, Salem, MA


January 2, 2014

Watson: Jimmy Breslin would have us see freshly

Last week, for Christmas, I wrote about Marley, a little girl who learns that finding the Christmas spirit starts with knowing where to look.

This week, at the start of a new year, I’m going to talk about Jimmy Breslin, the longtime, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist who at age 65 survived a formidable brain surgery procedure that removed an unruptured aneurysm from his right frontal cortex area.

Breslin, who is now 83 and still writing, at one time wrote three columns a week, for the Daily News, Newsday and the Herald Tribune, and was syndicated with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He was born and raised and lived his entire life in New York City. He rarely drove a car.

As a columnist, he was (and is) often outspoken and provocative. He would state the way something was — or the way things are — and simply let the description sit there, staring at the reader. He was not one to provide a lot of explanatory paragraphs or list the conditions and circumstances that made something so. He was not above exaggerating or oversimplifying.

Among other subjects, Breslin repeatedly told the stories of the powerless, downtrodden, dysfunctional, or the simply ordinary man. He believed in getting away from his desk and out onto the streets and into the neighborhoods of his vast city. He hung out in bars, restaurants, political halls, food banks, and anywhere else people and stories collected.

He was often what people would call a “liberal.” But, more accurately, he just had a passion for afflicting the comfortable. And he pointed out the stark juxtapositions that exist in a country with such extremes of wealth and poverty.

In 1996, the year after his surgery, he wrote an account of the experience and a memoir of his life, “I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me.” It’s a plainspoken survey of a life that saw quite a range of tragedy, work, drama, luck, fun, angst and fame.

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