Murray Tepper would say that he is an ordinary New Yorker who is simply trying to read the newspaper in peace. But he reads while sitting behind the wheel of his parked car, and his car always seems to be in a particularly desirable parking spot. Not surprisingly, he is regularly interrupted by drivers who want to know if he is going out. Tepper isn't going out. Why not His explanations tend to be rather literal: the indisputable fact, for instance, that he has twenty minutes left on the meter. Tepper's behavior sometimes irritates the people who want his spot. ("Is that where you live Is that car rent-controlled ") It also irritates the mayor-Frank Ducavelli, known in tabloid headlines as Il Duce-who sees Murray Tepper as a harbinger of what His Honor always calls "the forces of disorder." But once New Yorkers become aware of Tepper, some of them begin to suspect that he knows something they don't know. And an ever-increasing number of them are willing to line up for the opportunity to sit in his car with him and find out.
Trillin is a highly accomplished storyteller as well as a humorist and memoirist, and this oddly titled novel is by far his funniest and sunniest yet. It's a quintessentially New York comedy (and how pleasant to see those words in conjunction again) revolving around Murray Tepper, a quiet, good-humored man whose one oddity is his passion for parking on Manhattan streets. His knowledge of arcane New York parking rules is encyclopedic, and he likes nothing better than to park legally and sit in his car reading the paper. This irritates countless other drivers who think he is about to leave a desirable spot, and the title refers to his quirky determination to stay just where he is. Paradoxically, people begin to gravitate to him, to sit with him in the car and tell him their troubles; they even line up to do so. This in turn irritates the mayor (shades here of pre-crisis Giuliani), who accuses Tepper of fomenting disorder on the streets. Such a conflict becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines, and next, of course, is the offer of a book contract and a TV show. Nothing much happens beyond this, and the plot is resolved with calm good sense, but along the way Trillin captures dozens of pitch-perfect New York moments, in restaurants, in a loutish literary agent's office and in the quaintly old-fashioned business where Tepper works (he runs a mailing-list service and is a genius at perceiving the odd connections between people, where they live and what they buy). Trillin's book is the best tonic for post-September 11 blues imaginable. Agent, Lescher and Lescher, Ltd. 8-city author tour. (Jan. 15). Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 14, 1003
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Excerpt from Tepper Isn't Going Out by Calvin Trillin
"It's absolutely unconscionable," the young man said loudly, shaking a banana in front of the fruit peddler's face. "It's simply not to be believed. It's unbelievable."
Murray Tepper looked up from his newspaper to see what was happening. Tepper was sitting behind the wheel of a dark blue Chevrolet Malibu that was parked on the uptown side of Forty-third Street, between Fifth and Sixth. Across the street, an argument was going on between an intense young man in a suit and the peddler who set up a stand on Forty-third Street every day to sell apples and bananas and peaches to office workers. Tepper had seen them go at it before. The young man was complaining about the price that the peddler charged for a single banana. The peddler was defending himself in an accent that Tepper couldn't place even by continent. There had been a time when the accents of New York fruit peddlers were dependably Italian--Tepper had for years thought of "banana" as a more or less Italian word, in the way that some New Yorkers thought of "aggravation" as a more or less Yiddish word--but that time had long passed. As the young man in the suit practically pulsated with outrage, the peddler repeated a single phrase over and over again in his mysterious accent. Finally, Tepper was able to figure out what the peddler kept saying: "free-market economy, free-market economy, free-market economy. . . ."
It was six-thirty on a Tuesday evening in May. The air was mild. For ten days, there had been clear skies and spring temperatures, disappointing those New Yorkers who liked to complain every May that the weather had changed from bitterly cold winter to brutally hot summer as if God--a stern and vengeful God--had flipped a switch. Tepper was comfortable in the suit he'd worn to work that day--a garment that was in the category he sometimes referred to as "office suits," slightly worn and maybe a bit shiny at the elbows. He thought of his office suits as the equivalents of the suits a high-school teacher nearing retirement age might wear to school. In fact, Tepper thought of himself as looking a bit like a high-school teacher nearing retirement age--a medium-sized man with thin hair going gray and a face that didn't seem designed to hold an expression long.
There was plenty of light left on Forty-third Street. Tepper was reading the New York Post, which he still considered an evening paper, even though it had been coming out in the morning for years. The proprietors of the Post could publish it any time of day they wanted to; Tepper read it in the evening. People who had finished up late at the office were walking briskly toward the subway stops or Grand Central. A few of them, before going their separate ways, stopped to chat with colleagues at building entrances. The chats tended to be brief, perhaps because the entrances still smelled something like the bottom of an ashtray from a full day of smokers having ducked out of their smoke-free offices to pace up and down in front of the building, taking long, purposeful drags and exchanging nods now and then, like lifers in the exercise yard greeting people to whom they had long ago said everything they had to say.