Feb. 6, 2007

Goodbye, New York

by Deborah Garrison

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Poem: "Goodbye, New York" by Deborah Garrison, from The Second Child. © Random House. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Goodbye, New York
          (song from the wrong side of the Hudson)

You were the big fat city we called hometown
You were the lyrics I sang but never wrote down

You were the lively graves by the highway in Queens
the bodega where I bought black beans

stacks of the Times we never read
nights we never went to bed

the radio jazz, the doughnut cart
the dogs off their leashes in Tompkins Square Park

You were the tiny brass mailbox key
the joy of "us" and the sorrow of "me"

You were the balcony bar in Grand Central Station
the blunt commuters and their destination

the post-wedding blintzes at 4 A.M.
and the pregnant waitress we never saw again

You were the pickles, you were the jar
You were the prizefight we watched in a bar

the sloppy kiss in the basement at Nell's
the occasional truth that the fortune cookie tells

Sinatra still swinging at Radio City
You were ugly and gorgeous but never pretty

always the question, never the answer
the difficult poet, the aging dancer

the call I made from a corner phone
to a friend in need, who wasn't at home

the fireworks we watched from a tenement roof
the brash allegations and the lack of any proof

my skyline, my byline, my buzzer and door
now you're the dream we lived before

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1937 that John Steinbeck (books by this author) published his novel Of Mice and Men, the story of two migrant farm workers, George Milton and his simple-minded friend, Lennie Small, who dream of owning their own place and living off the fat of the land.

Steinbeck had worked as a farmhand to pay for his tuition in college, and later took various manual labor jobs in California to support himself as a writer. He began to write fiction about the plight of migrant farm workers after the start of the Great Depression. He published two novels that had some success, Tortilla Flat (1935) and In Dubious Battle (1936), but he wanted to write something about migrant workers that was more like a parable or a myth.

He also wanted his fiction to reach the very workers he was writing about, and he knew that many poor farm workers were illiterate. He had seen theater troupes performing for farm labor camps, and he got the idea that he could write a novel that was made up almost entirely of dialogue, so that it could also be produced as a play.

Steinbeck wanted the story of the novel to be simple, like a children's story, even though it would have a tragic, violent ending. He had almost finished his first draft of the novel when his dog tore the manuscript to shreds. He eventually rewrote the novel and it was published on this day in 1937. The play was produced soon after, and both the novel and the play were huge successes.

Of Mice and Men has remained one of Steinbeck's most popular novels, and it's been made into a movie three times, in 1939, 1981, and 1992.

It's the birthday of lexicographer and writer Eric Partridge, (books by this author) born in Poverty Bay, New Zealand (1894). He was one of the first lexicographers to take slang seriously as a subject of study. His book A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1937) was a big success and he went on to write books about the slang used in Shakespeare's plays and the history of clichés and catchphrases.

He said, "[Language] was created by people, not in a laboratory."

It's the birthday of the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, (books by this author) born in Tampico, Illinois (1911). His father suffered from alcoholism, and Reagan was only 11 years old when he first came upon his father drunk and passed out on the front porch. Reagan wrote about the incident in his 1965 memoir, Where's the Rest of Me. He said, "That was my first moment of taking responsibility. ... I bent over him, smelling the sharp odor of whiskey from the speakeasy. I got a fistful of his overcoat. Opening the door, I managed to drag him inside and get him to bed. In a few days, he was the bluff, hearty man I knew and loved and will always remember."

Reagan went into broadcasting and then got a job as an actor in B movies. He loved acting because, he said, "So much of our profession is taken up with pretending, with the interpretation of never-never roles, that an actor must spend at least half his waking hours in fantasy." But by the mid-1950s, Reagan's career as an actor had stalled. He spent eight years as the host of a TV show called "General Electric Theater." But he was slowly growing more interested in politics. He became a Republican in 1962, and in 1964 the Republican Party asked him to give a half-hour address in support of Barry Goldwater. The speech was so good that a group of Republicans got together and persuaded Reagan to run for governor of California, and that was the beginning of his political career.

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