I went to work as an assistant to Bob Silvers when I was twenty-four and he was eighty-two. At our interview, which took place in a section of The New York Review’s Hudson Street offices devoted to its late co-founder and editor, Barbara Epstein—her books on the shelves, her picture in a frame—I tried to calm my nerves enough to project an attitude of literary sophistication that would gain me admission into the thrilling, unfathomable world of books and ideas that Bob simply called “the paper.” He could be wolfish, I had been warned, but he was a charmer that day, dapper in patterned cashmere socks and full of dazzling stories. “Cal bought shirts by the dozen when he was manic, you know,” he said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be sharing an intimate memory of Robert Lowell. “We were always taking them back to Bloomingdale’s.” He called on a Friday to offer me the job, starting on Monday. I told him that I’d need the usual two weeks to wind down my current work. It became clear that this was not going to happen; standard time did not exist in Bob’s world. “You see, Alex, we need all the help we can get,” he sighed—one of his classic refrains.
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