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This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Garth Risk Hallberg , author of the bestselling novel City on Fire, available now in trade paperback from Vintage.

 

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Once upon a time in New York

I bought my Penguin paperback of Moby-Dick on February 23, 1988. I’m certain of the date because it’s scrawled on the first page, just above a thumbnail biography of Herman Melville. I used to have a habit of noting a book’s purchase date on its first page, and sometimes I would add the store where I bought it, though I only added the city in this case: “NYC.” I remember the circumstances vividly. I bought Moby-Dick at St. Mark’s Bookshop on St. Mark’s Place while headed to see, for the third time, a Brazilian-themed production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Public Theater. Then, at a stationery store, I bought a blank greeting card with a Monet landscape on the front. The card was for Elizabeth McGovern, who was playing Helena in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and I inscribed the card at a coffee shop cater-cornered from the Public Theater on Lafayette Street. “I’m an actor and writer in town from L.A.,” I wrote, “and I’m planning to see the play tonight and I’d like to say hello afterward,” describing myself briefly—“I’m tall and wearing a black leather jacket”—so that Elizabeth McGovern—or “Liz,” as she was known to friends—could recognize me after the performance. I listed a few mutual acquaintances without mentioning Orrin, as I’ll call him, who was also in the cast of Midsummer and had advised me against trying to contact Elizabeth McGovern, and I certainly didn’t mention that I had seen the play twice already. She might take me, rightly, for a stalker.

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New York City’s radically reshaped political and economic landscape has me thinking more about the creepy fading Twilight of the Giuliani Era, a time when I viewed the city’s turbulent identity crisis from the vantage point of a silent Silver Man standing very still in the bowels of the subway system. In the decade-and-a-half that’s blazed by since, select sectors of New York have become safer but also heartrendingly sterile, with chain stores and bank branches muscling out locally-owned enterprises, and bohemian live-work warrens razed to accommodate obscenely costly condos—all of that frothy money polishing New York’s idiosyncratic edges into a smooth, homogenous sheen.

Periel Aschenbrand

Periel Aschenbrand is the guest. She is the author of two memoirs, the latest of which is called On My Knees. It is available now for pre-order and will be published by Harper Perennial on June 18, 2013.

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Sam Lipsyte is the guest.  His new story collection, The Fun Parts, is now available from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

536228_434204109980436_1023582688_n (1)So yesterday you went to St. Marks Bookshop in the East Village (of New York City) and signed a bunch of copies of your new memoir Poseur. How did that feel? You write very affectionately about discovering St. Marks Place and that very book store as a teen in the late 80s and feeling like you had something of your own in the City.   Something independent of your father’s City. And of feeling like Madonna in and her friends in Desperately Seeking Susan.

It’s true. I was telling this to another journalist last week actually.  That is probably the most important New York movie since Midnight Cowboy and Mean Streets and nobody really gives it credit they way they do say Stranger Than Paradise.  Which is also very important.  But Desperately Seeking Susan totally captures the attitude and style that made me want to move to the City and be one of those people too – before there was even a word for them.  I guess hipster was a word but you know what I mean.  Before I even knew what the word for them was.  Most people see it as “the one good Madonna movie,” but I know I’m not alone in thinking it’s got a lot more going on.  It was a freaking magnet.  So yes, it was cool to have a book of mine for sale in a store on St. Marks. Just off St. Marks if you want to get technical.

poseur-marc-spitz“No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful.”

Upon hearing these lyrics, my father, Sidney Spitz, then forty-four, took his sneaker off the gas pedal and slowed the copper-colored Mustang abruptly.

One trailing motorist honked loudly from inside her black Datsun, then sped past us. Another did the same and also gave us the finger. My father, squinting in his rearview mirror, stuck his left hand out the window to wave those still behind us around. He hit the hazards and lit up a Kent King.

“Why are we slowing down?” I asked.

 

Rosie Schaap is the guest. She is a contributor to This American Life and npr.org, and she writes the monthly “Drink” column for The New York Times Magazine. Her memoir, Drinking With Men, will be published on January 24, 2013 by Riverhead Books.

