Monday, December 25, 2006


Christmas reminds me of a story...

I was interviewing at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. This was years ago--I was still in school, and they were hiring breakfast waitstaff. I thought it would be good to get a few hours of work in before class.

Once, when I was fourteen, I swallowed a dime. This is the kind of person who thinks that waking up at 4:30 in the morning to serve breakfast to tourists before graduate school sounds like a fine time.

I was also inexperienced in the ways of job interviewers and the kind of bullshit that nourishes them. And the interviewer of a prospective waitperson? This is an individual who seeks an A-class bullshitter, the kind of bullshitter who can stare an overstuffed, spinach-toothed tourist in the face, crack a joke, refill his coffee cup, and brag about the créme caramel.

I was no such bullshitter. Not that day.

Upon my arrival at the as-yet-unopened hotel, I was escorted to a little room with a coat rack. I sat for a minute, waiting. People kept ducking in and out of the room, excusing themselves, harried. It was like a Jane Austen novel the morning of an important ball. Finally, the interviewer arrived, apologizing. She was dressed in black. We made small talk for awhile, then she got down to it.


Now, a real bullshitter would know that the interviewer is not really interested in the FIRST thing that I might think of when I think of hospitality. Not the very first thing. This isn't a Rorschach test, after all. She is not going to use the answer to my question to assess whether or not I am disturbed or autistic or some kind of mathematically inclined psychopath. No, anyone with even the most menial bullshitting skills would immediately realize that the woman wanted to know, not the first thing I thought of, but the best thing. What is the best thing I think of when I think of hospitality? That was the question.

I answered the question as asked.

"I think of Mary, pregnant with Jesus. She's wandering around from inn to inn. Everything's closed, of course, because it's Christmas. She's getting desperate. It's so cold. Finally, a manger. Warm. Glowing. Brimming with hay and other comforts, the perfect place to give birth. That manger, to me, is hospitality, defined."

(That was pretty much what I said, verbatim, except for the Christmas line which I added just now for comedic value.)

I did what I was told. I said the first thing that came to my mind. I was surprised to find out that not very deep into my subconscious lurks some kind of jolly Jesus nut.

The interviewer paused. I twitched. I began to realize that I might have improved my chances of getting the job if I'd said something like, "I think of the wrapped little soaps in the guest bathroom at Granny Lynn's house". But, at least I was being honest, right? I was answering questions as they were asked! The interview continued.


"I have a problem with authority."

I did not get the job.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


To walk in New York City is to be practiced in the art of singular vision.

Because who knows what you’ll see? You might see two men yelling at each other out the windows of their matching white vans, fist shaking, threatening (Garment District). You may see a man, covered in blood, run around a corner at full speed before getting tackled by a couple of burly cops (Penn Station). Transvestites (Chelsea). Celebrities (Tribeca). You might even see a woman in a pair of overalls with nothing on underneath, exposing her mahogany nipples for mass consumption (Nolita).

If you want to get anywhere, you have to stay focused. And everyone in New York is trying to get somewhere.

The other day I was scheduled to meet someone I’d already met in a space I’d never been. I was a little early, and I stood outside the building, searching my electronic doohickey for the suite number. Suddenly, a man’s voice:

“You looking for something?”

“No!” I replied. And without looking back I dove, head first, into a neighboring coffee shop.

The man who had approached me, it came to be known, was the very same man I was scheduled to meet. Singular vision, that’s what I’m saying. But then, yesterday, I saw something.

It is rather strange that I would see it at all. Walking, as I was, on a quieter street in Soho—not quiet, mind you, quieter. This was no country road. There were no sheep or crossing guards or horse trailers. This was still New York City, Monday, midday. This was still Soho, a neighborhood teaming with tourists and models and indie film production crews. I was walking, as is my want, staring ahead, thinking about lunch. I came upon a parked taxi cab, and, despite my years of training in the art of singular vision, I let my eyes wander along the yellow body of the cab, and into the driver’s side window. That’s when I saw it.

The it to which I refer has any number of nicknames. It has been likened to a mushroom, a reptile, a rooster. There is also an assortment of Yiddish terminology from which to choose when naming it. Some people sling it. Disagreeable people may be asked to suck upon it. It is very often referred to in Greenwich Village comedy clubs. And there it was, like a good soldier standing at attention, saluting me from inside this taxi cab on Mercer Street.

I gave a little shriek when I realized what it was and increased my pace. What a way to start the week.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


We don’t have a royal family. We didn’t breed Shakespeare or Dickens or Monty Python. We are fat, many of us, we have unsubtle senses of humor. We consume growth hormones and bad television and political falsehoods with nary a care. We often destroy what is beautiful about a thing in order to make it more convenient.

But still, there is something about America.

Ours is a big country, an ununited country, despite its name. We have no ethnicity that binds us. We are the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren, the great-great-grandchildren of immigrants. We who call ourselves American are not American by blood, but by the accident of our births.

Ours is a new country, and a successful one. Anyone can succeed here, that’s what we are told. Come. Come succeed. Only you can be blamed for your failure. Strive. Strive and you could affect the world.

Maybe it is our boorishness in the eyes of the world; our glad-handed, grinning, new-moneyed style. But there is something, I must admit, about America—something that makes me feel lucky to be born here, and to be home.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


I was back in Brooklyn for three days when I found myself sitting on another plane, dressed for a funeral.

Children should be sedated before they are allowed to travel by air, don’t you think? Because anything could happen…The plane could be minutes away from descending into Chicago when the airport closes due to snow. The plane could, possibly, circle around the airport in hopes that it might open up, until threats of the untold harm that running out of gas would cause the passengers forces the pilot to divert to, say, Indianapolis. The plane could sit there, getting more gas, maybe, de-icing, just sort of hanging out, in a remote corner of the tarmac in the Indianapolis airport for another hour or so. All of this is possible. Do you hear me out there parents? Because the unsedated child may have trouble with this. Jimmy or Julie or Jasper or Jamal may have a bit of difficulty dealing with a two-hour flight morphing into a six-hour adventure without a little pharmaceutical help. He may start compulsively kicking the back of the seat in front of him. She may begin to scream—not cry, just scream, as she might if a giant lizard were chasing her. There might be accidents. You don’t want your child making such putrid smells as to cause the stewardi to run around, covering their noses, dousing the place with air freshener. Do you? DO YOU, PARENTS? BECAUSE I HAVE SEEN IT HAPPEN AND IT IS NOT PRETTY!!! BE A RESPONSIBLE PASSENGER, SEDATE YOUR CHILDREN!!!

Now I’m here in the North Chicago suburb of my youth. I rode out on the same highway I’ve ridden on a million times. Every exit has a story: here’s where I dropped off those drunk twins who had thrown up on each other; here’s where I went ice skating; here’s where that girl who went crazy and drove to Kentucky lived.

Snow sticks to the trees. People I’ve known all my life stop by to say hello. How could I have gotten this old?