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!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The George Orwell Award For New Definitions of Freedom

Top floor of the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center, on a sign in the cafe.


But Is It Halal?

34th Street somewhere between Park and Madison. I've been going to Dunkin' Donutses for years and it never occurred to me to ask. Only in New York, I guess.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Defiant Mattress

14th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenue. Last night at about 7 o' clock. There was no mattress store in the vicinity.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Really Unfortunate Sticker Placement

At Best Buy, 6th Avenue and 23rd.

This is another reason why I love cell phone cameras. About eight years ago at Hallmark I saw a similar thing: in our periodicals library, there was a February issue of YM that showed a young teen girl happily canoodling with a deliriously grinning boy, and the largest caption on the cover read, "It's V-Day!" The mailing label covered up the a and the y, but not the exclamation point. Would have been hilarious to save, but I didn't have a camera phone then. So instead I just called all my nearby friends to come by and look at it, one at a time. Now all we have is our memories.


Ultraquick Update/Apology...

Light posting until I get internet access at home. Which will have to be soon, because this last three-day weekend was dangerously understimulating. I had to eat my own temporal lobes to survive.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Help Write a Headline!

New York has just released its official city condoms---designed with a colorful subway theme that I'm actually quite fond of. But here's the problem: yesterday, the daily magazine amNewYork took on the Official New York Condoms as its cover story...and the best headline they could come up with was this:

"Rubber Stamp."

How depressing from professional journalists. Richest goddamn story to come down the pike in who knows how long, and that's the best they can do? I leave it to readers to suggest something better.

I'll go first: "I F*** New York"

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Water! And Pressure! And Warmth!

I imagine I'll have more time to discuss my new place once I actually get my computer hooked up at home, but can I say, I'm already in love with the shower. Crazy in love! I was in an abusive relationship with my old shower---it would turn randomly hot and scald me, and yet I kept coming back---and so it's an absolute miracle to me just to have a shower that works properly. Did I say works? It's bursting with competence! This is an old rent-controlled building, which means the shower was built back in the fabled days of water luxury, when public fountains roamed freely in the wild, and carriage traffic would be held up for days sometimes as they waited for a fjlokk of glaciers to pass. (A fjlokk is a group of glaciers.) No water-saving nozzles in these sturdy pipes, no way! You want water? Turn it on and stand back! You want hot water? Turn on the hot water and look out! Want warm water? Turn on the cold and let the two temperatures battle to a violent synthesis! All at such high speed that I sort of suspect we're hooked into a fire hydrant somehow. But I'm not complaining! I've lived in the place for two solid nights now, and I can already tell that showering here is going to be like getting a massage every day before work.

Now all I need is an adapter. And internet access. And then I'll feel like I'm human and settled again. Oh---and I should mention that the fact that I'm now on the 1 train puts me in direct contact with THREE of my favorite dive bars: The Patriot (at Chambers), Rudy's (at 50th), and Yogi's/The Bear Bar (at 76th). My weekends just got a whole lot simpler.

Next up: unpacking and organization. But I'm already in a very very very good mood.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dave Appearances Update

I'll be interviewed this weekend on NPR's "This American Life." The episode is titled "Quiz Shows" and apparently I'm in the second segment. (If you've never heard of the show, shame on you! It launched the careers of David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and David Rakoff, among other bestselling essayists, so everyone should be listening! Particularly since you can download the free podcast on iTunes.)

Also, I'll be performing tonight at Sherry Weaver's "Speakeasy: Stories From the Back Room" in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Biscuit BBQ, 230 Fifth Avenue, at 8:30 (doors open at 8).

I guess I'll be unpacking tomorrow night...


Incidental Poem: The Wages of Snow

(An oldie I wrote when I lived in Kansas City, but it's still relevant:)


Oh I wish that I lived on a tropical isthmus,
Where the sun is as hot as a tannery!
For the wages of having a really white Christhmus
Is a hideous, slush-ridden Jannery.


Why I Love Camera Phones

Photo I took yesterday in a laundromat on 158th and Broadway. Happy Valentine's Day!


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Positive Exes Meme

I haven’t had much luck with Valentine’s Day. The first time I had a real Valentine’s Day, with a girlfriend and everything, was when I was 22, and that was amazing. We watched an old movie, she made lasagna, and we actually spent the night together. (We didn’t do anything because I was still a conservative Christian. But it was nice.) But since I broke up with her, I don’t think I’ve ever actually been dating anybody on the actual date of Valentine’s Day. (My last few relationships ran less than a year and started in the spring.)

However, I find I still think a lot, and with gratitude, about all the women I’ve dated, and I’ve hereby concocted a Valentine’s Day meme that I hope to spread. The idea is to identify somewhere between three and ten exes (depending on how busy you’ve been) an d to explain what you learned from them and how they’ve changed your life. I’m doing this by giving each of them an award, listing the things I still do that remind me of them, and noting any policy changes I’ve made as I attempt to refine my partner-seeking technique. Note that the point of this is to be positive! So when in doubt, I’ve assumed the errors were my own.

