This is Freddie
Freddie was in the Army for a short time, but didn't like it and left. He went AWOL, and when he returned three weeks later, he was given the choice to appeal his case or a dishonorable discharge. He only wanted out of the Army, so he chose a dishonorable discharge, which negates eligibility for any veterans' benefits.
Freddie is 69 years old. I saw him pushing a cart loaded with four or five large bags of returnable bottles and cans wearing a top hat. As unique as he appeared in the street going the wrong way on a one-way street, most people didn't even seem to notice him as they walked by.
I introduced myself to him and when I asked his name, he said Frederick, but that I could call him Freddie. He was born in Puerto Rico and came to New York at the age of 19, the lure and excitement of New York City drawing him here.
I asked about all of the cans and bottles he was lugging. He said he is on Social Security Disability but he spends the money faster than it comes in. He said, "you know, I need my weed." And cigarettes, too. I added that rent must be expensive, too. He doesn't have any rent to pay. He has been sleeping on the streets and the subways since 1995. The bags of bottles and cans he had with him today will bring between $20 and $30.
Freddie is compact and efficient. As he took the bottles and cans off of his cart, he showed me his pillow, his butane burner for cooking, and assorted items that are important to him. He has collected these items much the same way he collects the bottles and cans - off the streets of New York City.
Freddie never married. His mother is 95 years old and lives with his younger sister in Puerto Rico. He has a married brother who lives in Minnesota and his older brother died many years ago in an auto accident.
I asked Freddie how he feels about living in New York City without a home. He was all smiles as he talked about how much he likes living here. He showed no sorrow about not having a place to live. He has no regrets about his life and there isn't anything he would do differently if he had his life to live over again. He couldn't come up with anything he dislikes about living here. He likes his life, even though he has no choice but to be out and about the city every day. This is his survival, and he makes the best of it with bottles and cans, a smile and a top hat.