Adam Ash

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Bookplanet: homeless writer scores agent

Cadillac Man has been homeless in New York City for about a decade. But now the Queens street dweller is banking on an unlikely ticket off the street: a book deal.

Sounds crazy? Tell that to his agent.

Cadillac - who is 56 and won't reveal his birth name - caught the eye of the book industry after Esquire magazine published parts of his memoirs in May. "I thought it was stunning," said Sloan Harris, an agent with International Creative Management Inc., which represents literary stars Carl Hiaasen and Toni Morrison. "He certainly has both the writerly skills and the experience to have a career as a writer." Although Harris never heard of a homeless man getting a book deal before, he added Cadillac to his roster of talent last month. The agent said a "major publisher" is courting his client, who spends his days squatting beneath an Astoria viaduct, scrawling his adventures longhand into notebooks. At night, he crashes in local parks and garages.

"I write every day. I'm writing a book that I've been working on for about two years," Cadillac said, sitting on a chair beside his "Cadillac Mobile," a shopping cart crammed with sweaters and paperbacks. "My book will be published some day and people will learn from it. Maybe treat us differently," he said. "It's strictly autobiographical, and it's about my life out on the streets."

Cadillac grew up in Hell's Kitchen and was married once, fathering three daughters. In the late '80s, he lost his job managing the Pepsi bottling plant in Long Island City, and his life veered out of control. He started drinking, telling lies. His family cut him off and he found himself sleeping in alleys. He says his daughters and ex-wife will not talk to him today.

He took the name "Cadillac Man" after claiming he was hit by a handful of Cadillac sedans a few years ago. He refuses to go by anything else.

"I just want to remain Cadillac. My past is dead," he said recently beneath a 33rd Street bridge in Astoria, where he has lived for the past four years. Cadillac is beloved in the Greek neighborhood. He seems to know everybody's name, and they support him with meals, used clothes and empty bottles. Despite the man's imposing presence - he's a beefy 6-foot-1 with a weathered face and long mane of graying hair - many stop and chat. "He's my neighbor," said George Psillides, 37, who has lived down the street from Cadillac since 2001 and was thrilled that he might publish a book. "He's like the guardian angel of the block. I think it's great." One local resident, a former Esquire editor, befriended the street dweller last year and connected him with the magazine. Executive Editor Mark Warren was intrigued by his story and came out to visit Cadillac last year. Warren was blown away by his manuscript.

"The more that we got to read, the more we became convinced that this was a story worth telling," he said. The magazine paid Cadillac $7,500 and dedicated 10 pages to his writing.

"I have lived homeless in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens, all the boroughs of New York City save Staten Island," Cadillac wrote. "I have been urinated on because some people find that amusing and I've been shot at for the same reason, I have been given food mixed with bleach and food with scouring powder as garnish, I have fought dozens of fights using fists, feet, knees, elbows, blackjacks, ice picks, tire irons, chains, pipes, bricks, cans of soda, rocks, M-80 explosives, garbage cans, and even other people as weapons, never guns."

In the wake of the article, Cadillac got a flood of e-mails from all over the world. He was tickled, responding to just about all of them. "It still hasn't sunk in," Cadillac said. "I'm just writing from my heart and stuff like that. It looks so strange when it's type-written."

Now he's looking for a place in Astoria. "All I want is a room," he said. "Basically, just to bed down. I'll still be out here every day, meeting and greeting people."


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