About the Author
My shamelessly full name is Richard Mackey Oscar Fitzpatrick Nusser. My grandmother was a Fitzpatrick. I whimsically added her name to mine because the Fitzpatricks are a noble and ancient family, despite losing a baronetcy after the Stuart-led Catholics lost the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. I simply felt a need for a touch of nobility.
I came into the world at 10:30 p.m., July 29, 1940, while German armies were crossing the Dnieper River into Ukraine. The latter was a ruthless stroke that brought nothing but trouble for Hitler, his armies, and the European continent. My birth had nothing to do with it. The ruthlessness and duplicity of Hitler and Stalin and the ambivalent responses of Britain and America to Hitler’s rise to power were the predominant topics of adult conversation as I was growing up during the war. I recall arguments and heated discussions swirling around the character and personalities of FDR, Churchill and Stalin with few conclusions drawn. Ambivalence, for the Mackey-Fitzpatrick family, seemed a virtue. To my young mind, the world was divided among Communists, Fascists and the wary. I grew up understanding the world was fraught with peril. Current events tell me nothing has changed. Consider Ukraine.
I grew up in Livingston on Staten Island’s north shore, tended to by aunts, babysitters, and a sweet-natured Ukrainian housekeeper named Sophie, until I was old enough to command an army of lead soldiers, re-living the perils of war and politics as their details filtered down from the adult world.
My parents, largely absent, played walk-on roles in Manhattan’s World War II café society; thanks to my habit of eaves-dropping on adult conversations, I learned that nearby Walker Park, home to the Staten Island Cricket Club, was "nothing but" a nest of British spies and The Stork Club frequented by proto-Fascist Russian aristos. I was fascinated by adult gossip focused on Manhattan and its glamorous denizens. I seem to recall that many of my parents' friends during the 1940s were a mix of Big Band aficionados and impeccably tailored ladies and gents who drank way too much and laughed a lot; many of them were in the advertising business. My father owned an outdoor advertising company. He trained as a muralist and helped paint murals for the WPA on post office walls during the depression. A WPA colleague told him he'd make more money as a commercial sign painter. So he started a billboard business.
By 1950 I had two younger sisters, together as distant from me as my parents seemed. I continued to be raised as if I were an only child, left largely alone to spend my days at Walker Park. Reading became a childhood passion, followed by tennis, cricket and riding Harrigan, an amiable bay horse I never tired of grooming. It now seems idyllic, although I realize much of it was spent alone, waiting for an adult who didn’t mind playing tennis, tossing a cricket ball or riding through Clove Lakes Park with a child.
As I grew older so did my need to understand the forces that drive human behavior, my own as well as others’. Making sense of the human drama -– whether on a personal or societal level -- led to a compulsion to share with others the results of that effort; I became child who never shut up. (I remember playing tennis with an adult who said he would give me a dollar if I could stop talking for a half-hour. I wanted the dollar but I started yapping again before the 10 minute mark. I had an unconquerable compulsion to tell whatever floated into my mind.
A compusion to tell remains, to my mind, the happy burden of journalists and writers of fiction, a fraternity of sorts that requires little or no active participation. It’s a compulsion to inquire, to tell, to report, and as I grew older, to hopefully form well-founded opinion. My life as a writer was irresistably formed in childhood.
Journalism beckoned after President John F. Kennedy was murdered in 1963. I’d been a volunteer at JFK’s 1960 Manhattan campaign headquarters. The day he died I was a college drop-out working as a temp in a cubicle adjacent to the New York Times’ newsroom. The shock of the assassination faded as I witnessed the people across the hall struggling to draw sense from chaos against a merciless deadline. I was hooked. I eventually started writing for the Staten Island Advance, where I had wonderful teachers. My stories won a few awards.
My beat was New York City, from waterfront to City Hall, from cops and courts to SoHo’s demimonde. I went on to work for the old Herald Tribune, The Village Voice, the East Village Other, Horizon and After Dark magazines. I covered race riots, pro- and anti-war protests, battles over abortion laws and control of the city’s school system. Later I covered Nixon’s post-election transition headquarters at NY’s Pierre Hotel and was not surprised later to find all the President’s men were up their necks in intrigue.
