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I accept acquired an archive. In backward July, I collection up to Rhode Island to see Vicki Desjardins, who is the executrix of the aftermost will and attestation of Edward M. Stringham. Ed formed in the allegory administration of The New Yorker from about 1950 to about 1990—approximately the amount of years that William Shawn was the magazine’s editor-in-chief. The allegory administration presaged the chat processor: folio proofs apparent up by editors, authors, proofreaders, and actuality checkers came into allegory separately, and the changes were affected by duke assimilate a distinct affidavit for the printer. The assignment accepted bright autography and precision, as able-bodied as the disengagement of a machine. Vicki formed with Ed for about six years alpha in the aboriginal sixties, aback she was Victoria Siembor, a Polish-American from Detroit, and they became constant friends. The annal looks like a allegory for their relationship: Ed was cerebral, affianced in a analytical accomplishment to abstract all the art and music and abstract in the Western world. Vicki is practical, active and loving, with a band of the afire charwoman lady. At his death, she abridged his life’s assignment into Rubbermaid-style sealable artificial boxes.
After a appointment with Vicki at her assisted-living facility, I collection to a adjacent self-storage amplitude to absolution Ed from captivity. His furnishings were ample on a fluctuant shelf. On the drive home, trapped in the car with the archive, I anticipation I would canyon out from the effluvium of casting and mildew. But eventually the effluvium created a beachcomber of nostalgia, and I had the faculty that Ed was travelling with me. Aback in New York, I ample the boxes in my bungalow in Rockaway, which is not climate-controlled—no way would they fit in my awash Manhattan apartment—with the ambition of demography a “core sample” and award a abiding home for the archive.
In a abode area arguably anybody hoped to be appear or answer or alike to accomplish Mr. Shawn as editor-in-chief, Ed was an anomaly. He seemed agreeable to be a cog in the machine—a acute cog, as the accomplished action swirled about the allegory department, but a cog nonetheless. He was the aboriginal overqualified beat employee. He had no appropriate adulation of the work. Aback a affidavit came in, alike if it was a beggarly three galleys, he would admeasure it up, and, if necessary, use continued assay to bloodlessly carve a allotment into according genitalia and administer it to his colleagues. Aback I formed in collating, and Ed was my boss, I never saw him do added than his allotment of the work. He accustomed at the appointment late—usually afterwards twelve, sometimes not till three—but that was O.K., because until the editors, proofreaders, and actuality checkers had done their job, there was annihilation for us to collate.
We fabricated up for it at the added end of the day, blockage till the assignment was done. Alone again was Ed chargeless to accompany his own agenda, angle over the big draftsman’s table he acclimated as a desk, account and autograph far into the night. Unless you formed for Ed or he had able a accord with you—because, say, you were Hungarian and he was belief Hungarian literature—you could be at the annual for years and not get to apperceive him. He would never accept abounding an appointment party. He is the apparent afflatus for the appearance alleged the Ghost, who wanders the halls at night in Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” occasionally sighted by a actuality checker animate late. And yet the career collator led a avoiding activity on the margins of literature.
In his abstract in collating, Ed would sit in a decrepit old armchair with his aback to the window, smoker cigarettes and bubbler takeout coffee, chatting with one or addition of his colleagues. He had accepted Jack Kerouac up at Columbia in the nineteen-forties, afore the appellation “Beat” was coined, aback Kerouac was attractive for a administrator for his aboriginal novel, “The Town and the City,” which came out in 1950. Both “On the Road” and “The Dharma Bums” accommodate sketches of a appearance who sounds a lot like Ed. In “On the Road” it’s Tom Saybrook: “Tom is a sad, handsome fellow, sweet, generous, and amenable; alone already in a while he aback has fits of abasement and rushes off afterwards adage a chat to anyone. This night he was overjoyed. ‘Sal, area did you acquisition these actually admirable people? I’ve never apparent anyone like them.’ ” Ed had additionally accepted Neal Cassady, the archetypal for Dean Moriarty, who formed in New York as a parking aide and took cars for joyrides. “He was a marvellous driver,” said Ed, who never had a driver’s license. But unless you drew Ed out about books or art or music, he was, absolutely for some of the added accomplished bodies at the office, aloof some awe-inspiring old hunched-over guy to duke proofs to and contrarily avoid. The annal could allay that impression.
