Dear Michael and Caroline,
That Monday I started at my desk. The editor was Bill, who was mostly Irish but part Cherokee and had hair to his shoulders, maybe 10 years my senior, married to an Israeli woman and living in a hotel on Gramercy Park with a new baby. A good guy, Bill, with a sharp editorial eye and a sense of humor and appreciation of my reporting abilities. The publisher was Richard, only two years older than I, a former Daily News reporter, a rich suburban kid from Tenafly, New Jersey, who got the startup funds from his father. The other reporter there was Shelley, a gum-chewing, wise-cracking blond from Long Island who acted just like the Rosalind Russell character in “His Gal Friday,” all sharp elbows and crusty patter.
And so for the next year I was a big-city reporter on a small newspaper, and it felt like I got to do just about everything you can do on a newspaper.
Every week I went to the local police precinct to get the lowdown on the latest crimes in the neighborhood.
I went to local community board meetings to hear about efforts to put up new buildings and otherwise alter the cityscape.
I attended press conferences held by State Senators and City Council members and, once, a congressman named Ed Koch, whom I briefly met and who of course then went on to become Mayor New York City for 12 years.
I covered a murder in a union office suspected of being a mob hit, and fires and political feuds and all kinds of scandals and controversies.
I reviewed movies, plays, books and restaurants, and for a while there I even had my own column, called “Deadline,” that presumed to be humorous.
I wrote everything from articles to headlines and photo captions, edited pieces contributed by freelancers, and even did some layout and pasteup. Every week the paper came off the press and I held it in my hands with the kind of pride you feel only once in your life, right at the start of your career, a pride fresh and pure and free of precedent or taint. You know you’re finally getting going. I was covering the city and learning the city and loving the surprises that lurked around any corner, because on any newspaper you never know what the news is going to be the next day.
So what if it was a small paper, with only about 50,000 readers, and free. So what that I was making only $9,000 a year. To a kid who wanted nothing more than to be a reporter for a newspaper. It was everything I might have expected, and then some. It was home. It was heaven. It was the best background possible for everything that came after.
I’m so glad I got that job, so grateful, because it would turn out to be my only stint on staff at a newspaper. But I would go on to freelance for many newspapers for many years. In fact, within only five or six years of leaving The Eastside Courier, I was already seeing my pieces in The New York Times, The Daily News and Newsday. That first job meant the world to me. It’s yet further proof of the axiom that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart.