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, March 12, 2006

Getting My Morning Shock of Adrenaline . . .

As I write this, I'm watching Turner Classic Movies with the mute on. I don't know what the film is, but it's a wartime musical that stars Jimmy Stewart as a navy officer and Eleanor Powell as, presumably, a tap dancer who can't act. And the only way I can explain what's happening onscreen is that, while I wasn't looking, the two of them must have gotten together and said, “Hey, let’s put on a show on the deck of the old Wyoming-class battleship!” All of a sudden I want to listen to the Village People.

(Sidenote: I just added my first ever fact to Wikipedia. The article on the New York and Wyoming class battleships described them as having a “crew compliment.” I changed the i to the requisite e, and in so doing I believe I have just used my English Ph.D. for the first time since I left Tallahassee.)

Anyway, the reason I'm posting right now is that I just took a shower in my apartment and I have to sit still for a few minutes while I wait for the skin to regrow. And this gives me the opportunity to grouse a bit on the topic.

I have said in the past that the only downside to my Washington Heights apartment is that it requires me to walk two and a half blocks to do laundry. But the actual worst thing about the place is the shower, and I stare it down balefully every day. It's not that it has bad water pressure---it's actually fine in that department. And it's not that it takes forever to warm up or has hard-to-twist handles. The problem is that it's deeply, deply schizophrenic. If it were an employee, it would be like a brilliant CEO who gets fired for showing up drunk. Or it has ADD. Or it's criminally insane. What it isn't is a helpful shower.

In short, the damn thing can't maintain a temperature. Every day I establish an acceptable starting warmth for my ablutions, and every day, the moment I get comfortable, the shower has tried to argue back. And what's maddening is that it doesn't even freak out with any consistency. I'll be bending over, soaping up my legs, say, and I'll hear a hiss and I have to jump back from the stream or find myself plunged into an icy stream like they have in the Coors ads. Or the stream will jump just a bit and I know I have to escape again or I'll get burn scars and people will think I'm that boiled baby from the urban legend. These fits never last long, and so taking a shower is an actual dance of fear---stealing a few precious moments of eighty-degree washing, while always keeping one paranoid muscle tensed in case the fucking thing lashes out at me.

I'm not a morning dancer, but so far I've managed to keep my gonads unsinged and I've become quite practiced at washing myself BESIDE the shower's stream, tiptoeing in the corner in a false show of sharing equal space, when really we're about as equal as Hannity and Colmes. ("Look, crazy boy," I muttered yesterday. "I'm just over here doing my thing, and I'll try you again if I need something rinsed.")

Today, however, it pulled a new one. While rinsing my back in the soothing warmth I'd somehow managed to coax out of the nozzle, the water turned entirely cold for a split second, and then resumed its former temp. It's like drinking wine that turns, just for a second, into a banana daiquiri. It shouldn't be possible, and can't be pleasant for anyone. Later, in a show of equal-but-opposite perversity, it scalded me---just for a second, again, like I was whipping my hand through a candle flame. But something like that will definitely trigger fight-or-flight.

I assume all this occurs because I'm sharing water with everyone in the apartment and everyone on the same water pipes above and below me. Perhaps this means that whenever anyone anywhere in the building flushes or turns a tap, I get the brunt of it. Which raises another odd issue: we had to invent this situation. At no other time or place in history did anyone, that I can think of, have to cope with schizoid water. Pipes have frozen. Water has boiled and not cooled down. But the cowboy on the range pouring freshly-pumped lake water onto his head will at least experience consistency. We had to invent the tenement to get my current situation. There's an upside, I guess---I can imagine that, if I were truly sensitive, I could start to "listen" to the shower and interpret the entire building ("Ah, a slight dip toward coldness; Mrs. Uwambe in 3C must be heating her baby's milk. . ."). It might make a good mystery story. But for now, I'm just a frightened little lab rat, with nothing to fight and nowhere to fly to, for five to ten minutes every goddamned morning.

Oh, look; it's raining outside! I think I'll walk to the subway without an umbrella, just so I can remember what water's supposed to behave like. I guess the city drives everyone crazy eventually. Even hydrogen.


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