Alan Emmins is the author of Bench Bugs: Portraits of Homeless New York
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“Dude! Like, what the fuck?’
This particularly exasperating question wakes me up. As if sleeping on a concrete sidewalk, with my body numb and the road just feet away, isn’t bizarre enough, I now find myself staring back blankly at the inquisitor.
He says, ‘You’re not a real bum!’
He is right. I am not, nor have I ever been, as he put it, ‘a real bum’. But just how would he know? I am certainly dirty enough at this point. I have a bush on my face, my jeans are caked in grime and one need only point a snout towards my feet for there to be little doubt that they haven’t seen clean air in days. Let’s also not forget, I am asleep on the sidewalk! I have never before laid eyes on this fool, nor his girlfriend, who is now also bent over me questioningly. There is no way that they know me, or my reasons for sleeping on the sidewalk.
‘Dude, you’re not a real bum, get up.’
‘What do you expect me to say to that?’ I ask him, now leaning up on one elbow.
‘Dude, you were just with us at the party!’ he goes on emphatically.
‘How can you even do that?’ the girlfriend asks.
‘Right! Not ten minutes ago you were at the party dancing with us and now you’re on the sidewalk asleep! I mean, like, what the fuck, dude? How can you relax like that?’
I say, ‘You have me mistaken for somebody else.’
‘Why are you being such an asshole?’ the girlfriend wants to know. ‘You just spent most of the night with us and now you want to act like you don’t even know us?’
‘Listen, really. You have me mistaken for somebody else. I haven’t been to any party.’
‘Dude, stop fucking about. Come on. Let’s go!’
‘I don’t know what else to tell you. We haven’t met before. I haven’t been to a party. I have been up at Penn Station until, I don’t know, an hour ago.’
‘You fucking asshole! How can you do that to us?’ the girl demands almost tearfully.
‘Yeah, screw you, man! We’re outta here!’ And with that they start to walk. Then the boyfriend turns his head and over his shoulder adds, ‘But I know that’s not where you live!’
It’s a line of pure comedy genius, but I am not a good audience tonight. I rest my head back down on my bag and try to not feel so vulnerable.”
As always, these thoughts are my own and are by no means the rule. I would love to hear from people with experience around homelessness, especially about being homeless in New York. Please comment below and I will reply.
“Digging beneath the statistics and poverty, Emmins’ is a more than human portrait,” Dazed and Confused
“An absolutely fascinating book, a portrait of life on the streets of New York,” Robert Elms, the BBC
“A book that captured, without drama and urban myth, the reality of life on the streets,” Time Out
“Cutting edge reportage – Alan Emmins sees the world with such a fresh eye,” William Shaw
“Emmins’ portraits are tender and often shake his self-confidence to its core.” the Metro
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