You learned that the wages of sin is death, i said, trying to say something cheerful. Louie is not amused. The third floor and the place where there is nothing to look at or read or smell, toward which we are all headed, have evidently become fused in his imagination. He is desperate to get back down to the restaurant. Come on, pull the rope faster! Lets get out of this.
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Theres nothing in here, only rusty paper clips. A mirror-topped bureau yields only a stray hairpin and comb and medicine bottle. Louie opens the medicine bottle and smells the colorless liquid in it and says wild disgustedly, its gone dead. It doesnt smell like anything at all. The men move on to the hotel bedrooms at the rear of the floor, all empty except for one with an iron bedstead and a placard tacked to the wall saying The wages of Sin is death; but the gift of God is Eternal Life. Louie has had enough and heads back toward the elevator. Mitchell wants to go up to the other floors but louie says. Theres nothing up there. In the elevator, louie was leaning against the side of the cage, and his shoulders were slumped and his eyes were tired. I didnt learn much I didnt know before, he said.
Louie concludes his monologue: Those are the bare bones of the matter. If I could get upstairs just once in that damned old elevator and scratch around in those hotel registers up there and whatever to hell else is stored up there, it might be thesis possible Id find out a whole lot more. Therese mitchell/Estate of Joseph MitchellJoseph Mitchell outside Sloppy louies restaurant with louis Morino, the subject of Mitchells 1952. New Yorker profile Up in the Old Hotel. As Mitchell and louie, wearing helmets and carrying flashlights, pull the rope and heave the ancient elevator up to the third floor, the storys lyrical music gives way to harsh new sounds. Louie is no longer the contemplative and generous and worldly-wise man of the monologues. He has become angry and almost hysterically agitated. In the pitch-dark, dust-laden room the elevator opens onto that had been the hotels reading room and is now stacked with hotel furniture, louie yanks (Mitchells word) drawers out of a rolltop desk. I thought Id find those hotel registers in here.
I went back inside and stood there and thought it over, and the effect it had on me, the simple fact my building was an old Schermerhorn building, it may sound foolish, but it pleased me very much. The feeling I had, it connected me with the past. It connected me with Old New York. Louie pursues city records and after many years and many dead ends learns that his building and the identical one next door had been put up in the 1870s by a descendant of Jacob Schermerhorn and combined to form a hotel called the fulton Ferry. From the mid- to late 1800s the hotel flourished. The ferry with passengers crowded its saloon, and out-of-town passengers from the steamships docked in the east river along south Street filled its rooms as they waited for passage. But then one of those disasters occurred by which the life of the city is punctuated and defined, the disaster of change. The Brooklyn Bridge went up, followed by the manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, which ended the ferry traffic that gave the saloon its trade; then the worst blow of all, the passenger lines left south Street for docks on the hudson and the hotel declined into. What remained finally were two buildings with boarded-up top floors, one of them occupied by Sloppy louies and the other by a saloon no longer in business.
Schermerhorn that owns this building. Louie is stunned to hear this. He had assumed the real estate company he paid his rent to was the owner. But no, the beautiful woman who gets out of the limousine, the recently widowed Mrs. Schermerhorn, owns the building. Louie asks her if she knows anything about its history, but she doesnt—she is just inspecting the properties she has inherited from her husband. She drives off and he never sees her again.
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Youd think shed got everything she possibly could, and writers then shed pull the little legs off that most people dont even bother with, and suck the juice out of them. During his afternoon break, louies recitative continues, he would go over to Schermerhorn Street, a quiet back street, and sit on a bench under a tree and eat fruit he had bought at a nearby fancy-fruit store. One afternoon, it occurs to him to wonder, Who the hell was Schermerhorn? So that night at the restaurant he asks Mrs. Frelinghuysen and she tells him that the Schermerhorns are one of the oldest sales and best Dutch families in New York, and that she had known many of the descendants of the original seventeenth-century settler Jacob Schermerhorn, among them a girl who had died young and. Where the hell is this going? As in all of Mitchells pieces everything is always going somewhere, though not necessarily so youd notice.
Mitchell is one of the great masters of the device of the plot twist disguised as a digression that seems pointless but that heightens the effect of unforced realism. Louie tells Mitchell of an incident that occurred a few years after he left joes. Frelinghuysen had died and louie had married and bought his restaurant and rented the building it was. One afternoon a long black limousine pulled up in front of the building and a uniformed chauffeur came into the restaurant and said, Mrs. Schermerhorn wanted to speak to me, and I looked at him and said, What do you mean—Mrs. And he said, Mrs.
Louie suddenly leaned forward. Maybe i could persuade you. Mitchell agrees, but before the trip takes place, louie launches into another aria in which he explains why he has remained in a building he was never keen on and always intended to move from. It really doesnt make much sense. Its all mixed up with the name of a street in Brooklyn.
