Category Archives: New York Society Library

High Society and “Tough” Talk

A couple of events for you to put on your calendar, if you’re in New York the week of October 7 (yes, I know I seem to be in New York a lot — I’ll be posting a few non-Big Apple venues here shortly).

6a00d83453b09469e20133f58e2bf6970b-400wiOn Thursday, October 10, I’ll be speaking at one of my favorite places in New York, the New York Society Library. I had the privilege of talking about Washington Irving here a few years ago (wow, was it really five years ago now?) and it’s a great room in a great building, in an organization that’s got some seriously cool history. I’ll be speaking in the Members Room, starting at 6:30 p.m. This is a ticketed event, open to the public. And it should be fun.

nycc-panel-posterThe next evening, on October 11, I’m delighted to be taking part in a panel at the New York ComiCon, hosted, moderated, and put together by Joe Hennes and Ryan Roe over at ToughPigs. Officially titled “Tough Pigs Presents: Jim Henson: The Biography: The Panel” (yeah, I see what you did there, Joe), we’re bringing along three special guests to sit on a panel with me to discuss Jim’s life and work: Muppet designer Bonnie Erickson, Henson Company archivist Karen Falk, and Sesame Street performer Fran Brill, who I’m thrilled to at last be meeting in person.  This is yet another panel with a really deep bench when it comes to Jim Henson and the Muppets — heck, even the moderators are experts.  So, if you’re at ComiCon and wanna learn more about Jim Henson, the Muppets, the Muppet performers, or any number of his projects, we’ll be in Room 1A01 at the Javits Center, starting at 7:45 p.m.  Join us, won’t you? Thank you.

Decimal Points Matter

Regarding yesterday’s entry: Mark Bartlett, Head Librarian at the New York Society Library, informs me that the replacement cost for the missing Law of Nations was actually $1,200, and not $12,000, as reported in the New York Daily News article that I quoted here yesterday.  He also provided this link to an NBC New York story on the matter, with a short video of the book in question.

Thanks for the clarification, Mark!

No Longer Long Overdue

Yesterday at the New York Society Library, the estate of George Washington’s Mount Vernon presented the library with a copy of one of the two overdue books the first president checked out in the late 1700s. (You can read my original post about this right here.)

In a formal ceremony at the NYSL, James Rees, the executive director of Mount Vernon, presented NYSL chairman Charles Berry with a copy of The Law of Nations, one of the two books that Washington checked out of the library in October 1789.  (You can read the full story of the ceremony here.)

The book isn’t the copy that Washington checked out — staff at Mount Vernon had no luck locating the original, so the estate purchased a similar copy, published the same year, from an online vendor for $12,000.  That raised some eyebrows among Mt. Vernon fans, who would rather have seen that money spent at the Washington home.

For Mr. Rees, though, it was a matter of principle.  By not returning the book on time, Rees explained, George Washington “did not do his public duty.”  I think Washington — who took civic duty seriously — would have approved. Sometimes a symbolic gesture is priceless.

“I Cannot Tell A Lie: They Were Under My Bed.”

Those of us who have sheepishly returned an overdue library book and paid the seventy cent fine can be a bit less embarrassed now — because thanks to some recent record scrubbing by the New York Society Library, we found out we’re in good company: George Washington has two overdue books.

According to the story in the Guardian:

The library’s ledgers show that Washington took out the books on 5 October 1789, some five months into his presidency at a time when New York was still the capital. They were an essay on international affairs called Law of Nations and the twelfth volume of a 14-volume collection of debates from the English House of Commons.

The ledger simply referred to the borrower as “President” in quill pen, and had no return date.

Sure enough, when the librarians checked their holdings they found all 14 volumes of the Commons debates bar volume 12.

Under the rules of the library, the books should have been handed back by 2 November that same year, and their borrower and presumably his descendants have been liable to fines of a few cents a day ever since.

Doing the math, that adds up to an overdue fee of about $300,000.  My pal Mark Bartlett, the NYSL’s head librarian, approaches this matter delicately and with a diplomacy that would likely have made the first president proud.  “We’re not actively pursuing the overdue fines,” Mark says. “But we would be very happy if we were able to get the books back.”

Trip Report, Day 1: Stuffed!

Hello there.  I’m presently camped out next to the fireplace in the restaurant of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, watching as dozens of men and women in dark suits sit huddled in padded chairs at round tables, speaking business-ese in low voices. Even at 10 in the morning, many of them have their jackets off already, slung over the chair as they shuffle through papers with colleagues.  I’m not certain exactly what they’re doing, but it makes for great people watching. It’s like a slightly bizarre Agatha Christie novel.

