Volume 79, Number 9 | August 5 - 11, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Lincoln Anderson

Darren and Ingrid in Tompkins Square Park wearing their De La Vega T-shirts.

Shooting the bull on Tompkins Square’s ‘Crusty Row’

By Lincoln Anderson

What’s the definition of a crusty? The question was posed during a discussion on “Crusty Row” in Tompkins Square Park on a recent Sunday afternoon.

“A crusty drinks copious amounts of malt alcohol,” offered a man who said to call him Lump, in his 20s. On the other hand, Lump said, “A gutter pirate does everything.”

Roaming around and being homeless are often part of the equation, too.

“I live wherever I am — usually a junkyard,” Lump said. 

Another man, who gave his name as Road Runner, age 21, said he planned to hop a freight train up to Montreal soon, but that the rails have become “hot.”

“Just want to ride free,” he said.

A spotlight was focused on Crusty Row — near the park’s southwestern corner — and its denizens after the May 9 death of Lesia Pupshaw, a neighborhood woman who was part of the park’s drugs-and-drinking scene. Although Pupshaw, 26, who lived on E. Sixth St., was reportedly badly injured in a clash with local youths the night before her death, the medical examiner ruled last month that her death was caused by “acute intoxication” from the combined effects of alcohol and multiple drugs — opiates, Xanax and methadone.

Darren, 36, said he’s been around awhile and knows the score. Talk to me, he said. 

Back in ’94, he used to be a “pitcher” for GQ, a brand of crack, at 12th St. and First Ave. He was making $300 to $600 a night dealing on the street corner. 

He wasn’t shy about talking, even if it was to a police officer, though the “officer” said he was, in fact, a reporter.

“Newspaper, officer — I don’t give a s--t. I already did my time,” Darren said, his breath smelling of alcohol.

Darren has his culinary-arts degree, hopes to be a head chef and lives with his girlfriend, Ingrid, in a “couples shelter” in Queens.

“I do do heroin now,” he said. “I’m starting on methadone tomorrow.” He planned to enter a program run by Greenwich House on Cooper Square. Methadone “is like free heroin,” he noted.

Darren said he gets heroin — he didn’t reveal where — and sniffs it “right here,” on Crusty Row. 

Every day, he’s on Crusty Row, he said.

“I’m ashamed of it, bro,” he admitted. “But I have a habit. I wake up sick every day.”

Beyond being sick for a fix, he has hepatitis C. 

Ingrid, 33, like Darren, wants to get off heroin. She had already started on methadone that Friday.

“We’ve been around the block. We know what’s going on,” Darren said.

“He lost a job, we lost a child — and we took a little break from life,” Ingrid explained of why they’ve been on drugs.

Darren said he hoped to recruit other members of Crusty Row to join them in the methadone maintenance program.

“As drug addicts ourselves, we’re going to try to help them,” he said.

By his estimate, there are 60 to 80 junkies who hang out on Crusty Row, though not all at once. On the recent Sunday, only about 25 were there, sitting on the benches, or milling around on the park path.

“Three-quarters of these cats are out there spare-changing right now,” Darren explained.

A bag of heroin costs $10, he said; ten bags are a “brick.”

“Most of these cats are using 10 bags a day,” he noted. “Most of them need to do eight bags before they even feel anything.”

The drug users panhandle about $60 to $100 a day to support their habits, according to Darren. Though, he added, a bit derisively — making a phone with his hand and putting it up to his ear — some of them can just call their parents and have them send money.

Heroin was in the news again recently after Dash Snow, 27, the privileged young artist rebel from a well-known family, fatally overdosed in a hotel room at Lafayette House on E. Fourth St.

As for the crusties, the bathrooms at McDonald’s and Starbucks in Union Square are popular places to shoot up, since they’re not for patrons only, Ingrid noted.

A young guy without a shirt on made a show of being anguished that the methadone program wouldn’t take him — “because I’m too young,” he wailed.

But Ingrid knowingly said, it’s because he didn’t show ID and because he doesn’t really want to take methadone anyway. 

Darren playfully put the man in a headlock, telling him he better join the program.

A police officer strolled through the row at one point, quipping a bit with the group as he inspected one crusty’s belongings on a bench. Later on, a patrol car cruised slowly through the lane.

A guy with a bandanna on his head joined the group and sat up on the top of a bench, his presence creating a bit of buzz. The night before he had been arrested for disorderly conduct for shouting at cars on Avenue A, Ingrid said with a smile.

She clearly gets a kick out of the characters on Crusty Row, like one man who always tries to convince police his bottle of vodka is Vitamin Water. She smiled at the ridiculousness of it all — then added quickly, “It’s depressing.”

The interview would cost $1, Darren said. Photos would cost a couple more. That would pay for a tasty slice of pizza later, Ingrid quickly offered, saying she was looking forward to it.

Don’t worry, Darren assured, the money wouldn’t go toward drugs.

“We already are on heroin today,” he said. “We already got high for today.”

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