Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Experiencing Turbulence

On the last day, since I was leaving in midday, Ryan went off to work and left me his key. “Lock the door on your way out, then just slip it under the door before you leave,” he said. So I spent the morning packing, collected my things from all around the apartment (my crap expands to fill up available space, as if it’s osmosing) and then I got a little distracted trying to find a book to take with me. Margaret Atwood? Stanislaw Lem? Carl Sagan? Ryan has a large bookshelf and a lot of options.

I finally settled on Lem, zipped everything up, gave a cursory glance around the place, and walked out about ninety minutes early, so I’d have a little leeway once I got to the airport. I went out, locked the door, slipped the key back into the apartment, and walked out into the afternoon.

A few beats up 8th avenue, I realized I’d better call Ryan and say a final goodbye. So I checked my pockets. Nothing. Troubled, I stopped in a deli and emptied every cranny I’d ever thought of filling. There were a few surprises—two containers of dental floss!—but no phone. Then I remembered that I’d plugged it into the wall in Ryan’s apartment in order to charge it for the trip home. Because, you know, it’s the only phone I have, it’s the only way people have of getting hold of me, and it contains every phone number I know. So naturally I’d need to have it charged. It’s that important.

So, having locked myself out of my own phone-life, I had a moment of real fear. But logic took over. Hey, I thought. No problem! It’s a pain, but I’ll just call Ryan and see if he can let me in over his lunch break or something. Oh, wait—call him with what? And without my phone I also didn’t know his number. Thanks a lot, logic. Way to help.

The choice was actually pretty easy: there was absolutely nothing to do except to e-mail Ryan once I got back and ask him to FedEx me the phone. In the meantime, what were the odds I’d need the phone anyway? The only time I’d call anyone would be when I was finally home, and I could just as easily e-mail them. And if anyone called me, they’d probably be calling either to invite me somewhere or just to chat. Either way, I could wait a day or two.

So I sighed and let go. There was nothing else to do, and in that state of mind I got aboard the bus for LaGuardia.

Once I was past the grief over my cell phone, and in the giddy expansiveness of having found a place to live, I decided to splurge a little and buy a book for the trip home: Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I’d been eyeing for years and which finally beckoned to me from a bookstore shelf in LaGuardia. So I took it to the counter and handed them my card.
The woman swiped, then paused. There was a beep. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But your card has been declined.”

I think I handled it pretty well, considering I was in a foreign state and about to embark on a huge expensive move that would cost everything in my budget. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Two days ago, according to this banking slip, I had six thousand dollars in my account. Could you try that again?” Dear God, I thought. Had I really spent that much in two days? How many 3-dollar hotdogs had I actually consumed? No, that’s impossible. So what about identity theft? . . .and if my account is empty, won’t my apartment check bounce? So I might be broke and homeless, and this whole trip was a huge waste . . .

“Uh, could you try again?” I said.

She did. Again it was declined. “Maybe you should call your bank,” she said.

“I would,” I said, “but I don’t have a phone.”

“I don’t know what to say then,” she said.

Sadly, I returned the book to the shelf, feeling mugged and dizzy. What the fuck had happened? How suddenly doomed was I, anyway?

I had an hour before my flight, and I checked my wallet: 11 dollars and seven quarters. But seeing the quarters, I thought, “Wait a minute. I can call my bank from a regular old-school type of land phone!” Alas, seven quarters wouldn’t even cover a call to information, and I was trying very hard to save the little money I had left for gas on the drive home. “My bank is SunTrust,” I thought. “Maybe their service line is 1-800-SunTrust.”

I tried it, and damn if it didn’t work! I got a SunTrust representative, and she quickly told me what was wrong: I needed a new card. “We sent you a letter about it a month ago.”

I remembered it, except that the letter had made no sense. It had scolded me, and told me I needed to activate my new card. But I’d just gotten a new card three months earlier, I HAD activated it, and it was good for two years, so I just assumed they’d made an error. I’d made a note back then to the effect of “call bank to figure out what’s up” but I hadn’t gotten around to it. In my defense, I should point out that it’s Oscar season, so I’ve been watching a lot of movies.

“I never got it,” I said. “Why do I need a new card?”

Apparently—and would it have killed them to explain this in the original letter?— SunTrust had just switched credit providers, and the old cards couldn’t be used at credit sites unless they were replaced. It had nothing to do with me or my odious credit rating.

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that I still have all my money?”

She was.

“And it still works in ATM machines as a debit card?”


“So the only thing I can’t do is run it as credit?”

That was the size of it.

Well, for pity’s sake! That’s the kind of card I’ve always wanted anyway! If you don’t have credit, you dramatically reduce your risk of debt! Who needs a new goddamn card? I’d never wanted all the features. Now if they could just remove the annoying holographic dove I’d be in beer and skittles.

What’s more, it couldn’t have happened at a better time, since in a week and a half I’ll be in another city working with another bank anyway.
“Thank you so much,” I told the woman. “And by the way, never change this number. It totally came in handy today.” Then I hung up, went to an ATM, and bought my book. If they’d had one, I would have also bought a T-shirt that read “Fuck You—I’m Solvent!”

As an afternote, when I finally got home and e-mailed Ryan, he wrote back almost immediately and said, “I’ll FedEx it right away, but there’s a space on the form for a phone number. What should I put? :) ” We settled on the phone number of the phone being FedExed. And Ryan, if you have the receipt, keep it for me: it’s such a postmodern, self-referential thing to do that with the right paperwork I might get us an NEA grant.


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