the park Saturday they also had deployed a drone to monitor the crowd. I have a feeling that didn't garner them any warm feelings.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:42 am. Religious organizations are almost completely funded by tax payer money. I don't think they're all bad, but don't be fooled believing for a minute that they are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. That is a fallacy. While they do rely on donations, they make up a very small percentage of their overall budgets. Fortunately as data is now required to be presented electronically the "slush fund" mentality that used to exist among religious agencies is drying up. I know zero about the people in Tompkins Square Park, maybe they all work hard at a job six or seven days a week, and donate money from their personal bank accounts to feed the poor. I hope you're correct. But I would be willing to wager that any church backed program that is out there is funded by the tax payers. Big business, big government, big religion... you chose.

Anonymous said...

You know zero about the people. Yup. The ones I know pay themselves. Can you provide a reference for your claim regarding religious organizations being completely funded by tax dollars? Thanks.The people Im referring to buy and cook food and give it out. They are religious but not members of any church.

SadEnding said...

As a resident of the East Village for over 60 years I've come to the conclusion that it would benefit all if Tompkins Square Park were paved over and built upon. As long as bleeding hearts and hipsters refer to police towers as "Auschwitz" and the "homeless," who really need help, not just a place to shit, the park will be a living hell, which it is quickly becoming once again.

Problem is too few of you hipster fools do not remember just how disgusting the park can get if surrendered completely to the homeless. You just don't know.