Philip Roth was unable to travel to London to celebrate winning the Man Booker Prize in 2011, so a few months later we went to him. A dinner in his honour was held at MOMA, in New York.
Knowing I would be sitting next to him, I took some preliminary advice from my friend the late Tom Rosenthal, for many years Philip’s publisher and friend.
“He loves Jewish jokes, and baseball,” said Tom. “But at all costs avoid the “N” word.”
I was a bit taken aback.
“Nobel,” said Tom.
Soon after we were seated, I passed on Tom’s regards, and we spend a few moments in his praise. Soon enough we were onto the jokes, though Philip said he could never remember them. Did I have any good ones? I do, and he was a good audience, laughing loudly, demanding more.
“Enough already,” I said after the fourth one. “Do you get to many Mets games these days?” Like all former Brooklyn Dodgers fans he later transferred his allegiance to the Mets after the Dodgers left town on that dreadful day in 1957. (In 1973 he wrote The Great American Novel, which was about baseball).
He looked slightly abashed.
“I’m a Yankee fan now,” he said.
Well, people change. They change their homes, their political allegiances, and their partners. But they stick to their teams, and a shift from the blue-collar Mets to their hated cross-town rivals, the blue-blood Yankees, is unthinkable in New York.
I must have looked very surprised.
“It’s nice to win sometimes….” He shrugged. “Got any more jokes?”