Category Archives: Local News

Drunk and in Danger in Luna Park

Because I’ve been working nonstop on my miserable books, I think I’ve forgotten how to write (as opposed to revising/copying/pasting/crying/hating/etc.). It’s been a long time since I stepped away from the same two stories I’ve been trying to tell for two years and faced a blank page. Writers are supposed to write things, or at least I think a superior said that to me once in an expensive MFA program somewhere. But here are the current mental obstacles impeding my elite practice of the literary arts:

1)    Fuck writing

2)    Fuck that I’m even sitting here writing about writing. Let’s go to Coney Island instead.

Every few weeks Coney Island summons me with its don’t-go-in-the-water-if-you-have-so-much-as-a-paper-cut-or-you-will-die-from-sepsis siren call. The last time I went swimming at a beach of better repute a maxi pad brushed past my leg like a menstrual jellyfish, so the film of grease on Coney’s fair waters doesn’t tend to bother me. Something about this Brooklyn resort town resonates with me deep inside, tickling me and delighting me and stirring up all the Chlamydia I caught the last time I swam there.

I really don’t get why I like the place so much because I’m always too broke to ride the rides and I don’t eat hotdogs due to the nitrates and the freak show performers always strike me as bored out of their skulls even when those skulls are firmly fastened to their persons by the swords stuck down their throats. Coney is the kind of place where most of the girthy sunbathers are simultaneously chain smoking and drinking Pepsi. It’s the kind of beach you bring your portable television to. If you want soleil, go to the French Riviera. If you want to step in sandy dog poop, take the F train to the end of the line. For whatever reason my idea of a fanciful getaway is much more aligned with the latter.

My last visit to Coney was particularly fun. I was a touch drunk, which makes everything free because money is just pretend, so I was tossing dollar bills at the French fry vendor and quarters at the skeeball machine like I was freaking Beyonce. And then M suggested that we ride the Cyclone, the ancient wooden skeleton held together by pipe cleaners that dominates Luna Park. On all my trips to the Island, I’ve never approached this terrifying roller coaster, not necessarily because I’ve feared for my life but because it costs $8, cash that is better spent on cheap sunglasses or two ounces of beer from the boardwalk. But fortunately money was no longer an object that day. We had already lost $30 to a carnie who inveigled us with the empty box that a Macbook Pro once occupied. We had already paid $10 to watch a man squeeze his entire body through a tennis racket. What was eight more dollars to me, a rich and famous pop diva? So we bought our tickets and got in line.

[Note that I’m now switching to the present tense after all that preamble.]

And we wait and we wait. And we get sunburned while we wait. And then we’re not Next but Next After the People Who Are Next, and we are so goddamn excited. Counting down the seconds until it will be our turn. Adrenaline coursing through our veins with the pricey light beer. Making sure we have nothing valuable in our pockets that could fly out.

The four or five sleepy high school boys who operate this roller coaster of death so they can use their seasonal paychecks to buy Crackerjacks or whatever have been hustling trains through the loading area with the utmost boredom and efficiency. It makes me a little nervous that they ask all the women in any mixed gender pairings to take the far seats of the cars. This means that the Cyclone lawyers want more weight distributed on the outside of the train so it won’t topple off the tracks when going around bends. But all right, that’s fine. No one ever requests that of me at Busch Gardens, but I get it. Still feeling pretty good about my survival prospects.

The People Who Are Next wait in their coveted positions as a train pulls up with passengers in various states of heart attack. These passengers stumble from their cars, and the People Who Are Next take their sweaty places. But one car in the back is clearly off-limits for whatever reason. Maybe its safety bar is broken. Maybe it has throwup in it. Maybe if any weight, male or female, is inflicted upon it then the whole coaster will go down in flames. Whatever, it doesn’t bother me. I am Next.

But this teenage girl a few people down from me is also Next. And after the high school boys gruffly lower and lock all the safety bars and the train starts to shoot quickly down the tracks, this teenage girl who is Next leaps into the empty, off-limits car in the back. She does not understand why any solitary car would remain empty on its journey through the pits of hell. She does not understand why she can’t just ride the Cyclone now instead of with her natural community, the new and improved People Who Are Next. She does not understand why she can’t just sit quietly atop the safety bar permanently locked down at the tail end of the train and enjoy a little spin at 60mph, 85 feet above the pavement, around harrowing loops that look and feel like 90-degree angles. She does not understand that a safety bar is supposed to be in your lap, not under your butt.

