Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fleet Week

This is Fleet Week in NYC---when all the Navy ships pull into the harbors of Manhattan and unleash loads of sailors onto the streets of our fair city.

Like most New Yorkers, I don’t exactly know why they show up this time every year. They just do. And the young men all look so handsome in their dress whites. And by young I mean YOUNG! It’s weird to think that if danger ever really hit the shores of the Hudson River, it would be thwarted by a bunch of eighteen year-old kids.

Sure, you get some officers who are a bit older. I waited on a couple of them tonight. All decorated up and SO, SO nice. Service people, in addition to always being extremely polite and kind, ALWAYS leave a great tip. I suppose it helps that most establishments (mine included) offer discounts for service personnel. We offer 20% off your bill. Most places in NYC give a 10-20% discount for these folks---and well they should.

But, may I say, I have one tiny complaint about our boys in white. And, well, it’s not really them per se, but the Navy as a whole.

Okay---exactly WHEN did our U.S. Navy stop teaching sailors to tap dance?

Because I’ve met a lot of these guys, and NONE of them know how to tap. Not even a little time-step. It’s a disgrace. There once was a day when the ships would pull up and a legion of sailors would tap down the gang plank and when they reached shore, would sing out, “New York, New York! New York, New York! It’s a wonderful town!”

They don’t do that anymore. I know. I went down there. I watched. They just walk down the gangplank all ho-hum, la-de-dah. Lazy bunch of sailors! What is our Navy teaching these guys? They’re on a ship all day, every day---what else do they have to do? How much swabbing does the deck need? I think what that deck needs is a little soft-shoe, thank you very much.

So this week, I firmly believe that it is my patriotic duty to teach a sailor to tap dance. And he can teach two friends, and they can teach two friends, and so an and so on and so on…

So, if you meet a sailor and he knows how to do the shim sham---well, you can thank me later

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Not Like Carrie Bradshaw: Day Seven

These days, there seem to be reality shows for pretty much everything. Dancers, singers, models, actors, filmmakers, fashion designers, entrepreneurs, chefs, and even wildlife experts. But, to date, there has been no reality show for writers.

And it ain’t ever gonna happen.

Why? Because writing is not Good TV.

A bunch of guys with plaid shirts and beards sitting in a cabin in the woods staring into a fireplace as they try to come up with the best haiku.

Even I wouldn’t watch that.

Unless you can find a batch of drop-dead gorgeous writers who wind up on a suicide watch as they attempt to complete their novel and backstab each other during the read-thrus---well, FOX will not be hopping on that particular bandwagon.

Writing is an interior pursuit. Period. Sure, there are those great TV writing jobs where you write with a partner or even a roomful of staff---but even still, the real writing is done in the head.

And, I have to say, I’ve had some experience writing in those group situations. Comedy, mostly. It’s hard to work on drama as a group. Just doesn’t come off as well. Comedy in groups works because the point is to make someone laugh. And if the other guy laughs, then you know you’re at least on the right track.

But comedy writing is not as fun as you would think. The weird thing is the better and more professional the writers---the less laughing you do. Yeah, you laugh. And yeah, it’s more fun than staring at a blank page all by your lonesome. But the pros rarely laugh out loud. It has to be REALLY spectacular to elicit a guffaw. Generally, the only laughter in the room comes when they’re laughing at private jokes or at themselves or each other.

But when it comes down to the sketch, the mood is often so heavy in thought and they’ve heard so many jokes in their day that often, the best they can do is to pull their hand away from their chin, wave it in front of them and say, with great seriousness, “Now THAT’S funny.”

Sure, there’s some yuking it up going on. But generally, writing comedy is a serious business.

In fact, the ones that laugh the most at their own jokes are generally the least funny. And if you think it’s painful sitting in a roomful of comics spitting out one bad joke after another---well, that’s nothing compared to your mind spitting out hours of shit-poor ideas in your head.

Carrie Bradshaw never seemed to have this problem. Carrie sat at her desk---relaxed, peaceful and all cozy in her yoga pants---sipping a glass of red wine, taking thoughtful drags from a cigarette, looking out the window for a moment, and then suddenly coming up with the perfect words. I never saw her struggle with just the right word. Never saw her pull out a dictionary or thesaurus.

“Hmmm---should I say ‘connote’ or ‘denote’? Hmmm.”

I never saw her re-write. Never saw any rough drafts or notes. Never saw her edit even one word of her precious thoughts.

In fact, when she finally got an opportunity to write for Vogue, she seemed floored that an editor for a national magazine had covered her two double-spaced pages with red ink. Well, Ms. Bradshaw---welcome to the wonderful world of writing!

Writing can SUCK! That’s why Dorothy Parker, when asked if she liked writing, famously replied, “No. I like having written.”

Years ago, a writer friend of mine stumbled across a great piece that the late Spalding Gray wrote about being at a Writer’s Colony. He made a copy of it for me and I loved it so much, I put it in a little frame and keep it on my desk.

And now, I’m passing it onto you.

Spalding Gray
At A Writer’s Colony

Then I got down to the writing, and it was awful. I don’t know why anyone would want to do it. It stinks. It’s like a disease. It’s an illness, writing. It steals your body from you. There’s no audience. You’re alone. My knuckle was swelling up. I had an arthritic knuckle from the pen pressing against it so hard while writing longhand. I was losing my sight in my left eye. I was going blind in my left eye, which was a horrible experience, because here I was working on all my Oedipal themes, and I thought, “Oh no, there goes the first eye.”

So I’m writing, writing, writing. I’m writing longhand. How long can you write longhand? Three hours? Four if you’re lucky, and your hand’s like a claw. Then what can you do in six hundred acres of woods? You go for a walk in the woods. And you walk and you walk and you walk. You go back to the main house and you drink. And you drink and you eat. And you reread what you wrote and you get up in the morning and you write. And you walk and you walk and you drink and you eat. And you reread what you wrote and you write and you walk and you drink and you drink and you drink. And you drink. I just wanted to get out of there!

But how could I leave? I was in a privileged place. Something had to draw me away----some disaster. Someone had to have a heart attack. Who would it be?

While not all writing is as tortuous as this, it’s not too far from the truth.

That is, except for Carrie Bradshaw.

Carrie Bradshaw and her perfect, un-edited, 500-word, overpaid columns can kiss my sore-from-sitting-too-long-in-my-desk-chair ass.

Writing is not that easy. Nor that financially rewarding for most of us.

But it does have its other rewards. The joy of finally figuring out the perfect twist in a plot. The thrill of discovering that a small element you accidentally planted on page 3 magically pulls the whole thing together on page 119. The adventure of finding out that pacing the floor to stimulate a dialogue between characters not only works---but helps bring a three-dimensional element to your cast.

And, last but not least, the ecstasy of hitting “PRINT”.

Nothing beats watching those pages roll out of your printer like little sheets of gold.

Of course, then you have to sit down with a red pen and mark that gold all up. But that’s okay. Because you’ve finally got something tangible to hold in your hands.

It’s even better when the piece is finally complete and you can make a title page and stick it in a binder and hold all that gorgeous bulk in your arms. It’s got to be the closest thing to giving birth---without all the great drugs.

But it’s your baby. You created it. Nurtured it. Sacrificed for it. And painfully pushed it out of you with sheer force. And there are no caesareans for writers. Not even forceps. Just you and Mother Nature alone in that six hundred acres of woods.

And then, before you know it, the day comes when you have to send it off into the world. You’ve done your best to raise it and help it become the best it can be. It’s your baby and you love it---and you hope the world will love it as much as you! With great expectations for your child, you let it go.

Unfortunately, the world can be a cold, hard place for your child. As it gets rejected by society, it crawls back home and winds up on your doorstep again. You take it in, of course---but do everything you can to help it get back on its feet. You give it everything you can give and send it out into the world again.

But after awhile, when your kid keeps marching back home to Momma, you have to face reality and realize that, as hard as you tried---well, you just have a shitty kid.

Luckily, for writers, we can just stick that shitty kid on a shelf and try to make a better one.

