No. 16: Cathy Clarke (2002)
I met Cathy Clarke in 1993 in the hospital room of a friend who had broken her back, and almost immediately Clarkie, as lots of people called her, became one of my favorite people. She still is, although it has been a long time since I’ve seen her. She always had the most wonderful stories to tell–and a very deadpan, matter-of-fact way of telling them–that made her as delicious to my ears as Thomas Wolfe. Because of that, my Dear Reader’s letter for her Goodie went like this:
“Some years ago, sitting in the glass brick, amber-lit office of a swanky editor, we told her we would like to write a biography of Cathy Clarke, who could then become famous for it rather than have it written because she was famous. Cathy Clarke is the genuine article, like the library lions, or the Cyclone. She’s the Brooklyn Bridge. She has red hair and wears red lipstick and a red kerchief on her head, she’s always in the wrong place at the right time, she knows how to do her own plumbing, she can build things, she reads a lot and is very, very smart. She rides her bike all over town, she got a ticket for running a red light on Park Avenue on her bike for $250 after stopping to pick up a $20 bill. She has a job she doesn’t like, she’s an excellent cook, she has an inspiring laugh, she’s unpretentious and has excellent taste, she’s very funny and tells a great story, she grew up with terrible nuns and it’s impossible not to like her. We told the formidable editor a few of Clarkie’s stories, which made her laugh and slap her hand on the desk. She said it would make a fantastic book. She loved the idea, she gushed over it, she said, ‘I know Cathy Clarke! I grew up on Flatbush Avenue!’ She said, ‘Everyone knows Cathy Clarke! She’s somebody everybody knows and likes! I’ve known Cathy Clarke all my life,’ she went on, and then, pressing a hand to her heart, she whispered, ‘I am Cathy Clarke!’ My Goodness, what an extraordinary reaction, how fab, we thought as we left, and went back out on the street. Needless to say we were very happy that Random House was going to publish the life story of Cathy Clarke, and needless to add, we never heard from the fancy editor again. This Goodie is intended to introduce you to Clarkie, and then hopefully she’ll write a book. She’ll have to, because what we have here are but a tiny few of the stories she’s got to tell. She is the real thing, a good egg, and a dear friend. Joseph Mitchell would have liked her and written a profile of her for The New Yorker. We know you will enjoy her, and maybe feel that you, too, are Cathy Clarke.”
Now, the thing is, the meeting with the editor took place years before Goodie came about, but I sometimes wrote ‘we’ in place of ‘I’ in my Dear Readers letters since I signed them from both Editor and Publisher of Goodie, although I see when looking back on the letters that I wasn’t always consistent. And in this case it was just me, sitting in an office at Random House, several years before Goodie, with the agent I had at the time, and the fancy editor, at Random House. The editor was interested in a book that I had written, which as my Goodie letter explains, she ultimately didn’t take, but while I was there she asked me about other book ideas I had. When I told her of my Cathy Clarke biography idea, she really was all over it like a rash. And while I never got to write the biography of Cathy Clarke, wherever she is, if she should see this I want to say to her: “Clarkie, write your stories down. They’re worth their weight in red-headed gold.”
If you would like to order Cathy Clarke’s Goodie, please send $5 via paypal, using the button on the Shop page here. That amount includes postage within the United States. From outside, please send me an email.
The photo below is of Cathy Clarke’s great grandfather, the Prospect Park shepherd. His story is told in her Goodie.