Thursday, January 16, 2020. Yesterday in New York it was sunny, fair and mild with temps in the high-40s and low-50s.
This past Tuesday night I went to dinner at Shirley Rosenthal’s for Tara Westover, the author of the best-selling memoir Educated: A Memoir. I had heard about it from Shirley because the author is the 2019 AM Rosenthal Writer-in-Residence at Harvard, and Shirley gives this dinner annually in honor of the awardee. Shirley’s dinners are always good. There’s lots of conversations at table, left, right and all around depending on the subject.
I knew nothing about Ms. Westover except that her book has or had been on the NY Times’ Best-Sellers List for 40 weeks; and that she grew up in a Mormon family in Idaho, living under the stressful atmosphere of parents, especially a father. He disallowed all kinds of natural necessities – including medical care and institutional education. And she somehow had the forthrightness to move herself out of the child’s domestic situation and into the young woman’s world of universities and worldly ideas.
The author, herself, is small and very slim, although she stands tall. Her manner of speaking is common-sense natural and thoughtful. It’s also an intellectual image that she conveys. Her mode of fashion, casual, yet attractive, yet sensible, speaks of that university environment. She looks a lot younger than 33 (34 in late September). So you’re at first surprised by her natural authority.
She’s the ninth and last of her mother and father’s children. Her ability to eventually free herself of their bonds was undoubtedly assisted by her numerical ranking. By the time she came along, mother and father had seen it all many times over. She now possesses the mantle of authority in media and best-sellerdom. She’s definitely earned it. But you can see she will always work to earn it. That’s her heritage. And her strength.
Our hostess gave all of the guests a copy of “Educated.” It was published in 2018. Today Tara is very active in academia as well as her career as a writer. Her childhood, which was problematic because of her parents’ personal problems, is also the treasure chest for her natural talent. She knows this.
Business is business. Yesterday I went down to Michael’s for lunch yesterday with Jilly Stephens who is the Executive Director of City Harvest the deliverer of rescued food to more than 500 community food programs throughtout the city. I was introduced to it by Joy Ingham in the mid-90s. It is a great story how one individual can actualize an idea that helps eventually millions of people. That’s what City Harvest is. They collect, acquire the food, and re-distribute it through the city. Their trucks now operate 24 hours a day. This is not an ordinary job. Their drivers are motivated and rewarded with the gratitude of those they’re delivering to.
This started as an idea of one Helen Palit back in the mid-80s. Ms. Palit was volunteering in a soup kitchen that was located near a popular restaurant in Manhattan. The restaurant had something that was very popular on its menu that included potato skins. Ms. Palit realized the restaurant was throwing away a lot of potatoes everyday. She asked the restaurant owner if she could have them. Sure. And so she began distributing them through the Soup Kitchen. That simple item led to more ideas and items and volume to assist more individuals and families.
Today there are 22 City Harvest trucks delivering all over the city, free of charge, to hundreds of soup kitchens, food pantries, community food programs, all of which distribute the food to those of us in need. There’s more than 100 in staff including the drivers. You can tell that the job is much more than a job to the drivers. They are delivering the bounty to the community. They are the real heroes and they all seem to have been touched by it.
Jilly told me that those who work on the office side also reflect that sense of purpose. They also have a Board of Directors who have brought in the millions needed to grow their distribution and assistance. People who raise money for feeding our brethren are at the top of the list. For Good for all of us.
End of the denouement. Yesterday evening about 6:45 I drove over the Citarella Market on Third Avenue and 75th Street. As I was backing into a space, a man who looked like he might be the owner of the black Escalade SUV in front of me, tapped on my door window. It was already dark out but the light from the stores and the traffic made him out to look like he might be in his late forties. Maybe a resident of the neighborhood. Smartly but casually dressed in a navy raincoat. His black shoes had a shine.
I put the window down to respond. He asked me if I had any money. He asked very quietly but directly. At first the din of the traffic and still in the car prevented me from hearing him clearly. I told him that. Very matter of factly, he repeated still quietly.
When I got out of the car, I pulled the cash out of my pocket. The first that unfolded was a ten. “Will this help?” I remember asking. “Yes,” he said, “thank you. I need to get some food.”
What still strikes me about the moment was the man had the presence and authority and the costume of a well fixed individual. He was grateful politely, but not demonstrably. I crossed the avenue over to the market wondering if he were kidding me, if he were proving something to himself by getting some stranger to give him ten bucks. Or was he really in need of money for food? I can’t rule that out. I wondered: if so, what went wrong for this prosperous, self-reliant-looking man. At 6:45 on a Wednesday evening in January on the Upper East Side.