Wednesday, January 25, 2023


A New York Moment: Ruby, Jules & Me

(Don't ask me why this never got published at the time.)  

Over the last week, I've been reading "My First Time in New York," which is as it sounds -- a four-year old compilation, published by New York magazine, of testimonials of various authors, artists, singers, politicians and other celebrities recounting there first recognizable moment in the Big Apple. One of the earliest is from former mayor David Dinkins (recounting a 1932 story with a punch line that is mildly disturbing at a time when one is reading about NFL players beating their children with a switch, but I digress..). One of the more recent is by James Franco who first got here in 2008 -- as a new college student.  

Most of the stories from the '50s and '60s inevitably had "moments" where the person remembered hanging with friends who, inevitably, became as well-known as the raconteur. Of course, at the time, thy were all just young, hungry, afraid dreamers trying to find their way in a big, seemingly unforgiving city. The tie that binds all the stories though is that same city that, ironically, has a way of teaching lessons and inspiring stories. 

Such stories still happen.  Saturday morning, actress and activist Ruby Dee's memorial service was held up in Harlem. My TV already had NY1 running, so I left it on while working on the computer. At some point, actor Glynn Turman came on to give a testimonial to Dee. He had played her son, first in "A Raisin in the Sun" and later in "Peyton Place." He spoke movingly of how Dee had imparted to him the notion that it's not who you know that's important, but who knows you. Over the years, Dee would remain a friend and mentor to Turman. Ultimately, he concluded, "I feel honored to have known Ruby Dee but I feel so very blessed that she knew me." 

A little more than 24 hours later, I was at the Brooklyn Book Festival, attending a talk with author Jonathan Lethem ("Motherless Brooklyn," "Fortress of Solitude" and many others) and cartoonist/essayist/filmmaker, all around Renaissance man Jules Feiffer, who I was hearing for the second time in less than a year. Last October, Feiffer was on one of the last panels of the New York Comic Con, talking "noir" with artist Darwin Cooke and former DC president and publisher Paul Levitz. At that time, Feiffer talked about his in-progress graphic-novel, "Kill My Mother," a work heavily influenced by classic film noir. The novel was published earlier this month and I had gotten a copy of it in my hot little hands, as I listened to Lethem and Feiffer. 

I'll try to return to the subject of their talk (movements of the Left from the 30s to now) at some.point. But the current tale jumps to right after the authors' talk. The men are signing their books. I get in the Feiffer line. A nice lady handed out Post-Its, urging us to write down our names, and stick the on the page we wanted signed. 

I debated whether I wanted my first name or full name and opted for the latter. When I got to the front of the line, I put my book down in front of Jules Feiffer. He looked at my name and said, "Robert George? The journalist?" Wait, WHAT? I said, "Uh, yes." He said, "From the Post." I said,  "Yes, that's me." "Oh, I enjoy seeing you on [Steve] Kornacki."  Holy crap.

I reminded him that I had seen him last year at NYCC. As I did then, I again thanked him for writing and editing, many decades back, "The Great Comic Book Heroes," a work that helped stimulate my already nascent interest in the graphic medium. Feiffer responded by saying that he was sorry that he didn't recognize me in my "civilian" clothes (rather than TV-friendly jacket and tie, I was wearing short sleeves and tan slacks). 

Wow. Jules Freaking Feiffer recognized my name? Knew me? Was honored to meet me???? Wow. Simply wow. 

Suddenly, Glynn Turman's words from the memorial service the day before returned. "It's who knows you that's important." 

Yes, New York stories still happen. 

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