Friday, November 13, 2009


On Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 10:58 AM, JF wrote:
Live Action New York 09: Scandinavian Performance Art

Scandinavian performance art is on the move. Live Action New York 09
features in its first edition some of the most important contemporary
Scandinavian performance art in an intense and exciting event going
beyond mainstream contemporary art, Live Action New York 09 is here
and now, it's ephemeral, it has attitude, it's fleeting, and it is
avant-garde. Don’t miss out.

On Thu, 11/12/09, GE wrote:
Can one actually buy performance art? And if so, what does one do with the performer, when they become tiresome?

On Nov 12, 2009, at 11:06, VH wrote:
I believe there's a no-kill shelter for them out in Williamsburg, but really one should only adopt a PAT (performance artist trendster) if they can take care of them for life.

2009/11/12 JM wrote:
We adopted a mime from them a few years ago. It was terrible. She fractured her skull walking into an imaginary door, and we had to have her put to sleep.

On Nov 12, 2009, at 2:10 PM, JF wrote:
That was not an accident. It was suicide, induced by the fact that you kept throwing imaginary banana peels on the floor in front of her every time you saw her.
I still have the imaginary Shetland wool sweater she knit for me.

On Thu, 11/12/09, IM wrote:
You guys, I am right here. Okay? It was was just art. Okay? OKAY? I am alive and well and living in Brooklyn.

I am happy to have escaped a cold fate in off-Drottninggatan theater, though. The unions made everything impossible.

On Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 2:42 PM, VH wrote:
Evidence indeed that a performance artist is for life, not just for Christmas.

On Nov 12, 2009, at 2:56 PM, Gregory Edwards wrote:
You guys are missing the whole thing. Thing of it is, performance artists can make real good pit fighters. Back in Chicago, got a few second-hand from a breeder on the west side, ran my own kennel for while. Lots of fringe theater in Chicago, but you got to have the eye for the feisty ones. And if you take to breeding yourself, you gotta cull the soft ones. What you want is a real nasty, screechy, open-mike type—lots of piercings and such—but try as you might, some times you end up with a mime... or worse, a grad student. Then it's head in the bag, dunk 'em in pool. Nothing else to be done. But if you get a real bad-assed street artist, pissed-off protest type—well, all you gotta do is force-feed them red meat, and read them an op-ed from the Wall Street Journal time to time. Don't hardly need to beat them. When they hit the ring, it's holy hell out there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Dear Mr. Carver:

I know that you were frail. I know your alcoholism was not too many beers at the bar. I know that it wasn't just embarrassing at dinner parties. I know that sobriety makes a drunk feel vulnerable, weak, as though the booze were an extra layer of skin. I have seen the newly sober try to make their way from a door to another door without their cozy armor. I have seen, in other words, men suffering from self-doubt.

Still, still. To see how you let someone come in and control you, someone like GORDON LISH of all people, a buffoon, an ass-kisser, a self-promoter. Was he your maker? Or just your teacher?

What is important is the work. I haven't been able to get the work out of my pen, though I only recently realized that it was there. Getting turned-on by your work is an old habit of mine, one that can never be cured, even by controversies about authorship.

And I've been there, Ray. I have had people tell me--after so long, after waiting and waiting for someone to pick up the ringing line, as I sat with the phone cradled, slipping off my ear from sweat, I waited and waited for an answer, and when it finally came, how could I question the quality of the voice? I know what it is to hear someone you don't know, someone who seems to be in possession of some power, say without reservations, "I believe in you."

Well, not without reservations. "I believe in you, but..."

It's okay, Ray. And anyway, you freed yourself from Lish's apron strings eventually. Maybe if you'd studied, like I do, if you'd been subjected to the opinions of so many critics, you would have gotten there anyway.

But even if you hadn't, I forgive you, Mr. Carver. Your work has meant so much to me. Thank you for writing it. I will thank Mr. Lish, should I ever have the opportunity, for editing it. I would not be the same writer without it.

All the best,
Ilana Manaster

Friday, October 16, 2009


I was at a bar near my school last night. The place was lousy with writing students, pleasantly pickled from the free wine we'd guzzled by the styrofoam cupful at the school-sponsored reading we'd just attended, chatting amongst ourselves between sips from our $3 PBR tallboys. And maybe the combination of cheap red wine and corny beer overstimulates the tendency for alcoholic honesty. Or maybe there was something about the night, cold in a way that is impossible to dress for, cold-wet, weathery. Whatever the cause, I found myself engaged in one intense personal conversation after another with people with whom I'd had only the most superficial exchanges in the past. Relationship questions, questions of the heart, of beauty, of happiness. Sexuality and anxiety. These were the topics of conversation. Sip. Sip. Can I have two more PBRs please? Anyway, so your girlfriend is a sex worker. Sip. Sip. So you escaped the wilds of gay San Francisco. Hm. You're afraid you may never find love again.

Strangely, and those who know me will agree that it is strange, I was doing very little of the sharing. I just tippled happily, enjoying the warmth. Someone mistook me for a transvestite. I comforted him. He just misunderstood something I said, I didn't want him to feel embarrassed. We were all feeling fine.

"You're very intense," one man said to me while he was waiting in line for the bathroom. "You look people in the eye."

Soon it was time to go. I'd surpassed my cutoff time of midnight, after which the trains get wonky, lengthening the journey home by an hour or more. I said goodnight to my newly exposed friends and descended the subway stairs.

I am reading an excellent book. I have so much assigned reading, but I am reading this book anyway, because I like it too much to stop. It's called The Washington Square Ensemble and it is by Madison Smartt Bell and during the very long journey home I immersed myself in it. The chapter I was reading was about the Attica riots of 1971--good, nasty, violent stuff.

At 14th street I got out to change trains. I heard my name called--it must have been 2AM. Sitting across from me, undoubtedly for the better part of an hour, though I didn't notice him, was a student from my school. I have a workshop with him, and what I will say about him is that he has achieved a fair amount of success as a Hollywood actor. I don't really know him very well, and my attempts to engage him in conversation have not gone well up until then.

Well, it seems that the PBR truthiness did not affect only my classmates, because next thing I know I am launching into a conversation (would you call it a conversation if the other person is only smiling and nodding?) about fame and personal relationships and god knows what else. I ask him if he has a hard time with it. I tell him I work for an actor--as if that would explain why I could so easily talk to him like a regular person, which I was clearly incapable of doing. How do you like the workshop? That would have been another way to go. What are you working on? No. Sigh. I am an idiot among fools.

We said goodbye and I walked to my transfer. I hit myself on the head with my phone in embarrassment. I wished there was somebody I could call, but it was so late, and anyway, I was underground.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


You can't see stars in New York. Well, you can see Claire Danes walking her dog, but that's not the kind of star-sighting that inspires a person to contemplate the universe. Instead we have a skyline. A beautiful, awe-inspiring skyline, no doubt about it. And if you are lucky enough to have access to a view, you can gaze upon it and think about your future. "I'm here, New York City!" you can call out to Manhattan. "I'm here to stay!!!" But the sky against which those awesome buildings scrape boasts only an occasional night flight into JFK. No stars, shooting or otherwise.

And I wonder if that does something to us, we city people. I wonder if it makes us feel so much more important than we are. A skyline is intimidating, but somehow conquerable. The vast, infinite curtain of light that is a summer night sky over a skittish mountain lake, on the other hand, can make a person take pause. Because even if you can get a same-day reservation at Il Mulino or you are a regular attendee of Paris Fashion Week, or you have seventeen Rolexes and a wife who looks like she belongs in a calendar hanging on the wall of a car repair shop, put in the context of infinity, no one is that much of a big shot.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Suburbia was marketed at its inception as an exclusive, banded enclave for "desirable" inhabitants. We separate things into unlike categories, we surround ourselves with people who we identify as being like us. So we snuggle into our white protestant suburb or jewish suburb or black suburb or italian suburb. We have our own social gatherings; we hope and expect our children to marry from within. We exclude; we are excluded. We are comfortable with that. Crossing these boundaries of difference instills an anxiety in the community, for the insulated as well as for the trespasser.

This is the subject of John Hughes' films. They were funny and touching and entertaining, but more than that, they explored the thrill and anxiety of breaking down boundaries, between childhood and adulthood, cool and uncool, rich and poor, city and suburb. Are the rules of exclusion that cause a white woman to call the police when she sees a black man trying to enter a house in a wealthy white neighborhood any different than the sociological breakdown of a high school cafeteria? Stay Where You Belong, that's how our society would prefer us to behave. But the characters in Hughes' film perforate those borders; they will not allow themselves to be banded.
Consider the following scene from Pretty and Pink. To ask Andie out for the first time, Blaine leaves his friends, the rich kids who eat inside, and steps out to a courtyard where Andie and her friends eat lunch. Out in the courtyard, Blaine is greeted with a general hostility, and he is visibly self-conscious.
Andie: Is this your first time out here?
Blaine: Yeah. I don't think I'm very popular out here.
Andie: I don't know. You're just fine inside...
Or The Breakfast Club, wherein five high school students are removed from the daily pressure to stay in their own circles, and discover the meaninglessness of those differentiations.
You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s how we saw ourselves at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.

During the rest of the week it is the differences between these kids that defines them. On Saturday, in the library, with no one else around they realize that they have more uniting them than dividing them.

I wrote a paper about Suburbia as a location for 80's movies that I will post here.

In the meantime, John Hughes, rest in peace. And here's some Duckie for all of us. Sigh.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Last night I was thinking about a pair of pants I used to have. They were a very deep black, soft, wide-ribbed corduroy. I bought them from the Gap.

I didn't buy much at the Gap when I was growing up, so when I did I would cherish the iconic blue plastic shopping bags with the chord tie enclosure. I would use the same bag for my lunch, or a change of clothes, or whatever other plastic bag type necessity I could fulfill. I would use them until they were worn away, until the blue had been scratched out and faded to a dull grey. One time I noticed that Cory Baskin, one half of the Baskin twins, a kid who was very smart and nice but also really really cool; all the girls liked him, he always had the newest Michael Jordan sneakers, his hair was black and spiky and he had a swath of freckles and a cute little button nose, but anyway I saw him carrying a white, plastic TJ Maxx bag, a variety of bag that even if I used a different one every day, I would barely dent my mother's supply. This may have been my first understanding of the difference between being and trying to be, and that the really cool kids never had to try.

But the pants I refer to came later. I bought them when I was at home from college to wear while in Europe. They fit really well, and had a nice bell at the bottom, and they were so warm and soft. I loved them alot.

That's all. I was just thinking about those pants.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Most of the time I like who I am, but a lot of the time I hate who I am, and that's why people meditate I think.

Here's the source.

Monday, July 20, 2009


A few years ago, Graffiti took a kind of hold over my imagination.

I don't know any graffiti writers. I grew up in a suburb of strivers; we were none of us risk takers when it came to the law. We chose government-approved paths towards recognition: grades, college. Networking. Auditions. That's me. I throw dinner parties, I go to sample sales. I would sooner move to Madison, WI than write my name on the side of a bridge.

I am afraid of heights, for one. And toxins. And the law.

But I got into graffiti anyway. Not the products of it, because really, I couldn't care less, but the motivation behind it. Because while some of us are content to lead basically happy lives, hoping that the triumphs outweigh the setbacks, job, spouse, home, etc, others of us suffer from the plague of grandiosity. Those of us in the latter category, and I say us with a head shake and sigh at my own unfortunate inclusion therein, picked up the notion somewhere that we were meant to live a large, bubble-lettered life. So we get MFAs or don't. We make things in our basements, in coffee shops. We have ideas for screenplays. We get the kind of jobs that could never be mistaken for a serious career: Art Handler, Barista, Personal Assistant, passing time until we are launched into the stratosphere.

And the project of the graffiti writer is just a simplified version of that exact desire.

Look at me. That's a tag. Know my name. I am alive.

I was going to write this blog about Dash Snow, an "artist", famous for doing a bunch of drugs and sleeping with a bunch of women and letting his friend take naked pictures of him. He died last week. He's an admittedly annoying figure. Heroin overdose at 27, he has a daughter named Secret, he would do go into hotel rooms and shred a bunch of phone books and do fistfuls of ecstasy until he felt like a hamster, his family is one of the richest in the country. A friend told me that his original proposal for the Whitney Biennial was to display drug paraphernalia: needles, coke, straws. Irritating, right? The whole mess. It just makes you roll your eyes.

But he was a graffiti writer. He started out trying to get famous by writing his name boldly all over town. I feel like that says something.

His friend, Ryan McGinley, who is actually a legitimately badass photographer said this about him, which I thought was interesting:

One of my favorite things about Dash was always his unconscious moving hand. He would be sitting there smoking cigarettes, writing his tag in the air without being aware of it. I would just smile and watch the smoke twirl into the letters S A C E. That’s how I’ll always remember him.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Picture our heroine, along with her partner and their friend, Ravi, who is leaving New York for Washington DC where he will be starting a new job. Picture the three, the rain coming down in torrents as they wait outside a pizzeria, hoping that the forty-five minute wait time estimated by the proprietor is closer to accurate than it seems like it might be from the sizable mob of would-be patrons huddling alongside them, under the awning, trying to stay dry. Picture Ravi, impish, with the Brit-like accent of his native Sri Lanka, making conversation about his future life in our nation's capital.

RAVI: I like Adam's Morgan. Or Dupont Circle. They're nice.

Gregory nods.

ILANA (Naming the only place she's heard of in DC): Georgetown?

GREGORY: Georgetown!

RAVI: Oh, yes. I would like to live there. It is so beautiful.

GREGORY: But there's no subway stop there.

RAVI (looking forlorn): That's true.

ILANA (straining for a cheerful solution): You could always get a bicycle!

RAVI (brightening): I suppose...

ILANA (feeling quite pleased with herself): You could bike to work!

RAVI: But the weather is so hot there. It's so humid. It was a swamp you know.

ILANA: Ravi...

RAVI: Yes, the weather in DC is just terrible. Too damn hot.

ILANA: Ravi, you're from Sri Lanka!

RAVI: Yes?

ILANA: Isn't that country basically jungle?

RAVI: Well, why do you think I left? Twenty-five years was enough for me!

GREGORY: It wasn't the war?

RAVI: War? No! It was the humidity!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


I am visiting Chicago for a few days, my hometown, and last night I had the great pleasure of reconnecting with a few friends who were, during an earlier period of my life, a part of my daily existence. To see the faces of these friends, to embrace them, made my heart leap; I was joyful. Like a grandmother at a graduation I held their familiar/unfamiliar faces in my hands and I looked deeply at the adults that they have become. The women have grown beautiful and grounded. More secure. Stronger. I see them older in a way that is probably not much different from the way they see me. We know who we are, we women in our thirties. It is a gratifying thing to be an observer and participant in that process.

But what struck me last night was not the changes in the women, but the changes in the men. Because they are men now, and I found myself saying that so often last night. "You seem like a nice man," I said to my friend's boyfriend. "You've turned into a man!" I said to another friend's brother. Is it their seriousness? Their respect? The way they can be counted on? The way they say what they mean? One man, my old friend, who was so young once, emotional and naive and unsure of his footing, his manhood should not surprise me, but it does, nevertheless.

Soon we will be old. Soon I will look back on this time as my laughable youth.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Don't know why. Thought I'd share.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Sometime last fall I was sitting with my friend at a coffee shop. I had spent the day before in a haze of despair, having been tasked with calling Time Warner Cable for one or another client, an errand I have completed with little pomp and circumstance a thousand times in these five years I have worked as an assistant, but for some reason on that day, the day before the one I spent in the coffee shop, the chore became symbolic of a larger, existential problem:
What the flip am I doing with my life?
I couldn't call. I could only pace, stare at my phone, read about people's babies on Facebook and scour help wanted ads on craigslist. I needed a change. So the next day we started making a list, my friend and I, of possible life-altering actions I could take so that I might be assured of a future free of Time Warner Cable phone trees. "You could write the quick and dirty young adult novel," she suggested. "Or a screenplay. Or you could go back to school..."

Fast forward through two months of rapid-fire application preparation. There were recommendations to hustle, a standardized test to take, personal essays to write, plus I had to figure out what excerpt from my novel I should send to each school. I even had to write a literary essay. But come April I had heard from all seven institutions to which I had offered myself in judgment. I accepted a position in the MFA Fiction program at Columbia.

The School of Arts has a lecture series, and they offered the last of the year as a welcome event for admitted students. James Wood, a critic and sometime novelist, was the speaker at the packed event. He read from his latest book, How Fiction Works, and referenced one after another after another pinnacle of western literature, which I knew by name and author, but had never read. It was sad, actually, sitting there on the campus of my future alma mater, seeking to further my career as a writer of literature, finding that my incoming knowledge of anything before 1950 was sadly lacking.

And then, as if reading my mind, another new student with whom I'd struck up acquaintance in the post-lecture bad-wine-and-cheese-and-question portion of the event, the shindig element, found a way to make me feel even more sheepish and undereducated.

"Let's play a game," she offered. I noticed that no one other myself had helped themselves to more wine. "What you do is, you use your hands to reenact the death of a writer, then the other people have to guess what it is." So she flattened out one hand, palm up, which functioned as a kind of stage. Using the index and middle fingers of her other hand, she "walked" across the stage a few steps, then coughed violently, and tipped the hand over. Dead.

I swished my plastic cup of wine, noticing that I had poured red over a half-full cup of white. The result was a kind of murky orange color, which I took down in a single gulp.

"It's Keats!" she said mirthfully. "Get it?"

Yeah. No, I didn't. I don't know one single thing about Keats. Still don't. Not how he died, where he lived, what he wrote. I know that Cary Grant did acid enough to see the future; I know that Eric Clapton kept a jar of brandy and lemonade on his nightstand; that someone is doing a remake of "Fame", but Keats? Yeah, no.

And I tell this story now, because the humiliation I suffered at the admitted students event has sent me on a rampage of classical literature consumption. I read Magic Mountain, for chrissake. And Henry Miller. Now I am on Henry James.

And I don't like it one bit. I will say that for the record. He's like Jane Austen but with none of the fun. If he were a woman writing about marriage proposals and fortune seekers and villas in Tuscany, he would be considered un-serious. But he isn't. He's a humorless white man with a strong distaste for ending paragraphs. Joke's on you, Western Literature.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I sat next to Betty in Business Class on my way back to New York from Los Angeles. This was a couple of months ago.

Betty takes the trip alot; the New York-Los Angeles-New York trip. She told me that she did, but she didn't have to tell me, it was easy to ascertain from her familiarity with the seat, the blankets, even the flight attendants. "She's got a teenaged kid," she told me about a pretty, blonde stewardess. "Can you believe that?"

Betty dressed impeccably. A Prada-Armani, black with diamonds kind of lady. She brought a New York Times and a sandwich. She refused all offers of food except the peach and cookie dough ice cream dessert, a woman blessed with a tiny figure, even in her late middle age. Her voice was deep and gravelly with a borough accent, cigarette-scented and tough. She was ballsy, I could tell that. Legions of men in her life have undoubtedly called her a ball-buster behind her back. Or maybe to her face, at the risk of getting punched in the nose.

Her father had died, then her mother. She lived alone in Gramercy Park, though she didn't seem the slightest bit lonely. She was a successful deal maker in the music business.

"I walk into the bathroom and there's a bag there, how much do you want to bet its from coach?" The leather company, I thought? But that's not what she meant. The pretty blonde stewardess returned with her answer. "It belonged to someone from coach," she affirmed. "I told you!" said Betty triumphantly, shaking her head at the audacity of someone from steerage using the Business Class bathroom. It sounds horrible, maybe, but on Betty it was kind of charming. I am coach, I wanted to say, and maybe I did.

I am not a great flyer. I can't seem to wrap my head around how the airlines know that a plane is working properly, so every sound, every sharp turn, is, to me, confirmation of my worst fear: that the plane is busted and we're going to free fall. My anxiety is at its highest during take-off and landing.

We'd sat on the tarmac for awhile, Betty and I, maybe an hour, getting to know one another. When we finally took off, I looked at her, thought I should let her know, in case I started singing quietly to myself, which I often do on planes to calm my nerves.

"You're not afraid of flying?" she said, seeming more than slightly disappointed in me. She shook her tiny head. "You have to be brave," she said. "You have to be brave in this life."

I think of that, almost daily. She was right, after all.


