NOT TO BE MISSED: Thomas Beller's loving depiction of Jerry Stiller as Hasidic elder, from the West Side, one neighbor writing about another.
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(From me:) As a New Yorker who has never lived in an apartment, I am fascinated by friends’ buildings.
Friends were said to live in the same West Side building as a singer I love. Whenever we would visit for a Seder, I would imagine getting on the elevator with the singer. Never happened.
Another friend lived in the same Village building as a noted writer and doctor. My wife had some questions for him, if we ever got on the same elevator. Never happened.
However, two friends of ours did live in the same building as Stiller and Meara. One summer in the 80’s, our friends, sisters, threw a Sunday 5 PM cocktail party on the penthouse patio – classic New York. Noted rabbi. Noted historian, female, who wanted to talk about Pete Rose (before Pete had been found out.)
And Stiller and Meara, one of the gang, chatting with everyone. She was gorgeous, and friendly. He, not so gorgeous but equally friendly.
I could not resist. I told them how much I admired their work, which, to me, consisted of their ultra-droll commercials for Blue Nun, a semi-sweet wine formerly known as Liebfraumilch.
Never do this. But I did. I told them my favorite Blue Nun commercial was about a radio-detective type sitting in his office when a mysterious redhead appears.
I am ashamed, but I wasn’t then, to semi-imitate their voices, as I recalled the dialogue:
He: “From the moment she walked into my office, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She had legs that went from here to there – and back again.”
She: “You’ll have to excuse me for not sitting down, but I’ve got legs that go from here to there and back again.”
(Anne Meara was indeed way taller than Stiller, surely part of the attraction. Somehow a detective and long legs led to a pitch for Blue Nun wine.)
They both gave me deadpan looks, shook their heads.
Sorry, each said, I just don’t remember that one. (The point being, there were so many.) Then they asked me about the Yankee game I had just attended. They fit right in. West Side neighbors.
I never met Anne Meara again but I used to bump into Jerry Stiller at The Garden. This was before his Seinfeld renaissance, and he was just another West Sider, saying hello at halftime.
I reveled in the success of their daughter and son, plus his success on Seinfeld, grouchy and loud, at the next table in a deli. (We all remember that bustling ambience, don’t we.)
Anne passed in 2015. Jerry passed the other day, at 92.
The NYT ran a lovely obituary – of the two of them, really – with classic Seinfeldian sub-plots about a fitting obituary, and a killer last line by Peter Keepnews.
Better you should read it for yourself. Meantime, farewell to that classic West Side couple, Stiller and Meara:
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)