Tuesday, 14 July 2015

K is for a short story that begins with this letter.

I have always loved stories that take place in New York. I especially love those stories that took place in the first half of the 20th century.  It seemed like a person could go to New York City and do anything they wanted, be anything they wanted.  It seems like a city like no other in the world.

When I saw this lovely copy of the Vintage book, with the grey tones of the cover and the red spine I had to look at it more closely.  Up In The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell.  I had never heard of Joseph Mitchell. He was born in North Carolina in 1908. He moved to New York city in 1929, the day after the big stock market crash.  He loved architecture and spent a lot of time studying it. He liked to people watch also and that is what this book is about.  He worked as a crime writer and reporter. He spent 31 years working at the New Yorker but by then was finished publishing his own work. He died in 1996.

The blurb on the back of this book will really pull you into what it is about:

"Mitchell is the laureate of old New York; the hidden corners of the city and the people who lived there are his subject. He captured the waterfront rooming houses, nickel-a-drink saloons, all night restaurants, the visionaries, obsessives, impostors, fanatics, lost souls, the end-is-near street preachers, old Gypsy Kings and Old Gypsy Queens, the out-and-out freak-show freaks.
Mitchell's trademark curiosity , courtesy and graveyard humour fuel these magical works of reportage."

I don't know about you but when I read that I wanted to read it all, all 707 pages of this book published in 1938.

I have only just begun. They are a series of short stories, vignettes.

I was looking for a short story title that began with the letter K. for my alphabet challenge. That was harder than I thought. I have several large books of short stories but none of the stories began with K.  It was in this book that I found it.
The Kind Old Blonde.  Mitchell is sitting in an Irish restaurant near Pennsylvania station. A couple walked in and sat down:

"They had just come in from the Belmont track. The man was bald and red-faced and substantial. He looked like a contractor or maybe he had something to do with the horses. The woman was a big sound, well-dressed blonde. She might have been the co-leader of a Tammany* club or an old vaudeville actress who had saved her money or perhaps married well. "

The man looked at the menu and the woman ordered an Old Fashioned. The man frowned at her as it turns out his doctor had told him he should quit drinking for health reasons. He was prepared to do this. But the woman relayed a story of a man who had done that and he died within a year. She gives all the reasons why your body "needs oil" and it wasn't such a good idea.  The discussion is quite entertaining as she begins to convince the man he needs a drink to stay in good health and not to die young. She orders a second Old Fashioned and finally at the end of the meal and discussion the man orders a Rye. Not mixed with anything like soda or ginger ale. Just a rye with a little water. For health reasons.

The readers has just visited this restaurant in old New York. I could see the characters. I could smell her perfume. I thought I was sitting in the restaurant observing the scene. It felt real. I was probably at a table by the window facing into the room. I saw it all.  I was with Joseph Mitchell. The day was probable cloudy, not many people in the restaurant. It was a day out, a quick meal in the city I love. New York City.

*Tammany club =A  community/political club of middle class ethnic origin.


  1. i read j.m. when i was about twenty and it has stayed with me for fifty years. great period, interesting stories. "hit on the head with a cow". one of the best. funny stuff.

    1. Yes, I am glad I found this author. I really like him. Nice to hear you agree. ☺

  2. This sounds so familiar that I'm almost sure I've read it, but not quite. I'll have to see if my library has a copy to be certain. Sometimes a New York story can really hit the spot. I'm a big fan of New york.

  3. I love New York stories too. One of the best books I read recently was Lily Brett's book Only in New York. This author lives in New York and it is simply her daily life, talking about all the places she visits during her routines. I loved it. One day I will visit there. I have been in so many places around the world but yet to visit New York.


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