Monday, March 20, 2017

Beloved innocence

A cardinal sharing a limb with sparrows. Photo: JH.
Monday, March 20, 2017. I write this on a sunny Sunday mid-afternoon, the end of what was mainly a rainy, sorta snowy-ish, cold and crummy weather weekend in New York. The temperature outside is 45 degrees. Heavenly.
A cold Friday morning, with snow or rain predicted, the little ones going to the Park. They walk holding on to a rope in the center. They can't be more than four years old. It's so sweet to watch the different personalities following direction and looking around. Beloved innocence.
Went to dinner last night at Sette Mezzo with its fullhouse crowd: Gillian and Sylvester Miniter; Kathy Steinberg and Bette Ann Gwathme, Joe and Hilary Califano; Kathy Sloane and Congresswoman Carolyn Mahoney; Maurice Sonnenberg; Charlie Rose and Amanda Burden, Jerry Della Femina and Judy Licht.
Yanna Avis sent us this photo she took from her apartment overlooking the Park. This was of the snowstorm before the last snowstorm. Light but beautiful, looking west ...
Jimmy Breslin died yesterday. He would have been 87 on October 17th. I did not know him, never met him, don’t even recall ever seeing him except very occasionally on television. However, like many New Yorkers of my generation and before me, I read him eagerly and always admiring in the daily New York Herald-Tribune in the 1960s when it had been taken over by John Hay “Jock” Whitney and turned into the competing morning newspaper versus the New York Times.

Jimmy when he was in the Trib
In those days, few Times writers had an actual byline. Most articles were “Special to the New York Times.” The Trib on the other hand — the Eisenhower Republican paper — had a host of great writers, both columnists and journalists, as well as photographer Jill Krementz who often contributes to the NYSD. Breslin was among them and was incidentally about as Republican as Che Guevara. I’m not implying that Breslin was a Commie. But he was an Irishman, a Noo Yawker, a great story teller from the nabes, and called it like an Irishman New Yorker. He was a star who didn’t bother with the role.

He told stories. His reports were stories, fact or fiction. In memory they were more often fiction because he had characters who were mentioned from time to time like Marvin the Torch (we know what his business was). They could make you laugh. “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” was about a New York gang/mob who were — I was told — mainly Irish and famous for killing a local shylock named Ruby whom they owed money to.

A skeptic, a doubter, a cynic who saw things with an unblemished eye; was that Jimmy Breslin? Maybe all of the above. But mainly who saw it all clearly with that Irish tilt and lilt, the oodles of that charm that could make you laugh even if it first felt like a slap in the face. My father, a generation older than Breslin, was Irish from the same nabe too. He shared the same distinct, no longer extant Noo Yawk accent of his brethren. Along with the rage and a temper that could make you wanna run away. Breslin was like someone in the family. Your Uncle Jimmy? "Ask your Uncle Jimmy; he knows ...” I’m sure his readers felt the same.
My friend Jesse Kornbluth had the privilege of meeting and interviewing the man. Here is his report:

Jimmy Breslin died. I'd read him for decades, but we didn't meet until I was at AOL — he wanted to dictate some columns and make a fortune, or something like that. I knew this would be an amusing conversation, so I brought my 14-year-old stepson with me.

On a winter afternoon, Jimmy greeted us in his bathrobe. He put no lights on. As the room darkened, he told stories: corrupt judges, obscure criminals in the outer boroughs, a lawyer nicknamed “Cop-a-Plea.” It was like an audience with the Godfather.
Jimmy Breslin and Norman Mailer concede defeat in New York City's primary election after Mailer's unsuccessful bid for mayor, with Breslin as his running mate for city council president. (Credit: AP)
It was said that as a writer Jimmy was easy to love and as a person hard to like. That in his prime he occasionally “came down with a case of scotch.” And that he understated when he said, “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.” 

It was that rage I loved best. As a journalist, I worked for a number of magazines that only kicked the powerful on their way down. Jimmy kicked them when they were riding high. Cardinal Egan couldn’t bring himself to speak about pedophiles in the Church: "The man betrayed Catholics, and the Irish, and he puts on his red hat."
Breslin in 1988. (Credit: Newsday/Ken Irby)
He savaged a then-popular governor: Hugh ’Society’ Carey, his mind like sky ....” And he was wise. I interviewed him the day after 9/11. When everyone else was chest-thumping, he told me, “Security will make you weep.” In five words, that is the story of the last sixteen years. 

In my review of his Branch Rickey book, you’ll find a link to Jimmy’s column about the man who dug John F. Kennedy’s grave and a video of Michael Daly giving Jimmy the business. Jimmy would tell you to click, and do it yesterday, for chrissake.
Newsday Columnist Jimmy Breslin talks with Gov. Bill Clinton at the Stage Deli in Manhattan, NY on April 6, 1992 (Credit: Newsday)
Last week’s weather in New York wasn’t much better. I’m impatient for Spring to appear. I had The Cold — “that’s going around” — and so, in my anxiety to recover, I stood at home, as they used to say in New England. That was not regrettable except for Thursday night I missed the opportunity to dine with the divine Carmen at Charles Masson’s new restaurant Majorelle, and or to attend the Frick Collection’s Young Fellows Ball, or Hunter College Writing Center’s 7th anniversary dinner at Doubles.

Nevertheless, I heard from all three. Carmen told me that the new Majorelle, next to the Lowell Hotel on East 63rd  Street brings back the New York we’ve been missing for so long. Loved it!
Carmen by Paulo Cesar Barros Pimenta.
I got a report yesterday from Lewis Frumkes about the Writing Center dinner at Doubles on Thursday. They honored Tom Wolfe. Lewis recounted: “Tim thanked me graciously (ed. note: for Lewis’ introduction) ... and made some interesting remarks lamenting that the Millennials no longer read as our generation did; they are too dependent on their little devices. He compared their need for gossiping and whispering into the devices to what women used to use knitting for. But he believes print will still be around for awhile. He said he sneaks out at night to buy a paper so no one will see him ...”
The cake.
Also speaking were Jennifer Raab, Hunter’s President. I asked Lewis to send me copies of his two speeches (introducing the evening and then introducing Tom Wolfe). They are excellent examples of saying it all thoroughly and briefly, keeping everyone’s attention. Something so many of us who attend these events need to study.
Hilma Wolitzer, Lewis Frumkes, and Meg Wolitzer
Jennifer Raab with Tom and Sheila Wolfe
Lewis Frumkes, Iris Love, and Liz Smith
Everett Raymond Kinstler and Sidney Offit
Scott and Amber Daspin John Calicchio and Denise LeFrak
John Conheeney and Mary Higgins Clark
Elizabeth Shepherd and Roy Frumkes
Almar and Abbie Latour
Frederick Tuten and Iris Smyles James Berry-Hill and Dr. Richard Frances
James Watson and Rosalind Whitehead
Jim and Marilyn Simons
David Steinberg and Robyn Todd Dan Rose and Tom Wolfe
David Steinberg, Regina Barreca, and Patricia Volk
Jennifer Raab and Gay Talese

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