The Prisoner of the Time of His Time





I often think Norman Mailer would have been better remembered on his 100th birthday if he’d used his engineering degree from Harvard to write science fiction. Assuming he’d also retained what he’d absorbed from Dos Passos, Tolstoy, Stendhal, Hemingway, James T. Farrell and Rafael “Captain Blood” Sabatini, Mailer might have melded such anomalous elements with the influences of Kafka, Verne, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapleton, Karel Capek, and the pulp magazine prodigies to lift the SF genre to a higher literary standing – and in the process learned not to be so intimidated by the contingencies of plot. Hints of this furtive lyricism with technology can be found throughout the second half of Of a Fire on the Moon, his freewheeling, undervalued reflections on the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing.  (Check out his chapter on “The Psychology of Machines” and tell me if you don’t think Arthur C. Clarke wouldn’t have envied such virtuoso empathy with the mechanical.) If he’d followed this aspect of his muse from the start, Mailer could have been the proto-socialist yang to Robert Heinlein’s libertarian-right yin, an Americanized Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick with the sex, drugs, and paranoia ramped up…




Then again, forget it. For better and worse, we got the Norman Mailer he and we likely deserved. If he’s largely neglected and considered irrelevant in the 21st century, it’s mostly because he made himself so visible in the 20th.  In his Advertisements for Myself, the 1959 miscellany that jump-started his literary reputation, Mailer proclaimed that he “was imprisoned with a perception that will settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time.” Of the myriad risks Mailer took with this impulse, however, the biggest was making himself so unavoidable in his own time that his work wouldn’t endure in public renown too far beyond it.



 On some level, he asked for it. For much of his lifetime (he died in 2007 at 84), Mailer was not only a household name as a novelist, but he was also a provocateur, an enfant terrible whose public displays of rancor and violence often overshadowed his literary output. He’d stabbed his second wife Adele Morales at a November, 1960 party celebrating his impending candidacy for major of New York City. (He didn’t run for mayor until 1969 and finished fourth in a field of five in that year’s Democratic primary.) He behaved badly on television, made independent movies (in one of which he bit Rip Torn’s ear), sealed his legacy as an anti-feminist after publishing The Prisoner of Sex in 1971 and summarily got into a shouting match at Town Hall with feminists on stage and in the audience. (That was all caught on film, too.)

Even in absentia from the known world, Mailer’s still causing trouble. A year ago, there were online reports that Random House cancelled plans to publish a collection of Mailer’s political writings because “a junior staffer” objected to the title of Mailer’s 1957 essay, “The White Negro.” The publisher, Mailer’s son, and agent denied the reports. But it was a straw fire that made Mailer conspicuous once more and aroused this thoughtful evaluation from Darryl Pinckney, an African American novelist and journalist.



My own relationship with “White Negro” is complicated and all but sums up how I feel about Norman Mailer to this day. When I started reading his work as a teenager enraptured mostly with his journalism (about which more later), friends, Black and White alike, kept urging me to read “The White Negro” before I read anything else. So, I tried. And tried. And tried again. And I couldn’t get past the first, to me, impenetrable paragraphs of that chapbook edition that made the rounds in those days. I tried again when I finally got around to Advertisements for Myself and even then, I ended up sort of going around it as though it were a dead oak that keeled over in the middle of an intersection.


Indeed, it wasn’t until deep into my forties or maybe even fifties, that I managed to read it all the way through and decided that the reason I couldn’t push my frontal lobes past “White Negro’s” first page was that it was totally, ridiculously alien to my own knowledge of what it meant to be Black or, for that matter, to be Hip. In short, I thought it was too absurd (again, not the way he’d likely intended) to be taken seriously as anything more than an anxious glandular discharge.  I couldn’t even get angry with it the way Black people did (and still do) because I think it’s too dumb to get worked up over, even after reading Mailer’s subsequent writing about African Americans, as when he argued against Ralph Ellison’s conception of “invisibility” in Black Americans, saying that we were, in fact, the MOST visible people in America. “That’s not how he meant it, dammit!!” I always shouted back — though in his typically adroit sussing-out of individual psyches, Mailer did correctly perceive the depths of anger simmering beneath Ellison’s patrician scholar’s patina.

