Tag Archives: Maurice C. Carroll

vaporized; or, when is a person not a person?



My wife and I got to talking this morning about people who make demands on one’s time or attention, something that we experience with acquaintances from time to time.

We were sharing stories from the past. She told me one about a fellow member of an organization she belonged to who knew another member who was looking for a math tutor for her son, and how the fellow member thought my wife would be perfect to recruit to do it, pro bono; that my wife would be eager to do it for another member of the organization, assuming (the fellow member, that is) that my wife had the time and motivation, which she didn’t. My wife said the fellow member was miffed when she told her that she wasn’t interested.

I thought of times when I have shared my writings with other writers or scholars, thinking they might be interested. Usually, they are not responsive. I said to my wife that this was not “wrong.” Most writers are too busy doing their own work to want to pay attention to that of others (especially writers who a priori would have no claim on their interest or attention). (Ditto for other fields of endeavor.)

Which brings to mind a story I shared with my wife.






I think that the following anecdote illustrates something about people and interpersonal interactions. Something that has nothing to do with importuning someone.

In 1987, I took a journalism course at New York University. I was enrolled in the graduate journalism program. The course was city reporting. It was taught by New York Times political reporter Maurice Carroll, known to everyone as Mickey.

The course was very hands on. Carroll had us actively doing reporting assignments with New York politicians. He was well connected and arranged for group interviews with Mayor Dinkins and City Council member Ruth Messinger; and we attended a City Council meeting (open to the public), which we were required to report on.

(An aside: I recall that the Council members at the meeting were constantly talking about “budget mods.” And that Queens Borough President Claire Shulman called Rikers Island “the world’s largest penal colony.”)

We journalism students were sitting in the first row of the spectator section, which was right behind the committee room, I believe separated by a wooden railing. During a break in the hearing, one of the prominent Council Members, Sheldon Leffler from Queens (who served in the Council for over two decades), leaned over, and to my surprise, addressed me. “Are you from the New Yorker?” he asked in a seemingly friendly manner.

“No,” I began to answer. “I‘m a journalism school student at NYU and –.”

In mid-sentence, he turned away as if I didn’t exist.






I continually run past events over and over in my mind, trying to conceptualize and make sense of — extract meaning from — them.

Something occurred to me the other day that I shared with my wife.

The incident was inconsequential, though I momentarily felt the effects of a putdown or rebuff (equivalent, perhaps, to a mosquito bite). But, even then, it did not make me think well of Leffler. All he had to say, should have said, if he were not rude, was something like, “Good luck in your studies.” (After all, he had addressed me.)

But it occurred to me the other day (I hadn’t thought about the incident for a long time) that such behavior illustrates something. Some people evaluate other people they meet solely on their “resume,” on externals such as occupation, importance, etc. (and perhaps — in fact probably — on whether the person has enough standing to somehow be of value or use to them). They care nothing about people as people. They are not interested in people as persons. I think this is true of many politicians and probably of many successful people in the private sector, such as executives and entrepreneurs who have made it big.

When Leffler realized that he was not speaking to a New Yorker reporter, I was “vaporized” from his consciousness. I became a nonperson.


— Roger W. Smith

  January 29, 2020