The No. 7 train, the IRT, speeds along underground in its final rush to get to Times Square. Traveling deep underground, from Fifth Avenue to Broadway it skirts the southern border of the great Central Park.

Jan Wejchert, center, at his high school graduation with his mother, left, and her best friend. Photo courtesy of Jan Wejchert

On this particular spring morning in the ’70s, my buddy Paul and I knew we had extra time before class. We were sophomores at a Catholic boys prep school located by Columbus Circle and West 61st. We headed out of the deafening subway at Fifth Avenue, up the escalator and neon corridors to emerge at the stone walls of Central Park, blinking in the sunshine, encased by the blast of car horns, the smell of dung from the waiting horse-drawn livery cabs. Unfurling trees were all lime green, filling with sound of songbirds.

We headed to the Rock above the Duck Pond for a smoke. On the maps it is merely referred to as “The Pond.” To the “Rock” there is no reference at all, yet everyone except the tourists knew these spots.

The Rock, just south of the Duck Pond, was secluded, and overlooked the entire area. That’s where we smoked. We occasionally had company. They came out of the woods to bum smokes. One had been a violin virtuoso with the orchestra, but the pressure was too much for him and he just shook apart one day. Another had been a stockbroker. Same thing. It was the pressure that knocked him down, and wouldn’t allow him back up.

I met several cases like these beaten-down men. I certainly would not call them “broken”; they merely did not fit the mold that society felt compelled to force them into.

I had previously categorized hobos as broken-down drunken sailors down on their luck, who lived on the Bowery waiting to die. Now, I discovered, hobos came from the ranks of the accomplished overachievers as well. Relentless capitalism had chewed them up and spit them out as it voraciously consumed the workers in its path. They were just collateral damage. Not to be seen, even.

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