Writing Process: Knowing Thyself

I don’t know who I am. I pretend to have it crystal clear at times. I even proclaim that I know things and might even really think that I do. But it is fleeting.

I haven’t confined myself to a career. While I might have taught for many years, I don’t identify as a teacher. I snuck into the profession and messed around. And that is all.

The United Nations International School, a place where I used to work.

I have also had no success as a writer, and so neither am I constrained by the limits of thinking that. Nobody reads what I write, and so I don’t really do that. It isn’t real.

I know people and talk to them, but I don’t actually know anyone. I don’t live in the country of my birth and hide out in a city of faux intellectuals. Drunks, I mean.

33rd Station on New Year’s Day

I am on a great clipper ship with nothing but clouds all around. And I think that I am clever and creative because I am writing that. But I don’t know who I am and never will.

Overlooked Manhattan: The Down Town Association

Situated at the base of 70 Pine Street, The Down Town Association is a private club which dates back to 1887, making it the oldest club in New York and second oldest in the US.

Notable members have included Thomas Dewey (New York Governor), Franklin D Roosevelt, Wendel Wilkie, and Grover Cleveland, the only person to serve non-consecutive terms as president. Current members are mostly lawyers or financers.

The club was used almost exclusively for lunches and billiards back in the day, only offering overnight accommodations to members and guests beginning in 2016.

All of that said, Covid-19 has closed it up pretty tight.

A Place to Write: The Magic of the New York City Pub

I remember my first visit on a holiday afternoon. It was warm and quiet, a few people talking at the bar. A football game was on television, the teams on a snowy field. I pulled up a stool and ordered a Bud and a Jameson and thought of staying forever.

My Bud and Jamo at The Irish Punt

Whenever I am anywhere else, I think of getting back here where I can think and write, where I am left alone by everybody (except the bartender that is). If allowed, I would curl up against the rail and go to sleep beneath the warm bottle-filtered lights.

The bottles behind the bar at The Irish Punt

This place is called The Irish Punt, and it is peace and quiet. It offers the certainty of being somewhere, where my mind is clear. Indeed, why ever leave, just to be somewhere, going somewhere else? Why do any of that when I can stay here and order another Bud and Jameson, which I think I will do.

Words to Convince People That Covid-19 is Still a Thing

Covid-19 Exhaustion has set in. The distancing tape is peeling, masks are hanging and the stores and subways are packed again. What is going on?

I guess all of the signs have been up too long, and we need new words to remind us that the pandemic is still here.

Perhaps we should send dead people to walk the street?

Or maybe a sign like this: Do we not remember what happened in March? Do we not remember being stuck in our apartments? Do we not remember the silence of the city? The empty streets? The death tolls? Are we that fucking stupid?

For all the complaining about Trump, maybe we deserved him in the end.

Overlooked Manhattan: The Irish Punt

New York is known for its drinking establishments, most especially the ubiquitous Irish Pubs. The Irish Punt, like most of these places, offers a wide selection of drinks, a relaxed ambience as well as a friendly and most knowledgeable service staff.

Located at 40 Exchange Place in Downtown Manhattan, steps from The Stock Exchange, The Punt hosts everyone from security workers and teachers to stock brokers and executives, all with the same, simple desire – a drink (or two) in a secluded spot.

The Punt has served New Yorkers and tourists alike since 1995 and now, given the Covid-19 restrictions, needs our support. It’s safe as safe can be – I myself have visited a few times lately – and just like you remember it. So come on out and ask if McPhedran is around. I might even buy you a drink.

Covid Days: The Hardware Store

I just needed a couple of keys cut, but these guys needed everything. I couldn’t tell if they were drunk, on heavy meds or just done with the whole Covid Thing. They had masks on, although the older guy’s mask barely hung over his disheveled beard while his younger companion pulled his mask down every time he talked. That’s a weird pattern of many people during these trying times. Makes you think they don’t understand what the purpose of the mask is in the first place.

Anyway, drunk, drugged or just weirded out by the Covid days, neither of these guys used an inside voice nor seemed to care about the others in the store.

“I need a chair!” The older guy half yelled, almost like he was in pain. “I got to sit down.”

His companion, maybe in his early 30’s, pulled his mask down and went up to cashier. “I need a chair.”

She frowned. “You need what?”

“You know, one of those folding chairs, for camping. A chair.”

The older guy sat down heavily on the stairs. “I don’t need to buy a chair! I just need to sit!”

“Oh, okay.” The companion wheeled back and forth. “We don’t need a chair then.”

“I need a lock!” The older guy slumped forward, his hoodie cloaking much of his face, an exhausted Obi Wan Kenobi. “Come on!”

“What kind of a lock?”

“You know! A lock!”

“Okay.” He turned back to the cashier. “We need a lock.”