Today, while sitting on the train to work, I realized that I was currently raising a pretty decent child. Two of them, in fact. And sure, they take up a lot of my time and energy. And yeah, they can be a pain in the ass sometimes. But I think I’m doing a pretty good job of raising them in a big city as a single Mom on a waitress salary.

And the great thing about my kids is that if they turn out to be completely worthless---well, abortion is always legal at any age and any stage of development.

So, there you go. A week in a life of a NYC Writer. I wish I had more for you. Wish there were some major career developments or plot twists or new characters for you to identify with. But, while life here is occasionally like Sex in the City---it’s generally like life anywhere else. Or writers anywhere else. No matter where you live, it’s pretty much just you sitting down with your thoughts, some paper and a pen.

And while this has been an interesting exercise for me---well, frankly, I need to get back to work. Writing these daily essays takes quite a bit of time away from my regular writing duties. On average, I would say it’s taken me approximately 3-4 hours to write each one. Sure, some of it is done on the train back and forth to work. Some of it is me actually AT work jotting down ideas and bits and pieces in a small notebook I keep in my apron pocket. But it definitely takes time.

And, to be honest, I’m not thrilled with these pieces. I will admit to occasionally going back and making small minor changes in the blog from the previous day or even the day before. It’s hard to write so quickly and then just let it be. These aren’t exactly shitty kids. They’re more like a houseful of foster kids I didn’t pay enough attention to. If they wind up in jail or hooked on drugs, I can always say, “Hey, I only had them for a short time.”

But this has certainly been a challenge. And, for me, that’s one of the fun things about writing---constantly being able to challenge yourself and damn the risks.

So, while Carrie Bradshaw may never have written a less-than-stellar column---she never really took any risks. In writing, at least. We all take risks in life. That’s where the great stories are. And you can’t REALLY write if you aren’t living. So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my fabulous life in this amazing city. It’s not exactly Carrie Bradshaw, but then, I don’t have to constantly turn everything into a pun. God, I hate those puns.

And just so you know---at this moment, I am sitting at my computer, sipping a glass of red wine in a pair of comfortable yoga pants while looking thoughtfully out my window. And the perfect words are coming…

With the help of my thesaurus.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Not Like Carrie Bradshaw: Day Six

As far as I can tell, Carrie Bradshaw never wrote anything besides her column. A weekly newspaper column would probably be a mere 500 words a week.

That’s not that much. 500 words add up to about a single-spaced, typed page.

Now granted, this was immediately going into print, so everything had to be not only tight, but perfect. But frankly, that’s not a whole lot of writing. No wonder Carrie had so much free time.

Today was my day off work. And in my precious little amount of free time, a vast number of errands needed to be accomplished. I’m happy to say, I got pretty much everything done. I even surprised myself. I also managed to find enjoyment in my errands. And almost achieved that Zen-like inner peace as I hauled home close to 100 pounds of goods.

How did I achieve this state of near-bliss?

With the use of this baby right here!
I finally broke down and bought a shopping cart. The best twenty dollars I ever spent.

I resisted for a LONG time. You see, my Grandma had a metal shopping cart. She didn’t know how to drive, so once or twice a week, she’d wheel her silver shopping cart down the street to the market. And, while I loved my Grandma---I wasn’t ready to look like an old lady wheeling her groceries down the street.

My first few years in NYC, I lived in a brownstone on the top floor---a fifth floor walk-up. Carrying the groceries and cat litter home was one thing. Hauling it all up five flights of stairs was another thing entirely. And the laundry. The closest Laundromat was about five blocks away. I felt like all I did for years was constantly haul shit back and forth. Even if I had a shopping cart, it would have been more trouble than it was worth trying to lug it up five flights of stairs.

So, when I went looking for a new apartment last year, one of my main criteria was an elevator building. Well, I got my elevator. And it makes my life SO much easier. There’s even laundry in the basement. All should be well. Or so you would think.

Because it seems that the milk, laundry detergent, soda water, flour and heavy cans of peeled tomatoes always seem to run out at the exact same time. Buying in bulk to save money is out of the question. Not only that, but I’m constantly having to make numerous trips in and out and back and forth.

So today, I eyed this baby in the window at a little home store in my neighborhood. This is not your grandma’s shopping cart. This lady is sleek, stream-lined and in an oh-so-fashionable black that goes with anything.

I proudly wheeled my brand new shopping cart down the street. I passed other shopping cart people. Not old ladies. But young, fresh college students, new Moms, and young hipster guys. Like people with the same cars, we gave a nod as we wheeled past each other.

Tourists to New York City are always perplexed by the logistics of living in a place like this. Where are the grocery stores? Where are the gas stations?

I hear these questions from tourists in the restaurant at least once a week. The answer: Get off the tourist track and you’ll see them. Both grocery stores and gas stations require lots of space. You’re not going to find either on Park Avenue. Skyscrapers are the norm. And who wants to live above a gas station? Tho if someone did manage to find a way to put a one-bedroom over a gas station---it would probably go for about $2500 a month.

The markets tend to be (in Midtown, at least) from 8th Avenue and up to the Hudson River. The gas stations don’t start till about 10th. The center of Manhattan (5th Avenue) is generally the most valuable space. Nothing but high-priced boutiques and maybe a Starbucks or two there. Then, on the East Side---you’re looking at Lexington Ave. till the East River for those practical amenities.

But pretty much anywhere in Manhattan, you can find the delis---or bodegas, as some call them. Little corner stores that primarily sell soda, beer, cigarettes, lottery tickets, snacks and a few household items. Think of a tiny 7-11 without the Slurpies. While these places are tremendously convenient (and generally open 24 hours a day) they’re often hugely over-priced. Most neighborhoods have at least 10 delis within a five minute walking distance. You’d think the preponderance of these places and the high-prices would cause these tiny markets to go out of business within a matter of months.

But these shops not only survive---they thrive. Why? Because New Yorkers don’t drive. I only know a handful of people in the city who actually have cars. Most of them live in New Jersey or Queens. Keeping a car in the city is not only expensive, but…well, kind of useless. It’s much easier to hop on a train to go thirty of forty blocks than to sit in traffic for twenty minutes and then spend another ten minutes looking for an over-priced parking space to go the same distance.

Hence, the shopping cart. The shopping cart, the hand cart, the dolly and the rolling suitcase are all commonly seen wheeling things down the streets of Manhattan. I regularly see people wheeling office chairs, bulky furniture and even whole racks of clothes down 8th Avenue.

So today, after I joined the rank and file of Manhattan with my new shopping cart, I headed to the Mecca for writers. No, not The Strand bookstore. That’s way downtown. And that’s another thing I never saw Carrie Bradshaw do---read. I never saw her read anything other than a fashion magazine or a blurb in The New York Times about an upcoming (and pertinent to the plot) wedding. No. The Mecca I’m talking about is the office supply store.

Down to my last sheet (literally---I had ONE) of 3-prong paper, I had no choice but to make my first stop with my new shopping cart at the nearby Staples.

Unlike many artistic pursuits, writing has historically called for very few instruments. Early on, it simply required paper, ink and a quill. Over the years, the weapons of writers have changed dramatically.

When I first started writing in grade school, all I needed was a blank notebook and a No. 2 pencil. Even our little school essays were handwritten. In high school, we graduated to typewriters. But by college, word processors and computers were the norm.

Today’s writer will benefit by a computer with a high-speed connection, a fast laser printer, and a vast array of accessories like flat screen monitors, digital cameras (for capturing those lovely photos posted on blogs), a cordless mouse, mouse pads and keyboard wrist guards to help prevent carpal tunnel, back-up discs, storage bins for those discs, label makers for those discs, and a whole array of paper clips, binders, staplers, folders and all sizes of envelopes in which to mail our professional-looking submissions.

Office supply stores are a virtual wonderland of writer supplies.

Being a person with a fairly adequate desk set-up (as well as a person on a budget) I kept my puschases to the bare minimum. Mainly, paper. Two reams of three-prong paper. However, I couldn’t resist a package of my favorite pens.
As a waitress, pens come and go in my life like men to Samantha Jones. Sometimes they just seem to appear in my apron pocket. Other times customers seem to think my personal pens used to sign their charges are complimentary.

