Mayor Ed Koch, his admirers and detractors note, is like an outspoken Jewish uncle. The reporter agrees, and for this reason prefers to keep him well away. Let him call somebody else "Dummy" in a news conference. The fact that someone would gather up a collection of his wisecracks, though she admits she prefers them to the dreck spouted by most politicians, is only less mystifying to her that the possibility that someone would put down good money to buy such a book.
Live in constant amazement: the book is called How'm I Doing; the Wit and Wisdom of Ed Koch ; it sells for $4.50. Howzit doing? It's doing well. It's in its second printing, according to the publisher, and going to B. Dalton book stores across the country. Filled with such mayoral bon mats as the Mayor on Making Coffee: "I make perfect coffee because I follow the directions perfectly," and the Mayor on His Favorite Food: "I like anchovies," the reporter can only repeat that she is mystified.
Still, when the invitation to the book party -- a "Koffee-Koch" held at a Chock Full o' Nuts next to City Hall -- came, she figured what the heck and decided to go. For one thing, Hizzoner hizzelf was supposed to be there, and she wanted to see what wit he would add to this collection. (Could he top, on His Weight: "I have a terrible weight problem. I'm very careful about my weight"? Could he beat, on His Eighty-Six-Year-Old Father; "He's strong as a horse"?)
Also, the author of the book is an old pal. Melvin B. Shestack, sometime magazine editor, sometime author, and in New York downtown literary circles he's as famous for some of his escapades as he is for some of his books.
"Melvin, what about that wonderful story about you and your uncles in the liquor business?" the reporter began.
"Joyce, ssssh," said Shestack, looking about cautiously, "I've gotta sell this book."
Shestack is 49 and bearded, and awfully savvy about the business, having been in it for years. Also, he is more literate than most. "Do you think it's important for the mayor to be witty?" he was asked by an earnest television fellow. "No, no, no," Shestack said. "It's important for the mayor to be a good mayor.A lot of witty people are terrible people. Richard Wagner, for instance, was very funny, but he was also a very evil man."
He went on in this vein for some time, doing so well that when it came the reporter's turn, she asked Shestack if he would mind interviewing himself, so she could finish her coffee. He did so, with great gusto and incisiveness.
"Why did I do a book on the mayor?" he began. "Because -- is that Gabe Pressman? -- in traveling the country I found that people loved him; they thought he was funny; they thought he was terrific. I've known him for 20 years, by the way. I met him for the first time at a party on Jane Street, and I thought it was a very dull man and he was a very dull man, not this City Hall Lenny Bruce. What changed him? I think the job changed him. I also think it was latent, that maybe deep down inside, every boy born in the Bronx wants to be a stand-up comic."
A bit obnoxious, no?, the reporter suggested, forgetting who was doing the interview.
"New York has high-intensity humor," Shestack said. "Sometimes it hurts. I'm not sure low-key humor would work anymore. He's like everybody's Jewish uncle. Did we have his cooperation? No, we didn't; they were afraid it was gonna look sycophantic; however, as soon as we sent copies of the book he decided to come; then we decided on Chock Full o' Nuts. It's very Koch, Man of the People."
"Plus cheap," Shestack said.
The mayor, everybody's uncle, arrived. He sat at the counter with a cup of coffee and a series of microphones. Above his head was a picture of himself in Egypt on a camel with a caption that makes even this New Yorker proud; "Bring me your toughest camel." The publisher, or maybe a publicist, made a presentation of the book announcing as he did, that a secquel was in the works.
The reporter envisions the first entry: "The Mayor on Being Asked Whether He Enjoyed The Wit and Wisdom of Ed Koch : Of course, I loved reading it. Who doesn't enjoy reading about himself?"
It could go a dozen printings.