What does this mean?
Didn't Do it For Me | Reviewer: Darren | 5/8/09

I love this song, but neil diamond is such an esstatisical person that i almost feel akward hosting such inferbious music at a social gathering. Constiteritary to my prior knowings, this music was too "mozarty" for me. Thanks for posting the luyrics thanks a lot.

Monday, June 01, 2009


I went to see the Model as Muse show at the Met last weekend. It was a fun "fashion throughout the ages" sort of show, told using famous models as the protagonists of the story. Highlights were Linda Evangelista (see right), the feminist fashion of the seventies, and a movie where a model dons a huge metal dress. As is often the case with these kinds of exhibits, each era was summarized with a particular look, song, attitude. The nineties, for example, was all about Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs and grunge. Do I even need to say? "Smells like Teen Spirit" wailed tortured and pissed off through the speakers. Walking along the park with Gregory after the show I presented the question: What would the room for the current decade look like? In other words, looking back at this pop cultural moment, what will be remembered?

Gregory offered Will.I.Am's "Yes We Can" song/video. I suggested Judd Apatow and his cronies. Irony seemed to rule the day, especially in the first half of the decade, as if to say, "look, we're fucked. Nothing to be done about it." Gregory added Jon Stewart and Colbert. Books? Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, what would you call them? The comic book writers? I'm not sure about art. Probably something on the web. Youtube. Facebook. The iPod. Fashion? Philip Lim, right? Stella McCartney. Zac Posen. Lots of pork. Locavores. The Sopranos.

But what about music? What would they pipe through the speakers in the Naught room? Flippin' Britney Spears? How depressing. Fall Out Boy?

Maybe this is the decade when music became more or less irrelevant. In a ten (nine) year period of major tragedy, war, governmental incompetence, torture, environmental crisis, economic meltdown, whose voice came through, our sentinel? Where was our Dylan, Cobain. Where was Marvin Gaye asking, "What's Going On?"

Finally, I had a Eureka moment. The song of the decade. The song for the Naught Room of the future:

Sunday, May 17, 2009


So says Gregory to me this morning. No explanation needed, seems to me.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I saw this today (research, I swear) and I started crying a little...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


"I just don't feel like I get as drunk as other people," I boasted to my friend last night. It was girls' night. We were sitting in a back "garden" (alley) of our first destination, sipping our first glass of wine, waiting for the other two to arrive.

Two hours later found me traipsing down Sackett Street, singing all the hits from My Fair Lady at full voice:
I asked an indifferent Monday night borough neighborhood.

Here I went for a highly inelegant tour j'ete.

I never finished the phrase, to everyone's great relief, though my performance's abrupt termination had nothing to do with any concern for my friends' suffering ear drums, something they must have realized when they saw me running down the street squealing. Swept up as I'd been with the romance of this Musical Theater Classic, I'd leaned into a window dreamily as I belted. The window into which I'd leaned was on the first floor of a brownstone. Why I assumed the apartment would be unoccupied, I couldn't now guess, but it wasn't. Maybe a foot in front of the window, a man sat in an easy chair, quietly watching television.

I am sure that it was the volume of my interpretation of the Lerner and Loewe ballad rather than its musicality that caused the poor relaxing man-at-home to look up towards his window, and I wonder what he thought when a woman in a hat and poncho screamed in his face and ran down the street.

Don't get as drunk as other people, I says. Total. Lie.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


One of the great joys of writing a novel is that one can feel justified indulging one's interest in any passing curiosity, all in the name of research. In the last year I have made myself an expert in topics ranging from the history of Coney Island high school basketball to "pump and dump" penny brokerage schemes of the early nineties. Productive? Not really. But its better than looking at a cursor blink menacingly at you when you don't know what to write next.

Towards this end, I have spent much of the last week reading about the rock-glam-punk scene of the late sixties and early seventies. I am fascinated by the different ways women participated in the scene, either as artists (Patti Smith, Debbie Harry), as muses (Patti Boyd, inspiration for "Wonderful Tonight" and "Layla" by Eric Clapton) and as groupies. This last category with provided me with hours of distraction. If you have any interest in groupie lore I recommend I'm with the Band and Let's Spend the Night Together by Pamela Des Barres. Oh, the places she's been!

In any case, though I think I have mostly worked it out of my system, I had a small New York Dolls-Iggy Pop spasm today, when I came across the name of a world famous punk journalist, the man who claims to have been the first to coin the phrase, Legs McNeil.

Legs McNeil, I thought, what a name! And it got me thinking...being that I am basically unpublished (other than this blog, of course, and a short story in a teeny tiny Brooklyn literary journal), I can have any name I want! Legs Manaster would be amazing, but a bit copy cat. Plus, what if the book gets published and someone wants to interview me and the interview starts with, "Anyway, Legs..." How could I get through that?

Iggy Pop got his name by combining two nicknames. I've had very few nicknames in my life. Lonnie Manaster is lame. In high school I had a friend who called me Twiggy, a barely-guarded dig at my chubbiness. My friend Emily and I call each other Balki. Balki Manaster? Twiggy Manaster? None of them are as good as Legs...

Many people have called me by my last name. My boss, for example. I often refer to myself by my last name. As in, "Jesus, Manaster. Get it together!" I could be Manaster Manaster! Like Mister Mister, only stranger and harder to pronounce correctly.