Okay, a little dining out rule: Unless the pen the waitress hands you is emblazoned with the name of the establishment, DON’T TAKE THE PEN! That’s MY pen. And I need that. Sometimes, it’s one of my favorite pens. That hurts. Everytime you leave with one of my personal pens, I curse you to the rest of the staff. Then, I spend the next few minutes hoping you'll realize your mistake and bring my beloved back. You never do. Pen-napper. Damn you.

But these ballpoint pens from Staples are my favorites. Black ink, a clicker for me to push up and down when I’m having trouble thinking, a soft bit of rubber at the base to grip---and the look is gorgeous. I fell in love with these pens so much that I gave a packet of them to a writer friend of mine as a little gift.

“Really,” he sort of apologized, knowing that I was on a strict budget, “I have so many pens. You shouldn’t have.”

But every time I stopped by his place, the pens were scattered all over the place---one next to the phone, one on the desk, one by the bedside. Trust me, they’re that good. They will quickly become your favorite pens.

I plopped the paper and pens into my shopping cart and headed to the market. No worrying about how much I could carry home today! This was great! And, in New York City, so many people have these carts that the market shopping carts actually have these tiny metal hooks attached to the tail end of every cart. You just fold up your own cart, hang it on the back, and start shopping like normal.

Then, with your groceries all bagged up, you unfold your cart and toss your bags in. So simple. So easy. It has totally changed my life.

I did all my shopping for the week in one trip today. No more getting the smaller container of milk because I’m also buying cantaloupes and the larger milk would be too heavy to carry. Oh no. Today I bought it all.

I will admit something that some people don’t know about me---I don’t know how to drive. Nope. Just never learned. No real reason. Went to Catholic school and they didn’t offer a driver’s ed. College was a small town. And everywhere I’ve lived since college had pretty decent public transportation. So this is the FIRST time in my life that I’ve been able to get all my groceries for the week home in a single trip. It's possibly the most tremendous, life-altering thing that's ever happened to me!

My mother (who DOES drive) laughed when I told her on the phone tonight how a shopping cart had changed my life.

“I might even give it a name!” I exclaimed in my utter joy. “Like people name their cars.”

“A boy’s name or a girl’s name?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I guess a girl’s name. People always name their cars after girls.”

“You should give it a boy’s name. Because it’s carrying your groceries home.”

Yeah. She’s right. In college, one of my best friends got an old GTO for her first car. It was huge, gas-guzzling, and incredibly old. Vintage, sure. And pretty cool-looking. But could often be unreliable when it came to getting us to the local clubs and back. For some reason, she called it “Dwayne”. Not just “Dwayne” but “Dah-wayne”---like the kid from “What’s Happening?” If the car faltered as she reved up the engine, we would tap on the dashboard and say, “Hay, hay, hay Dah-wayne!”

And he would always start up.

So my new shopping cart is now named Dwayne. And, in one day, he has saved me enough time that I was not only able to write this 2500 word blog (that’s 5 times what Carrie Bradshaw wrote each week), but also another 4 pages of stuff for my latest project.

Maybe Carrie Bradshaw would be too embarrassed to be seen walking down the street with Dwayne, but I’m not.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Not Like Carrie Bradshaw: Day Five

Another exhausting day at work. Carrie Bradshaw NEVER worked as hard as I do.

Out of all the four main characters on Sex in the City, Carrie Bradshaw is supposed to be the one with which most women identify. She’s the Everyman. Or Everywoman.

At least, she’s supposed to be.

All the elements are there---attractive (but not drop-dead gorgeous), middle-income (at least for NYC), average apartment, average success with men and relationships, and just enough quirks, insecurities and daily mishaps for women to believe their heroine is “Just like me!”

Personally, I’ve often felt more connected with the character of Miranda Hobbes. And while I don’t have a high-paying job at a law firm, nor do I own a huge Pre-War apartment in the 80s on the Upper West Side, I DO have something in common with Ms. Hobbes---Household Chores. And, like her, no time to get them all done.

Of course, On Sex in the City, Miranda easily solves at least part of this problem by hiring a housekeeper---Magda.

And today, as I prepare for my day off tomorrow by making a list of all the Things I Need To Do Tomorrow---I also try to think of ways that I can perhaps start to accomplish my weekly errands in less time and with less effort.

But one thing I know for sure---a housekeeper is out of the question.

Not that I necessarily want one---tho, in NYC, they are actually one of the few great bargains in town.

You see, last year I was between apartments. After losing a great sublease in Midtown, in an act of desperation, I took a place a block away for a mere $800 a month. What do you get in Midtown Manhattan for $800 a month? A shithole. Not only your average shithole. But a shithole literally the size of a walk-in closet. I fondly referred to it as “The Rapist Building”.

I was there for several months while I looked around for something better at a reasonable price. Just to give you an example of how horrible a place you get for $800 a month in Manhattan---a gay hustler down the hall was apparently gang-raped by two guys and was killed by having his head bashed in.

Yeah. The police tape was on the door for months. My cop friends filled me in on the details and told me to hurry up and get the hell out of there.

Luckily, a good friend of mine had a gorgeous, 2-bedroom/2-bath apartment with a penthouse view, and spent a lot of time out of town. So, for a few months, I trudged back and forth between The Rapist Building and a Luxury Hotel.

The de-lux apartment in the sky included another amenity---a housekeeper.


Nellie came in once every two weeks and made everything all better.

Having never dealt with a housekeeper before (outside of the occasional hotel stay)---I really didn’t quite know how to deal with it. First of all, before she came, I would clean up. Yes---I cleaned up for the maid. Because heaven forbid the housekeeper walk into a messy apartment. Occasionally I would even help her clean. Nellie and I spending the afternoon chatting away about her son who was a musician, my inability to find a reasonable apartment in a decent neighborhood, and how our respective holidays were going.

But honestly, it feels weird to just sit there while someone else is cleaning up your mess. It’s not even a class thing. Or a master-and-servant issue. I just felt like I made the mess and I should clean it up---or at least help. Sure, if you have a spouse or a bunch of children---well, you can kind of justify the help in cleaning up THEIR messes. But your own mess? While she was well-paid for her bi-weekly chores, I often found myself slipping her an extra $20 if I’d been extra messy that week. Since the guy who actually lived there was so rarely home, a lot of weeks she’d have it easy by just tossing a few coffee cups into the dishwasher and doing the regular round of dusting and mopping the already clean floors. Not to downplay her role in the house at all---no matter how clean or dirty, she left that place spotless.

And then, in comes me----a person who actually COOKED in the kitchen instead of opening up a container of take-out. A person who took lots of baths that left rings around the tub. And a person who frequently left piles of paperwork and dirty towels all over the place. She always tried to refuse my money and my help---but I always insisted. “I just feel like when I’m here, I make your job harder.”

She was sweet, hard-working, reliable and above reproach. One of those rare gems you could totally trust in your apartment alone.

But until I can afford a Nellie of my own (and can get over my Housekeeper Issues) I have to do all my little errands and housekeeping myself. It’s generally not too bad. I don’t mind cleaning my apartment, doing laundry or buying groceries. In fact, if I had more free time, I would undoubtedly find a Zen-like satisfaction in these mundane tasks.

But usually there’s so little time to get these things all done that the sought-after relaxed yoga state becomes more like an intense, high-powered spinning class.

So, as we speak, I try to come up with ways to slow it all down. Enjoy the cleaning, the laundry, the errands and the cooking. Be in tune with the moment. Not exactly Carpe Diem. More like Carpe Munus. Seize the task.

Speaking of foreign languages: Tonight at work, I bounded back and forth translating, once again. Not only my own tables, but two French tables the other waitress had. She came over begging, “Please! They don’t speak a word of English and I don’t understand a word they’re saying.”

Tonight I translated for French, Spanish and Italian tourists. I also picked up some more Bengali from the busboys from Bangladesh (who always love when I speak Bengali to them). People at work often wonder how I pick up so many languages. Well, I certainly don’t have a photographic memory. In fact, I don’t think I’m naturally adept at languages at all. But I like to talk to people and I like to listen to them. And I’m a writer. It’s just another synonym.

