Posted by Arthur Kerns
Monday, May 28, 2012
Years ago, Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, the day when one would decorate monuments
and gravesites with flags and flowers. It was customary that on that day my family would pile into the old
1938 Ford convertible, top down on a sunny day, and head for Holy Cross cemetery. The expansive burial
ground located in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania was only twenty minutes from our home in Darby. It was an
important family ritual. We would dress in our Sunday best—even if it wasn’t Sunday—and drive off in the
morning to visit the family plots. Donuts, a thermos of coffee, and a soda or two would be brought along
in an old wicker basket.
At the cemetery, the grass and trees, which now had lost their dull winter brown, shimmered green.
Dad would park the car in the vicinity of the family plots and we all would disembark and start reading the
tombstones to get our bearings. Pretty soon, after a few disagreements about where we were, we’d find
the headstones for his family, my mother’s family, and other assorted relatives, who I knew only through
family stories. Warm springtime air prompted us to wander from one family grave to another scattered
throughout the cemetery.
At last, after the placing of flowers and flags on the many burial sites, we’d sit under a tree and have those
donuts that I’d been thinking about since we had left home. Being the only child in the group, and living in
an age when children were told, “to be seen and not heard,” I remained silent and listened to family stories,
some of which I had heard before with slight variations, and then some new tales. Soon, the cemetery
bustled with the voices of other visitors, arriving, parking their cars, and walking along the narrow
macadam lanes. The family then murmured about it being time to leave.
I have one great memory and it is a very early one. I remember the day being brilliant, the air fresh and
smelling good, the tombstones bright white, and me running along the pavement, calling up to my father.
He looked down and gave me a warm smile and said something that made me feel good. I took his left
hand and as we walked along together for a few minutes, I felt overcome with a river of joy and love. It
felt like flying. That memory has lasted to this day.
Some years later, my mother showed me a black and white photograph of my father and me walking in
Holy Cross Cemetery. My father, looking dapper, wore a fedora slightly tilted and was dressed smartly in
coat and tie. I wore white shorts and a white collared shirt. We both looked happy. The date on the photo
indicated I was one month shy of my third birthday.
Posted By Arthur Kerns
Friday, April 20, 2012
ALMOST AU REVOIR
I had one of those scares the other day while reading the Wall Street Journal. You know, the fear that many favorite places, people, customs are fast disappearing. On first glance at the headline, I thought the short article was on the demise of the famed Hemmingway Bar at the Ritz, Paris. Nothing of the kind. The closing on April 16 was only for a two-year renovation.
This was the drinking spot where the Lost Generation spent a lot of their royalties sent over by their publishers in New York. Hemingway of course hung out here and as the story goes toasted the day of the liberation of Paris with his buddies, drinking champagne and martinis.
For years the place has been a required Paris stopover for my generation. My wife Donna and I last visited in 2006. The place holds comfortably about 25 people. That night at least 40 crammed into the wood-paneled, brass fixture room. We sat knee to knee with members of our group, but no one complained, that is until the bar bill arrived and some of our tightwad’s disposition’s tanked.
Colin Field is the bartender at the Ritz and a legend. Since we were at Papa’s place, I had suggested martinis. Mr. Field sent them over cold, crisp, perfectly balanced, and full to the brim—actually overflowing. To the latter point of full martini glasses, take note, trendy would-be bars. The fare for the martini: $22. Well worth the price even in 2006 dollars.
Don’t know why they’re redoing the joint. It had atmosphere to the gills, adorned with one of papa’s guns and other memorabilia. Oh well, in two years it’ll reopen. I hope. Maybe, we’ll get back. Meanwhile, I still have the memories—and this little black pen with Ritz Paris embossed on it.
Posted By Arthur Kerns
Monday, February 20, 2012
HERE’S TO ONE COOL PUBLISHER
On Sunday, February 5, 2012, John T. Sargent, president and then later chairman of Doubleday & Company passed on in his home in Manhattan. I never met the gentleman, but from reading the many obituaries appearing in the press and on the Internet, I really wish I had.
As a sidebar don’t you find today’s obituaries in our leading news organs fascinating? I do. They are so well written—mini-biographies, really, by some very good writers who don’t get a byline. When I read some of these essays, I say to myself, I didn’t know that about that person. I wish I had known that before he left us.
Anyway, let’s get back to Mr. Sargent. What a guy! A bon vivant bouncing around the publishing world in New York City at the same time I was trying to catch spies in the very same town. He did more than bounce; he took a small publishing house, Doubleday, to highs in the business world. Bookshops, four book printing and binding companies, dozens of book clubs, TV and radio broadcasting, film production, the New York Mets, and most importantly by1979 the company was publishing 700 books annually.
Yes, the man not only published books, but also edited poetry of Theodore Roethke—and hired Jackie Onassis as an editor. He hobnobbed with writers, famous authors, editors, and socialites. His business plan included multi-martini lunches. I wonder if this is where former President Jimmy Charter got the idea of banning two-martini lunches in Washington, DC. All this happened in the old Manhattan publishing era, now long gone.
I quote the New York Times obituary writer, who quoted Mr. Sargent’s son, “The guy liked dressing up in a tux and going out . . . The publishing world was his world, and the social aspect was part of it. It all folded together.”
Wouldn’t it have been grand to have been part of that world.
Posted By Arthur Kerns
Friday, February 10, 2012
Getting Ready for a Busy Appearance Schedule
The folks at Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference sent me some good news. They asked me to be on the faculty at this summer’s session, held on July 19 to 22, 2012 at Corte Madera, California. Not only do I get a chance to spend some time away from 110-degree heat in Scottsdale, Arizona, but also I enjoy the beautiful Bay Area in the company of the leading writers in the mystery and thriller genre. Quite an opportunity. Of course, I have to thank my agent, Liz Kracht, of the Kimberley Cameron Agency for making this all possible.
Just cannot believe what authors have to go through these days to develop their Public Persona in order to sell books. All Ernest Hemingway had to do was pretend to be down and out in Paris with his wife Hadley, then go and drink with his friends at Pamplona, go on African Safaris, and marlin fish in Cuba. Today, the writer has to go on book tours and hope people show up, create blogs, get on Twitter and Facebook, and come up with other gimmicks that might appear someplace in the local newspaper. Thank goodness, for conferences like Book Passage and the sponsors who do the hard work of organizing them. Because of these folks, we’re provided a welcomed respite from the task of writing and take a break to enjoy good companionship.