Ben Sen's Blog

Politics, Culture and Religion Without Projections

Ben Sen

Ben Sen
New York, N.Y.,
December 31
I'd rather be judged on the basis of my posts than anything written in my bio. It's put down and gathered as a record of my experience and a response to what I see as the important issues in the world today. I don't pretend it's anything other than subjective. The purpose is to analyze, interpret, express opinions, challenge the status quo, open a few doors, and entertain. I heartily welcome ratings, comments and dialogue. That's what makes this media unique and valuable. It also keeps me honest and encouraged since I'm not getting paid. Take a risk and say something; it feels better. A "conversation" is essential for the growth of the individual and the collective. I have faith it extends beyond the confines of what is said here. "For it is necessary for awake people to be awake, or a breaking line may discourge us back to sleep, the signals we give--yes, no or maybe--should be clear: the darkness around us is deep." From A RITUAL TO READ TO EACH OTHER by William Stafford


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Editor’s Pick
MAY 5, 2011 2:40PM

Why I Don't Eat Eggplant

Rate: 22 Flag

     In the summer of 1967, yes, I'm that old, I came to New York City to find work as a journalist.  I didn't have a college degree and nobody heard of the school I attended.

      I did the usual, went to the offices of the New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, and The Village Voice, where I wanted to work with my whole innocent heart and soul, dropped off my resume and knew it was in the trash before the elevator returned to the ground floor.  I eventually found my way into the battered offices of an employment agency where the lady said she might have something for me.

     She directed me to the offices of Fairchild Publishing, then located on 12th Street and Fifth Avenue.  Their flagship publication  was Women's Wear Daily, but my interview was not with that august publication, but its decidedly more scruffy little brother Metalworking News. 

     The editor was a kindly gentleman of Irish extraction (some things never change) who was ready to bid me farthewell too until I mentioned on the way out that I worked in machine shops in Detroit and on the line at General Motors sanding down trucks.

     "Good," he said, "then you'll be the only guy here who knows shit about metal."

     The rest of the staff consisted of a half dozen guys lined up across from each another banging on ancient Underwoods, the Managing Editor, Mr. Hungate, who was my boss, and Cherisse, his secretary, which really was her name.  The spittoons had been taken out years before but the brown stains splattered on the floor were still visible.

     They used a soft yellow paper to type on, which could be erased, but were more useful to tear out of the machine with a loud curse and ripped up for everybody to see.  Most, but not all had a Lucky Strike dangling from their mouth, and a bottle of whiskey in the drawer--only to be taken out when the editor wasn't around.

      All clacking stopped when Cherisse shimmied in to take her seat, or the models from Women's Wear got lost and needed help being guided to their proper destination.  Another intern was hired that summer who informed me he went to Yale and was a friend of the Fairchild family, but he never spoke to me after that.

     I'd never actually done any reporting, though in college I'd written a number of essays denouncing the Viet Nam War.  My editing experience consisted of calling my friends to ask if they wanted to write essays denouncing the war too.  My duties consisted of following orders when Mr. Hungate slapped a piece of paper on my desk with a name and number on it and barked, "Call this guy and ask how much aluminum they sold Boeing last month.  I want it in pounds and metrics!"

     My first assignment was to go to a conference on the top floor of the Hotel Pierre and take notes.  While I was there a man told me his company was planning to take over the South American market in power tools and how they were going to do it.  I wrote it up and submitted it to Mr. Hungate.  He was duly impressed and ran it on the front page.  It was the first time I ever saw my byline in a professional publication.  I was hooked.

     The next day I was called into the editor's office to give a deposition to the Fairchild attorneys.  The executive said I made the whole story up and was suing the publisher.  On my way out, the editor said, "Make sure you wave your press pass in front of them.  Otherwise they think you're a kid who followed his dad to work."

     I soon established a beat.  The other guys wanted nothing to do with "foreigners."  They said they couldn't understand what they were saying and it was a waste of time.  They especially hated the Japanese, who they called "Japs".  I got all sorts of stories from them and made the front page every other week.  I was in heaven.  I never for a minute thought you could have so much fun and be paid for it.