(And while we’re passing by Advertisements, what has occurred to me in recent years is that his grandiloquent pastiche of stories, novel fragments, reviews, polemics, and autobiographical spritzing can now be viewed retroactively as a precursor to the blog site or Substack page. I can’t possibly be the first one to notice this, but it would be Very Mailer of me to assume that I am.) 



You could always count on Mailer being spectacularly wrong when trying to take History’s heartbeat. (I read somewhere that Marina Oswald, no less, was dryly amused by Mailer’s aspirations to be America’s Tolstoy.) But he was so much better with the human than with cosmic than most give him credit for. That was why I kept faith with him even when he self-sabotaged in public and in print.



Besides which, I owe him too much, even if I haven’t – and likely won’t – read every single book he’s written.






I remember the anticipation accompanying a magazine article with Mailer’s byline about a major event that, though it happened months ago, was made fresh and new again by his freewheeling imagination, and flamboyant prose style. We all knew what happened at the 1968 political conventions, Ali-Foreman in Zaire, or the Apollo 11 moon mission. But some of us looked to Mailer for deep, wide dispatches from beneath the surface of things, whether dragged from within the subconscious (his and others’) or projected from the outside. This process allowed him to dig up insights or angles that we either dimly suspected or couldn’t perceive in the moment. At its most lucid and vivid, the prose could lead you in the dark towards a light switch you didn’t know was there. Whole continents could be evoked by this style, as in this lead paragraph to the second section of Miami and the Siege of Chicago from 1968:




“Chicago is the great American city. New York is a world capital and Los Angeles is a constellation of plastic. San Francisco is a lady. Boston has become Urban Renewal. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington wink like dull diamonds in the smog of Eastern Megalopolis and New Orleans is unremarkable past the French quarter. Detroit is a one-trade town. Pittsburgh has lost its golden triangle. St. Louis has become the golden arch of the corporation, and nights in Kansas City close early. The oil depletion allowance makes Houston and Dallas naught but checkerboards for this sort of game. But Chicago is a great American city. Perhaps it is the last of the great American cities.”




Paragraphs like this made me want to write paragraphs like this; also, pages and whole books. It’s an example of what Joan Didion was talking about in her review of Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song (1979) when she wrote: “It is a largely unremarked fact about Mailer that he is a great and obsessed stylist, a writer to whom the shape of the sentence is the story.” Maybe that’s why I go back to Mailer’s sentences more often than his books, though I’m one of the few people I know who’s read The Naked and the Dead three times, most recently just three years ago. Though it made history in its time as a contender for Best World War II Novel by an American, Naked and the Dead is, I believe, better viewed as one of the very last novels of the Depression (its flashbacks to the past lives of its soldiers) and among the first to intimate the coming socio-political tumult set off by the Cold War. And even though this once phenomenal best-seller has been somewhat undervalued compared with Mailer’s other work (by Mailer, too) because he hadn’t yet found the “voice” he achieved in Advertisements, the novel’s accumulation of raw details, its depictions of dread, drudgery, and the physical sensations of combat can now be seen as nascent signs of the gifted reporter Mailer would become. (A new edition of the book, published by the Library of America, includes letters Mailer wrote home from the Pacific Theater to his first wife Beatrice, which taken together come across as a working notebook for the novel.)





Mailer wasn’t as big on baseball as he was on boxing or football. (You know, the violent sports.) But as with great sluggers like Ruth, Mantle, or Reggie Jackson, Mailer’s swings and misses were as compelling to watch as the home runs, even when the odds were against him. At times, he could be embarrassing, abusive, or thin-skinned; at others, he could be magnanimous, urbane, and warm-hearted. Mercurial as Mailer was, there were two things you could always count on: his self-deprecating humor and his irrepressible candor. You could get mad at him. But you always believed what he said, even when he was wrong. And it was part of his grace that he could cop to being wrong and move on. In fact, being “right,” whatever that meant, didn’t seem as important to Mailer as maintaining an intensity of focus on one’s interior life and a constant, even heedless surge of energy towards acting on what one discovers from such self-scrutiny. This, I now think, was what Mailer meant when he kept using the word, “existential,” though I still don’t know if that’s a precise definition of the word.




