Yes, It was The New Yorker



I never tire of being with the friends I’ve made in my 55+ community. They bring out the best in me, living for these finest of times. We have been called “the cruise ship on land”, “acting like college kids without the schoolwork” and “Sixtysomethings”. But this week, I had a reunion with people I had been close to some 40 years ago when I worked at The New Yorker (yes, The New Yorker). I credit my brother for getting us together as he worked there too and these were his friends as well. We all connected when he died much like they did in the movie “The Big Chill”.

I was only 23 when I got the job as the admin for the production manager, Sam. Sam was a smart man with a humble lifestyle but a character not unlike those depicted on the TV series Mad Men. No, he wasn’t Don Drapper (thank God) but maybe more like the the leader of the rat pack. Not being very observant at the interview, I later realized he played on a different field. He was a vice-president whose office had a bunch of hand-me-down furniture and on his wall were 4 framed black and white photos. Three of the photos were of his friends who were in the business. Under each photo was a title – The Enforcer, The Consigliere, The Don (Sam) and one of the magazine’s circulation manager with a question mark under his photo. I took the job anyway. At 23, it seemed like I belonged in this world of idiotic professionals.

And so I did. Like me, he did not have a college education and worked up through the ranks. At that time, you could be a rock star if you just worked at it. Sam did and I followed that lead. Eventually, I was promoted to Facilities Manager.

At this reunion there was a HR manager, a benefits manager, two computer technicians and me. The HR manger, Tony was a gem who cared about his staff and did what he could to look out for them while keeping them in line. Mary, the benefits manager was a strong woman who knew her job and knew what was right. Don’t cross her. They had moral values that carried into their work. Francisco, the computer technician, was an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who started out in the stockroom, wearing a suit every day and doing the work of ten men. He eventually was promoted to the IT department where he became close to the operator Sally who was also a gem. They married and are happily living in Brooklyn. I suggested they come to visit me in the country and her response was she preferred the rats and mice of the city to the cows and deers of the country.

As the facilities manager, it was my job to ensure the place ran like clockwork. I did but also had to get fine china for the new editor, new furniture for the new publisher and keep up with the changes that were occurring in a world that started out with humble beginnings and ended up with egomaniacs. That came after the magazine was bought by the conglomerate known as Conde Nast. We were simple people and I was not use to the self-admiration that I encountered in a world whose executives looked upon those below them as minions. They weren’t the gems I started with.

We at this reunion were all let go in some form or another. Mostly because they wanted to push out the old guard. But for this get-together, we all sat around toasting to the magazine’s 92 years telling stories of alcohol infused meetings, sexual infidelities between the mailroom boys and the admins, and friendships that have survived some 40 odd years. Yes, it was The New Yorker then. The magazine was highly regarded and highly profitable and not at all corporate-like. Somehow, the magazine survived and made money too. I’m glad I lived then and glad to have the stories and friendships I have from it now. Happy Anniversary.

Click here: nyer-insert-1979

Nice Rides

It was the Mercedes Super Bowl commercial that got me looking at it again, evoking memories of an era that mirrored what I see today. Yes, it was 1969 the year of Woodstock, the generation of love and peace and the days of the Vietnam War.  Easy Rider  was released and made every guy want to own a bike to travel to Mardi Gras while every girl wanted to date Peter Fonda. Fonda (aka Captain America) became a cult hero from that movie. Aside from Fonda who was pretty good looking in a quiet counter-culture way, his side kick was Dennis Hopper who was a bit rough around the edges, and Jack Nicholson being, well Jack Nicholson. In New Orleans, there was no war – just music, love and partying. During the ride, there were drugs and there was and still is prejudices, nonacceptances and hatred that lead to violent endings.

I watched the movie again remembering how it portrayed the birth of the counter culture that challenge the leadership of America. Things haven’t changed in 48 years. I can’t read a paper, or sign onto Facebook without seeing strong conflicts with what is happening within our newly elected government and between friends and family who passionately express their point of view. To stand on the sidelines and say, “been there, done that” is not my usual way, but I won’t get involved by starting a argument with people I love and who are part of the life I love. Maybe this retired voice is no longer the counter cultur liberal it once once, defending her position against all odds. I had my voice in the last election. It is time for me to look closer to home now for the stability and love I crave.

Getting back to the movie, looking at it now, I see the idealism in these guys hoping to cash in on the American dream without having to succumb to the standards of a broken society. As they found out, being individualistic has it’s consequences. I think they were misinformed when they believed drug dealing was a lucrative, long term career path. (Whose parent guided them anyway?) Even though Peter Fonda was a hottie back then (and I must say, still looks good now), good looks and singing for your supper doesn’t usually pay the rent.

We must not forget that in the 48 years since Easy Rider, attitudes really have grown more liberal with the acceptance of those with different lifestyle or origins. Those who opposed gay rights, laughed at the women’s movement or practiced discrimination did nothing to stop it from becoming part of our world. It is too late to turn the clock back to 1969. We did accomplish a lot and there is still more to do. The ride goes on.