As Amazon takes on more roles and responsibilities in the book world, many wonder if that’s a great thing. I remember back when Amazon sold only books, before it was the retail powerhouse it has become, the online equivalent of big-box stores. Now, it’s refocused on books, first with Kindle and then with publishing-related endeavors, setting up imprints as it has become both retailer and publisher in some cases.
Lots of smaller, independent bookstores–by which one means bookstores that are privately held, and not part of a chain, which means anyone besides Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, basically–don’t like this. They see Amazon as they saw Barnes & Noble when it was first beginning. The big boy on the block who set up shop next door and ultimately drove them out of business.
As a reader, it saddens me. As guy with a business degree, it makes me wonder.
Which is the one you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it?
Because of course I got in touch with Angus. I mean, as much as I’ve built up his presence in this story? But first: I needed a job and had no idea what to do. I was lucky that my crummy Hoboken apartment was really just a room in the three-bedroom unit/ground floor of a house I shared with two other guys, which meant that my rent was ridiculous by most standards and positively ludicrous by those associated with Manhattan and its outer satellites. Still, I had a several hundred dollar rent bill due on the first of February, and while I had some money saved up, I’d still need a couple hundred besides.
I thought about calling my temp agency, Force One Entertainment, but decided to go to their office, instead; I liked everyone who worked there and was tired of spending time in my apartment. January might be cold, but walking in Manhattan tends to get one’s temperature up, and there are few more awesome places to be. So I took PATH up to Herald Square, where HMV gave way to the progress that is Victoria’s Secret, and headed uptown. Past glitzy-electronic shops with pocket calculator-sized laptops next to only slightly larger cell phones modified for web-surfing and e-mail receipt, because who needs a desk in the digital age? Up past Virgin Megastore, likely the last remaining on the entire island, then a few blocks East, to a building I only call non-descript because it was in the center of a Manhattan blockful of buildings nearly identical.
Elevator up to the fourth floor, with its two doors: directly opposite the elevator was the bookbinder, with a sweetsmell of glue and a sharper one of leather, then right to Force One.
I loved Force One, but didn’t often have occasion to visit their office, nor even to call it until very (then) recently; why would I, considering my long-term gig at the New Yorker? I got there in the middle of the afternoon, when it was full of both new graduates and the recently career-displaced, the former of whom wore, like their professional business attire, anxiety like puppies hoping for a treat. The latter tended to possess a more deliberate demeanor, their nerves less result of worry of not finding a job but rather the right job.
That first room looked as much like a doctor’s office as one associated with an employment agency: the same bad prints on the wall, the same particle-board furniture on which sat semi-recent Entertainment Weeklys and a few copies of the latest Village Voice, the same half-wall beyond which the receptionist, Joanne (Jo to her friends) sat at a desk to accept incoming candidates and juggle seven or eight different phone lines. I approached that half-wall, ready to greet Jo (who had become my friend shortly after I had broken up with my fiancée, when we went out for obligatory, post-break-up drinks), but I stopped up short and surprised.
I know I got very wrapped up in the election and discussing it. I hadn’t meant to. I hadn’t meant to avoid it, exactly, but I hadn’t realized I would become so focused on it. I think I got so wrapped up in it because McCain/Palin scared me so much, and because I thought there was so much at stake.
A lot of it was wrapped up in my feelings about September 11th. I realized that before, but watching Obama’s acceptance speech drove it home. I’m only 30 and ain’t been alive long, arguably, and missed some major cultural milestones. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think any man has walked on the moon so long as I have been alive. The sixties are full of a lot of cultural imagery that will only ever be grainy footage to me; JFK and RFK and MLK. I came in at the tail end of the seventies, and missed free love and freer sex. While I enjoy the Beatles music in some ways, I still don’t see what the big fuss was about, and by the time I came around, Elvis was gone, too. I enjoy few movies made before 1980, Star Wars being the most notable example.
Still, the other night, watching Obama accept the presidency, I thought of what I have seen. I saw a black man become president of the United States, and while I know that racism is in many ways still alive and perhaps too healthy in America, I think it’s the surest sign there’s hope.
I remember this, too:
Which was in 1987. Two years later, in August 1989, 28 years and one day after it was constructed, that wall came down:
I think a lot of us had that feeling first thing Wednesday morning, just after midnight.
The end of one era, and the beginning of a new one.
(I’ve just realized, too, that 28 years and three days after I was born, I left for USC. That’s kinda neat)
Because the other momentous thing I’ve seen during my lifetime is something that too often hurts too badly to talk about too much. A few weeks ago, I caught the premier for Life on Mars, a show by which I was singularly unimpressed save for a single moment:
I often feel like that day started a time of corruption and incompetence carried through 7 long years. Seven years during which America lost internationally most of what reputation it had, invaded countries it had no right to attack, ‘defending freedoms’ it had already taken away anyway.