To preserve anonymity, I’ve listed each of my exes only by a single initial, and it could be either their first or last name. Also, I’m not following strict chronology.---though I hope there’s a narrative arc to the thing anyway. Okay. Let’s go:

#1: H.
Award: Smartest

What she taught me: movie history, TV history…basically, almost everything I ever missed in pop culture by growing up without a television. I think about her every time I see The X-Files, and to this day when I see a dog, I point and cry, “Doggy!” like she always did. It’s fun.

Policy changes: Apparently sexual compatibility is something you need to work out at the beginning of the relationship. All the friendship in the world can’t overcome a mismatch.

#2: T.
Awards: Sexiest; Most Encouraging

What she taught me: I have found flat-chested women mind-blowingly sexy ever since---the first time my actual proclivities have shifted like that. I also learned a lot about pedagogy and Korea. I still occasionally consult with her because she has a voluminous medical reference.

Policy changes: I try to make sure my partner and I have the same emotional and social cycle. My cheerfulness can grate on people sometimes, and I’m a bad match for a stay-at-home introvert.

#3: G.
Awards: Funniest; Best Person to Emulate

What she taught me: The value of friendship; how to live well; the value of pursuing new passions even if they’re a little off the path. (We first sort of met and clicked at a puppetry presentation.)

Policy changes: I try not to date people long distance. If they’re a good match, it’s just too damned frustrating.

#4: M.
Award: Nicest

What she taught me: why some women like James Bond films; the joys of staying in and playing games.

Policy changes: It seems to be a bad idea to date someone who isn’t usually your type, even if you think you need a change. Apparently, we have types for a reason.

#5: J.
Award: Most Sexually Aggressive

What she taught me: She was a birdwatcher, and I’ve never looked at birds the same way since.

Policy changes: I try to make sure we’re on the same page from the get-go. It was my first attempt at a fling, and it was entirely successful precisely because we both knew the time limit.

#6: R.
Awards: Most Like My Physical Ideal; Most Practical; Girliest

What she taught me: The joys of watching parades, taking walks in the park, and solving the crossword together over a Sunday breakfast. I still buy Brummel & Brown margarine and fry my own pita bread for sandwiches.

Policy Changes: Apparently I shouldn’t date really girly women; I tend to irritate such people just by being my usual self.


A Moving Tale Of Sorts

I'm moved!

A million thanks to Andy Christie for his last-minute assistance. Merely thinking about the time he spent lashing and unlashing two of my bookshelves to the roof of his car fills me with humility. I have just drawn a picture of him in my dictionary so that he'll always be right next to the word "mensch."

The good news is that there's a laundromat open late less than a block from my place. So soon I'll smell fresh again! I'll also probably wind up throwing even more things out: the place seems smaller than I remembered. I'll have a better idea when the boxes are all folded up and the contents appropriately shelved.

The bad news is that, once I moved in, I wanted to celebrate by going to a nearby bar and popping in to declare, "I'm here!" with a sacramental shot of whiskey. But there are NO BARS within a few blocks of where I live. (Which is really surprising, considering how many 24-hour check cashing places there are in the same zip code. Can the two ever be that far apart?)

The good news is that the nearest bar worth noting is one that I've actually heard of: Coogan's, at 168th and Broadway, listed in the book New York City's Best Dive Bars. I believe it's the furthest-north entry in the book. Certainly it's not going to be an impulse stop: I rarely feel a sudden urge to walk eleven blocks uphill.

The other good news is that I'm a mere stone's underhanded toss away from El Caporal, which is either one of the top five best fried chicken stands in New York (if you ask The New York Times) or one of the top ten in the US (if you ask USA Today). It's not only really good (they fry it in mojo spices!), but incredibly cheap: 3 pieces costs $3.25---and it comes with fries, just in case your arteries are still working.

More details later. For now I just wanted to orient you all and let you know that the move worked.


Monday, February 12, 2007

More Foolishness and a Sign-Off

I had no sooner gotten into work this morning, and started telling my co-workers about my exhausting weekend (I found out I have quadriceps! And they hate me now!) when two of them looked at me with concern and said, "Dave, why did you spend all weekend pushing a dolly? If you're only traveling twenty-five blocks, just hire a cab!"

Oh, right. Cabs. Sigh.

Anyway, that's what I'll probably do tomorrow morning with one more load before my friend Andy comes by after work.

But for now, I'm signing off temporarily, because I have to unplug the computer and its peripherals against its transport tomorrow. So long!

P.S. I just discovered that I can't take my computer cable along with me---the one that attaches me to the high-speed internet. Because my roommate hammered it into the floor with a series of tiny brackets. He has offered to remove the cost of a replacement cord from the remaining rent. But in the meantime, and until I can purchase and install a replacement, I'd expect limited connectivity. This stuff is never easy. Yeesh.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Oh, Right: Gravity!

