(Here's the latest installation of Street Stories NYC, our weekly column in which contributor Jessica Hall interviews the homeless and street people she meets in New York City. This week she spoke with Armand Von Plotho.)
I met Armand where he was standing, singing, with his sign on the corner of 45th St. and 5th Ave. Armand sings traditional German operettas.
Where are you from?
I'm from Germany.
What was Germany like when you were little?
It was very nice. They still had these steam trains when I was there. I used to like them a lot. I also do a lot of construction, like toy work. I make cars and houses and trees and everything—that's my main hobby. I also like to travel and see the world.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
No, I don't. I used to live with my mother in Jersey, but she passed away and I never had a father. I'm not married.
How old were you when your mother passed away?
I was born May 18, 1944. She passed away in 1979, in Jersey. I must have been about 32. I don't know, I have to count it. My mother had a stroke and heaven saved her.
What did your mom do?
She lived in Berlin for 35 years. She sang opera.
I also can sing opera. No doubt about that.
Was she your inspiration?
Yeah. Because she did everything for me. She substituted as mother and father and she trained me and my voice. That's why I have a strong voice. (he sings) I can sing high and low, like my mother did. She sang in many cities in Germany.
How old were you when you came here?
I was 15. My mother brought me on a boat to the United States. It was an ocean liner called The Berlin. We both slept in one cabin. The trip was 10 days. May 15, 1959, to May 25.
What was your first impression of New York?
Not much different from Germany except the language. I learned English in Germany because I had an English dictionary. My mother took me to New Jersey and we lived in New Providence. It's a nice garden state.
Where did you go to school?
I went to school by correspondence. I also did home study. My mom taught me. She did everything. She was multi-talented. She was accomplished a lot of things in her life.
Where do you live now?
I got an apartment in Hoboken. It's a small studio. I have lived there for one year. Before that, oh, man! I went through hell. I had to go through hell. It was bad. I had to go to a shelter. The worst part is they—the other people in the shelter—didn't like me, and they wanted to make me mad and to rob and mock me. All because of my mother's death. The home [where I was living] was too expensive, so I had to leave, and wound up in the shelter. After that it was bad. I was afraid to live my life. It was downtown on 3rd Street. They're dangerous people. Every 30 cents I had they robbed from me.
Then I got a print job, and that was good. I had room and board in the print shop. Luckily I had a very nice man and he let me stay there from 1982 to 2006. Then everything changed and I had to go into a shelter again. Oh, man, that was hell. But I got an apartment after about 6 months in Hoboken.
Let's talk about your profession.
My profession is singing.
Do you always sing at the same location?
Many times. When it doesn't rain and snow. A lot of people they just pass me and don't want to give, and that's what bothers me. They see the sign and they keep walking. They see I'm going through hard times. It's serious. It's no joke.
Sometimes I'm also on Madison and 57th Street because I think I'm more fortunate over there.
How much money do you make in a day?
It depends how interested people are. $100 is very good, $80 is very good. I'm looking for work. But I'm looking mainly to sing on stage. If I can make even 5 or 6 hundred dollars an evening, that's fine with me. I'm looking for the opportunity to finally get on stage. If it's Radio City Music Hall, it's fine. Carnegie Hall. It's fine.
But not everyone can play at Carnegie Hall or Radio City Music Hall. Would be satisfied to sing somewhere else?
I would be happy to sing on any stage.