Obviously none of these will do, so I am turning to you, my meager readership, to come up with a good pen name. Something zippy, provocative. The whole thing is a publicity stunt, after all, so best not to waste it.

What say you?

Thursday, April 30, 2009


This is a quote from some people responding to this classical music youtube video:

wongksa (5 days ago)
If they are classically trained at the prestigious Juuilard, they should not play something like this, what a waste, way too commercial and showy, selling sex appeal... insulting the classical pianists in a way...
Cockdick9 (4 days ago)
Why can't classical musicians play something sexy. Music should reflect life.
Adelaidis (2 days ago)
I strongly agree with you, Cockdick9.

Monday, April 27, 2009


There is a building on Greene Street, exactly one block away from my boss's converted loft, you wouldn't notice that there was a door necessarily, if you weren't looking for it, it's green I think, heavy and wooden and in need of a paint job, like it was made from the top of an old picnic table. I know someone who lives there. His name is Eliot and he has been living in the same apartment since the mid-seventies when he ran a nightclub called Reno Sweeney in the West Village. He is an old friend of my mother's.

Before Saturday, Eliot and my mother had not seen one another since 1973 when she was younger than I am now, but not by much, and she was exceedingly beautiful. "Whenever we wanted anything we always had Debra ask for it," Eliot said, "because she was so lovely nobody could say no to her."
"And you paid for it, didn't you!" my mom responded, laughing broadly, showing off the gap between her teeth that accounted for some of her power to bewitch, "I never had a cent!"

Eliot's apartment is on the top floor, and there is no elevator. There isn't even a proper stairwell. The stairs stretch directly up from the door, like they might if they led to a monument or to a court house. They are worse for the wear; I seem to remember the stairs sagging in the middle, giving the impression of a resigned old hag, guarding the stubborn inhabitants who refuse to give up their insanely affordable living accomodations for modern conveniences like an elevator.

"I just had a hip replaced," he told us as he took the last few stairs. "Go on in, its open."

The walls are real wood paneling and there are shelves everywhere for books and CDs and DVDs. Everything is custom designed, custom built, not that it's fancy, but it shows forethought. Its bespoke, I suppose you could say, down to the specially made file cabinets where Elliot stores packets of original printings of the posters he designed for the club. There is one of Edith Beale, "Little Edie" from Grey Gardens that I have to show you because it is amazing.

A lot of the people that Eliot and my mother knew from back then have died of AIDS.

It didn't seem at all strange to Eliot that I was there with my mother, with the black hair and dark eyes she gave me, not as beautiful as she was but comparably quirky. On Saturday we'd even dressed similarly: she in a long white blouse with an antique onyx pin at the throat and matching earrings, me in a white blouse and an oversized shapely summer hat. He chatted on about his life, his parents and siblings, his career in the music business. He talked about the club.

There is an old dumbwaiter near the windows. A support beam in the kitchen is covered in buttons, the pin kind, and there's a bowl filled with matches. The DVDs are organized by year. There is an antique stove in the living area and a bed covered with boxes.

"I've given my life to this apartment," Eliot said. "I am going to die here." And it didn't seem sad. Nothing about the place was sad or lonely at all. It was full of life; full of a life. Or lives. The place practically teemed with the past.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


On Friday night I went with my boss to see Guys and Dolls on Broadway. After the show we went backstage and congratulated his friends in the cast, of which there were many. It is intensely awkward back there, in the wings of the theater, re-introducing oneself to people who just performed for thousands. "Thanks for inviting me to your Bar Mitzvah," I said lamely to one of the stars, in a poorly-conceived attempt to dissipate the awkwardness. "Here's your check for eighteen dollars. Don't spend it all in one place."

I always hated seeing people after my own shows. I could never stomach those exchanges.

We ended the night at Bar Centrale, a restaurant on 46th Street, that is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful in New York. Before we ordered I excused myself to use the bathroom. Finding it occupied I turned back towards our table. I saw my boss, his friends, his girlfriend. The place was lousy with actors and theater enthusiasts, underlit and hushed, dressed in perfect casual finery, leaning over tables under oversized light fixtures, or perched on zebra-print bar stools. I stood for a minute and I thought about "show people", and how lucky I'd been to find myself with such priveledged access to this environment. I thought about being a young girl and listening to Barbra Streisand's Broadway album from my white dual-deck stereo, imagining Broadway as a magical, glamorous, glistening place where all the women wore hats and stoles and all the men could jump to high heaven and hold a long note.

"Bess, you is my woman now," I'd sung to my reflection. "You is, you is, and I ain't going no where no how, less'n you share the fuuun!"

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


The possibilities of summer stretch out before you on a beautiful spring day like a dare, like a high bar that maybe you're not quite ready for, maybe you're not the pole vaulter for the job, maybe you'll clock your shoulder or your head against that nasty, mocking bar, maybe you'll free fall down the wrong side, maybe you'll impale yourself on the way down.

Or maybe you'll make it.

Summer is a whore in a doorway. I am beginning to make out her form now. I can just see the tip of her shoe, her profile. She makes promises to me and I am hopeful and expectant and a little afraid.

Look at her beautiful lip, the curl of her eyelash. You can just tell. This bitch knows her way around a lie.

Monday, April 06, 2009


The first time I came to New York I came through Grand Central.

