A flop house, a pumping station, a maid's room, a homeless center, a former brothel, a Richard Meier building, a circus trailer, a sail boat, a skyscraper, buildings named Esther and Loraine—just a few of the places New Yorkers call home. For the past eight years writer Toni Schlesinger has been bringing us these "conversation places" in her weekly column in the Village Voice. Through her incisive questioning, original writing, and comic parallel reveries, Schlesinger creates miniature documentaries on the lives, passions, hopes, and heartbreaks of many of New York City's millions
"I knew rooms were just a lot of stage sets," Schlesinger writes of taking on the Village Voice "Shelter" column in 1997. The drama taking place behind New Yorkers' drawn curtains, Schlesinger reveals in this selection of interviews, is varied and vivid: bizarre, unhappy, frenetic, obsessive, euphoric, awkward, and endless. Divided into 15 sections, the book captures people at a moment in time, before 9/11 and after, telling the deeply personal stories that lead to new addresses: stories of death, ambition, love and rent control. Schlesinger finds a man with a 129-pound rubber band ball, a 105-pound pet pig in Brooklyn and a man who has turned his living room into a giant pinhole camera. "Manhattan's density," Schlesinger notes, "is 871 times that of the U.S. as a whole." Rents are as sky high as the architecture, which explains why a family of four might keep their rent-stabilized 295-square-foot studio in Little Italy. Sometimes Schlesinger enters homes and smells gas, sometimes dumplings, and it's not uncommon for her to make interviewees ill at ease. "Don't you want to write about the apartment?" one man asks. Her associative ramblings aren't binge reading material, but the book's Spartan design and casual, if bizarre, banter offer sliver-sized glimpses into the epic stories of New York lives.