I was 7-years-old when I started reading the work of Jimmy Breslin, in the New York Daily News, which was the paper he wrote for at the time. I thought it was cool that he and some other writers had their pictures in the newspaper. But I especially liked that I felt like he was telling me a story. Three days a week, I guess, this dark-haired man would stare at me from one of the Daily News pages and I felt like he knew the people he was writing about.
I didn’t know then how special a style this was, nor did I know what went into doing such journalism. Breslin was a story-teller, and as such he used the vast variety of characters one finds in a city like New York to do so.
An editor I once worked for here in Houma referred to me as the “Breslin of the Bayou,” an honor I don’t feel I deserved. But I understood the connection. In this column space, when I am lucky, I sometimes find an extraordinary person to write about and I will spare no detail trying to paint a picture of them with words, or explain their situation in a way that will make you feel like you really should and do care.
But I don’t dream for a moment that I can be anything like Jimmy Breslin. Nor have I tried to be.
I’m also not that smart. Breslin’s genius often lay in his ability to find the really good story in the vicinity of the story of the day, that had some connection to it but was a good story on its own merit. This was the genius that resulted in his now-famous column on the man who dug the grave for President John F. Kennedy. I won’t tell you here why it’s special, you will have to see for yourself. I recommend that you look it up.
Breslin also wrote books. One of my favorites was “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” which any kid growing up in Queens or Brooklyn knowing enough mob lore could tell you was based on some very real guys. The book was fiction – it was not intended to be taken as fact. It was highly entertaining and they made a movie out of it.
It was Sunday when I learned that Jimmy Breslin will never write again. He is no doubt in some special writer’s heaven, where sources are not reluctant and editors don’t try to reign you in and tell you that you need to be somewhere else.
I don’t feel sadness. Rather, I feel that having worked so hard he deserves his rest. Jimmy Breslin left a lot for the rest of us to read. I know that’s hard to do. So yeah, rest is in order.
Quite some years ago I was coering a story in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was near the elevated train. Reporters were all over the place, everyone trying to get a scoop. And I saw Breslin, his shoulders hunched a little, looking certainly older than he did in the newspapers I had read as a kid. His hair was gray, and he was making himself climb those train stairs very slowly. “My God,” I thought. “He is old. Breslin got old.”
A few days ago I was at a courthouse working on a story. The ramp that led up to the main entrance was kind of steep. To anyone looking as my gray-haired self climbed, I am sure they were thinking that I was some poor old soul. If it was someone who knew me, they might say hi. And they might go home thinking I had gotten old.
What set Breslin apart was that he was a lion. He was a guy who didn’t like unfairness, and he didn’t care whose feelings he hurt when calling out an injustice. And I suppose if anyone wants to compare me or anyone else I know to somone who thinks justice is so important, well then compare away.
But know that there will never be another Jimmy Breslin. They really did break his mold. ·