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Crazy People Say the Craziest Things

In New York there are any number of characters. And I do not mean the Singing Cowboy. These are real, honest to goodness crazy people whose goals are not necessarily to sign a book deal or land a recurring spot on Letterman. They’re just living their lives in the only way they know how. The characters are part of what makes New York, New York; and if you can manage to stop blocking out the chaos of the world around you, they’re hard to miss.

There’s an elderly man who’s ridden a bicycle around the West Village for years. He has a boom box strapped to the handlebars and it plays Sinatra singing New York, New York on a loop. The man doesn’t seem to go anywhere in particular; he just circles the tree-lined streets around Bleecker and Hudson, spreading his love of the city.

If you ever spent time in NoHo before it was called NoHo (acronyms gone wild, if you ask me) you would be rather familiar with Crazy Plant Man who was eventually immortalized in an Adam Sandler SNL sketch. He literally walked up to you while you were eating at a sidewalk cafe and, sporting a potted plant on his head, would growl, “give me your money! I’m crazy! I’m crazy!”

Intimidation through horticulture.

This week however, I was introduced to a new one who may just have taken the cake.

I was riding the subway home around 7 when a deep, gravelly voice caught my attention. I half tuned him out, assuming it was a standard issue E train panhandler. But for some reason the passengers seated around me were giggling, even as they tried to avert their eyes. I glanced down at one end of the car and saw a middle-aged black man behind darkly tinted glasses, all gangly arms and legs. He carried a wadded old red tee shirt which he coughed into every so often. But what stood out, besides his strong, rhythmic voice was his body language which was more that of a performer than a downtrodden addict repeating an “I’m hungry” spiel for the 160th time that day.

Then I realized

(holy crap)

the man was doing stand-up.

He had an entire homeless guy comedy schtick, punctuating every punchline with man, I tell you…

Man, I tell you folks….you wonder why I’m panhandling right? After all, I got me a/c. It’s called the express train. And I got me an oven. It’s called the third rail. Man, I tell you…

I been living down in these tunnels for nine years. That’s when I left my wife. 389 pounds that woman was. 389 pounds. She used to ask me for designer jeans. Jordache, she said. I said woman, the size of the jeans that we’d have to buy to fit you, they ain’t called designer any more. They called heffer. Man, I tell you…

My wife, she used to ask me for everything, my wife. She asked me for champagne. I said, I’ll show you champagne. We walked down the corner with a dixie cup, opened up a fire hydrant, poured a nice cool glass of water and dropped in two Alka Seltzer. There’s your champagne, woman. Man I tell you…

I asked this gentleman for a dollar once on the subway. Rich looking gentleman, nice suit. One dollar, that’s all I asked for. It took him twenty full minutes to get that dollar out of his pocket. By the time that dollar made it to me, George Washington himself was crying. Man I tell you…

He cleaned up.

I mean, if you’re going to give a dollar to someone on the train it might as well be someone who actually did a little work for it.

{ 48 comments… add one }

  • macboudica 8.24.2006, 12:35 pm

    Wow! We have a few crazy people in our fair midwestern city, also. Nowhere near as entertaining as that guy, though! The most notorious here is the guy with the ancient ragedy station wagon painted *all* over with Bible verses. He also has some other stuff bolted on there: some shrubbery, som statuary (it variies what) and a hi-fi system that he blares while he drives around the city at 2 MPH about how we are all going to Hell, the world is going to end, you better find Jeeeezus, etc. To be honest, the car is so crazy, I can’t even accurately describe what the guy looks like.

  • Kath 8.24.2006, 12:51 pm

    I would have definitely paid at least a dollar to see that.

  • Blog Antagonist 8.24.2006, 12:51 pm

    I love hearing your New York stories. The people in the South are colorful, but I think people in New York are a riot of variegation. I’ve never had any real desire to go to NYC. I’m not nuts about going downtown here, and I imagine NYC as just a worse version of ATL. However, my 8 year old, who develops these interests, which are really more like obessions, is currently fixated on NYC. I have no idea why. So, we have been discussing taking a weekend trip there. Maybe we could meet in Times Square. ;?)

  • toyfoto 8.24.2006, 1:00 pm

    I love when panhandlers have a gig. It’s really a business I can feel good about supporting.

  • metro mama 8.24.2006, 1:04 pm

    Good for him.Love your NYC stories.

  • susan 8.24.2006, 1:33 pm

    Yeah, good for him. A little ingenuity will get me to pull out my wallet everytime! Well, maybe not the crazy plant man thing… that just sounds scary. BTW, I had no idea that’s where Sandler’s sketch came from. It’s all so clear now!

