Before I was introduced to Ed McBain I knew Evan Hunter. His book Blackboard Jungle had riveted me and I'd been scared out of my wits by The Birds for which he wrote the screenplay.

I met him through his son Richard, when I was seventeen in my senior year in High School. That was the year my parents moved from a very modest garden apartment where if you could afford to own one, your car was Chevy or Ford American, to a nice home with our own backyard, in the tony town of Bedford, where everyone owned at least one European luxury model. I went from going to a local high school where the parent/celebrity was a brawny wrestler Arnold Skolin, "The Golden Boy" to one where the parent/celebrities like Howard Cossell, Wide World of Sports, Jules Styne composer "I've Heard That Song Before"; "I Should Care"; "It's Been a Long, Long Time"; "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" and Evan Hunter were famous for their mental prowess.

My ascendance into Northern Westchester's rarified locale was rough. Try climbing Everest in the dark, without an oxygen mask or a guide for that matter. I was in a foreign land where nothing jibed with my earlier experiences. It was a place where young people wrote poetry and being a victim of a random act of violence was not even a remote possibility. Emotions were locked down and cool. In Upper Westchester casually tattered ill-fitting clothes looked like money not like where I was from when wearing the same clothes as those rich kids meant that your family was too poor to get you new ones. Lunch was eaten slowly, without fear that anyone would take yours away. Slapstick was not funny, sarcasm was; and for a student to work after school was as rare as shopping at K-mart. I was clueless about all that as exemplified by my feeling lucky when I scored a 4:00 to 7:00 pm weekdays job, landscaping at a local nursery.

I also played in a rock band. After work I would go straight to band rehearsals, invariably arriving covered in mud and pine needles. We rehearsed in the playroom of Evan's massive concrete and glass modern house, (the first I'd seen). It had a deep conversation pit around a fireplace, a pool, a housekeeper, a grand piano, and as accessories, two Mercedes in the driveway. The fridge was filled with Heineken. I had never seen beer in a green glass bottle until then, only opaque brown or clear, but more likely in a can.

One night while the band was practicing The Man himself came in for a listen. It was early spring and he had just come back from skiing in Switzerland, looking relaxed, smiling, pipe in hand. When we took a break he came over to introduce himself.

We exchanged greetings then he asked me where I was from. I told him I lived in Bedford. He squinted as he scrutinized my face. "You're not from Bedford." His response was delivered with a lot of good will and warmth.

I was taken aback trying to figure out what he was getting at? I mean my family had a home there. I figured that sufficed. Meanwhile he was looking around the room, taking in the other kids the fortunate ones who had grown up in that exclusive part of the world. "Where did you live before that?"

"White Plains." I said.

"You're not from White Plains. Come on Marc, where are your people from?"

I paused. It was not a question I was expecting. Why would he care? "The Bronx."

"Now you're talking" he said and patted me on the shoulder. "You know I'm from the Bronx. My real name is Salvatore Albert Lombino. I went to Evanda Childs High School. That's where I took my first name from."

My mother had gone there. It was a Bronx institution that I knew well.

"And my last name I took from Hunter College."

It was a bonding moment. Later that year he wrote a recommendation letter to Kenyon College admissions on my behalf, and the following year his son Richard and I wrote a musical together that Jose Ferrer optioned for Broadway.

Several months after that first encounter I learned he was also Ed McBain, the brilliant writer of mysteries. I've been reading his 87th Precinct stories ever since. God bless him and Evan too.

Copyright © 2009 Marc Blatte, author of Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed: A Novel

Author's Bio: 

Marc Blatte, author of Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed: A Novel, a native and longtime resident of New York City, grew up in the Bronx, played baseball in the Roy Campanella Little League and was a protege of the bestselling author Ed McBain.

After a brief stint west of the Hudson at Kenyon College, Marc returned to the city that never sleeps to become a wunderkind of the songwriting industry, dubbed by legendary record producer Clive Davis as one of the "fortunate ones." He has composed material for major stars, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for best R&B Song.

He has shaken Joe Frazier's hand at Small's Paradise, danced with Sherry Lansing, fixed Debbie Harry's sink, met Henry Kissinger, and had an unexpected visit from the Wu Tang Clan. He has worked as a golf caddy, Rotor Rooter man, tenement superintendent, keyboard player in a lounge band, was a hip-hop white boy pioneer record producer . . . and lived to tell.

The father of three daughters, Marc and his wife Jeanne divide their time between New York and Nicaragua. He is currently at work on his next mystery featuring Black Sallie Blue Eyes.