I arrived in New York in 1988. I knew it was going to be life changing, but I didn’t know it was going to define my life thereafter. I got the two jobs that I still do today- editing and teaching English to people whose native language is not English. I’ll discuss the latter occupation in a later blog, but it turns out that I also edit papers in English written by folks for whom English is not their native language either. These activities qualify me for an unofficial title of diplomat.
After arriving in New York (Lower East Side, Manhattan), I soon got a part time job at “Philosophical Library” as proofreader, $10 an hour, paid in cash every Friday. That was my first job editing, and though it may sound illustrious, the sad truth is that by then the publishing house had long gone from publishing the great works of East European intellectual refugees to gimmick works and trivial adornments such as, “The Apple Book.” It was easy work and gave me a lot of confidence. It was also a real honor to work among manuscripts written by magnificent names such as Sartre, Schweitzer, and Einstein. The air, the view of the side street below, the common area adjoining the ballet school; the atmosphere was quite edifying and one I’ll never forget.
The publishing house was seeing hard times though, and Ms. Runes, the founder’s widow, was hounded daily by debtors. I think she spent half her day on the phone promising dates that she would pay by even though she knew she couldn’t keep them. Sometimes the lender would be so angry that you could hear the voice across the room through the receiver. Ms. Runes never flinched. I thought for sure they would go under soon and I’m not sure how she managed it, but I’m happy to see they’re still in business, still carrying on the fine tradition of making a publishing house devoted to philosophy and humanities, even if that means merely republishing the old classics.
Today I’m keen on philosophy more than ever, and I’m even struggling to write a dissertation on political philosophy, the fate of which is unknown. I only know I’m supposed to accomplish that, and it’s long overdue. I also know that politics is not about how we organize, but concerns itself on how people are treated. Although my stint at Philosophical Library was short, and I was an outsider, it was still the best job I ever had. It was the job that confirmed for me that I was in actuality the sort of person that I had previously imagined myself to be.