This Is David
I was walking home from Fairway Supermarket. As I crossed 72nd street, I saw David standing on the corner with a cup in his hand. I offered to put a dollar in but he refused. He said he didn't want money because people think he uses it for drugs. "I am hungry, could you buy me lunch?" "There is a Chinese take-out restaurant down the street-just some chicken and rice is all I need." Although I offered to get him something from one of the food trucks, he said no, he just wanted chicken and rice from the Chinese restaurant. As we walked to the restaurant, David showed me his sneakers. He is very proud of them. They are old but he had just washed them, showing them off to me. He also wanted to show me his welfare card. It seemed to give him a sense of belonging in a city that can be cold and overwhelming.
David is 59 years old. He was born in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx. When he was 16, his mother who raised him and his two younger sisters as a single parent moved the family to South Carolina to be with her extended family. She could no longer afford to live in New York City.
While in South Carolina, David dropped out of school and began working at entry-level jobs, doing any work he could find. He said he was a good worker and would take any job he could find. However, after living in South Carolina for five years, he felt that he would be happier returning to New York City where he still had friends and thought the job market would be better. He was correct about the job market. Although all of his work was entry-level labor, sometimes in construction and sometimes as a delivery man for a messenger service, he seemed unable to hold a job for more than a few months at a time.
Last year, David got into what he described as a scuffle, that resulted in jail time for three months. He repeatedly called it a scuffle although it was serious enough that he spent three months at Rikers Island. He said it was not the worse thing that ever happened to him, but his mother died while he was in jail. That was really hard for him.
David never married and has no children. He has no contact with his siblings. As we were walking to the Chinese restaurant, he pointed across the street to a woman who is his girlfriend. She lost her apartment last year and he lost his place six months ago. They have been very supportive of each other. He had been able to rent a room by working odd jobs. At the start of the pandemic, he lost his last job as a messenger at the Time-Life Building which had been his longest employment - nine months. He was evicted because he could no longer pay the rent, despite there being a non-eviction clause in New York. He has been homeless for six months now.
I asked David if he has plans for the future. He said he is a worker and he thought he could find work and find another room to rent, perhaps in the Bronx. When we finally arrived at the Chinese take-out restaurant, he ordered his chicken and rice. As we parted, he expressed enormous gratitude. And, when he commented on my face mask (a KN95,) I asked if he needed another mask. I always have a spare clean one in my back pocket which I gladly gave to him.
David is surviving the pandemic on the streets of New York with grace and optimism. He is looking forward to a time when he will no longer need a concrete pillow, perhaps in the Bronx.
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