This is Mario
Sitting on a bench in Verdi Park on a hot August Day, Mario sat down next to me. Noticing my camera, he asked what kind of photography I do? I explained about my blog "Getting Old and Getting Out in New York City. I asked if he was retired and he said, "Not yet." He told me he has been in Manhattan for 39 years. Originally from Cali, Columbia, he came to the United States during the Reagan years. He has lived in London, Paris, and Amsterdam.
When Mario graduated from high school in Columbia, he wanted to learn English. He took a job as a messenger and lived with his mother so he would not have to pay for food or rent. He saved $3000 and applied to a school in London to learn English. He found the cheapest room he could and got a job as a dishwasher. He described the difference between being a dishwasher as opposed to a pot washer. A pot washer could fill the pot with water, sit around while it soaked, and an hour later scrub the pot. But washing dishes was non-stop for eight hours. Then, with great expression, Mario said"...and here's the best part - the pot washer quit and I was promoted to pot washer."
After three years in London, one of his co-workers invited Mario to come to Paris with her where she was opening a restaurant. Again, with a big smile,
he said, "...here's the best part. I got to work at the bar. It was a very long bar and I cleaned it several times each day."
Mario worked in that restaurant for a few years when he was again invited by a co-worker to move on, this time to a restaurant in Amsterdam. There, he was a waiter at an eatery in the Red-Light District. After two years, he decided that he was tired of Europe, and his wanderlust kicked in. He moved to New York City.
Now age 60, finding work has never been a problem for Mario. He speaks Spanish English and French well. When working in the back of kitchens, he gets along and does his work. He has had many jobs, all as a waiter or busboy in diners. He is "in between jobs right now." He hasn't worked in almost a year He has been homeless for the past six months. He sleeps in the subways when it was cold and in a "cooling bus" during dangerously hot days.
Mario slid his hand into his shirt and pulled out a pint bottle of vodka. He held it up and said "I am an alcoholic" but "I never get drunk." His employers knew he was an alcoholic. They could smell the liquor on his breath. He found and lost many jobs because of it. He does not plan on stopping and said that when he finds a job, he will only drink at night, not while he's working. I commented that I did not think that was a plan that would work. He repeated: "But I never get drunk."
Mario's mother and sister live in Greece. They are the only family he has. He has never been married and he has no children. His plan is to get himself cleaned up with new clothes and find a job. He wants to save about $5,000 and then join his mother and sister in Greece.
Until Mario is able to save the $5,000 for Greece, he will continue to use the concrete pillows of New York City sidewalks.