Formerly Meat Heaven
On my way to the subway this morning, I discovered that the massive concrete tree support by the Franklin Avenue Shuttle station on Eastern Parkway has been transformed from boorish hulking brute to tranquil river scene. The painting is identified as The Oise by Camille Pissarro; it appears to be a somewhat idealized version of Pissarro's The Oise on the Outskirts of Pontoise.
Walking through Flatlands, I came across a front yard and a nearby SUV packed full of assorted items: rakes and snow shovels, newspapers and books, a mini fridge and a water cooler. Drawn in by the spectacle (Street View), I stopped to take photos. From an outsider's perspective, the collections amassed by hoarders tend to have a kookily humorous quality to them. Often the individual items themselves are quite odd, but even when they're not, the total volume and density of stuff is just kind of inherently ridiculous and funny.
When I turned the corner and ran into John DePietro and began talking with him, however, I was reminded that hoarding is not merely an amusingly eccentric habit, but rather a manifestation of deep psychological issues. With tears in his eyes, John told me about his depression and his deteriorating mental state and how all that has contributed to his hoarding.
According to him, his problems began around the late 1990s with the construction of a public school in Staten Island across the street from a house he had bought not long before. He said that when it rained, stormwater runoff from the school would flow across the street and inundate his property. After his complaints to the authorities were ignored, he abandoned his plans to make the house the primary residence for his family.
In 2007, the city decided to demolish the buildings on his property, claiming they had fallen into dangerous disrepair. (A Street View image from that year shows the yard overgrown and filled with piles of what appears to be lumber.) John said the city failed to inform him of this plan in time for him to fix the problems, which he believes he could have easily done. In fact, he said the city failed to inform him at all, and he only found out about the impending demolition when Con Ed called him the day before to tell him the power was being cut off.
John told me he was able to strike a deal with the Department of Buildings to leave a garage and the Florida room standing, since they were in good condition, and he made sure all his valuable items, including important family keepsakes, were in those buildings before the demolition commenced. He then managed to obtain a last-minute court order postponing the demolition, only to have it ignored by various city representatives present at the demolition site. The city proceeded to level the entire property, including the garage and the Florida room, destroying all the possessions John intended to save.
He subsequently filed a lawsuit against everyone involved in the whole affair, but the facts of the matter were never sorted out in court. After his lawyer withdrew from the case, John decided to go it alone. He repeatedly failed to produce documents and comply with court orders in a timely fashion, however, and the case was eventually dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be tried again.
Still feeling like he had been deeply wronged, John asked me to share his story in the desperate hope that someone would be able to help him find justice. I obviously don't know what actually happened in the past, but it's clear that John is in a tough place right now and could really use a kind turn of fortune.
Something about this fire truck caught my eye from down the block. As I veered off course to inspect it, I noticed some odd features: an antiquated bell, a wooden ladder, and "GOLDBERG FIRE DEPT." painted on the door. It turns out it's owned by a man named Harris Goldberg who runs the auto repair shop it's parked beside. Also on display today from the extensive Goldberg Collection were an '80s-era NYPD patrol car, a classic Checker cab, and a Good Humor ice cream truck.
THERE GOES HARRIS