"More love and more joy than age or time could ever destroy."
My friend Johnny Apple died this past Tuesday, and in his honor I went to the Shake Shack and had a triple dip sundae with hot caramel AND hot chocolate sauce. Johnny's great passion for food extended from frozen custard to foie gras. Of course if Johnny had been there with me we would have ordered so much more. Johnny Apple was all about MORE; more deliciously, obscenely rich food, more drink, more knowledge, more stories, and more heart and soul than I'd ever seen in one person before.
I first met Johnny five or so years ago when we both served on a committee. I remember sitting around a conference table at a midtown accounting firm discussing various matters and being in awe of Apple's authoratitive, stentorian take on everything. The rest of us would be discussing the merits of one person or another, and then Johnny would weigh in, and then the real jousting would begin. He wasn't just another 500 pound gorilla at a conference table. He was a 500 pound gorilla who simply had eaten and drunk MORE than the rest of us, and he wasn't shy about letting us know that. Everyone else at the table had known Johnny for years, but I was the newbie who couldn't believe I was sitting at the same table with the Johnny Apple, legendary New York Times reporter, editor and bureau chief. I remember wanting so much to impress him with my own knowledge and expertise.
After the meeting was over Johnny came over to me and asked where he should meet some friends for lunch. I told him to go to Pearl, where he could have a lobster roll, some clams and oysters on the half shell, and some chowder. I couldn't believe that Johnny Apple was asking ME where to eat.
The meeting broke up around noon, and I went home to work on a story.
Around 3:00 p.m. my home office phone rang. I picked it up, only to be confronted by a very loud and very enthusiastic voice: "Levine, Apple here.
You were right about Pearl. It was great. Thanks for the tip. It was a pleasure to meet you." And then he hung up.
Over the next few years Johnny and I would grab a bite, even if it was mine or his fourth or fifth or even sixth meal of the day. He took an interest in my Times stories and my relationship with the newspaper of record. Johnny was generous with advice, career and otherwise, not just to me but to anyone that crossed his path.
I remember sitting in a restaurant with him eating some fried oysters, when Johnny noticed the young couple next to us had a guidebook open and were discussing where they might eat during their stay in New York. Johnny leans over to them and practically shouts out, "We're food writers, we'll tell you where to eat." I loved the fact that Johnny, one of the greatest political reporters of all time, decribed himself as a food writer.
A couple of years ago my wife and I met Johnny and his beloved "wife Betsey" at, fittingly enough, Pearl, for dinner. Johnny and Betsey were delightful dinner companions, Johnny weighing in on everything and anything going on in our lives, from our son's college search, to great literature and architecture and history and jazz and food and drink. Betsey turned out to be the perfect foil for Johnny: the smile in her voice belied a fierce intelligence and a Japanese knife-sharp wit.
I have lots more Johnny stories, as does everyone who ever crossed paths with him. There's that word again, MORE. Johnny Apple was the king of more. He lived a life filled with more joy and generousity of spirit and bravado and bluster and heart and soul than anyone else I have ever known . And now that he's gone, I wonder who is going to supply the more we all need.
Todd Purdum's wonderful obit and some great Apple video in the Times
Calvin Trillin's masterful, spot-on profile of Johnny in the New Yorker
All products linked here have been independently selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases, as described in our affiliate policy.