Turns out there was a flaw in my plan. Let's say you're me, and you load up four boxes of books. All together, it probably weighs over 200 pounds, but it's on a wheeled dolly/handtruck, so who cares, right? If you then go to the subway (there's an elevator to take you down!) and then down some stairs to the platform (dragging things down is easy!), you immediately discover the first thing wrong:

1.) It's the weekend, and the subway almost never runs.

So I'm waiting and waiting and waiting...and when I finally get onto the subway, then get to 168th, where I'm supposed to switch to another train...and I realize the second problem:

2.) I have to drag this fucking dolly's dense-ass tonnage UP eighteen stairs, one wincingly tough and painful legs-and-arms-and-back yank at a time.

Then, at the top of the platform, and with arms as helpless as leather straps, I realized my plan involved switching from the A to the 1...that is, going over a little bit, down some more stairs, in order to go down one more stop on a different line...and then UP more goddamn stairs once I got there.

"Fuck it," I said. "I'll just go to the surface and walk eight blocks the rest of the way." This turned out to be a wise plan, because my new place is downhill! But before I could do that...I had to pull that fucking 200-pound monster up FORTY-FIVE more stairs! It was exhausting. I rested four times. New Yorkers are very helpful and I got a few sympathy nudges. But my new plan---starting today---is to just trundle it both ways and to hell with the subway. It'll save backache AND time.

By the way, it turns out that all my books fit into seven small-but-incredibly-heavy boxes. Everything else I possess that isn't going in the car on Tuesday (i.e., the computer, the TV, one of my bookshelves) fits into three largish-but light boxes. So once I truck over the remaining book boxes (starting any second now), I imagine the rest of the job will take only two or three more trips...which means, if I'm correct, two or three more hours. Not bad if you think of it as a two or three hour mildly inconvenient walk.

The good news: after last night, the empty dolly, all by itself, suddenly feels as light as a baton. I hardly even noticed it going back last night.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Marilyn's Tragedy and Anna Nicole's Farce, or the Maxim-ization of the Modern Playboy

The Atlantic has an interesting piece on the history of Playboy and its current rivals, the “lad mags” like Maxim and FHM. And I was all set to blog on this when it was reported that Anna Nicole Smith had just died. Her own celebrity was so strange, I couldn’t keep from reading the online obits and reports … and that’s how I noticed that at least three people have compared her to Marilyn Monroe. Apparently, Anna Nicole had always idolized Marilyn Monroe and wound up dying very much like her: at age 39 of a drug overdose. And of course they were both busty blondes. But the trip that has taken us from Marilyn to Anna Nicole is the very same arc that has taken us from Playboy to Maxim, and I thought it would be worth looking into further.

To a certain extent, of course, the comparison is false. You can’t say “Anna Nicole is our modern Marilyn.” She’s not: Anna Nicole was always more of a Mamie Van Doren or a Dagmar; the Elvis impersonator to Marilyn’s actual King. But even with that comparison made, we don’t even make Dagmars anymore, and Anna Nicole Smith’s fame had much rougher contours than anything that was visited upon Marilyn Monroe. And what happened to her is what’s happened to the industry, and to the modern manufacture of 18-to-35-year-old male sexual dreams.

Let’s start by discussing Playboy, which had Marilyn as the centerfold of issue #1. The Atlantic article goes further into detail, but in the short version, Playboy as it was originally conceived was selling a fantasy of urban sophistication: the swinging bachelor with casual sexual access to all the world’s Dagmars. The tools of this conquest were velvety and understated — jazz and martinis and the proper way to place the speakers on the hi-fi: and the magazine itself, in a show of casual sophistication, routinely published truly great fiction and essays. The dream was, of course, absurd, and the Playboy girls were all very much of a type, but it was clear that in the pages of Playboy America found a marriage of sexual libertinism and a certain kind of middle-class upward mobility. And what’s more important, you couldn’t have one without the other. In the fifties, the magazine paid for its sex by offering cultural value; this is how it avoided being considered pure pornography. So in a way, the lifestyle it offered was a natural outgrowth of the fact that cultural cachet was the only legitimate way to usher sex into the public conversation. If Hustler had been around in the ‘50s, it would have been Playboy too, instead of the aggressively debauched second cousin it turned out to be.

Marilyn Monroe, of course, was a sex symbol of the same era—a time that was unusually talkative about sex (compared to the forties and fifties), and yet in a time when access to something as simple as nude pictures was heavily circumscribed and had a high social cost. She came along and essentially personified sex for the next two decades---but it, like Playboy, was a hopelessly glamorized sex: diamonds and champagne and gowns by Orry-Kelly. Even when she was a poor nobody — like Sugar Cane in Some Like It Hot — she was obviously millionaire-bound. And most of her best comic roles — including, let’s not forget, All About Eve — had Marilyn pretending to a sophistication she didn’t possess in order to obtain the glamorous lifestyle that was her due. But because she was a goddess, she had to make it look easy, and the cameras of the time were only too happy to enable this absurd fiction.

