"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

SHADOW GAMES: Fantasy Baseball

Everyone on the 2 train had heard it a million times.

“I’m very sorry to bother all of you good people this morning,” said a man standing in the middle of the car. “But I’m down on my luck and could use some help. If anyone can spare a little something – food, change, an extra pair of winter gloves – it would really be appreciated.”

People dug out several dollars and one woman gave him a banana.

“Thank you,” the man said. “I hope everyone has a nice day.”

The man hasn’t had a nice day in a long time.

“I’ve been out of work for almost a year,” the man explained. “I wasn’t worried at the beginning, but jobs have gotten tougher to find and I haven’t been able to land anything steady.”

So he asks for help on the 2 train.

“I know these people hate me,” the man said. “Even those who give probably just want me to go away. They think I’m a lazy bum. But my name is Mark James and I used to ride this train to work just like them.

“I had a life back then,” he continued. “I had an apartment and an iPod and I owned a fantasy baseball team. I drafted Jeter and Mo and did pretty well in the league.”

Mark James – who used to ride the 2 train to his job and had the good sense to draft Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera for his fantasy baseball team – forced a smile and said:

“Maybe things will get better and I’ll have all that again. I guess anything can happen in fantasy baseball.”

Share: Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email %PRINT_TEXT


1 Raf   ~  Nov 20, 2008 10:38 am

I don't know how someone gets to be in that position, and I hope I never find out.

If it ever gets that bad, I'll take the Scirocco, some clothes, a full tank of gas, and head somewhere else. If I'm going to be in that position, I'd rather do it somewhere where the weather is warmer.

2 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 20, 2008 11:06 am

I sympathize with Mark. I'd been down and out from time to time since being in NYC; my roommate and I had been forced out in the street once while I still had a steady job, and because apartment owners require you not only to have a steady long-term income, but excellent credit and be able to pay an enormous deposit (most work with agencies that require an agent's fee, usually one month and at least two months rent for deposit/security), we lived in hotels for days until I could scratch up enough money to pay the fee and be snuck into an apartment(!) I guess the past was always easier when you're in the present.

The worst part is that there really are few to no venues that can help a person who is working, but homeless or hungry. The system in place now requires you to be impoverished and destitute before you can be considered for assistance, so if you have a job that pays barely enough for you to get by (food, maybe a room in a poor neighborhood), you're shit-out-of-luck. I never qualified for public assistance because I had a job that paid a little more than the cut-off limit, but not enough to rent even a studio apartment. We just scrimped and saved, sleeping at hotels that aren't listed in the yellow pages or renting illegally-quartered rooms until that magic day when we saved enough money to help an agent bribe the super to move us into a decent space, and have enough to continue paying thereafter. All this after graduating from college, too.

Times are hard now for more and more people, but believe me they've always been hard. Somehow though, I avoided asking strangers for anything; maybe seeing the reactions or non-reactions from people to others who were in my mind far worse-off than me I was afraid to go through the same thing, maybe because feeling spited by Public Assistance I was determined to make it on my own without anyone's help, or maybe because I just knew that this situation was temporary ("and this too shall pass away"), but I did get back on my feet and continue on the risky path of the dreams I'm pursuing.

All I'm saying is that what happened and is happening to people like Mark and myself included can happen to anyone; especially now. So just think a second or two before you react. You don't know what he or she went through five years or five minutes ago to be where they are now, and you never know if that man or woman might be in a position to help you one day; whether you know or like it or not. Take care...

3 Raf   ~  Nov 20, 2008 11:26 am

Chyll, if you don't mind me asking, where'd you stay?

One bit of advice I'd offer people who are a bit down on their luck is to hang out with illegals.

They think I'm being flip, but there is a unity among people that many of us lose once we reach a certain point in our life. Think back on your college days. You didn't have a whole lot of $$, but you always had food & shelter, and beer. I know I did. I was renting a room in a house at the time. We'd pool our resources; whether it was people who worked in the cafeteria, or a restaurant, or delivering pizzas, basically putting ourselves in a position where we'd always have food.

4 ms october   ~  Nov 20, 2008 11:42 am

thanks for sharing that chyll - and for saying that we should think what someone has been through before you react - very poignant advice.
i hope times are much better for you.

i know what you are saying raf and i agree with you.
the idea of community and we are our brother's keepers gets lost somewhere. i was talking to my mom about being so happy to not be working with this lady anymore cause she created this toxic environment where everyone felt the need to look out for themselves all the time and there was not collective effort becuase you had to be out for self or someone would pin blame on you or whatever.
obviously being on the streets is a condition that is so much worse, i really shouldn't be using my piddly work analogy at all, but i am just trying to say that there are too many environments where it is sole survival and there is not a space to be a community. it is pretty amazing that it can thrive with undocumented people - becuase there is an inherent fear of being turnd in - but mostly they work collectively quite well.
when i lived in brooklyn, two buildings down from me were some squatters, some of whom were pretty out there, but they were quite resourceful and managed to survive together.

