Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Happened To Gilbert, The Long-Time Fixture At Carroll Gardens Subway Station?





That's Gilbert on the right, sitting in his wheel chair in 2008
(photo credit: Sam Casalino)

Late last night, I got word from my friend Barbara that Gilbert, the small, good natured wheel chair-bound man who sat next to the F train Station at 2nd Place every morning had passed away from a heart attack. This morning, I received an email from reader Kassie inquiring about him:
"I noticed today a bouquet of sunflowers and a piece of paper that said RIP Gilbert with a picture of the man that has been a fixture at the Carroll Street subway stop for at least as long as I have lived in Brooklyn. How sad. Do you know anything about him?" -Kassie

Indeed! Gilbert has been at the F Train station for most of the 25 years I have lived in the neighborhood.  Before construction of the 360 Smith Street building started, Gilbert was stationed at the subway plaza across the street. He always asked for money, but was never pushy about it and if you took the time to chat with him, he would delight you with his little stories.
Does anyone have further information?



Anonymous said...

Yes, I knew Gilberto very well from the many days he spent in Carroll Park. I am very saddened to hear that he passed away. Gilberto has family in Puerto Rico; a beautiful daughter that he would often show photos of. He is also a Viet Nam Vet - a high ranking officer in the Army - and a casualty of Agent Orange. There were many a times in the past when he would disappear and when he came back to Carroll Gardens would tell of his experience in a vet hospital; sometimes in Brookyn, alot of times Walter Reed as he was treated for the destruction to his body from AO. May he rest in peace. BTW,he does have a cousin in Red Hook who looked after him. I am sure his cousin will also be looking after him now as they were very close. Kathleen

Anonymous said...

Sad. He was good natured guy.

Anonymous said...

The subway plaza and tree pits were always full of trash before he came. Before his amputation he was very active and took it upon himself to keep the plaza clean. He was vigilant about it. And a lot of people gave him money. For a while he lived out of a station wagon that he parked on Smith St in front of the plaza. I vaguely remember him being interviewed for an article (a local paper, I think) and he said he was a veteran with a service connected disability that he got a monthly check for that combined with how much he said he collected at the subway came out to be a substantial income.

Anonymous said...

I doubt very much this will get published but in the name of fairness I hope it does.

Wow, it amazes me how many people love to feel like they are from Brooklyn when something like this happens. I am one of the few people born and bred in this neighborhood and I find it awful that this piece of garbage would be glorified because his drug addicted heart finally gave out. I mean really is this a surprise to anyone who ever saw him.

For Christs sake I've had to look at that man my whole life hell knew him when he had 2 legs. He was a heroin junkie, a thief, and a liar and a drug dealer TO CHILDREN I may add! (Yes I have personally witnessed all four of these things occurring at one time or another. He even sold a bad metro-card to a guy I know some years ago. This man was NEVER homeless guys, I hate to be the one to break it to you. He lived in "Crack-Head Amy's" building as most locals will know. I'm not saying it's five star but it was a home never the less. He NEVER lived out of a station wagon that was one of his drug induced lies he told for sympathy. I'm not trying to be mean, but lets call it like it is here. With that said my condolences go out to his family if they are still around.

Katia said...

For the sake of fairness..

Anonymous said...

As is often the case, all these stories are true--I knew Gilbert for what seems like the last 15 years--saw him almost every day. He was indeed an addict. One night he followed me halfway home begging for money and actually got on his knees crying. He would often lie about needing money to fly to Puerto Rico and see his daaughters but never seemed to really go anywhere. He often made me uncomfortable--not so much because he asked for money but because I knew what he was going to do with it. In more recent years he seemed to straighten out a little, but I can't be sure--I started to drive more and saw him less.
To his credit he did keep the plaza clean and his heart was large, always looking out for my welfare, and asking about the family. Pretty much everything about him was broken but his spirit, and I watched over the years as his body malfunctioned and deteriorated. It was jarring to say the least, every day on the way to work and then again on the way home, to be haunted by this cautionary tale.

Anonymous said...

This is what I know about Gilbert.

When my daughter started school, we would emerge from the subway and be greeted every morning by a man in a wheelchair with one leg. He said hello and always had nice compliments for my daughter. She LOVED this part of her day. At first I was uncomfortable with him, and felt obligated to give a few dollars now and then. After a while, he stopped accepting any money from us, and started to have a real rapport with my daughter. She looked forward to seeing "her Buddy" every morning.

Once, sans daughter, I saw him discreetly trying to snort something from some folded up aluminum foil. I thought, who am I to begrudge a one-legged man in a wheelchair some relief? I would have preferred for him to find a more secluded spot, but handicap access being what it is, eh.

Other than being kind to us and inclined to self medicate, I know nothing else about the man.

I do know that my daughter will miss seeing her Buddy, and she and I will remember him for a long time to come.

Also, I in no way feel like I am "from Brooklyn" just because a local fixture passed away. I think that is an odd statement to make. In all fairness.

Natalie said...

is that obama sitting in the wheelchair?

Marisa Bardach Ramel said...

A few times he said to me (and plenty of other ladies, I'm sure!), something like, "Ah, beautiful dress" or some other sweet compliment as I passed by. It always made me smile.

Anonymous said...

As Anonymous 10:32am said: All of this is true...the good and the bad but I think you summed it up by saying "Pretty much everything about him was broken but his spirit"
I'm going to choose to remember the best things about him. RIP, Gilbert

Anonymous said...