Compare these two icons---Playboy and Marilyn---to their opposite numbers on this end of the timeline and at first blush the comparison is wholly depressing. Maxim rarely has an article that’s longer than two pages, and has never published anything that might have actual cultural value. Instead of essays by Normal Mailer, they offer articles on how to shotgun a beer or discuss which race of women makes the best strippers. Maxim is a celebration of shallowness, of booty and boobs and booze and basically living like an id-driven adolescent without a whisper of apology. Its silly disposability is practically the point of the joke. Actual meaning would harsh everyone’s frat-house buzz.

And Anna Nicole! What a cheap knockoff of Marilyn in every way! Blonde as hell, humongous tits, with an Amazonian bluntness to every move she made—the woman couldn’t so much as think without lumbering. Like Marilyn before her and every Playboy playmate in between, Anna Nicole was a mixture of egregiously overripe body and laughably dewy childishness. But where Marilyn was theoretically innocent, appealing to Playboy’s original paternalistic attitude toward women, Anna Nicole was … well, an id-driven adolescent in a frat-house haze. She wasn’t enough of an actress to feign innocence, so she just went straight for shocking ignorance and set up a claim that never went challenged. To marry Marilyn you had to not only be successful, but you needed cultural cachet: be Norman Mailer or Joe DiMaggio or Kennedy. To marry Anna Nicole, you just had to be rich; to score with her, you just needed to be nearby. (On the first episode of her reality show, Anna Nicole moaned that she hadn’t had sex in forever and practically begged her viewers to hop on board.)

It’s tempting to bemoan this general debasement (“where are the nudes of yesteryear?”), but there are some good points to it as well—which is fortunate, because the debasement was inevitable anyway, what with the Internet and all. And the Internet really is the driver here. In the same way that it has tended to democratize consumerism and public opinion, it has also made our desires more accessible. Want to see Sarah Michelle Gellar naked? Someone with Photoshop can mail you a free theoretical likeness, no matter what clauses her contract contains. So while it’s tempting to suggest that American men have gone from dreaming of becoming James Bond to dreaming of being irresponsibly self-indulgent, I’m not sure it’s that big a switch: even the James Bond pose back in the day was just the shortest, tested-and-approved distance to the nearest pussy. If the fifties had had the Internet, the Playboy ideal never would have come up in the first place. Who would bother to learn about wine, as a tool to meet women, when there’s instant gratification one Google away? For all Maxim’s vulgarity, it has the virtue of being honest about its stance.

The modern run-through of the story is drenched in irony: If Playboy took itself seriously — boy, did it ever! Even its winks were slow — Maxim is a josh from start to finish. Playboy tried to be important; the most a Maxim article could ever be is nifty. Similarly, while Marilyn was nurtured, and destroyed, by Hollywood’s official dream factory, Anna Nicole was nurtured, and destroyed, by E!: the only network in Hollywood more shallow than Hollywood.

Which leads me to the strangest thing, to my mind, about all of this: if Maxim is king these days — and in men’s magazines it certainly, sadly is — and if coarseness is the new lingua franca, and porn itself is computertistically commonplace, why is Maxim such a cock tease? As the language has gone downhill over time, from J.F. Powers to “How To Score A Fuck Buddy,” the pictures have also gotten less sleazy, even as actual access to nudity has skyrocketed. The most popular sex-driven magazines in America are also the ones with no actual nipples in them. The reason for this is obvious, on one hand: they want to sell magazines! So they have to be Wal*Mart-friendly. But as a result, they’ve also restricted their own visual vocabulary, and it’s turned into a trap: for all its posture of honesty and ironic awareness of reality, the women on Maxim’s covers are every bit as disposable and forgettable as every Playboy bunny after Marilyn ever was. Hell---you can’t even tell Maxim from FHM from Stuff unless you stare through the bong smoke and read the goddamn title. So the lad mags have thrown out the language, which was the real art to the enterprise, and have wound up as visually hackneyed as their granddaddy.

I’m not exactly complaining. There are still some real improvements. The Maxim woman is smarter than the Playboy bunny, more aggressive, more successful on her own merits, and more likely to actually pose in jeans instead of just talking about the fact that they exist somewhere off the set. But both sets of models still have a similar cartoonishness,— and precisely because the lad mags are hip and ironic and don’t even commit to themselves, the lie is easier to spot. But while there’s probably a long-term advantage to making everyone’s desires available at a lower production cost, you also wind up drowning in cheap dreams. As far as accessible images of sexy women goes, we guys have gained all the benefits of democracy. But in the process we have lost religion.

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Bar Napkin Cartoon 22


My Brilliant Plan, Fiendish In Its Simplicity

My friend's loan of a car for the heavy stuff (chair, TV, computer, 1 or 2 bookshelves) becomes available on Tuesday. Until then, all this weekend, I plan to move myself one handtruck at a time, as follows:

1.) load up, say, four boxes.
2.) go down two flights and then over a hundred feet or so to the 181st St. A Station.
3.) take it two stops to 169th and switch to the 1 train.
4.) take it one more stop to 157th exit a hundred feet from my new place, which is (I am happy to report) only a few steps from the elevator.
5.) unload boxes.
6.) repeat four or five or six times both ways.

