Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Welcome to the Fight

Welcome to the Fight
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published its last issue today. One hundred and seventy men and women spent their last day as employees of the Hearst Corporation, which owned the paper, and which decided to close it and lock the doors.

Tomorrow those same 170 people will become independent journalists, and I say, "Welcome to the Fight."
You didn't choose freedom, but you got it anyway. You are free to write, publish, sell and distribute anything you chose. You are free to praise and criticize. You are free to disseminate your views in any medium that you choose.

The First Amendment guarantees this right, and Hearst could never grant this as a privilege or take it away. It is your right as a citizen, and I have the greatest hopes in seeing your work as new-born independent journalists.
Or, to put it another way, your mother does love you -- you don't need to check that out -- but the Hearst Corporation never loved you.

They have just done you and the people of Seattle a big favor. They were only in it for the money, and now everyone knows the truth.

Welcome to the fight, brothers and sisters. Welcome to the street. Freedom is a beautiful feeling.

A lot of people will miss the P-I, and I have sympathy for anyone who loses a job. But after the grief comes a new day. And that's what the news is all about.

I was in Manhattan in the spring of 1972. I had expenses, but I didn't have a plan, so I met up with Seymour the hustler. He was a cripple with a Rasputin beard, massive shoulders and gimpy legs.

He said he could fix me up. I could run numbers up to Harlem. That was very profitable, but dangerous.

I said, "Seymour, I need something more lightweight." He offered me a chance to drive a gypsy cab in Brooklyn. That was not dangerous, but still I'm a kid from out of town and not that street smart. "What else do you have?"

"Balloons," he said. "You can sell balloons." That was the right thing, so he fixed me up, told me where to get supplies and a cart, where to get set up on the street, how to deal with the police, and his real magic, "I'm going to show you how to work the crowd and get them to buy your balloons."

He showed me a lot of tricks, which were of a somewhat manipulative nature, but I'm in New York City, and everybody has to make a living. Besides, people spend their money one place or another, why shouldn't they buy a balloon?

I got myself a spot in Central Park, on Fifth Avenue, right across the street from the Plaza Hotel. This was real class. I saw style and money like I had never seen. Big shots, movie stars, you name it, they walked by, coming in and out of the Plaza, and just walking down the street, like they were nobody special.

Me and the other vendors were all too cool to bother any famous person. "So they're a big deal! What am I, nobody? This is America. This is Manhattan. This is my street as good as anybody's."

I did pretty well. Seymour coached me plus I developed my own riffs. I made it fun. The spring weather was soft and delightful. People were in a good mood, and I made money, cash, every day, which I spent every evening, going about town to places high and low.

It wasn't a plan, but it worked for awhile. That's the key. Seymour was a Life Coach. To this day, I don't know why he helped me, because he got nothing out of it, and I never saw him again after he set me up.

It could be that New Yorkers, for all their grit and hustle, are very kind people and Seymour just wanted to help me get a start.

As I said, this gig didn't last, but one day I was looking up and down the street and here comes Aristotle Onassis, out of the hotel, and just out for a walk.

I recognized him instantly, wearing sunglasses, in a suit and tie, his hair slicked back, holding a substantial cigar in his right hand.

He had no body guard, no entourage. Only Onassis. You could tell, just by the way he walked, that he was a very, very wealthy man -- He had such courage and such indifference.

It was like he was on the street, out for a walk, because that's what he wanted to do, as if it was no more important than buying a yacht or an island in the Mediterranean Sea.

Onassis, who owned a hundred ships, came walking past me.
I said, "Good afternoon, Mr. Onassis. It looks like a pretty nice day."

He heard me. He slowed a bit, and looked up at the sky, and then over to me, and nodded his head.
That was money. That was power. That was the man who loved Maria Callas.

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