That’s me with the antenna. Wait, no, I’m in the middle.
I started at Scholastic as a Junior Copywriter for $12,500 a year, hired partly because of a writing sample, an opinion piece I wrote about the subway shooter, Bernie Goetz (no lie), and also because I was the first young, heterosexual male to enter the building in the last six years — besides the mail room guys, of course. There were three other copywriters working on the book clubs: Bill Epes, Karen Belov, and Cynthia Larkins. I may have muffed those spellings. My primary responsibility was the K-1 SeeSaw Book Club. I sat in a cubicle and banged away on a typewriter. Computers came in less than a year after I arrived, a transition that caused great upheaval. We threw away our little bottles of liquid white-out, learned how to boot up with an MS-DOS 5 1/4 floppy disk, and so on.
An aside: I just breezed through the brilliant biography, STEVE JOBS, and it so captured the changes of technology through my life. If you are around my age (51 yesterday), or maybe any age, you’ve got read it. The author, Walter Isaacson, also wrote the biography, EINSTEIN, that I raved about previously.
At Scholastic, in the old 730 Broadway location, I worked in-house for almost five years, rising all the way to lower-middle obscurity. Another memory: I remember when they instituted a new policy no longer allowing people to smoke at their desks. Suddenly you had to go down to the 8th floor to the “smoker’s lounge.” Many of us feared that our old-school copyeditor, the chain-smoking Willie Ross, would lose her mind completely. Such a violation of personal liberty, an outrage perpetrated by the PC police, and I was sure the laughter I heard came from the belly of Big Brother.
I continued on with Scholastic as a consultant and favored freelancer. Launched and ran the Carnival Book Club out of my home in Albany, as both editor and promotion manager. Wrote some books, started doing Jigsaw Jones in 1998, and on and on. I assumed my time at Scholastic would go on forever. But not quite. I used to really, really love that place, and I know I’m not alone in that regard.
The man on the left of the photo is my great pal Craig Walker. In life you don’t get to know too many people who become mentors, people you respect and admire and love, and for me Craig heads that very short list. He was one-of-a-kind. There was a long stretch of about 15 years or so when we were really, really good friends. We probably ate lunch together three times a week for four years, usually in the cheapest, no-nonsense dives we could find. Or was that the bars we frequented? The truly remarkable thing about Craig is that so many people felt that way about him. Our relationship was special. Our friendship was unique and powerful. Dozens upon dozens of people could make that same claim — and they’d all be correct. He was just one of those guys that made you think, “I wish I could be more like him.” Craig is gone now, but as I’ve written before, I try to remember everything.
1986, the day we watched Game 6 of the 1986
World Series at Brenda Bowen’s parents’ summer
place. Me and Craig.
Let’s see, yes, that’s art director Scott Hunt next to me. I thought of Scott a few days ago when, reading the book, I LOVE IT WHEN YOU TALK RETRO, the author Ralph Keyes explained the origin of one of Scott’s go-to words, “skosh.” As in, “Let’s move that type down a skosh.” Confusingly, it came from the Korean War, but was adapted from a Japanese word, sukoshi, meaning “a small amount.” Reading about those origins, I wondered if perhaps Scott’s father spent time in Korean conflict, hanging out with Hawkeye, Trapper John, Hot Lips, and the gang. Scott used to complain that his father was a gung-ho outdoors type, always taking the children on camping trips and forced hikes up impossible mountains. Scott would say, “I hated those hikes. I just wanted to stay home and watch movies!”
And to the right, that’s Cynthia Maloney, a Kansas gal. Cynthia used to wear a deerskin vest the like of which you have never seen, in Manhattan, no less. She had the messiest desk on all three floors. I’d ask her about something, an important memo or whatever, or a mechanical board she had to review and sign, and she’d turn to this tilting mountain of paper and, after a considered time, miraculously extract the key document from the perilous pile. Cynthia was older than I was, married with children, but I always had a secret crush on her, the way you do in office life, ten cubicles down, a world away. She might have been the nicest person in the place.
Anyway, we started a preschool book club, called it FIREFLY, and as far as I know it’s still going strong today, 25 years later. I wrote all the promotional copy, including every book description, for several years. At the time, it was a big, risky project. Craig’s editorial meetings were hilarious and legendary. Scholastic of that time was led by a supremely talented trio: Jean Feiwel in editorial, Barbara Marcus (my first real boss) in marketing, and wise old Dick Krinsley, steering the ship. Around then I had the honor of writing their first hardcover catalog — it included a total of four books by, um, Harry Mazer, Anne Mazer, Julian Thompson, and somebody else. Oh, what was it? Something about child safety, I think. A book cover that Craig likened to those Heimlich posters you’d see in restaurant bathrooms. He’d say something along the lines of, “I don’t know if it’s a good thing that every time I look at the book cover, I think of choking victims.”
Jean Feiwel, do you remember that book?
Ah, forgive me, memory lane.
This is an advertisement I wrote at that time. A full-page ad was a huge extravagance, and you wouldn’t believe how many people fussed over this, and revised it, and changed it again and again. That was my line, “Because Growing Up and Good Books Belong Together.“
Jean wrote and gave me the name of that elusive title, CLOSE TO HOME by Oralee Wachter!
Craig had a flare for exaggeration, but the point stands: