This is contributor Jessica Hall’s weekly column, in which she interviews the street and homeless people she meets around the city.
I was riding my bike down Lexington Avenue when I passed Evander standing in front of a deli shaking his cup. I looked at him as I passed, and he smiled at me, so I decided to go back and talk to him. "It makes a big difference to shake the cup, doesn’t it?" I said. "I guess so, " he replied. Well, it got my attention.
Where are you from?
Buffalo, New York.
How long have you been in New York City?
Been here two years now.
I came here to get my disability ’cause I had trouble getting my disability upstate. After my car accidentâ¦ I was hit by a car July, 2003. I was walking down Lexington Avenue. I had the right of way and the guy turned the wrong way and hit me from the left side. (I was born this way, my right hand was a birth defect.) He hit me and I flipped over a couple times I landed on my back and had spinal injury. My motor skills is damaged with my left hand; I get muscle spasms in my left leg, I take spasm pills every day.
Were you on disability before?
Never. I always worked. Before the car accident, I did office clerical and customer service work, that was my field — that includes reception, supermarket, social service, anything that was dealing with the public.
Today was a bad day for me. It’s always bad at the beginning of the month.
Where are you staying?
I was at Wards Island up till Tuesday, I’m in the shelter system in Brooklyn, I’m in a three-quarter house. I share a place with a couple guys, we can cook. I don’t want to bug others. I got cousins here in the city. I told âem when I came back here I didn’t come back to depend on y’all, I came back to get my disability.
How do you like where you are staying now?
It’s nice. I like it. It’s better than a dorm with 15-20 men in a room.
Why do you come all the way here to panhandle?
Because they know me on this side of town. I’ve been coming here since 2002. They know me here and they know my situation; they been helping me out since before the accident.
Do you have any family?
I got two god-brothers upstate in Buffalo. My real sister died back in the 80s. She was a diabetic, she had a sugar reaction. She was 26 years old.
Before my baby god-brother died — the same year I got hit by a car — he had a bad heart, he used to do professional wrestling too. We used to go to Canada and watch them wrestle, his name was Mr. Big Stuff. Remember that song, an old R& B song in the 70s? He came out with his cape and shoes and all that.
Do the agencies and people who are supposed to help you actually help you?
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. When I was at Wards Island they helped me out the housing specialist, I talked to her Monday and Tuesday I was in my new place.
What do you do when you’re not out here?
If I’m not here I go to the doctor or walk around.
What is your plan for the future?
My plan is to continue on working to get my disability. I might stay here or go back to Buffalo. I love New York. I worked for the city from ’82 to ’84 under the Koch administration. I worked for OMB [Office of Management and Budget].
What do you think of Bloomberg?
He’s OK too. Even though I’m a Democrat I’m not going to say he’s bad. He’s running for a third term; I think it should be left up to the people. I did voter registration petition drives from 1985-2000. I did political work.
I was a committee person for four years. I was a good friend with the first black mayor of Buffalo. I was very political upstate; I’m not political here âcause I really don’t know anymore.
Who are you going to vote for?
I’m not even registered. I have until October 10, I think. Tomorrow would be my mother’s birthday — October 4, 1925, same year Malcolm X was born.
What do you think of Malcolm X?
He was Ok, he was very outspoken, very revolutionary, but when he went to Mecca he toned down a little because he found out it’s not black folks that’s Islam; he changed his tune. He died when I was five years old. Kennedy got killed in ’63. I remember King and Robert Kennedy getting killed, that was ’68. I remember going to school and coming home and there was a riot. I used to take the yellow bus, I was coming home from school and I couldn’t get off at my usual stop. People got mad when King was killed. I was 6 or 7 years old.
Have we made progress since then?
We made a little progress. We still have a little way to go. I’m not gonna say it was in vain. I was raised to treat everybody right because I was raised a Christian, when I was a kid growing up it was mandatory to be in church, sometimes 9am to 9pm. Both my mother and godmother did missionaries in the church.
Hey, this is like that TV show This is Your Life. He used to interview famous people about their life. Ralph Edwards.
Have people been good to you out here?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I could never repay the people here, they’ve been more than nice what they did for me. The monetary value wouldn’t pay for it. Nobody owes me nothin’ but the government. Like Mr. Poll here. [Mr. Poll is the owner of the deli Poll Gourmet Foods, at 1051 Lexington Ave. Evander was panhandling in front of. He came out to introduce himself to me.] I come here now and then to get a sandwich and a soda. They’re good people.
There must be something about you.
It all does revolve around you. Only you can change you. I learned that a long, long time ago. If you wanna make things change you gotta take it upon yourself.