“Several years ago… I began to be oppressed by a feeling that New York City had gone past me and that I didn’t belong here anymore. I sometimes went on from that to a feeling that I never had belonged here, and that could be especially painful. At first, these feelings were vague and sporadic, but they gradually become more definite and quite frequent. Ever since I came to New York City, I have been going back to North Carolina for a visit once or twice a year, and now I began going back more often and staying longer. At one point, after a visit of a month and a half, I had about made up my mind to stay down there for good, and then I began to be oppressed by a feeling that things had gone past me in North Carolina also, and that I didn’t belong down there anymore, either. I began to feel painfully out of place wherever I was. When I was in New York City, I was often homesick for North Carolina; when I was in North Carolina, I was often homesick for New York City. Then, one Saturday afternoon, while I was walking around the ruins of Washington Market, something happened to me that led me, step by step, out of my depression. A change took place in me. And that is what I want to tell about.”
— From the last paragraph of “Street Life” by Joseph Mitchell in The New Yorker (Feb. 11 and 18, 2013)
Something new from the late and legendarily blocked Joe Mitchell?
The editors explain: “Thomas Kunkel, while researching a forthcoming biography of Mitchell, learned of several chapters of an unfinished memoir that Mitchell started in the late sixties and early seventies.”
So more chapters are queued up at 4 Times Square? Fans of the Fairmont native may have cause for anticipation (although only in the New Yorker would “And that is what I want to tell about” qualify as a cliffhanger).
“For a century after losing the Civil War, the South was America’s own colonial backwater — ‘not quite a nation within a nation, but the next thing to it,’ W.J. Cash wrote in his classic 1941 study, ‘The Mind of the South’….
“Cash has this description of ‘the South at its best’: ‘proud, brave, honorable by its lights, courteous, personally generous, loyal.’ These remain qualities that the rest of the country needs and often calls on. The South’s vices — ‘violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas’ — grow particularly acute during periods when it it is marginalized and left behind. An estrangement between the South and the rest of the country would bring out the worst in both — dangerous insularity in the first, smug self-deception in the second.”
— From “Southern Discomfort” by George Packer in The New Yorker (Jan. 21, 2013)
“It was maybe an hour before midnight at the Avalon Nightclub in Chapel Hill, and the Miz [a player on the MTV reality show “The Real World”] was feeling nervous. I didn’t pick up on this at the time — I mean, I couldn’t tell. To me he looked like he’s always looked, like he’s looked since his debut season, back when I first fell in love with his antics: all bright-eyed and symmetrical-faced, fed on genetically modified corn, with the swollen, hairless torso of the aspiring professional wrestler he happened to be and a smile you could spot as Midwestern American in a blimp shot of a soccer stadium.”
— From “Pulphead” (2011), a collection of essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan reviewed in The New Yorker (December 19)
“Thomas Wolfe, the novelist, has just taken an apartment at 865 First Avenue….Going down in the elevator the other morning, he was joined by a lady with a big police dog. The dog took an immediate liking to Mr. Wolfe, and began jumping up on him, and kissing him. Mr. Wolfe, who is only moderately fond of dogs, pushed this one away, whereat the lady spoke up sharply. ‘Wolfe!’ she said. ‘You great, obnoxious beast!’
“Being a gentleman, Mr. Wolfe made no reply, but he was terribly hurt. He spent the rest of the day wandering along the waterfront in the rain, bumping into warehouses and brooding, like a character in one of his own novels. However, the matter was cleared up when he returned home that evening. The elevator man explained that the police dog is named Wolf …. The lady… was bawling out the dog and not the novelist, whom, as a matter of fact, she rather admires.”
— The New Yorker, March 6, 1937
I’d be surprised if this Talk of the Town amusement wasn’t apocryphal. In fact, it almost predicts the Reggie Jackson (Eddie Murphy, et al.) urban legend of half a century later.
“Slowly the conviction deepens that not even Mr. Sinclair Lewis was able to do full justice to the Babbitt type….
“In a North Carolinian city, the local committees, Rotarians, Chamber of Commerce and the like, met to decide upon a form of welcome for the visiting [New York Symphony] which would sustain the South’s reputation for cordiality. At last they hit upon the ideal plan.
“When the tired members of the orchestra tumbled from their [railroad] car, they were met by the blare of fourteen wind instruments, tortured in the dissonances of the Shriners’ Brass Band.”
— Talk of the Town item in The New Yorker, Sept. 26, 1925
The fledgling weekly took seven months to make its first mention of North Carolina, and a rave it wasn’t.
“Lauren [Hutton]: ‘We modeled by the hour before 1974 or 1975…. When the Revlon thing came, suddenly it was no longer about $60 an hour. I was getting $25,000 a day, and that was shocking.’
“Paulina [Porizkova]: ‘How did that happen?’
“Lauren: “I read an article about a sports guy named Catfish Hunter on the bottom right-hand corner of the New York Times front page one day. It said he was going to get a million-dollar contract….
” ‘It took six months to work out a contract [for me] that had never been worked out before, and basically all contracts [after that] were based on that.’
“Paulina: ‘Lauren, I salute you….’ ”
— From an interview in Vogue magazine, cited by Malcolm Gladwell in “Talent Grab” (The New Yorker, Oct. 11, 2010)
“…The luminaries of phone-book collecting [include] Gwillim Law, a computational linguist in [Chapel Hill,] North Carolina, who at one point possessed more than 3,500 outdated volumes. (He has since started selling them off.)
“Law was inspired to begin his collection by an interest in cover art…. He continued collecting because ‘I just enjoyed the possibilities for looking things up…..At one point, I did a study of what fast-food chains there were in Connecticut by looking at all of the Yellow Pages.’ ”
— From a Talk of the Town item in The New Yorker, September 13, 2010
Phone-book collecting actually ranks among the more conventional of Gwillim Law’s many pursuits. He is, for instance, the father of statoids — that is, “major administrative divisions of countries.”
This entry from Law’s “Infrequently Asked Questions” page suggests his preoccupation with the concept:
Q. Are there any statoids whose names are palindromes?
A. Yes, there are eight…. Hajjah, Yemen; Karak, Jordan; Matam, Senegal (the latest addition); Nan, Thailand; Neuquén, Argentina; Oio, Guinea-Bissau; Oruro, Bolivia; and Oyo, Nigeria.