The following conversation took place on March 11, 2002, in the lobby of the Woodstock Senior Citizen House.
Q: How long have you been living here at the Woodstock?
O: Twenty-two years. It’s been a long time.
Q: So you were about sixty when you moved in?
O: That’s about right. I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences in my life and now I’m at the Woodstock. I can’t believe it myself. This is the longest that I’ve ever been in one place.
Q: Where did you live before the Woodstock?
O: On the streets. But if I had money I’d stay at the Times Square Motor Inn.
Q: Where was that?
O: That’s a hotel on 43rd Street and 8th Avenue. Right down the street.
Q: How is the Woodstock compared to the other places where you’ve lived?
O: It’s all right. I eat the food here because it’s $0.75 a meal.
Q: Is the food any good?
O: You get a good meal. And because you’re young and you’re my guest, you go in and get a meal for $2.00. Even less than that. But I don’t know what’s happening now. They’re closing up some of these places. They’re putting them out of business, you know. They’re laying people off from work.
Q: Has anyone gotten laid off from the Woodstock?
O: Yeah, it’s affecting the workers where I live. They say everybody’s gotta take a cut. What’s going on in this country with all these cuts? Everything’s being affected. We’re the poorest people in the chicken coop, here at the Woodstock. Oldies like me are preserved here. They preserve us and give us a place to live because things didn’t go right. But what I do is go out every now and then and sleep someplace else.
Q: Do you sleep in shelters?
O: I do. I go to shelters every once in a while just to break up the routine.
Q: Do you ever sleep outside?
O: Too cold.
Q: What about in the summertime?
O: I used to go out and sleep in Central Park, but I don’t do that anymore.
Q: Why not?
O: There’s a lot of dangerous fellas out in the park. They look like street people. They may be street people. But they rob you. If you’re old, you can’t do nothing. They just go right through your pockets and take everything you’ve got. They’re crazy and very aggressive. They’re not all like that, but there’s an awful lot of bad ones. They come over to me and they say, “Pop, you can’t sleep here. This is our spot.” And while he’s talking to you he’s going through your pockets. He takes the money and tells you to find another spot to sleep.
Q: When’s the last time that you were up in Central Park?
O: A couple months ago. I usually recite poetry in Strawberry Fields. The tourists come in at 7:00 in the morning, you see. They all come to see Strawberry Fields and I recite my poems for them.
Q: And they give you money?
O: Yeah, they used to. But the old days are over with. Now it’s all business. It’s all quick. They show them Strawberry Fields and then move on to the next thing. The tourists don’t even get their $35 worth. You know what I’m talking about?
Q: You mean from the tour guides.
O: Yeah, the guides work for the company and the company makes the money. The tour guide gets paid when he takes maybe forty or fifty people around. They come to Strawberry Fields and get off the bus. Each one has paid $35 to see the town. And some of the tourists say “Why don’t you let him do his poetry? It’s better than looking at the statues.” They want something human. And the guide says “All right. Do it quick and don’t ask for money.” But he asks for money. So it bugs me.
Q: How was it in the old days?
O: In the old days I’d do my shtick, recite a poem, and then they’d ring my bell. But all this took time. And now the guide doesn’t want to waste time. He gets rid of one bunch of tourists and gets another bunch. He makes his money by how many people he takes with him, you see. That’s how he gets paid.
Q: So if the tourists spend time with you, then it’s money out of his pocket.
O: Now you’re starting to see it. And the bosses who own the company like it too. Everything’s big business. Everything’s about money. I’m a small fry, but I gotta make my living too. I gotta show them I’m a real beggar. Here, hold my bell.