A SKETCHY FELLOW

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Thanks to my good friend Simon Monroe, the elusive, enigmatic illustrator who did the caricature of me that will henceforth make its home on this site’s blog page. My friend Ken Smith, a man who knows from illustrators, complimented the drawing by saying that it was “Sort of Mencken in spirit, and it sets off the page in a literary New York Review of Books kind of way.” Simon, a worshipful student of David Levine, was very flattered by this reaction. Personally, I’m just fascinated by the amount of croshatching on my nose. Ken, of course, in addition to designing my website, did the water color of me that tops the News page here, working from a photo he took of me when we worked together at Time in 1998. The drawing on the Media page is by Barry Blitt, who did it for a contributors page in an issue of Spy circa 1990. I don’t know who did the caricature on the Contact page–I’m hoping to find out–but it is part of a set of editors of Spy that was done for a custom-made Chutes & Ladders game that was given to Susan Morrison when she left Spy around 1991 to edit The New York Observer. To see the entire set, you’d have to make friends with Susan. Or break into her apartment

THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS

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Those of you expecting to see Paul Newman and Alexis Smith will be disappointed, but I’m not. This week I was lucky to lunch with two of Philadelphia’s finest: Bill Tonelli (with me, left) of South Philly and Temple University, once my colleague at Esquire, and Joe Queenan (with me, right), the pride of St. Joe’s and one of America’s premier satirists. Bill gave me excellent advice on how to judge the value of agents. Joe, I’m delighted to say, sold me a very funny piece that at this moment is scheduled to run in the January issue of Playboy. It was great to see them, and I send them off with the traditional Philadelphia salute–“Booooooooo!”

REEL TEEN

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What American Graffiti and Breakfast Club and other movies have done in fiction, American Teen does in a documentary –and rather more powerfully. Director Nanette Burstein spent a year at the high school in Warsaw, Indiana, following around members of the senior class. Eventually narrowing her focus of the 1200 hours of film she shot onto five students–Megan the bitchy princess, Colin the jock, Jake the invisible man, Hannah the creative offbeat girl, and Mitch, the regular guy–Burstein finds amazing drama in the most ordinary events. Perhaps the most poignant subject is Hannah, a creative free spirit who is really out-of-step with the herd. The saddest moment in the film comes when her mother, a woman who suffers from manic depression, warns Hannah not to follow her dreams and go to San Francisco. “You’re not always going to get exactly what you want,” her mom says, “You’re not special.” There is bitter wisdom in mom’s words–almost none of us is that special–but what the audience has learned is that this girl does in fact a lot of special qualities. Hannah’s efforts to find out who she is in the midst of this less-than-nuturing environment is a creation myth disguised as reality. We were fortunate to see American Teen at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville NY, and three of the kids–Colin, Megan and Mitch, pictured above–were on hand to take questions. They seemed poised and much more mature than they did in the film, which was shot just two years ago. All three expressed the apparently but not exactly conflicting ideas that they all felt unbelievable pressure in high school, while believing now that spent an amazing amount of time worrying about insignifica. Mitch had a thoughtful reaction to seeing the film, one worth pondering by all people of all ages: “You wonder why you isolated youself from so many people.”

