Jimmy Breslin, 79, held his wake last night, except there was no body.
Instead, 500 Breslin fans packed the auditorium at New York University's Kimmel Center to hear Breslin eulogized and praised — as the "corpse" slumped quietly in a large armchair and witnessed it all.
His old friend Pete Hamill was a superb master of ceremonies. The folks at Glucksman Ireland House, who hosted the event, have rarely pulled off a more successful occasion.
The greats of New York journalism were all there, from Pete Hamill to Bill Gallo, to Mike Lupica, to Jim Dwyer and Dan Barry.
Even Tony Bennett turned up for the magical evening and the legendary crooner turned back the clock with a wonderful performance for his old friend Breslin.
When it was the old hack's turn, he heaved himself out of the chair, lumbered across the stage to the microphone and gave an unforgettable eulogy for himself.
He revealed what he had been writing (at 4.a.m that morning) the first pages of a new novel about the horrors of war, set at Dover Air Force base in Delaware, where the dead soldiers' bodies from Iraq and Afghanistan are brought back home.
The main character is a female dental nurse at the facility whose job it is to ensure by dental records that the bruised and bloodied body she is handling is who the records say it is.
It was a remarkable excerpt, a sure sign that the Breslin thankfully is still railing against the dying of the light, and is still as full of passion and conviction as he was when he began as a cub reporter on the Herald-Tribune all those years ago.
Breslin too took us for a gallop with some of his old characters; despite protesting he wanted to forget the past and live in the present — like one of his characters that had a habit of saying he only wanted to "reminisce about tomorrow night's game."
New York Times columnist Dan Barry stole the show with a moving but hilarious account of how Breslin accompanied him to a cancer procedure at Sloan-Kettering Hospital and refused to leave.
Barry stated he almost had to move over on the gurney bringing him to the operating room to make room for Breslin.
It was a rare insight into the goodness of Breslin behind the gruffness and hard exterior. Another Times columnist Jim Dwyer brought home another aspect of Breslin, the sheer poetry and intensity of his writing.
He read from Breslin's description of a black grade school in rural Alabama in 1962. You could see the hollowed-out wooden shack, feel the crumbling steps on the entrance to the school whose weight could "not support an adult."
Above all, you could imagine the bleak future in the cotton fields the kids faced once they were old enough. Conditions were essentially unchanged from the time of the Confederacy.
Mike Lupica, sports writer supreme, took us in a different direction, describing his 40th birthday party where Breslin was guest of honor.
Breslin gave a marvelously entertaining speech for the occasion, which lacked just one thing — any mention of Lupica.
Bill Gallo officially inducted Breslin into the "Old Geyers Club" with a wonderful portrait of the writer, mouthing his favorite word "beautiful."
He noted one great trick he learned from Breslin — always go the loser's dressing room after a boxing match — that was where the story was.
And so it went for over two hours that seemed like five minutes. Old copyboys, secretaries, deliverymen, editors — they were all there.
For Breslin, it was a night to remember. For all others, a night never to forget.