Category Archives: More Bullshit

The art of navigating the New York City street corner

It is a delicate dance. The glowing crosswalk man says, “It is okay to proceed across the street, my child,” and suddenly your brain is calculating faster than your feet can shimmy across the pavement. Because, ahoy, the young mother must push the stroller down the sidewalk ramp opposite you with a child on a Power Wheels on one side and a child with a rolling backpack on the other, and lo, the tourists ahead of you are trying to make the street signs conform to their outdated map while carefully walking backwards like athletes preserving their knee joints, and jeebus, the drug hustler who thinks you’re pretty is illegally crossing the street perpendicular to this one so you have to dodge two opposing lanes of pedestrian traffic, and damnitall some hipster is flagrantly smoking a cigarette (it’s totally not you) while you’re trying to edge by him and you’re wearing an expensive shirt that you just bought in SoHo and in a second you have to make a choice whether to sacrifice your new clothes to the fire or the innocent child peddling precociously in order to cross the street before the blinking red man starts chastising him from the opposite corner. You weave, you skip, you feel like Magic Johnson. You’re suddenly on the other side of the sidewalk corner melee and you haven’t stepped on anyone’s foot or burned an infant or cursed a single mother or wished that you were all alone in the city because you know better, having seen that Will Smith movie. Lots of people are better than none, even when you’re blowing past them like an Olympian, proud of your majestic street corner maneuverings, the envy of all your drug dealing and prostitute friends.

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.

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.

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.

In which my husband solves the newspaper publishing crisis

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the future of journalism residing in “hyperlocal” news. Hyperlocal news steps in where the doomsday scenario leaves off: Newspapers fire experienced writers, writers have no place to go, newspapers die out, the end is nigh. Yet we still crave news that is streamlined and directly relevant to our lives. So instead of scavenging a national paper on its deathbed, we might read a blog written by an out-of-work reporter who lives down the street, a meaningful voice that in turn aggregates other meaningful voices.

This is where Darren Hoyt comes in. He and Ben Gillbanks, an English colleague, just launched Dispatch, a WordPress blog theme for writers and journalists. An add-on to the Mimbo Pro WP theme, Dispatch gives any journalist with $20* an online platform that looks and feels like a professional newspaper or magazine website. So with minimal effort and financial commitment, you can launch a respectable blog for posting pictures and stories of your tour in Afghanistan or your cat or whatever. God, my husband is on the cutting edge.

Tech Dirt tells us why hyperlocal news makes sense, and, by extension, why you should be interested in Dispatch:

The technological and economic constraints of newsprint meant that the whole process had to be done by full-time employees and carefully coordinated by a single, monolithic organization. But the Internet makes possible a much more decentralized model, in which lots of different people, most of them volunteers, participate in the process of gathering and filtering the news. Rather than a handful of professional reporters writing stories and an even smaller number of professional editors deciding which ones get printed, we’re moving toward a world that Clay Shirky calls publish, then filter: anyone can write any story they want, and the stories that get the most attention are determined after publication by decentralized, community-driven processes like Digg, del.icio.us, and the blogosphere.

Other tech people weigh in on hyperlocal news here and here and here.

In my own hyperlocal news, I want to punch that word “blogosphere” in the gut. And then make sweet love to it.

Here’s a “for instance”: Your wife needs a new website ASAP so she can compete with the New York literati! You just created an awesome website! What’s your next move?

Screenshot of Dispatch WordPress theme

Screenshot of Dispatch WordPress theme

*Keep in mind that Dispatch is an add-on to Mimbo Pro, which costs $79. Still, that totals $100 for a website with amazing functionality and versatility that you might otherwise pay a designer thousands of dollars to develop for you. I feel like I am one step away from an infomercial right now.

Sickness. Couch. Links. Confusion.

I am a creature of routine occupying a body of convention living a life of habit. So when I got exciting news this week that seems to portend my world changing drastically this summer (holy crap I was admitted to an MFA program!), I immediately got the flu. It was my body’s way of saying, “Don’t go changing on me.” And not only am I receiving conflicting signals from my ambitious brain and my curmudgeonly immune system, I am further confused by the rejection letters slowly piling up from other MFA programs. Maybe I got into the one program that didn’t read my application. Oh well – sucks for them. I’m still going. A green light is a green light even when you can see a collision on the horizon. Thank you, dear benefactors!

In other news:

I give you the Halloween costume of the future! (The future being 2009.)

Tom Perotta talks Tracy Flick: “Especially with Palin, I don’t feel as if Tracy Flick was the best comparison. I just think people are made uncomfortable by ambitious women.”

Romantic comedies might be as harmful to the developing psyche as violent video games and cheese from a can.

Are poets held to lower standards today?

What war on drugs? I don’t remember fighting a war on drugs.

I’m the last person to be wrapped up in the WTF Blanket.

A new book asks why women get short shrift when it comes to writing the next Great American Novel. (Thanks to DD for the link.)

[Elaine Showalter] has insisted that themes central to women’s lives — marriage, motherhood, the tension between family and individual aspirations — constitute subject matter as “serious” and significant as traditionally masculine motifs like war and travel. Yet she rejects the preference of many feminist literary scholars for emphasizing “culture importance rather than aesthetic distinction” . . .

This website is to sociologists what PhotoshopDisasters is to designers.

Judith Warner writes about the pitfalls of mindfulness and Anna Fricke writes about not getting the baby drunk (both from NY Times blogs).

My alma mater is looking for a new mascot. Remember that artichokes, banana slugs, and “The Fighting Quaker” have already been done.

Jonathan Ames is taking on TV and James Franco is taking on books. And I live on the moon and moon rocks live on my couch!

I’m waiting for a quiet, sad moment to read this New Yorker piece about David Foster Wallace and his unfinished novel.

[Wallace’s] goal had been to show readers how to live a fulfilled, meaningful life. “Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being,” he once said. Good writing should help readers to “become less alone inside.”

Garrison Keillor learns a lesson from an unread writer.

And thanks to Edward Upward, I have decided not to take a sabbatical after all. You go off to the woods for a year and it puts you under terrible pressure to write “Moby Dick” or something worthy of having had an entire year in which to write, and the longer you work at this masterpiece the shabbier it looks, the whale turns into a guppy, and at the end of the year you have torn up almost everything you wrote and you are filled with self-loathing and bitter regret.

I’m just happy more good looking people seem to be choosing the literary profession over acting, modeling, or working at Hooters. Makes readings feel more like the talent portion of a beauty contest. Vive les letters!