My freshman roommate in college was from a small town in Westchester County called Ardsley. During our first break, a long weekend in October, I went home with her. Most of the trip was spent tooling around her suburb with her friends, in much the same way I spent most of high school, replacing Camel Lights, convenience stores, bong hits and Phish with Newports, Delis, Method Man and blunts. They were serious weed smokers, these kids. Two of the most memorable events that happened during my time in Ardsley involved weed: 1. Went to a movie theater that was basically empty and spent the movie puffing on a joint. 2. Drove to a "comic book store" in the Bronx and bought a garbage bag full of dirt weed. I watched from the car as they casually strolled in, like they were jonesing for the new X-men. Came out with enough pot to sonnambulate Rhode Island.

Once, when my roommate's hometown boyfriend was visiting her at college, he rolled a novelty "I Heart NY" cigar into a blunt. It was the size of a footlong polish sausage. When they were done smoking it, it was difficult to differentiate my roommate from an overstuffed ottoman. But I digress.

My roommate's mother must have felt bad for me. Here I was, less than an hour from the as-yet unseen Manhattan, stuck sucking on 40s in front of a video store. So she bought three tickets to a matinee of Sunset Boulevard, and against my roommate's natural inclination, we headed into the city. The last stop on the train was Grand Central Terminal.

Yesterday I boarded a train at Grand Central and I remembered what it was like the first time I saw it. Cavernous and beautiful and bustling with people. The info desk at the center, so romantic, a perfect place to wait for whatever is coming next. The clock and the stairs and the chapel-like domed ceiling, the green glow of the Pershing Square Cafe shining in from across 42nd Street. My heart leaped the first time I saw it; This is New York, I remembered thinking, like I was Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.

I returned to Grand Central again and again before I moved to the city. One night I came to town with a friend of mine and we had no place to stay, so we checked our stuff at the Grand Central coat check and headed to the village. We landed at Small's, which was, at the time, a famous after-hours BYO jazz bar. We saw a jazz quartet play with a tap dancer as the percussionist, one of the most memorable live music experiences of my life, then went back to Grand Central and slept on the train-themed cafe tables. When I flew to New York, I would take a bus to Grand Central, and carry on my journey from there. More recently, when I was trying to inspire a wayward cousin of mine to dispense with the drama and graduate from high school, I sent her a mobile picture of Grand Central Station. "This is in the city where I live," I wrote. "You could live here too."

Grand Central Station is my Ellis Island.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


While reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, a book that is told from the perspective of a New Yorker living in Paris, I was struck by this passage:

Little by little, as I gained his confidence, I wormed my way into his heart. I had him at such a point that he would come running after me, in the street, to inquire if he could lend me a few francs. He wanted to hold me together in order to survive the transition to a higher plane. I acted like a pear that is ripening on the tree.
I have been such a character, not the leech, but the easy mark, the poor sap, a moneyed American in Paris.

When I was not quite twenty-one years old, having taken a semester off of college, I endeavored to explore Europe on my own for four months. I landed in Paris maybe halfway through the trip and I fell in love with it. My descriptions of the city in my journal from this period are littered with adjectives like elegant and graceful and picturesque. And though I spent many idol hours walking and sipping espresso, smoking Galoises and thinking about Degas, my most memorable time was spent at the 3 Ducks Hostel. I have included some pictures below (not mine--god love the internet).

The hostel had a bar. And the bartender was a pint-sized American painter named Jason. And when I read that passage in Tropic of Cancer, I saw myself, francs flapping in my hand, huffing down some charming Parisian Rue. Running towards Jason.

Now I would know better. I would be unmoved by his charming frankness, his tendency, shared by many men of his stature, to live large, to play commander-in-chief of social situations, to host. But not then. Then, young as I was, inexperienced, I was moved by his rough features, by the paint on his pants, his thirst for beer.

He was broke, that was clear. In addition to his post behind the bar at the 3 Ducks, he had worked out a living situation that guaranteed him a little room and a studio in exchange for picking up some kid from school every day and speaking English to him. He took me to his studio. I remember large abstract paintings, I remember yellow. I thought there was emotional content to the work. He assured me that there was not.

After we went to a bar for some beers. Stella Blanc, I remember. He told me about growing up poor in Kansas City, about spending a few days in jail. I paid for the beer, gave him cigarettes. Did I give him money?

He told me, I remember, that I seemed like a Lesbian.

I wrote him a note. I didn't remember writing it, but I made a note of it in my journal, only that I'd written it, nothing to do with its contents. What could it have said, I wonder. "I believe in you"? "Don't ever give up"? It pains me to think of that note now. Were there some francs tucked into the envelope that I left at the bar? I can't remember now. I can only remember the beer, the cigarettes and the roguish smile. The smile of a con man. I remember thinking that he was probably an alcoholic.

I left Paris and returned a few weeks later. "I saw [Jason] yesterday and he was kind of cold to me," I wrote.

That's when I met the buskers. More on that later.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I see grown people crying on the street all the time. Mostly women. Sometimes they are crying into the phone. Sometimes they are just walking down the street, crying.

I want to ask them what is wrong, sometimes. I want to take their pictures.

