Let Me Take You Down

Kim Persky, Entertainment Editor

I figured he was just another New York lunatic- a red-eyed, stringy-haired loon yelling out to every passerby the real facts about John Lennon. But Gary, the self-proclaimed mayor of Strawberry Fields, whose real name is Ayrton Ferreria dos Santos Jr., is anything but an average Central Park bum.

The homeless man sits on “his” bench in Central Park near the West 72nd St entrance by the John Lennon memorial, “Imagine” mosaic. This is also the location of the Dakota, the swanky Upper West Side apartment building Lennon called home. Most famously, it was the site of his assassination by Mark David Chapman, Dec.8, 1980.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gary on my way to a lazy summer afternoon picnic in Central Park. I was at first a little afraid of him, but quickly amused. I sat two benches down from him and just observed him for a while. Nothing pisses him off more than middle-aged couples and young Asian hipsters who think they are John Lennon experts. He complains about people who give wrong information. People walk by and say he owned the whole building; some say he owned half. He really had an apartment on the seventh floor and had three others for storage.

Decked out in peace signs all over his denim jacket, I overheard Gary talking on his cell phone threatening to beat the crap out of someone- not exactly the epitome of a peaceful figure. You can often hear him saying, “Welcome to New York, Welcome to the Jungle.”For almost eighteen years, Gary has been sitting on the same bench in Lennon’s honor. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting her, but his “wife” Lisa normally keeps him company, along with his dog, a black lab named Mary Jane, assumingly named after his drug of choice.
I knew somebody else must have thought to write about Gary before I did, but was shocked about the wealth of information on the Internet when I started doing research. Many posters and photographs capture the famous mosaic with floral designs, fruit designs, and other decorative items in Lennon’s honor.

This is all accredited to Gary. According to “Devotee of Lennon Haunts Strawberry Fields” by Corey Kilgannon of the New York Times, Gary looks for donations from florists in the neighborhood and tourists. Despite being threatened by the police, Gary continues to decorate the mosaic. According to him, the “Brother” came to him in a dream and told him to keep doing the right thing. I don’t know if the “right thing” includes leading people to drug dealers , but according to Gary he is just spreading the peace John Lennon lived for.

The Imagine mosaic is usually surrounded by dozens of feet and zoom lenses. For those who actually include themselves in the picture, Gary has one simple request. As I observed the numerous people taking pictures, every single one of them ignored Gary as he said, “Get down, make a peace sign with two fingers, and look straight into the camera.” So, if you happen to pay Gary a visit, just talk to him for a while and flash him a peace sign goodbye as I did. If you aren’t fortunate enough to make it down there, check out the documentary, “Mayor of Strawberry Fields,” directed by Torre Catalano. Peace brothers and sisters and remember in Strawberry Fields, nothing is real.