Mailer’s honesty, I think, also compelled him to bend and reshape journalism the way his beloved Picasso transfigured representational art. Acknowledging that “objectivity” is a myth, Mailer leaned hard into subjectivity, eventually making himself the protagonist of his own account of actual events. Conventional wisdom still asserts this makes such accounts suspect, but to this day, the intensity of Mailer’s vision of the actual framed with the idiosyncrasies of his personality somehow makes you trust his version of the Pentagon March and the other events. Other reporters envied or hated him for getting away with this third-person approach. But as many found out when they tried it themselves, it could only work with Norman Mailer because he had the knack for simultaneously inflating and deflating his persona to the proper pitch as a trumpeter tests his tone and tempo.





And what does this have to do with the Self-Advertising Sexist Monster Ego of the Great White Male Bully Avenger of the 20th Century? While all the hype and bluster is hard to overlook and, in many cases, excuse, I doubt in the very long run it will matter. Because while I agree that much of the nonsense Mailer attached himself to is outmoded and of no use to anybody in the 21st, his renderings of the self, pressed hard by history as it happens, offer plenty of room for writers of all persuasions to probe further. If I were to let every dumb thing  a smart man says and does get in the way of learning from his better side, I wouldn’t learn anything at all. In that spirit, I conclude with a memory of a graduate seminar on the history of nonfiction I taught at NYU sometime in the aughts. One of my texts was a collection of articles about the 1962 heavyweight bout between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston that included such journalistic heavyweights as James Baldwin, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, and A.J. Libeling. To this class of eight women and one (minority) male, I singled out Mailer’s “Ten Thousand Words a Minute,” his Esquire essay on the bout notable for its digression into the welterweight bout earlier that year between Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret that ended with Griffith savagely beating Paret into a coma from which the latter never recovered, dying ten days later. That traumatic event, broadcast live on network TV, aroused some of Mailer’s most lyrical and poignant reportage and when, towards the end of that semester, I gave the class the option of writing about any of the pieces we’d discussed throughout, most chose Mailer’s fight piece. 




One way or another, the art always leaks through time’s cages. Fact, not theory.





What’s So Great About Being POTUS?

From Amy Davidson Sorkin in the Sept. 9, 2019 issue of The New Yorker: “…Even (Beto) O’Rourke for whom, just last year, being a senator was a dream job, said that running for the same office now ‘would not be good enough for El Paso and it would not be good enough for the country.’…On a human level, it’s understandable that O’Rourke would want to directly take on [president Donald] Trump and his bigotry; on a political level, the logic is less clear.”

You think? But in America’s present frazzled state, logic is so devalued a commodity right now that if Mister Spock made a recon field trip anywhere on this rock he’d probably mutter something like “Fuck this shit!” in Vulcan, and pivot for home. Like Beto, we’re all a little too emotional about stuff we shouldn’t and we think (when we think at all) that watching a lot of television will calm us down.

Deep breath, America: The presidency is not where you should be investing all your attention. Congress in general and the senate in particular is where crucial decisions are made, and just as often, not made that affect your kids’ lives, to say nothing of their kids’ lives.

Granted, this process has been hampered, especially in recent years, by the stubborn impediment to the national blood vessels that is the senate filibuster whose dominion over that body’s regular order of business has solidified in the public mind Congress’ position as the place where Nothing Ever Gets Done. Bring out the raspberries and guffaws, but always remember that a helluva lot of damage can be done by not doing anything. And do you need to wonder who benefits most in spreading over the collective American mind the image of representative government as being such a morass that nobody should expect anything to get done?

So that’s why POTUS gets more attention that he should. But as others wiser than me keep telling people, to little avail, the president can’t tell anybody else what to do except the military over which he is commander-in-chief. Otherwise he’s just another legislator trying to convince people to go his way; not a goddam king !!!

And I hate like hell to get vulgar about this. But if you only knew how many times during Barack Obama’s presidency that I had to keep telling younger folks, and even older folks who likely slept through high school civics classes, that the president presides, executes, but does not rule the country. “Who does?” they ask. Well…in theory, you do, I say, but that just confuses them.

So I stopped answering that question and went back to my main point: What matters as much as voting for president, and sometimes more, is voting for the right person to represent you in the federal legislature. So for that matter is voting for your state governors, mayors, city councils, school boards, and so forth. All of which, I know, sounds too boring to contemplate. I agree. Contemplation of any kind is boring. But think of all the dreams that die and the lives that are ruined because of the dearth of collective contemplation. I’m asking you to think. Again.

