Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street

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9781888363579: Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street

Whether Lee Stringer is describing "God's corner" as he calls 42nd Street, or his friend Suzy, a hooker and "past due tourist" whose infant child he sometimes babysits, whether he is recounting his experiences at Street News, where he began hawking the newspaper for a living wage, then wrote articles, and served for a time as muckraking senior editor, whether it is his adventures in New York's infamous Tombs jail, or performing community service, or sleeping in the tunnels below Grand Central Station by night and collecting cans by day, this is a book rich with small acts of kindness, humor and even heroism alongside the expected violence and desperation of life on the street. There is always room, Stringer writes, "amid the costume" jewel glitter...for one more diamond in the rough."
Two events rise over Grand Central Winter like sentinels: Stringer's discovery of crack cocaine and his catching the writing bug. Between these two very different yet oddly similar activities, Lee's life unwound itself, during the 1980s, and took the shape of an odyssey, an epic struggle to find meaning and happiness in arid times. He eventually beat the first addiction with help from a treatment program. The second addiction, writing, has hold of him still.
Among the many accomplishments of this book is that Stringer is able to convey something of the vitality and complexity of a down—and—out life. The reader walks away from it humming its melody, one that is more wise than despairing, less about the shame we feel when confronted with a picture of those less fortunate, and more about the joy we feel when we experience our shared humanity.

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Review:

Curled deep in his burrow in a Grand Central Station crawlspace, Lee Stringer--ragged, homeless, addicted to crack--is digging around for something he can use to clean his crack pipe. Finally his fingers latch around "some sort of smooth straight stick": a pencil. In the days that follow, he carries it with him wherever he goes. "So I have this pencil with me all the time and then one day I'm sitting there in my hole with nothing to smoke and nothing to do and I pull the pencil out just to look at the film of residue stuck to the sides--you do that sort of thing when you don't have any shit--and it dawns on me that it's a pencil. I mean it's got a lead in it and all, and you can write with the thing." And so that's what he does. "Pretty soon I forget all about hustling and getting a hit. I'm scribbling like a maniac; heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, hands trembling. I'm so excited I almost crap on myself. It's just like taking a hit."

Grand Central Winter is the tale of Stringer's twin addictions--writing and crack--and the lengths he went to in order to satisfy each. But Stringer dwells on neither his descent into hell nor the long journey back. Instead, he paints a nuanced portrait of street life itself, its pleasures as well as its terrors. Hustlers, hookers, dealers, and addicts come to life in a series of vignettes that are tough, unsentimental, but compassionate to the core. There's honest rage to be found in Grand Central Winter, but precious little political posturing. "Policy is never the real issue," he writes in "Dear Homey," his advice column for New York's homeless paper, Street News. "The real issue is the hearts of men."

About the Author:

LEE STRINGER's journey from childhood homelessness in the ’60s, to adult homelessness in the ’80s, to his present career as a writer and lecturer, as told in Sleepaway School and Grand Central Winter, is one of the great odysseys of contemporary American life and letters. Stringer is the only board member of Project Renewal who is also a former patient of the facility. He is the two-time recipient of the Washington Irving Award and, in 2005, a Lannan Foundation Residency. He is a former editor of and columnist for Street News. His essays and articles have appeared in a variety of other publications, including the Nation, the New York Times, and Newsday. He lives in Mamaroneck, New York, where he also serves on the board of the Mamaroneck Public Libraries.

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