The Kingdom and the Tower

Another reporter told a bathroom story regarding Michiko Kakutani, who, shortly after being hired as a cultural reporter, collapsed in tears and refused to leave the ladies’ room for a half hour after being told that Rosenthal was critical of the clichés he found in her writing.

For no particular reason, certainly none having to do with Rosenthal, Joseph Lelyveld (former reporter and executive editor) made reference to the suicidal death of a venerable and zealously reliable staff member named Russell Porter, who one day left the Times Building and jumped out of his apartment window.

Many other recollections of shared experiences good and bad were exchanged by Mr. Gelb’s 20 guests, and the digressions might have continued at length had he not interrupted everyone by saying: “C’mon, it’s getting late—let’s go to the party.”

After leading the way out of Sardi’s, he paused on the sidewalk to remove from his pocket a key that he said held special meaning. “This key was given to me many years ago by [then publisher] Punch Sulzberger and it provides a shortcut from Sardi’s into The Times, meaning you don’t have to walk all the way around the block to get in. Oh, I’ve used this key thousands of times, and now, on this night, I’ll be using it for the last time.”

He then inserted the key into the lock of a metal door that was a few steps above what had once been a loading dock for Times delivery trucks, and soon we were following Mr. Gelb through the mail room which was directly over where the huge printing presses used to function until this operation was transferred in 1997 to plants out of town. Still, as we passed one row of tanks, there was evidence of ink oozing out.

Following our ride on one of the back elevators up to the third floor, we immediately heard the loud music blaring from two self-powered Mackie speakers affixed to 10-foot-high tripods that overlooked the metro desk, and the L.P. records spinning around on two turntables sequentially introduced us to the voices of James Brown (“Sex Machine”), Aretha Franklin (“Respect”), Michael Jackson (“Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”), Diana Ross (“I’m Coming Out”), Justin Timberlake (“SexyBack”) and the Temptations (“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”). In rhythm with all of this music was the redoubtable Joe Sexton, and within the crowds of other dancers and onlookers—it was not easy to distinguish between them—were such newsroom notables as the executive editor, Bill Keller; a managing editor, John Geddes; and an assistant managing editor, William E. Schmidt.

It had been Mr. Schmidt’s secretary, along with Mr. Sexton, who had arranged for the services of the disk jockey known professionally as “D.J. Herbert Holler”—but as “Kenny” to his friends—and who rents himself out (along with his hundreds of vinyl records and his two-channel Rane mixer) for $1,000 an hour. While he refused to reveal his rate of pay from The Times, he did say that Mr. Keller did not want him to leave at their prearranged 10 p.m. exit.

“Can we get you to spin another hour?” Mr. Keller asked, but Kenny said, “I can’t,” explaining that he had another private party to go to downtown in the meatpacking district. “But,” he added, “I’ll put on one more long dance.” He selected “Love Thang” by First Choice.

The evening was very successful, in the opinion of Charles Kaiser, a writer who had worked as a metro reporter for The Times until 1980, having first gained Mr. Gelb’s attention in the early 1970’s when Mr. Kaiser was a Columbia student serving as a stringer. “What we saw in this place tonight was what you’d never have seen when I started as a reporter here in 1974,” he said, adding, “You saw all these young people of color, and people of all kinds dancing with one another—men dancing with men, men dancing with women, women dancing with women—and it really reflects the fundamental change in The Times since Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. became the publisher [in 1992]. When he started out here in the early 1980’s as an assistant metro editor, he figured out who all the gay reporters were, and then he took each of them to lunch, and one by one he said: ‘I know you’re gay—don’t worry about it. When Abe Rosenthal leaves I’ll make sure that the fact that you’re gay will make no difference in your career.’”

The Kingdom and the Tower