What do you do, where are you from?
I’m Jerry the Light Man. I’ve had a lot of professions, but these days I’m the Light Man. I’m also known as the Cane Man. Sometimes I work with cane, sometimes I work with lights. Today, I’m Light Man. I’ve been in Manhattan my whole life. [Whispers confidentially] Except I was born in the Bronx.
You walk around with a lot of canes?
No, no—Like the cane on furniture, you’ve got different weaves. I invented the cane belt. Then I made cane and burlap bags. And I wasn’t famous – they didn’t make me famous, put it that way. But I kept designing. Sometimes I sell wholesale to stores. I don’t always travel. But sometimes I sell cane on the street.
Do you walk around bedecked in cane?
No, the cane gets regular clothes. It’s like I’m undercover. But the truth is: I’m undercover now.
That’s undercover? I think most people can spot you a mile away.
Well… I have a UFO up there. Look. Up. See it? I have to be lit because, like you on earth have the GQ or whatever you call it that they can track you.
Yeah, that’s my GPS right here. So I need the spinning lights to find myself. Otherwise I get lost. In fact… right now you could say I’m lost. I don’t know where I am
We’re in front of the Plaza.
I know. That’s the Plaza.
Do you get radio contact?
Sometimes. It’s not so good all the time, I can’t hear it.
Are you crazy?
I do a little light comedy, but no one’s asked me to do standup.
Anyway, you’ve made all these lights yourself?
Yes, yes of course. I made this a few nights ago, watch this.
He points to and presses different buttons and lights up like a Christmas tree. He smiles proudly: Ta-da!
I invented all of these. Although I wouldn’t call it inventing as much as innovation. I’m good at putting things together. I take things out of one and put into another. It’s like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Things that light up, that blink, that spin. Look at this:
Jerry the Light Man presses more buttons. Things do light up, blink, and spin.
What’s the supply and demand here for light-up things?
Oh people buy them. All the time. People want to buy them as gifts for their kids, for parties. People ask for custom jobs, signs for their stores, their businesses.
So you’re a walking light store. Why do you sell these on the street?
The reason I like to sell these lights this way is that I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to go to El-Al or Air France. It’s more fun meeting tourists here than it is to travel. Who wants to go see the Eiffel tower when I can just look at a picture and then meet a French person in New York. And they have to speak English when they’re here because they’re not in France.
Any celebrities ever buy your lights?
I had Mick Jagger’s ex-wife, whatever her name was. She liked my lights. A lot of famous people buy my lights. I don’t always recognize them when they’re famous, but other people have often told me, “Hey, do you know who that was?”
What’s circuit do you travel?
I go from the Plaza to the Hilton, back up around. You know, where the tourists hang out. Times Square.
Besides a man strung up in lights, what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen wandering the streets of New York?
There was a guy that ran one night with a suitcase in his hand and all of a sudden, he fired two shots. I couldn’t tell if he was the good guy or the bad guy. A bunch of other people ran after him. They shot him in the leg and put him in a cop car. I was walking around with my lights and showed the cops, “Hey, that’s what he dropped over there.” A valise. I used my LED light to find the evidence. I play the role of superhero, you know, when it hits me. It has to come my way, I don’t go looking for it.
What do you think of Mayor Bloomberg?
I like him. He hasn’t bothered me yet … but he hasn’t bought any lights from me.
What’s your favorite restaurant or bar?
Actually, I don’t like to go to restaurants, although there are some good ones. I like to eat out on the street. Dirty-water hot dogs, halal meats, Egyptian food. It’s easy and it’s delicious.
What law would you pass to improve New York?
New York has got to have more fun. People are too uptight. Everybody should wear a different set of lights to make other people laugh. That’s what people do when they see me. “Look at that funny guy.”
What are some of the reactions you’ve heard?
“Do you have a light?” “You look like a Christmas tree.” “You look like you’re from outer space.”
How often does Light Man go on the prowl?
If the weather permits. Hold on—five dollars? Five dollars? [Passersby laugh and wave him off.]
If it’s not too windy, I put on the lights.