Prior to my departure from New York, my boss there granted me permission to freely write about the work I did in Manhattan. Though there are many psychiatrists in New York, very few work literally in the streets of the city. Future (original) posts will describe in greater detail my experiences as a “homeless psychiatrist”. As an introduction, here is a post that I originally wrote the following in December 2009.
The moon still floats in the sky at 5:30am and the wind coming off of the river feels like a cold pickle against the skin.
A parade of vehicles make their way south on Broadway, their tail lights glowing red in the dark ink of the yet unwritten day. Large trucks, the kind with eight or ten large wheels, roaring engines, and rattling cargo, rumble slowly along, their unoiled brakes screeching with each push of the drivers’ brakes. Taxis wander along the road, veering to the right, then to the left, then back to the right, of these large trucks, like flies looking for a place to rest their wings. Impatience overtakes the taxi drivers and intermittent honking ensues.
Underground, the subways are filled with people. Most of them are not Caucasian. Most of them are men. Many of them wear construction belts and boots. When the subway reaches the last stop, most of the people file off. A dozen or so, however, remain in each car. These individuals are wearing multiple layers of clothing, are surrounded by pieces of luggage and plastic bags stuffed with what look like more plastic bags, and are fast asleep in postures that look uncomfortable. These are the homeless who have found shelter, warmth, and relative peace for the night.
Back above ground, the sidewalks are almost empty. A young woman wearing tech clothing on her body and ear buds in her ears jogs past, her exhalations light, wispy, and grey. An older man in a dark suit, a yarmulke on his head, and a beard on his face ambles past, following the lead of his golden retriever. The space in front of the New York Stock Exchange, usually filled with tourists, chain-smoking day traders in bright coats, seemingly important men in three-piece suits, and police officers touting assault weapons, is completely empty.
The tiny trailers filled with pastries, bagels, and coffee are already set up and on site. The men inside, however, are napping, their chins tucked into their chests, their crossed arms resting on their abdomens that gently rise and fall with each breath.
A woman approaches one tiny trailer and giggles when she realizes that the merchant inside is sleeping. The man suddenly awakens upon hearing her and bolts upright.
“I’m sorry,” he sheepishly says. “What would you like?”
A few delivery men hoist boxes onto their hand carts. They swiftly push the cart into motion and easily steer the cargo along the sidewalks. Some of them whistle. Some of them frown.
A man sits on a rolling luggage cart, which is purposely positioned above a heated grate. His tattered clothes gently flap from the heat emitting from the vent. His nails are thick and yellow from growing yeast and grime is packed in the ridges of his fingers. To his left is a shopping cart, packed with plastic bags filled with newspapers, aluminum cans, and styrofoam containers. To his right is a lidless jar of peanut butter. A white plastic spoon or fork sits inside.
He faces the street and large trucks rumble past, their bright white headlights slicing through the darkness. Farther out, the lights along the river glow peach-orange, their reflections wobbling and choppy in the water.
The man’s lips move, though no sound comes forth. He shrugs his shoulders and then reaches over to the jar of peanut butter. He deftly pulls out the spoon, opens his mouth, and puts a glob of peanut butter in. He is missing many teeth.
The moon will set, the sun will rise, and the city will wake up. And the man eating the peanut butter will disappear.