He Discovered the Secret to Living Rent-Free

At Camp Base No. 1 he keeps several suitcases containing his art — drawings and sketches, many of ships, skylines and local musicians, done on paper, cardboard, Masonite and wood — in addition to a few woodworking projects and an L.L. Bean windup radio on which he listens to NPR at night. He also has coffee and a hand-crank coffee grinder, which he is looking forward to using again when he’s back in a setup with a hot plate. At the moment, his kitchen facilities consist of a blue plastic cooler that on a recent afternoon held a bag of ice, cranberry juice and some leftover Greek food.

Name: John McGill

Age: 57 Occupation: Artist, woodworker, handyman Rent: He barters woodworking, art and repair work for short-term places to stay, many of them in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. Mr. McGill occasionally stays with family in Hell’s Kitchen as well, also in exchange for work. In the summer, he tries to find work outside of the city, so he can camp, preferably beside a fire. This year he expects to assist a friend who is building a cob house in Phillipsburg, N. J. Current kitchen setup: A cooler. But if he has a place where he can really cook, “I go crazy. I go to Esposito’s” — on Court Street — “get two of the largest pieces of pork, marinate them with vodka, wrapped in ripe mangos, cook them with portobello mushrooms and garlic. Dessert is Godiva chocolate coffee. Then I get a small bottle of Jameson 12-year-old whiskey and stir it in.” His first apartment in the city: A one-bedroom walk-up on Avenue B. In 1982, it cost $285 a month. The last apartment he rented in the city: A wood shop where he also lived, in Red Hook. He lived there alone, between 2001 and 2006 approximately, and it cost $1,100 a month. “There’s no way you could do that now,” Mr. McGill said. “You would need, like, 40 friends.”

“I’m the Igloo guy, compressed into a small area,”…

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