Monthly Archives: August 2009

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Notes from the margins of the NYC literary world

This August I have been traipsing all over Manhattan with the intention of touching famous writers in person. Here is a quick summary:

1) Richard Russo and Pat Conroy at Barnes & Noble. I didn’t have a seat which made me nervous about fainting from excitement and having to sweat it out on the floor like a sensitive Victorian lady. I was stationed behind the velvet Barnes & Noble rope and I knew that my swoon would distract the audience from the authors so I held it together as best I could. Russo sat in the chair meant for Conroy and vice versa, throwing me into a brief confusion because neither one of them looked like they did in my mind or, more importantly, on their book jackets. Also I discovered that famous authors really do wear khakis and loafers and blazers just like they’re supposed to.

2) Nick McDonell at McNally Jackson on Prince Street. I had to see this guy as a way of proving to myself that I’m not a jealous person, that all my ego deflating work has been successful. I got to the bookstore early, hungry, thirsty, nervous, sweaty, and thankfully all the chairs were empty so I could sit down and read a magazine. Ten minutes later I took an inventory of the room and saw 100 new arrivals, all young and attractive and fashionably clothed. I pretended not to see them and instead focused on the elderly man next to me because his neglected breath and raggedy plastic bag felt more my style. I hung out with him after the show, and it turns out he’s writing a book about who really killed the Lindbergh baby. He brought some newspaper clippings to show McDonell.

McDonell seemed just as nice and smart and self-deprecating as described in the recent New York Times article. He had artfully floppy hair with blonde highlights probably acquired naturally in the African sun. He used delightfully unexpected verbs like “leaven.” He dog-eared his own book. He admitted to planting friends in the audience. He wore khakis like the other guys but he tucked them into haphazardly laced boots that have probably been on safari. I didn’t once think about him with his shirt off even though I could have because he reminded me of a Holister model. At Barnes & Noble Richard Russo had joked about losing his train of thought while trying to make effective eye contact with the audience “like Obama,” but McDonell was a born public speaker who could read from An Expensive Education and stare into your soul at the same time. I wasn’t one bit jealous of his success but I think if he had been a female version of himself I would’ve been because my ego is sexist. Also, some people in New York City are so far out of your league that it wouldn’t cross your mind to compete with them. You’re happy enough just sitting in their proximity while you discuss Lindbergh baby conspiracies with someone more relatable.

3) Literary Death Match at Bowery Poetry Club. Todd Zuniga of Opium Magazine created the Literary Death Match because I gather he enjoys both literature and boxing and the LDM is the nearest he could get to making writers fight each other. At these events celebrities from the bookish world judge four contestants over the course of two rounds on literary merit, performance, and intangibles. Some of the authors at Bowery read from published work, some told stories, and some did stand-up. I thought the assembled talent – judges included – was phenomenal. I actually touched some people at this one, but not with their permission.

4) Mid-Manhattan Branch of New York Public Library. This doesn’t mean that I will stop buying books, but it does mean that I will start paying overdue fines. The trouble is you have to walk through Midtown Manhattan to get to the library so by the time you reach the stacks you’re so pooped from the visual and bodily assault of crossing streets in a pack that you just want to sit in the quiet stairwell and practice deep breathing exercises. But I’m thrilled to have my NYPL card at last even though I can’t believe they just give these things to anybody. But the joke’s on them! I’m not going to use the card to educate myself in order to be a better citizen of this democracy. I’m going to use the card to gain access to the bathrooms whenever I’m in Midtown.

Scented toilet paper roll holder

Our New York apartment came with some IKEA shelving, a floor that had been treated with pomade, and a scented toilet paper roll holder. For a while I just thought my butt smelled really good, then I changed the roll and realized I’d been wiping from a Yankee Candle.


In which I finally leave the apartment

Like a sea cucumber leaving her burrow, today I ventured out of the New York City apartment I’ve been holed up in for a week. I walked to SoHo under the auspices of a lunch date, but I really wanted to check out Hollister, the Broadway shopping mecca staffed almost entirely by Chippendale dancers. My cousin Alice sent me the Hollister siren call this morning in the form of a glorious Times shopping article by Mike Albo, “A Long, Lusty Walk on a Short Pier.” I know that some journalists win the Pulitzer Prize for risking their lives in war zones or for investigating child welfare or for saving Amazon rainforests or whatever, but Albo deserves something for getting me out of the apartment and into a dimly lit maze of hoodies.  I was only in there for a minute, then I stood on the sidewalk furiously texting Alice about my experience, then I moved along when I realized I was bringing down Hollister stock by posing in front of the store in something other than a bikini.

Another cousin sent me this ESPN article about last week’s Mexico-USA soccer game at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Bill Simmons made me happy that I had secretly rooted for Mexico during the game even though the native fans chucked cups of urine at all our players for two hours.

Other links I have enjoyed lately include this one, featuring bathing suits for boners (NSFW), and this one about my imaginary friends on TV.

It feels good to be back in my apartment again where all of New York is at my fingertips. It’s a little known fact that the real New York resides in my laptop on sites like this, this, and this.  But don’t tell the tourists or they will start knocking on my door and I will be forced to throw pee on them.

