An excellent article in today’s New York Times, “Norman Podhoretz Still Picks Fights and Drops Names” by John Leland — about the neoconservative pundit and former Commentary magazine editor Norman Podhoretz — notes that Podhoretz, after becoming Editor-in-Chief of Commentary in 1960, enlivened the magazine and hired writers on the left such as James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Paul Goodman, and Norman O. Brown.
This brought to mind the name of Goodman.
Paul Goodman (1911-1972) was an American novelist, playwright, poet, literary critic, and psychotherapist who is best remembered as a social critic and anarchist philosopher. His most famous work was Growing Up Absurd (1960), which was originally serialized in Commentary and which was finally published (after being rejected by publishers numerous times) with the assistance of Podhoretz.
Growing Up Absurd was a best seller and an enormously influential book in certain circles when I was in high school. It seemed that all of my liberal, intellectually advanced peers — and liberal, progressive adults who were sympathetic to their ideas — were reading it. The book saw the disaffection of my generation — youths coming of age in the early 1960’s — as rooted in the evils inherent in what he called “the disgrace of the Organised System”: semi-monopolies, government, advertising, etc.
I moved to New York City in the spring of 1969, shortly after graduating from college. My first job in Manhattan was working for the New York Friends Group at 218 East 18th Street.
From their name, it seemed that they were a Quaker group devoted to world peace, which appealed to me. They were such an organization, but what they and their staff members actually did was never quite clear to me. It was perplexing. You would think I would have known since I worked there! But, it remained a mystery; I could never quite figure it out. Pompous individuals — somewhat otherworldly seeming; somewhat gunshy and timid seeming, but at the same time haughty and condescending in manner; making, I would presume, salaries probably in the neighborhood of seven to nine thousand a year; no doubt pleased to have a job title that seemed respectable if not impressive and at not having to be begrimed by working for a profit making firm — sat primly at their desks all day reading journals and occasionally writing something or other. For publication? Who knew? They never talked about what they did or were engaged in or studying or writing about. I sometimes felt that it was because they were actually doing or accomplishing very little.
On a Swarthmore College site, the agency, now defunct, is named and is described as follows: “A funding agency supported by members of the Religious Society of Friends, which granted financial aid to U.S. peace and antinuclear groups. The NYFG was primarily organized and run by activist Doris Shamleffer. Peace activist and Quaker Robert Gilmore served as NYFG president.” Both Miss Shamleffer (whom everyone called Shammy) and Mr. Gilmore were there at the time. (The person actually running the place by that time was the executive director, Charlie Bloomstein, a colorful, hard nosed character.)
My job title was Workroom Supervisor. I was responsible for sorting and delivering the morning mail; for making periodic rounds of the five or so floors during the day delivering interoffice memos to the appropriate inboxes; for running the mimeograph machine; and for running sundry errands, such as shopping at the local grocery for items in the office pantry and making deliveries of documents to Mr. Gilmore’s brownstone in Greenwich Village.
My salary was eighty dollars a week minus taxes. Needless to say, I found it very difficult to live in New York City on that salary, and yes, I had my own apartment. I found a clean L-shaped studio in Queens for $105 a month.
One day, one of the nicer employees in the office, a woman whose name I do not recall, asked me if I would be interested in after hours employment of sorts that would enable me to live in Manhattan for a few days. The assignment was to house sit for the writer Paul Goodman at his apartment in Chelsea. I said I would be interested.
A day or two later, I went to Mr. Goodman’s apartment for an “interview.”
My main — really, sole — responsibility was to walk the Goodmans’ dog.
I enjoyed the assignment. It was a nice, spacious apartment (probably rent controlled) from which I could walk to work in 15 minutes or so — your typical New York intellectual’s pad. I have always liked dogs; I seem to recall it was a terrier. The apartment was located right around the corner from the Elgin Theater, a well known art film house of its day, and I went there once or twice. It was a pleasant and relaxing experience.
Goodman’s wife Sally conducted the interview. She was a middle aged, self effacing, very pleasant woman — a bit dowdy; not glamorous. Goodman emerged from his study as I was about to leave to say hello. He looked just like in his photos. Rumpled, bespectacled. A typical homegrown intellectual.
I had a brief conversation with Goodman. He was friendly, and I seemed to make a good impression. He was bisexual. He made a gesture such as rubbing my cheek or the back of my head for a moment as I was leaving.
Mrs. Goodman returned to the apartment after a few days. Their trip was over. I did not see Goodman.
I was not paid for house sitting; my pay was being able to live in their apartment for a few days. She said, “I’ve got to give you something.” She looked around and pulled a book off a shelf. “How about one my husband’s books?” she said. She gave me an autographed copy of a book of poetry by Goodman, “North Percy.” It was dedicated to Goodman’s son Matthew who had died tragically in 1967 in a mountain climbing accident.
— Roger W. Smith
March 17, 2017
A footnote of sorts.
One of my predecessors in the position of Workroom Supervisor at the New York Friends Group on East 18th Street was Steve Post.
Steve Post (1944-2014) was an American freeform radio artist and the author of a memoir: Playing in the FM Band: A Personal Account of Free Radio (1974).
Post was a distinctive radio personality, known for his quirky newscasts on WNYC-FM (where he landed after leaving WBAI), in which he would read from the newswire, continually interpolating his own comments); his love of classical music (about which he did not claim to have specialized expertise), especially Schubert’s Quintet in C, opus 163, which he could not play enough times; and his willingness to flaunt conventional expectations of a radio announcer and be his own, contrarian self. He was very well known to New Yorkers of my generation, as was his station, WBAI-FM.
Post — I would be inclined to say, like me — had excellent taste in music, something that he just had, apparently without much training. He would joke during fund raising drives that he was going to “Pachelbel” his listeners by repeatedly playing Pachelbel’s Canon.
Post was, by his own admission, an indifferent student who barely managed to graduate from high school. But, his on air monologues were always fun and often interesting. No subject was considered beneath him.
I recall one monologue of his about The Lone Ranger. Being that it was freeform radio, he went on at length, extemporizing. Post and I were nearly contemporaries; we had both experienced The Lone Ranger TV series during the 1950’s. The main point of his disquisition was that The Lone Ranger was all about justice, meaning fairness and doing the right thing; and that he never shot to kill, just to disarm and temporarily disable bad guys.
For articles about Mr. Post, see
and obituaries at