This is Charlie
I have seen Charlie in the same place for over five years, selling books on Columbus Ave. It was a hot steamy day in New York City when I approached him. I described my blog and asked if he would like to participate. His immediate response: "What's in it for me?" As it so happened, I had a few photos of Maestro Man that I was hoping to give him when I saw him next at Verdi Park. I showed the photos to Charlie and he agreed to be interviewed and photographed but at another time. As I walked away, I realized this guy likes cigars. I went back and asked him what kind he smoked. He said Punch and he gets them at 73rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. I bought him 4 cigars, went back to Columbus Ave, and gave them to him. I told him I would be back the next day. He was thrilled.
When I saw Charlie the next day, I asked him if he was born in New York City. He said no, "I was born in Brooklyn." I knew right away that he was a real New Yorker. His parents moved to New Jersey when he was a child. Now aged 72, he is married and still lives in N.J. He is a lawyer who was disbarred. He told me that he was practicing law in Newark, N.J. a place he described as the "ugliest city in the United States." In his practice in N.J., he had a case against a construction company that had wanted to build two tall towers on what was described as marsh wetlands. He won the case, costing the construction company millions of dollars. Two months later, he was audited by the IRS and was found to have misappropriated funds, and was disbarred.
Charlie has always had a love of books and frequented a book store in Newark. One day, he went to the bookstore and found it closed. He contacted the owner who wanted to get rid of the books.
Charlie purchased them all for very little money. He stored the books in his garage, in his attic and in a storage facility. He decided to try to sell the books in Manhattan. He started in Central Park but within a few weeks, the police were harassing him, ticketing him every other day. He moved to a spot across the street from the Museum of Natural History, with no better success. So, about 20 years ago, he found this spot on Columbus Avenue. Charlie said he gives a talk once a semester to pre-law students at York College and always asks "how many see themselves selling used books and records on the sidewalks of NYC?" He is glad to see no one raises their hand.
Charlie has four sons all of whom live in either New York City or New Jersey. His wife, a social worker, still works. Although living in New Jersey, he very much sees himself as a New Yorker. He takes a bus in every day. He keeps the books in the same place all the time, covering them at night with a canvas.
Only occasionally there is there a problem with theft, although he did have a theft earlier in the day. Someone was walking by and grabbed some books and ran off. I asked what he expects to make on a normal day. Before the pandemic, he could earn close to $100 but during the pandemic, it's been about $10.
Charlie loves New York City. He lived in San Francisco for a while but feels there is no other city in the world like this city. He loves the culture, the hustle, and bustle of its people. He dislikes the bikes that fly up and down the bike lanes with little or no regard for traffic lights or pedestrians. He is angry that he is harassed by the police. He is frequently checked by police to see how many feet his books and records are from the curb, and how many feet from the storefront. Motor scooters and electric bikes go flying through red lights on a regular basis and they don't seem to be harassed. He waved at all the empty storefronts around him and said taxes and high rents have forced them out. But, even with all the difficulties of New York City living and working, he would not want to be anywhere else.
I delivered the photos to Charlie the next day. I asked him how his day was going and he said there was nothing happening at all, not even theft.
When I gave him the four 8x10 prints I made for him, he said, Wow! Wow! Wow! He gave me a fist bump and said this makes today feel that was not such a bad day after all.
Charlie and his books are a staple on the streets of the Upper West Side of New York City. People come to buy his books and records, chat, and pass the time. Charlie gets out every day staying young, loving, and selling his books. He loves what he does and has no plans to change anything.