By now, I’m sure, you’ve read MatC’s and Pathwalker’s tales of Urban Exploration on that fateful night of Dec the 23rd in Amsterdam, New York. And you know all of the highlights: the mysterious radio; the elevator accident; the dead birds; the maglite bong; and the leftover auction items. I really have nothing new to add to those tales of adventures; both MatC and Pathwalker have done a superb job relating the adventures of that evening in much descriptive detail. My story of the abandoned Coleco Factory begins a week-and-a-half-later (technically a year later if you want to be pedantic and jerky).
My neighbor of three years, and good friend whom I shall call “Antonio” expressed an interest in exploring the leftover auction items on the first floor of the factory. So, on Jan 2nd we waited until just after dark (so as not to be noticed by neighbors) and headed over to the abandoned Coleco warehouse to examine its wares. My eleven year old brother, whom I shall call “Nicholas”, accompanied us to the old warehouse. We investigated for about a half-an-hour and Antonio found two chairs that he thought he might want, as well as a few other odds and ends. There was far too much for one trip so we decided to take two trips (not a big deal as our house was only a block away).
After depositing the goods back at Antonio’s place we returned to the Coleco warehouse, about fifteen minutes later and began to explore when a shout was heard from somewhere in the darkness: “Hey dudes! You want some beer?”
We all froze. I thought: Shit! It’s probably a bunch of drugged and/or intoxicated teenagers and we’re going to have a confrontation. I shouted, “No thanks!”
Antonio asked me in a hushed whisper, “Do you think they were here before when we took the chairs?”
I replied that I didn’t know, but that I was nervous. We decided to stay near the door, but to continue to explore so as not to look suspicious as I’m sure it would have if we had just bolted.
We continued to explore for about fifteen minutes all the while checking our back and glancing towards the darkened corner which was remarkably and mysteriously silent. As we searched we stumbled upon a box of plastic bags with an Outrageous Fortune label. Of course, Outrageous Fortune being a brief eighties film hit staring Shelly Long and Bette Middler. We all found this odd and wondered if these bags may have some collectible value.
The discovery had taken our minds off the enigmatic voice for the time being, but we began to worry again. We decided that we would attempt communication, but would rename ourselves for protection. Antonio said he would be Jimmy, my brother would be Fred, and I would be Thomas.
I hesitantly yelled out “hey”. The mysterious dweller answered, “Hello” and came from the darkened corner.We were all relived to discover that it was only one person, and an obviously homeless person.He wasn’t tall, about my height which is five-foot-two, weighing about one-hundred-ten pounds.His feet were bare and he wore tattered gray sweat-pants and a dirty red winter jacket with a hood. His un-gloved blackened hands were holding a can of beer. He smelled strongly of body odor and alcohol. He introduced himself as John and explained that he was just hanging out having some beers.
Antonio asked him, “We’re you here before when we came in earlier.”
He replied, “Probably, but I was asleep.”
“Where were you sleeping?” I asked.
He explained that there was a cot over in the corner with some blankets that he was using. He took us over to the corner to show us a decent cot complete with sheets and a few tattered blankets. He again offered us some beers, but we refused again. We chatted with him for few minutes and learned that he was twenty-five years old and was from California, “the desert’ as he called it. He claimed that he was living with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend, but she kicked him out. Homeless with no place to go, he hoped a freight train that eventually brought him to Albany, New York, and then hitchhiked to Amsterdam. Why someone would go from the warm weathered state of California to the harsh winter of Amsterdam, New York is beyond me, but here he was homeless, living on the first floor of the Amsterdam Coleco Warehouse.
Relieved that he was not a threat—mind you we were still cautious, but our guts told us John was not a threat--we explained that we had to take off. He offered us a few blankets, but we politely declined got the second round of Antonio’s treasure and headed home.
Later that evening, John was still on my mind. I mentioned our adventure at the dinner table and explained that I was worried as John did not have proper clothes for the winter weather. It was also interesting to me that a homeless person without much to his name would be so giving, offering his beer and his blankets to perfect strangers. Charity is found in the most unlikely of places.
After hearing the story my mother became concerned about John’s well-being as well. Having excessively altruistic hearts—which has gotten us into to trouble in the past—my mother and I decided that we should bring John some food and some extra gloves and maybe a good winter hat.
We packed a cardboard box with a pair of gloves, a winter hat, a big plate of baked ziti (that night’s dinner that I had made), a bag of salad, half-a-bottle of Sprite, and a small plush M&M figure-- courtesy of my five year old sister who thought he might need a companion—and headed back over to the factory with the box of goodies.