THE LEGENDS OF SLEEPY HOLLOW

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Under threatening skies in a cozy and picturesque former Hudson River train station, twenty or so lovers of literature (or something) came to see the novelist DeLaune Michel and myself perform in a reading sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. The Center’s director, Jerri Lynn Fields, opened the evening with a discussion of the great work the center does, and then brought up Chris Raymond. Chris was an excellent choice to serve as emcee (the program was too brief for him to have been a master of ceremonies, but suitably long for him to called emcee.) Not only is he a fine editor, now with ESPN Books, but he knows both DeLaune and me–he is her neighbor in Irvington, and he and I were colleagues at Esquire (I remember him being a frighteningly energetic tyro.) DeLaune read two beautifully observed passages from her new novel The Safety of Secrets–she is an excellent writer and a most expressive reader, no doubt because she has been an actress– and I chipped in with a piece of The Coup, and then we took questions. “Why are you such a cynic?” asked one gentleman. A cynic? Moi? “Because I was raised right,” I assured him. The rain held off until it was tme to go, and them fell in a furious attack. Driving home through the fields of the Rockefeller properties in Pocantico after the storm had passed, one could still see the lightening exploding in the west, over Rockland County somewhere, backlighting the charcoal clouds that still hung bristling in the sky. Seldom have I seen a sky so dramatic, a memorable end to a fun night. (Above, me, DeLaune, Jerri Lynn and Chris.)

By the way, here is a clip of Delaune acting with Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm in a scene from a TV series called Division Street.

RALPH REED, NOVELIST?

“Dark Horse is the story of Bob Long, the governor of California and candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. With this status he is afflicted only temporarily, since his all-but-secured nomination is swiftly undone through a tricky procedural maneuver sprung after some underhanded double-dealing by his rival. . . .Then, something unusual happens: God tells Bob to run for president as an Independent. Or signals him. Gives him a thumbs up. A nod and a wink. Whatever—the Lord works in mysterious ways, and here he opts against appearing as a burning bush or Morgan Freeman Jr. or any of his regular guises in favor of far subtler communication.” To read my review of Dark Horse, the new novel by Ralph Reed, the fundamentalist Republican operative and Jack Abramoff crony, now appearing in the July issue of The Washington Monthly, click here.

THE FACTS FROM STACKS

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I had lunch with John Stacks, my mentor, exemplar, confessor and friend during my years at Time magazine. I was delighted to see him, and to chew over the presidential campaign, the surprising delights of visiting the east of Italy, and how coop board critics are similar to Hamas. I am thrilled to say that he read The Coup in Italy, and he pronounced it `terrific.’ (He also seemed quite pleased that I worked his last name into the story.) His opinion matters to me enormously. I’m sure not a day passes at work when I do not emulate him in some way.

GEORGE AND RACHEL? ARE YOU LISTENING?

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I received a nice note from an artist in California named Lisa Jonte (see http://www.Girlamatic.com, or http://www.never-done.com, or
http://www.Arcanumvisual.com), who was trying to track down an article I wrote called When Disney Ran America, which appeared in the June 1991 issue of Spy. After I sent her a copy, I received a lovely note that read, in part: “Hey there! I got the article yesterday! I must say, it’s aged very well. In fact, I think it’s all the more entertaining for the intervening years. . . . I also finished reading The Coup last night. I’m not normally drawn to political fiction (I find I get enough of that on the news) but your book really did draw me in. If it hadn’t, I might have gotten some work done last night, instead of sitting up and turning pages until 2 am. . . .You actually made Washington and its fictional denizens seems more human, more three dimensional (and in some cases, more sympathetic) than their real-life counterparts ever manage to come across. I’m even more impressed that you could to make me (middle class liberal that I am) give a damn about the life of a self-satisfied trust fund baby. When the time comes to cast the movie, tell them I said George Clooney and Rachel Weisz are the only possible choices for Godwin and Maggie. ”

Thanks, Lisa. Your casting choices are right on.

ROLL OUT THE BARREL!

Because the gang’s all here. My father always said that his only request for his funeral is that we play The Beer Barrel Polka, and I’m glad we made his last wish come true. Thanks to all of the freinds and relatives who came to Dad’s viewing and funeral, and to the party that followed.

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Malanowski, The Next Generation: cousins Megan and Cara, left. My brother Matt, the pride of Bisbee, right.

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Cousin Stephanie (right) and her daughter Alicia; my cousins Ed Kalendek and Elaine Warner.