Today, outside of this blog, I wrote nothing. Sometimes you have those days. For me, it’s rare. I tend to write at least something everyday. Even if it’s just working on a blog, returning emails, jotting down some notes, or writing in a Word Pad that has become a sort of disposable journal and way to think things out on paper. I don’t keep a regular journal anymore. I may decide to start one again at some point. But right now, I just don’t feel the need. I’m too busy writing other things. Besides, it would most likely just turn into a long list of errands that constantly needed to get done.

Years ago, I remember reading The Once and Future King. One of the most memorable parts of the book for me was a description of ants walking in a line simply saying over and over, “Done. Not Done. Done. Not Done.”

It’s an apt description of our sometimes mundane lives. Of course, everyone (no matter how well-protected and affluent) has errands. I’d bet that even the Pope has a To-Do List. Or at least a To-Delegate List. After all, Pope Benedict XVI speaks German, Italian, French, Spanish, English, Latin, a bit of Portugese, and can read Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew. Synonyms or not, you don’t learn all that without at least a short To-Do List. And a housekeeper. No time to learn Ancient Greek when you’ve got to launder your own vestments.

And, while I’m not exactly seeking a Pope-like Inner Peace---I’m just happy to recently discover that my local pet store will deliver my cat food and litter for free.

And Carrie Bradshaw didn’t have a cat. But Miranda did. And you can bet she had those 25 pound bags of cat litter delivered.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Not Like Carrie Bradshaw: Day Four

On Sex in the City, Carrie and the girls were always running into celebrities. A few years ago, on my way to my bank to make a deposit, I had a “celebrity” sighting of my own.

Al Sharpton.

He was coming out of a building on 43rd Street in Midtown carrying a few bags of groceries. He popped open the lid on his trunk and, as he placed the grocery bags inside, I saw a huge 25 pound bag of dog food already stashed inside.

This was not long after he ran an unsuccessful bid for the presidency. And now, here he was---no Secret Service in sight, and picking up dog food and groceries all by his lonesome.

Today was the day Al Sharpton declared that he was going to shut down the city in protest of the Sean Bell verdict. It’s been all over the news for days.

Sharpton Vows To Shut City Down and Get Himself Arrested.

Exactly what illegal thing he was planning on doing to get arrested was beyond me. Rape? Murder? Public Urination? Well, then I say lock him up, by all means. Because, I’m sorry, whipping out your junk in a public place is not going to solve anything. It’s just about you wanting to show your pee-pee.

The local news has been showing a map all week of where he planned on holding his public demonstrations. I looked at that map. It’s all on the East Side! How are you going to shut down NYC from the EAST Side? What’s he going to do? Block the deli?

In the end, he wound up blocking some bridges and tunnels by simply standing there peacefully. The police quickly gave him what he wanted, put him in handcuffs and took him down to The Big House. And a few minutes later, the city went back to normal.

There is no love between Al Sharpton and the NYPD.

I have a lot of cop friends and they LOVE dogging on Sharpton. To most of them, he’s pretty much a big, loud-mouthed boob. And they love telling stories about his idiocy.

My favorite is a story that seems to have passed all thru the NYPD. A few years ago, in an effort to bridge the gap between the local police and Sharpton’s contingency, the NYPD offered to take him out on the town and show him what being a cop is really like. One of the places they took him was to the firing range where they train the rookie cops to shoot. They hooked Sharpton up to the video game-like simulator, gave him the usual instructions on how it all worked and let him go.

Sharpton shot up the joint.

He killed pretty everyone within firing range. He shot the perps as well as fellow cops and pedestrians. It was a virtual massacre.

Now, while I agree that the officer firing 50 shots had obviously shot almost as well as Sharpton himself (albeit, with real tragedies) and that the case should most certainly have gone to trial---frankly, I just don’t care for Al Sharpton.

Beyond the fact that the man appears to be a bonafide racist (who could ever forget the whole Get Whitey remark?) I just don’t like the fact that he seems to immediately attach his name and face to ALREADY high-profile cases. You kinda expect a guy like him would find some poor soul who can’t get their story on TV and help them get some much-needed attention.

Instead, he seems to jump into the fray when the story is already being investigated by both the media AND the courts.

I have yet to see a big story that Al Sharpton actually breaks.

I guess, I just wish he would use his power to really help those who aren’t being helped at all.

But no, this is not a blog about race issues. This is about celebrity.

It’s not a myth that you can spot celebrities all over Manhattan. That is, if you know who they are. I can’t say I’m always hip to the latest starlets and boy bands. In fact, last night a band that I believe is called Boys Like Girls came into our bar for a round of drinks before they did a concert nearby. I had no idea who they were. Our bartender did and they wound up inviting him out to see their show and have a drink when he got off work.

My first Manhattan celebrity sighting happened my first week in New York City. A friend had hooked me up with a week’s worth of work doing some production work for the New Yorker Festival. My first event was a fiction reading at a downtown club. As we were setting up the chairs, one of my fellow production guys looked out the window and said, “Hey---that’s the guy from The Princess Bride on the pay phone across the street!”

A moment later, Wallace Shawn walked in the door.

Turns out, his girlfriend was one of the novelists on the slate for the night. My job that evening was to work the door, and as Wallace Shawn kept popping in and out several times throughout the night, I had a lot of fun giving him trouble every time he passed thru my gate.

“Eugh! You again?”

He would snicker a bit and apologize and, after a while, we had a bit of a running gag. A fun night my first week in NYC.

For me, guys like Wallace Shawn ARE New York. Smart, funny, sophisticated and just a little bit quirky. And I admit that the “celebrities” I tend to most admire, tend to be the ones that not everyone would recognize.

That’s why, a few days later, while working a different event in Midtown, I was a little worried about my ability to perform a certain assigned task. The event was a fashion symposium. And one of the speakers was fashion designer (and daughter of Paul) Stella McCartney. Ms. McCartney was quickly whisked off to the backstage area upstairs by a Festival Coordinator. She wasn’t my problem.

Gwyneth Paltrow was.

Apparently Gwyneth and Stella are friends and my job (as a gal who’d been in New York City for exactly one week) was to be on the lookout for Gwyneth. She had called someone who told someone who told someone who told me that she was running late. And I was supposed to make sure she got backstage without a problem.

The only problem was---I had no idea what Gwyneth Paltrow looked like. Sure, I’d seen Shakespeare in Love, but that had been a while ago. And I don’t really read movie magazines. I sat there all by myself in a hallway waiting for a movie star who I would not recognize to show up.

Hmmm. This was a dilemma.

A few moments after the symposium started, stray women kept walking in late. Is that Gwyneth Paltrow? Is that Gwyneth Paltrow? How about that?

They all looked thin and pretty. After all, this was a fashion symposium.

But they all had tickets for the event and all were happily led inside the theatre.

As I sat there waiting for the unknown-featured Ms. Paltrow to show up, I started to get a little peeved. After all, why should I be EXPECTED to recognize a starlet? And what if she was one of those bitchy actresses who got all upset when I didn’t recognize her as a celebrity? Or, even worse, what if she turned out to be super-nice and I didn’t recognize her and she felt bad.

Oh, this was gonna suck.

Lucky for me, a few moments later, a blond, thin woman walked in with what can only be appropriately described as an Entourage. This HAD to be Gwyneth Paltrow.

And, it was. Out of nowhere, one of my fellow assistants (and obvious Gwyneth Paltrow fan) popped out of some unseen Hobbit hole and jumped all over Ms. Paltrow.

“Right this way, Ms. Paltrow! I’ll take you backstage, Ms. Paltrow!”

Phew. One less embarrassing situation in a life already saturated with awkwardness.

So, sure---you can constantly spot celebrities in Manhattan. But frankly, it’s not all that interesting. I’m constantly amazed at the cult of celebrity in America. Particularly for celebrities who do literally nothing except get their picture taken and wind up in the gossip columns and weekly rags.

