NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: ASTORIA; From a Neighborhood Scribe, A Chronicle of Life on the Street
By JEFF VANDAM (NYT) 700 words
Published: February 13, 2005
The book of Cadillac Man is written in blue pen on college-rule notebook paper, his thoughts and dreams and hopes and worries taking the form of a bent cursive script and a voice hewn from his 10 years on the streets of New York.
He lives under an Amtrak viaduct that arches over 33rd Street near Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria. Every morning, as hundreds of commuters make their way past his shopping cart to the N and W trains, Cadillac greets them, or asks about their families or if they liked the cigars he gave them. ''They treat me like a man,'' he said, his camouflage pants unruffled in the breeze. ''I love these people.''
When he isn't talking to his neighbors, the hardy 55-year-old is filling the notebooks, which number seven in all. He writes about friends on the street he has known and lost and how he has managed to survive. And now, as reported in The Astoria Times this month, his writings may find a readership. Esquire, the men's monthly magazine, has expressed interest in publishing them.
''The hardest thing for a writer to develop is a voice, but it's natural in his writing,'' said Mark Warren, the magazine's executive editor. ''It's borne of hard experience.''
Mr. Warren met Cadillac through Esquire's former literary editor, Will Blythe, who lives in Astoria and introduced the two last spring. During an hours-long conversation, Cadillac gave Mr. Warren a primer on street life, including a look at the fresh rat bites on his knuckles.
Now Mr. Warren is awaiting a chapter from Cadillac called ''Scams and Shams,'' which details how New York's homeless eke out a living from various unsavory enterprises.
''When I went to grammar school, I couldn't even write a book report,'' Cadillac said. ''I don't have any experience as a writer. I'm just writing from the heart. This perhaps could be a learning tool.''
Cadillac, who does not use his real name, never finished high school, nor did most of his friends and neighbors from Hell's Kitchen, where he grew up. Before he became homeless in 1994, he held various jobs, including a stint as a professional bodyguard. He says he was never fired -- just had some bad luck.
He has expressed a wish to finish out his life on the streets, but a recent brush with sleep apnea has caused him to consider going ''back in'' and finding a small room somewhere. But for the time being, he is staying outside, talking to his people and filling his notebooks, even as his fingers freeze in the cold. JEFF VANDAM
All these years in the street, is creating havoc with my hand. Between the weather conditions and street fights my fingers look like sick pretzels.
Why don't you take aspirin for pain you ask?
Why spend 50 cents or 75 cents in some stores (highway robbery) for temporary relief?
No, I'm not cheap just practical and that money could go toward some food or laundry soap. (Yes, believe it or not I do wash my clothes on occasion)...
You need your hands out here, to defend yourself or to untie the recycle bags.
I refuse to rip open unless there are a lot of recycle material whereas I could retie the bag.
For those of you who don't know what recycle material is, sit up straight and listen.
Beer and soda cans, plastic soda bottles and beer and soda bottles. Nickel heaven and if you're lucky enough, you will find a redeemer who will allow 240 pieces.