“What kind of lock?” She asked nervously.

“What kind of a lock do you need?” The companion asked the older guy.

“When I get home, I need to lock my stuff up so no one can get in, right?”

“He needs a lock.”

“Do you mean the cylinder?” The woman asked.

The companion looked back. “Do you mean the cylinder?”

“I need the damn lock, man! Get me the best one!”

“The best one you have, all right?” He repeated to the cashier.

The cashier wandered off, unsure of what to do, while another cashier came available for me. I gave him my keys. “Three copies of each, please.”

The other cashier returned. “What kind of lock do you need?”

“I need a damn lock to keep people from taking my stuff, man!” The old man was really yelling now. “Like you have when you come home? I need that!”

“We don’t have that. I’m sorry.”

The younger guy didn’t seem to care about any of it, like it was all a long and winding game. “They don’t have it.”

“What about a pressure cooker? They got that?”

He turned to the cashier. “Do you have a pressure cooker?”

“They don’t have it.”

“Pots and pans. I need pots and pans!”

“Okay.” The young guy was smiling crazily, like he was unsure of where he was and what this was all about. “Do you have any pots and pans?”

“I’m sorry.”

My keys were cut. “Thank you.”

“Soups! You got any kind of soups? Jiffy Pop! I need that.” It didn’t look like they were going anywhere soon.

First Page Hell: Writing “Anori”

It’s one thing to face the blank page. It’s totally another to face a page that has been edited for ten years. A conservative estimate would be thirty versions, with hundreds of edits and switches. And so, yes, the blank page is nothing compared to that.

I began Anori in 2009. It was my leap into the world of speculative fiction, a challenge to myself. The initial first scene – which lasted over the first few drafts – was of a rocket ship launch, establishing theme, tone and perspective. I mean, the story was headed into outer space. So here we go. But it didn’t work. There was no hook. And so I moved that scene into a snippet on the television in Dee Sinclair’s living room. The book now begins like this…

The perspective remains distant but it is now Dee’s point of view, revealing an deserted world, a place from which she is clearly removed.

The prose are terse. Hopefully ominous too.

Dee, akin to the police car, is isolated and alone.

Immediately upon entering her world, her pet serval Apollo appears, who is the key to the story. Servals are felines from the African savannah. They are meant to be wild but have been domesticated as exotic pets. Apollo is a rescue animal who Dee spends much of her life with alone.

The story carries on: Dee takes Apollo out before the worst of the storm and meets the mysterious Och. It’s how it all begins. I’m just trying to get past all of this and continue on to page three. Fingers crossed.

New York Subway Scenes: The Days of Covid-19

Hassidic Elder: I hate these masks.

Middle-aged Non-Hassidic: I hear you.

Hassidic Elder: In the street! Even in the street.

Middle-aged Non-Hassidic: It will pass.

Hassidic Elder: Next they’ll be strip searching us.

Middle-aged Non-Hassidic: All things will pass.

Hassidic Elder: I hate it.

Middle-aged Non-Hassidic returns to reading his paper.

It’s a half-crowded train on the AM rush hour. Everyone wears a mask. The train pulls into Fulton Station where more people get on, masked except for a slight black woman. A policeman comes to door of train. She looks up, ready to argue. The policeman offers her a mask. “Would you like this?” She smiles sheepishly, takes it and puts it on.

Rosie Perez comes on the intercom as the train pulls out. Wearing a mask shows respect to others. And it’s the law. Come on, New York, we can do this.

Overlooked New York: 70 Pine

Surrounded by the tight streets and towering spires of Downtown Manhattan, it is more accurate to say that 70 Pine is under-looked. It is almost impossible to see it at close range.

As the plaque outside states, 70 Pine is an Art Deco building from the late 1920s and was, upon construction, the tallest in Downtown Manhattan and the third tallest in the world

The Art Deco details, prevalent inside and out, give residents of the 612 units with visual justification for their rent – ranging from $2,300 (studio) to $13,000 (three-bedroom).

This residential building also houses a couple of restaurants – Blue Park and Crown Shy – as well as a physical therapy studio where I am working on my new knees.

Sadly, the observation platform has been closed during the pandemic.

Overlooked New York: Underwood Building

Downtown Manhattan was dominated by turn-of-the-century skyscrapers such as the Woolworth’s and Singer Buildings in the 1920’s.

The majority of these buildings are now gone, although some of the lesser know ones like The Underwood Building remain on the corner of Vesey and Church.

This 17-floor edifice was constructed by John Thomas Underwood in 1911 for his typewriter company and sits across the street from the World Trade Center site.

Cheap nondescript tenants give no indication of the building’s 100+ year history.

It is only when you notice the upper floors that a sense of history is revealed.

But you really have to look for it.