The train is now speeding toward the loading area exit where it will immediately drop 20 feet and then throw its entire being into trying to buck people off. And this teenage girl is just riding in the nethermost car as if she’s in Cinderella’s carriage or the Popemobile or something and not about to lose her life.

We all start screaming. The high school boys are now wide awake and wishing they’d gotten summer jobs at Arby’s instead. One guy who looks as if he might be a veteran Cyclone operator because he’s over the age of sixteen shouts things like “Fuck!” and “Retarded!” and sprints to a tall metal pole on the far end of the tracks which I gather is the universal roller coaster brake. He seizes this pole and yanks on it with all his hotdog-fueled might. With a lot of screeching, the train gradually slows to a stop. Then the teenage girl nonchalantly climbs out of her car and rejoins the new and improved People Who Are Next, who are still too shocked and dazed to tell her that she’s been banished from their number for life.

M and I think the crisis is over. We search the teenage girl’s face for some indication that she’s recently had a lobotomy. And then, while everyone is still distracted by this near-calamity, another full train comes barreling into the Cyclone loading area. And naturally it rams into the back of the braked train, giving passengers whiplash on both ends of the collision.

Fortunately the car that would have suffered the most from being rear-ended is now empty of its teenage stowaway, but overall the atmosphere is chaos and confusion and the high school boys seem utterly astounded that no one has been maimed or killed on this fine June day. But the boys don’t have time to gather their wits about them because the Cyclone is committed to its infernal schedule and before anyone in the first train has a chance to escape or call a chiropractor about the pain in his or her neck, the cars start moving again and the accident victims quickly disappear in a violent jerk around the corner. Back in the loading area, looking like people who’ve just survived a Great White feeding frenzy, the passengers in the rear-ending train bound from their cars, women first. I look at M in horror. We are Next.

Something borrowed

The other day I walked through the rain to my local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, where I would get a card to make this move official. Until you have a library card you can pretend you’re off the grid, but my gypsy days are over because I borrowed a spy film and a copy of Chess for Dummies. But the walk, the rain. The Bed-Stuy streets were basically deserted, so I felt the presence of the approaching man from a block away. Wondered if I should play it coy, keep my eyes lowered until the last second, then say something affable about the lousy weather. Was my neighbor also formulating a plan for our intersection? Maybe he would compliment the bright colors of my umbrella. I’d have to be conversationally flexible in case he had his own agenda. Most likely we’d exchange a few universal words about spring. (Me, privately, to spring: For fuck’s sake, spring!) We’d walk away from each others’ faces feeling either worse or better about ourselves.

Sharing the world with other people is draining. Not draining: the puddles on the sidewalk that the man was fording with his shopping trolley. They were deep and wide and barely navigable by human persons of our sort. As we closed in on each other, I noted that the man’s cart was filled to the brim with folded laundry. But the top of his laundry duffel was loose, open, getting drizzled with rain. I nodded mutely at the man with what I thought was an exemplary amount of neighborly affect. He nodded back, and at that moment a dozen bundles of paired socks dove out of his shopping trolley like lemurs, then became absorbed by the puddles I described earlier as build-up to this lemur analogy (perhaps the most overextended analogy of all time, yet still applicable to at least two thirds of my enterprises).

At first the man didn’t notice that he was dribbling socks behind him like a trail of breadcrumbs that would return him to the laundromat. (Sometimes it’s fun to really commit to making certain things like other things.)

“Sir!” I said. “Your socks!” The man stopped short and turned toward the wake of his shopping trolley with dread that bordered on existential.

“Oh noooo,” he said, surveying the carnage with hands crumpling in slo-mo to his face. “It’s a dreeeaaam.”

