Philip Roth, one of the great American authors, died on Tuesday. Roth spent his last years living quietly on the Upper West Side, taking walks and meeting friends at local restaurants.
As one of his neighbors told us the last time we wrote about Roth, he clearly valued his privacy. “Introduced himself as Phil when I moved in and despite having his books on my shelf, it (embarrassingly) took me a bit of time to put two and two together. He was a quiet and kind neighbor.” He was also spotted at the Planetarium Station post office on 83rd — the greatest writer of his generation mailing letters like the rest of us schmoes.
Brian Koppelman, the co-creator of Showtime’s Billions, wrote a nice account of what it was like living in Roth’s building when Koppelman was a young aspiring writer.
The Guardian put together some anecdotes from other writers and Roth’s friends, including this one from writer Ann Margaret Daniel:
We walked him back to his apartment. Outside it, three workers were smoothing fresh cement on the wide sidewalk. Our friend said, “Let’s write our initials,” and Roth eagerly agreed. We all compared keys to see which was the sturdiest-looking, and Roth said to one of the cementers, “Excuse me, we’d like to write our initials.” He paused, courtly, for a reply, and the guy shook his head, no, not yet. Then he nodded at Roth, but held up a cautionary finger. “When I’m finish,” he replied.
Roth guffawed. “That oughta be the title of my autobiography.”
The smoothing over, we wrote our three sets of initials, and said our goodbyes.
The first person who can find the initials and send us a photo will get a West Side Rag mug. (We think he lived in the West 80’s but will update this when we get the exact block.)