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Art Zimmer examines his life in new memoir

When Art Zimmer was publisher of the Syracuse New Times, he would occasionally travel down memory lane at the office and resurrect some amusing tales from his past.

One story from his days during the swingin’ 1960s as a dashing man about town concerned his cohabitation practices. Young ladies would ask Art if he was living with anyone at the time. “Why, yes,” he replied. The ladies seemed upset by that response, but then he added, “And she’s black.” Next came the topper: “And she’s a bunny.”

The ladies, of course, understandably jumped to the conclusion that available bachelor Art was indeed living it up a la Hugh Hefner with a Playboy playmate. Art never let on that he indeed was the owner of a female black bunny named Smokey that was scampering about his pad.

Art eventually thought it was time to break off the relationship with Smokey, but the local zoo officials nixed his idea of donating the bunny to them. So one night Art donned an oversized overcoat so he could smuggle Smokey into the zoo, and dropped her off at the bunny patch, where she presumably lived up to her mistaken Playboy pedigree.

The Smokey story won’t be found amid the 200-plus pages of Making It Count: From A to Z, The Life and Times of Art Zimmer, but there are plenty of other nuggets to be mined from this autobiography. The softcover edition from Hamilton’s Log Cabin Books retails for $19.95, with Zimmer hitting the book-tour trail to heighten awareness of its yuletide stocking-stuffer potential. Given Art’s penchant for entrepreneurial promotion, he’ll likely be pushing his book for weeks to come.

To bring A to Z to the printed page, Zimmer, 78, wrote down many historical chunks in longhand. The material was then turned over to editor Lois Gridley for refinements, an ongoing process that took several years to complete.

The book works best during its chronicles of Art’s adolescence, which provides a welcome reference point for his later years. Indeed, who woulda thunk that the tenacious teen who somehow managed to avoid flunking out of high school would morph into the ascot-wearing publisher of an award-winning alternative newsweekly?

Along the way readers will also discover Mary Lou Willard, Art’s first sweetheart; learn how Art’s typing skills kept him out of the rigors of 20-mile hikes in the Army; and laugh at Art’s attempts at embarking on a two-year sailing adventure without having any previous nautical experience.

Zimmer isn’t afraid to name names, either. During his long reign with the Onondaga Ski Club, Art booked 1960s-era super-skier Jean Claude Killy for a Syracuse appearance. But the sports star could not speak English, forcing Art to hire an interpreter. And things got worse when Killy didn’t arrive at the press conference on time because he was allegedly dallying with an airline stewardess in his hotel room.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for readers is that the Syracuse New Times does not command a considerable chunk of print from A to Z’s recollections, although there are some contributions from previous editors-in-chief Mike Greenstein and the late Roland Sweet which cite that Zimmer’s 1984 purchase of the bankrupt newspaper saved it from certain extinction. Instead, the Syracuse New Times is just one component of Zimmer’s long journey, which includes efforts as a playwright (specifically his annual Cruizin’ musical salutes), as a mover-and-shaker for the Syracuse Area Live Theater (SALT) awards, and as an auto magnate of neo-classic models that bear his surname.

There are several constant themes at work throughout A to Z, such as the notion that long hours, hard work and being a persistent self-promoter really will pay off in the long run. And it also helps that you marry the right girl: In Art’s case, she’s the former Shirley Sherburne, and they’ve been happily-ever-aftering since 1987.

So maybe there is a sequel to Making It Count: From A to Z, The Life and Times of Art Zimmer, if only because Art still has many other stories. There’s another tale that he revealed in the office about his days as a handyman for an apartment complex, especially when he attempted to work on the room of an extremely rude and uncooperative tenant. The first thing that Art did when he bought the property was to give that tenant an eviction notice!

Art Zimmer will conduct a book signing on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 6 to 8 p.m., at the DeWitt Public Library, located on the lower level of Shoppingtown Mall in DeWitt.

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