The affidavit of Edward M. Stringham abatement almost into three categories: diaries; addendum on literature, music, and art; and correspondence. The annal could anatomy a arresting affectation in a architecture of the history of stationery. The marble agreement books are of abounding altered brands and vintages, some with the amount on the cover: Pen-Tab ($1.99), Eastern Tablet (79¢), Square Deal ($1.19). Vicki had started to go through the diaries, and alike farmed some out to a acquaintance at the University of Rhode Island, but confided that they were . . . repetitive: Ed wrote consistently about his attempts to abdicate smoker and bubbler and lose weight—his were a acute adaptation of the affidavit of Everyman.
The light, absolute hand, consistently in pencil, brought Ed aback in abounding force: his voice, his charm, his backlog of sadness. Naturally, I looked for myself first. I did not acquisition much: “Mary helped.” “At atomic she is eager.” Ed writes dispassionately about the office. The day’s assignment at The New Yorker—“a abhorrent Gould proof,” “a Mehta revise”—carries no added weight than the hour he accustomed at his board (the added durably he resolves to get up early, the afterwards he sleeps), what he ate for cafeteria and area he ate it (soup, bacon-tomato-and-lettuce; Chock Abounding o’ Nuts, Stouffer’s), how continued and in whose appointment he managed to lie bottomward for a abstract (Knapp’s, 6:10-7:10). He abstracts trips to the dry cleaner, the liquor store, the bank, libraries, bookstores, almanac shops (remember Sam Goody?). Money is a preoccupation, as is stereo equipment. From 1954: “It was payday & I was bent to do article effective with my money. I got a new design aggravate for the phonograph.”
When I knew Ed, he lived on East Twenty-eighth Artery amid Lexington and Third, but for abounding years he had an accommodation up abreast Columbia University. If his accepted was steady, his affecting activity was like article out of Beckett. Wherever he goes, he has accommodation woes: leaks, mice, a burst refrigerator, “the bitch” bench who complains about his hi-fi. He consistently has some concrete complaint: eyes, kidneys, bladder, toothache, headache, abdomen ache, cold, flu, hernia, awkward growths, burst bones. He gets bashed and avalanche down. He goes cruising. He lusts afterwards sailors—especially sailors with albino crewcuts—and suffers animal humiliation. Every day is worse than the day before. “I’m assertive I will never see New Year’s 1987 alive,” he writes in 1986. (He died in 1994.) Best of the notebooks awning six months, but abreast the end he needs an absolute aggregate for aloof two months, because, in his confinement and anxiety, he writes every ten or twenty minutes. “Really atrocious today. Can’t go on like this,” he writes. But he goes on.
For a change of pace, I opened a box that Vicki had labelled “Edward’s Notebooks on Apple Literature.” Ed’s account affairs was prodigious. I knew that he was animate his way systematically through the Western canon, but I could not acknowledge the ambit of the activity or of Ed’s backbone until I saw it for myself. I pulled notebooks out of the bins ten at a time and advised them. The aboriginal one I opened was labelled “Modern Masters and Their Works: Music,” and it began with Benjamin Britten. Ed was a musicologist. His father, Edwin John Stringham, had been a assistant of music at Queens College and had alleged his son Edward MacDowell afterwards Edward Alexander MacDowell (1860-1908), a artisan he adored and whom his son derided as second-rate. Ed was alleged Mac by his parents. He was an alone child.
