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Column

The tales of humans

Considering the fact I was a freshman when our high school purchased electric typewriters, I’ve done well to sort of pretend to keep up with technology. I don’t pretend to know it all, but like I always say, “I know enough to do what I do.”

My first social media account was Facebook. I’ve had it about 11 years. I’ve seen a lot of things on there. I know way more about some people than I would ever want to know. I’ve discovered some aren’t quite as I’d previously perceived them ... both good and bad.

Social media has its pros and cons, for sure.

But the one thing I have found worthwhile in a world of social media drivel is “Humans of New York.”

If you’re not already a follower, you’re missing out.

I’m a people watcher. Having visited New York only once, I was fascinated by the menagerie of people I saw each day. I could have just sat in my lawn chair right in the middle of Times Square and watched the passersby for hours on end, imagining what brought them to that particular space, at that particular time, and I would have considered my journey a success.

The stories of “Humans of New York” are right up my alley. HONY shares glimpses into the lives of people photographer Brandon Stanton meets on the streets of New York City.

What started as a project to photograph 10,000 residents of the city, along with a brief quote, has turned into the most intriguing collection of short stories and portraits of his subjects. Stanton has a way with the lens.

Once these people begin sharing their stories, it’s obvious Stanton has an inordinate gift for listening and transcribing their memories. And some of those memories go deep.

I can’t begin to tell you how captivating these narratives are. Stanton gets — what appears to be — average people to summon up past moments of their lives ... some humorous, some tragic, some unbelievable and some stay with you much like Tanqueray.

A recent series of stories is about 76-year-old Stephanie, a/k/a “Tanqueray” a former burlesque performer and someone we were introduced to last winter on HONY’s Facebook page. What a life she’s led. This time around she tells of her childhood in Albany, N.Y., as the only black child in a community of whites, and her difficult and abusive relationship with her mother. With a love of ballet, she had dreams of dancing on Broadway. Once she made it to NYC, following a stint in prison at 18 years old, she found her way to the night clubs. There she became a “regular” and was befriended by “the pimps, the hustlers, the drug dealers, the mob guys.”

She recounts relationships with various celebrities, mobsters, businessmen and politicians, as well as prostitutes and madames. She makes no bones about telling it like it was in her world of 1970s NYC. She isn’t trying to paint herself the heroine and admits to her indiscretions, but I would imagine having survived the life she’s lived thus far requires a great deal of intelligence and wit. (Just a warning, the language is a bit harsh at times.)

Her story had more than 30 “installments” — each being somewhere between 300 and 400 words — that pull you in. And I admit, I was pulled!

Most stories are single entries yet every bit as fascinating and they not only tell stories of New Yorkers, but of people from around the world.

It certainly makes me realize (not as if I didn’t already know) what a fortunate life I’ve led, nothing extravagant, but at least I’ve always felt secure. Some stories simply leave the reader numb ... speechless ... or with a tear in the eye.

Stanton released his latest book, “Humans,” in early October.

You can get a taste of his work on the Humans of New York Facebook page or visit humansofnewyork.com.

Contact Dana King at dking@shawmedia.com

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