Illustration by Alabaster Pizzo
It’s one of the busiest transportation hubs in New York City, but Penn Station also brings a different kind of crowd. Hard-luck cases like Corporal S.J. Lyons are common in this district—desperately in search of others to lend a hand.
The day I encountered Lyons, he was perched on the ground at the corner of 34th and 8th—a smattering of tattered cardboard signs sitting all around him. In weary handwriting, they told his story:
“WOUNDED COMBAT VETERAN, IRAQ 2005.”
“HUSBAND WITH A WIFE AND 3-WEEK OLD BABY.”
A brown plastic cup strapped with a family photo sat before him. Corners of dollar bills protruded from its lid.
I stood back and witnessed a small crowd beginning to gather around Lyons, studying his signs to determine whether to believe his plea for help. There were young twenty-something men no older than he was standing next to girls in pretty dresses and mothers with children. Tourists on their way to Herald Square also stopped to stare. And while no on…