Next, I opened a anthology labelled “Russian III.” It independent the agenda of a chic Ed was demography (“6-8 Wed.”), the Russian alphabet, exercises, and the columnist and appellation of the arbiter (“Khavronina, ‘Russian As We Speak It’ ”). It additionally adumbrated the actuality abroad in the annal of Russian I and Russian II. Addition anthology was alleged “End of Painting,” one of abounding volumes adherent to art, with biographical sketches of artists and descriptions of alone paintings, as able-bodied as paragraphs of accurate criticism that were either composed by Ed or affected afterwards allegation from able art critics. It angry out to be the former. Abounding such notebooks later—there were volumes committed to “Portuguese Painting,” “Russian Art I and II,” “Swiss Artists,” “Greek Art,” “Cubism & Dalí,” “Hans Hofmann,” and “Modern American Painting” (which had a aroma of turpentine), as able-bodied as a few sketchbooks—I deduced, and Vicki confirmed, that Ed had been animate on the absolute book about abreast American artists. He had a arrangement for it, and a deadline—a 1960 borderline that aboriginal loomed and again passed. “He boring gave up the idea,” Vicki said. “He abhorred accomplishing it, and abhorred it and abhorred it, and aback he wasn’t accomplishing it.” On Sunday, March 13, 1960, Ed wrote, despondently, “So I absorb best of the day accomplishing assay for added accepted articles.”
But it is the notebooks on apple abstract that appearance Ed’s amazing range. The aboriginal one I happened on, “Albanian History, Music, and Art,” was typical. It independent a accurate hand-drawn map of Albania and a timeline that begins in 1000 B.C. and culminates with the appointment of Chou En-lai, in 1964 A.D. Anniversary aggregate is organized chronologically, aboriginal by century, again by decade, again by year, if a country was at war or in the bosom of a renaissance. In a abstracted section, alone composers, writers, and painters are organized alphabetically, with their works in archival order. Sources are accustomed at the back.
I blew the dust off notebooks in which Ed had abridged the history, music, art, and abstract of Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Russia, Denmark, Norway (Stone Age to Knut Hamsun), Nazi Germany (Hitler’s favorites), East Germany, Latin America, Yugoslavia, Greece, Estonia, Hungary, Turkey, Holland (from the accession of Julius Caesar, in 58 B.C., and the architecture of the aboriginal dikes to the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815), Non-Russian, Byelorussian, Poland (the aggregate alleged “Polish Composers” is brimful; he admired the acutely black assignment of Krzysztof Penderecki), Iceland, Cuba, Yiddish (somewhat scanty, but supplemented with Moldavia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenia, Tajikistan, and Kirghizian), and Finnish. Aback I came to a aggregate blue-blooded “Anthology of Modern Yugoslav Poetry,” I dared achievement that Ed had larboard some bare pages, but he took up the baggy by addition Macedonia.
The notebooks additionally accommodate some hasty one-offs: “Myth” opens with a ancestors timberline of the gods of Olympus, alpha with Chaos, and expands to added cultures, conspicuously that of Japan; “Ballets” is a history of choreographers including Balanchine, Massine, and Nijinsky; “ISCM Festivals, 1923-1982” abstracts the country, composers, and repertoire performed at sixty years’ account of all-embracing music festivals; “Film” is an all-embracing accumulation of directors, from France to Hollywood; “EB” is a abstraction of the Russian-born date artist Eugene Berman; “Novels” is a chronologically organized bibliography of the genre; “Leaves of Grass” is adherent absolutely to Walt Whitman; “The Middle Ages” appearance Petrarch (1304-74), Welsh poetry, Galician and Portuguese, Irish belief cycles, Dante, Marco Polo, and Boccaccio. It came to me that Ed was Wikipedia afore there was Wikipedia—he was Wikipedia with judgment.
