Friday, February 26, 2016

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg

In the first half of the twentieth century, homeless men were called bums and a movie patron bought a ticket from a woman who sat in a booth outside the theater. These two facts are the building blocks for Jami Attenberg’s Saint Mazie, a book based on a real person, Mazie Phillips Gordon.  
Mazie was an ordinary New Yorker but she was also a ticket seller with a heart of gold. She sold tickets from the booth in her brother-in-law’s movie theater in The Bowery, home to many poor and disadvantaged people. As part of her job, she sold movie tickets to bums who wanted to get out of the cold, rain, heat and other unpleasant aspects of a New York slum. To some, she sold ten cent tickets; others would be given a bar of soap from her supply in her booth and a ticket on the promise that each would wash his face. She would also give dimes and quarters to her needy customers. Mazie was non-judgmental. She freely gave small change to these men, unconcerned that they would spend the coins on drink. After work, in the wee hours of the morning, she would walk the streets of The Bowery, calling ambulances for men in distress and again passing out small change. Although Jewish, she teamed up with the Catholic nuns who served the poor in the area, united by compassion and empathy.
Jamie Attenberg was inspired to write this book by an old New Yorker article by Joseph Mitchell. Mazie is included in his collection Up in the Old Hotel, and this short essay is also well worth reading.