Now he and McAlary can hate each other again.
It wasn’t only the swagger or the feuds with fellow columnists. It wasn’t only the short, punchy paragraphs. It was the climb-the-stairs reporting and the unapologetic point of view that set Jimmy Breslin apart and proves once and for all how much we need more people like him as Donald Trump keeps running circles around the media.
How would Breslin at his prime have reacted to an orange-faced, know-nothing, huckster-president who got rich slapping his name on shiny buildings? JB wouldn’t have only quoted some CBO report, I promise you that. With fury and efficiency, he’d have thrown nouns and verbs like fists—and left real bruises.
How many of today’s TV pundits can really claim that?
For his part, Trump just keeps copying Breslin. Aren’t “Lyin’ Ted,” “Low Energy Jeb” and the “Failing New York Times” the direct descendants of “Society Carey”? A shot in the face is always more effective than another statistic or a drawn-out analysis. Queens boys understood that.
Breslin didn’t invent the street newspaper column, and it wasn’t a captive of New York. Chicago had Royko. Boston had Carr and Barnicle. Philly had Stone and Dexter even before Lopez passed through. But all of them—all of us—learned from, stole from and measured ourselves against Breslin, and he was seldom gracious about it.
Hamill was nicer. Kempton thought harder. You’ll notice some lingering reserve in this morning’s fawning obituaries, pieces Jimmy never would have written about himself. But 88 years, thousands of columns, a dozen books are a pretty good run for a guy whose primary professional goal strove “to please one reader, me.”
Those of us who came after him all have Breslin stories to tell. The memory that lingers this morning came from my kid-reporter days. I got the story that Jimmy wanted on Queens Boulevard.
“You tryin’ to pick my pocket?” he snarled on the sidewalk outside the Pastrami King. “That was somethin’.”
I think that might have been the last nice thing he ever said to me. I took it to mean that I’d arrived in the city.
Metro columnist Ellis Henican is a veteran journalist, a bestselling author and a frequent commentator on CNN and other TV networks. Follow him on Twitter @henican.