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Grand Central Winter by Lee Stringer
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Grand Central Winter

by Lee Stringer

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This is another book from my to-read shelf, a book I've owned for years and years but never read. Until last night, home from an unusually busy and tiring day of work, having recently spent a lot of time thinking about homelessness, especially being homeless in Michigan in the winter, this book jumped out at me.

I read the entire book in a single evening.

This isn't the kind of book that is going to give a lot of Answers. It doesn't explain why people are homeless or what being homeless is like, but it does tell the story of one man who was homeless and addicted to crack for a long stretch in the eighties and early nineties. He is processed through shelters, arrested several times for vagrancy and other minor offenses, is sentenced to community service, sleeps in subway ramps, witnesses crimes and commits a few (mostly trespassing, vagrancy, drug possession.) He also writes, becomes the senior editor for Street News, intervenes in a mugging, appears on Geraldo, and survives years of homelessness with wit and dignity intact.

Stringer is a good writer. There are shades here of Vonnegut (one of his earliest, most vocal supporters), London, Bukowski. But in the end his voice is all his own. He succeeds in humanizing homelessness, and also in showing us that most of the ways we respond to homelessness, both as a society and individually, are pretty crap. Shelters that scam various systems, teaching the homelessness to become scammers themselves, laws that penalize the powerless on behalf of the powerful, and the misguided, self-involved, and sometimes downright mean ways people behave.

This is a book to expand your horizons. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Lee Stringer suffered the death of his business partner and then his brother—the first a bump in the road, the second a mind-numbing grief that led him to heavy drinking, then crack cocaine. Nine months after being introduced to crack, he had smoked up one hundred thousand dollars and was on the street. He felt relief at not having to worry about rent; his daily goal was to sell enough cans or newspapers to feed his addiction and get a meal, in that order. Everything else was secondary.

Two things, in particular, grabbed my attention, causing me to enter into his life as it was, accepting him and his friends just as they were. The first is his total lack of sentimentality in telling his story; the second is that he has been drug-free for years.

Stringer writes about the politics of homelessness, why some things work and others don’t, about the all-or-nothing addictive personality, and the morality and humanity of addicts. Along the way he drops a few kernels of wisdom: “I do not know anyone who considers himself a hardworking, moral, churchgoing, nonaddicted American who would go to the lengths to which recovering addicts and alcoholics go for the sake of spiritual growth. The urgency is just not there. . . . As they say in the rooms of AA, religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, spirituality is for those who have already been there.”

Stringer is a writer by gift and a philosopher by experience. He had no formal education for either, but driven by life events and native intelligence, he qualifies as both. ( )
  bookcrazed | Jan 12, 2013 |
Journal entry 2 by SKingList from New York, New York USA on Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I really loved this book. I grew up in NY in the 80s and 90s, so I knew the surface of what Stringer was talking about and remember reading about all the programs to "fix" the homeless problems. It was interesting to read about them from the other side of the issue. ( )
  skinglist | Jan 11, 2009 |
Quite good acccount of pulling out of New York homelessness. I wonder what became of the author. ( )
  wenestvedt | Oct 3, 2005 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0671036548, Paperback)

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."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:56 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"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."--Jacket.

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Seven Stories Press

2 editions of this book were published by Seven Stories Press.

Editions: 1583229183, 160980225X

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