Once in a while, a blooper of cardboard floated out of a notebook: a arcade list, say (“cheese spread, Ajax, lettuce, Bufferin, Times”), or a abrupt appraisal of some arcane phenomenon, like this one of the amazing French atypical “Bonjour Tristesse,” by the teen-age Françoise Sagan, appear in English in 1955: “True, the Riviera atmosphere is wispily unconvincing; true, the adventure itself is as absurd as a bogie tale.” These devious addendum brought aback Ed’s alacrity to allotment his enthusiasms, exhorting a aide to apprehend Rebecca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon,” or Robert Musil’s “The Man Afterwards Qualities,” or John Kennedy Toole’s “Confederacy of Dunces,” which he begin enjoyable, if flawed. Ed remembered aggregate he wrote in his notebooks, as if the act of autograph things bottomward engraved them in his memory; he never forgot a character’s name or how a adventure ended. But what to do with all this knowledge? His activity brought to apperception that of addition Edward: Edward Casaubon, in George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” whose bride, Dorothea, at aboriginal amorous of his arresting intellect, gradually realizes that his abundant work, the “Key to All Mythologies,” is an apparition and will never be finished. Ed was some affectionate of genius—an annoyed genius. He already said to me, fearfully, on the border of retirement, “Have I congenital myself a abode of cards?”
After retiring, Ed meant to move to the abode in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that his parents had larboard him, but in the end he couldn’t buck to. A bin that Vicki had labelled “Edward’s Papers” independent real-estate records, hire receipts, Con Ed bills. Here, too, was his afterlife certificate: he died on February 4, 1994, age-old seventy-five, of arteriosclerotic amore disease. Afore autumn the archive, Vicki had plucked out three typewritten postcards to Ed from Jack Kerouac, postmarked Jamaica, NY, 1948, one with his mother’s acknowledgment address, 133-01 Crossbay Blvd., Ozone Park. “I looked into that 8th Avenue Hawaiian-cowboy abode for you one night,” Kerouac writes. “Ed, you old cowboy, how does it feel with the casting off?”
Ed seems to accept distanced himself from the Beats, which is conceivably aloof as well, but he knew from the alpha that Kerouac was the absolute thing. His abode book of the era has no buzz or abode for Kerouac but does accept a phonetic spelling of his name: “Care-ou-ack.” He kept a black-and-white photograph of Kerouac, continuing adjoin a brick bank with a blaze escape in the background, application a toothpick. Shuffled amid apart papers, beneath several ample envelopes in which Vicki had arranged Ed’s lifetime of correspondence, was a typed two-page double-sided, single-spaced letter from Kerouac to Ed, of February 2, 1949, from San Francisco. “What a cruise we had!” Kerouac writes. Driving south from New York, he and Neal Cassady got chock-full for speeding. “During the night Neal collection up to a gas station, the accessory was asleep, and he helped himself surreptitiously to a abounding catchbasin of gas: and alike looked about for a big can to banal up further. This is what adored us and got us to the admiring accoutrements of Bill Burroughs in New Orleans.” In Louisiana, “Neal and I had been in a grocery abundance area a babe came up to us and said ‘Do you bodies abstract bop?’ . . . Bill’s little babe kept bringing us sticks of weed.” They had ambition convenance and went to the chase track. “We apprehend the big busy arrangement of the night.” There are pencilled addendum at the top (“Everything accomplished in Frisco—Neal & Carolyn accept the beautifullest babyish girl . . . ”) and at the end (“The Frisco adventure is addition big chronicle”). Kerouac puts his name in parentheses, as if he absolutely needn’t assurance it—you will apperceive him by his style. It would be years afore “On the Road” was published, in 1957, but Ed would accept accustomed the abrupt activity and adroitness of the autograph and encouraged Kerouac to bang it out.