When he said it was a dream, I was immediately transported into a storyline where the soiled socks and the cold rain and the library books I coveted and my soggy shoes and my wet hair and Brooklyn-at-large and the seasons distorted beyond recognition were all part of a dream, his dream. The man’s dream made sense of the past ten months, when I wrote a book, got divorced, said goodbye to my Virginia family, moved back to the city, stared through countless windows at countless grey skies, ran back and forth across bridges, shivered, blew clandestine snot rockets, held babies, listened to a million songs, burned to write, wrote little of worth, made my peace with obscurity, washed the stink out of my clothes, neglected most films, most books, most people, lay facedown on the hardwood floor long enough to make my roommates uncomfortable, thought about whales, thought about the sex lives of teenagers, explored bad and worse habits, drank green tea to counteract aforementioned habits, made a profession of having feelings, contemplated dropping out of my profession the second I had something tangible to offer it, discovered rap music, fell in love with Dunkin Donuts, mourned my grandmother (forever), mourned my dad (forever), did a lot of dishes (when you do the dishes, do the dishes, says the Buddha), gave too much leeway to men, briefly inhabited the Pleasure Dome, and then was asked to leave.

Don’t you see, my bloods, that it’s all been a part of this laundry man’s dream? A dream, not a nightmare. Let’s not cast our judgment upon a stranger’s subconscious. His long winter created this fantasy world. Our sleep world where the rain can’t get in. If life is but a dream, my own modest butt is square in the middle. Together we made the dream, a function of this beastly climate. We wear the dream, launder the dream, in an infinite wash cycle until we die clean. Or maybe dirty. The dream tumbles out. Who died? It’s a dream yo the deaths don’t count. Who loves or is ditched for other lovers or feels hurt and want. It’s a dream. It’s a dream and then there are libraries to give expression to it. It’s a dream, it’s a borrowed book, and then it is pure, dry, dry as a desert, dry as sleep.

It’s weird to see a cemetery through a Starbucks window

I’m at a Starbucks in Charlottesville and from where I’m sitting by the window I can clearly see the cemetery across the highway. Which is pretty weird, right? From this angle it looks as though all the cars exiting the shopping center are driving straight into the graveyard, maybe because the passengers just bought some cool stuff at Target that they’re now looking to deposit on some tombstones.

Yesterday I read about Mary Ellis’ grave, which is in a New Jersey parking lot. I don’t know which is better: to be buried in a beautiful, remote place where people trek once a year to pay their respects, or to be buried in the midst of a profane hustle and bustle where your death is acknowledged every day in between shopping lists and rearview mirrors. My dad is buried on his parents’ working farm, so he gets a lot of traffic: dogs and tractors and little brothers and delivery people and my grandmother passing by with her walking stick. That seems all right, but the minute someone installs a coffee kiosk next to the graveyard and people start pacing across the sacred earth, talking on their cell phones and chugging Americanos, I will lose my shit.

Items that I will gratefully accept on my shopping center tombstone:

1) Anything from the dollar bins near the entrance of Target – that’s usually pretty good stuff.

2) Starbucks skinny lattes poured out homeboy style, but please don’t leave the empties.

3) Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupons.

4) The giant pastries that Panera Bread employees like to give away at closing time.

5) Magazine subscription gift packs from Barnes & Noble, specifically for Lucky or another shopping-oriented periodical.

6) Anything from ABC.

Items that I will absolutely not accept:

1) McDonald’s chicken nuggets.

2) Blu-ray discs from Best Buy.

3) Anything from Gamestop. Nerds be trying to change me when I’m dead.

Beforehand

I want to write about the hand I saw in the subway car, how I was sitting in the corner of the train and the five fingers crept around the mirrored surface of the car in an odd, backward way. I remember that the nails were wide and the fingers themselves were thick and sturdy and pale brown. The fingertips were almost near enough to touch my hair, which was still wet from an evening shower. I was drinking white wine out of a travel mug because I was on my way to my bereavement group at the university. I used to drink wine at a neighborhood bar before bereavement group, but lately I have started commuting with wine so I’ll be ready to talk about my dead relative the moment I arrive on campus.

When I boarded the train that evening with my mug of wine I had a feeling that I smelled like an actual wino, perhaps a homeless woman. I had done nothing to convince the other people on the train that I was not a homeless woman because I was sitting very still and sad in the corner and probably appeared spaced out to them. There was also a half-smoked cigarette in the pocket of my coat, which can tend to smell worse than any other thing, even if the cigarette is only five minutes stale.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Three local YouTubes

The cutest:

The most unlike Eminem/the most related to me by blood:

The most full of friends and babies I know:

Alaska travelogue. Don’t read if you don’t like travelogues. I just have to get these feelings out.

