'The Most Beautiful Place in the World,
A Community of Mavericks & Oddballs'
'Decades of use by people not known for fastidious habits had given the room a patina of grime. The desks, scarred with cigarette burns and mottled with coffee stains, were shoved together, and the air was thick with smoke. In summer it was circulated but not noticably cooled by ancient fans with black electrical cables that dangled to the floor. There was no air conditioning, but we would have scorned it anyway. We were newspapermen, conditioned to discomfort, reared on movies like The Front Page, in which gruff men wearing fedoras barked at each other in sentences that moved as fast as bullets. I thought it was the most beautiful place in the world.
Not everyone was as charmed by the environment. A copyreaders named Mike Misselonghites, who sat along the rim of the horseshoe-shaped copy desk, arrived at his post a half hour early every day. He would take off his coat and walk to the men's room, where he soaked and wadded up an armful of paper towels. Then he brought them back to the copy desk and scrubbed his area of the desk. Then he scrubbed his telephone and its cord. Then he lifted his chair onto the desk and scrubbed its seat and back and legs, not resting until his workplace was free enough of dirt and bacteria for him to safely go to work.
Nobody gave Mike's daily ritual a second thought, just as nobody was surprised when the absent-minded music editor, Francis D. Perkins, who often smoked his pipe upside down, started a fire in his wastebasket. It was a community of mavericks and oddballs, held together by the common purpose of our daily voyage, equally hospitable to the portentous political columns of Walter Lippmann and the high-society gleanings of Lucius Beebe, the legendary fop, who arrived for work in midmorning, after a long night of prodigious intake at the Stork Club and El Morocco, immaculately turned out in a derby, a bespoke suit, and a magenta shirt with a white silk tie, his gold watch and chain suspended from a figured vest.
Much has been written about the Herald Tribune's bright stars in those postwar years: the foreign editor Joseph Barnes, the foreign correspondent Homer Bigart, the city reporter Peter Kihss, the sports columnist Red Smith, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Nat Fein, the music critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Virgil Thomson, and many others. But the paper never forgot that its readers were an infinitely mixed stew of interests and curiosities, and it had experts squirreled away in various nooks to cater to their needs: the food critic Clementine Paddleford, the fashion columnist Eugenia Sheppard, the stamps editor, the crossword-puzzle editor, the garden editor, the racing columnist Joe H. Palmer.
Palmer was typical of the paper's passion for good writing, nowhere better exemplified than in the sports section. It was in those pages, as a child baseball addict, that I found my first literary influences. The Trib sportswriters were my Faulkner and Hemingway, and now I was in the same room with those bylines-com-to-life: Rud Rennie, Jesse Abramson, Al Laney. Laneym, who covered golf and tennis, never took off his hat. I often paused at the sports department to watch those Olympians, wreatehd in cigarette smoke, tapping out their stories with ferocious speed--especially Abramson, who seemed to have the entire history of boxing at his fingertips.'
--from a book now in progress by William Zinsser, a memoir of places where he has worked as a writer and a teacher. When completed, it will be his 18th book, and possibly his best yet. To review earlier mentions of the immortal Mr. Z, go here, here, here and here.