I will say that one of the great things about living in New York City is that you often get the opportunity to STUDY with some truly amazing people. And I’ve had the chance to take classes and workshops with some writers that I REALLY admire. No, you would probably not recognize them at the local supermarket. But these amazingly talented people are often very interested in sharing their knowledge and skills with the next generation of writers, actors, directors, dancers, singers, painters, designers, etc. Because this is New York City; and the Best of the Best live and work here.

Sometimes, when you’re working so much at a regular job just to pay the bills, you kind of forget that you’re actually living in a city where so much is possible.

And this is exactly what happened at work tonight when I was repeatedly besieged by European tables who like to run up large tabs with bottles of wine, espresso and sweet desserts---and then, don’t take the time to read in their guidebooks that gratuities for good service are expected.

I’ll just say two words: The French.

I’ve been to France. I distinctly remember getting mon addition and seeing the words at the bottom of the check, “Service compris”---Service included. Even then, I STILL tipped between 15-20%. Why? Just habit, I guess.

About two weeks ago, I waited on a family of four from France. They didn’t speak much English and I not only translated the menu and gave them tips on what to order, but I chatted with them a bit about NYC (en francais) and, when the father spilled wine on his white shirt, I brought out a glass of club soda and even loaned him my Tide To-Go Stick.

Their check was $140. My tip? Nothing.

“Merci beaucoup!” they kept saying as they left.

But still, nothing.

With our economy in a shambles, Europeans are traveling to New York City in record numbers. Not only do their Euros and Pounds get more for the buck here, but, unlike Americans, they can actually afford the costly New York City hotel rates. They will spend $800 on a flight, $600 a night on a hotel room, $140 for dinner---yet they stubbornly won’t tip.

My fellow closing waitress tonight gave great service to a European table this evening. From Spain, I believe. The party of five ran up a bill of almost $200 and wound up leaving her seven bucks. Fed up with the quality of European tips, she quietly and nicely asked them if they were happy with their service.

Yes. They were very happy.

Well, she tried to explain, you know service isn’t included here.

Yes, they explained, we know that. But we don’t do that in our country.

She quietly walked away; unable, by profession, to say much of anything else. But back at the service station, she started to rail. Because it wasn’t just that table. The place was literally packed full of Europeans. It was more diverse than the U.N.

A few months ago, I was waiting on a batch of about five tables at once---one American, one British, one Australian, one French and one from Spain. I literally bounced back and forth not only between tables, but between languages. Translating French, Spanish and even British English (“Do you mean LEMONDAE or SPRITE---because lemonade in the U.S. means Lemon Squash”). The French left me nothing, the Spanish left me nothing, the Australians left me nothing (no, they don’t tip in Australia, either), the British left me about 5% (cheap even for the British) and only the Americans left me the proper tip. On a total of about $600 in sales, I received a total of $28. It should have been more like $90.

So tonight, with the place full of foreigners, the staff was losing their minds. Everyone felt like just walking out the door.

All of us began to share our plans to get out of there.

By the end of the night, as we were closing up and wiping down, we had also all calmed down. Because, despite our anger and frustration, there was really not much we could do. Trying to re-educate all of Europe on proper U.S. tipping procedures was certainly out of our realm. And walking out of a union job with health insurance would be just plain stupid. Because in New York City---while the advantages and opportunities can be great---the stakes are much higher. Rents are enormous. Jobs are hard to come by. And anything we did that might jeopardize our existence in this amazing city would be just plain foolhardy.

So we all crawled out of there with our pittances and our wounded pride and got on our respective trains.

After all, there was always tomorrow. And who knows? Tomorrow, a director might just love your audition. A designer might be entranced by your portfolio. Or a publisher might just discover your novel in the slush pile.

So, while the European tourists take their photos of Al Sharpton being hauled away---most of us are just hoping that a guy with an average face named Agent John J. Smith from Acme Talent Company spots us in the crowd.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Not Like Carrie Bradshaw: Day Three

On Sex in the City, the character of Carrie seemed to have at least one aspect of her life all wrapped up---her career. While she trudged thru horrible relationships and dating nightmares, she appeared to be quite comfortable with her job as a New York City weekly sex columnist.

Of course, at one point she was short on money and took on some freelance work with Vogue. Later on, an offer to put her columns into book form came out of the blue. And then, there was that failed attempt at turning those columns into a screenplay.

All of these things just seemed to fall into her lap. My point? Well, frankly, Carrie didn’t seem very ambitious for a NYC writer.

Of course, Sex in the City is fiction. It’s called SEX in the City, not Submissions in the City. No one is interested in watching an episode where she spends an hour in line at the Post Office trying to mail the sample chapters of her latest novel in an effort to interest a publisher---AND, after a whole hour in line not even getting an allegory out of it.

But that’s exactly what happened to me last week. I stood in line at a total of TWO Post Offices over the course of two days for a grand total of one hour and 10 minutes. And no, I didn’t get a story out of it. Sorry, folks. Nothing for you today. It was just sheer frustration and boredom waiting in line at the Post Office for one hour and ten minutes of my life. An hour and ten minutes I will never get back.

What was I attempting to mail that was so important?

A script. To a competition for TV pilots.

It’s always a long shot with these deals. Hundreds, and usually thousands, of people enter these contests. The prizes are generally not very big. And the winners aren’t even necessarily The Best of the Best. Whole books have been written about how to work-the-system in these contests. How to instantly capture the interest of the unpaid, unskilled and unproven writers who will read your masterpiece. How to hit all the right notes in your script in order to make it recognizable as following all the rules they learned in film school. And how to create the types of characters, situations and plots these young readers want to see.

Of course, at the end of the day, sometimes the cream does indeed rise to the top. But sometimes not. Winning or losing any of these competitions generally means very little as far as the quality of your work. Then again, sometimes it does.

But for those of us without access to an agent or anyone to help push us forward---contests and blind query letters are often our only options.

And, while the financial reward is generally small if you do win---most competitions worth their weight have agents and industry people attached to the competition in some way.

And agents have to get their clients from somewhere, right? After all, not every agent can rep Steven King. Or James Patterson. Yes---James Patterson.

But essentially, if you can win or even place in any of the reputable competitions, you’re at least guaranteed to get a look-see from a sizeable bank of agents.

And whole SHELVES of books have been written on how to capture this elusive beast. Sure, it’s always a good idea to learn about the habits, likes, dislikes, and the best ways to seek out, bait, and take a steady aim at your prey. I own a few of these manuals myself. Can’t say I recommend any one over the other. They all seem to wind up saying pretty much the same thing. Which is? Well, basically, it’s like hunting a duck. Your chances are better if you go where the ducks are. You make sure you have all the tools of the trade and the proper bait. Then, you wait. When you sense something promising nearby, you put out an embarrassing duck call. Then you wait to see if your call is returned. And you wait some more. And you wait. And you wait.

And you wait.

True hunters say the waiting is often the best part of the quest. There’s anticipation. Reflection. Bonding with nature and your fellow man.

However, if you spent several years sitting in a duck blind… Well, you’d probably give up, go back to the motel off the Interstate and drown your sorrows over those wasted years in a bottle of Jack Daniels. Duckless and bitter.

This is why most New York Struggling Writers are more like the character of Jack Berger---Carrie’s fellow-writer boyfriend who eventually wound up breaking up with her on a Post-It.

He begins by being funny and self-deprecating, which Carrie finds charming. But, while his career flounders, Carrie is hosting a fabulous book release party attended by the Who’s Who of Manhattan.

“My book party could’ve fit in the coat room here,” he jokes. But behind the sarcasm is a whole lot of bitter.

I know some of these bitter writers, actors, musicians, etc. They’re tough to hang out with. Sure, we all feel that way from time to time. And occasionally the panic attacks of reality set in. What am I doing with my life? That kind of lovely thing.

But people with day-to-day office jobs in a go-nowhere grind have these thoughts, too. The difference is: We still have a dream.

And the problem with those artists who’ve hit a permanent bitter stage is that they no longer have any belief in themselves.

I have no advice to offer here. After all, I’m just a waitress. But I’m also a writer. And if you’re not actually getting PAID to be a writer---well, the only way you can continue to call yourself one is by sitting down and WRITING.

And that is what I did today.

You see, after two or three days of thinking (despite the fact that I’ve pounded out oh-so-many pages for this blog) I start to feel the itch to really write.

That is why I always have at least TWO projects going at once.

Sure, if I were actually getting paid to work on something I would give it my full attention. But since no one is clamoring for my latest novel or screenplay… Well, to quote Eric Cartman, “I’ll do what I want!”

So today, I sat down to actually write (not think) and finish up some editing on the fourth episode of a television show for which I’ve already completed the first three. Do I have any faith that anyone will be interested in it? Well, I think it’s good. The rest is kind of a crap shoot.

Which is why I WILL end this with an actual piece of advice. From what I’ve learned over the years from my own experiences and those of others---write what you like. That’s the great thing about being a writer. No one is stopping you from writing. Getting someone (anyone) to read it is another case. But no one out there is turning off your computer or locking up your pens and paper. And, as long as you’re going to write, anyway---well, you might as well enjoy it.

And when you really enjoy what you do, eventually, someone else will, too.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Not Like Carrie Bradshaw: Day Two

In New York City, you can ALWAYS spot the tourists. Sometimes it’s the way that they travel in large groups and block the sidewalks, sometimes it’s their somewhat larger size (New Yorkers, on average, are thinner than people in other parts of the country), and other times, it’s simply the way they dress.

Old ladies in polyester, elastic-waistband pants with big, colorful sweatshirts---tourists. Guys with beer guts wearing t-shirts with funny slogans and “Get ‘Er Done” caps---tourists. And teenage girls in groups dressed up in slinky dresses like they THINK they’re characters on Sex in the City---tourists.

Most New Yorkers are actually pretty conservative in their dress. There’s a reason they wear so much black---because they have to navigate the often dirty streets of Manhattan on foot, never knowing if it’s going to rain or hail or sleet or snow. And I know few New York women who would wear any type of slinky, open-toed high heel during the day. Kind of hard to navigate the subway in Manolo Blahnik’s.

Today, as I was headed down 57th St., I saw a middle-aged Native American Man with his long hair in two braids walking down 5th Ave wearing nothing but a pair of green cotton underpants. Headed to Tiffany’s, no doubt. This, my friends, is a New Yorker.

Not that other big cities don’t have characters like this. In New Orleans, people would probably cheer him on. In Los Angeles, they’d look around for the cameras. In San Francisco, they would run him for Councilman. But in New York, people just go, “Eugh” and keep on walking.

That’s why I love New York. Because that was my reaction this afternoon as I made my way to an eye doctor appointment. And it felt good not to be alone on that one.

Last Thursday, on a routine trip to the eye doctor, they discovered that I had an ulcer in my eye. An ulcer! In my eye! I’d never heard of such a thing. But apparently it’s a pretty serious deal. Ulcers in the eye, if left untreated, can often require not only a hospital stay where they wake you up every 15 minutes to pop drops into your eye---but you might even need a cornea transplant. And this particular ulcer had bored two small holes in my eye and was already affecting my sight. Great.

And why did I not notice this before? Well, I hate to admit it, but I thought my sight was just changing due to…well, age.

The really sad part of it is that I always used to look forward to going to the eye doctor. It was always the one medical consultation I was guaranteed of walking out of with an A+.

But not on Friday. I was put on special eye drops and told that I would need to come back on Monday to make sure the medicine was working.

So, back I trod this afternoon. However, in order to make the most of my day, I left home a little early in order to have some time to walk around, stop for tea, and do a bit of writing.

Well, it was actually more like thinking. But I did come to one major decision today that will make things much easier tomorrow.

Then, with tea in hand, I headed off to the eye doctor where I was informed that the drops were indeed working and I would need to come back in on Friday to start another treatment to help rebuild the tissue in my eye.

After that, I headed to work. It was your average, boring night in a restaurant. However, someone loosely affiliated with the company stopped by to grab a bite to eat on the company card. I haven’t seen this guy in a while and he seemed surprised to see me. So surprised, in fact, that he blurted out something that I found...well, kind of insulting.

“I thought you’d be writing for Saturday Night Live by now.”

Well, obviously I’m not. And, by the way, thanks for bringing up the fact that I’m still a waitress right off the bat. And thanks once more for reminding me of my horrible Saturday Night Live experience.

You see, almost two years ago, I was really making a concerted effort to get hired as a writer for SNL. The pay was good, the people seemed nice, the experience would be fantastic, and---let’s face it, it beats the hell out of waiting tables.

I worked very hard on my submission package and somehow managed to pull that friend-of-a-friend deal and got an agent who was willing to basically send my stuff over (sight-unseen) to Rockefeller Center. No, I wasn't signed with this agent. I guess it was, what they call in the business, a "pocket deal".

Actually, it was less than that. But essentially, he would send my stuff off, and if anything came of it, he would get a percentage of my pay cheque as long as I remained with the show.

Fine with me. The pay on a show like SNL is definitley high enough that I wouldn't even miss that 10%.

Sure, I knew it was a long shot. What I didn’t know was that my submission would get lost. Not once. Not twice. But three times over the course of about six months. Somewhere in the vast expanse of 30 Rock are three copies of my carefully written cover letter and submission package. One of these days, an Intern from The Today Show is going to stumble across my submission package and will scramble down the hall looking for Willard Scott to make sure it’s okay for him to toss it out.

I can only hope Willard is wearing a funny hat when my hopes and dreams end up at the Staten Island Landfill.

In any case, as I stood there this evening watching this guy sip at his glass of free red wine, I certainly didn’t want to be reminded of the fact that I still had a job where I was required to wear an apron. Tho, if Lorne Michaels had insisted...

But I’m a nice person and did not toss the glass of wine in his face. Instead, I quietly mumbled something about my package getting lost three times and trailed off into a sigh.

And then, he said just about the stupidest thing I’d ever heard.

“Well, you need to get yourself an agent.”

Oh really? Thanks. You know, I never would have thought of that. Wow. That’s a real revelation. An eye opener. And I'm a gal with a bum eye, so you can just imagine... I can’t believe I’ve spent all this time writing and waiting tables when all I needed to do was to walk out this door, walk into an agent’s office and sign myself up. Thanks, mister. You're the best!

Idiot. And, by the way, this is a guy somewhat connected to the business. Really, he should know better.

Agents for writers are extremely difficult to get. You can be a so-so actor with a pretty face and STILL get an agent in New York or L.A. Why? Because an actor with a pretty face can easily get an Under-Five (that means a part where the actor has under five lines) in a local soap opera and the agent will get a commission even if they completely suck. They can get small roles on any number of shows (and might possibly turn out to be good enough to get a larger role, eventually) and the agent gets a commission each time. There’s very little effort involved on the part of the agent. They simply get the local breakdowns, send out photos and resumes of their clients and wait by the phone to hear if their client has been selected for an audition.

Basically, the the odds are pretty decent that the agent will quickly see a return on their investment in their client with very little effort.
Pretty good business, if you ask me. And I should know. I was the Owner's Assistant at an Agency in Minneapolis for three years.

Not so with writers.

An agent can sometimes work for a year before seeing any return on their work. If ever. There are no Under-Fives for writers. And, even if there were---well, we'd write eight lines and you'd have to pay an editor to cut out four of them. Ba-dum-chhhh.

Basically, with writing, you either get a big deal, or you don’t.

And before you start yelling out things like “that’s negative thinking!”---no, it’s just reality.

The nature of the beast.

The fact is, agents don’t want you unless everyone else wants you. It sounds horrible, but really it's just good business sense.

Personally, I’ve been told that I’m the sort of writer that other writers like---but that the business people just don’t get yet.

And I’m okay with that.

So, tonight, on the train home from work, I did some more thinking, made some more decisions, and realized that I’ll probably be ready to start writing in another day or two. Super. I'm right on track.

Finally, a little after midnight, I got started on a batch of cupcakes that I plan to take into my doctor’s appointment tomorrow. After falling in the subway and breaking my jaw two months ago, I’m headed in tomorrow for a follow-up on how the surgery went and how I'm healing up. But I wanted to do a little something to say thanks to all the great doctors and nurses who helped bring me back to life. Hence, the cupcakes.

