By Vanessa Martinez
Joe Remsen is pushing a Home Depot cart down 25th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. Forty-two years old, unshaven and pale, he is wearing clothes that appear to have been found in a markdown bin somewhere. The streets are empty, and before him lies an all-you-can eat buffet.
“You’d be amazed at the things I find,” he says. “I ain’t gonna lie but this is exciting.” He loves to go dumpster diving the day after Thanksgiving, he says, because “there is only so much one can eat before they throw their plates away.”
Remsen, a New Jersey native, has had a rough life and says he can’t recall Thanksgivings before he started digging through people’s trash.
In Jackson Heights, Remsen has found the perfect neighborhood to search for food. Rather than go to a shelter and be a “charity case,” he says, he prefers to go to neighborhoods where the garbage truck passes the next morning. There, he finds garbage cans lining the street into the distance, standing like tiny dominos.
In one of the first trash cans he opens, he finds some chunks of turkey in a plastic wrapping. Too hungry to wait, he takes a bite of it and hollers, “Mmmm.” This victory cry over hunger echoes along the streets, where the slumbering inhabitants have no clue they have just made a homeless man happy.
As he keeps walking, he finds leftover pie still in its pan; tiny clumps of peas and mashed potatoes, and some kind of curry rice. “I’m not one to be picky, so I like to think I’m an international eater,” he says, then laughs so hard rice flies out of his mouth as he snorts.
Remsen’s journey down this avenue isn’t entirely selfish. After he fills his bag, he goes to share it with his homeless buddies. They go collecting beverage cans the day after Thanksgiving, and, with the deposit money from the cans, buy food to complement the feast Remsen brings back.
Then they gather, outside no matter what the weather, in the shadow of a local factory, and feast. A small and humble feast, but his buddies are and always will be his family, Remsen says.