With a couple of clicks, a quotidian moment can take on a viral life of its own — captured and shared, context lost, shaped by whatever viewers project onto the images.
That’s what happened to Anthony Torres, 56.
On Thursday evening, Torres was caught on video shaving his face while sitting aboard a New Jersey Transit train headed out of New York City. Video also showed him with a beer.
A fellow rider recorded him and posted the video to Twitter (the original has since been removed), and from there, it was viewed more than 2 million times.
Nobody knew Torres’ name. Instead they hurled insults, including “gross,” “strange” and “disgusting.” One person called him a “dumb drunk” for not using the train’s bathroom.
The subject of those insults says after learning of the video’s existence, he wanted to reveal the backstory.
Torres tells the Associated Press that when he boarded that train, he had just spent days in a New York City homeless shelter.
He says he had reached out to family and a brother gave him money for a train ticket so he could reach the home of another brother in southern New Jersey. He caught the 7 p.m. train to Trenton without having had the chance to clean up.
“I don’t want to say that I’m homeless, let everybody know,” Torres said in the interview. “That’s why I was shaving.”
Torres had a hard-scrabble upbringing, then worked various jobs and spent intermittent periods homeless — his troubles compounded by medical issues including strokes, he told the AP.
His brother, Thomas Torres, whose home he was headed toward, told the wire service that Anthony has a history of not thinking about the impact of his actions.
“When he did what he did, that to him was normal,” Thomas Torres said of his brother shaving on the train and tossing the foam onto the floor.
As Anthony Torres worded it, “My life is all screwed up. That’s the reason I was shaving on the train.”
He added that he didn’t know he was being filmed at the time.
“I never thought it would go viral, people making fun of me,” he said.
You can read the full story on the AP’s site.
On Monday, the tone on Twitter was different, with users responding to the AP story asking if there were a way they could help Torres.
By mid-day Tuesday, a GoFundMe page called the Anthony Torres Assistance Fund had raised more than $12,000 toward a $15,000 goal.