Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I went to a lecture given by my Upper East Side neighbor Hilma Wolitzer at The New York Society Library. The topic, Developing Characters for Fiction, was one I was excited to attend. She’s written 13 books so I assume she knows a bit on the subject.

It wasn't her lecture that stuck out for me, although it was an excellent two-hour talk, but the people that were there. As I looked around the room at the 20 or so people in attendance I was struck with the thought, “Don’t you people have jobs?’ Of course, I see the hypocrisy in this criticism, but I think we all realize by now that to while away two hours in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon is somehow expected of me- but these other people. I wanted to stand up and announce, “People, there is an economy to rebuild; there is a nation that needs you. Who’s manning the ship? Surely, there is something else you could be doing with your time.” Perhaps I would have if I hadn’t over indulged in donuts earlier that morning while pondering if Snuffy Smith was still in syndication.

As the lecture went on I focused my judgment away from the collective and narrowed my beam of righteousness on individuals. There was an English guy, glasses perched on his nose, bad teeth, you know the type, that was intent on letting the rest of us know exactly how clever he was. He asked no questions but rather chose to share his infinite wisdom with the lecturer. In three minute (yes, I timed him) he cited Bryon, Samuel Johnson and made a joke about Charles Dickens, which was pretty funny but I did not laugh as I think it important to not encourage this kind of behavior. I jotted in my notebook “Hey man, I didn’t pay good money to watch your corn kernel teeth move up and down.” In truth I hadn’t paid anything, none of us had, but it’s important to not let the truth get in the way of judgment. Far too many very convenient judgments had to be abandoned after looking too deeply into the facts. On further reflection I realize that I never actually saw his teeth and they were probably fine. See what happens when you let facts dictate?

A woman writing a biography focused her comments on the problems she was having with researching a particular time in America’s history. Why she felt the need to bring this issue up in a lecture entitled “Writing Character For Fiction” was unclear until she let slip that she didn’t know what the topic was and wasn’t really sure what we were all doing here. She happened to be walking by when she saw a few people go into the lecture room and she followed them. “Research this!” I wrote in my notebook. I’m not particularly proud of this but the English guy used a lot of words I had to look up after the lecture and I was feeling “less than.”

A comely woman asked an excellent question. I was left wondering if she was beautiful because she asked a very good question or was it a very good question because she was beautiful. My lack of depth begrudgingly forced me to concede the latter. My copious notes are then filled with a crudely drawn sketch of her shapely legs. I interrupted the filling in of the fishnet stockings with the statement. “Should probably give Match another try”

So my point is, had all of these people been at work like they should have been maybe I could have paid closer attention to the topic of “Problems with Research” “Overcoming Writer’s Block” or whatever the hell the lecturer was talking about.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Anyway, I eased up on the carbs so I could squeeze out my little window and stand on the fire escape. Looking down I noticed several of my cigarette butts in the courtyard below. I met the woman that lives in that apartment during Hurricane Sandy. I haven’t discussed the hurricane at all because it didn’t affect me. If you are a long time reader you will know that if I’m not directly affected by something it probably didn’t happen.

We had a nice discussion over the high winds as we stood on the stoop of the building. I was a bit preoccupied calculating my ability to push her out of my way if a strong wind should occur. She definitely said she was a musician and she said this with an English accent so you know she’s cool and probably a bit pissed about the revolution and a bit touchy about how English musicians stole the black man’s music. Again, not directly affecting me so I didn’t dwell on it.

Looking at the butts on the ground I thought I would do the honorable thing and write her a letter apologizing for the cigarette butts and Romney’s recent UK visit. I taped it to her door. Admittedly creepy but that’s how we do in the Midwest and besides I may need to hit her up for a loan that I will, of course, never repay.

She wrote a nice letter back saying that she noticed a cloud of what she thought was dust descending on her courtyard and that must have been the ashtray. I then had to write her back saying that that was actually me shaking out a rug out. The deeper it went the worse I looked.

So the whole point of this pointless little post is that if you hear a song on the radio entitled “The Asshole in 2D” it’s probably about me.

Friday, November 02, 2012

I moved to a new apartment on E. 88th.

“There’s a balcony.” I tell my New York friend.

“A balcony? Wow that’s pretty snazzy.” She replies.

“Well, when I say balcony it’s really more like a fire escape.”

“So you don’t really have a balcony. Your building has a fire escape.”

“Yes, I think that’s a fair assessment of what’s outside my window”

I can’t swear she rolled her eyes, but I think I felt the eye roll of judgment upon me. It really is an issue of how you look at it. To me it’s a balcony to the rest of the world it’s a rusted fire escape which will require a tetanus shot.

James Thurber, a wonderful writer, was going blind. His vision was failing quickly. A reporter asked how he felt about it, one of the truly stupid questions. I loved his answer

“It’s not so bad- where everyone else sees a brown paper bag blowing down the street; I see an old woman in a raincoat doing summersaults.”

How I see it: I have always had a mental picture of me leaning over the rails of a New York fire escape. I’m wearing a wife beater shirt, cigarette dangling from my mouth, 3 days growth of beard. I watching the kids play stickball in the street. I may be Italian in this picture. Yea, I know I should aspire to more.

Actuality: A 48 year-old man trying to get through a small window to an unstable fire escape, feet too big to maneuver, legs not limber enough and a small yelp of pain when the hip feels like it’s going to pop. It’s a sad little sight indeed.

“It’s not how I envisioned it.” I tell my sister over the phone while I clutch the rusty fire escape, clinging for dear life.

“Maybe you should move to Seattle.” She says.

Hmmm, I could see myself on a fishing boat, wearing a Greek fisherman’s hat, weathered face, cigarette dangling from my mouth and a Scottish accent. Maybe I should.