If you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ll remember that there are four 2,000 word “essays” in each What I Did Today chapbook, and that Dan Waber is the publisher, and that if you want a copy you have to contact one of the participants. So far we’ve had a chance to read Jim Feast’s piece, and Susan Scutti’s. That leaves mine and Carl Watson’s in the one I “edited.”
Carl’s is the better one by far, but because it is sort of a darkly comic summing up of his feelings about the Unbearables and the East Village, I’m gonna leave it for last – it’s kind of the treat you get for finishing your meal – the bowl of ice-cream after choking on the over-cooked broccoli.
My piece, like the other three, is rather revealing; that was perhaps intended by Dan when he came up with the idea – you sort of skate along, stringing word after word, and when you’re done, it turns out you’ve written a confessional. I’m not all that happy with the person I find when I re-read my essay – that person is somewhat mean-spirited and driven – but he is a busy little fellow indeed!
Waiting for Lindgren
A quick prologue here: I compose a series of to-do lists, one for each day, to keep my life on track. I spend forty hours a week in suspended animation and, in order to justify my existence, I try to fill the blocks of time that surround those forty hours with worthwhile activities: starting and finishing literary projects, hanging out with friends, checking emails, etc. On Saturday, October 23rd, I jotted down a number of things on a piece of scrap paper I wanted to get done on Sunday, October 24th. I wrote:
1) 10:45 call Sudie
2) 12:00 Knickerbocker w/books & instruction
3) 2:00 St. Mark’s Books w/books
4) 3:00 John Farris – give him $25.00
5) 4:00 Shalom
6) 5:30 Feature Reading
7) Mike Lindgren? (I was originally going to meet Mike at the Met in the afternoon, then we’d have coffee, but as things piled up and I wasn’t able to get in touch with him, the whole notion of hooking-up got dicier and dicier)
Sunday, October 24th, my cheap plastic alarm clock beeps me awake at precisely ten AM, and full consciousness flows over me as it usually does. The list, the list, I think. But first my wife, Donna, and I have to turn our cluttered little bedroom back into a cluttered little living room. We sleep on a battered Castro convertible that’s seen too many years. She pees and washes up as I pile the pillows and the bedspread onto a chair. I reach across the bed and turn on the computer, because the computer is my umbilical cord to the outside world; it takes a couple of minutes to warm up.
Donna comes back into the living room and we tuck in the sheets, then she holds the large pillows that cover the gap between the top of the bed and the wall while I snap the bed back into its sofa incarnation. Donna goes into the kitchen to make tea, while I toss the pillows from the chair onto the “sofa.” Then I turn on the computer monitor and enter my password and wait for the outside world to flow into my machine again. When I open my email it’s filled mostly with subway alerts – nothing from Mike, and nothing from any of the other folks I need to see this day, so I’ll stick to the schedule.
Donna puts my tea on the table, and a small dry Entenmanns donut on a paper plate beside it. I ask her what she’s going to be doing for the next couple of hours. She says she’s going to a Native American “hoop dancing” demonstration at the Smithsonian, which is really the old Customs Building in lower Manhattan. But she will meet me at the feature reading I’m doing at the Bengal Curry by six; she and I both enjoy the Indian food they serve there, so I guess it’s sort of a date.
I keep looking at the clock, waiting to be able to do something on the list, then cross it off. To no avail. Sudie Nostrand mounts a pre-emptive strike when she calls me at 10:30. Some background info: Sudie Nostrand has just had a book published by Robert Bixby’s March Street Press, and the process that led to this was long and involved. First of all, Sudie and I had worked on her poems for years before she considered them finished. Then we took all of her relationship poems, and she has quite a few, and put them into a single manuscript and gave it a name: Variations. It’s a nice collection, and I tried to get NYU Press to pick it up, but no dice. Sudie asked me if she should send it to March Street Press, the same press that had published her earlier book, The Paris Poems. In my mind I thought, “No way would a small press publish two books by the same author.” But I said, “Give it a shot,” and she did, and they accepted it! Nice surprise! But no sooner had the manuscript been accepted then Sudie had a series of health setbacks. She developed problems with her equilibrium and because of this, suffered several falls, basically confining her to a small apartment in the West Village.
Sudie composes on a computer, but she is not hooked up to the internet – all of her emailing was done from work, and when she became bedridden, she was effectively cut off from Bixby, who does not accept phone calls. So I took over the preparation of the Variations manuscript for publication: proofreading, okaying book design, etc. And though Bixby seems to be a wonderful person, communication between us was always somewhat frayed. Cut to the chase: the book finally was printed, and I got two cartons of them on Thursday night, and today was going to be the first day Sudie would see finished copies.
Sudie and I confirm the time we’re to meet at the Knickerbocker, noon, and how many books she wants, ten. I’m also bringing ten additional copies, which she’ll sign for St. Mark’s Bookshop, where I have a two o’clock appointment with Margarita, a clerk who works there. Margarita does the consignment and small press, and she’s always paid me for what I bring by, and that’s been a lot over the years.
