James E. Brown, or as everyone calls him, “J.B.,” could be described as the happiest man living on the streets or anywhere on Christmas Day. He just wants to wish everyone everywhere “merry Christmas and God bless.”
ALBANY — Byron Road is a one-way street for traffic. A man living there doesn’t believe in life’s one-way streets.
“My story? My story is merry Christmas!” said James E. Brown outside his wood-scrap, plastic-sheeting lean-to on Byron Road just before it hits Broad Avenue. “And God bless!”
Brown had to be as happy as a child on Christmas Day, waving to drivers as they beep their horns in greetings and pass by.
The lean-to is also an office of sorts. Brown produces a 2006 letter from Friendship Missionary Baptist Church that he said allows him to live on the plot of land next to an unoccupied garage as long as he keeps the entire lot clean.
The church could not be reached for confirmation on Christmas Day.
“You should have seen this place before I got here. Trash, bottles and more trash all over the lot,” Brown said. “I keep it clean. If I can get $1,000, I can get to move inside the building.”
According to Brown, he lost a truck-driving job at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany in 2006. His truck-driving license expired, and he’s been struggling ever since.
People have been kind to him, he added. On Christmas Day, someone had brought him a hot meal. But he doesn’t rely solely on others. He said he is known, and once was given the title by a metal recycler, as “The King of Cans.”
Another car passes by, and Brown stops talking to wave and exclaim “Merry Christmas!” again. He waves and smiles at everyone it seems.
While Brown says he has his home and a job keeping the lot clean and recycling cans, he could always use help. Asked if he would like some liquor to celebrate the holiday, he vehemently turned it down.
“No alcohol, no drugs,” Brown said. “Not for me. No, thank you.”
Brown said he could use some canned goods to help him get by. He said that any collection of canned food would be shared with anyone else who needs it. He doesn’t plan to be in the can recycling business forever.
Back in 2007, Brown was photographed carrying bags of cans to a recycler. He said he planned to fund a music, film and television studio.
Those plans have not changed much, he said. He said he made demo discs with the hip-hop group Run-DMC back about 25 years ago. He would like to get back into that business.
While he insists he is not on the street, Brown also says that any street he is on in life doesn’t run just one way. He has plans.