Thursday, January 22, 2009

New York, New York, The City Twice as Nice Before Giuliani

by Jim Parks

As the season turns, she will hit the time when leaves fall. Next, winds blow frigid weather from the northeast after the Gulf Stream's sudden withdrawal offshore. People take woolens out of mothballs, furs from cold storage. Scarves and gloves appear; overcoats and hats become common. The harvest season, mid-winter feast, spring festival of the rabbit arrive and the sun's orbit begins its slow turning from Capricorn to Cancer's tropic all over again, the crab nebula crawling high across the summer sky.

Meanwhile, Central Park turns a thousand shades of tobacco and fire, sheds its leaves and goes gray and white in blizzards of big, wet flakes while the city's true nature shows itself in naked views of brownstone, limestone, granite and marble. There will be row upon row of white brick on the upper east side and the west side reveals itself as the red brick oven of summer gone suddenly cold. Steam columns sprout in every intersection as people dart about bundled against winter's piercing blasts.

Grand Central fills up with those who have no home, sleeping on the floors; the downtown streets fill with even more desperate ones sleeping on grates beside the towers of finance.

Hawks living in the aeries of skyscrapers and owls that hide in the thick branches of the park begin to dive on rats, other rodents and the occasional snake.

The Apple beds down for the winter, packed in her own straw and blazing with the lights of eras millenia in the past.

My question to a proud father: Why should a young woman not make her escape in the urgency of planetary changes such as this?

She is a creature of the moon who lives under the sun.

The Legendary
one hand clapping
far away
on a prairie of stubble
in a land of old, partially toothless men.
A friend's note: "Edit again and send it to 'The New Yorker.'"

When they printed Dan Baum's account of burial detail officers accompanying the bodies of slain soldiers home from Iraq, I was moved to tears. I think it was my delicate mental condition that triggered my outburst - that and the fact that the Administration had insisted the media make no mention of American sacrifice in blood and life - but nevertheless, I broke down and cried as if they were my own sons, the two whose bodies Mr. Baum accompanied back to the land of the Big PX.

What did I do? I did what any self-respecting writer should do. I wrote a letter to the editor. In the letter, I praised the courage of The Magazine for defying the ridiculous order of the "war time" president who had demanded there be no pictures or publicity about dead and wounded soldiers returning to our shores.

Now, these days your turn around times are much more instant. You deal with e-mail. Therefore, imagine my surprise when the telephone rang only a day or two after I wrote and my lover was shouting at me, quieting her children, saying, "Honey, it's this woman from something called 'The New Yorker.' She wants to talk to you."

Fair enough.

Then it hit me. Mois? Little old me? About what? There was a very nice young woman on the line who told me she is one of the fact checkers at The Magazine and the editor demanded to know just what in the world did Jas. Parks mean?
It means that is the way I sign my name, I replied. Jas - period - W - period - P-A-R-K-S.

Exactly, she replied, but what does Jas. mean?

Oh, it means James.

Well, if your name is James, why don't you write it that way?

Because we are talking about a signature, here. I sign my name Jas. Parks to distinguish myself from James William Parks, Junior, who died in 1945, my grandfather, or James William Parks, Senior, who died in 1927, my great grandfather from Horseshoe Bend, Virginia, the James William Parks who was born in 1849, exactly one hudred years before my birthdate.

Oh, she said, with a professional smile in her voice, you are THAT Jas. W. Parks.

Thank you.

The Magazine intends to print your letter about Dan Baum's article in the next number.

I was elated.

We're right on deadline and it occurred to us that none of us know what Jas. could possibly mean? Are you sure you don't mean Jason?

Well, blow me down. You know, copy editors. They get like that.

No, it means James, just as Chas. means Charles Dickens, Benj. means Benjamin Franklin or Benj. Siegel, and Geo. means George Washington as does Abr. - Abraham Lincoln - Leibowitz or Lipschitz.

I was becoming somewhat exasperated. As you all know, I am somewhat peripatetic, in any case.

Righto, she said, ringing off cheerfully, but not before I let her know how thrilling I would find it to see my name in The Magazine that had published Truman Capote, Lillian Ross, Josephn Mitchell, Dorothy Parker and James Thurber.

So, happily, off to the rigors of the recliner and my afternoon nap.

I heard the phone ring again almost immediately. I just assumed it was for one of the kids. Their friends will not allow our phone line to be silent for more than a few minutes.

The little girl came to me this time bearing the phone.

Jim, it's that woman from New York again.

This time it was a lady with a somewhat Frenchified accent. What ees zees name Jas. Ees meaning Jasoan, no?

No. It means James. With whom am I speaking?

You are speaking with editorial assistant to ________ _________, editor of magazine.

Well, is English your primary language?

Click. Dial tone.

Fuck'em. I'd rather be right.

The phone rang before I could hang it up. This is __________ __________, the editor. What, exactly, does Jas. mean? We are right on deadline here in New York and we want to print your letter, but we do NOT understand your abbreviation.

It means James.

Then do you want us to by-line you as James?

No, ma'am. No one would believe it's me. You see, I sign my name Jas. W. Parks and...

Well, that stands for Jason, does it not?

No, ma'am, it stands for James. I want people to know you printed a letter I wrote in The Magazine and I signed it the way I would any other important document...

Now, you simply have to understand. This lady can place a phone call to a four-star hotel or restaurant and make the manager wet his Armani britches. She can snap her fingers and dispatch very talented writers - not reporters, but writers - to distant spots on the globe to write take-outs on diverse subjects which are then printed in The Magazine as "Letter from..." and the like.

What is your real name?

I have been by-lined as Jim Parks, madame, throughout a very undistinguished career as a police reporter, if you must know.

What was the newspaper of the largest circulation you ever wrote for, Mr. Parks?

"The Houston Chronicle."

The smallest?

"The Okeechobee News."

Where is Okeechobee?

On a big lake in southern Florida.

Oh, I see.

Fantastic bass fishing, you know. That's the place where they thought they could just tell a man, "I don't want that in the paper."


They can't keep you from printing it, but they can activate the Rotary, Lions, preachers and other pundits and get you fired, you know.

What if I by-line you as Jim Parks, then?

I would be delighted, Ms. ____________.

I once went to sleep in Sheep Meadow on the afternoon of the Fourth of July. I was a tramp. There were workmen setting up a portable stage. They were going to perform "The 1812 Overture" in honor of the occasion and as background music for the fireworks show.

When I awakened, there were men in black tie and women in gowns eating fried chicken and other picnic delights from silver chafing dishes.

Everyone clapped when they saw that I had regained consciousness and I was introduced all around. Someone got me a plate and a glass of champagne and we were off to the races.

Hizzoner The Mayor John Lindsay wheeled in riding in an ordinary Cadillac eight-passenger limo. He schmoozed all around, we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries under his ten-thousand watt smile. It was a good time. He worked hard at it.

I hitched out the next morning and fetched up in Philly's sticky heat where I found work as a laborer putting up and taking down scaffolds for brick masons.

But that's another story.

It's almost like the one about my by-line in "The New Yorker." You can't even dine out on it. Oh, by the way, the fried chicken had a tad too much cumin and garlic in the batter, but it was an unusual touch for a southern boy's palate.

I couldn't have been more delighted.

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