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The Panhandler’s Payday

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He walks over to the McDonald’s on Fordham Road and meets up with his daughter Neecy, 21, and his 2-year-old granddaughter Remy. He buys Remy a Happy Meal, and he gives them both cash: $50 for Neecy, $5 for Remy. Then he visits BX Fashion on Webster Avenue, around the corner from 189th, and picks up a pair of black denim jeans and two shirts for $41. By 3 p.m., he is back at the bank, hunched over an ATM, trying to figure out how to get another $200.

Over the next week, his spending slows and most of his purchases are edible. He spends day after day cooped up in his girlfriend’s apartment, eating, sleeping, and watching cartoons. (A self-described “cartoon freak,” his tastes run from South Park to Dora the Explorer.) He buys Froot Loops and Apple Jacks, and eats each box in a single sitting. He makes regular runs for Chinese takeout, buying rib tips and chicken wings for $5.75. Since his girlfriend is in the hospital with pneumonia, he has the place to himself. He buys her a $12 bathrobe and a few meals, but relations between the two are tense. A few weeks earlier, he had found a condom in the garbage that wasn’t his. Every few days she asks, “When are you going to get out of my house?”

The trouble is, Eddie’s not sure where else to go. His plans to move down south have been put on hold for the moment. He heard he needed I.D. to board an Amtrak train, but he had lost all his I.D. years ago during one of his jail stays, and he doesn’t want to try to find a job and housing in another state without at least a Social Security card in hand. Besides, hanging out in the apartment has been good for him, he figures, keeping him out of trouble and away from the crack man. “That’s why I stay in the house,” he says. “Go to the store, do what I got to do. And go back upstairs.” To fight temptation, he employs a mantra of his own making: “You say to yourself, ‘Eddie, don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.’”

Sixteen days after his check cleared, Eddie turns off the television. Hanging around the apartment had been fun for a while, but now he is bored, and a little lonely. He puts on his new sneakers and a new shirt, then his old leather jacket, the one with the zipper that long ago pulled away from the seam, and takes the bus over to the neighborhood where he used to hustle. It’s not that he wants to go back to parking cars, but there are a few things about his old life that he misses: the camaraderie of the car-parkers, the rhythm of the street, the endless opportunities to show off his hustling skills. After wandering in and out of a few stores, he ventures onto 189th Street.

“Hey, Mr. Millionaire,” says Greg, seated on a plastic crate in the middle of the sidewalk, his hands puffy and covered with sores. “What’s up?”

Greg used to park cars, but now he is too far gone for that. He spends most of his days in front of the liquor store, shaking a cup, sometimes hugging a telephone box to keep from tipping over. Eddie has known him for nearly a decade; he knows that Greg suffers from seizures, that he was hit by a car on Webster Avenue, that he has a metal plate in his head. Month after month, Eddie would watch Greg leave the block in the back of an ambulance, only to return the next day and start drinking once again.

“What’s up?” Greg says. “Where you been in the world? Now you’re talking to a poor man.”

“Who?”

“Me. I got no money to spend.”

Eddie pulls out three singles. “My man, here,” he says, handing over the cash. “What do you say?”

No answer.

“Say ‘Thank you.’”

“Thank you.”

Eddie’s presence on the block draws the attention of Little Mike and Jay, who take a break from parking cars. “Lunch is on you today,” Jay says. “You know I’m going to have to charge you for your visit. There’s a visit tax for the block. The rich guys aren’t allowed.” Eddie laughs, but not too hard.

Everyone fills Eddie in on the news he’s missed. Jay says the police took him in the day before, though he claims he did nothing wrong. Greg says the police hassled him, too. But the biggest news involves Eddie himself: Big Mike has been telling everyone he is already broke, that he smoked so much crack that the $100,000 is already gone. But when Big Mike actually shows up, he relays a different rumor: that Eddie had $76,000 in his pocket and was flashing the bills on the street.


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