  • Whirlwind 8.24.2006, 1:34 pm

    If I ever go to the city, I’m gonna ride the subway all day! (Okay probably not, but it would be cool).We have a guy, “crazy guy” we callhim. Crazy guy walks around our town (and occasionaly neighboring towns) everyday talking to himself. Occasionally he will yell at cars. Like if you are backing out of your driveway, and he’s on the other side of the road, well out of the way, he’ll yell at you.The other one “older crazy guy” walks around talking to himself too. Only he carries around a boombox – you know, the big 80’s cassette players – as he makes his daily walk around town.So the wierdo’s are everywhere.

  • Waya 8.24.2006, 1:42 pm

    That was a great story. I love New York for all the colorful people. Being in Boston, people are more guarded and a bit “cold”.

  • Marie 8.24.2006, 1:43 pm

    It must be hard to distinguish the mentally ill from the entrepreneurs… this one seems to have both going for him! Good for him.

  • wordgirl 8.24.2006, 1:45 pm

    I’ve seen people just like that on the subway (when visiting). Sometimes it feels like you’re being entertained. Sometimes it’s like being held hostage.

  • Mother 8.24.2006, 3:02 pm

    When I was in France, this guy played freaking amazing violin concertos on our ride home from the Louvre. And I gave him a big shiny coin – I say, if you put out, I’m paying you for it.*ahem*

  • Lisa 8.24.2006, 3:12 pm

    That man IS quite a character… I wonder how he did with that schtick?

  • J at www.jellyjules.com 8.24.2006, 4:06 pm

    Very cool. When we were in Paris, we didn’t get a violin, but a guy singing a Paul McCartney song (no, maybe not, but it had that FEEL to it…) and singing in English with a strong French accent. Much better than, “I need money for the connecting train” or whatever.

  • MetroDad 8.24.2006, 4:27 pm

    My favorite was that guy who used to panhandle on the West Side Highway (usually somewhere near Bank St.) Do you remember him? He used to hold up a homemade sign saying, “Ninjas killed my family. Need money for karate lessons.”How could you not give money to a guy like that? Hell, I almost gave him $20 and a laptop so he could start his own blog!

  • TB 8.24.2006, 4:41 pm

    Exactly. There used to be a guy in Penn station who had a picture frame with no glass in it. Every time someone would walk by he would hold it up to his face and say “I was framed, man” I couldn’t help but give him all my change. It never got old. The people that bother me the most are the ones who just ask you for money, then when you keep walking they get mad and yell or swear at you.

  • Chicky Chicky Baby 8.24.2006, 4:58 pm

    A homeless guy doing schtick? I would have given him some money. He’s probably doing better that way than half the aspiring comedians in the country.

  • Beanie Baby 8.24.2006, 5:11 pm

    Someone should get that guy a gig. Though maybe it doesn’t pay as well.My favourite crazy person was in Brampton–as in, a suburb of TO, and about as suburby as you could get. She was an old lady who didn’t speak much English, but would jump into your car and then tell you where to drop her off. Seriously. Open the door without asking, belt herself into the passenger seat, and say, “God bless you! I need to go to Shopper’s World. Thank you so much!”It’s one way to save on bus fare.

  • Mayberry 8.24.2006, 5:17 pm

    That is much better than those breakdancing kids. Or worse, the ones that try to sell candy bars.

  • ster 8.24.2006, 5:25 pm

    you are on a new york kick lately. in a serious way. don’t make me come there…..

  • Tara 8.24.2006, 5:28 pm

    I think I’d have to give him money, too. I bet he does pretty well with that gig.

  • Jill 8.24.2006, 5:34 pm

    This is why I love public transportation! I was once bitten on the hip while standing on a crowded city bus. Apparently I was making the crazy man seated near me claustrophobic.

  • s@bd 8.24.2006, 5:48 pm

    How much do I want to live in NY right now?HOW MUCH?!

  • mothergoosemouse 8.24.2006, 6:42 pm

    Now THAT I can appreciate. I’d dig out a dollar too, and it wouldn’t take me twenty minutes either.

  • CroutonBoy 8.24.2006, 7:52 pm

    Holy crap…I remember that guy! I haven’t seen him in a couple years, but you’re right…he was damn funny. I’d much rather pull a fiver from my wallet for him than the pale girl in the nice clothes who always panhandles on the 2 train…My favorite is still the guy who had the sombrero and the dirty, fake horse around his waste who would walk through the subway singing “La Cucaracha”. I just saw him once and have been looking for him ever since.

  • Binky 8.24.2006, 8:52 pm

    Do you have the Capote 95-percent-recall thing going on or did you make those jokes up yourself? ;)

  • creative-type dad 8.24.2006, 11:10 pm

    I love crazy people. They make the world much more interesting and make me feel more sane.We have our share here in L.A., but since nobody rides the subway, they’re usually at intersections or near freeway underpasses doing stuff like dancing and waving to cars to corner puppet shows while washing your windows.

