When I first got started in newspapers my mother did everything she could to support me.
There was this one time early in my journalism career when my mother was trying to boost my confidence while she ironing some shirts.
She was a multitasker long before the term was invented.
Now I’m a half-breed, a child of an Irish father and an Italian mother, and that combination was often an issue in our house.
“You could be the next Jimmy Breslin,” my mother said, God bless her. “Only you’re not obnoxious. And the reason you’re not obnoxious is because you’re not 100% Irish. Because when it comes to being obnoxious, the Irish, I’m sorry to say, corner the market.”
She said this without venom or rage, but in a normal tone of voice as if she were discussing the weather. It was just a fact as far as she was concerned.
My mother was the kindest, most loving person I’m ever known in my life and she did not have a bigoted bone in her body.
But she was also human and she did harbor this rather strong dislike for the Irish and being married to my old man probably didn’t help matters any.
I think of this story now because newspaper legend Jimmy Breslin died today.
I wasn’t the biggest Breslin fan, but there is no disputing that he did tremendous work and reading his obituary reminded me why he was a living legend.
The Gravedigger's Report
One of his earliest and most notable successes was an interview with the man who dug the grave for John F. Kennedy, which is nothing short of brilliant.
While other reporters were looking in all the high places for their JFK stories, Breslin tracked down the man who was arguably the least important player in the entire assassination saga and got a great story out of it.
The column, according to the New York Times, “sent legions of journalists to find their ‘gravedigger.’”
In 1977 he received a letter from the Son of Sam and Breslin published the letter and an appeal for the gunman to surrender. But the Son of Sam would strike twice more before he was arrested.
I remember seeing Breslin on one of the TV talks shows after John Lennon was murdered, decrying the wave of gun violence in this country, and he wrote a fabulous column about the two cops who responded to the shooting at the Dakota.
I eventually got fed up with his ego after one his columns described a meeting at the White House of all the great reporters in the country.
He felt compelled to add the line “of course, I was there," whereupon I felt compelled to throw the newspaper across the room.
Looking back I wish I had continued reading his work. And I wish he were still around to write about the current occupant of the White House.
In this diseased era of fake news and shameless pandering, his brutal honesty would be most welcome.
I didn’t become the next Jimmy Breslin and this blog is probably the closest thing I’ll ever have to a regular column, but I’m okay with that.
And I bring my shirts to the dry cleaner for ironing now, since I have neither the skill nor the patience my mother had.
We lost Jimmy Breslin today and my mother nearly 15 years ago. If the world had more people like them it would be a much better place.