Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New York Papers

"In New York one may find every class of paper which the imagination can conceive. Every grade of society is catered for. If an Esquimau came to New York, the first thing he would find on the bookstalls in all probability would be the Blubber Magazine, or some similar production written by Esquimaux for Esquimaux. Everybody reads in New York, and reads all the time. The New Yorker peruses his favourite paper while he is being jammed into a crowded compartment on the subway or leaping like an antelope into a moving Street car."
That's an excerpt from the first page of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse's Psmith, Journalist of 1915, the first in a series about an eccentric named Rupert Smith who added a silent "P" to his surname to bring it more in line with his outstanding character.

This reminds me of a curious lunch I had a week or two ago at a mediocre Chinese joint run by Orthodox Jewish folk. They serve a "Chinese hotdog" in which a kosher frank is deep fried within a crusty egg roll. It's awful. I eat there once a week or so.

I was interrupted one day by the manager, a slim, spectacled gentleman with a great big beard who always wore a yarmulke. "What is this you're reading?" he asked me. It was the New Yorker, I showed him. "What is it about? I mean it's about New York, I see, but what makes it different from any other magazine about New York?" he asks. I was stumped for a moment: A New Yorker who knew nothing about the New Yorker. "It's been around for about 80 years, it's smart, and whereas most magazines these days are mostly pictures, this one's mostly words," I told him, showing him the pages. "And you like it?" he asks. "Yes, I do," I smiled at him. "Enjoy then," he smiled back.

It's funny, growing up in St. Paul in a house that had a subscription to the New Yorker my entire life, it never occured to me that a New Yorker curious enough to inquire about a stranger's reading material would not be familiar with such a storied publication.



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