No matter the weather, you'd see Donald out and about collecting newspapers, bottles, cans, anything, really. He'd pile it atop the cart and push it toward his apartment on East Fifth Street between Avenue A and Avenue B. After sorting through a load inside the apartment, he'd take whatever he didn't want to the corner of Avenue A and Fifth Street and neatly (or not) stack it.
I don't know a lot about Donald. He was just someone who was an everyday presence in the neighborhood. I was told he has lived in the East Fifth Street apartment his entire life. (And I'd say he was in his 50s.) He lived with his mother and sister, who both died in recent years. I talked with Donald several times, though it wasn't really a conversation. He'd say that he wanted to adopt a new sister and ask how he could go about it. He also talked about how much he missed his mother. He had no other family that I was aware of. I can't exactly describe his mental state. He mostly spoke in an agitated voice. He seemed to be able to take care of himself. I saw him in Key Food a few times buying groceries and standing in line at Citibank.
I heard stories that his landlord had wanted him out -- for years. I heard stories that the landlord changed his locks several times. I can't say if any of this is true. Because his family had lived there for 50-plus years, the rent was nonexistent. I heard that some of his new neighbors in the building, understandably not pleased with Donald's habit of bringing garbage into his apartment every day for hours on end, were paying healthy East Village rents. (A person who had been inside Donald's apartment said that it was filthy.)
Some time in October, city workers showed up at Donald's apartment to remove him. Workers boxed up all of the salvageable possessions and piled them onto a truck. Other items were placed on the curb. Witnesses said Donald was agitated, and the police officers on the scene had to subdue and handcuff him.
No one has seen him since. A few people who knew Donald have tried to reach out to his social workers, though I'm not sure about the success of their efforts. People are just curious where he is; if he's doing OK.
I told this story to a longtime East Village resident who now lives in another part of the city. I thought that he knew Donald. Here's what he said:
A distressing story. I remember the guy, and thinking back on it, there there are quite a few such characters who seem to disappear over the years and you're never sure what happened with them. There was a woman on 3rd btw 2nd/1st who would sit on the stoop naked save a ratty bathrobe ... and ask every person passing "Got a cigarette?" I saw her two, three times a day and my answer never changed. "I don't smoke." Still, she'd ask me every time. Then one day she was gone.
Sad, really. It's those folk who give the EV its favor, make it unique.