Scraggly, whimsical, itchable, disarming, stinking, shuddering, shocking—some reactions I had while tending to the world of the homeless as depicted in the memoir: Grand Central Winter – Stories from the Street (1998). Its author and protagonist, Lee Stringer, a veteran of twelve years on the streets of Manhattan, knows—authenticity bristles in each word—some invented to express the inexpressible—its images often crawl off the pages or meld into belly laughs.

Everywhere, grief lurks, and violence is a razor’s edge from tragedy. The underbelly of breaking the law and getting caught by the “mopes” heightens the twenty-four-seven drama. Even institutions established to meet the needs of the homeless, like the Bowery Mission, Belleville Hospital, the Tombs Prison carry the pallor of the hopeless and their helpers. Bent upon survival, the homeless squat within subways and tunnels beneath Grand Central Terminal; Hell’s Acre becomes their neighborhood. 

Other than Lee Springer, the deftly drawn postage-size characters that flit on and off the pages don’t seem to go anywhere. The story remains the same, with slight variations: desperate for the next hit of crack cocaine or whatever substance is around.

Lee shares the same desperation until discovering a lead pencil in his shirt pocket

that he uses to clean off the screen for that last hit of the evening. Later, he remembers a composition book among his stuff, pulls it free from its entanglements, grabs his pencil, and writes up a memorable experience. In his estimation, it was good, also concurred in by a sober friend.

After years of practice, the obsession of writing replaces Lee Stringer’s former crack cocaine addiction. The residue left on the pages of Grand Central Winter – Stories from the Street is critical, now rendered in eighteen languages.

It has served me well.