originally published in the New Britain Herald, July 31, 2009
We met Dennis Lorenzetti late on a Monday afternoon, as he sat on one of the granite benches by the bus stop on Bank Street. As we walked past he waved a small, faded photograph at us, obviously trying to get our attention. There’s no particular reason this homeless man should have caught our notice when so many more seem invisible, but we stopped to chat.
The photo showed his parents. Lorenzetti said his father died of Alzheimer’s and his mother of breast cancer. He also said his sister Lori had died in a car accident the night before (though we found no mention of her when we searched online). Lorenzetti said he used to live in Bristol, but now sleeps in New Britain since he lost his job two years ago.
We asked if there was anything we could do. He started to cry. “Give me my sister back,” he said. “Can you do that?”
No, but we could give him two dollars we had on hand. He said he didn’t want the money, though he did eventually put it into his battered wallet which, except for the photo and his social services card, was empty. Otherwise, his total possessions consisted of the clothes on his back and a filthy plastic shopping bag filled with aluminum cans salvaged from garbage bins.
He talked about many things: how he spends a lot of time in Central Park because he has no better place to go. The unfairness of the police who, he says, sometimes kick him out of the park although he has a legal right to be there. People who would kill him because he knows too much.
“I have problems with alcohol, I don’t deny that,” he said, though when we met him his eyes were clear rather than bloodshot.
We asked where he sleeps. “I sleep on a couch,” he said. “An old Puerto Rican man — I don’t know his name — he said he owns the building. I asked him if I could sleep on the couch, and he gave me a blanket and a pillow, too. Then he said ‘Wait right there, don’t move,’ and I thought he was going to call the police, but instead he came back with a big platter” — he held his hands more than a foot apart to show how big it was — “filled with chicken and rice and beans and bread and soda.”
We realized he was talking about an outdoor couch. We asked if we could see it. The question surprised him, but he led us through a few blocks of downtown streets to a litter-strewn alleyway between some old brick buildings. There we saw an incongruously colorful sofa with a blanket and pillow on it. The sofa hadn’t been there long; there was none of the rotting or waterstains you’d see had it been in a rainstorm.
There was no tarpaulin or waterproofing over it. We didn’t ask what he would do the next time it rained.
“I keep it clean,” he said, and sure enough the litter strewn through the alleyway stopped a couple feet from the sofa.
He wouldn’t let us take his picture, though he did let us photograph his bed. As we walked out of the alley some church bells started chiming.
“It’s like the voice of the Lord,” he said.
We turned in one direction to go back to our office, and he turned in another to go wherever he goes.
It rained the next morning. We returned to the alley and found no sign of Lorenzetti. His sofa and bedding were ruined.