Papa John

When I used to live in Long Island City, there was a homeless man who lived in his car directly outside my apartment. He was 73 years old at the time and lived in the neighborhood all his life. He went by the name “Papa John.” John spent his days and evenings drinking to pass the time. If you walked by him on the street he would most likely wave, smile and say hello. He was a really kind person and aside from talking too much and telling you the same stories over and over again, he was harmless. The neighborhood takes care of him and he remains a friendly face at the end of the street.

John owned a van that he lived in with his friend Teddy (who happens to be mentally retarded), and Teddy’s dog Sylvie. They were living in the van not really causing a problem until one of the tenants in my building decided to make an anonymous call to General Bloomberg and the cops came and confiscated his van late one evening. Everything he owned was in that van and as much as the van was an eyesore, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him and his companions. Luckily John also had a car that barely starts (you can see in the picture below) so that has become his makeshift residence until he can hopefully get into a shelter of some sort. The reason he can’t get into a shelter is because they won’t allow the dog into the shelter. If Teddy didn’t have Sylvie, his heart would be broken and John just wouldn’t let that happen.

I thought I would share some photos I took of John when we were having an early morning coffee for his birthday.

About a week after I took the initial photos of John and family, I saw John after work. We chatted for a bit, and although he was drunk, he was in a good mood. He was hanging out with Teddy and his buddy Jose (whowould come and hang out from time to time). I was on my way out, needing to just get in my car and drive for a while to clear my head after a rough week at work. My trip lasted about two-and-a-half hours and when I returned, I came home to see that John’s car was set on fire. Obviously, John’s recollection was a little cloudy, but John maintained that someone lit his car up. After looking at the car the following morning, it definitely looked as though the fire started from the back as the rear fender was completely melted down and the engine was untouched. It may very well have been an accident where someone flicked a cigarette out of a car window as they passed by, but who knows…

The entire experience was just heartbreaking. The nice thing was that people would pass by every day offering to help, giving a few bucks here and there (that hopefully doesn’t go to booze, but who can blame anyone for drinking under those circumstances) and buying food. I went out there the following morning with a broom and started to try and sweep away the mess, but I took these pictures before I did.

The neighborhood pulled through for John and his family once again and one of the locals who owned a body shop gave John another van to live in. This was nicer, with a running engine. He also gave John a place to park the van outside of his shop and even ran an extension cord from the shop outside so they could have a little TV. I have memories of a lot of really bad people in NYC, but stories like John’s makes me rethink my feelings on the people of NYC… at least the people in my old neighborhood.

Life really is a collection of moments and experiences. Coming across these pictures brought all of these memories back to me as clear as if I was living them right now. I have no idea what happened to John, Teddy and Sylvie. When I was home for the holidays, I drove by the old neighborhood and I couldn’t find them anywhere. I hope they were able to find shelter and make as comfortable a life for themselves as possible.

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