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Still Life with Dad

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.

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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.

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Comments
5

What a beautiful piece this is. So much said with such brevity. TL

Feb. 27, 2013

I never knew what sex Matthew Alice was; I came in 1975, left in 1981, came in 1984, left in 1985, came in 2003. I don't do that, since I came for UCSD behind a PhD named ...uh, you know, the gal with the Afro. I'm a renegade chemist.

Matthew Alice has fabricated. This is sea-foam: "I'll take all the blame Aqua seafoam shame Sunburn with freezerburn Choking on the ashes of her enemy In the sun In the sun I feel as one In the sun." ":All Apolgies" lyrics, Nirvana. Not likely to be a Year 2000 + song, is it?

Because your newspaper is a cubic mile of landfill, run by a Catholic.

March 1, 2013

What sort of nutter is sbillinghurst? Write something that makes sense to readers. "Matthew Alice has fabricated"? Do you even proofread? And what does being a Catholic have to do with anything. There's a million more cubic miles of landfill from fast food restaurant packaging than a weekly reader. TL

March 1, 2013

So sorry to hear the longtime Matthew Alice columnist passed away - the paper has lost too many of its most solid soldiers over the past few years. I'd love to see a cover feature collecting the best of Straight From the Hip from Linda's 20-plus year stewardship of the column.

March 1, 2013

Ask and you shall receive! A cover story of Matthew Alice columns ran back in 2007:

March 1, 2013

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