This seems like such a great idea that I'm already deeply suspicious of it. The handtruck rental is only going to run $7 a day. And since I'm only moving one room's worth of stuff, and everything I own that I'm not moving (the bed, the desk, at least one cabinet) is all the stuff I didn't cram into my tiny little car driving up here, I can't imagine the stuff I own will take up more than twenty boxes. Just to be on the safe side, however, I think I'll start by moving the stuff I really care about, and finish the odyssey with stuff I can literally chuck into the downstairs trash if I get too overcome.

First order of business is to clean up and dump out all the unmovable detritus: the death knell of the old newspaper and the ill-forgotten-phone-number-on-a-scrap-of-paper. That'll take all night, probably. So I'll reassess in the morning. But gosh---think of the money I'm saving!

If there are flaws in this plan I seem blind to, this might be a good time to weigh in.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Best Satire Is Prophetic Satire

Five years ago, I remember this Onion article making me laugh.

Today, thanks to a coke machine, I see it has come true.


Snide Graffito

On the F train, somewhere near Jackson Heights. If you can't read it, it's a comment on a poster. The poster adjures citizens to NOT use the emergency exits when leaving the train and exiting the terminal. The graffito up top reads, "8 million people, 1 door...You do the math." Amen.

(By the way, both this picture and the one below were taken with the same camera in the same point-and-click fashion. I have no idea why one is small and unreadable and the other is big and pretty. I welcome any suggestions that are easier to read than the manual.)


Couch In Grand Central

As part of a promotion of Bravo's new show, "Top Design," The S train section of Grand Central Terminal was tricked out all last week with lamps, couches, carpets, draperies, and other accoutrements. (To the right, at the end of the platform where people stream in, there was a foofy white couch. For a week, buskers could actually lounge.)

I'm glad it's gone now. It was a cruel thing to see on a Friday after work when you've still got an hour before you get home. But the disconnect was fun to observe and (hereby) share.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

How Much For Some Large Funny-Looking Springs?

Apparently I live in a Rube Goldberg machine of my own devising. This morning, while standing up too swiftly and carelessly, I accidentally struck a small box of trash bags (A.) that rests on top of my computer (B.), causing the box to shift forty-five degrees and knock off the neighboring large dumb fantasy paperback (C.) off the edge to the right, where it landed on (D.) a plate containing pens (E.) and a pencil sharpener (not relevant), which was precariously balanced a thin pile of computer game manuals (E.) on the desk (F). When the book landed on the plate, this action, I swear to god, resulted in a seesawlike catapulting of a few pens (E.) to the floor, where one of them knocked over an empty box (G.) that had once contained a bottle of rye whiskey. And that, unfortunately, is where the action stopped. But only through lack of foresight! Now all I need is a duck, a treadmill, and a boot on the end of a stick, and I'd have a device that could help me fold shirts.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Call For Aid

(Upshot: I'm moving THIS weekend, Manhattanites, and I could use a little help! There's a dinner in it for all of you.)

My long national nightmare is over. But the last hurdle is this: I need to pack stuff in boxes and actually move. And that means I'll need help. But not much.

The last post turns out to have been an error, which is why I don't put any stock in miracle-seeming events. I went back to that place in Brooklyn a day later, met one of my soon-to-be roommates, and asked her, "So how are things here?" If the neighborhood was awful, she, as a single woman living alone, would be particularly sensitive to it. But she said, "Oh, the neighborhood is fine. But this place is just not ready to be rented out! I've been here for three months and on my floor we haven't had any cold water. We've been taking baths, waiting for the water to cool, because the shower scalds people. They keep saying they'll fix it, but it hasn't happened yet. Then a few nights ago part of the ceiling gave way and water poured directly on to my bed. There's also a huge bug problem. Really---everyone you see here is planning to move out. The people seem nice, and I'm sure they mean well. But this place just isn't ready to live in."

In desperation I went to, one of those places that advertises a million times a day on Craigslist, where they promise you $125 a week rooms in Manhattan, and they'll fix you up ASAP. "What's the catch?" you may ask. There doesn't seem to be one. Except, of course, that the rooms are smallish and half-assed. Big deal. (Note that if you ever want to use this service, use the one on 40th street between Park and Lex. The one at 141st street---don't know their name---has gotten lots of complaints.) So I put down money yesterday for a $120-a-week place at 157th and Broadway, which is so close to the 157th street 1 station that on the large subway map my place is actually obscured by the you-are-here dot.

So I'm going to be living for the next indeterminate length of time with a Dominican family in a very tiny run-down room that suits me just fine. The rest of the apartment is SO old-school and Hispanic---plastic on the furniture, little corner case full of china dolls, a giant porcelain rooster in the kitchen for no discernible reason---that I feel very much like a guest, like one of those boarders momma had to take in during the war in every 1940s-era drama I've ever seen. The best thing is that the room is furnished (after a fashion) with a bed and a desk. So I only need to move five things: 1.) my TV, 2.) my computer and printer, 3.) one bookshelf, 4.) another bookshelf, and 5.) all my remaining books, DVDS, and clothing, which should come to about ten boxes.

