BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Looking slightly steampunk, Colin Huggins wore a black cloak around his shoulders as he stood by his piano outside the east side of Washington Square Park. He was chatting with a friend, also a pianist, who delicately held a single red rose by its long stem.
The hooded cloak fit the mood. It was dark, around midnight, threatening to rain.
Occasionally, some curfew stragglers hopped over or squeezed through the metal gates that had been pulled across the park’s entrance.
A veteran park busker, Huggins also goes by “That Crazy Piano Guy.” A message on the side of his piano proclaims, á la Woody Guthrie, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
After returning from a brief hiatus from the winter’s chill, he had just recently started playing his piano again — only for it to get drenched during an especially rainy weekend. He had covered it with a plastic tarp, but unfortunately someone flung it off, he said. The wooden piano keys had swelled and were sticking together. The felt hammers inside were now like “sponges,” he said.
He flipped back the tarp, removed the keyboard cover and played a few notes to demonstrate its sorry state. It didn’t sound too bad to a layperson. But to Huggins’s ear, it was awful.
“I need to be sad for a little bit before I play again,” he reflected.
Like what happened with the tarp, people messing with his instrument has been an issue. In another instance, he locked the keyboard to protect it, but one night someone crowbarred it open.
Once again, Huggins, who became homeless around a year and a half ago, is back to sleeping on top of or under the Steinway, sometimes under the plastic tarp. As he spoke, some faint rain droplets were falling.
“It’s looking like an under-the-tarp night,” he said, with a light chuckle.
Ideally, though, he’d like a space — both for himself and his grand piano — somewhere near the park. He said he had looked at 12 vacant nearby spaces in recent years but gotten no offers. Meanwhile, all of those spots are still vacant, he said. He assured that he could pay the rent by putting out a fundraising plea to his fans.
“It’s just frustrating,” he said, “that the community wouldn’t look at me and say, ‘Let’s help this guy out.’
“N.Y.U. just finished that glass building,” he said, referring to the massive, new Paulson Center, on Mercer Street. “My friend told me there are like 21 Steinways in there.”
If anyone does want to lend a hand, they can find Huggins on social media — or simply go to the east side of Washington Square Park. He’s never gone for long, since he is always coming by to check on the piano.
“I’m on Facebook,” he said, “and also right here, 24/7.
“I miss being in love,” he added. “Unrelated to this whole situation, I had a girlfriend once.”
But the relationship ended — simultaneously with the finale of “Game of Thrones,” one of his favorite shows.
“They were both bad endings,” he said.
Please stop writing this way about the horrible homeless problem at Washington Square Park.
Have lived in area for over a decade. The story needs to continue being the post-Covid explosion in drug use, crime and violence that our police department condones and, frankly, supports in and around Washington Square Park. Businesses around the park are having to pay for security guards to deal with the problem. That cost is passed on to consumers. A homeless person defecated all over the entrance of Moshava Coffee on 8th Street yesterday. What are we doing?!?! All because our Mayor, local elected leaders, and NYPD don’t want to arrest dealers hiding in plain sight and commit completely dependent people into mental health facilities. We’d rather they just languish on the street until they overdose or kill one another.
Oh!!! I am so glad you wrote a piece about Colin! His playing is amazing. Years ago he was selling CDs — 5 of them — each one exquisite. I play them over and over. Most were recorded outdoors and one can hear the sounds of the city as he plays. Now when I hear a siren, or a train, I wait to hear the magical sounds of his piano in my mind.
Everything is sad, sad, sad about this specific saga of our beloved Colin — including our reactions to it.