It occurs to me that my last post was sort of doom and gloom and that you may be wondering if I made it to Alaska and back. I did! Thanks a lot for asking. I also fell in love with the place, much like my taxi driver to the Juneau “International” Airport (they have service to Canada) who cashed in the return portion of a round trip ticket 25 years ago and never looked back. It must have been June when he did it, because the Alaskan summer has both snow-covered vistas and 80-degree days. You’re hiking up a mountain in a t-shirt while a glacier holds firm in the rocks below you, thinking “My armpit alone could melt down that glacier.” It’s actually really weird. I can’t explain it in terms of weather, temperature, global warming, chemistry, pop culture, anything. Maybe the ice is so full of bald eagle shit that it’s preserved year-round.

And I can speak about bald eagle shit from experience now. I feel like a true American. I took my cousin’s two young kids on a tram to the top of a mountain overlooking Juneau (these awesome kids were my free ticket to Alaska, god bless them) where we stomped around in the snow and then visited one of the state’s majestic bald eagles where it lived in a cage the size of a utility closet. The keeper said the bird was captive because she had been shot blind years ago, which I think is what the keeper says to tourists to make them feel better about seeing an animal suffer in captivity. But as I watched the creature and the kids gripped my arm (bald eagles are actually really big – and also intimidating when they rip into frozen salmon – and also scary when the babysitter is saying stuff like “Look out! The bird is going to eat you!”), the thing turned around, hiked its butt in the air, and tried to squirt me with white hot poop. Which of course made me cackle, but only because the bird missed. I’m pretty sure its brain is smaller than mine.

Other animals we saw included humpback whales (wedding whale sighting booze cruise!), sea lions (the one bloated male keeps a rookerie of 50 females at the ready in case he wants to play Bingo), ravens (they’re everywhere. Locals have to retrieve their mail as soon as it’s delivered, otherwise the ravens will open their mailboxes and cash their checks. They’re that smart. My cousin’s husband also pointed out that you shouldn’t look up when you walk through downtown Juneau because if you do you’ll see a dozen ravens staring at you and get freaked out), deer, squirrels, and dogs. I just remembered a joke my grandfather told during this Alaska wedding weekend: “Someone should make a toupee for bald eagles.” He has better delivery than I do. He has some comedic competition in Alaska though. A Juneau playhouse was putting on a show called “Salmon Chanted Evening.”

I don’t know if all Alaskan coastal towns are like this, but every day in the summer about five 3,000-person capacity, 10-story cruise ships dock in the Juneau harbor so their occupants can roam around buying gold nuggets and fur bikinis. There are more people in one of these cruise ships than in all of Alaska (I’m making up demographics, but this one sounds accurate). So each summer the town caters to these tourists by transforming itself into a quaint outdoor shopping mall where one can buy Eskimo-themed knickknacks and temporary orca tattoos. Meanwhile you get the feeling that in the winter it’s every man for himself and people walk around with either shotguns or fly fishing rods, out for blood.  And this is why I was baffled that Alaska is home to Sarah Palin. Everything I’ve ever seen of that woman on TV suggests that she’s not fit for the Alaskan wilderness. Pantsuits? Blow-outs? Come on. The state is as laid-back as it gets. I wore long johns under my dress to the wedding and I still felt like royalty.

One fabulous thing about Alaska is its daylight hours. It seems like an excellent place for an alcoholic to pay taxes (oh wait – we pay taxes to Alaskans) because it’s sunny until like 10pm and you not only get a second wind but a third and a fourth when you’re drinking. Is it time to stop? Slow down? No, the sun is shining. There’s a reason the bride and groom both did ice luge vodka shots at the wedding: The climate builds liver stamina.

Was the plane ride awful? Yes, but I had modern medication on my side. I feel sorry for the people of the 17th century who had to fly in commuter jets without these helpful chemicals. Their helicopter pilots must have been nervous enough to wet their pantaloons.

Oh shit, Jeopardy’s on.