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Jack Newfield: Four Train Gone

The Brooklyn-born columnist got where he was going by shoe leather and subway. And in his too-short career, every day was judgment day.

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Jack Newfield, the columnist who worked at the Village Voice, the Daily News, and the New York Post, was a good friend of mine, so don’t expect a modicum of so-called objective reporting when it comes to talking about his death at the age of 66, which is a hideously unfair number of years to be allotted to someone like Jack.

Newfield was a tremendous journalist, merciful and generous to people he liked and to those he believed deserved a better break in the rigged society. These are admirable qualities. But I always treasured the other side, the smack-’em-hard-and-smack-’em-again part. So many of the people—the rotten judges, lawyers, and developers—whom Newfield wrote about deserved to be kicked when they were down, and Jack did not hesitate. As a investigative reporter, he had the best motto: “An eye and ear for an eye.”

But Newfield, a perfect New Yorker of the knock-around variety, had a lot of good lines. Once he began a piece about Andrew Stein (né Finkelstein), who wanted to run for mayor, with the line “You can take the Stein out of Finkelstein but you can’t take the fink out of Stein.”

One of Jack’s lines I’ll always remember didn’t appear in one of his many pieces. We were walking up Sixth Avenue, by the 4th Street basketball courts. We were working on a project together, and I didn’t feel into it that day. “What’s wrong with you?” Newfield demanded. I said I was a delicate organism, finely tuned like a Ferrari, and when one thing was wrong, I might end up in the shop. Newfield looked at me with bemused contempt. “Ferrari,” he snorted with the old-school/class-antagonist distaste of someone who had never learned how to drive a car and wouldn’t have been caught dead in a Ferrari in any event. “I’m like the 4 train,” he said. It summed up a lot: someone who arrived without frills, but mostly on time, and never, ever stopped running. Even now, with him gone, I can still hear the train roaring into the station.


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