It has been often noted that in a large city, in a city like New York, you can be in the middle of the street in the middle of the day in the middle of Rush Hour, and you can feel like you are all by yourself. You can cry there, in the street, passing stores and restaurants and people in the midst of a day, you can wait for the light and jump out of the path of a careening bike messenger while quietly sobbing, as if you were home with your cat and a pint of ice cream.

I am sure I have cried on the street. I have cried almost everywhere.

I used to cry a lot in my car.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I went to see the Wrestler yesterday. Sad movie. Last night I lay awake in bed, replaying the final scene in my head, accompanied, as it is in the film, to that good old Guns N Roses classic, Sweet Child O Mine.

What kind of dreams does such a soundtrack produce, you may ask?

I don't remember much, except that it involved my boss. And Tobey Maguire. And the parking lot of my high school. What adventures awaited us out in front of HPHS, I couldn't say. But I do remember my dream self thinking: "Wow. This is going to make an awesome blog entry!"

And didn't it?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The introduction to Lawrence Ferlinghetti's book, A Coney Island of the Mind, reads like this:

The title of this book...expresses the way I felt about these poems when I wrote them--as if they were, taken together, a kind of Coney Island of the mind, a kind of circus of the soul.

I went down to Coney today. Because I had to see if the rumors were true. They were:

The Shore Hotel for Lease
More stuff for Lease

The Wonder Wheel with no cars on it

Just some lady walking around in the freezing cold in her pajamas.

Commerce. Greed. Property. Equity. These are not the makings of a circus, not for the soul or the mind or the heart. If there is any kind of festival left on Surf Avenue and 8th Street, it is of the memory.

A man saw me taking pictures. "Getting your last ones in, huh?" he asked me. "It's so sad, ain't it?" He told me he'd been living in the neighborhood for thirty-three years. "It used to make me so happy," he said, "come summertime, when you'd see all the crowds coming off the subway. I came home from work, it was nice to see people have a good time."

People who thought Coney Island was depressing--because of its seediness, the poverty, the projects--they missed it.

And yet gobble up at last
to shrive our circus souls
the also imaginary
wafers of grace


Barack is the first president to be a lot of things: black, Hawaii-born, part Kenyan. But there is one other thing that is often overlooked.

We now have sworn in the first White Sox fan in the history of the presidency.

Go Sox!

Monday, January 19, 2009


The front page of the Sunday Arts section of the New York Times featured this article by Monohla Dargis and A.O. Scott called, "How the Movies Made a President". The writers claim that fifty years of edgy portrayals of black men in the movies have prepared the country for Obama's presidency. The piece is basically fluff; the writers go on to name black male types as they have appeared in film and television, many of whom have nothing at all to do with Barack Obama. The "black provocateur", for example, in the Richard Pryor tradition is really more Jesse Jackson than Barack. "Black Yoda"? Okay, Condi Rice, maybe, Colin Powell. But Yoda is a behind-the-scenes kind of fella, and there is nothing behind-the-scenes about a presidency. It is both oversimplified and overly inclusive to plot the cultural journey that led to Barack Obama's acceptance by the American majority using every single black man we have ever seen on the big screen as stepping stones.

But about halfway through the article, the writers land on something interesting when they get to The Cosby Show.

"The novelty of that series, at once revolutionary and profoundly conservative, lay in its insistence, week after week, that being black was another way of being normal.
The traditional composition of the Huxtable family, with the father as its benevolent, sometimes bumbling head, was part of the series’s strategy of decoupling blackness from social pathology. “The Cosby Show” did not deny the existence of serious problems in black America — not least the problem of absent fathers — but the presence of Cliff Huxtable, in his own home and yours, suggested that the problems were not intractable."
Could Barack Obama have been elected without the Cosby Show? Who knows? I think that Bill Cosby did a lot of work for Obama. We already have a cultural memory of feeling totally comfortable, feeling right at home, in the house of two highly educated, wealthy, successful black adults. Can't you just picture the Obamas in that Brooklyn Heights home we loved so well? Maybe its Christmas Eve, the girls, who are supposed to be asleep, are huddled on that great staircase. Michelle, looking fierce, is "mad" at Barack for sneaking a cigarette (his version of Cliff's weakness, the hoagie), but they're smiling, so in love, he gives her an early Christmas gift, tickets to see Harry Belafonte or an original issue of her favorite Ella Fitzgerald record, she forgives him his weaknesses. Then the doorbell rings, its Bill and Hillary from across the street, coming to bring some side-character Christmas cheer, it's Michelle's mother, who calls the girls down, everyone can see them anyway, and they all gather together on those couches that may as well have been from our own childhoods, we know them so well.

Roll credits.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


A friend of mine (a cantorial soloist) argued that really good Jewish music can be as joyful and transcendent as good gospel music. I am currently listening to Aretha Franklin's album, Amazing Grace. Now, nobody loves the hora more than I do. The sweaty-handed, nauseating circle-of-fun, accompanied, as it so often is, by the terrified expressions and white knuckled chair-grips of the uplifted guests of honor, is my favorite part of a Jewish wedding. I have been known to rock out to a good V'shamru or Adon Olam, as well. But as much as I love Barbra and Bette and Benny Goodman and the Gershwins, nothing makes me want to sing Hallelujah! like a large-boned, big-titted black lady. You be the judge.