The street was Schermerhorn Street near a restaurant louie waited tables at, joes on nevins Street, one of the great Brooklyn chophouses, where political bosses ate alongside rich old women of good family of whom louie says: They all had some peculiarity, and they all. One of these trencher-women was a widow named Mrs. Frelinghuysen: She was very old and tiny and delicate, and she ate like a horse. Everybody liked her, the way she hung on to life. She liked louie in turn, and if his tables were filled would defer her meal until he was free to wait on her. While she ate, he observed her closely: Shed always start off with one dozen oysters in winter or one dozen clams in summer, and shed gobble them down and go on from there. She could get more out of a lobster than anybody i ever saw.
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This is the pivot on which the storys slender plot turns. During all the twenty-two years he has rented the building, louie has never dared to enter the elevator. Each golf time he has peered into it he has felt a primal dread: I just dont want to get in that cage by myself. I got a feeling about it, and thats the fact of the matter. It makes me uneasy—all closed in, and all that furry dust. It makes me think of a coffin, the inside of a coffin. Either that or a cave, the mouth of a cave. If I could get somebody to go along with me, somebody to talk to, just so i wouldnt be all alone in there,.
This gets on his nerves, mitchell says of the too-successful restaurateur, who has reluctantly decided to put tables on the second floor to accommodate the overflow. His reluctance comes from the fact that his building, like the other south Street buildings that stand on filled-in river swamp, has no cellar, and he has to use the second floor to store supplies and equipment and as a changing room for his waiters. I dont know what Ill do without it, only i got to make room someway, louie says. That ought to be easy, mitchell says. Youve got four empty floors up online above. But it isnt easy. To get to the empty floors, whose windows are boarded up, it is necessary to enter a monstrous, uninspected elevator that has to be pulled up by hand, like a dumbwaiter.
Old Hotel (from which the later anthology took its name tells a minimal, almost nonexistent story. Mitchell goes for breakfast to Sloppy louies, a seafood restaurant in a decrepit old building on south Street in the fulton Fish Market, and converses with its owner, louis Morino, a contemplative and generous and worldly-wise man in his middle sixties, a widower and father. Almost imperceptibly, mitchell turns over the narration of the story to louie, as he calls Morino, sliding into the long monologue that was once a commonplace. New Yorker nonfiction, and is a signature of Mitchells mature work. Occasionally mitchell breaks in to speak in his own voice, which is slightly different from louies, but in the same register, giving the effect of arias sung by alternating soloists in an oratorio. Louie dilates on a change that has taken place in the clientele of his restaurant, which used to consist solely of fishmongers and fish buyers. Now, people from the financial district, the insurance district, and the coffee-roasting district are coming in at lunchtime, and on some days the lunch crowd is so great that latecomers have to wait for tables.
The novel, conceived under the spell of joyces. Ulysses, was to be about New York city and to chronicle a day and a night in the life of a young reporter from the south who was no longer a believing Baptist but is still inclined to see things in religious terms and whose. I had thought about this novel for over a year. Whenever I had nothing else to do, i would automatically start writing it in my mind. But the truth is, i never actually wrote a word. In fact, however, mitchell did write—if not reviews a novel exactly—a book about New York city that fully achieved his young selfs large literary ambition. The bottom of the harbor, published in 1959, a collection of six pieces that are nothing if not cryptic and ambiguous and incantatory and disconnected and extravagant and oracular and apocalyptic. The book was reprinted in the thick anthology of Mitchells writings, Up in the Old Hotel, published in 1992, but it deserves to stand alone. The other books reprinted in the anthology—.
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Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The new Yorker by Thomas Kunkel, random house, 384.,.00, therese fuller mitchell/Estate of Joseph MitchellJoseph Mitchell in Lower Manhattan, near the old Fulton Fish Market; photograph by his wife, therese mitchell. In 1942, the new Yorker published Joseph Mitchells profile of a homeless man in Greenwich Village named joe gould, whose claim to notice—the thing that separated him from other sad misfits—was a formless, rather mysterious book he was known to be writing called An Oral. Twenty-two years later, in 1964, the magazine published another piece by mitchell called joe goulds Secret that ran in two parts, and that drew a rather less sympathetic and a good deal more interesting portrait of gould. Mitchell revealed what he had kept back in the profile—that gould was a tiresome bore and cadger who attached himself to mitchell like a leech, and finally forced upon him the realization that the Oral History did not exist. After confronting gould with this knowledge, the famously kindhearted Mitchell regretted having done so: I have always deeply disliked seeing anyone shown up or found out or caught in a lie or caught red-handed doing anything, and now, with time to think things over,. Mitchell went on to make a generous imaginative leap. He very likely went around believing in some hazy, self-deceiving, self-protecting way that the Oral History did exist. It might not exactly be down on paper, but he had it all in his head, and any day now he was going to start getting it down. It was easy for me to see how this could be, mitchell continued in a remarkable turn, for it reminded me of a novel that I had once intended to write.