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Rant #288
(published July 27, 2006)
The Writer's Life: A Letter From New York City
by David Sallen
So what's New York City life like for a transplanted writer from Boston? Funny you should ask . . .

Today was a beautiful summer day in the city. Hot and sunny but not oppressive. As usual, I spent most of it working, or trying to, at the "office," AKA the sprawling Starbucks at Astor Place, serenaded by Marvin Gay, Bob Dylan, and Sergio Mendes. With its remarkable location at the confluence of several major roadways and with a subway stop appearing literally on its doorstep this place is the type of slipstream of humanity you just don't find in Peoria.

Mink-wrapped rappers, Canadian grandmothers, knee-bucklingly beautiful models, grotesquely deformed street souls, fragrant salesmen, ear-splitting movie producers, redolent shit bums, even the occasional nondescript person, all come. They sit or wander through or shout nonsense or order coffee (or quasi-coffee related concoctions) or ask for money or just queue up to visit that most hallowed plot of Manhattan real estate, The Restroom.

Especially for writers, theater people, musicians, visual artists, and, apparently, NYU medical students, Starbuck Culture gets under the skin. The large 'portal-type' Starbucks do anyway, like the site of my former office on 29th and Park or this one (said to be the busiest Starbucks of them all). Funny how we regulars develop a set of criteria for deciding if it's a good, bad, or zooey day at the office. Much centers on the table availability (are any personal favorites open?) and bathroom conditions du jour (usually very good on Park, chancy at best at Astor).

Line length more than anything else informs the timing of lavatory visits for veterans. If one of the two Astor bathrooms is closed for any reason things get competitive and the lines can get and remain long. The beleaguered remaining bathroom soon succumbs to a withering assault of more than just used coffee. Hapless users often exit not only holding their noses but scratching their heads, reflexively wondering 'what in God's name went on in there,' then, quickly realizing their folly, making every effort to suppress the question, hopefully in time to asphyxiate the inevitable images the answer to that regrettable question would otherwise evoke.

When one does have to leave their table for any reason, the standard procedure is to ask a neighbor to watch your computer. Absent familiar faces, ironically, this often amounts to trusting one total stranger because you don't trust other total strangers. But someone else with a laptop is a pretty safe bet. The range of people's reactions to a simple request for a momentary laptop bailment is surprising. The vast majority of folks are more than happy to oblige. Once in a while, however, the requestee will look up at you like you'd asked them to drop their pants. Almost inevitably, of course, they're soon asking you to reciprocate.

Like many fiction writers who have to balance creativity with making a living in one of the world's most expensive cities, since arriving, I've morphed into a person with a split personality.

As much as possible I write the fiction I came to New York to struggle with and enjoy.

Among a few other things, in the months I've been here I've submitted two of my verbal spawn to The New Yorker. The first was rejected, "despite its apparent merit." Big surprise. But some assistant editor has now held on to the second for nearly four months without rejecting it, a month longer than they claim is their limit.

Eventually if I don't hear I'll have to contact them to learn that they lost or never got it. Nevertheless, I like to pretend this is like showing how strong you are by holding up a heavy weight. You know it will eventually come crashing down to earth, but the amount of time it took to fail means something. For now, I'm wallowing in the fantasy that New Yorker editors are hot in internecine battle over whether to publish it. I am not, however, wagering any personal property on that being the case.

And then there's freelancing, writing web content for whomever, the whorey dark side of writing. That's what pays the rent, at least for now. I feel like a jazz musician playing weddings. But websites need content. Six articles on locksmith tools? Five on cashmere baby blankets? Eight more on episiotomies? You've come to the right place. I'm your literary cabana boy.

Still, the other day a young officemate looked up from his work developing a website and said, "You know, I'd steal from my family to support this lifestyle." We all agreed.

Peace to all from the Apple.

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