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In search of solitude


Losing my fears in the laundromat
Peter Mayer Publisher
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I think, Christopher, you asked if at any point I was concerned or frightened that I might not be able to take care of myself and I said no, I wasn't. But I do remember a funny story, because I was as frightened as anybody else up to a point, and that point ended in this funny story.  I was sitting in the army laundromat at Fort Dix, New Jersey, the day before we were being discharged from my first tour of duty, although I knew we would be in the reserve for six years and could technically, theoretically be called back.  And I remember sitting in that laundromat and watching these 20 or 30 machines whirl around the clothing, whirling around because they had a door with glass in front, in fact I think that our washing machine has it even now.  I just saw this clothing whirling around, whirling around and I remember saying to myself, what are you frightened of?  And I was frightened at that time, at 20 or 21 or 22 or 23, whatever age I was.  And I thought, I am not frightened of anything, except some terminal illness.  In other words, I said to myself, what could happen to me that I could not recover from?  And I couldn't think of one thing that I couldn't recover from, except a terminal illness.  So I said if I got a job and I couldn't pay the rent, I could get some other job, I could move into the YMCA, I could become a dishwasher or a waiter or whatever it was, I could always support myself.

And when I suddenly realized that there was nothing that I was frightened of – anything – I was liberated, from the question you asked, and I have never been frightened since.  Obviously I've saved some money after my Penguin years and after, given my age and so on, if I had lost it all – It's not a great fortune – but if I had nothing, I wouldn't worry even today. I know that my brain is still good and I could be of some service somewhere and I can learn a living, and live in a little room – I don't believe any of that will happen – but I could, it wouldn't be the end of me.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: fear, washing machine, terminal illness, recovery

Duration: 3 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015