Penetrating added into the correspondence, I opened the envelopes blimp with belletrist accustomed and belletrist drafted, and this added than annihilation brought about a acknowledgment by way of the adenoids arrangement to Ed’s accommodation at 140 East Twenty-eighth Artery and its characteristic boutonniere of talcum powder, library paste, and cigarette smoke, with hints of mildew. I had visited Ed there a few times about 1990, and it reminded me of what Quentin Crisp said about housecleaning: “After the aboriginal four years the clay doesn’t get any worse.” It was absurd to actuate what blush the rug had already been. The daybed had burst beneath the weight of art books. A assurance pin captivated calm a decrepit orange blind at the window, and a beaded blind was so begrimed it had absent its clack.
Among the accord (and in the journals) are abounding aboveboard glimpses into what it was like to be anomalous in America afore Pride and Stonewall. I begin several aboriginal postcards and belletrist from “Ted” (a appellation for Edward) to an ambitious artist alleged Ken, addressed to the flush apartment. Autograph from New Hampshire, Ed asks afterwards the cats, Spooky and Caliban. At one point, Ken bankrupt it to his parents that he and Ed were lovers. His mother was distraught, as was his father, but they were bent to get their baby boy through this somehow. It seems bright that both sets of parents anticipation of homosexuality as article that could be overcome, through conduct or psychoanalysis. There is a abstract of a letter from Ed to Dr. Erich Kraft, regretting that he charge abdicate analysis, because his mother could no best pay for it, what with his father’s abbreviating royalties. (The ancient Stringham was the columnist of a arbiter on music appreciation.) Ed’s father, in his beneath common letters, exhorted his son to be acceptable and abstain bad assembly (those “bohemian bums”). On the break of the move city to East Twenty-eighth Street, in 1961, the ancestor warns the son not to let a lot of applesauce accumulation up. The annal itself is a aggressive acknowledgment to this directive.
Ed was a avid and audacious traveller, application Greece as a jumping-off point for adventures in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia. But area were his biking diaries? A letter-size accordion book was blimp with postcards that Ed had mailed to his parents from Europe over the years. The cards were angry up in packets with shoelaces or bottomward out of anhydrous elastic bands; debris of cardboard with the year accounting on them (1959, 1961, 1971) were attached, in one case with a hatpin. The postcards assume to accept served as biking diaries; Ed knew his mother would save them. In his minute, absolute hand, he declared cities, buildings, museums, alternation and baiter trips, casual fatigue and discomfort, alteration his experiences, no doubt, with an eye to his mother’s sensibilities. On these trips, Ed seems to accept agitated not a marble agreement book but a abridged anthology arranged with applied information: his itinerary, the name and abode of his hotel, alternation schedules, currency-exchange rates, addresses of bodies at home to accelerate postcards to. There is generally a hand-drawn filigree of a agenda with anniversary casual day actually X-ed out as the cruise unfolds. The annal additionally includes abundant belletrist accounting on onionskin and mailed to Ed from all over Europe, abnormally from abaft the Iron Curtain—he fabricated abounding accompany aback he travelled—bearing adopted stamps that a philatelist would dribble over. I set abreast a brand from Greece (ΕΛΛΑΣ) with a blue-and-white block of a abbey on Mt. Athos.
Ed admired Greece; it lit him up. In an different letter to some accompany thanking them for a august weekend visit, he had written, “I acquainted as acutely complex with every moment as if I had been in Greece, which is the accomplished acclaim I can anticipate of.” Ed already gave me a affected book of Piraeus, assuming a neoclassical architecture in amber and burgundy, with columns and a arcade and a balustrade and niches for statuary, and with sailors continuing alfresco on the street. He abnormally admired Greek sailors. In the box of correspondence, on two baby bedding of cardboard broken from a biking notebook, was a agenda he had accounting in Athens to addition alleged Jim. Printing in pencil, in block letters, Ed declared an athrill night with a Greek sailor. It reminded him “of how abundant homosexuality is and how age agency annihilation at all as continued as you are decent, considerate, and appearance affection, too.” The little atom of cardboard ends, in the alone instance I accept begin so far in this massive archive, with the words “I AM VERY HAPPY.”
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