When the weather is clear, Troy Geborde, also known as Troy Dog, sets up his wagon at the corner of 82nd Street and 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights. On a really good day — during the Halloween Parade last fall, for example — he can sell up to 600 hot dogs. Then he goes home and takes off the black jeans he wears to work. Underneath there are beautiful women’s stockings. He takes those off too. He takes a shower. And then he puts on a big T-shirt with teddy bears on it and gets his shish kebobs ready for tomorrow.
Troy, originally from British Guiana, is tall and has light brown skin. He’s picked up a little bit of a lot of languages, but generally he speaks English with a slight, untraceable accent. He has round features, wears a diamond stud in both ears and has long eyelashes. He has always known he is gay. As for his taste in men, “I like the macho,” he says, “because I’m so feminine.”
On a recent morning, Troy arrived at his corner around 9:30. He turned on the grill, attached the signs and opened the umbrellas, which are yellow and blue and covered in a thin layer of soot. Troy loves his job but was feeling depressed. “It’s so hard to find a good man,” he says, putting hot dogs into the boiling water. “I’m going to die an old woman.”
Along with hot dogs, Troy sells “Beef Patties,” “Gyros with Old World Flavor!” and “Famous Gabila’s Knishes.” He’s been setting up at that same corner for 11 years and he seems to know almost everybody in Jackson Heights. Customers stick around while they eat their food and people are always stopping to make jokes or say hi. It’s like an open-air barbershop. “When I’m not here,” Troy says, “It’s so sad.”
Troy likes almost everybody. But while he can be brash and candid with some people, with others he reins in his loquacious nature, that part of him that will casually mention how big he needs a man to be (very big). Basically, he finds common ground with whomever he’s around. The only people he doesn’t like are George Bush, who he blames for the country’s economic woes, and Rudy Giuliani, who he blames for his forced move from a previous vending spot on Seventh Avenue.
What Troy especially likes is scandalizing his customers. When someone asked how he manages to look so much younger than 42, he responded conspiratorially, “Nice sex.” Then he turned back to the little girl he was serving and handed her an empanada. “Here you go amiga,” he said.
That day in Jackson Heights, Troy was wearing work boots, a Yankees hat and his sister’s leather jacket. It had one rhinestone button but was bulky and came down below his waist. He wore it over two sweaters that he rolled up over the cuffs.
But when Troy goes out he wears feathers and eight-inch heels. His friends call him La India, a Puerto Rican singer otherwise known as the Goddess of House Music. Or if he doesn’t want to go to all that trouble he just puts on his best outfit from Bang Bang, a store around the corner from his stand where they play loud club music and sell shirts with sequins for the girls and distressed jeans for the boys. “When I go out,” he says, “you would not believe I sell hot dogs on the street.”
By 2pm, the lunch rush in Jackson Heights has come and gone. One of the other vendors on the street comes over to say hi. He says his name is, “Tony, and that’s it.” He also says he was an ex-cop who was kicked off the force for accepting bribes and had spent three years living on the streets. Tony has seen pictures of Troy as a transvestite. “He looks good,” says Tony, “He’s got the eyes, the legs.”
Troy looks pleased. “I’m wearing layers right now but I’m skinny.”
“He’s like my wife,” Tony says of Troy, “But we don’t have sex.”
Then Tony went back to his stand. “I must go guide my empire.”
Until he was nine, Troy was raised by his father, of whom he speaks matter-of-factly. “He was an alcoholic and his friends used to abuse me,” Troy says, turning the shish kebobs on the grill. “I had a hard time but it’s past, it’s gone. People live with that.”
Then Troy came to New York. He lived with his grandmother and his sister and went to school for a couple months but dropped out without really learning to read or write. He can do the basics, but that’s it.
At first, Troy worked in restaurants, doing any job he could get. Eventually he started selling peanuts on the street. He moved on to fruit, and then to the knishes, hot dogs and gyros he sells today. He takes pride in his food. “How is it? Good? Beautiful?” he asks his customers, “You see?”
The customers generally agree the food is beautiful but the main thing they talk about is Troy. “He’s fantastic, personable,” says Keith Sacher, a teacher who stopped by on his way home from work. “I can’t say enough about him. When it rains, I miss him,”
Troy likes it when it rains because he doesn’t have to feel guilty about not going to work. But having a job that is so dependent on the weather is hard. “Sometimes to pay the bills I have to put my jewels in the pawn shop.”
Troy doesn’t wish he had another job, though, and plans on selling hot dogs forever. “I think I’m going to die on this spot,” he says. He hopes people put up a bronze wagon on his corner once he’s gone.
By 6:30, Troy has run out of almost everything. “No more patties, no more knish, no more sauerkraut,” Troy says to a man in a business suit.
“You had a good day,” the man responds, and orders a shish kebob.
“This is the last one,” says Troy, handing it over. “I’m a very famous person. I’m running for mayor.”
Troy isn’t running for mayor but in a way, he is famous. There was the time a kid recognized him in Disney World, but even better was the time Troy was on a train to Paris when a man started staring at him. “This guy, he’s cruising me,” says Troy. Troy’s long hair was tied up in a scarf, “in a bundle,” as he put it, and his outfit included “beautiful pants” and diamonds. “I looked dazzling,” he adds.
The man turned to Troy, “Do you have a brother who sells hot dogs on 82nd Street?”
“No,” said Troy, “I have a secret.” Here he pauses for dramatic effect. “It’s me.”