Monday, March 20, 2017

Jimmy Breslin is dead

Let me tell you a little story about him.

Every year, the Columbia University student newspaper, the Daily Spectator, holds a dinner in late winter to mark the transition to the next set of student editors, for the coming academic year.

It's called the Blue Pencil Dinner, and it usually features a journalism-related guest speaker.

Now the Spectator, mind you, is not affiliated with the journalism school, it is run by the student body. Unless things have changed in recent years, it isn't even officially affiliated with the university.

The Blue Pencil Dinner in 1980 was held on Valentine's Day. It was the last one I ever attended. Two months later I was elected to the student council, and university senate and never wrote for the paper again.

Prior to the Blue Pencil Dinner, the board announced that Jimmy Breslin would be the guest speaker.

I grew up in Massachusetts and Breslin wasn't such a big deal to me. The native New Yorkers thought otherwise.

There was one underclassman, Ken, who was just thrilled that he would get to hear Breslin hold forth. He made no secret he was a great fan of Breslin's.

The night of the Blue Pencil Dinner - held in the rotunda of Low Library, the university's administration building - comes, and Breslin is introduced by the editor-in-chief.

Staggering drunk. And in a bad mood.

It seems Breslin thought he had been invited to speak before the students of the distinguished journalism school - and not the undergraduate student newspaper.

And he made his displeasure quite plain, as he went on a drunken tirade about what a bunch of losers we all were.

And then, to rub it in ever further, he decided to give us a lesson from the podium, as he grabbed the most recent issue of the Spectator and decided to critique it then and there.

Holding the paper aloft, he read the headline and byline of the lead story.

It was by Ken.

He proceeded to rip the story apart, delivering a vicious evaluation that was unfair, inappropriate, and plain damn cruel.

I knew how much Ken admired Breslin, and I took a quick glance across the rotunda to where Ken sat.

Just a glance, mind you - it was too painful a moment. All I can say is that Ken looked stunned.

After Breslin finished eviscerating Ken's story, he moved on to the next, the second lead, and read the headline.

I held my breath. It was by me.

After Breslin read the headline, he continued "By Lou..." He stopped a look of hostile drunken befuddlement crossing his sweaty brow.

"Oh, thank God," I thought. "The drunken bum can't make out my name."

Sure enough, in his inebriated state, he couldn't get past my last name, and that seemed to stop him in his tracks. He stopped the rant and dropped the copy of the newspaper.

He still went on with a load of hateful drivel, but it seemed once he had paused he lost his momentum and he sat down after a few more minutes.

It was a terrible night, and I know for sure some of the students at the dinner were sorely disillusioned with Breslin after that.

I never learned how Ken took it, I never saw him again.

Here I am, a Texas resident 32 years, 37 years after that night, and the news of Breslin's death reminds me of that night.

I don't know what else to say.

The facts speak for themselves.

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