But not just any cupcakes—these are from a recipe I saw Giada DeLaurentis make on The Food Network for Mini-Cupcakes with Mascarpone Cheese. Giada did a Strawberry Glaze for the top, which I dutifully made, but decided was far too sweet. On TV, she was making it for a child’s Bake Sale. These were going into a doctor’s office. I needed to health these up a bit.

After a few attempts at different icings from various ingredients in my kitchen, I stumbled across the solution with a simple mix of Strawberry Yogurt and more Mascarpone Cheese simply blended together. Yum! The texture and level of sweetness was so mild and just right.

Then I got a little crazy and decided to whip up a batch of her chocolate balsamic vinegar truffles that I’d duplicated about a month ago to great acclaim from my friends.

That’s another difference between me and Carrie Bradshaw---my kitchen is not just a dimly lit part of the set.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Not Like Carrie Bradshaw: Day One

I have no idea how much a weekly sex columnist is paid. But apparently, on Sex in the City, it’s enough to afford a great one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. There also seems to be plenty of money left-over for fabulous designer clothes and shoes, unlimited taxi rides, and constant nights out on the town drinking top shelf martinis and eating at the finest restaurants.

In real-life, Carrie would undoubtedly have to hold down a second job to afford such niceties. Maybe a job like mine---waiting tables in Midtown Manhattan.

That’s where I was last night. And that’s why I didn’t get home till almost two o’clock in the morning.

Which is why I slept till almost noon today.

Now, my favorite thing to do on a Sunday morning/early afternoon is to make a great pot of coffee and read the Sunday New York Times in my pajamas.

Unfortunately, I don’t get the New York Times delivered. A little luxury I just can’t afford yet. However, some Sunday mornings I DO throw on my sweatpants and head down to the corner to grab a copy of the ten-pound weekly paper at the corner deli. Then I come back and have my coffee and all is right with the world. Well, not the world in the paper---but in my little world.

However, this Sunday there just wasn’t time. No lolling around today.

I quickly brewed up a pot of coffee, turned on NY1 to get a few minutes of the local news and weather report, and got myself dressed.

As I was wrestling with shirt choices that would be appropriate for today’s weather, a commercial came on for the new James Patterson novel. I’ve seen commercials for his novels before---and always find them odd.

Now, honestly, I haven’t read any of his books. But, according to a Wikipedia search, he’s a popular thriller writer who’s sold over 150 million books worldwide.

That’s quite an accomplishment. Kudos.

But commercials for a novel?

Well, I guess you can have commercials for anything, really. After all, the whole idea of a commercial is simply to make consumers aware of your product, get an idea what it’s all about, and present it in the most enlightening and/or memorable way possible.
It’s all about sales. And no, I’m not one of those struggling writers who constantly lament the crass commercialization of the business. For me, anything that gets people reading is super-fantastic. And any writer who is able to make a living off their talents is not to be sneezed at.

But books are a different animal altogether than a laundry detergent, snack food or even the newest prescription drug. Their commercials tell you what their product is going to do for you and how it’s going to make you feel.

In a nutshell: Buy this and you will be happy.

Okay, maybe if the book is to be found in the self-help aisle at your local Barnes & Noble… But a novel?

Sure, most new films, plays and even some CDs have commercials announcing their impending arrival. But these mediums are visual, aural and (let’s face it) a whole lot sexier than a novel. All James Patterson is left with is the power of the written word and a snazzy book cover. It just seems odd.

But the most disturbing thing for me is the ending of the commercial when the announcer declares that the novel is by James Patterson. And then repeats, “Yes. James Patterson.”

As if you’re supposed to go, “Wow! James Patterson! He must be some badass motherfucker.”

Well, I didn’t say that. But that’s what the stern, forceful, yet soothing announcer seems to expect to hear back at the TV.

There’s just something cocky about it. “James Patterson. Yes. James Patterson.”

I kinda don’t like James Patterson now. A little too Bond-James Bond for me.

As I got myself dressed and stewed over my new James Patterson issues, I tried to figure out what I was going to do with my day. Sure, I was going to write. That was the plan. But I needed to get out of the house on this beautiful Spring day. And frankly, sometimes I don’t write so well at home. Too many distractions. If you’re not really in the mood or under a serious deadline---writing at home can sometimes be pretty unproductive.

Most writers will admit to being distracted by pretty much anything. Personally, I have been known to entirely re-organize my closet to avoid sitting down to the computer.

The trick is: Know thyself. I knew the gorgeous day would be too enticing to hold me indoors and decided to make a trip to Chinatown.

First of all, before you think I was just doing this to distract myself in a completely different way---think again.

The project I’m working on is set in Manhattan and involves food. That’s all I will say. Most writers are notoriously secretive about their current projects. Some are downright superstitious about it---avoiding any mention of the work-in-progress at all except to say it’s being worked on.

There’s a reason for this. First of all, it’s bad form. Because anyone who’s really gotten down and dirty in the writing trenches KNOWS that no one is interested in hearing about their latest opus. Sure, if you have an editor or a publisher or an overly interested significant other---well, you might get some takers. Or if you’re involved in a writer’s group---well, there you go. Small groups of writers can and will sit in bars, cafes and local diners swapping tales of woe over their inability to get the mother character to gel, their frustration over the middle of Act Two or their perpetual drive to up-the-stakes in the subplot.

But your average co-worker or friend doesn’t care. In fact, if you ARE one of those writers who still persists in talking up your progress with your friends and co-workers---trust me, they are BORED! I will say this one time and one time only, “THEY DON’T CARE!”

It’s not that they don’t care about YOU. They do. But, let me put it this way---Have you ever been in a conversation with a small child who insists on telling you every detail about all the characters in their favorite Super Hero cartoon? Which cartoon animal has this superpower and which figurine they have mimics that superpower? Okay, that’s you. You’re that chatty, stuttering, “And then… And then…” little kid. So shut up, find yourself a writer’s group to moan to and get back to work.

The other reason writers hesitate talking about their current project is due to a little something I like to call “The Curse of Talking About It.” While it may sound superstitious, most writers realize that if you talk about your current project too much---well, you mentally start to think you’ve already written it. And therein lies The Curse. Talked-about projects seldom reach the final stage. So most of us keep our mouths shut.

I only mention my basic outline (Manhattan and Food) because I think it’s important for you to know that I was NOT wasting time. Oh no. This was research.

And research is a pretty big part of the writing game. So is thinking. Just thinking about it. Writers will often spend entire days (and sometimes weeks) just THINKING about what they’re going to write.

This is not time-wasting. This is actually an integral part of the process. We need to get a handle on our characters, our setting, our storyline, the general tone of the piece---in short, we need to figure out what we’re going to write.

So, if you ever see a writer in a cafĂ© just staring out the window---trust me, he’s working hard.

Of course, the danger there is that you think too much and never get anything on paper. Once, in a writer’s group in Minneapolis, a fellow-writer asked the $10,000 Question about that integral gestation process, “So, when does it cease to be productive and start to become lazy?”

We all looked at each other. Silence. The silence of a roomful of Buddhists.

And then, one writer nodded his head in understanding and simply uttered, “When you feel guilty about it.”

We all understood.

However, this project is spanking new and today was really only the second day in my gestation process---and I’m not a fruit fly, for heaven’s sake. I could definitely allow myself the luxury of a little thinking time.

And I would have plenty of time to think on the A Train downtown. Yes---I got a lot done on that train. Made a few minor decisions and took down about half a page of notes.

And a trip to Chinatown would enable me to do three things at once---get out and enjoy the day, get some writing done and buy some groceries for the week.

I was also curious to see how much Chinatown had changed since the recent NYPD busts for knock-off handbags.

The difference was quickly apparent.

First, I immediately discovered that I was not accosted every ten feet by a young kid offering to show me handbags. Second, I noticed a few storefronts shuttered and closed. Then, a few blocks later, I saw what must have been the epicenter of the Counterfeit Empire---almost an entire block of shops shuttered up with huge red notices in both English and Chinese announcing the official NYPD Lockdown.

I stopped to take a picture with my cell phone.

Then I began to notice something completely different---the character of Chinatown had perceptibly changed. It was now---well, more Chinese.