The snow that fell on Tuesday night was more a pretty snow than an inconvenient one — and even with six inches of the stuff on the ground, the roads were clear. Not that it mattered to me that much — taking Barb’s advice, I had stayed at the Microtel near the airport, meaning I only had to make the mile-long sprint to the train station. I headed for the station at 8:15 or so, lugging a full box of books that had been presold for the Thursday night event, and cramming the rest into my suitcase, so that it was more full of books than clothes.

The tracks at BWI station looked good.

The train tracks were clear — though a speeding southbound Acela still kicked up an enormous cloud of snow and ice as it hurled past on its way to Washington, DC — and the Northeast Regional trains were running just as casually on time as ever, which means they were running about five minutes late. As I always do, I headed for the quiet car, threw my suitcase and the box of books in an overhead bin, and slouched down into a window seat on the left side of the train.  (I always sit on the left side, because I like the good view I get of the bridge in Trenton, NJ, with the sign declaring that TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES). Naturally, it didn’t take long for the quiet car to be infiltrated by loudmouths who had no idea they were in the quiet car — one gentleman perched himself on the back of a seat to engage his two colleagues in a loud conversation, only to be kidney punched by a conductor who shooed them all into a rear car.  Apart from that, things went smoothly.

I arrived at Penn Station only 20 minutes late, giving me a bit more than an hour to make it to the 1:30 lunch I’d set up to chat about Project Blue Harvest. It was meant to be a casual lunch — I had e-mailed My Friend last week, mentioning I would be in town and offering to take him to lunch. But he threw me a change up and very generously offered to take me out instead. His restaurant of choice? Morton’s.  “I hope you like steak,” he said to me in an e-mail, and was therefore unable to see me wiping drool off the keyboard.

I took a cab to my hotel — the Roosevelt, as I mentioned above, one of New York’s grander of the old hotels, and still oozing with, appropriately enough, Roosevelt-era charm — only to learn that my room was not yet ready.  The clerk checked me in anyway and steered me to the bellman’s stand, where I could have my suitcase and box stowed until I returned after lunch.  My bags were taken by a stooped Italian bellhop, who winked that he would take special care of my bags and had me follow him downstairs to a storage room that he swore was some sort of secret chamber in the basement that held the bags of only the most special of guests. I swallowed hard as he moved my bags into a cold, garage-like area, uncertain whether I would ever see them again. Not wanting to appear ungrateful, I then tipped him way too well.

The Roosevelt's lobby.

I made my lunch meeting in plenty of time — it was a three-minute walk from my hotel — and actually arrived at the restaurant before My Friend did.  I was waiting in the bar, watching New York through an enormous plate glass window, when I suddenly developed one of my Famous Spontaneous Nosebleeds. I ran sniffing to the restroom, where it took about twenty minutes to get the darn thing under control. When I finally emerged and walked back toward the bar, I spotted My Friend sitting at a side table.  I slid into a chair across from him, we shook hands warmly, and spent the next two hours talking about politics, television, travel, and debating exactly why cable news sucks.  Oh yeah, and we even talked about my project, too.

We also stuffed ourselves to near explosive levels.  Steaks, baked potatoes, crab cakes, shrimp cocktails, green beans, carmelized onions (one of My Friend’s favorites), creamed spinach . . . it just seemed to keep coming.  Turns out My Friend’s a semi-regular, and the waiters, waitresses and management checked on us regularly, very kindly keeping drinks filled and clearing plates away, sometimes even as we were still taking the last crumbs from them.  All in all, it was a terrific time.

I walked back to the Roosevelt, where I claimed my bags (to my relief, they were just fine), picked up my room key, then dropped into an armchair to have a quick chat with Barb, and then with Agent J.

I had a couple of e-mails I needed to send, so I fired up the laptop only to discover that this upscale hotel doesn’t offer free wireless. Really, Roosevelt? Fourteen bucks a day?  Yeah, I bit — but aren’t we getting to a point where wireless should be among the basic amenities in a hotel?  Most of the cheaper hotels seem to have gotten there (the Microtel in Baltimore, for example, had free wireless, though it was a bit slow).  As a pal of mine pointed out, there’s an inverse relationship between the cost of the hotel and the availability of free wireless, because the more upscale the place, the more likely it is that a visit is being expensed.  Unfortunately, it’s ME expensing it.

Was that a rant? Sorry.

Anyway, around 5:40, I started the 30-block walk up the island toward the Lexington District, where I was meeting Mark Bartlett, the head librarian for the New York Society Library, for dinner and drinks at an Irish pub. I made it by 6:30, and found Mark already enjoying an adult beverage at a back table, away from the noise of the bar. We talked for 90 minutes about books, college basketball, Peanuts comics, and J.D. Salinger; Mark dined on fish and chips, while I tore into a delicious shepherd’s pie. We had two beers each, and there was much rejoicing.

Yeah, I was stuffed.  Again.