In fact, let’s hear from somebody who knows even better than I do what it means to be a POTUS; somebody who once commanded one of the largest armies in world history. The General has a message to Beto O’Rourke and those who are similarly inclined to battle Donald Trump next year. (Oh and maybe Donald Trump needs to hear this, too):



“Anybody is a damn fool if he actually seeks to be president. You give up four of the very best years of your life. Lord knows it’s a sacrifice. Some people think there is a lot of power and glory attached to the job. On the contrary the very workings of a democratic system see to it that the job has very little power.”

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, 34th president of the United States

Off the top of my head, I blame Teddy White. If it weren’t for The Making of the President 1960 and White’s three quadrennial sequels, pursuing the presidency (a.k.a. the Highest Office in the Land etc. etc.) wouldn’t seem like the lumbering, furry and clunky pageant that eats up so much media space every three to four years. White’s books sold in bunches, even the 1964 installment that chronicled an election whose results were in retrospect a forgone conclusion practically from the start.

But blaming White is too easy. Better to blame the results of that 1960 campaign which is when we started on the road to wherever it is we are now. That was the year, as Norman Mailer wrote at the time, that America voted in its first matinée idol president. Granted it was by only a sliver and there were still hardheads who weren’t about to have a Catholic in the White House no matter how pretty he and his family looked on magazine covers. But the administration following that election marked the era when the president of the United States became undisputed Star of the Really Big Show that was American government. Unlike his immediate predecessor, John F. Kennedy robustly sought the presidency “because (as he put it in his last election-eve speech in Boston) it is the center of action.” This was when he was still running for the office. When he got there, it wasn’t as easy as he thought it’d be. But after the second year, he was beginning to get the hang of it enough to try reviving the old “bully pulpit” motif – one which has, alas, taken on newer, more literal meaning today.







This was the same Massachusetts U.S. senator John Kennedy who only three years before accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book comprising portraits of U.S. senators who helped move the needle on History by going against the prevailing political climate. The title of the book was How To Put Your Ass on the Line For Little Fun and Less Profit. I kid of course. It was Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage written by Ted Sorenson (as everybody pretty much accepts now). What seems most authentic about the book, even today, is that Kennedy once believed that Congress mattered almost as much as the presidency and its members could be as consequential to the country’s direction; maybe more so as in the examples of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams (a more effective legislator than president), John C. Calhoun, James Blaine, Thomas Hart Benton, Joe Cannon, Robert Taft and George Norris.



Soren…I mean, Kennedy even decided to include a chapter on Edmund Ross, the Kansas senator who cast the lone vote against convicting the impeached president Andrew Johnson. It apparently didn’t matter to JFK at the time that Andrew Johnson was an incorrigibly retrograde racist and that Ross’s vote may not have been as idealistically motivated towards preserving the institution of the presidency as Kennedy’s account makes it seem. It was the gesture of courage itself that was heroic enough to Kennedy to make it glow in retrospect.

You wonder when JFK stopped believing in the messianic possibilities inherent in serving as a senator or representative. Then again, he probably never really believed in them at all, having seen whatever forces, seen and unseen, that Franklin D. Roosevelt summoned against his father when the latter was ambassador to Great Britain (even though Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. did as much if not more damage to himself than Roosevelt). Indeed, we may have started measuring eras in American history by presidential administrations with FDR’s, though some might argue that process began in earnest with the eight years his cousin Theodore was in the White House. But even at the start of the 20th century, young and bombastic TR had to share center stage with congressional titans like the aforementioned “Uncle Joe” Cannon, then a speaker of the house as powerful, obstinate and impregnable as senate majority leader Mitch McConnell seems now.





McConnell, to my mind, has been a more consequential political force in this nation’s government this decade than its two very different presidents. He’s imposed his will through stonewalling, cajolery, intimidation and, to be more specific about it, transformed the U.S. Supreme Court for generations, assuming we last that long. “But he’s only a senator,” a friend I’d thought was savvier about such things told me. Right, I said. And Keith Richards is only a rhythm guitarist and Mean Joe Greene was only a defensive lineman.