5 Todd Drew   ~  Nov 20, 2008 11:51 am

Thanks for sharing your story, Chyll Will. Powerful stuff. I like your message of understanding. There are thousands of ways to end up homeless and only a few ways out. I’m glad you found one.

6 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 20, 2008 11:56 am

[3] For hotels, we stayed at the Riverview on Jane Street in the West Village (listed), some hotel on W145 in Hamilton Heights (not), another in Central Harlem (not) and another on Broadway across from Van Cortland Park (maybe). For the room, we stayed in Inwood, corner of W207 and Vermilyea.

And you're absolutely right, best to seek out immig or illegal group when you're down and out. Of the apt. in Inwood, I was the only person, my roommate included, among six families who was American born. I don't know how many were illegal or resident alien (my roommate is the latter), but it was an interesting situation to say the least, made more interesting by the fact that we were all almost tossed out on three separate occasions because the lessee of the apartment didn't pay the entire rent on time. The third time was actually lucky for us in terms of timing; I got my tax return, which was enough to for a down payment on a basement studio in the upper Bronx under a gentleman's agreement.

We now reside in a similar spot in the same neighborhood under the same circumstances, but better off than when we first got there. The next move I intend to make is likely the same one Kurt Russell made some thirty years ago or such >;)

7 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 20, 2008 11:59 am

No problem, all. You know where to find me for the real good stuff >;)

8 Raf   ~  Nov 20, 2008 12:17 pm

I don't think your work analogy is piddly @ all. Just a different take (don't kid yourself, it happens on the street too). I do agree that a balance needs to be struck between self and community.

FWIW, I have family here legally and illegally, all with varying degrees of successes and failures. As bad as things get here sometimes, it's worse in Honduras. Here, I have hot water, fast internet, cable tv, and a car. There I wouldn't. I can go to the 24 hour Pathmark if I need anything. There, I couldn't. Not to mention the corruption and the crime (gang activity in Honduras is off the chain)

I lucked into my current apartment (Unionport section of the Bx), but I prefer to rent rooms, if only for the fact that since I'm not home much, I cannot justify paying market rates for a place in the metro NY area. The only reason I'm in my current place is because my uncle owns the house, and I keep an eye on things (along with my cousin) while he's away 6 months or so in Honduras.

9 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 20, 2008 1:12 pm

[8] I spent my first five years in the Bx over on Lyvere Street; a little strip of street barely on the map, not far from you. It was like Sesame Street gone bad, honestly. According to neighbors, it was the one street in that neighborhood that was off-limits to everyone, and quarantined from the rest. It was one of those streets that had a lot of petty drama for show, but the serious stuff went on indoors beyond people's eyes. Nevertheless, I have some really interesting stories of my own about the building I lived in on that street that I actually intend to script a short film about. So if nothing else, my experience there gave me a lot of material to work with.

My experience with my roommate has taught me that space is a precious commodity I can't live without, present or not. Inwood was a lot worse than the hotels we stayed at for me, someone who grew up in the suburbs, but went to college in the city-cities. It made me concentrate that much more to get a healthier living space, and it's still working on me to get more space.

But my roommate; she is another story entirely... worthy of serious, serious consideration...

10 Raf   ~  Nov 20, 2008 2:29 pm


Growing up, there were 6 people in a 2 bedroom apartment. I understand where you're coming from WRT space.

Lyvere St is over by Parkchester, IIRC. I can see why there'd be nonsense over there; I had family on Metropolitan, a stone's throw from there. They moved out after the atmosphere changed there for the worse.

I understand what you mean when you say "the serious stuff went on indoors beyond people’s eyes" as those people acting up on the street have to go somewhere to hang their hat. I suppose that is usually the case, no one knows what goes on inside a house the moment the door closes and the lock is turned.

I'm on the other side of the tracks, on Blackrock Ave.

I looked at apartments in Inwood once, street name fails me at the moment, but there was no parking and I passed. I work in Westchester (which is where I get my space, and escape from the city), and need to find parking when I get home. On GP I can't pay for parking.

Good luck with your film.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver