Highlights follow from my recent phone conversation with Norman Mailer, twice a Pulitzer Prize winner who passed from this physical earth in 2007.
“Damn it, Norman,” I say, “I spent too much time piddling online this morning and lost energy and still hadn’t written anything by early afternoon when I decided to read in bed and returned to your Playboy interview from 1968 and was again bored and irritated by verbal flatulence which you sometimes offer instead of substantive commentary.”
“Why continue reading it then? I haven’t time to field complaints from all my critics in perpetuity. At this stage I generally accept rebukes only from my many wives and children.”
“I’m glad I persevered because you finally said something in classic Mailer style.”
He laughs. “And what was that?”
“I’m assuming you still follow current events?”
“No one more vigorously devours information than I.”
Deepening my voice, I tell him, “You said, ‘Part of the New York City police force works in Harlem. It’s a hopeless job for any white policeman. He doesn’t have a prayer of being a good cop; he’s too hated because of all the bad cops who’ve been there and also because of all the bad Negro cops who’ve worked in Harlem. (The white cop’s) hated because he comes from outside and is a symbol of oppression.”
“And what did I next tell Mr. Playboy?”
“You said, ‘Suppose the existential fact were recognized that Harlem is more separated from New York City than East Berlin from West Berlin… Suppose, then, that Harlem had its own police force and was offered its fair share of the funds that run the New York Police Department. Suppose they even used part of that money for other purposes and had a volunteer police force, just like the Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a few years ago… The advantage of having an all-Negro professional and volunteer police force in Harlem is that every time something ugly happened, the Negroes would have to recognize one particular complexity in life, which is that their own people can be bad but that police brutality might be something that comes out of being a policeman. And they’d have to face the fact that whitey ain’t the only devil in town.’”
I hear Mailer clapping.
“I probably shouldn’t applaud my own words,” he says, “but I know you’ll keep this confidential.”
“I respect that you’re the shiest and most private of men.”