I was at the park shooting hoops and the sun was going down. We’d just finished a game of 3-on-3 and only two people were hanging around — myself and one other fella.
It was then that a homeless gentleman got up. In loose-fitting baggy jeans, sneakers with no laces, ripped black t-shirt and a hospital bracelet indicating he might have just come from Bellevue, he wanted to take a few shots with us.
I passed him the ball and he dribbled it around a few times before lobbing it up at the rim. He kept missing so I kept passing him the ball. He seemed weak, but I knew he’d make one eventually. And he did.
From the corner, another person approached — he was wearing a dress shirt, dress pants, sneakers and an athletic wear-style jacket. He asked if he could use a ball that was laying against the fence.
“Don’t know whose ball that is,” I said. “Go ahead.”
“Nah, I’m cool,” he said. “I don’t want to take something that isn’t mine.”
“Let’s play a game,” said the homeless guy. “You two, versus us two.”
“Well, I’m just coming from work,” said the new guy. “If that phone rings, I have to go back. So I can’t play too hard. But okay.”
We began playing — me and the kid who’d hung around from earlier, versus the new guy and the homeless guy.
The kid who’d hung around from earlier, he seemed a little bothered by all this, like he didn’t actually want to play. Perhaps it was that, or he just didn’t want to play defense against the homeless guy. He was dirty and he noticeably smelled.
About two minutes into playing, with the score still 0–0, the new guy passed the ball to the homeless guy and it jammed his finger. While he stood there trying to unjam it, his jeans, loose around his waist, began to fall.
His ass was showing.
“Oh god,” said my teammate, shaking his head in disgust.
Trying not deride the dude, the new guy and I just stood there waiting, hoping he’d be able to unjam it. We wanted to continue playing. But the more he fiddled with his finger, the further his pants dropped and the less he seemed to care.
“Can you pull my finger,” he said to the new guy.
“I’m cool, man,” the new guy replied. He had his limits.
At this, the homeless man walked off the court, pants now around his knees. Taking a seat on a bench, he pulled on his finger and stared hopelessly at the ground.
“Well that sucks,” I said. “I was hoping we’d get a game. Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you can’t play ball.”
“I’ve been there before,” said the new guy. “Shit, I was just in that spot my damn self.”
We started shooting around and the new guy had a nice-looking jump shot. He was a little more than overweight but I could tell, he probably once could really play.
“You said you were coming from work,” I said. “Where do you work?”
“I’m taking off,” said the guy from earlier. “Good games today.”
“Later, man,” I said.
“I work for a company that parks your car for you,” said the new guy. “It’s like, through an app, you put in a request and then we either park the car for you or bring it to you — or, we also have a service where we’ll come and wait in your car, if you need that.”
“So you’re one of the drivers?”
“Yeah, basically, I just finished parking a car, and now I have some time to kill between cars — when there’s a job, the app on my phone will alert me, and I can go get it.”
“But we’re on 26th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue,” I said. “What if the car is all the way downtown?”
“Then I’ll just bite the bullet and take a bus or the train — I’ll eat that fee. It’s all good. The pay is pretty good. It’s $10 an hour and you get paid even if there are no jobs.”
“So we’re playing basketball now — but what if you weren’t playing basketball, what would you be doing?”
“I’d probably be down around Union Square, maybe at McDonald’s eating, or at the Best Buy, you know, just browsing and stuff.”
By now, it had gotten really dark. Too dark to see the rim, but we kept shooting.
“We have a garage in Midtown,” he said. “And the dispatch is in the Bronx.”
I heard a buzzing come from the sideline and realized it was his phone.
“I think your app is ringing.”
He walked over the side, picked up it up and said: “Yeah, that’s a job right there. Someone else just took it though.”
Then he showed me the app. In a little spot on the screen, there was a section called “Tips.” And in that section, I saw: “$3.”
“That’s all I made today,” he said. “Best day for tips is Sundays. Not everybody tips. I don’t want to be racist or anything, or judge anybody, but I notice sometimes it’s the Jewish people…”
“No, that’s okay,” I said. “I’m Jewish. To us, cheap is a compliment.”
He laughed, then lobbed a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net.
“How long do you work?”
“Most days, I work a full day, about 10 or 12 hours — Sunday, I work from about 7 AM until 4 AM the next morning. If I’m lucky, I can pull in about $60 in tips that day. Plus the $10 an hour.”
“And you like doing this?”
“Yeah, I like it,” he said. “It’s pretty good. I have a lot of flexibility and the people whose cars I park are pretty nice.”
“But I assume the company doesn’t pay benefits or none of that stuff — do you ever think it’d be better to have a job where you had a little security and whatnot?”
“I’d love that,” he said. “But like I was saying earlier — I was homeless before. Now, I’m in the process of getting an apartment. I haven’t had one in a while.”
“That’s awesome, man.”
“Yeah, and then — I got these ideas,” he said. “One is to do a delivery service that sends you high-quality food to make for your pet. Like salmon, chicken and steak. But the catch is, it’s all stuff that you can eat, too. Because like, my dog, she won’t eat dog food. I have to cook her stuff that is special.”
“You sure something like that doesn’t already exist?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’d have to check. I know there’s one that does delivery, but I’m not sure if it’s this kind of quality, or food you can both eat. It might just be pet food.”
“Sounds like a great idea,” I said. “How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking.”
The phone buzzed again and he picked it up.
“It’s downtown,” he said, depressing a button on the screen to accept the job. “I think I’ll walk. I really could stand to lose some weight.”