Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charlie LeDuff's paean to the real New York City
Charlie LeDuff is that rare breed of news reporter--one who can cover hard-to-get-at stories in a unique and deeply personal style. In Work and Other Sins, he gives his incomparable take on New York City and its denizens--the bars, the workingmen, the gamblers, the eccentrics, the lonesome, and the wise. Whether writing about a racetrack gambler, a firefighter with a broken heart, or a pair of bickering brothers and their Coney Island bar, LeDuff takes the reader into the lives of his subjects to explore their fears, faults, and fantasies as well as their own small niches of the globe. The result is an at turns riotous, dirt-under-the-nails, contemplative, salty, joyous, whiskey-tinged, and utterly unique vision of life in the Big Apple.
At least partially drawn from LeDuff's former "Bending Elbows" column in the New York Times's Sunday City section (available only in the five boroughs), the pieces collected here sketch various habitues of city saloons, mostly working men. Clearly in the grip of some potent nostalgia for John O'Hara, LeDuff is, to his credit, pretty respectful of his subjects-bartenders and lounge singers, bankrupt dot-commers and prison inmates, lighthouse keepers and firemen, homeless freaks and transsexual hustlers-basically anyone who fits into his particular concept of poignant, grubby, overlooked humanity. His carefully dry, clipped style honors their experiences and habits, but with the notable exception of one sequence on immigrant laborers in a Long Island suburb, he does little to advance the interests of his subjects. And while LeDuff does provide a handful of familiar female types-a faded chorus girl, a stricken widow, a runaway teenager, a pair of 50-ish spinsters looking for "Mr. Dreamy" and a few old mamas-the city's female workers evidently don't rate as worthy of the name. LeDuff, who now covers L.A. life and lifestyles for the Times, won a Pulitzer in 2001 for a series on race, and produces some nice counterpoints of prejudices, sentiments, pearls of wisdom, and non sequiturs. "When the cocktail set tells me they enjoy the cast of losers... I smile and drink their liquor. They don't know what work is." That may be true, but it's equally clear, with myriad descriptions like "a Laura Ashley girl gone wrong," that LeDuff is writing for them.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
January 31, 2005
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Work and Other Sins by Charlie LeDuff
"Goodbye to Mr. Hello and Goodbye"
Robert E. Mitchell will retire on March 29, 2001. He will take his belongings and his doorman's pension and go back home to New Orleans, where he plans to grow old on the front porch with his relations.
No one need apply, as Mr. Mitchell's job was filled just days after he announced his retirement. "That's the way it goes," he said at 4 one afternoon as he dragged his broom and dustpan around the perimeter of 801 West End Avenue, a pre-World War II building with seventy apartments on the west side of the avenue between Ninety-ninth and 100th Streets. "Time moves along and things are forgotten. Including the memories of you." There are, after all, eight thousand doormen in the city, according to the Service Employees International Union.
And maybe the new guy will make the residents of 801 forget that for thirty-three years, Mr. Mitchell was the man who mopped their hallways and shoveled their snow. Or that he was the man who took their children by the scruff of the neck when he saw them doing wrong. Or that he was the man who ran down the wig-wearing mugger who attacked their mother. Or that he was the man who discovered their dead locked away behind the doors.
But it seems unlikely, if the card the six-year-old girl gave him the other day is any indication. "I love you. Please don't go, Robert," it read.
Nearly every block in New York has its mayor. Some acquire the title through milk crate endurance, passing away the hours in the same spot on the same corner, becoming such a fixture and spectacle that people just start calling out, "Hey, Mayor." But others earn it by giving of themselves.
"He was my second father after my father moved away," said Beck Lee, forty, who grew into a man in Apartment lB. The neighborhood was tough in the sixties and seventies, Mr. Lee said. Schoolchildren were robbed so often that fathers gave their children broken watches and expired bus passes to give the muggers.
But the children developed their own method of self-defense. They learned to stall, pat their pockets and wait for Mr. Mitchell to catch sight of the larceny from his perch near the building's column.
In the seventies, there was a parade of fathers who packed their bags and walked out through the marble foyer for the last time. Mr. Mitchell was there to help them with their bags. And he was there to help the women put a fresh coat of paint in their apartments and move their furniture around. He was there to teach their kids the curveball. He was, Mr. Lee said, a surrogate man of the house.
Mr. Mitchell cut a handsome figure in his gray uniform with white piping. He wore a colorful sweater, a threadbare tie and smooth hair the color of the uniform. At sixty-five, he is thin and stands erectly. When the neighborhood started changing in the eighties, and the silk stocking crowd moved in, they asked him to wear a hat. He refused. He has never worn a hat on the job and is proud of it. They do that on the East Side. He's a West Side doorman.
"I opened this door so much they'd run out of numbers if they attempted to calculate it," he said, standing in the cold foyer in thin shoes and no coat. "I'm going to miss this building. It's been my whole life for half my life."
September 28, 1967, was the beginning of that life. That's when the unemployment office sent him to the building's superintendent. "The super told me, 'If you like it, you've got the job for life,'" he said. "I been here ever since."
The true gentleman never insinuates himself into other people's business, Mr. Mitchell said. He keeps to his own, never talks about things unless asked and never talks about people in the building, period.
"Which doesn't mean I don't know what's going on," he said. "I know just about everything that goes on around here. If I didn't, I wouldn't be a good doorman."
Maybe the people of 801 West End Avenue will forget him, he said. But he'll be thinking of them on his porch down in Louisiana.