The reason I say people love to say they are from Brooklyn is because
you feel you know certain things that only a true Carroll Gardener
would know.
Gilbert was NOT a good natured man. He was a DRUG DEALER who
contributed to the delinquency of many minors. Not only did he sell
drugs to minors but he used them as workers in his drug dealings. He
was an addict who lied and said whatever he had to to get money for
drugs. He complimented everyone so they would give him money. He was
into many shady things.
I have even witnessed him getting aggressive when a friend of mine
would not give him money. He acted very differently with kids he knew
were from the neighborhood.
He was a disgrace and a black eye for our beautiful neighborhood. I
tried many times with no avail to have him removed. I was always
suprised by how many people actually gave him money and tried to tell
people not to.

Please do not glorify him. He was not a good man.

Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised to hear people say such positive things about Gilbert. My experiences were never pleasant and I found him constantly drunk and belligerent. Even first thing in the morning. The last time I saw him he was in real bad shape, just a day before he died. It was the worst I ever saw him. He had 2 open tall boys, one spilled in his lap, he was drunk and disoriented, and trying to climb up the subway steps, yelling the whole time. This was at 8:30 am. It's strange to me to read feedback from a mother, who witnessed the guy use drugs in public, see him as a positive fixture in her child's life. Oh well, I guess I'm not as optimistic about those kinds of things.

Anonymous said...

When the late United Neighbors Association got together in 1989, there were two orders of business:
protecting the community from the ravages of new sewer lines going in, and doing something about
the eyesore of the plaza in front of the 2nd Place subway entrance. (Traffic flow on 3rd Street soon
followed). UNA decided, after one or two group clean-ups there, to engage and employ Gilberto
to tidy up the area daily. For this, UNA paid him $10 a week. I was the payroll man and got to know
Gilberto well.

Over the course of the next few years, Gilberto, a Viet vet who was receiving about $1100/mo from
the VA for his disabilities, did a fair amount of cleaning. Things really started to go downhill for
him when he was abused and set on fire while sleeping in a car near the Gowanus Houses (at
least that was the story). When he returned from his injuries, the agreement he had with UNA was
no longer in effect - in fact, UNA may have no longer been in active existence - and Gilberto
resumed his panhandling at the subway entrance. A few years later, Gilberto was involved in
another "hard to get at the bottom of" event in which he lost his leg and was left in a chair. I
frequently saw hum manically propelling it and him north on Smith Street.

He was, in his own obsessive way, a very charming guy. Obviously he had a lot of issues
(one local reporter accused him of selling drugs to teens = never proven or prosecuted),
but he was always polite, respectful.

Anonymous said...

I can’t believe how horribly uncaring people can be about other human beings. So quick to label good and bad, and to treat accordingly. Gilbert was a human being. He may have done some terrible things, he may have done some wonderful things. I have only lived here for a year and a half. I live on 2nd Street and would see Gilbert at least twice a day. The only personal experiences I had with him involved sweet comments he would make about my daughter, to which I would reply “thank you” and be on my way. To be honest, I didn’t engage him because I was a bit afraid. I had seen him in heated discussions with people from time to time, and didn’t know if he was mentally ill or prone to violence. Having an infant with me at all times has made me wary. The point is that when I saw the display by the subway entrance today and learned that he had died, I was sad. I was sad because a person had died. This man, like the rest of us, made choices in his life - good and bad. What purpose does speaking ill of him do now? If people want to mourn him, who are you to try to prevent that by trying to tarnish their good memories? What good could you possibly think you are doing? He's dead. If you don’t want to mourn, then go on with your day and show some respect for another human being by allowing others to mourn his loss. He may not have made your choices, or even the right choices, but he had challenges in life like the rest of us, and he lived and died, which is all any of us will ever do.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous who posted on 10/23/10at 2:13pm, I agree, it is very sad because a person has died. However, as someone who grew up in Carroll Gardens, and has lived here for 40+ years, I can tell you that there are many people who remember a side of Gilbert that he did not show when asking for money. Yes, Gilbert was a addict and yes he did help buy drugs for teenagers in the neighborhood. As a teenager at the time it was common knowledge what was going on. Gilbert would disappear then reappear with a story about where he was and what happened and loved to tell it to anyone who listened. For those who knew what he was truly about it was infuriating to see the attention and money he received. Perhaps he turned a new leaf over the past decade, however I doubt it. Just a few months ago I saw him drinking a beer during the morning rush hour and a man walked over and handed him a $5 bill. To see this every day when you are going to work or walking your children to school is unfair and a disgust. I hope gilbert does rest in peace however I will not miss him.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I can see the value in a lot of people with differing perceptions offering a multi-dimensional take on someone. I don't see the value of pretending that someone was flawless after they've passed away. I'm not sure I have any better justification for feeling this way than the simple belief that reality is better than fantasy. If Gilbert was a drug addict, maybe it's worth thinking about why a Vietnam vet would end up on that path, and wonder what we need to do to keep Iraq/Afghanistan vets from falling on the same path. If he really sold drugs to minors -- well, that sucks, but if it's true why pretend he was something better than that now? I wouldn't sell drugs to minors, but maybe he had a way shittier life than I've had, and maybe doing the work of recognizing that is better than just glossing over that aspect of who he was. I guess my point is -- human beings are complicated, and there's a lot of value to recognizing that. And that also goes for the people who want to paint him as a one-dimensional ogre without recognizing that he had his nice moments.