After the great journalist, author, and editor Pete Hamill passed away on August 5th, I was delighted to hear Michael Smerconish share his own fan interaction story with Hamill on the radio. As Michael happily recounted a time he attended a Hamill lecture and asked the legendary journalist to review his work, I couldn’t help but think of my father.
My Dad is also a huge Pete Hamill fan. He always has been. In addition to reading everything Hamill has written since joining New York City journalism in the 1960s, my father has attended many Hamill lectures and book signings to hear even more from his favorite writer and urban philosopher. At these events, Dad would usually approach Hamill after the program to enjoy a few minutes of one-on-one conversation. When it came to my father, Hamill was never stingy with his time. They were both life-long New Yorkers, who grew up in Brooklyn, and later lived in Manhattan. They had a lot of shared history.
When Dad was approaching his 70th birthday in June of 2006, I thought to write to Mr. Hamill and ask for a personalized birthday greeting to my father. I found Hamill’s email address online and sent my request. I knew it was a long shot, but I figured the prospect of a polite “no” was worth the risk. Weeks went by, and I still had no response. I assumed I had the wrong email address, or Hamill was simply too busy to reply.
About a week before the party, my office phone rang. It was Pete Hamill. He had just arrived back in New York City and came across my letter. “I got your email—thanks for writing. I’m really sorry I didn’t respond sooner, but I’ve been in Mexico with my wife,” he said. He had written a birthday letter to my Dad, but he was concerned that it might not arrive in time for the big day. He asked: Could we meet in person for a hand-off?
I immediately took the subway down to his apartment in the East Village, where I rang the buzzer (how very New York!) and he emerged. We stood on the corner and talked for 15 minutes about current events while he enjoyed a couple of cigarettes. We talked about topics as varied as steroids in baseball; George W. Bush and the Iraq War; and Broadway, given that Jersey Boys had just won Best Musical. As the conversation died down, he handed me the letter, which I graciously accepted.
Needless to say, my father was overwhelmed by the letter, which he read aloud to our family at his birthday celebration. Dad had the chance to thank Hamill personally after attending a more recent lecture a few years ago. While that was the last time the two of them spoke, I know that he can always hear Hamill’s voice every time he re-reads this special birthday greeting.
Given Michael’s on-air praise of Mr. Hamill, I am happy to share the letter below. I don’t know if everyone would understand all of the local references that he makes – like Nathan’s and Ebbet’s Field – but they make me smile. The letter not only speaks to Pete Hamill’s character but also is a testament to a special place in history that forged these two men. “You and I, we started out with treasures,” Hamill writes to Dad. “They can never take that away.”