Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Grand Central Winter: Stories From The Street , by Lee Stringer

(pb; 1998: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

“In the underground tunnels below Grand Central Terminal, Lee Stringer – homeless and drug-addicted over the course of eleven years – found a pencil to run through his crack pipe.

“One day he used it to write. Soon, writing became a habit that won out over drugs...

“With humane wisdom and biting wit, Lee Stringer chronicles the unraveling of his seemingly secure existence as a marketing executive, and his odyssey of survival on the streets of New York City...”


Stringer’s prose is unflinching, unsentimental and stripped-down, not quite noir-lean, but close. In his downward spiral from being a not-quite-happy marketing executive to homeless crack addict-writer (brought about by his brother’s shocking death in 1984), he details, in often-moving specificity, his life until 1994.

While living on the streets, Stringer encountered people with notably different experiences: a marketing executive he used to know from his executive days; Emerald, a prostitute from South America; Blue, Emerald’s junkie well-meaning boyfriend; Geraldo Rivera (well-known media prostitute, on whose talk-show Stringer once appeared); a kind-hearted street-guy who strikes it rich, only to squander his wealth on a selfish junkie slut, and her adorable baby; a con man posing as a preacher; various drug-addicts and down-and-outers (whose stories aren’t always what the reader might expect).

All of these people are memorable in their struggles and aspirations (or lack thereof), largely because of Stringer’s succinct, effective character sketches, and his depictions of unexpected tenderness.

Of course, Stringer, who’s honest about his own shortcomings, is an advocate for the homeless causes. His experiences are peppered with opinion, but not so much that it bogs down the narrative flow.

This make for a smooth, curiously upbeat read, despite its often-sad subject matter. Well worth your time, this.

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