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My cousin Dot and my Uncle Steve, the last of the Mohicans; my aunts Marcella and Dot

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Cousins Chris and Greg (left) and Dave and Lydia (right)

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Barb Kalendek (I was an altar boy at her wedding); cousins Dave and Sue Kalendek

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Matt and cousin Charlotte (left), and my sister Rose and her friend Al.

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Left, Malanowski cousins, including my cousins Marge Centofani and Theresa Beckemeyer, who had eluded my earlier efforts at portraiture.

Right, the cousins with aunts and uncle, including Aunt Josie.

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Playing with a full dek of Glodeks and Kalendeks, left. Right, cousin Joe Malanowski and kinsman Bob Centofani

CLEM MALANOWSKI, 1916-2008

We may all know a person, but we may not all know the same person. And obviously, we may not know the real person, the person inside.
The rare stories that my father told about his youth all involved fun—-sledding and playing soccer in the shadow of the pagoda in Patterson Park, jumping off the piers at the foot of Broadway, learning to shuck oysters from the oystermen there, playing with his brothers. (Ten sons in that house! Can you imagine? Even in the heyday of big families, they must have made a singular impression. Someone should have put a derrick on the roof of that house on Chester Street—it could have been the Saudi Arabia of testosterone.) My mom, who talked about things a bit more than he did, always remarked on how handsome he was (and he was), how lively, how funny he was in Charley’s Aunt in the parish dramatic club. And my sister Rose has strong memories of an active and involved father who did things with her and my older brother Clem.
But my memories of my dad, like most people’s memories of their dads, didn’t really begin until I was school age, and the fun-loving man had disappeared. When I was in second grade, my brother Clem died age 15 from a blood disease, and that shocking tragedy opened a wound in my father that festered for years. Most of my memories of dad follow that event. And they are not of a fun-loving man. Usually he seemed short-tempered, abrupt, grouchy, lost in work.
But let’s be clear: to his enduring credit, he did not quit on his family. He did not go over the hill, and he did not crawl in a bottle. He kept trying, kept taking us places like ballgames and Gettyburg and the beach, and he was dutiful and responsible. But I can’t say that he was warm or affectionate or particularly understanding. It couldn’t have helped that when I was little I was always more bookish than boisterous, and that later, when his wound may have begun to heal, I was a rebellious teenager in the rebellious sixties and a full of himself twentysomething in the full of itself seventies. So maybe he was making an effort and I didn’t recognize it, and for many years we had a relationship was proper, cordial, respectful, but not exactly warm.
But things changed when I became a father. Because then I began experiencing all that he had gone through—all the work and effort and hope that he invested, all the dreams he possessed, all the love that he felt. I, too, knew that moment when a little face looks square at you and beams a pure smile of love, and part of you feels the warmth of love and another part feels the chill of responsibility, because that little face knows nothing of the world—its trouble, toil, trauma, terror—none of the T words–and you are obliged to his or her protector, just as my father knew he had to be the protector of his children. And I then knew more viscerally what I always knew intellectually—that his failure to protect my brother, though he was in every way blameless, just tore him up. Having grasped that, I became more grateful for everything that he did do and tried to do, and that replaced all feelings about his shortcomings.
And he changed, too. Dad’s normal tone of speech was loud—the legacy of forty years amid the machines of Western Electric. When he spoke loudly to my very young daughter, she was scared. And when he saw that, he changed–he made an effort to speak more softly. He wanted to love his granddaughters, all four of them, and he wanted to be loved by them, and he worked at it. One day, when Molly was around five, we went to the Westchester County Fair, and Dad and Molly went on all the rides, including the rollercoaster. On that day I realized that the fun-loving guy from the foot of Broadway, the one who had been so long absent, had returned, and one could at long last see the man in full. And in later years, at Christmas dinner and at graduation parties and other events, he always seemed very content, happy in his role of paterfamilias. And we were glad he was there. The 20 years since Molly was born were the best years of the relationship between my dad and me, and I am grateful for them.
So long, Dad. We love you, we thank you, we will miss you always.