“A Dirty Shirt at Night”: Jimmy Breslin on …

breslin wideJimmy Breslin is the newspaper columnist whose gruff prose has extended the whole human comedy of New York to the world, first in the pages of the New York Herald Tribune, and later the Daily News and Newsday.

Breslin is telling us the story of Branch Rickey, the owner of the old Brooklyn Dodgers who integrated baseball — and changed our country — when he hired Jackie Robinson back in 1947. Rickey, Breslin says, “decided that there was a great American sin, and a great America to be gained by putting a black into baseball. He could see things.”

Jimmy Breslin can see things too. In our conversation, he’s musing far and wide about the great America that’s been gained, and the one that’s still in the offing. It’s all delivered in the unmistakeable style that he calls “a dirty shirt at night.”

He’s sharing observations on everything from “Who killed the newspaper?”;

The thing in the air, where you don’t have to read. What is it? — Google, internet, this, that. You’re gettin’ beat by the air. The air. The air wins. …

to the future of The New York Times;

The New York Times? 82 words in a lede sentence, I’m reading one day, and you expect it to last against the words that come whizzing through the air? No. It cannot be. Not for long.

to Obama;

Obama comes from Robinson. There was a White House waiting for him because of Robinson. You put a black into the White House! Tell me that isn’t amazing. It makes the mouth drop open. Then the first thing he does is he’s in support of three wars. And I’m supposed to like him. Hard-ly.

to the view from his apartment, 38 floors above Columbus Circle;

The river is marvelous. I just look at the river; with the clouds, on prime days, it’s beautiful. It’s not going to help you — you better sit down and write! But it’s good to gaze once in a while.

to the origins of the Breslin – (Norman) Mailer bid for NYC government;

BAR! One hand on the wood of a bar while we expounded what we were going to do. It was a night at the bar and it spilled into too many.

to the right wing today,

Why do they waste their freaking time with those views in a country like this? What are you worried about saving money for so much? Spend the money! Spend more. Help people, be known for it and you’ll find there’s more money there than they believe is.

and being called a “master.”

It’s marvelous to be embarrassed.

Jimmy Breslin with Chris Lydon, NYC, April 2011.

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  • Robert Zucchi

    For me, nothing less than an update of Whitman’s “Democratic Vistas.” And you two gentlemen, civilized in the ways of the old dispensation, were the ones to do it. Thank you.

  • Pete Hamill emphasized the Jackie Robinson story as a central element in his novel, “Snow in August” which he discussed on various radio and TV talk shows in the late nineties. Most of his fiction is set in New York City, including Snow in August (1997), Forever (2003), North River (2007), and Tabloid City, to be published in May 2011.”
    Snow in August
    Pete Hamill (Author)
    In 1940s Brooklyn, friendship between an 11-year-old Irish Catholic boy and an elderly Jewish rabbi might seem as unlikely as, well, snow in August. But the relationship between young Michael Devlin and Rabbi Judah Hirsch is only one of the many miracles large and small contained in Pete Hamill’s novel. Michael finds himself in trouble when he witnesses the 17-year-old leader of the dreaded Falcons gang beating an elderly shopkeeper. For Michael, 1940s Brooklyn is a world still shaped by life in the Old Country, a world where informing on a fellow Irishman is the worst crime imaginable–worse even than the violent crimes committed by some of those fellows. So Michael keeps silent, finding solace in the company of Rabbi Hirsch, a Czech refuge whom he meets by chance. From this serendipitous beginning blossoms a unique friendship–one that proves perilous to both when the Falcons catch up with them.
    Interlaced with Hamill’s realistic descriptions of violence and fear are scenes of remarkable poignancy: the rabbi’s first baseball game, where he sees Jackie Robinson play for the Dodgers; Michael’s introduction into the mystical world of the Cabbala and the book’s miraculous ending. Hamill is not a lyrical writer, but he is a heartfelt one, and this story of courage in the face of great odds is one of his best.
    Library Journal
    In Brooklyn in 1947, Michael Devlin, an 11-year-old Irish kid who spends his days reading Captain Marvel and anticipating the arrival of Jackie Robinson, makes the acquaintance of a recently emigrated Orthodox rabbi. In exchange for lessons in English and baseball, Rabbi Hirsch teaches him Yiddish and tells him of Jewish life in old Prague and of the mysteries of the Kabbalah. Anti-Semitism soon rears its head in the form of a gang of young Irish toughs out to rule the neighborhood. As the gang escalates its violence, it seems that only being as miraculously powerful as Captain Marvel?or a golem?could stop them. Strongly evoking time and place, Hamill (Piecework, LJ 12/95), editor of New York’s Daily News, serves up a coming-of-age tale with a hearty dose of magical realism mixed in.
    Product Details:
    • Paperback: 384 pages
    • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (October 1, 1999)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0446675253
    • ISBN-13: 978-0446675253
    See:
    http://www.amazon.com/Snow-August-Pete-Hamill/dp/0446675253

  • Shaman

    Enjoyed the hell out of your Jimmy Breslin interview. Loved his line, “the air will win” referring to the internet. He’s a giant – the voice of the old New York. I produced a video interview with Breslin at the St. Regis Hotel many years ago. Great to hear that he’s still going strong.

  • Potter

    Wow- Jimmy Breslin can tell a story! I am generally not interested in baseball stories, groaned at the beginning of this one, but then it sucked me right in. This story should never be lost for lack of telling and I cannot imagine it being told better. I am so glad you captured it here.

    Let me mention Russel Baker of the New York Times… a favorite much missed.

    Thank you.

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