Kate Christensen raves

This book will be a classic. There is so much joy in this book! It’s a great, comforting, wonderful, funny, inspiring, moving memoir about community and belief and the immense redemptive powers of alcohol drunk properly.

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Children of the world, don’t believe your parents, your shrinks, or your imaginary friends: worst nightmares sometimes do come true. Sure, many humans can get through their entire lives without falling out of an airplane, having a leg eaten off by a shark, being kidnapped by a tiny car full of saber-toothed circus clowns, or being awoken at 2 a.m. by a group of drug-crazed hippies wielding ice picks and chanting “Kill the pig, acid is groovy.” But some don’t. We all have these fears and they are perfectly rational, so watch out.

Fifty years ago today in Los Angeles, where I’m writing these words while facing a screen of a kind that didn’t exist in 1962, a thirty-six-year-old woman fatally overdosed on Nembutal and chloral hydrate, sedatives she used, or tried to use, to sleep. She had a documented history of insomnia and attempted suicide, but there’s no conclusive proof that she killed herself intentionally or accidentally or that someone else administered the drugs. Her housekeeper, whom the LAPD thought “vague” and “possibly evasive in answering questions,” reported finding her dead at around three a.m. in the master bedroom of the Spanish Revival hacienda she had bought six months earlier on the advice of her psychiatrist, who supposed it would give her a sense of stability. She lacked that sense, having lived since childhood like a nomad, for the most part in California, where flux was and is the norm.

What’s the difference between New York City and Paris? “New York is fried, Paris is baked,” Baldwin tells us. When he leaves Brooklyn for a two-year stint in Paris, he hopes for more of a contrast than that. What he finds is that the world is smaller than even Disney could have imagined. “The Great French Dream didn’t sound much different than the Great American Dream, only with More Vacation Days.” Even the costumes are the same. “Hey, is it me,” he asks, “or did Parisians ditch berets for Yankees caps?” All the Parisian men he knows dress like him, in jeans. Shockingly, two-thirds of his ad agency colleagues lunch on McDonald’s (albeit in courses, with chicken nuggets serving as the entrée). Even the president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, is an American-style leader, all flash and bling.

Please explain what just happened.

I just got up and started to make coffee and noticed that I ran out of coffee filters.  I devised a makeshift coffee filter with a paper towel, which FYI, does not work.  I ended up spilling scalding hot coffee and coffee grounds all of over my underwear, legs, counter, and floor.  I cleaned it up and then emptied out  a tea bag and put coffee inside, and now I’m waiting for the coffee to steep, all because I am too lazy to walk out of my fifth floor walk-up to go buy coffee filters.

“Andrea, you have the strangest collection of jobs I’ve ever seen.”

Some time ago I was driving to work with one of my many bosses and telling him about some of the other gigs I do when not working for him. I think at the time I was up to about five or six occupations altogether, but I can never really keep track. At any given point in the past year I have been a tour guide, a tutor, a videographer, a researcher, a receptionist and a waitress.

At times these jobs can be cushy (receptionist), mildly soul-crushing (tutoring rich kids in the SAT, thus perpetuating our society’s heinous class-based educational inequities) and occasionally even satisfying (documentary researcher). But of all my jobs, the strangest has to be working as a guide for a ghost tour company. It is also, needless to say, the most fun.

“Family Feelings” is a collaborative blend of poetry and play reading that combines the work of this week’s TNB-featured poet John Foy (and others) and playwright A. R. Gurney. “Family Feelings” pays tribute to those relationships we know best, or least! Using scenes from Gurney’s Cocktail Hour – an appeal to gain Father’s approval for the staging of his son’s play – and selected poems by John Foy and others, the performance weaves together poems and script in counterpoint so that, through echoes and associative logic, they get to the psychic truth of unspoken family feelings.

Indian Café, 108th St. and Broadway (NYC), Sunday, January 22, 2012, at 4:00 p.m.

The Baron and I met through Match.com. I imagined him to be a sporty guy who often left town on the weekend for an adventure because his online photos had him on snow-capped mountains in ski gear. A rugged outdoorsman was just the alpha male I was interested in at the time.