It's raining. Song Jin Choe has found shelter near the Civic Theater entrance on Third Avenue. He sits on a bucket, to which he's tied a black scarf that serves as a handle for more comfortable carrying. Inside the bucket, he keeps empty water bottles, a pair of flip-flops and the rest of his belongings. Choe also carries a rolled-up sleeping mat—it's everything he needs to survive on the streets.
Choe, 34, has been homeless since arriving via train from L.A. about two years ago. Born in South Korea, Choe says he's lost contact with his family.
Choe has a nervous habit of spinning his water bottle around and around in his hands as he speaks, but he doesn't say much. He says he spends his days mostly in silence, watching the world go by.
Today, he's wearing Vans shoes with no socks, a white T-shirt worn upside down as shorts—his legs sticking through the arm holes—and three layers of jackets. He watches as a group of young professionals pass by.
“How come so many womans are wearing black right now?” he asks.
“Do you know the colors of bacteria?” he continues. “There's green, white and yellow, and depending on what”—he pauses as a plane flies overhead—“depending upon what is decaying, the colors are different. That's why there's green, black and white bacteria… and I wonder why so many womans are wearing black clothing.”
Choe seems to drift off into tangents more often than he's coherent. He looks down, spins his water bottle and mumbles to himself. After about 10 minutes, he becomes visibly annoyed with the conversation, but he's too nice to say so. His interviewer compliments one of his jackets.
“Do you want it?” he asks. “I'll give it to you. Oh, guess what? Alright, look, you might think it's bribery for the CityBeat, so I'll just leave it right here before I leave.”
With that, Choe takes off the jacket and lays it on the cement. He puts his water bottle into his bucket, picks up his sleeping mat and leaves.