I mean…Yes, it’s somewhat nauseating to put someone as malign as Mitch McConnell in the same company as Clay, Webster, Adams, Taft, Robert Lafollette, Everett Dirksen, and the Lyndon Johnson who was, as Volume Three of Robert Caro’s epic biography labeled him, “Master of the Senate.” But it took gall of previously unimaginable dimension to have blatantly, cruelly mashed and baked the dreams of Merrick Garland into soot for the sake of political expediency – and getting away with it. One also recalls the bone-chilling spectacle of McConnell staring laser-like at Susan Collins as she cast her vote for confirming Brett Kavanagh to the Supreme Court.

That, boys and girls, is Exercising Power. Whining about your predecessor’s deal with a media company is not.

So what to do? Getting rid of the filibuster has been on the table during this presidential campaign and there’s little clear consensus among the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls as to whether they’d support its suspension if their party regains senate control. (Elizabeth Warren’s adamantly for suspension; Michael Bennet’s against; Biden’s listed as “unclear” – huh?—and most of the others are considered “open” to the prospect, at best.) But it’s probably easier to just make sure that most of the Republican right-wingers now holding senate seats don’t come back and at least permit some legislation to pass.

But as with almost everything else that matters right now, a shift of perception is what’s needed above all else. In other words, stop thinking of our three branches of government (yes, there are three) as a pyramid where the executive branch is always on top. The best way to think of government, and I do mean “think” more than “feel,” is in lateral terms, which how I always imagined those troublesome Virginians like Madison and Jefferson saw it in theory.

This isn’t going to be easy. There was no television in 1787 and even though those Founding Fathers carry lots of star power to this day, none, except maybe Benjamin Franklin, would likely know how to act in front of a video-cam. But there once was a time in the succeeding centuries when senators were stars as big as, even bigger than the president. If we mean it when we claim to love our democracy, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to reimagine such times in our own.

What the NFL is Really Afraid Of — And Should Be

So I watched last night’s PBS Frontline report on brain damage in the NFL and learned little that I hadn’t known before – except that things may be even worse than we now know, and that the professional football oligarchs are even less willing to deal with the ramifications.

Kids make up the relatively undiscovered country for those probing the causes and effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which afflicts hundreds, perhaps thousands of those who’ve played American tackle football. The frightening evidence emerging towards the end of “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” implies that even those who haven’t played football for very long or been hit in the head very hard are susceptible to CTE. The program’s producers and reporters are scrupulous enough to say such research is preliminary. Still, the idea of high school players becoming as suicidal or disoriented by CTE as veteran lineman who have battered each other senseless for decades makes you almost as queasy as watching human brains delivered and unpacked at laboratories for poking and gazing.

As noted, most of the details in “League of Denial” have been covered before, notably by HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, ESPN’s Outside the Lines, the recently-released documentary, The United States of Football and the New York Times’ Alan Schwartz (among those interviewed), who’s been growling and snapping at a recalcitrant NFL for almost two decades about the mounting evidence of CTE-related illnesses and deaths among retired and active players. As its title suggests, “League of Denial’s” real story isn’t about those who have suffered the effects of CTE, but the elaborate degrees to which the NFL has resorted to Cover Its Ass (CIA) against the revelations dislodged by Schwartz and others. That the documentary was aired on PBS and not on ESPN, which was pressured by the league to withdraw from a partnership with Frontline on the program, only buttresses the points put forth by reporters Jim Gilmore, Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada. You cringe more in anger than dread over how the NFL tried to discredit, sometimes to the point of humiliation, doctors and researchers trying to counter the arguments made by the league’s own research team – whose own findings were, saying the least, dubious, almost irresponsibly dismissive of any alarming trend.

But, as somebody somewhere once said, scrape an arrogant bully and you’ll soon reveal the squirming coward within. The NFL is wily enough to equivocate its way towards “improving safety” and other CIA gestures; it’s also smart enough to fear the consequences of inaction. The $765 million settlement the league made with players over concussion issues may buy enough time to figure out what to do next, especially since this furor has dealt mostly with long-term effects.

