With the passing of Jimmy Breslin, one of the finest newspaper writers to ever clack out a crackling lede on a typewriter, I recalled how fond I was in my earliest years of his writing. I was introduced to Breslin when I got my first job pumping gas in Blawenburg, NJ. I was 14. The tiny little store we had sold all of the NY tabloids, candy, and soda. My job was to stock the shelves, go out and pump gas, wash windshields, and sell cigarettes.
My most frequent customers were nurses who worked at the NJNPI, a home for mentally disabled people just down the road. The most frequent order was “three dollars and a pack of Newports.” Back then, with gas at 52 cents a gallon, three bucks was enough. I had many regulars who came in, including ‘beer guy’ who would toss me a cold can of Schaefer beer with every visit. I was barely old enough to like the taste, but it was a thrill.
As I would sit at my desk during my weekday shift from 4 to 7 pm, I’d have a lot of time to read, and I’d pick up the NY Daily News every day. There would be Breslin, with his wonderful ability to capture the dialogue of every two-bit criminal, hardened police detective, or regular Joe who was getting screwed by the system. He used to often use the phrase, ‘he was asked’ when he wanted to let the subject answer the question. Breslin was famous for the column he wrote about the man who dug JFK’s grave, and for interviewing the two cops who responded to the Dakota Apartments in 1980 when John Lennon was shot.
What I loved about his writing was the pacing, it all moved quickly just the way writing in a tabloid should. He also wrote many novels, the one I loved was “Table Money,” about a couple who were on opposite ends of life–he worked underground in a tunnel and she feared his alcoholism could bring the whole family down. Like his columns, his books were easy reads, though not always happy ones.
It’s unlikely that anyone will ever measure up to Breslin. RIP.
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