Grand Central Winter
by Lee Stringer
Lee Stringer was introduced to crack cocaine by a casual acquaintance late one night in 1984.
Late on another night nine months later, he was awoken by a housing marshal and evicted from his
Upper East Side apartment; he hadn't paid rent for over three months. For years following his
eviction, Stringer lived on the streets of New York City.
Grand Central Winter is a collection of Stringer's stories about being homeless in New
York City in the 1980s and 1990s. Other books about the lives of the homeless, like Down and
Out in New York City by Tony Guzewicz or The Mole People by Jennifer Toth, take on
a serious tone. By contrast, Stringer's book is surprisingly lighthearted. He writes with pride
about building a fence as part of court-ordered community service, laughs at his appearance
on the Geraldo Rivera show, and explains how his literary career began when he started writing
with a pencil he was using to scrape resin from his pipe.
The book does include some grim tales as well. Stringer watches a crack dealer get shot to
death while trying to buy drugs from him, and discusses slow hours in Manhattan holding cells
and downtown courtrooms and cold nights sleeping outside.
But even when its characters are suffering, Grand Central Winter is not a call for pity.
In the book's forward Kurt Vonnegut praises Stringer's decision to "be coolly technical,
to teach his readers what homeless persons in New York City, many of them clinically
insane or idiotic, do hour-after-hour, day-after-day simply to keep from dying. Nowhere
in all his first-rate writing has Lee Stringer concealed the hook of collective guilt."
Above all, Stringer's book is a story about himself. It does, however, use broader political
issues or specific policy initiatives as backdrops for his tales. He describes coping with Mayor
Giuliani's quality of life campaign and confronting the obstacles placed in the way of those
who try to sell newspapers on the subway or make a living by returning cans for deposit.
Experiences like these lead to Stringer's wry analyses of policy programs, explaining,
for instance, the failure of Mayor Ed Koch's program to allow homeless people to sleep
in Grand Central Station.
"It proved to be a short-lived arrangement," he writes, "for no provisions had been made
for the fact that we would still be there when the terminal opened in the morning."
Do you know any other books about homeless people in New York City?
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