So far, anyway. But still…

I wonder if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell knows enough about boxing history to acknowledge what happened – or started to happen – to that sport on the night of March 24, 1962 when Benny Paret and Emile Griffith met again to fight for the welterweight championship. The fight was broadcast live on the ABC network back in a time when Friday Night Fights was as much of an American sports TV ritual as Sunday Night Football is now. The story of that ill-fated match and its lingering, dismal aftermath has been well and fully chronicled in a haunting 2005 documentary, Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story. For a long time, the story was simple enough: Paret taunted Griffith in the days leading up to their third and final bout as being a maricon, a derisive word for homosexual. Since then, others have speculated that it was the beatings Paret, as incumbent champion, had taken in his previous title defenses that made him more vulnerable to what would happen. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: During Round 12, before millions of viewers in addition to hundreds at Madison Square Garden, Paret somehow got tangled in the ropes and Griffith unleashed a vicious flurry of 29 successive punches, mostly to Paret’s head. Paret slumped to floor and never regained consciousness. He died almost ten days later. (The moment, horrific as it was, summoned the very best of Norman Mailer’s prose. I have had journalism students whose resistance to Mailer was worn down by his descriptive powers here.)



Among the myriad effects of that fight, the most immediate was the end of live boxing broadcasts on network television. A lot of people thought boxing itself would, or should end, too, especially after another fighter, Davey Moore, died in the ring a year later. But boxing didn’t quite die; indeed, it subsequently enjoyed a majestic decade-and-a-half dominated by such larger-than-life personalities as Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Leonard, Hearns and others stoking its momentum. It wasn’t until people saw what boxing had done to Ali that the once mighty and singular stature boxing once enjoyed in American life diminished to its more-or-less cultish following. The fight aficionados whom I know, love and respect may disagree with this assessment. But not even they can deny that Benny Paret’s death marked the beginning of the end of…something.

Imagine the nightmares Goodell must have these days about something similarly shocking happening to a football player on the field, especially in a nationally televised game. We’ve already seen career-ending broken legs and life-long paralyzing injuries transmitted through our home-entertainment centers. How could you not wonder about the percentages for or against a fatal collision with players getting bigger, faster and stronger? How much padding or protection is enough? Or, even, too much? And if an on-field death from tackling does happen, what next? Well, for starters, there will be howls for football’s banishment as loud as those seeking to outlaw boxing in the wake of Paret’s death. Football won’t end. There are as many waves of people who want and need to play the game now as there were generations of hungry young boxers waiting in 1962 for their Main Event. But what will happen is the slow erosion of football’s romantic allure, its cozy, family-friendly aura of escapist high-wire adventure. The mystique, far more than the muscle, is what’s been raking in billions for the NFL since that twilight evening in December, 1958 when Johnny Unitas drove the Baltimore Colts offense on Yankee Stadium’s turf like a white-and-blue T-Bird to shatter a post-regulation tie. I’ll miss that mystique, but what could be put in its place is the kind of rakish, outlaw abandon once associated with pro football in its grayer, dustier days. Bye-bye, Pete Rozelle. Welcome back, Johnny Blood.

I’m still hoping it wont come to that. I think even the people behind “League of Denial” hope that, too. We’d all be damned fools to think it couldn’t.

Who Gene Is, More or Less

I was born & raised in Hartford, Connecticut, attended local schools, graduated in 1974 from the University of Connecticut. Should have set off on my own, but lollygagged around until I drifted into a copyediting job at the Hartford Courant on Jan. 17, 1977 which, if memory serves, was also the first night of ABC’s “Roots” mini-series. [UPDATE: It was actually the second.] Begged for a “field” job & reported in eastern Connecticut towns before finally getting the urge for going, in 1981, to Philadelphia and the last progressive populist tabloid in America, its Daily News. (Though 28 at the time, I no longer contradict people so readily when they assume that I “grew up” in Philly.) I did rewrite on the city desk, traveled to every neighborhood for reporting duties, begged for a feature writing job and finally got one in 1987.

Within a year, I was writing TV reviews four times a week, which led to a short, unhappy stint at the then-fledgling Entertainment Weekly, which in turn led to a longer, happier one at Newsday, where I wrote mostly about jazz and the movies. Sometime after 1999, I was doing film reviews full-time and this split off into such pleasant experiences as my one-and-only trip to Cannes, a year-and-a-half doing weekly TV reviews on WPIX, six annual trips to Toronto and a few good movies. Not-so-pleasant experiences: My one-and-only trip to Sundance, chairmanship of the New York Film Critics Circle (the awards ceremony was fine, everything before wasn’t), many mediocre movies. Took a buyout from Newsday in March, 2008.

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