Despite my protestations, Mark insisted on picking up the check (I owe you when you come to DC, my friend) and we walked back along 77th until Mark ducked into the subway. I walked the thirty blocks back to the hotel, strolling slowly down Park Avenue, sleepy from good food and beer, but determined to walk all the way back rather than hailing one of the many cabs that seemed to taunt me as they rolled past at each street corner. I finally made it back to the hotel around 9:15, struggled to keep my eyes open for at least another hour and finally failed at about 10:30. A good day.

As I sit here now the next morning — whoops, make that afternoon now! — in the hotel restaurant, I’m texting Barb and Madi, who are coming up for the event at the St. Nicholas Society tonight.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

He Sings! He Dances!

This only just came to my attention: the New York Society Library has posted video of the talk I gave on April 19 for National Library Week. So if the audio itself isn’t enough, and you wanna feel like you were really there, you can check out the video right here. I’ll also hardlink it over in the right-hand column, in case you feel the urge to watch it over and over again…

NYC Trip Report, Part 4 (Final Issue!)

After enjoying a brief moment of Zen with Washington Irving’s library card, I walked with Mark back down the curving staircase to the second floor. Here I met with Jonathan and Casey at the top of the marble stairs just outside the Member’s Room (you’re peeking through the door, just as I saw things, in the photo to the right), and chatted with several of the librarians and a number of patrons who had shown up early — including yet another charming member of the Irving family, who proudly showed me a fleur-de-lis ring of Washington Irving’s that she was wearing on her pinky. Meanwhile, staff whizzed in and out, setting the room up for their National Library Week reception (cake and lemonade, appropriately Spring-like fare).

It was a bit warm, and I have to embarassingly admit I’m something of a sweater — it didn’t help that I was wearing a suit (my Senate Uniform, I call it), but changing temperature from a Spring day outside to a temperature-regulated building usually turns my head shiny with perspiration, regardless. Fortunately, Jonathan and Casey went above and beyond and took good care of me — Jonathan pressed a cool glass of lemonade into my hand while Casey handed me a wad of paper napkins and dabbed a bit below my left eye — and like that, I was fine. I must say, having a posse with you is really cool.

A little after 2:00, Mark led me into the now-packed Member’s Room — a really great venue that allows some lucky audience members the luxury of sitting on couches and overstuffed chairs. Casey and Jonathan took seats discretely off to one side, and as I sat in a classy wingback, Mark stood at the central podium and gave me a very nice introduction.

I gave what I call my E! True Hollywood Story talk — it gives me a good opportunity to hit several of the high points of Irving’s life, with enough famous names and events to keep things really interesting (Look! Mary Shelley! And here’s Edgar Allan Poe! And now Martin Van Buren!). And to my delight, just as it had in Newport, the speech went over terrifically. (Want another look? Jonathan very kindly blogged about it himself over on his own website.)

And if you’d like, you can even hear audio of the entire thing right here. The NYSL has only just recently started putting its talks and presentations up on their website, and I’m very proud to be among their first three featured speakers.

As always, I had a wonderful time signing and talking with people afterwards. Interestingly, a number of folks were curious about my time in the U.S. Senate; I’m guessing that life in DC is as enigmatic to New Yorkers as life in New York is to us DC-ites — an iconic place that we can picture in our heads or see in the movies, but can’t imagine what it’s like to actually live or work there. I was having so much fun talking with everyone, in fact, that I completely missed having a piece of the cake they’d brought in for their National Library Week celebration.

It was 4:00 by the time we wrapped everything up, and I had a 5:05 train to catch at Penn Station. Jonathan graciously carried my suitcase (see what additional duties an agent shoulders?) as we headed down 79th Street in search of a cab. We finally managed to snag one on the corner at Fifth Avenue, pointed toward Central Park. I threw my bags in the back seat, then hugged (yes, hugged — I can’t help it, I’m a Westerner) Jonathan and Casey goodbye.

I made it back to Baltimore about two hours later than anticipated, thanks to a medical emergency on the Amtrak train directly in front of mine that had stopped on the tracks and required us to pull up next to it and load all of its passengers onto ours. Topping things off, I was then forced to detour about ten miles out of my way on my drive home when an accident — within spitting distance of my house — closed the road and turned me back around. At that point, I couldn’t get home fast enough.

I won’t leave you hanging. I made it home in one piece. And while New York was an unforgettable experience . . . man, was it nice to be back home. My wife took my things and sat me down at the bistro table in the kitchen and put a warm bowl of pasta fazoli in front of me. “Tell me all about!” she said.

I took a spoonful and smiled. Delicious. “Well,” I said, dabbing my mouth with the corner of a napkin, “I arrived at Penn Station in New York City on Friday afternoon, about an hour later than the 11:57 a.m. my train ticket had promised….”