Jeffrey Hillman catches up with former high school classmate John Graf. Hillman is the 'homeless' man who received a gift of boots from a NYC cop in December, a picture of which then went viral on the internet (KATHY JOHNSON/APP PHOTOGRAPHER)
(Asbury Park Press) -- No. 21 comes into the high school basketball game and smiles as the cheerleader he has a crush on shouts his name: "Hillman ... Jeffrey Hillman!"
The ball soon is passed to the South Plainfield team's sixth man. As he dribbles toward the basket, he loses focus for a second and recalls the horror of military school, where his mother had shipped him five years earlier.
"Why didn't my mom even tell me she was getting married?" he thinks, reflecting on the wedding he missed, one of several scars from being away for one brutal year. But none of them hurt as much, he thinks, as watching his mother endure the emotional abuse inflicted by her new husband.
"I wish I'd gotten to know my father," he thinks, as an opposing player reaches in to steal the ball.
Hillman refocuses on the game, turns his back to the defender to protect the ball. In the hopes that he'll muster enough self-esteem to ask out the cheerleader, he pivots, shoots and - scores, another dime bag of marijuana.
Such reflections haunt Hillman 37 years later, when he shares them during a Jan. 4 interview at a New York City restaurant.
As he crouches barefoot in front of the Skechers shoe store on Seventh Avenue on Nov. 14, braving frostbite in order to cajole generous passers-by out of their money - as much as $1,000 in a single day - New York City Police Officer Larry DePrimo gives Hillman a $100 pair of boots.
With a city-subsidized apartment in the Bronx, Hillman repeatedly tells DePrimo that he is OK, that he doesn't need the boots, but because he appears to be barefoot, the cop insists on giving them to him. As DePrimo hands over the boots, a tourist from Arizona snaps a picture that goes viral on Facebook and other social media outlets, as it rings in the holiday season with glad tidings.
Despite the revelation that Hillman no longer is homeless, good cheer continues to surround the officer's generous gesture. But questions also arise.
While Hillman had been living on the streets for 10 years, why was he continuing to live a vagabond lifestyle instead of staying warm in his subsidized apartment? Why the need or desire to panhandle? And how does a seemingly typical teenager from Central Jersey wind up there?
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