  • Heather 8.24.2006, 11:42 pm

    Yet another reason public transit rocks.

  • kgirl 8.25.2006, 1:25 am

    I don’t know why people are scared of big city subways (ok, toronto is not very big compared to nyc, but for the canucks it’s a megalopolis) – free entertainment and the best naps a gal could have (best to find a seat for that one or you’ll end up with someone’s armpit as a pillow).

  • Jen R. 8.25.2006, 4:08 am

    Maybe I should come over to your part of the country and do that. It probably pays more than blogging, no?

  • jess 8.25.2006, 4:22 am

    Wow. You know i feel like such a hick. I just can’t imagine, but at the same time would love to be there.

  • Cristina 8.25.2006, 4:47 am

    Brilliant. Somehow, I have a feeling this guy makes more than I do.

  • roo 8.25.2006, 5:00 am

    I’ve seen that guy!As a closer, he said: “Oh, and people– please pick up your cans and litter when leaving the train. Gotta keep it clean– I got people comin’ over later.”Thank you, goodnight!

  • Overwhelmed! 8.25.2006, 5:50 am

    I’ve never been to NY, so I love these stories you tell.Good for the guy who actually did a little something for his money! :)

  • Overwhelmed! 8.25.2006, 5:52 am

    By the way, I’d love your opinion/insight on something I blogged about recently. It’s driving me crazy thinking about it!If you have some spare time, take a peek at my < HREF="http://overwhelmedwithjoy.blogspot.com/2006/08/how-do-you-cope-when-child-goes-down.html" REL="nofollow"> How do you cope when a child goes down the wrong path in life?<> post. Your thoughts would be welcome!

  • Mrs. Mogul 8.25.2006, 9:30 am

    How about the woman with short hair in the village that used to have the women against porn posters? She would scream all the time about it? Also there was a guy on a bike who dressed like an angel..

  • Ruth Dynamite 8.25.2006, 12:24 pm

    I love crazy panhandlers with a sense of humor. I once saw a guy with a picture frame around his neck pleading with everyone who passed, “Please someone help me! I’ve been framed!”

  • Sandra 8.25.2006, 12:52 pm

    I’d have given him a 20. “A” for effort … man, I tell you.

  • neva 8.25.2006, 2:09 pm

    apparently these people are all in nyc, for i’ve yet to entertained like that on Metro-North. <>sigh<>.with regards to flower-pot-head guy:“You can drag a horticulture, but you can’t make her think” ~ Dorothy Parkercouldn’t resist. sorry.

  • Dana 8.25.2006, 2:59 pm

    I admit, the comedy was awesome! I am still in stitches about the Jordache jeans! I hope they don’t make those anymore.

  • Kristina 8.25.2006, 10:05 pm

    OMG, I think I know this guy. LOL

  • Her Bad Mother 8.26.2006, 12:12 am

    Actually sounds like it was decent stand-up, too. Perhaps not Chappelle quality, but a notch above the legions of Seinfeld imitators.

  • Mom101 8.26.2006, 12:20 am

    Yes, HBM, excellent point. It wouldn’t have been worth writing down had he got on the train and said, <>so the Dr Zizmore ad…what’s the deal with that?<>

  • j 8.26.2006, 3:52 am

    That alone makes me want to move to NYC.

  • Suburban Turmoil 8.26.2006, 6:31 pm

    That’s a good one!When I visited NYC in college, I was riding the subway when a panhandler came through the train on a skateboard- I swear he had no arms and no legs and was lying on the skateboard on his stomach. Just the thought of this guy getting around was unreal. After that, I saw him in a movie and on a TV show. So apparently, he was a pretty “famous” panhandler as well- Hard to forget, anyway.

  • michele 8.27.2006, 7:35 pm

    You know, I live in a suburb of Los Angeles. We don’t have any characters in the neighborhood. None. I feel culturally uneducated!

  • kirida 8.28.2006, 12:08 am

    Is “Man I tell you” the new “Git-r-done”?

  • Teacher lady 9.08.2006, 9:19 pm

    Have you seen the guy on the subway who announces loudly, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to do this to you” and just when you think he’s going to shoot you, he says, “But the shelters are full and I could really use a place to stay tonight. Does anyone have an extra floor I could sleep on? You don’t even need to give me a pillow.” Only in New York. No one has ever stood up and said, “Why sure! Come on to my house!”

  • Jule 1.04.2013, 2:58 pm

    These people aren’t crazy, they just have a good sense of humor. If you wanna see crazy people I can introduce you to half my family, man i tell you…

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