Bobby From the Block – Yenta Crack Fiend Redux

The Best Of The Zola System

I’ve been thinking about one of my favorite New York street folks these past few days.


New Yorkers have been portrayed as a neurotic strange breed in film and television.  We move into our elegant cells, close the door and become somewhat secretive.  Yes, there are those that come to the city to get away small town where everyone knows what everyone else is doing.  The lure of New York for these folk is to blend in and become part of the organic fabric of the city.  If this is the reason you intend to come to New York, I recommend you do not move onto the square block between 2nd and 3rd Avenues between 74th and 75th Streets.  If you do, Bobby will know your every move.

Bobby, or Bobby from the Block, is an early 1980’s drop out who found he liked a crack pipe and sleeping on the streets more than his lucrative Wall Street gig.  Due to a somewhat distant family connection, the doctor who owns most of the Upper East Side block in question allows Bobby to sleep in his doorways.  The sole proviso was Bobby would not commit any violent act against any person on the block.  If he chose to work the street, that was fine as long as it was just panhandling. Any strong-arm tactics would earn an eviction from his beloved stoop at 203 East 75th and a trip to Riker’s Island.

Bobby, with his thick salt and pepper beard, gravely voice and angular way of throwing his skinny tanned arms around when excited, became the busy bodies busy body.  He knew everything about everybody and was certain to ask about sick family members or new significant others.  He was the greeter and concierge for the block.  When a new bartender, clerk or resident came into his orbit, Bobby would follow them as often as he could, questioning them, peering through them with his dark brown eyes.  This tactic would elicit the information he wanted and the mark paid his a dollar for the treatment.

I was one of those who were subjected to the Bobby from the Block low-key interrogation when I began to work a bar near the corner of 75th and 3rd.  However, unlike most neighborhood newbie’s, I was told about Bobby and his eccentricities.  In fact, a few weeks before I made my debut behind the Pioneer bar, Bobby had saved the life of a resident of 201 East 75th.  It seems this denizen, a young 20 something girl from New Jersey, was distraught over a recent breakup with her boyfriend and some job set backs.  Bobby had gotten so agitated one night he prevailed on two guys who lived in 205 to knock on the girl’s door.  They discovered she had slit her wrists and called 911.  So I viewed Bobby as a necessary individual and important resource. He was the man who knew everything about everyone for a few hundred feet in several directions.

One August more morning, I learned just how dangerous it was to have a little information.  “Alex, Alex, do you have Rich’s number,” Bobby screamed. “It’s important.”   Rich was one of the other bartenders at the Pioneer.  I quickly patted myself down, only to discover I had left my cell phone in the house.

“What’s up Bobby?  What’s wrong,” I inquired.

“I just ran into Mitch, he told me they’re going to fire Rich today.  I need to call him and tell him so he doesn’t have to come into and be humiliated by that hung over coke freak,” Bobby said.

His excitement was such I began to worry Bobby might have a stroke, so I gave him $2 and thanked him for looking out.  He trundled off down 3rd and turned east on 74th.  I walked into the job and searched for Rich’s number.  Unable to find it or get into the office, where Mitch was taking a nap, I felt helpless knowing my fellow bartender was about to be unemployed.

An hour later, Rich showed up and was summarily fired by a sweating, gin-swilling manager.  The rationale was Rich’s unprofessional attire and attitude.

The Pioneer is gone now, replaced by an Irish bar named McEwen’s.  Rich is married with a kid and works in graphic design.  Mitch got deported to the Dominican Republic after his 3-year bit for possession with intent to distribute was done.  Bobby from the Block is still there, however, interrogating the locals and getting paid by those he questions.

If you want to lose yourself in the privacy New York City offers, stay away from the block.  However, if you want to be looked after by a crack head, Bobby from the Block is the Yenta for you.

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