WHEN she learned that the bank was about to foreclose on her mortgage, Katherina Schnible, a slightly lame 72-year-old, remained in her third floor apartment in a little frame house in Brooklyn, refusing to open the door to anybody but her son. Then came the day when she heard a heavy footfall on the first landing, heard somebody running frantically up the first flight of stairs, heard a man’s voice shouting something. The footsteps came closer and then, right outside her door, the voice yelled “Fire!” Mrs Schnible opened her door and hobbled into the hall. “Hello, Mrs Schnible,” said the man standing there. “Here’s a summons for you.”

当她得知自己抵押贷款的住房将被银行没收后,凯瑟琳.史妮波(一位72岁、步伐略有些蹒跚的老人)待在她位于布鲁克林一栋构架房第三层的公寓里,无论谁来都拒不开门开,除了她儿子。直到有一天,她听到楼梯口传来沉重的脚步声,听到有人慌慌张张跑上第一层的楼梯,还听到有人在叫喊着些什么。脚步声越来越近,接着,就在她的门口,传来一声“起火啦!”史妮波女士打开房门,踉踉跄跄的跑到大厅。“您好,史妮波女士,”一位站在那儿的男士说道。“这是您的传票。”更多信息请访问:http://www.24en.com

The man on the stairs was Harry Grossman, the “champion process-server of all time”, and the story is among countless told to readers of the New Yorker by St. Clair McKelway, a wry observer of the city’s low life, from the 1930s into the 1960s. A reporter of the old school, McKelway was never portentous and rarely judgmental. As Adam Gopnik, a current writer for the New Yorker, shrewdly notes in his introduction to this collection of essays, he was not at all interested in trends; in the idea that more and more people were acting this way. Instead the classic McKelway piece says: “Very, very few people act this way, which is what makes the ones who do so interesting.”

站在楼梯间的人,是哈利.格雷斯曼——有史以来最出众的传票递送员。而以上的这个故事,是由圣克莱尔.马克威为《纽约客》杂志读者讲述的众多故事中的一则。圣克莱尔.马克威从上世纪三十年代到六十年代,一直以犀利眼光关注着城市底层的民众。作为一名保守型记者,马克威从不装腔作势,也极少评头论足。正如亚当.哥普尼克(现为《纽约客》撰稿人)为该故事集撰写的序言中的精炼总结——他(马克威)不是那种对潮流感兴趣的人(言下之意就是越来越多的人喜欢追求入流的东西)。然而,马克威的一个经典之作中有这么一句:“绝大、绝大多数的人是不赶潮流的,这就使那些喜欢追求时髦的人让人很感兴趣。”

In these essays they include the good as well as the bad. A beat cop interprets the force’s shop talk for McKelway: his shift is a tour, his uniform a bag, his winter overcoat a benny, an influential friend a rabbi and his wife, even to her face, the cook. Firebugs substitute old nags for thoroughbred horses before they set stables alight and then claim for valuable horseflesh from the insurers. A counterfeiter of banknotes cannot spell and renders the first American president as “Wahsington”. Yet for 20 years he gets away with passing off his funny money because he never succumbs to greed. He spends only a few dollars at a time and at different locations.

这些人物故事里,既有倒霉事儿,也有走运的事儿。”一名社区巡警如是为马克威转述警察们私下有关工作的趣谈:值班等于溜圈。制服让你裹成蚕茧,冬衣让你夹成汉堡包。一个影响你的朋友是“夫子”,而老婆则是厨子(即使当着老婆面,他们也这么叫)。纵火犯在放火烧马棚之前,会将棚里的良驹偷换成老马,之后便以损失良马为由,向保险公司索要赔偿。有个造假钞的,不识字,把美国国父的名字印成“花生顿”。不过那搞笑的钞票流通了二十年,他都从来没有被抓过。因为他从来不被贪婪所诱惑——他每次消费都只用几块钱,而且得手就走,绝不恋战。

All these stories are lucid. McKelway was often not. His fondness for booze helped ruin his five marriages and even worried his colleagues on the New Yorker, which is saying something. On joining the magazine, Brendan Gill, a contemporary, noticed that everybody there seemed to be feeling sick. “Later, I learned that many of them were sick with hangovers of varying degrees of acuteness.”

这些故事内容都很直白。但是马克威的脑子可不总是那么清白。他酗酒成性,已经让他五段婚姻都以失败告终,甚至还殃及他在《纽约客》的同事——这可很说明问题。布兰顿.吉尔(和他同时代的人)刚入职该杂志时,发现那里的每一个人好像都有点没睡醒。“后来我才搞清楚,原来他们很多人都还没有从前一晚的醉意中清醒过来。

It was McKelway’s good fortune to be tutored by Harold Ross, the editor of the New Yorker from 1925 to 1951. Like so many of his staff, Ross maintained the highest standards of journalism while sinking awesome amounts of liquor. His editing precision was legendary and he was so literal-minded that he even corrected literary quotations. In revising a piece that quoted Tennyson, for instance, he altered “nature red in tooth and claw” to “nature red in claw and tooth”, reasoning that a predator’s claws would be bloodied before its teeth. Ross insisted that “nothing was indescribable”; that the most complex idea or gizmo could be made intelligible.

马克威能有机会获得哈罗德.罗斯(《纽约客》1925年至1951年的总编)的真传,算是他这辈子的一大幸事。罗斯和他众多的同事一样,在灌下海量酒精的同时,仍能保证文稿有行业的一流水平。他审稿的精细程度令人叫绝。他字斟句酌,毫不含糊,他甚至会改正稿子里引用的名人名言的错误。举个例子,有一次,他审的稿子引用l丁尼生的话,文中写到“大自然的红牙血爪”。他先将“红牙血爪”改回为“血爪红牙”,然后解释道,食肉动物在用牙齿撕咬食物前,它的爪子肯定已经先沾满了血迹。罗斯坚持认为“任何事物都可以用语言表达的”,即使是最复杂的思想和事物都有可能被表达描述出来。

This exactness of observation and fascination with detail runs through McKelway’s essays. So does an acceptance of human frailty. As a sinner himself, McKelway tolerates, almost celebrates, the sins of others. He can only smile when the wife of an embezzler says: “Well, he’s a very fine man except for that one quirk.”

这种观察的精确和对细节的追求,贯穿马克威笔下的所有故事。他的文章中也贯穿了一种对于人类弱点的包容。因为自己就是一个有罪之人,所以马克威对于他人的罪过不但能容忍,甚至乐见于此。倘若一个贪污犯的妻子说“呃,除了那个毛病,他其实是个非常好的人。”他可能只会对此莞尔一笑。