Broadway at West 66th Street isn’t the best place to meet Jimmy Breslin. There’s not even a bar on the corner anymore.
“People have serious lives these days,” Breslin says. “They gotta make money to maintain their lifestyles. They’ve got no time for bars and there’s no room for characters either.”
Breslin spent a lifetime as a newspaperman covering a city full of characters. But tonight he’s in a trendy chain store promoting his newest book: The Good Rat.
I gave up a bar stool and the first game of a Caribbean Series doubleheader to see Breslin tonight. I’m not alone. The place is packed with people who look on the upper side of wealthy.
These aren’t the people Breslin wrote about, but he speaks easily with them until I slip him a question.
“Would you be a newspaperman if you were just starting out today?” I ask.
“That’s a good one,” he says. “The game’s changed and there’s probably no room for a guy like me.”
He pauses for a moment and then really gets rolling.
“Pick up any newspaper in the morning,” Breslin says. “Count the words in the lead sentences. There will be at least 25 in all of them: Guaranteed. The writers just want to tell you how many degrees they have from this college or that university.
“Steinbeck would use 12 words in the first sentence,” he continues. “Mailer 15 words. Hemingway five. That’s because they had respect for their readers. It may sound like I’m being hard on colleges and that’s because I am. None of them have any idea how to teach people to write. They have wrecked the business.”
Kicking the dead body of a once great newspaper city isn’t what this night is about so the conversation drifts back to The Good Rat and then the book signing starts.
When my turn comes, Breslin asks:
“How do you want me to sign it?”
“Just your name,” I say. “I’ll be dead someday and no one else would want my name in their book.”
“You’re a real character aren’t you?” he asks.
“Aren’t we all?” I shoot.
He laughs again.
I hit the street with a smile and get to the bar in time to watch the Dominican League champion Aguilas Cibaenas beat the Mexican League champion Yaquis de Obregon.
The place is dark and smells like stale beer and spicy chili.
Breslin should have come along.