THE NEW YORK OBSERVER-"BLOOD ON THE TRACKS"
THE NEW YORK OBSERVER- “BLOOD ON THE TRACKS’ In my first posting I described ROLLING STONE as being one of those publications that holds a special place in my heart as far as positive working relationships go, and said that few others come to mind in terms of both length association and quality of rapport. THE NEW YORK OBSERVER is another that fits that category, but not entirely for the same reasons. It is certainly the longest running consistent gig I’ve had, next to my monthly stint with GOLF Magazine, both of which began in the mid 90’s. But we’ll tackle GOLF in a future posting. Working for the NYO, in particular directly with its editor, Peter Kaplan, for most of these years, has the feeling of a family relationship, and with family relationships come ebbs and flows, great belly laughs, mutual commiserations, misunderstandings, frustrations, as well as a looseness and intimacy very uncommon in this profession. One doesn’t normally think of opening up on personal matters with a client, but with Peter, it’s like talking to your favorite brother and not your boss. We behave more like friends than co-conspirators in the creative process. Our work and domestic schedules haven't afforded any real opportunity to socialize, other than when we get together at receptions. But we share a deep respect and affection. The structure and mission of assignments are not always apparent. Copy comes in the twelfth hour, so late in fact that I can’t remember but a handful of times that I’ve actually read something. We just wing it most of the time on the basic premise of the theme of the headline stories, of which one gets selected for illustration. I can’t speak for my fellow front-page regulars with whom I share a rotating schedule; the inimitable Robert Grossman, the brilliant Drew Friedman, and the Franz Liszt of caricaturist painters, Philip Burke, in terms of their operational working arrangements with Peter. I can only speak for myself but suspect my boundary issues are far less firm than theirs with regard to Peter. Which means there’s always the sense that nothing’s been written in stone till the issue hits the stands, and second and third and twentieth guessing is finished. Till then it more often than not feels like improv. But the cause is a noble one- trying to create the best image with the information available- even if the results fall short of cost effectiveness. Finishes are due Tuesday mornings to mid-day. The usual routine is for Peter to call on Thursday or Friday. First, we touch base on family matters, observations on life, getting older, share existential anxieties, peppered with Friar’s Club quality off-color and inappropriate jokes and comments from me guaranteed to get a belly laugh from Mr. Kaplan. He then offers a selection of front-page topics from which to select an opener illustration. I despair, if not downright despise, much of popular culture and try to avoid as best as I can topics concerning idiot celebrities and attention whores, shallow socialites and other “personalities” in the world of infotainment. Sometimes it can’t be avoided. I pray for some meaty political story, hopefully concerning someone I loathe. Peter throws out what the basic topics will center around- subject to change if the writer winds up following a different story line- and we start on another drive through a dark night on a back road with no lights, half loaded, with sunglasses on and a shredded road map. We promise to touch base over the weekend but the reality frequently is, we touch base on Saturday morning with no more information than the day before and after playing phone tag, don’t really have anything of worth to share till Sunday night. Rarely do we get back to each other when we promise to. Often, we are still kicking ideas and sketches around Monday morning through afternoon, Peter promising to get back to me as soon as he hears back from the writer and gets more clarification. Because he’s very cultured, Peter has a wide range of reference points to draw on for images. His mind is an encyclopedia of old movies and great literature, art and music. As far as I can determine, his love of classic movies is second only to Ed Sorel’s. He’ll name me a musical or 30’s B-flick as a starting point for an idea, and I’ll find myself responding, “Yeah, but who besides you will get the reference?” Because we are the same age, we can also talk Three Stooges and Bugs Bunny, Laurel and Hardy, and other great gag ideas. Sketches range from very tight to bleary-eyed scribbles. He knows me well enough to trust that I’ll pull the caricature/s off and even so will wonder, to my exasperation at times, if we’ve gotten the perfect expression. (He’s one of the few people I’ll permit that from- and maintain my sense of humor- because he’s thinking from a standpoint of timing and punch line and not political or other non-visual concerns. More importantly, he’s coincidentally echoing an uncomfortable doubt I’ve had myself. By the time I go to finish, gobs of energy have been consumed, sleep is on the way to further deprivation, and another bottle of red will disappear. Do not try this at home! Stunts like these rushes to finish are performed by professional…idiots. Tuesday recoveries are tough. God help me if there’s an assignment that needs to be tackled immediately after. My poor wife, Terri. No matter what, finishes have always arrived on time and my inner batting average, complete with inner scorecard, over satisfaction in the results has improved some over the years. The reflexive desire to reconsider how I would have improved upon the published image has mellowed with age and resignation. I’ll have more observations on the OBSERVER as time unfolds with these postings.