I was a gadfly. I took time off from reporting to follow my bliss, although bliss is itself a gadfly. I acted off-Broadway, covered theater and pop music. I was a free lancer without a plan. I moved on in existential fashion, still never aware of what the future might portend. I became a travel writer. I traveled America and West Africa and wrote about it. I scratched out a living mincing words for Microsoft, Fordham Univ., the insurance industry and a Swedish white collar union.
Somewhere along the line, after leaving my post as Billboard magazine’s international editor in a fit of pique, I -- personal pronouns be damned – managed to crank out a 1989 mystery novel, "Walking After Midnight", which I imagined would be a warm-up for more serious literary endeavors. Publishers Weekly called it “an auspicious debut." Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edna Buchanan said she “couldn’t put it down. The backdrop is surreal, lit by Nusser’s expert insight into human decadence.” (I’d never met Ms. Buchanan: How could she know?) Kirkus said the story “was exciting as an opium haze.” (Where did they get that insight? I only smoked it once.)
A Hollywood biggie told my agent he thought I was “a marvelous writer . . . who may have the makings of a screenwriter.” Alas, I now had adult responsibilities, a wife who demanded my full attention and a young son, a wonderful young son. I was told, in no uncertain terms, I could “not afford to write novels.” And moving to Hollywood was not an option.
Unwilling to turn the Freudian drama of my personal life into a best-seller, I abandoned the dream of writing another novel or perish the thought, “going Hollywood.” Look what happened to Fitzgerald and Chandler! Yet, despite all, somehow my compulsion to scrutinize the human drama -- outside of my own -- remained strong. Indeed, it burned and consumed me. So it was back to journalism.
In 1992 I linked up with Ted Kheel, a kindly New York mandarin and a bit of a gadfly himself, who got me a backstage pass to the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. I inquired and reported: the world seemed to be divided between tree huggers and corporate interests. Conclusions were drawn but went unheeded. Ambivalence seemed a virtue. The world hadn’t changed very much. Ruthlessness and duplicity prevailed.
A year later The Carnegie Corp. of NY paid me to write a policy paper on global health issues. I like to think I did a good job, but bed bug infestations usually trump a rise in drug-resistant bacterial infections among people worrying about jobs and their mortgage payments.
Meanwhile, newspapers and magazines were beginning to wither and die on the media vine. Those that survived were intent on hiring younger, more pliant scribes. Aging newspaper guys with strong opinions made publishers nervous. I blew a modest inheritance trying to launch a slightly eccentric home and garden magazine in the Hamptons in 1995. I ghosted a fictional memoir for a retired Israeli general. It wasn’t fictional enough for the Mossad. The Mossad are not to be trifled with. They threw the general into jail. I began researching a non-fiction account of how Swiss banks were still churning Nazi plunder but soon developed writer’s block, followed by a crash-and-burn retreat to a newsroom from hell in a comatose Pennsylvania mill town. I got divorced. I survived and learned a few things. I discovered life might be worth living if I could afford the luxury of writing about it. A monthly Social Security check and a small annuity makes it possible. Perhaps – you’ll be the judge – I may still be able to spin life’s raw material into a story worth reading.
A second novel is stalled. (Writer's block?) I started “A Spy in Love” ten years ago and it’s still only half written. Like “Walking After Midnight,” it features reporter-turned-reluctant sleuth Max Darenow, a man drawn to mystery and romance. (Is there a difference?) I write poetry. I’m hoping to start a blog about current events on this site. (Informed opinion, of course.)
I’m backing into journalism again through this website. With luck, I hope to be back in the game, for whatever it’s worth, however it’s played. Time will tell. I'm 74. Say a pray someone.
Autobiographies are never what we want them to be but here's mine all the same.
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Portrait of the artist as an old man.
NEWS & OPINION