The Second Floor Bathroom’s Epiphany
Budding writers can’t help but be influenced by the writers they grew up with. The first time I read a poem by e.e. cummings, I knew I had to change my signature. I loved the lower case and thought it was tres chic.
Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus (1969) was another jolt in the solar plexus with Roth’s disdain for the nouveau riche. Now here was an author that I could identify with –a self-conscious neurotic with a stunning ability to capture the materialism of Short Hills, NJ (Full disclosure: I ended up living in Short Hills, NJ and find myself surrounded by hundreds of haughty Brenda Patimkins, the love object of Roth’s narrator Neil Klugman.)
But neither of these writers created the cataclysmic effect of the Sunday morning in 1967 or 1968 when I retreated to my library (a k a the bathroom) to read the Sunday edition of The Herald Tribune newspaper. I was 16 when New York made its first appearance as the Sunday supplement.
Now reader, the Tribune’s supplement was unlike any Sunday supplement I had ever seen. It certainly wasn’t “Parade” with its B-list celebrity profiles and recipes for macaroni and cheese. This New York was something entirely different because the writers had injected themselves into the stories.
Not only did Tom Wolfe, Nora Ephron, Julie Baumgold, Gloria Steinem, George Plimpton and others capture the zeitgeist but they turned their back on the omniscient narrator. Suddenly they were as much as the story as the story. I remember that first issue like it was yesterday. I also remember how I tied up the bathroom for hours. I couldn’t help myself. I was riveted by the conspiratorial tone and the honest self-awareness of the writer. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I couldn’t stop reading.
It was, without doubt, an epiphany. While I didn’t know it was the birth of “New Journalism” I knew something had changed. Now my writing made sense – my injection of my self would amplify the story.
Unfortunately, my professors at the graduate school in journalism were not keen on New Journalism and held me in contempt when I broke the cardinal rule of neutrality when I covered a story. But it all ended well. I graduated, forgot everything they taught me (except how to write on deadline) and gave myself permission to capture the self-deception, hypocrisy, self-delusions and lack of political correctness that makes writing one of my greatest pleasures.