How can you help? Well, my friend Andy has promised to help me with his car. Hooray! So now all I need is a few hands. The move itself will be really fast because, a.) I'm not moving much, and b.) I'm only moving about twenty short blocks, and it's even downhill. Also, the building has an elevator. So what I need is:

Friendly Volunteers, Who Can Say Whether They'd Be Happier on Saturday or Sunday, and Where They'd Like to Eat. (I'm thinking Koreatown.)

A Source of Clean Boxes Fast.

I'll be contacting all interested parties by Wednesday or Thursday. In the meantime, let this be y'all'ses first warning. And thanks!


Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Miracle in Bushwick

Finding an apartment in New York City is a terrifying, dog-eat-dog experience. And it's all the worse when your entire stake is just under $1300 and you have to live for two weeks on whatever's left over after first and last month's rent. Living space is tough enough to find: cheap living space is a virtual impossibility. I even started looking for places outside the city, off in New Jersey. This isn't a bad idea, I'm told, if you're near the PATH train, which is everyone's chief link into the city (15-20 minutes to midtown, depending on the breaks). But the only place I could find in Jersey for my $500 price tag was an 8-minute bus ride AWAY from the PATH. Which would be, I'm guessing, a 30 minute drunken stumble across town if I come in late at night after the buses stop running? No thanks.

I called about a place on Long Island, then found out there were literally no subways there. I interviewed for a BEAUTIFUL $500 place only three blocks from me, then never got a call back. I was starting to get desperate, since I'm supposed to be out of here by the 14th.

So I started calling every single listing on Craigslist, no matter if it was in Astoria, or the far end of Queens, or wherever. This isn't as many as it looks like because (if you check the listings yourself you'll see) most of the best rents are for "Female Roommates Only!" So it comes to between two and four listings---listings which you are essentially competing with every other tightwad in New York for a shot at. And I wound up with two places to see yesterday, and two more for today.

The first looked wonderful: It was for $500 in Jackson Heights, Queens, and as soon as I stepped off the train I loved the place: busy, vibrant, bustling---all the things I love about the city. The only problem: there was some screw-up with the 6 train (which I took to the F), and not only were there only two trains in the time I waited (normally they come every five minutes), but the ones that came were packed to thickly that literally no one could get on. The 6 has never treated me with way before. I stood at the 32nd street 6 station for 45 minutes waiting for a train when I could have just walked ten blocks to Grand Central. As a result, I was late to meet with the guy, and when I got off the train and called---after I'd been on the subway for an hour and was only a block away---he said, "I'm sorry. A guy just handed me the money." Aaargh!

The next stop I was dubious about. $400 for what had been described as "An eight by eight room" in what was, I was sure, a much crappier neighborhood. The guy was showing the apartment at 7:30. It was 6. According to HopStop, it was going to take me 85 minutes to get there---making a C shape from the F west out of Queens to the A south down Manhattan to the J east back into Brooklyn. I knew it was going to be close, and that if I missed it by so much as five minutes, four guys would show up at 7:30 and it was, as the ad said, "first come, first served." So, with bitter defeat still stinging in my mouth, I called ahead and left a message to let him know I was coming, then I raced back to the platform, hopped on the F...and then, sadly, discovered that I had gotten on the wrong train. I didn't find out until I was almost at the end of the line in Jamaica Plain. I had to get off and wait for the F to take me back.

Fuck, I thought. That's it.

I felt the sudden eerie calm of the thoroughly screwed over. I'd now spent ninety minutes on the train, and it was going to take ninety more before I was back in Washington Heights. Clearly I'd lost out on the apartment by now---if I headed right back I would be at least forty-five minutes too late. So I'd spent most of my Friday evening on the subway and had no living space to show for it and the noose was tightening. But I still had two other $500 places to look at tomorrow (both were more of a commute, but still, any port, etc.). And I'd brought a few books with me, and a notebook. So I got off the F train at whatever station is three beyond Union Turnpike, and waited for the E that I needed to get back.

It felt like a long time, and two more F trains passed while I sat there, basically alone in a darkening station. Then an E train pulled in, and I raced over...and it didn't open its doors. The driver shook his head at me, then drove off. The hell? I checked the map again. Ah! The E goes on this same track, but it doesn't actually stop here! I should have taken one of the Fs! F trains, indeed. I took the next one.

There were other missteps along the way: once in Manhattan, I was supposed to switch to the A train to get home, but got on another E instead. And what with one thing and another, even though I'd left work at 4:30, it was 7:10 before I found myself back at the A station on 42nd street, finally ready to head home.

Then a very strange thing happened.

As I was checking the time, my cell phone buzzed. "Number Withheld" was calling me--which is weird, because I have literally never gotten reception in the underground subway before. (When the 1 pops aboveground around Harlem, sure. But never underground. And certainly never on the A!) I answered, and it was the guy from the $400 apartment, calling to announce that he was there early, waiting for me.

"I'm at the 42nd street station," I said. "I'm going home. I assume three or four people will be there before I even show up, and I've been on the subway for almost three hours. I don't see the point."

