Homeless Man Who Got Boots From Good Cop Wants ‘Piece Of The Action’

Shoeless Jeffrey Hillman; Robert Caplin/New York Times

Just when a story leaves us with hearts warm and hope for mankind intact, there’s a twist, a turn; one that if written by a Hollywood screenwriter would have us saying, “Naw, that’s not believable!”

Oh, believe it.

In a plotpoint reminiscent of a Judd Apatow movie or an Andy Samburg sketch from Saturday Night Live, it turns out, though the cop may be good (identified as Officer Larry DePrimo), and the young tourist who snapped in him action was certainly good, the fellow at the foot of the story, so to speak, the homeless man whose bare feet compelled an empathetic officer to grab some boots and get him outfitted, is…not so good?

In a brief story reported by the Huffington Post, it seems the homeless man, identified as Jeffrey Hillman, is back to his bare feet:

Asked about the $100 all-weather boots Officer Larry DePrimo gave him on Nov. 14, Hillman says he’s hidden them because “they are worth a lot of money.”

He says he’s grateful for the gift, but he wants “a piece of the pie” because the photo was posted online “without permission.”

So, we think, only in America could a homeless man, given a gift by an originally anonymous police officer looking to do some good, reject that gift because he wanted a cut of whatever profits are being made on the amateur photo! With savvy like that, sounds like he’d make a great agent…perhaps more than boots, somebody should give him a suit and a job!

But if you dig beyond the cursory Huff Po piece, there is more to it.  The New York Times, who originally posted the follow-up, discovered some background on Mr. Hillman that gives deeper insight to his concerns:

“Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money,” Mr. Hillman said in an interview on Broadway in the 70s. “I could lose my life.”

Mr. Hillman, 54, was by turns aggrieved, grateful and taken aback by all the attention that had come his way — even as he struggled to figure out what to do about it.

“I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get?” he said. “This went around the world, and I want a piece of the pie.” [Emphasis added]

He did not recall the photo being taken but remembered well the gift from Officer DePrimo. “I appreciate what the officer did, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I wish there were more people like him in the world.”

At another point he said: “I want to thank everyone that got onto this thing. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. It meant a lot to me. And to the officer, first and foremost.” [Emphasis added.]

The Times writers were able to get Hillman talking about his life and background. Turns out he’s a vet; joined the Army in 1978 (with ID to prove it); served in Germany and the U.S. as a “food service specialist”; was honorably discharged and worked at subsequent kitchen jobs for a while.

He has two children — Nikita, 22, and Jeffrey, 24 — but has had little contact with them since a visit three years ago, Mr. Hillman said.

He was reluctant to talk about how he ended up on the streets, staring blankly ahead when asked how his life went off course.

After a long pause, he shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”

That very human snapshot allows for an attitude shift from the audience. When you look at the bigger picture, it’s not hard to extrapolate how a man who served our country, had a family and, for reasons he can’t remember, is now barefoot and on the street, would want at least some of the bigger benefit he (understandably) believes is being wrought from a meme gone viral. With whatever dignity he has left, there is clearly still a part of him that considers his permission should have been sought before his image, his needy status, and his shoeless plight were blasted all over the world.

Can’t say I disagree.

In fact, I think it speaks highly of Mr. Hillman that he can, on one hand, honor the man who helped him (“I appreciate what the officer did…I wish there were more people like him in the world.”); on the other, still hold his own “personhood” in high enough esteem to assert that he should have been consulted, even compensated, for a viral story in which he played such a crucial role.

I hope someone does give him a suit and a job. His smarts just might surprise everybody.

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on TwitterFacebook and Rock+Paper+Music; for her archive at Addicting info click here; details and links to her other work: www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.