You got people in here don't know whether it's day or night. . . . They're lost. Be better dead."" Harlem ex-pimp and barber Youngblood is one of the few residents of the single-room-occupancy (SRO) ""Hotel Walden"" in N.Y.C. who is not on the run from, or mumbling to, ""private demons."" Hamburger, who interviewed household workers for Stranger in the House (1978), lived at the Walden for a year--listening, eavesdropping, taping life stories. Talk is the cheapest thing around, and there's plenty of it: from 57-year-old Muriel, a ""proper"" Cape Codder with a gussied-up romantic tale of a long-ago wealthy lover; or brothers Doug and Bobby, always on the brink of violence--one a drifter who claims to have had a concussion, the other a strung-out Viet vet. Trying for proximity, Hamburger weathers the filth and rusted tubs, the glazed eyes before the TV, the casual deaths (one tenant was dead three days before discovery), the psychic rises and falls of Check Day, the canny-to-hysteric survival tactics of winos, freak-outs, and the desolate. But somehow the residents, as individuals, still seem to be behind glass. What does come through, horribly and movingly, is the theme of dead endings. ""All this going on, you gotta get high on somethin'."" ""I wanna get a job, work, make some money. I can't do this with depression on my mind."" ""Things get in the way."" With the recent rash of SRO closings (to upgrade the real estate), Hamburger's statistics are out-of-date--but the human problem remains, crying for reform.