"42nd street?" said the guy (his name was Andre). "You can get here easily. Just take the A to Fulton and switch to the J. It'll be maybe twenty minutes."

Not according to!, I wanted to say, but here's the thing: I was mostly afraid of taking the place because in addition to the competitive rent, I also assumed it was in a shitty neighborhood. Certainly I'd already missed my good thing in Jackson Heights. But this guy didn't sound skeezy, as even the Jackson Heights guy had. Something about his voice reminded me of a calm, laid-back brother I knew in Tallahassee named Quentin. His voice actually seemed to radiate trust over the phone. So I said, "Ah, what the hell."

"Great," he said. "I'll see you there."

And then, when I got to the Fulton/Nassau station, it took me forever to actually find the J train, and when I got on it I again went in the wrong direction, got off at the next stop, turned around, et cetera. I felt like a tourist again. And it was eight o'clock before I finally made if to the place for the come-one, come-all, seven-thirty meeting.

But it turns out I was the only guy who showed up. Because another odd thing happened which I didn't see but heard about later: it rained like hell all over Bushwick for the next thirty minutes. It was back down to spattering when I finally arrived, but there was water everywhere, dripping down the subway steps and pooling in the corners. Andre said, "I think it was the rain," he said. "A bunch of guys canceled and said they couldn't make it. And I showed this room to two people and they didn't want it."

"This room" is a eight-by-eight room in a third-floor walkup in what you might call a dodgy neighborhood. That much I expected. What utterly stunned me was that I liked it.

Perhaps first you should know that, for about a year, when I first moved out of my parents' house, I lived in a 6 by 9 room that rented for $125 a month. I slept in a loft bed that kept my head inches from the ceiling, and under the bed I had my computer desk, my dresser, and a tiny TV. At one point I had to decide whether to put in a bookshelf or keep the window. The bookshelf won. (After all, if you like sunlight so much, just walk the hell outside! It's only nine feet away.) I still remember that first apartment warmly, because although it looked pretty crappy on paper, in my heart I felt secure. "Yes, it's sort of subhuman," I'd tell myself, "But I can afford it."

This place felt the same. When I look around at my current room---which is about 9' by 16'---I'm mostly struck by the large amount of wasted space I have, which always winds up getting filled with books. Empty space for its own sake is something my brain simply doesn't understand. So the less space I have, the tidier and more organized I become. But here's the other thing: when I was told this place was an 8 by 8 room, I thought that's all I had. But there's not only a very clean bathroom and a surprisingly large kitchen (shared by three other roommates, one of whom is right next door, so I admit I'm a little worried about noise), but I have my own closet down the hall for storage space! I checked it out and it looks like I'll be able to store ALL my books in there, AND all my games, and I might not have to get rid of anything I own! (Well, except the exercise bike, but that was a given.) "But Dave," you may ask. "Where will you keep your clothes?" The same place I always do: in a bin beside the bed where I can see it all. I've owned three dressers in my life and I've never used them. Even as a kid all that I ever kept in them were socks and the occasional pencil.

My friend Jeffrey has a term for it that I've been using ever since: claustrophilia. I love my tiny little place already, because it is tiny and because this makes it absurd. And because---oh, because most of all!---I can afford it. I can not only afford it, I can easily afford it! I never thought that would happen in this city.

As for the neighborhood, it felt a little bit like the barrio back home---the seamy southern end of Fourth Avenue, for those of you who know Tucson. The street was deserted, but there was a busy street nearby (Broadway; the Brooklyn version). Quiet area, but parked cars everywhere---the good kind of quiet (unlike, say, the warehouse district in Kansas City, where there aren't even any cars because no one wants to be there). Bars on the lower windows, but old bars...and a few new buildings with no bars at all. In short, this place, shitty as it looked, smelled of gentrification. Welcome to Bushwick.

"You know why I think?" said Andre, who it turns out even looks a bit like Quentin: same height, same tilt of the head, same jawline, same post-hippie chill vibe. "It's because now Williamsburg is so expensive," Andre said, "everyone's moving out here. Last week I rented an entire building of one of these places to students at NYU and Brooklyn College, and we've started to get musicians and artists too." I'm sure it could be spin, but from what I've seen I believe it. Which means I'm going to start socking away money against my next move, because who knows when they're going to turn around and raise the rent some more? But for now, I have the keys in my pocket, and I'm heading out there today with some measuring tape to see what I can keep and what I need to get rid of. I've got a friend with a car and with any luck I'll be moving next weekend. But as of today, I seem to be a Brooklynite.

By the way, I don't believe in Providence, but the story about the magic cell phone call---the one that convinced me to see the place when I'd given up hope---and the sudden rainstorm that cleared out all my competitors, are both true. I mention them, not because I think there's any larger meaning to them, but because some of you do. And since I'll be living in a rather seedy neighborhood, I thought you might like further assurance: if little miracles are anything to go by, apparently this is where I was meant to be.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Groundhog Day: The War On Candlemas

(I just wrote this over lunch and had to share it immediately. Hope it still has time to make the rounds...--D.)