     That was the summer of the Six Day War.  It turned out the General in charge of the Israeli Airforce was also the director of a company that did metalworking.  I asked to interview him in the receiving line and he said okay, but "I have a question to ask you and if you answer it honestly I'll give you a story."

      He asked me what I thought of the Viet Nam War.  I said I thought it was unjust and wasn't going to serve despite the draft.  He said if he was American he'd do the same thing.  Then he told me when the first ship was going through the Suez Canal.  I wrote it up and gave it to Mr. Hungate.  "Shit kid," he said.  "This is news."  He phoned it in to the Associated Press and I had a story that was distributed nationally.

     By the end of the summer I had my own column.  It was titled SCREWS, but it was also about nuts and bolts--all the contracts that had been let in the previous week for their manufacture.  It led to my joke, rarely if ever understood that I had a "nuts and bolts background in journalism."

      One day I was standing next to Charisse and saw the letters "ML" written all over her calender with comments like, "OK,  Not Bad, Excellent, Outstanding, or Woweewoee."  I asked her what it meant.  "That's when I make love to my boyfriend," she answered,  "But don't tell anybody."  I didn't until now.

     At the end of the summer, I was told the editor wanted to talk to me after lunch.  I had a fried eggplant sandwich that day.  When I came back he said he hated to do it but he had to let me go.  It was only a summer job.  The kid from Yale already left.  He never got a byline as far as I saw, but I still never ate eggplant again.


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Great tie in to eggplant, Ben....well done essay...xox
I never realized it before, but if you put food in the title the phone rings off the hook.
Liked your essay. I had a think about tomatoes, which was an essay here, but I got over it. Eggplant is great. Maybe you can get over it too. Ever had BabaGanooj? I have no idea if that is how you spell it. It is a roasted eggplant dip. Very good. R
My nickname for my daughter was and is Babbaganooge. I like the sound of the word.
Phooey, they had a gem in a writer like you and let you slip away. I hope other doors of opportunity opened for you. I think being a real journalist would be so exciting.
What a great story -- you must have been over the moon, and then so suddenly dashed to Earth, and poor eggplant got the blame. (Watermelon is my blamed produce.)
I'd say this was a feast. Thank you.
This story was the kind writers need to write more of. You give soul to your writing through this example. You always do, but this one grabbed me. Eggplant, who knew?

Now I want to write about my first paying job as a writer.

I love eggplants, and i love your piece!!!
Loved your description of the Metalworking magazine's newsroom. RRR
My only vegetable of blame is baked okra. What a great piece. Lots of threads all neatly tied up. Good job.
I was afraid the Yalie was going to get your job.

Some riotous and familiar stuff here Ben -- bottles in the bottom drawer, the Underwood racket, the thrill of seeing your byline for the first time. Very nicely captured.

It also appears you've created a new and useful existential category: the blame vegetable. Okra comes immediately to mind.
i like eggplant. in fact, i found one of my favorite eggplant recipes on here, the imam fainted.
Love to hear about those days. Well done.
Wonderful story, Ben. Runyonesque. The eggplant device is delightful. The Yale guy probly joined the CIA. Maybe it was Woodward. Same difference.
I would have enjoyed reading the story anyway, but the title kept me looking for the eggplant - nicely done, Ben Sen!
Great story Ben. After a childhood of avoiding eggplant, I finally tried it as an adult and now, when in a restaurant, I will invariably order anything on the menu which contains eggplant. Bummer about the job though...
Crazy to let you go...but metal journalism only goes so far. I was so enthralled I forgot about the eggplant until the denouement. Eggplant is good. Fried eggplant sandwiches are VERY good. Eat one and think of how glad you are you're not still in the nuts, bolts and screws-loose business.
On the day I got fired I was wearing a dress that had carrots on it. I've not purchased any dress with a vegetable theme since that day in 1976.
I wouldn't eat eggplant again either. Sucks! But nice write.
What a great tale of the beginnings of a life of letters. I think I would hate eggplant, too, if I had gotten fired right after eating it.