Meeting Lileks

Meeting Lileks
: Last week, I had the great pleasure of meeting James Lileks. When he last came to New York, I scolded him for not stopping by to say hey. He said he would next time. And he’s true to his word(s), our James.

This will come as no suprise at all: I like the guy. He’s as charming and witty as you’d expect and he writes even the sentences he speaks.

James was in town for a regular pilgrimage to Gotham, visiting his book agent and publisher. To my eye, he lives a sort of ’40s life, back to the time when New York was about things that didn’t move, words and pictures on paper instead of screens. This put me in the mind of an icon I liked to read (when I was young, at least) and I said something about him being James Thurber: witty, visual, published, man about NY. And he said, “If I were Thurber, I’d be drunk, blind, and depressed in my hotel room.”

I don’t know how Lileks does it. I asked him how and I still don’t know. He writes nine columns, papered and virtual, each week and writes books (he’s selling more good ideas to his publisher on this trip) and raises a kid and a dog and has a life. He and Reynolds amaze me. I used to think I was energetic. And maybe I was. But next to these guys, I feel like I exhibit the productivity of a DMV employee.

James befuddled the waitress with his Midwestern charm; she’s not used to that. “I’ll have two chickens, he’ll have none,” he said. She looked like a confused — and irritated — German shepherd. He turned off the charm.

We had our chickens and walked down into Times Square. When you walk with Lileks in New York, you can’t walk like a New Yorker. You actually look UP. He points to old ads on buildings and neat details. He spots some neat-looking initials on an old building and we wonder what they mean. A building employee sees us staring UP — how unusual — and asks whether he can help us. We ask what the initials mean. He runs away.

I go into the too-modern Conde Nast building. James continues downtown in search of a past.

Most enjoyable lunch I’ve had in ages.