I met Jeff when I was walking along Union Square East one steamy afternoon. He was lying down behind his sign, and the first thing I noticed about him was his tattoos—nightmarish images that stretched along the length of his legs, with laughing skeletons pointing their bony fingers. "Those are scary!" I said. He looked up at me and said, "Yeah, and I seen âem all."
Where are you from?
I'm from Martinsville, Indiana. I got in trouble when I was 17. Me and two other guys were traveling in California and we robbed a Piggly Wiggly. The judge gave me the choice of joining the military or going to CA Youth Authority. Two days after my 18th birthday I was in Vietnam. I was a gunner on a chopper. My MOS (Military Occupational Service) was called ground defense communications. I was a gunner and radio man who let the pilot know when it we could go up and come down.
When I put that flag out here hopefully people will come by and see it and be reminded that soldiers made this country what it is. If it wasn't for soldiers we wouldn't have this country. Not like we got it. You know what? I got a purple heart and a medal of congressional honor. My voice is like this cause of the gunpowder. I drink every day. I drink like 10 fuckin' fishes. I don't bother nobody and I never hurt nobody.
Every now and then I wind up in jail 'cause of a bottle or open
container, then the cops call the VA and they cut off my benefits. If
you're in jail than technically the city or the county is taking care
I got $964 a month for the last 34 years. Every 3 years the price of living goes up but I never had an increase in my benefits. You know who you have to tell that to? All those fuckin' assholes runnin' around with their cell phones. I bet you $10 right now you could go up to 10 people and they wouldn't know who the vice president is. Five people might know. I've done it, and people couldn't tell me. They're not paying attention.
I understand, you got shit you gotta do every day. I'm 56 years old and I never voted. Hey, you should take shorthand.
I know. Who would you vote for now?
I was gonna vote for Hillary Clinton but she dropped out. She'd make a difference. This country needs some change and if we're going to go to war with someone our major threat is China and they ain't gonna do nothin'. Go to the store and what do you see? It's all from China. Bush? I don't like his daddy and I don't like him. He can't run again, he's on his last horse. He's a liar and even though John McCain is a veteran he's just a rich asshole that wants to be president.
Put this down that I said this: if Obama gets elected he's going to be assassinated.
I don't give a rat's ass. This country can kiss my ass. We've forgotten where we came from and we've forgotten who we are.
Yeah, you got a lot of troops out here. (on the street) I don't know why. I been here 6 years. I lost my wife 5 years ago to a drunk driver. I got sick of everything. I went after the son of a bitch too. They had me red flagged and they put him under protective custody. They put me in jail and the judge threw it out when he found out why.
Why are you homeless?
Me. My attitude and my mouthâ¦.
I got two bullets here (points to his left leg), a plastic kneecap, and two bullets right here (points to his right leg). It was my choice, but I wouldn't do it again. I had a good crew. They were paramedics. We went in and picked up the elite forces all over Vietnam and brought them out. We started bringing out POWs and MIAs in â73, that's when Nixon got us out, but we were over there a lot longer than that. Not me, though, I was out in '73. I was there from 1969-'73.
What happened to your legs?
I got shot. I was sitting over on the side manning the gun, all of a sudden I got hit. A sniper got me. I'm damn sure he wasn't aimin' for my legs.
I came back and got in trouble. I had a bad attitude about Jane Fonda—You shoulda been here a couple days ago. There was some girl with a microphone talkin' bout Vietnam and baby killers. I took the microphone and told them I got a purple heart and a congressional medal of honor and come up here and tell me I'm a baby killer. Nobody did. Don't talk about another person âtill you've walked in their shoes.
A holiday. I gotta buy my liquor the night before.
Tell me about your tattoos?
Do you know what surrealism is?
Like Hieronymus Bosch? (I said that because that's exactly what his tattoos reminded me of)
Yeah, and Salvador Dali. That's what all this is. These are all exes. (He points to his left leg) This is my kids' mom, these are two sisters, this is Debi and this is Denise. I got 2 kids and 3 grandkids. They're doin' good. My son just got his first son and naturally since I was in and out of prison he's makin' a point to show me he's gonna be a better dad. Aint' nothin' wrong with that, but the kid's gotta lighten up a little bit.