A winsome character sketch that celebrates a homeless man’s quirky personality and picaresque life story.
Richard Musto, an 87-year-old homeless man living on Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, is a Runyonesque figure who has a jumble of colorful memories and habits. He’s a fastidious housekeeper, carefully keeping his milk-crate–and-cardboard campsite ship-shape and his patch of sidewalk clean and mopped; a dapper dresser in black beret and American-flag cravat; an amateur expert on military history and cinema, always happy to act out a scene; a cigar-smoking bon vivant and incorrigible ladies’ man, always ready with witticisms for the Hooters gals; and a clear thinker with an acerbic take on the world (sample pensée: “A lot of guys / stop to ask me / what’s the secret of life / and I’ll say to them / how the hell should I know”). Lamport, bemused by Musto, spent many an evening hanging out and recording the man’s back story, which included combat in World War II, many knockabout jobs, an enduring passion for the ponies, a sexless marriage and countless adventures in cross-dressing and BDSM, which, he claims, began with the nuns at his grammar school. (One of Musto’s more improbable sideline career jags was as a ladies’ maid and lingerie model.) The author tells Musto’s tale in limpid, engaging free verse, which suits the narrative’s offbeat content and poetic mood; along the way, he sprinkles in atmospheric odes to the bustling New York streetscape, along with somewhat overdone stanzas invoking the muse. The portrait also has some dark edges, including an ugly family feud that makes Musto “all the more human in his monstrosity.” Musto appears in Michel Delsol’s arresting black-and-white photographs looking like an elfin version of an Easter Island statue. Overall, Musto emerges as a resilient survivor, weathering the obliteration of his camp by city workers with a soft curse and plucky aplomb. The result is a heartening lesson on “How to live life in extremis / Yet to the fullest.”
A romanticized but beguiling saga of one man’s life on the streets.