Then he stole candy from a baby


Williamsburg, Brooklyn

I can just see the thief sneaking out under cover of night. “This rube left her Malibu bike chained to the lamppost. I am so going to steal it.” But he gets there and the chick has secured her bike to the post with a Kryptonite U-Lock. The bike won’t budge. He hears sirens so he quickly disengages the pink seat and the training wheels and the handlebar bell with streamers and takes off with them into a back alley. The 3-year-old girl leaves her brownstone the next morning, curses when she sees the fate of her Malibu, and resolves to leave the looted bike chained to the lamppost as a lesson to other kids in her neighborhood.

Frightening egocentric thought to pass the time before bed

In 13 months and change this blog will be a public record of who I was in my late 20s. There is a reason most of my favorite writers don’t maintain blogs. If only my existing blog posts could become wiser with age, like my mind is planning to do in its early 30s, just as soon as it quits goofing around.

The new, gregarious me

It has recently come to my attention that I am no longer shy. I say this because in the past week I have made friends with a cable guy from Algeria, a chocolate shop owner from Iran, a grad student in business at Vanderbilt, a couple chefs, a painter from Croatia, a West Side boy in suspenders, and two older Jewish men who deal in reliquaries. I am not saying that I am wildly popular with these people, but I have definitely accosted them on street corners or at bars and struck up conversations from which they had difficulty extracting themselves due to my infinite charm and vigor. Sometimes I think they’re hesitant to let me wander off alone again because I’m so obviously unfit for city life, like a unicorn that has only known wild mountain pastures, but other times I imagine they’re saying to themselves, “How refreshing this young lady is with her flawless manners and Southern amiability!” The point is lately I’ve had no problem flinging myself at people and asking for their life stories like I’m a vacuum saleswoman or Miss USA, so I must conclude that I’m no longer shy. Or maybe I never was! And this makes me question all the other beliefs I hold about myself. Maybe I don’t have a love/hate relationship with alcohol! Maybe no one’s listening to my thoughts and judging me for them! Maybe ethereal mountain unicorns can also be street savvy! Maybe I won’t fail out of school! Maybe models are all ugly on the inside! Maybe James Franco really will come to my birthday pary, even though his manager already RSVP’d no. Maybe I can only sustain my gregariousness for one week, and then I will go back to being shunned and humbled by humanity! Anyway I don’t want to lose sight of where I have my real interactions with people, here on this blog, where I never have to stop talking so I can listen to someone talk so I can start talking again.

I’m so relieved that I’m not on drugs!

Just imagine how exhausting it would be to be addicted all the time! If you were reading a book in a coffee shop, you’d have to keep getting up to do your drugs in the bathroom and the book would take you twice as long to read! And just thinking about shopping for the drugs wears me out! I hate shopping! Yesterday I was sitting with a friend here in New York, discussing her graduate school thesis, and it just hit me that neither of us are on drugs, and isn’t that wonderful? Granted, sometimes I enter a dark, graffiti’d restroom in a trendy bar in New York and I imagine all the cool people who have giddily done drugs off the toilet and I ask myself if I’m making a big mistake, but I snap out of it when I recollect the time and effort and money that drugs demand from the average user. Phew! I will stick to coffee and books, thank you very much! If only these meth-addicted prostitutes could be more like me!

Uphill NYC

She enters the city going the wrong way down a one-way street. Rush hour in the rain, driving past the Empire State Building in a 14-foot U-Haul, herds of black umbrellas bobbing across the road. Nature seems upside down. The real world is overhead where the buildings crest. She walks a trench at the bottom of a concrete ocean. In New York City human beings seem to navigate ditches. She feels the ground somewhere above her; she’ll have to take an elevator to find it. The scale of herself is completely off. When had she shrunk to the size of a bug? She’ll never look at bugs the same way again. She’ll stop grinding them into a paste and spreading them on toast. When had the range of skyscrapers replaced the Blue Ridge Mountains? What if Donald Trump got attacked by a bear?

Her feet hurt. She’s going to take a carriage ride around Central Park. The horse merges into the right lane and picks up speed. The city must seem even taller and weirder to horses because they all have to live on the ground floor. Their hooves are engraved with four-digit numbers. She recognizes the park from scenes in monster movies. Something’s going to eat her. The buggy driver points out the bridge from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. She feels a sudden kinship with Macaulay Culkin and regrets not reviewing his movie before moving to Manhattan. When Macaulay was lost in New York, did he also have BO? Her map says there’s a train station around the corner. Riding the subway elevator is a bad idea: It’s an airtight enclosure full of someone else’s pee. If it was her own pee it would be okay, but probably not for everybody else.

Home is a fourth-floor walk-up next to Our Lady of Sorrows church on a Lower East Side block that one hundred years ago supported a busy brothel and saloon. Home is quiet, rejuvenating, full of vodka. It’s fun to spy on the senior citizens who live in the housing project across the street. Not fun, but sad.

Routines have been established. Dumplings have been found. Drug dealers have been identified. Life is getting good and comfortable again. They call it the Big Apple because you want to pick up everything from the ground and put it in your mouth, but real New Yorkers frown on that behavior. It’s better to just load the stuff in your shopping cart and take it home with you.