Jean Shepherd, A Man of Many Personas

It's that season again! Jean Shepherd's " A Christmas Story", based in part on "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash", excerpts of which originally appeared in Playboy Magazine in 1966, is once again playing in New York's Madison Square Garden. That year, which I write about fondly in Memoir of an Independent Woman; An Unconventional Life Well Lived, I was Director of Broadcast Promotion for the magazine.

My relationship with the master storyteller and radio personality began on two levels. His late night radio show on WOR drew an audience similar to avid Playboy readers and with my prodding, he made it a point to mention the magazine, including his own short stories, quite often. He was described by many of his peers as an oddball, detached, and downright bizarre. I, on the other hand, delighted in his idiosyncrasies. Our relationship was platonic from the start and unusual to the end. I never knew when I would hear from him but when I did, I knew the outcome would be unforgettable.

One night very late at the Playboy Club where I periodically entertained him, I received a call. Jean had just finished his radio show; did I want a lift home? Anyone on the corner of E. 59th St. that night couldn't possibly have missed me. Straddling his waist, not sure where to put my legs and hanging on for dear life, there I was hugging Jean and screaming my head off as we careened down Fifth Avenue, the first time I was ever on a motorcycle. It was late summer and Washington Square Park was bustling. As we approached the famous Arch on lower Fifth Avenue, I let out a cry. "Ouch!". Someone in nearby apartment house had flung an egg, a raw one, at my head (protective helmets were not mandatory at the time.) Jean turned to check that I wasn't injured and accelerated to full speed. Two blocks later he pulled up to a local diner. "I'll be right back." It took close to ten minutes before he returned, a container in his outstretched hand. "Some bacon to go with your egg, Madame!"

Another time the adventure took place in my apartment. In the 1960s certain neighborhoods in Manhattan were safer than others. Greenwich Village, where I lived, was relatively secure though there had been periodic incidents. Jean lived four blocks from me. One night at a ridiculous hour he appeared at my door. He had heard something about scuffles on Christopher St. and wanted to make sure I knew how to protect myself. How I wish I had taken pictures of him, crawling on my carpet measuring projectiles of make believe rocks should they ever find their way from the sidewalk through my window. He moved chairs he wanted me to crouch behind from the middle of my living room to a far wall and left specific instructions as to when I should hide under the bed. On the way out he gave me his unlisted phone number "just in case".

All of my friends should be so idiosyncratic.
To quote his radio sign-off, "Excelsior!" and a Happy New Year!