Doing What Ya Gotta Do
The story of Warren McDowell, publisher of The Fire Island Journal, delivering 6,000 copies of his semi-weekly newspaper by boat to the retailers of that summer resort grabbed me.
Fire Island is a quirky barrier island off Long Island’s South Shore, 32 miles long and half a mile wide. Cars are not permitted on the island. The only way to get there is by ferry, private boat or swimming. The wheeled vehicles of choice are kids’ wagons that carry everything—your luggage, groceries, dry cleaning and babies.
Sure, the publisher could get a permit for a delivery truck to drive the beach. But this is a waterfront community, so delivery by boat is correct. Sure, he could hire someone to make the delivery, but for McDowell, whose offices are on the mainland, this is the only way he stays in touch with his customers. In addition, he always picks up some news and gossip for his next edition.
So the publisher becomes a delivery boy. Warren McDowell does what he’s gotta do.
His intensity and drive reminded me of two of the most luminous personalities of the twentieth century, Sara and Gerald Murphy. Gerald, a fine painter, was first turned into a child’s nurse and then, for 22 years, he became a storekeeper.
He did what he had to do.
The Extraordinary Murphys
Two weekends ago, my wife and I drove to Williamstown, Mass., where the Williams College Museum was staging a magnificent exhibition, “MAKING IT NEW: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy.” It was dreamed up and assembled by Deborah Rothschild, senior curator of modern and contemporary art.
Born in 1888 and a Yale classmate of Cole Porter, Gerald Murphy was the son of the owner of Mark Cross, a store that started out selling leather goods and equestriana—saddles, tack and coach supplies. With the advent of the automobile, Patrick Murphy changed the business model and began stocking luxury items such as driving gloves, cocktail shakers, wristwatches, thermoses, safety razors and fountain pens. Son Gerald later described the store as “a monument to the nonessential.”