16. Because Peter Kaplan Was the Narrator of the City

Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Peter Kaplan, who was editor of the New York Observer from 1994 until 2009, died last month.

On the improbability of certain political personalities:
“There’s a big guy somewhere up in the clouds tapping a cigar and coming up with names that Spielberg could never dream of—names like Monica Lewinsky and Barack Obama and Anthony Weiner.”
-In conversation with his friend the writer Philip Weiss

On the New York Observer:
“I had a little newspaper in New York City! You can’t beat that. No matter who you are … It’s better to have a little newspaper in New York City than a big newspaper in New York City. Because then you only have to report and write for the people you care about. And nobody else.”
-To John Koblin in the Observer, April 22, 2009

On Shakespeare:
“I can’t watch Twelfth Night; it upsets me. Shakespeare was too mean to Malvolio.”
-In conversation, Weiss

On baby-boomers:
“The lamest generation.”
-In conversation, Weiss

“When the baby-boomers finally took the helm, what did they accomplish? Well, they could write a good joke. Or, in the case of our brilliant but priapic first baby-boomer president, could make one.”
-New York, August 27, 2011

On New York City:
“New York in the nineties was an immovable feast. Nobody left. The city was self-confirmed, the capitalist capital of the world, bigger than Paris, beating London at its own game, Beijing who?”
-New York, August 27, 2011

“New York was seized by a Seinfeldian bantering amorality. It was a sushi-and-ice-cream town.”
-Introduction, The Kingdom of New York (collection of Observer pieces)

On the seasons:
“September is the deceptively glorious season of loss.”
- “Couch Warfare,” New York, September 6, 2009

On TV comedy:
“The television joke guides the nation, and whoever owns it controls more than just the arena of the laugh—that person controls the American playing field of values.”
“David Letterman’s Shtick Shift,” Rolling Stone, November 3, 1998

On the media culture:
“The aggregators are as essential to the current media crisis as homelenders were to the financial collapse of 2008. They pull up chairs at the table with empty mugs and say, ‘Fill ’er up—and you’re buying!’ ”
- The Kingdom of New York

On Republicans:
“Republicans. I know they’re human, but I just can’t comprehend it.”
-In conversation with his friend the writer David Michaelis, August 10, 1996

On Lincoln:
“I hate to ask such a Reagan-like question, but Why was Lincoln given to us?! Did God really hand him to the American nation? How else to explain him?”
-In conversation, Michaelis, February 12, 1996

On the future of Hollywood:
“The jig is not up in Hollywood because the wizards have learned how to read charts and work computers. Just because of that this may be the twilight of the old movies—in 50 years, there will probably only be revival theaters. Everything will be piped home, first run onto big TV screens in the living room. We’ll pay for our movie tickets on the phone bill.”
- Harvard Crimson, April 10, 1975

On the millennium:
“The millennium is upon us, even though for a Jewish boy it’s just 5760, another year.”
-In conversation, Michaelis, December 31, 1999

To a friend:
“I know a good mikvah I can get you into.”
- In conversation, Michaelis, April 19, 2001

On 9/11:
“Of all my truisms, the most important one is that life gets more complicated—otherwise, how could it be that something beautiful comes from the most terrible public day of our lives?”
-In conversation, Michaelis, March 1, 2002

On taking up the trombone:
“It made music that made my parents happy.”
-In conversation, Michaelis, November 21, 2013

On his cancer diagnosis:
“My claim to the status of living human being is now in considerable doubt. Please don’t cry.”
-In conversation, Weiss

On life in the hospital:
“I’m just dreaming of home.”
-In conversation, Michaelis, November 21, 2013

On life:
“Life is long, unless it’s short. I’m never sure. But whichever it is, it’s okay.”
-In conversation, Michaelis, March 9, 2004

16. Because Peter Kaplan Was the Narrator of the City