I get off the phone and get cleaned up, trying not to look too trashed after a bad night’s sleep on the fold-out. Drag a comb through my graying locks, and a quick sweep or two with the electric shaver. I wear the same clothes every day, so getting dressed takes practically no time; black jeans, black three button knit shirt, black socks and black sneaks – ye gads, I’m an aging hipster! Certainly an aging New Waver. No, I skip the sneaks and wear faux work boots — scuffed Sketchers – they give me about an extra half inch of height, and I always go for that look when I do a poetry reading.
I check my email one last time, then turn off the computer. I kiss Donna good-bye and head out, a white Posman Books shopping bag in hand. I loaded it last night with twenty copies of Variations, a manuscript of my most recent poems, a New Yorker for subway reading, and a printout of Bixby’s instructions to us regarding the book. I check my list again, and then head down 47th Street to the subway.
The subway comes quickly; an R Train and, as it’s one of the older trains, it’s easy enough to find a seat. I get one of those end seats and sit side-saddle, and read my New Yorker on the way into the City. The issue I have with me is the Oct. 25th one with the Eric Drooker cover. I’m doing my best not to mess it up so I can eventually remove it and put it in my archive at the Fales; I knew Eric years ago, and used one of his drawings in the first Unbearables anthology. I read Peter Schjeldahl, John Lahr and Anthony Lane. Most of the other articles in this issue don’t particularly interest me, and the poetry is shitty. I should have grabbed the book I’ve been reading the past week — Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard — but I didn’t want the extra weight. My bag is heavy enough as it is.
It’s almost noon when I exit the train at Union Square, but it’s only a short walk down University Place to the Knickerbocker, so I break into stride and get there by five after. Of course Sudie is already there, seated regally at a front table. Her health seems to have improved, so I ask her how she’s doing and she tells me she’s doing acupressure and sticking to a strict diet, though not today. I sit down, and check out the menu, and am relieved to find that at least some stuff on it isn’t too expensive. We order coffee, and while we wait to get it, I take out the books for her to sign. My main operating principles are: always get things done when I think about them, or I might forget (it’s happened before), and if I have to use any table surface, use it before it gets all wet and sticky from food and drink.
The other important thing I want to do during this meeting is finalize the financial aspect of this particular shipment of books; we’d sent Bixby a check for $225.00, which we thought was fair according to his instructions, but he complained in an email that we had perhaps taken advantage of him, though he would settle for the $225.00. Sudie and I agreed to send him an additional $50.00 (she really wanted him to be happy), so she wrote a check out for him, and one for me for $25.00 for postage.
Sudie orders some kind of stuffed prawns, about $26.00, and I go cheap; eggs Benedict, at $9.95. During lunch I point out the one typo I found, a comma where a period should be, but otherwise the book is a tidy one; good cover, good paper and good layout. We both love it! As the dishes are being cleared, Sudie reaches in her bag and takes out new work — she wants to go over it while we have some time together – I don’t really have much time, but I agree to look at what she’s got. And it’s at this point that I do a stupid. Sudie’s poems are all about approaching the loved one, then finding some sort of fault with him, then departing – so I ask her what’s been on my mind for years: “Are you a virgin?”
She looks a tad shocked and replies, only half-jokingly in my estimation: “That’s none of your business.” I apologize and we continue correcting her poems. I look at my watch and see that it’s going on towards two, so I take out my list and change the times for the next two things I want to do; St. Mark’s is now 2:45, and John Farris is 3:30. Sudie orders an expensive desert, kind of a frozen White Russian, which we’re supposed to share, but I get only one spoonful, which is okay by me. But when the check comes she wants to split it – forty dollars of it are her’s, my part is less than fifteen. I give her thirty dollars and think bad thoughts.
Because she’s still weak, I walk her back to her apartment building and pass her the bag with her books outside the front door. We hug and say good-bye and I hustle over towards St. Mark’s Bookshop. On the way I stop and whip out my cel phone and call home and get one of my kids on the line. I ask him if Mike has called, then I ask him to open my email to see if Mike’s done one of those. Still mostly subway announcements and facebook crap. I say good-bye and cross Broadway.
It’s 2:45 and I’m at St. Mark’s Bookshop and Margarita is here and life is good! We chat a bit about the upcoming Tao Lin reading and book signing this Tuesday, the 26th. I want to get signed copies of his books for the archive, and give him a package of Unbearables materials — the Worst Book, Public Illumination Magazines, etc. — but I have to work late that night (I’m a night manager at Posman Books in Grand Central Station), so Margarita takes my package and promises to give it to him. I say good-bye and leave.
Outside the store I dial up John Farris and tell him bluntly; “Meet me on the corner of Avenue C and 3rd Street in ten minutes because I can’t be late for my appointment with Shalom.” John knows Shalom, so it’s cool. I have to give John the $25.00 payment he’s earned for publishing a piece in the online version of Sensitive Skin (it’s a long story – the check for both of our pieces was sent to me, etc). I know that this cash transferral is going to look like a drug deal on a drug corner, so I hope we don’t get wrongly busted, but I can’t waste time worrying about that – I break into a gallop.