Friday, October 31, 2008
I spotted Jacob on the section of Main Street that passes through the middle of downtown Binghamton. I thought he might be waiting for a bus, but when I asked him if I could take his picture, he said he had time. He said he wasn't doing anything - just looking for a job.
We started walking down Main Street together, across the river and past the high school, into a seedier part of town where drunk war veterans sit on stoops outside homes and teenagers in bulky jackets meet on corners. Jacob told me they call this "The Strip" and at night, you can see prostitutes and drug dealers.
When I told Jacob that I live in Brooklyn, he told me he planned to move there someday. He said he had friends in the Heights and he had some idea of what neighborhoods you could actually live in. He thought he might have better luck getting a job in a bar or a restaurant and he might feel less alone in the city. Binghamton felt small to him, and sometimes there was no one around and nothing to do. He said you could fit everyone out on the street in Binghamton onto one block in Manhattan.
I asked him if he tried to get a job in a bar or a restaurant in Binghamton, and he said he'd have to work in the back - washing dishes or something - on account of his tattoos. Then I asked if he could do anything, what would he do.
"What's your dream job?"
Jacob told me his dream job was to be a construction worker. I wondered how hard it could be for a strong and strapping twenty-year-old guy like Jacob to find a construction job, and he said, "It's harder than you'd think."
I asked about his family, and he said they had their own problems and he didn't lean on them for help too much. His parents lived in Florida and he had a brother in Binghamton. When I wondered aloud if he was ever tempted to use drugs, he said, "No, that stuff will mess you up real bad."
When we passed a launderette, Jacob said he'd like to buy one of those. He thought you could make a lot of money off those coin machines.
We talked about the election and if the economy might change for the better. He wanted to know who I planned to vote for and when I told him Obama, I held my breathe to see how he would respond. He said, "Yeah, I'd vote for him too."
Before we said goodbye, Jacob looked me over and asked, "Is that the hippie look or just the laid back look?"
I said I definitely didn't consider myself a hippie, so I guess it was the laid back look.
He also wanted to know what I was taking these pictures for, what I was trying to do. I told him I was interested in the struggle of being his age in a place like Binghamton.
I gave him my card and asked if he had an email address so I could send him a photo. He said he was planning to set up a yahoo address at the library, and this week, I got a message from "Joker B".
When I mentioned Jacob to my girlfriend, I said," He wants to live in New York City."
"Don't they all," she replied.
I am leaving for Binghamton again tomorrow. I voted yesterday at the Board of Elections and I plan to celebrate Obama's victory on a late night bus back to New York City on Tuesday that makes a stop in the Greyhound Station in Scranton, Pennsylvania - Joe Biden's hometown.
I hope I see Jacob again - to take more pictures, perhaps, or simply to see how he is doing.