John was very thankful and immediately went for the gloves and hat. Antonio and Nicholas and I chatted with John for a good ten minutes while he ate and then said our goodbyes as John said he was tired and wanted to hit the sack.
My mother and I were happy that we were able to help John out, but I was still concerned about his clothes and footwear. They couldn’t possibly be keeping John warm in the harsh New York winter. So, my brother and Nicholas and I headed over to see John during the day this time. As we neared the entrance to the factory John happened to be heading out as well.
“Hey John” I shouted!
“Hey, how ya doin’” he replied.
“Good. Where are ya headed?”
“I was just gonna head over to Eckerd and look in the big ashtray for some leftover buts to smoke. You wanna come in?”
We headed into the factory, over to John’s corner as it were. Once inside John told us how much he had like the pasta and salad. He then offered us some donuts. I glanced over to where he was pointing and noticed a less than clean looking box of Krispy Kreme donuts.
“Where did you get those, John?” I asked him, curious as to where he would get a box of donuts from.
“Somebody threw them away in the dumpster”. He replied, nonchalantly.
My brother and I refused obviously.
“Do you have any smokes?” He asked.
“No, sorry. I don’t smoke”.
I asked John if he could use a new pair of shoes. He said he would and showed me the shoes that he had been wearing: a pair of lace-less, ripped, grayed running sneakers. He said that he had found them in a shelter and that they didn’t fit properly and were cutting his feet, affecting his walking. We determined his shoe size which serendipitously happened to be my shoe size. I explained that I would look around and see what I had. I asked him why he didn’t look into staying in a shelter. He claimed that he had tried, but was refused entry as he did not have identification.
Just as Nicholas and I were about to leave an older gentlemen walked into the factory over to where we were talking. Nicholas and I immediately recognized him as the “bottle man”. Essentially he is the neighborhood drunk, bum, and Looney all wrapped up in one; in any case harmless. He is often seen around the neighborhood collecting bottles and cans in a shopping cart hence the nickname “bottle man”. He is believed to live in various vacant houses in the area. He immediately began rambling about some lighters that someone gave him. He brought one out of his pocket and began flicking it, but it would not light. He then grumbled about “getting” the people who gave him the lighter. He then asked John, “You wanna do a job for me? I got a stove you can help me fix and then I can get ya some beer.”
John replied that he would do it. Then the “bottle man” became concerned and explained to us, “I’m worried about him” referring to John. “He’s not gonna make it through the cold—not in these clothes.” Nicholas and I agreed with him. I was very surprised and warmed by the charity among the needy. The “bottle man” mumbled some other things, reconfirmed his “work plans” with John and headed out.
Once the “bottle man” left I headed home and found a pair of old sneakers, which were in much better condition that what he had and I also found an old pair of jeans of which I guessed to be his size. The sneakers would have done him no good without socks. So my wife and I headed up to Wal-Mart and picked up some necessary supplies for John: a pack of wool socks, a flashlight, and a pack of smokes, a lighter, and a padded flannel shirt with hood.
After a dinner of some pizza I packed up another box with the aforementioned items and headed over. John quickly tried on the socks, shoes, pants, and shirt which all fit brilliantly. He was thankful for all the gifts, but I think he was most satisfied with the pack of cigarettes. It must be difficult to be homeless with a cigarette addiction. I mentioned that I had found a radio on or near the fifth floor that is operational. I suggested that we find it and he could use it to have some company. Oddly enough we searched for a good half-an-hour and could not locate the mysterious black radio. Maybe we had just overlooked it in the dark, maybe somebody else came in and took, or maybe the owner came back. I suggested to John that he look during the day.
We headed back downstairs and chatted for awhile. I warned of the upcoming storm and helped him board-up a broken window with a piece of plywood. We discussed possible options for travel. John mentioned that he always wanted to see Florida. He also mentioned that he was getting homesick for California and may think about returning.
“ Which way does the train run?” He asked me.
I explained that the train ran east and west and that he should go east to New York City and take a train south to Florida. He mentioned that he might try it.
The next morning I took an early morning flight back to Houston, Texas. According to reports from Antonio and my family John has not been seen in over a week-and-a-half. Maybe we outfitted him well enough to give him that push to head south or back home to California, or the “desert” as he called it. We can only hope.
Wherever you may be John, Godspeed!