Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
If you do an Internet search for the Red Raven restaurant, you’ll find it without any difficulty; a steakhouse on fabled Route 66 in Williams, Arizona, billed as the gateway to the Grand Canyon. But the Red Raven I remember most fondly was embraced by the concrete and steel canyons of Manhattan; a little Italian joint on West 45th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues (No real Noo Yawkuh would ever call it “Avenue of the Americas).
It was to that Red Raven some of us would repair at the end of a day of toil in the WNEW newsroom to hoist a toddy for the body, often more than one, and have a cheap dinner while, most of the time, engaging in pure and unfettered silliness.
There were three of us who formed the hard core of the group: The puckish Andrew Fisher IV, the redoubtable S. G. Ruderman, and me. And, while we were joined by a few others from time to time, for the most part the silliness was ours alone.
One evening, having run through the events of the day and casting about for something worthy of nonsense, we decided it would be really neat if we could come up with a list of names for reporters and experts that precisely matched their assignments and/or areas of expertise. It was Andy (No surprise there) who got us started. Young Mr. Fisher had spent time in Germany during his tour with the United States Army, and suggested correspondent Helmut Leiner in Berlin. When we stopped laughing, and it took awhile considering the amount of spiritus fermenti we had by then consumed, Rudy said, “How about Norman Invasion in London.” More laughter as I sputtered, “Or Norman Conquest.” From then on, we were off to the races.
We came up with two automotive experts, Jack Handel and Axel Grease. Our sales manager was Bill Collector. We discovered an Irish anthropologist appropriately named Paley O’Lithic, and his cousin, the outdoor furniture magnate, Patty O’Furniture. Our horticultural expert was Forrest Primeval. There was police reporter Billy Club, Russian hotel owner Comrade Hilton, society reporter Crystal Chandelier, seafood critic Clem Chowder, and CDC reporter Sal Monella. For corporate attorney and legal expert we chose Ann Aconda. Barb Wire was our reporter in Eastern Europe.(The Iron Curtain was still in place). On and on we went (Let’s have another drink). And the names because even more goofy: Willy Nilly in Boon, Les Agna in Rome, Pierre Ahmid in Cairo. Eventually, we became boisterous enough to attract the attention of other diners who were, no doubt, wondering why we were allowed in public without our keepers.
Even as I write this I can think of a few to add: Reporting from China, Hu Wot Wen, and ornithologist Bob Whyte, airport security guard Pat U. Down, and film critic Harry Iball.
I suspect that Andy and Rudy could add those I’ve forgotten: the years have taken their toll on my gray matter. But the larger memory remains: The Red Raven, and the fun we had just being us, and knowing that, the following day, we’d be back at the World’s Greatest Radio Station. At that time it was “Quoth the raven, ‘Evermore.’” But, alas, it was not to be.
One final note: The title of this piece is, of course, taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” the narrative poem first published in 1845. Poe is buried here, in Baltimore’s Greenmount Cemetery. And almost every year, on his birthday, someone, identity unknown, places a bottle of brandy at his grave site. I have, thus far, resisted temptation.