Monday, February 2, 2015

A New Yorker Reminiscense

Today's issue of The New Yorker tells us of the re-location of the magazine's offices which have occupied hallowed space in mid-town Manhattan for ninety years.  As I too am moving yet again, buried quite uncomfortably under my own version of the Collyer brothers' fabulous collection of rubble, I found some solace in the brief description of the emotions felt by the magazine staff as they took their leave of the rooms, desks, files and assorted paraphernalia required to meet the weekly deadline.  

For a time in the 1960's, I took the subway uptown from my tiny Greenwich Village basement apartment to my secretarial job in the Tishman Building at 666 Fifth Avenue.  In good or not so good weather, it was a pleasure to walk along West 44th Street past the Algonquin Hotel, fantasizing an image of myself sipping a very dry martini while seated in a chintz-covered cozy chair in the oak-paneled lobby. After work, I'd often make a deliberate pass by the 43rd Street location of The New Yorker offices. I ambled around that neighborhood hoping I might see one or two of my heroes like James Thurber or Brendan Gill or even more unlikely, a glimpse of E.B. White if he just happened to be in town on a rare visit away from his beloved rural property in Maine. I idolized these writers and others who contributed pages of elegant prose and sophisticated commentary, not to mention the brilliant cartoons of Charles Addams, Peter Arno and George Price among others.  And then there were those hilarious items appropriately called "fillers" which caught out some well-intentioned copy-writer who had got it all wrong.  Occasionally, a hapless translator fell face down coming out of the gate:

The Mysterious East
[Message on a coaster from
a bar in Tokyo]
You should relax your truss up day
And, the ennui is killing everybody
That! We will give you
Heart warming dream story,
Eating and drink
Here we go! *

In fact, I never spotted any of the writers I admired, (although I did eventually see James Thurber in one of his eighty-eight appearances as himself in a successful Broadway production of A Thurber Carnival in 1961). Even more astonishing to me is the fact that another fantasy came true in the April 6, 1987 issue. Whitney Balliett wrote about the ever-radiant, legendary cabaret singer Julie Wilson and myself in a rare Joint Profile. 

Mr. Balliett, a music scholar and jazz journalist of luminous reputation, interviewed me at a friend's Upper West Side apartment where I offered to make tea.  He asked for a cup of hot water and withdrew a single tea bag from the inside pocket of his jacket.  He dipped the same bag in two subsequent cups of hot water.

Bursting with curiosity about his method for notating his subject, I was delighted to see the yellow legal pad he withdrew from his briefcase.  At one point, on the pretext of having to fill the pot with more hot water, I took a peek over his shoulder as I made for the kitchen.  His was a tiny, cramped-together handwriting, totally illegible from my angle.  Many days after the interview of more than three hours' duration and ahead of publication, I was engaged in a telephone chat with a member of the famous Fact Checking Department who took me through the draft line by line, verifying situations, chronology, quotes, names, locations, all demanding authentication from me to prevent the slightest discrepancy of any sort appearing in the final text.

As the release date of "my" issue approached, Buck and I spent an early Spring afternoon at the Boston Museum of Science watching extraordinary footage of the earth from an orbiting space capsule.  The technology and the views were so spectacular and exciting, we felt the need of a calming libation.  In the bar of a near-by hotel, we ordered cocktails and talked about the film. Then, Buck went to the lobby news-stand to check if the April 6 issue was available. He returned with a half-dozen copies.  With a wide smile, he announced to the bartender and others seated nearby: "There's an article about my wife in here!"  He made certain everyone saw the cover to avoid any confusion: This was the prestigious New Yorker after all, and not to be confused with say Extraterrestrials Among Us.

The New Yorker is always within easy reach around here, and always will be as long as it and I exist.

* The Japanese have become very adept translators since this item appeared, more's the pity.


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