On my first day in New York I stayed with my friend Peter, a boy three years older than me who grew up in the next town over from mine in Vermont. Peter graciously allowed me to stay at his neat little Park Slope apartment, and I do mean neat, as in tidy
. Him and his two roommates were somehow able to pack everything they need- a functional living room, a decent kitchen, computers and beds and bikes, plus a dash of style into cramped, three bedroom apartment. I was instantly envious of the place. Peter was running out the door when I arrived and he gave me his only set of keys. "Just be home when I get back from the studio, probably....I don't know....1:30 in the morning?" Then he jumped on his bike and took off.
Peter is where handsome, flannel-clad Vermonter meets Pratt school of design. He has the most naturally flushed cheeks of everyone I've ever met, as if he exists in a constant state of apres-ski. He's all health and vitality and hipness, and maybe I would have searched through his clothing drawers to find his dark secret but I was too tired. It was nine in the morning and I fell asleep immediately on his bed.
What happened that first day in New York, after I woke up refreshed and put on and a killer pair of tall boots, was a string of small, fortuitous events. I will regale them to you henceforth.
First there was the perfect place to eat I found on the corner of something and something in Brooklyn, and the bartender who gave me all my drinks for free. He talked to me about his projects as a Foley artist and we worked out a game plan for me if I decided to move to the city; what jobs I could take, where I could consider living, and so forth. "You really should consider moving to Brooklyn," he said as I was putting on my jacket to leave. "It's so feasible, you'll love it."
I took the train into the city and smartly stepped off at the wrong station. In that moment I learned a valuable lesson: time, space and math, all things that I had considered to be concrete elements of the world, are very, very altered in New York. To give a specific example, avenue 6 is woefully far away from avenue seven, and although they run parallel, they also intersect at random intervals.
Bewildered and already running late for the first event of the writer's conference, a Meet and Greet at the Hilton bar, I flagged a taxi. There was a little television set inside the taxi. On the screen, a reporter was interviewing a scientist. The scientist, white coated and safety goggled, was explaining something and holding up a frothing test tube at the camera. Then he lowered his goggles and pulled a lever that caused a row of pumpkins to explode in a chain reaction. I leaned a little closer. 'That's funny,' I thought. 'I think I know that guy.'
know that guy. The white coated man was Bob Pflugfefelder, the science teacher from my days at the Learning Project in Boston, a small, profoundly liberal little elementary school where we called our teachers by their first names and the sex education began the first day of first grade. Bob, as it turns out, has now become "Science Bob" and lives in Hollywood, tutoring Hillary Duff and that kid from Malcom in the Middle and popping up on shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live.
I absolutely saw this a gesture from the universe, beckoning me with a godly hand towards New York. Or at least the entertainment industry.
I arrived at the Hilton's gilded, bustling lobby twenty minutes late. It was another ten minutes before I found the right bar. Due to my tardiness, the social groups inside the meet and greet were already firmly established. Women with name tags were standing in small, tight clusters, occupying leather seats and packed shoulder to shoulder around the bar.
I didn't know one person, not one single writer in the whole mix. I realize that for most people, this sort of situation would set the alarm bells of social anxiety peeling, but not me. In my world, free food and no obligation to talk to anyone is just about as good as it gets.
As I'm sure it will not surprise you, I can get a little carried away at social gatherings. At a recent housewarming party where my three roommates and I hosted an elaborate set up with a front yard barbecue, in-house Oktoberfest with 100 types of beer and outdoor fire pit in the back yard, I spent the entire evening trying to get one bun for my one hot dog. But with the constant stream of new people to act welcoming towards, getting from Point A: hot dog off grill in front yard, to point B: bun inside bag on kitchen counter, proved impossible. For the duration of the party I entertained my guests while holding a cold hot dog skewered on a fork. I was terribly hungry. I never made it to the kitchen until the next morning, when in the harsh light of day it was revealed that all
the food was gone, gone to much less social, much luckier people than I.
So tonight, at this fancy bar in this fancy hotel in the fanciest city in the world, I straight skipped over the social responsibilities and went right for the food.
And boy or boy, did I hit the food. I hit the food hard. Those trays of crab puffs and chive squares and bruchetta never saw me coming. I lunged at the cocktail waitress with the Chicken Satay. I threw 'bows. Overcome with a sugar and contact high that I misconstrued as a sense of freedom and unflappability, I threw caution to the wind and ordered three rounds of my signature drink, the Shirley Temple. I could have put on an air of haughtiness and cringed my way through a Manhattan or a dry martini but who did I have to impress? No one! I wanted grenadine and ginger ale to go with my shrimps and, by the glory of God I was going to get it.
And in the end, some of the women did talk to me and it was pleasant. I mean, I'm constantly hungry but I'm not a monster.
An hour later my friend Zach, who I used to spend holidays with in Seattle, picked me up at the Hilton and we walked a few blocks down the avenue of the Americas. He took me to eat (that's right, eat) at a lovely Vietnamese place where everything was shaded light green. "If you want to stay in New York, our couch is yours." He said, emptying a bottle of beer into my glass. "You can stay there as long as you want while you're looking for a place to live."
Zak offered to walk me to the theater where I had tickets to see a show, which was good of him because I had no idea where I was. We were waiting for the light to change somewhere in ...Midtown? Maybe? There were a lot of tall buildings? when another small, fortuitous event occurred. Right there on the street corner in the throngs of people, I ran smack into my friend Kelley.
I had tried to make plans to get together with Kelly, an old friend from Vermont, but unfortunately our schedules were complete opposites. It was looking like meeting up was going to be impossible, which was disappointing because she's enormously successful and she works for a company called Trip Films I was very curious about. Trip Films sends her to different countries around the world where she eats local delicacies and films sharp, funny little TV segments. She has perfect bone structure.
And we just happen to walk right into eachother.
We walked a few blocks together, and after the initial thrill of coincidence subsided she asked, "So, why the interest in moving to New York?"
"Because I want to write for SNL." I told her. I know how this sounds. It's like saying, "I want to move to DC because I want to be president." Most people respond with the same tone they use to tell little kids in halloween costumes how scary they are. But I think in Kelley's world, things like that are actually possible. "That's great," she said with sincerity. "My best friend was a writing assistant for SNL. We were both NBC pages." (In case you didn't know, becoming an NBC page is famously more difficult than getting into Harvard.)
"Well," She said, "This is where I catch the subway. You ought to make videos for Tripfilms. We'll pay you!" And then she hugged me and, like a dream sequence in a sitcom, she melted away.
And then I arrived at the Pit, the People's Improv Theater, which is something I'll tell you about in the next episode. So please, don't touch that dial, we'll be right back.