The icy wind rattles the plastic-enclosed patio outside Eastern Standard restaurant in Kenmore Square. Lefty, 55, bundled in blankets with a wool cap pulled down low over his salt and pepper hair, somehow manages a smile.
A stranger asks him what he needs.
“I’m good, buddy,” he says.
His name is Anthony Roy, but everyone here calls him Lefty or the “mayor of Kenmore Square,” because he seems to know everyone who regularly passes by the famous Citgo sign.
Lefty has been homeless for four years. By his account, he has survived four heart attacks, a stroke, and bone cancer, which have left him disabled. Sexually abused as a child, he has struggled with mental health issues. In his younger days, he drank and sold drugs but gave them up. He has been sober for years, he says.
“My good outweighs my bad,” he says. “100 percent.”
Nearly 20 years ago, he was stabbed and robbed for $5 near Mass. Ave. He eventually lost his entire right arm due to complications from the assault. With gallows humor, he gave himself a nickname.
“A lot of people don’t know how to approach somebody with a disability,” he says. “They feel weird. So I came up with the name Lefty and it breaks the ice with people.”
He has lots of supporters. Last year Garrett Harker, the owner of Eastern Standard, gave Lefty permission to stay on his patio and use an outlet to power his space heater.
“The core of hospitality is empathy,” Harker, who closed the restaurant last March, said in a phone interview. “It’s putting yourself in somebody’s shoes and finding a little way to delight them.”
Behind Lefty’s smile is pain going back to his childhood in Chelsea. His baby sitter sexually abused him, he said, and his mother did nothing to stop it. He remains traumatized.
“I don’t like to talk about it,” he says.
His mother died about 15 years ago. His father, a war veteran he knew only from pictures, died by suicide, he says. His stepbrother died in Iraq. He was once married but has no immediate family.
“The people out here are my family,” he says.
But without Kenmore’s usual hustle and bustle, Lefty has been lonely. It seems like a lifetime ago when fans used to slurp down oysters and fancy cocktails here before heading to Fenway Park or the House of Blues. Now it’s all but deserted, except for Lefty and a couple of sparrows that chirp at him until he shares some crumbs.
His wheelchair with the American flag planted in the back is always parked nearby. In a pouch marked “Good Stuff” are his most prized possessions: a notebook filled with handwritten letters of support and a Bible. He makes his own bed, using his teeth to help fold the blankets.
Harker said he wasn’t pleased when Lefty began sleeping on the patio. But he was impressed that Lefty would always leave the patio neater than he found it.
During protests against police brutality that turned destructive last spring, Lefty kept watch against would-be vandals. When Harker was depressed about closing Eastern Standard and two other Kenmore Square restaurants during the pandemic, Lefty’s kindness helped see him through.
“In the darkest time, there was Lefty checking on me. He was like, ‘Dude, how are you holding up?’ He never wanted a thing. It was totally unconditional.”
In late November, Lefty’s life took one more cruel twist. Another homeless man, wheeling his belongings in a cart, made a mess on the restaurant patio. Lefty confronted him, and when the two men began to fight, the stranger stabbed him in the chest, puncturing his lung.
“I thought he punched me but I felt the warm blood,” he recalled.
The man ran away. Lefty was rushed into surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
“Everybody said it was close,” he said. “Another inch and he would’ve had my heart.”
When Lefty was discharged, Harker checked him into a hotel room to recuperate. Other friends have also paid for brief hotel stays, especially during storms.
Lefty refuses to go to shelters, which he says are filled with people who are addicted to drugs and “steal your stuff.” He worries the man who stabbed him will be there. When he sleeps, he keeps a three wood golf club within reach.
Lefty never thought he would end up homeless. He has held a variety of jobs, from security guard to gas station attendant to ironworker. He doesn’t like to discuss how he became homeless, but says it happened with frightening speed.
“You never know; it could happen to you tomorrow,” he says. “I was in a seven-year relationship and it went bad and boom, here I am out here.”
On a January afternoon, he sits in front of the 7-Eleven wearing a festive face mask. People stop and say hello. Kids on their way to school bring him candy and coins. A deliveryman rushes up to him.
“Lefty, I need quarters,” he says, glancing back at a parking clerk writing tickets.
Lefty, who never asks for money but keeps a cup at his feet, quickly fishes out a handful.
“He’ll pay me back,” he says.
Lefty often hangs out by the 7-Eleven, even though a store manager accused him of stealing $3,000 worth of cigarettes on Dec. 31. A Boston police complaint says the store has video footage of the theft, but Lefty denies stealing anything.
“I have one hand, I can’t carry 47 cartons of cigarettes,” he says.
When he is feeling down, Lefty reads his notebook, filled with messages from people he meets and inspires.
“You have a beautiful heart and when you smile all I see is an angel,” Meli wrote. “Please never forget how magical you are.”
Workers at Pine Street Inn helped him apply for a housing voucher, and it was approved in mid-December. But weeks passed, and the weather got colder. In February, his cellphone rang with bad news. The East Boston apartment he was hoping for was unavailable. “You’re going to find me here dead,” he told the housing advocate.
Lefty heads to the train station, plugs in his cellphone, and shivers while it slowly charges. He has a hacking cough; his skin is a pallid gray.
“This may not have a happy ending,” he says.
The first week of March, Lefty is nowhere to be seen. His bedding is neatly folded, but the rats have devoured the food people left for him. But as a Monday morning dawns, he is back, cleaned up and trading wisecracks with the regulars. A woman who had befriended him had booked him a week’s stay at a nearby Marriott.
“It gave me some time to relax,” he says.
It was warmer now, and he had gotten word of a shared apartment available in Fields Corner.
“It’s in God’s hands,” he says. Two hours later, his cellphone with the cracked screen rings. Good news, he’s told. The apartment is his.
Bob Hohler of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.