“Bleak, dark, and piercing cold, it was a night for the well-housed and fed to draw round the bright fire, and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die. Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our bare streets at such times, who, let their crimes have been what they may, can hardly open them in a more bitter world.”
― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

Here we are. We’ve finally gotten to the topic that has fallen by the wayside and that is poverty and homelessness in the City. And even I am guilty of this. It is such a shameful and embarrassing topic for those who don’t even get the luxury to be ashamed and embarrassed from actually being homeless or smack-dab in the middle of poverty. Walking down the street we can’t even spare a glance at the homeless let alone a dime or a nickle.

Just last week, I was headed to work and doing my normal Before-work Ritual.

1. Get off the 4 or 5 at Wall St.
2. Stroll down Wall St. and dodge tourists.
3. Walk in front of a couple of people in the midst of taking photos, ruining the shot.
4. Go to Duane Reade on Water St.
5. Sit outside a bit and mentally prepare for sitting behind a desk for 8 or so hours.

I had just finished up step 4 when a man covered in dirt and grim and smelled of his own mess kindly asked if I had any change. He was hungry. I looked down and took two steps when the thought hit me. Ye gods and holy shit, the City was seeping into me and transforming me into something cruel and blind. Was I finally becoming a full-blooded New Yorker? I turned around and said, “Hey, buddy, I honestly don’t have any change, but have a yogurt and a lemonade.” It was true. I never carry around cash. Why would I? It’s 2015 and I have a bank card that will go as far as my account will let me. And the lemonade was on sale 2 for 1. I didn’t even want it. The man thought for a minute and you could see the wheels turning. He then asked, “Is this your lunch? I don’t want to eat your lunch.”

“Look at me, I could use skipping one or two.”

And he took it and thanked me and said he couldn’t remember the last time he had yogurt let alone lemonade.

And I knew that feeling. Five years earlier, I might have gotten pretty damn close to being that man. So down and out on my luck, I found myself stealing hot dogs from a gas station in Toledo, Ohio. Good lord, how did I get there? How did I end up an outlaw, taking $1 hot dogs and smuggling them out of the Circle K?

I had fallen into the wrong crowd. Mainly the girl I was dating at the time. She was a girl 5 years my senior and a blood relative of Rudolf Hess, with a vile mood set you’d expect from someone who was related to a grade-A scumbag. She had a drug habit that ate through my bank account quicker than actually setting it on fire would have. It was easier to give her the money than it was to deal with the violent temper that lived inside her if she wasn’t getting her hourly dose of grass or her prescriptions. And, boy, did it get bad at times when she ran out of one or the other; times where I had to wrestle knives out of her hands or times where she would roll up in a ball and howl in pain.

In hindsight, she wasn’t all that pleasant on drugs neither. I remember us sitting on the back patio and a ray of sunshine landed on her head revealing a single grey hair. So, I coyly said, “I see a grey hair” and smiled. She looked me in the face and spat, “Yeah, and you have long nose hairs, are balding and getting a bit pudgy.” And then she just sat there stewing.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I ended up with my Buick Century stuffed full with all my belongings that would fit in there. The rest of my things probably ended up in the trash.

She was bad but she was just another girlfriend in a line of terrible relationships. With the next one I thought I was moving up. I was dating a lawyer next. And things were OK until we were watching a movie at her apartment one night and there was a terrible knocking on the door. The knocking was rattling the door and the drinks on the table. It was Odie, her ex (or who I had assumed was her ex), an Egyptian with the body of a six-foot five gorilla. He was angry and she told me to hide in the bathroom. I did, but on my way I grabbed something from the kitchen to protect myself. It wasn’t until I was in the bathroom that I regretted grabbing one of those giant wooden spoons. And that’s how I thought I was going to die. Beaten to death with a decorative spoon with my own ripped off hand still dangling from it.

A week later I found out that he wasn’t aware he was the ex and that was the end of that. No more lawyers for me. No sir. It was high time  I got my shit together and drop some vices and find someone worthwhile and kind and actually single. And I did just that.

I digress. Being poor and homeless, right. Christ, having nothing is pretty much the worst. I still had some and it was still pretty bad. I had a roof over my head and enough change from time to time to get some bologna and bread. I still have nightmares at times of being jobless.

I guess that is why I find it so sickening that in the City, poverty here goes anywhere from 7.3% to 34.1% depending on what borough you are in. That’s well over a million people in the City stuck down on the bottom. And just two years ago, it was nearly 25% for children under the age of 18. How did this happen? How did this happen especially in one of the richest towns in America that we could let 1 out of 4 children to live in poverty?

Welcome to the Real New York Off Broadway. Enjoy your stay!

Best,
Dr. Kurt Doonesbury