It happens every year at exactly this time: on February 2, people all across America turn on the news as it is announced that the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxutawney Phil, either has or has not seen his shadow, and we’ll have six more weeks of winter or else we won’t. Everyone laughs, the news anchor returns to the day’s real stories, and no one gives it a second thought. It seems so harmless, so childlike! How could there possibly be anything wrong with the annual celebration of Groundhog Day?

But behind the pageantry and the parades, the groundhog carols and the groundhog-shaped cookies (or the furry hats or whatever it is they’re selling up in Pennsylvania), there’s a cancer eating away at our nation’s soul, and it puts the future of our country at risk. It is the duty of our citizenry to look this menace in the face and call it what it is: Satanic paganism. And just because it looks harmless doesn’t mean it is. Secular paganism has ruined Christmas, it’s ruined Easter, and unless Christians fight back, secular paganism will also destroy Candlemas.

Groundhog day actually dates back to Imbolc, a pagan Celtic fertility festival celebrating the return of spring. (And by the way, why is it that every pagan festival turns out to be about fertility and sex? It’s not only disgusting, it’s a horrible waste of creativity. No wonder the pagans never got around to making gunpowder.) As legend has it, on “cross-quarter days”---that is, days that are halfway between equinox and solstice, animals were thought to have the ability to predict the weather, and so people would watch for bears emerging from their den, marmots from their lairs, and even serpents---remind you of anyone?---from their dark holes. The way these animals acted were taken as omens for the future. There was often demonic possession involved, presumably. At any rate, Imbolc was no minor part of the calendar. It was one of the four “fire festivals” practiced by Celts, and is still practiced today by modern pagan "Wiccans" (witches).

In an effort to turn people away from false demonic gods who apparently wanted lots of sex going on, the Catholic church in the Middle Ages created the festival of Candlemas, which celebrates the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, as mentioned in Luke. (February 2, you see, is 40 days after Christmas, which is when Jesus was born.) It turned what was just another alienating sex romp into a time of great reverence, and it brought the entire community together with one thing on their mind: The Christ child, Well, two things on their mind, I guess, because since winter was the time of chandlery, February 2nd was also the date for all the people to come bring the year’s candles and have them blessed by a priest. (Some people have written to inform me that signs of the fertility rites of Imbolc survive in the practice of having candles blessed, since candles are phallic symbols. In response, I can only say that I’m a pure-minded person, I have no idea what you’re talking about, and now I’d like to change the subject.)

But when was the last time you heard the Christ Child mentioned on Groundhog day? When have they opened the groundhog festivities with a scripture reading from Luke? Never! Exactly! Because the pagans know that if the truth comes out, the days of the groundhog are numbered. And it’s one of the only surviving dates in the calendar when people actually do ridiculous things like the pagans used to. Kill this, and they’re stuck with Arbor Day forever, and they’ll do anything to prevent that.

Of course, it’s not just the pagans behind all this. There’s Hollywood, of course. (“Groundhog Day,” a comedy starring Bill Murray, has deceived many people with its story of a man finding happiness by encountering magic and learning to love the groundhog he had heretofore instinctively avoided.) And the Pennsylvania Tourist Board. (Can you actually think of Groundhog Day without unconsciously humming “The Pennsylvania Polka.”) And there has been a spread of groundhog prognosticators in the last century, including Wiarton Willy in Wiarton Ontario, and New York City’s own Staten Island Chuck. (Note that practicing divination is strongly condemned by scripture even when it’s performed by human beings!) If this trend continues, there will be weather-predicting groundhogs in every state! (Each with a “cute” name to appeal to the children, but don’t you believe it!) Are we ready for a state-sponsored, MANDATORY Groundhog Day Celebration? Wouldn’t Satan love it if, in the name of a “silly” meaningless holiday, he could convince humans to mate with groundhogs? That day may come if we lower our guard---and it starts with a simple laugh (perhaps at a groundhog joke?) when the Lord commands us to be vigilant.

Don’t let the pagans win! Put Christ back into Groundhog Day! If there’s a Groundhog Day festival in your area, don’t let your children attend, don’t let them buy little groundhog ears, etc. It seems fun, but it sends the wrong message. And if, because of societal pressure or a previous unbreakable obligation, you are unable to boycott a Groundhog Day celebration, by all means go---but bring a little image of the Christ child, preferably one small enough to fit into a model temple that you can also bring. Read the first few chapters of Luke aloud, and if someone asks you what you’re doing, simply say, “I’m celebrating Groundhog Day in the original spirit of the Christian founders of this country. Would you like a candle?” Your point will be made, and maybe the idea will catch on! If not, at least you’ll never be invited again. And the safest way to celebrate Groundhog Day is to keep your body and soul as far away from groundhogs as you can.

(Next lesson: What should Christians do about Tuesday?)

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pardon My Capitals And Excalamations

It cost me a few days of blogging, but...


Whew! Now I can get back to collapsing from the stress of impending homelessness. But this day goes in the "win" column.