Linda Nevin was an editor and writer for the Reader for over 30 years. She wrote — as Matthew Alice — the Straight from the Hip column for over 20 years, until mid-2012. The following is a piece she wrote for our June 15, 2000, Father’s Day issue. Linda died on February 15, 2013.
Notes for “Still Life with Dad.” Living room. Any evening. Dominant hue: pale gray-green decorators of the day called “sea foam.” Mid-tone sea foam upholstered chair; nubby silk-linen; box-skirted with self-piping; arms worn at the elbow rests. Square, two-tiered side table, ’40s blond veneer, chipped at the corners. Lower shelf: Time, Life, the New Yorker, Business Week, Sports Illustrated, U.S. News & World Report, Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. On top, a round cork coaster. Tall, fizzy glass of Canadian Club and soda, gleaming, golden. Illuminated by ivory-tinted ceramic table lamp painted with wildflowers. Ivory-tinted lampshade.
Commas of crushed butts in round glass ashtray; eddy of bluish smoke, a perpetually restless volcano. Half-gone pack of Camel straights. Shiny red matchbook, black script, from a New York restaurant. Blue pen for solving crosswords.
Business section, New York Journal-American, held open by two hands with long, artistic fingers, just visible at the paper’s edges. From below the Journal-American jut two athletic legs; hairy, but not too; crossed, ankle of the left resting on knee of the right; blue madras Bermuda shorts; old brown loafers, no socks. Make sure shadows are deep, no secondary lights (see Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks).
Include his watercolor? Framed, on wall above lamp; skillful copy of Holiday magazine photo of Virginia City, Nevada, painted one evening, with paper pad propped on knees while sitting in the green chair.
Basement. Three cardboard barrels, two a jumble of books. Auden, both Waughs, Wodehouse, Eliot, complete Shakespeare, Frank Sullivan’s Our Times: The Twenties. A volume of photos taken through a microscope, the crystal formations of snowflakes. Two yearbooks: Trinity-Pawling School, 1932; “Bill or Nev”; ice hockey and baseball; aspiration? journalist. Dartmouth College, 1936: “Bill or Nev”; B.A. English; Delta Kappa Epsilon; college humor magazine.
Third barrel: records, photos. Brittle black-shellac discs; Anita O’Day on the Okeh label; swing bands and crooners. A group of laughing couples, drinks in hand, piled onto a long couch next to a jukebox; dark-suited men; women in clingy crepe and fat-heeled pumps, corsages; hair upswept like Lana Turner’s.
Suburban driveway, 6:30 a.m. Squarish dark-green Ford sedan sits idling; stick shift, dusty, chromeless, gray upholstery. In the fall, at night, acorns from 40-foot oaks clunk onto the hood and roof, then bounce onto the lawn. Driven ten miles a day. Sits 13 hours at the railroad station, where commuters shuttle to and from New York. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Madison Avenue, “The Magazine of New York Advertising,” August 1959: “In this issue…The New York Agency Marketing Director…Bill Nevin, vice president and marketing director, Compton Advertising.” Five full pages, 11 photographs, plus cover photo. Black-and-white shots of white men in white shirts: on the phone with a client; reviewing a marketing plan; discussing details of a campaign presentation; meeting with account managers around a conference table littered with notepads, pencils, coffee, ashtrays; evaluating giveaways to offer with soap, cereal; against a background of canned goods, evaluating product placement on a supermarket’s shelves; business lunch at Le Valois with executives from Procter & Gamble.
“Nevin is a shirtsleeve-type executive who belies the traditional concept of the Ivy League agency executive. As might be expected from his background, he is a good salesman, runs a relaxed but well-organized department, and has the perspective to operate in a climate of mutual respect with both clients and the advertising men in the agency….
“To insure that Compton’s marketing department is properly manned, Nevin takes on the average of 60 days of interviewing up to 100 applicants to find a man with proper qualifications. ‘He must,’ says Nevin, ‘have wide sales experience and have lived with a P&L statement. And, equally important, he must have demonstrated the ability to communicate with management in writing.’ ”
Small hospital. Gloomy, near-Victorian, undulating wood floors, narrow bent-rail beds.
Shocking, ice-blue eyes. Gaunt, ashen, stricken face.
Barely audible, “Hi. Go ask them, are they moving me to New York today? Did you bring the suitcase?”
Orderlies later steal suitcase, watch, slippers, pajamas, robe; but leave the volume of classic reportage, Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, with bookmark still in place.
Office lobby, 635 Madison Avenue: Short, curvy redhead. Tailored purple suit. Takes one of my hands in both of hers and hangs on. “We’ll miss him here so much. He contributed so much to this business. He was so smart and talented. I’m very sorry for your loss. Everybody knew him and loved him, right down to the secretaries.”
They did? He was? I’m glad to learn that.