My widowed mother, brother and I were living on the ground-floor apartment in the Bronx. On a hot summer day, I heard a big plop outside, and I looked out the window, and there was somebody lying dead who had jumped or fallen from the roof, presumably. So I went out there, waiting for the police to arrive, and listened to them and tried to take as many notes as I could. And then I called the local newspaper, the Bronx Home News, which was offering $5 for original news stories. This was at the age of 12.
What I learned when I look back on that experience, many years later, is that I had never seen a dead body before, and you think there would have been some emotional reaction -- Oh, the guy's dead. He banged his head. All the rest of it -- and all I can remember doing is being the detached person, the observer who had to report the thing. I don't know where it came from, but it really was the secret of who I am. I am the observer. Other people do things while I describe them.
And now people say: "Why are you working so hard at 88? You could retire, you know." I say, "Right. Except you don't understand. It is doing journalism that keeps me going." When I asked myself why can I be so cool about things that other people are very much affected by, I suspect this as a theory: My father died when I was 6 years old. And, while I don't remember a lot of details about that, it must have been a crushing experience for me. And I think, maybe, that in order to protect myself against that, I developed this idea that I stand off. I've never said that to a reporter. I've hardly even said that to myself, but what the hell.
-- Interview by Tyler Currie