"I knew there was a story..."
Carpozi and Monroe
When Carpozi, the city editor, glanced over and saw my typewriter idle, and me straightening the welter of spare shoes, makeup, hairspray and old notebooks in my bottom drawer, he frowned.
It was Friday afternoon, nearly 5 o’clock on a hot thirsty early autumn afternoon, and I had just an hour to go on my shift. But even that close to the weekend, that close to end of shift, even– or especially – with hard-earned freedom barely an hour away, no city editor likes to see a reporter’s typewriter idle.
Particularly not an editor like Carpozi, whose own typewriter was never idle. Once a tabloid crime reporter, he was still known to repackage murder stories and sell them to Police Gazette.
I grabbed a notebook and tried to look busy, but it was too late. Carpozi was motioning me over to the grimy square from which he ruled the New York Post’s city desk, sleeves rolled back above stringy forearms, eyes narrowed against smoke from the cigarette clamped at one side of his dark stubbled lip.
Before and after his stint at the Post, for thirty years up to his death in 2000, he would have written a total of 39 books springing from his interviews in the worlds of glitterati and criminality, authorized and unauthorized bios of movie stars – including Marilyn Monroe – as well as murderers, finks, and politicos.
So, you didn't sit idle, on Carpozi's watch.
“You free?” he now asked me, knocking ash off his cigarette butt and shifting it to the other side of his lip.
I reluctantly acknowledged that I was.
“Here’s a great little follow up I’ve been thinking needs doing. I wantcha to do me a piece on the water shortage. Just your speed.”
I tried to look as though this was reasonable and interesting. “Mm. But George, the water shortage…We had a story on that every day, all summer. Now it’s fall, nobody’s thinking about it any more.”
“That’s exactly the point,” Carpozi said, “nobody’s thinking about it. But according to the law, water’s still supposed to be rationed. Here’s the angle. It’s illegal for restaurants to serve water to patrons. I want you to do some checking – call City Hall, the water commissioner, et cetera et cetera– find out if the city has laid any charges against restaurants for serving people water. They were supposed to be doing spot checks.”
It was now five past five. By the time I’d found my way through the municipal bureaucracy to the man who was supposed to know about such things, it was close to twenty-five past. I faked another couple of calls, to stall a few more minutes, and when the big clock on the wall said 5.30, I went back to Carpozi.
“Here’s the dope, George. Nobody at Fulton Street or in the water commissioner’s office or anywhere else has heard of a single restaurant being charged for serving water. No charges at all. No cases on record. So, I guess that’s it. Okay if I leave now?”
“I know there’s a story there,” Carpozi said, refusing to follow my eyes to the clock. “You’re in till 6, right? Tackle it this way: call the chi-chi restaurants – Le Pavillon, Four Seasons, 21, Toots Schor’s et cetera et cetera – you know the ones. Ask them if they had any incidents when customers made a fuss because they couldn’t have water.”
By twelve minutes to six, my ears still ringing with the barely-veiled contempt of the city’s impatient maîtres d’, I felt it was safe to take the non-fruits of my labour back to Carpozi, and then whip out in time to repair my face for an early date.
“George, there’s nothing doing. Schor’s, Four Seasons, Pavillon, the Plaza, et cetera et cetera – not one of them had a single squabble over water. Patrons behaved like princes about the whole thing. Rose to the occasion as one man. And woman. Nobody has had a thimbleful of water in a restaurant since rationing started. Nor raised so much as a murmur of protest. Nothing. I’m afraid there’s just no story.”
“That’s great!” Carpozi said. “Great little story. Give me two takes.”
(A “take,” in newspaper parlance of the day, was a single 5 ½ x 8 ½-inch page.)
“But George,” I wailed, “you don’t understand! There is no story! No water served! No charges! No complaints! No nothing! Nada! Nyet! Zilch!”
“Okay,” said Carpozi. “Make it a take and a half. And make it snappy. Isn’t your shift almost over?”
Back at my desk, one eye on the clock inching closer and closer to the hour, I shoved a newsprint page into the typewriter and started bashing it out: the story of New York’s heroic forbearance in the face of the restaurant drought.
“New Yorkers took the water drought in their favourite restaurants with a stiff, if parched, upper lip this summer.
“Faced with an edict forbidding them to serve water, the city’s restaurateurs had prepared for the worst: outraged patrons demanding the traditional glass of water, leaving the hapless maître d’ with a choice of losing a big gratuity – or worse, a big customer – or gaining a $100 fine.
“But the worst never came to pass.
“Fun City’s gourmets rose to the occasion, and nary a charge was laid, nor a gratuity foregone.”
However, even with triple-spacing and one-sentence paragraphs, the thing barely filled a single take.
In the desperation of the weekend-menacing moment, I added an apocryphal (“apocryphal,” in newspaper parlance, meant, made up out of whole cloth) story, about a solitary indignant diner who showed up at his favourite upscale beanery – naturally, no names could be mentioned – with a brown paper bag containing a bottle, from which he ostentatiously took slugs throughout his meal. The bottle, it was later ascertained, was full of water.
“Tremendous,” said Carpozi, scanning the sheets I thrust at him, panting, as the clock hit six. “I knew there was a story.”
He ran it in a box on page 3 in Saturday’s paper, with a pic of a man toasting with an empty water glass, and my byline in large type.
It got a lot of favourable comment.
I don’t believe it made Police Gazette, though.