Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tough town

This time, I went into the alcove in the living room where I used to hand-print a newspaper of little neighborhood notes I called "The Flash." It made me the Neighborhood Gossip. But this time I tried much more. As the story had more than one strand, it was complicated and took me over a week. Now, when I finished "The Flash," I took it around to Worship's candy store and asked him to put it on the newsstand. My headline said, "Mother Tried Suicide." Later, I learned that the headline should have been in the present tense: "Mother Tries Suicide." Without looking, Worship said, "Put it out there yourself." He sold candy and booked horse bets. Worship was a small man who wore a gray truck driver's cap down over his forehead and had thick glasses perched on a sharp nose. He was behind the candy counter listening to the race results that came over all afternoon. After each result, he checked a betting sheet to see if any of his players had won anything. His wife, who had short hair and wore the uniform of the candy store owner, a drab dark red buttoned cardigan sweater, noticed my hand-printed "Flash" and said, "Let me see what you got." When I gave it to her, her face was alarmed. "Did this happen today?" she asked. I said no, that it happened last week. "Then it's over," she said. Her face showed no expression as she crumpled up the paper. Usually when she did this with paper, it was bet slips, which she grabbed as police were either just outside or crashing in, and she popped the slips into her mouth, chewed htem up while holding a pack of Wrigley's to the cops. This time, the paper had something totally unimportant on it. A suicide that was a scratch.
With the recent death of Jimmy Breslin, I've started reading his memoir I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me. It's framed by his doctor's diagnosis of an aneurysm that almost killed him a number of years earlier.

Really, though, what's best about it is his description of New York in the time he was growing up and starting out as a journalist. A New York that doesn't seem to be there anymore but maybe, hopefully, lies under the surface, waiting for a chance to awake. (Yes, I know I make it sound like Cthulhu.)

For context, the mother in that headline was his own mother. It's an ineffectual attempt, which may or may not mitigate things.


susan said...

Jimmy Breslin characterized New York like few others (Studs Terkel immediately comes to mind). Not having lived in the city I didn't read much of what he wrote but I do know he always stood up for ordinary people and that was a good thing.

One of the better parts of reading the Nero Wolfe books was getting to spend time in the NYC we wish could return.

Ben said...

Yes, he is a very New York writer, with a lot of very New York kinds of stories. Maybe ones that the tourism board wouldn't be thrilled about, but are nonetheless true of the city. And he's pro-ordinary person, even as he admits to - by a certain point at least - being much better off. Also there's a passage in the book about Joe McCarthy that strikes me as not only accurate but in a way prescient.

The Nero Wolfe books draw a great picture of New York too. An outsider's perspective in a way. Rex Stout was a Hoosier, Archie Goodwin was from Ohio, and of course Wolfe himself is from the Balkans.