The Hunchback of Atlantic Avenue

Whenever I saw him, I’d think: There goes the hunchback of Atlantic Avenue. I’d always see him on the same corner, day and night, fair weather or foul. He reminded me of a goblin. Sometimes, he was sweeping leaves in front of the deli, the furniture store or the funeral parlor. Sometimes he was asleep on the sidewalk, next to a pile of empty milk crates. Sometimes he was so high on something, heroin, I think, he lurched from corner to corner, oblivious to the rest of the world. High or straight, his spine was permanently curved, bent over. One day, my dog Molly insisted on saying hello. I acquiesced even though he seemed scary. Little by little, however, I got to know him.

We became friends. When he isn’t high, he is very sweet. He is charming and considerate. Always has a kind word, loves Molly. When he’s high, I ignore him. I don’t think he recognizes me anyway. I asked around the neighborhood, and found out that he was once a prosperous man living in the Bronx. He owned several grocery stores, was strong armed into money laundering. He got caught and ended up in prison. Lost everything. He acquired a drug habit. I don’t know how he made the trek down to Brooklyn Heights, but suffice to say, he became a neighborhood fixture. I did find out however, how he survives.

The owners of the deli, the furniture store and the funeral parlor (and perhaps others) look out for him. Hire him to sweep or shovel. Buy him lunch, hot coffee on cold days, offer him a place to sleep out of the elements. He seems to be a junkie that people trust. As crazy as this sounds, I would trust him, too. Despite everything, he is a good man. When I heard this story, I thought, who says compassion is passé or New Yorkers are heartless? Don’t say it to me. I know otherwise. Would it be better if he went into rehab, got a job, got off the street? No doubt. Will that happen? Probably not. At least he has found a make-shift home for himself on Atlantic Avenue, amongst people who are kind. People who look out for their neighbors— no matter how that word is defined. I don’t think of him as the hunchback of Atlantic Avenue anymore, now I know him by his name.

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  • EAC

    I have always wondered about him! One day, as I walked by, he told me I have cute toes. It definitely creeped me out. However, there’s something gentle about him and whenever we pass he says hello and has a smile. Even though I wish his situation was different, I’m glad that people are looking out for him.

  • nobody

    Thanks for the story. Its good to see that we still have humans that care living in this neighborhood.

  • Sarah

    I was slightly unnerved by Nick’s presence before I got to know him, but he is an incredibly sweet and compassionate human being. When he found my elderly neighbor wandering on Atlantic in only his underwear on a winter day, Nick brought him inside, called him an ambulance, went with him to the hospital, and came back to our building to check on him during the following weeks. Thank you for writing this piece and giving him the credit he deserves.

  • brooklynite

    I’ve always wondered about him. Sometimes I catch myself starring at him during one of his “leaning” episodes in hopes that he doesn’t tip over. Glad to know a little bit more about him.

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  • E G

    I have lived here most of my life. Why don’t I know this guy??? This is frustrating and wounding to my ego as I tend to think of myself as highly observant. Maybe I am blanking out (being too young to have a senior moment) Maybe by chance I’ve never been on the same corner at the same time as this man for all of my years here.

    I will now be on the lookout. Thanks for the advanced word on him being one of the good guys despite all appearances.

  • peppermint

    I’ve always wondered about this guy as well. He seems to be guarding the furniture store late at night. He has never seemed to bother anyone although he has always been someone I’ve tried to avoid eye contact with. You know, empty street, late at night, old guy on the corner talking to himself. He’s lucky he has the local businesses to look out for him and I suppose they are lucky that he looks out for their businesses.! Thank you for this post. Gives me a whole new perspective on the guy.

  • adam suerte

    I met him when Our tattoo shop was on Atlantic ave next to Magentic field for 2 years. We called him “noddy”, he was sad and funny at the same time, then I too, came to know him. A genuinely sweet guy, always says hello, we would pass him several times a day and when about his wits was always willing to chew the rag. We became friends or at least friendly acquaintances. We figured at least the funeral home was taking care of him, as that’s where we saw him the most. Sometimes we’d be going home super late and would stop by the deli and he would be there “oh you workeen late papa” he would say, and conversation would ensue. Now we are on Smith street, and alas, we see him there all the time as well. At Ziads or rummaging through this and that. he remembers us, we talk about the differences of business on Smith than Atlantic. Once I was smoking outside the shop and daydeaming while looking in my own window, I felt a prsence that woke me out of my day slumber, he had been standing next to me for who knows how long I looked down and he’s smiling like he just played the biggest joke in his life, it cracked me up. He has a sense of humour too. Thanks for writing this, I am sure many people see him and are interested in a back story.

  • http://clarkdarlene@yahoo.com nazimova

    wonderful story !! I too am glad there are “good people” still in the neighborhood. Having lived her many years I have come to know many people like Nick..Most are dead and gone now or just disappeared..sometimes I wonder whatever became of so and so..I talk with my neighbors and local merchants about them from time to time& we all remember them fondly..