‘Jimmy,’ ‘Breslin,’ and ‘Jimmy Breslin’

January 21, 2008

This New York Times profile of Jimmy Breslin is loaded with good lines, as any piece about Breslin would have to be:

Much as he has done throughout that career, Mr. Breslin rises early each day, at 6 a.m., first to swim at the Reebok gym near his apartment, then to read the city’s daily papers, then finally to write. It is a modus vivendi much helped by the fact that, in the early 1980s, he gave up his Olympic bouts of drinking, following, he claims, an epic bender with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan resulting in a hangover of such destructive force that he was still crippled after three days.

These days he no longer boasts a beat reporter’s liver or his formerly molecular-level knowledge of New York. For years Mr. Breslin was inarguably the best-sourced newsman in the city, though his network of informants in the mayor’s office, the Police Department, the union halls and Democratic political clubs has, by way of death, retirement and the criminal justice system, in large part shriveled up.

Still, on this morning as on most, he took a few spare moments after breakfast to engage in a pleasant round of phone calls with those who remain and who might include, on any given day, Morty Matz, eminence grise of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, or Marvyn Kornberg, defense lawyer in residence in Queens. Mr. Breslin also still maintains a tangible connection to the underworld, and following his coffee he went to the bedroom where he soon had Sal Reale, the Gambino family’s onetime man at Kennedy Airport, on the phone.

“Sal, how are you?” Mr. Breslin said, lounging on a pillow. “What do you hear on Queens Boulevard today? … Oh boy … oh boy. … Who’s the judge? … Sal, I got a guy here from The New York Times he wants to talk to you. … No, on me, not you. … It’s over art, it ain’t over crime. … No, he’s not gonna ask you who you shot.”

Mr. Reale, living in the suburbs of Las Vegas, waited on the line.

“The thing about Jimmy Breslin, O.K.,” he said, “is he’s a guy when he walked into a lounge on Queens Boulevard none of the wiseguys got uptight. We always thought he was one of us, O.K.? He could have a cocktail at the bar, O.K., and wasn’t looking to zap you. He brings me up to date on New York City and I tell him all the best-kept secrets in Las Vegas. You know they say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Well, what happens in Vegas gets to Jimmy Breslin.”

While Mr. Breslin wrote extensively on New York politics and other aspects of the city’s public life — and also, sometimes forgottenly, on national affairs from Selma to the war in Vietnam — he is perhaps best known for having mined the lives of small-time crooks and losers, of racing touts and amiable rogues like Sal Reale whose lack of stature in the larger world could not disguise a certain depth of heart.

“I think he’d rather spend time with Tony Salerno than Norman Podhoretz,” said Pete Hamill, the editor and writer, placing in one sentence a neocon and a mob boss, both of whom might be troubled by the company.

Personally, I think Salerno would have a better reason to be troubled than NPod.

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