Let’s face it---the majority of people BUYING those knock-off handbags were tourists looking for a cheap handbag to fool their friends into thinking they were rich. With the tourists and their something-for-nothing mentality out of the way, many of the shops had gone back to catering to the locals by selling---you guessed it---Chinese goods!

Not that there wasn’t always a plethora of Chinese teas, fruits, vegetables, cookware and decorative items available. But now you could actually SEE them! Generally, the open shops put their cheap gold jewelry, sunglasses, handbags and NYC souvenirs right out front. You had to actually go inside and crawl thru the joint to find some tea and Oyster Sauce.

But no more! I liked this new Chinatown.

For the next hour, I perused the shops, picking up some fruits and vegetables from the outdoor stands along the way.

My favorite fruit and vegetable stand purchase today was this huge batch of these Asian green beans I love to cook with. About three pounds of these lovelies for $4. I’ll be eating them with everything all week.

I also picked up a small head of Napa cabbage and a bag of baby bok choy. A few moths ago, I purchased a great single-handle non-stick Wok for about $10 and always love when I can whip up a delicious stir-fry with fresh Asian ingredients.

And then I went to my Chinese Goods Mecca---The New Kam Man Market on Canal Street.

New Kam Man is my go-to place for all flavors Chinese. I grabbed a basket and began picking up a few things for my kitchen.

I like to think of it as my little secret shop---but, honestly---all the locals know about it. The place is always packed with a 50-50 ratio of Americans to Chinese. And, while New Kam Man doesn’t sell fresh produce---they have everything in the way of sauces, noodles, teas, dried goods and a fantastic array of cookware and serving dishes. I love it here!

Today I filled my basket with quite a few things---a jar of Hoisin Sauce (which is kind of like a Chinese Bar-B-Que sauce that’s SO delicious on pretty much anything), a small bottle of Sesame Oil, some dried figs, a package of Spring Roll Rice Paper, a bag of rice noodles (individually packed in single-serving portions inside---great for the single gal), a tin of Woo Loong Tea, two packages of extra firm tofu, and a small jar of Blooming Tea. Blooming Tea is something I’ve always wanted to try. It’s basically a dried flower bud that opens up as it steeps in hot water.

I also found a cute little ceramic bowl that I decided would be perfect for holding my Kosher Salt. My recent addiction to the Food Network has convinced me that Kosher Salt is The Best. And I love how the TV Chefs always have a small bowl full of Kosher Salt right next to their stove.

And, due to my trip to Chinatown today---I would now be able to play TV Chef in my very own kitchen for the mere cost of $1.95.

The total cost of my Sunday groceries---$30. Satisfaction---priceless.

I grabbed a cup of tea at a nearby bakery and headed off to the park nearby to regurgitate on paper some of my latest thoughts.

The park was full of Chinese. And a local Chinese octet was set up to play an outdoor concert. The music began with a clang of cymbals. One! Two! Three!

It suddenly seemed to me that every musical composition, theatre piece, and live show should begin this way. As if, amongst all the other ancient Chinese inventions, they had invented a way of announcing 4000 years ago that the audience should turn off their cell phones and pagers.

It was a great (yet dissonant) concert. And I didn’t understand a word. Sometimes, when I’m writing, I like a bit of white noise behind me. Anything in English would have been too distracting. And silence is sometimes deadly. I spent another hour in the park observing, thinking and taking notes.

Back at home, I cooked up a delicious stir fry with chicken, green beans, baby bok choy, mushrooms and Hoisin Sauce. I also tried my hand at Summer Rolls for the first time and the whole meal was delicious.

Of course, I should have gotten down to the writing after that. But I was too intrigued by my new Blooming Tea. And after a great Chinese dinner---well, you have to have a cup of tea.

I boiled a pot of hot water and popped the tea bud into my cup. A few moments later, the bud started to open. It was an amazing thing to see! The little green fingers of the bud slowly loosened themselves from the round ball. I sat at my kitchen table, fascinated by the process of this bud opening up. I couldn’t move. And when the bud opened up further to reveal a beautiful lemony-orange flower inside---I was transfixed. This was the most beautiful cup of tea I’d ever seen!

I must have sat there for five full minutes watching a bud open.

And then I felt guilty.

It was time to get back to work. I grabbed my beautiful cup of tea and sat down at the computer.

But, with a cup of Blooming Tea, the blank screen didn’t seem so bad, after all.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Just Like Carrie Bradshaw...

As a waitress in Midtown, I meet a lot of tourists.

Sometimes they like to chat.

Okay. Sure.

I’ll gladly tell you where to go to buy great discount clothes. I can give you directions to pretty much any major tourist attraction. And, if I asked, I will happily offer suggestions on what to see and do in NYC.

But I find it strange when they inquire about my personal life. Particularly when they ask the question, “So, what do you do?”

It just seems too personal to me. Because they can see what I do. I’m their waitress. What they’re really asking is, “What are your dreams? What do you aspire to be besides a waitress?”

For some reason, I find this question insulting. I would never walk into a doctor’s office, greet the receptionist, and, while thumbing thru the year-old magazines, ask the receptionist, “So, what do you want to be besides a receptionist?”

I’m your waitress---not your friend. Let’s make a deal---you don’t ask about my dreams in life and I won’t ask if that’s your real hair color. And I don’t think my aspirations either qualify or disqualify me for the honor of bringing you coffee and a slice of cheesecake.

And frankly, why do you care? Are you an agent? Are you so taken by my sparkling personality that you sense a great hidden talent?

Of course, I am aware that I’m reading too much into this. Waitresses are notoriously snarky. We have to be. It’s a defense mechanism developed thru years and years of being verbally abused without the ability to retaliate.

In my lighter moments, I realize that what most of them really want is simply to get a story to take back home about their encounter with a real-life, New York City Struggling Artist.

For some reason, they think it’s interesting. After all, it always looks interesting in the movies. Huge artists lofts. Glamorous bohemian parties. Daily encounters with celebrity. Sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Juicy bits of gossip to take back home to their small town to impress their friends.

“So, what do you do besides this?” they ask with anticipation.

“Well, I’m a writer.”

Sometimes I can actually see their eyes light up. And then, more often than you would think, I hear this…

“Oh! Just like Carrie Bradshaw!”

Well, no. Not really.

Let me start by saying that I love Sex in the City. It’s a smart, sexy show with great acting and fantastic writing. And yes, sometimes the show is very much like life in NYC. As my friend Jana says, “Life here IS kind of like Sex and the City---but without all that pesky sex.”

But I’m not here to write about sex. Yet another reason why I am not like Carrie Bradshaw.
I’m writing this on a PC. Carrie had a laptop. Strike number two.

And Carrie lived on the East Side. I live on the West Side. And if you know anything about Manhattan---that’s a HUGE difference. Strike three.

Still, the comparison continues. I’m a single gal, living in the big bad city, and spending my free time sitting in cafes, sipping cappuccinos and working on my next project.

The operative word is “free”. My FREE time. You see, this is where the comparison comes to a dead stop.

Once I was this temped to reply to a table’s Carrie Bradshaw comparison by explaining, “Yes! My life is exactly like that episode of Sex in the City where Carrie works the dinner-close shift and, after she tips out, walks with $82.”

“I don’t remember that episode, “ they would inevitably reply.


I bring this up now because I've been told that while I spend ample amount of time writing about restaurant life on this blog, I have yet to devote equal time to The Writer’s Life.

Well, if you thought working in a restaurant was boring…

Look, I LOVE writing. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.

But talking about it in conversation is about the most boring thing you can possibly discuss. No one wants to hear about how I spent my day off editing twelve pages, writing six new ones and making a trip to Office Depot for two reams of paper.

I liken it to being a butcher. People may appreciate a fabulous steak---but no one wants to hear how it went from cow to butcher paper.

Nevertheless, I’m about to give it a shot. Over the course of the next week, I will faithfully document what it is truly like to live the life of a writer in NYC. But I warn you now---don’t expect any sex, shoes, or cosmopolitans.

Or puns. That’s the other difference between me and Carrie---I hate puns.