I don’t know what Obama will do, nor what he will change. I don’t know that he will be a good president. But I think he has both dignity and integrity, two things the office of the presidency have been sorely lacking for a long, long time (and not just during this past administration. I like Clinton, but dignity and integrity are not words that come to mind when he does), and I feel comfortable enough with the next four years (at least) in his hands.
I don’t think much will change for a while; Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Berlin Wall didn’t fall the day after Mr. Reagan challenged Mr. Gorbachev. Then again, September 12th, 2001 saw the sun rise on a world completely changed from the one that had existed just 24 hours before, so who knows?
I don’t. But here’s the thing:
While I don’t remember much about the morning of September 11th up to, say, 8:50 or so, it is because that day at that point in my life was unremarkable, which means it was a good morning. It was a morning on which I woke up a little later than I wanted, brushed my teeth, walked a block up to the PATH station at Journal Square. It was a morning I walked from Herald Square at 34th and 7th to my office at 40th and Madison, and if I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary during that several block trek, I will claim it was a good one, because those walks were, back then. They weren’t all sunshine and roses, of course (not many rosebushes on the streets of Manhattan), but after that morning, those walks were different, and they disappeared all together several weeks later.
I cried when I watched Obama’s acceptance speech, just like I cried when Hillary Clinton spoke at the DNC. I cried when I watched McCain concede. Not because I was so happy, though there was that, but because I was feeling something with which I had been unfamiliar for so long. I watched the polls and results with hope but also with caution, and even posted over at Making Light that I would believe it only when he took the oath of office.
Because the thing is, when you’re so scared, when you feel so beaten down, when you get so wound up and anxious, if you feel that way long enough, it can be hard to give it up. Watching Obama speak, I started to give it up. I started to let the sun shine in again. I started to feel myself open again, and that’s something I haven’t felt in a long, long time. Watching Obama speak, I started to realize that things might not always be so dark as I felt they were.
Then again, I also know that I may well be projecting my personal feelings onto those of the country as a whole. I took this election more personally than I took the one in 2004 because I’ve changed in the years since. In 2004, I was working as an assistant editor and living in my parents’ basement; this just a couple of years after I had graduated college with all the promise in the world and gotten a great gig at a prestigious advertising agency. In a way, I think I felt I was going backward if I ever felt much at all, because I know at times I was going just to go, doing just to do, coasting through to get by. This year was personal because I don’t feel that way. I’m working and living and doing. I’ve stopped waiting around for life to happen and started to make things happen, and I think I projected some of that feeling onto the election. I think I felt as though, since I was changing, the world should, too, somehow, in however small or large a way.
I think, too, I felt ready.
I don’t know what the future will hold. I don’t know what tomorrow will be.
But just the hope of it makes me smile at the possibility.
For now, that is something. For now, it is enough.
So, like I blogged about earlier, the American economy is basically in the toilet, and to quote Roger Clyne, “Everything’s going down, flowin’ counterclockwise.” Regardless of direction, the fact remains that, besides the bailouts of AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, I’ve heard today that both Washington Mutual and Morgan Stanley are initiating sales of themselves (I know a couple of people who work for Morgan Stanley, and wish them the best).
New York/Manhattan is, obviously the epicenter of the financial industry. When the Dow sinks, it sank first in Manhattan.
Manhattan is also pretty much the epicenter of the publishing industry. And given that the financial climate is what it is, one would think that the publishing industry is every bit as concerned about its own welfare as financial sectors are concerned about their own.
And one might not be wrong.
For example, one of the regular publishing/agenting blogs I read is maintained by Lori Perkins, of the Lori Perkins Agency. Lori is extraordinarily well known in the publishing industry and has quite the agenting reputation. She is renowned and respected. This is her blog. I like reading her blog.
In the spirit of lightening things up here a bit, I figured I’d post something more cheerful. To quote Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do! (which is certainly one of the most underrated movies of all time), I thought I’d give you something happy, something poppy.
Because it’s a perfect day for a ride, ain’t it?
I should really just sell the damned thing. Manhattan just isn’t a place for such a beast, much less the Village. New York’s a walking town. A subway town. Sometimes a bus town, and some other times still a taxi town. It’s a bustling town and a jogging town, a drinking and dancing and staying-out-till-4-am town, and in fact it’s a different kind of town just about every minute for just about every person in it, but it’s not so much a driving town. There are too many cabs, too many long limousines with precious celebrity cargo, too many delivery trucks and big buses, too many Lincoln Town Cars shuttling CEOs to the office and back. The air is too bright and the sounds are too vibrant and the color is too loud to be shuttered away from the world by four windows and a growling engine, but still I keep the dilapidated duster.
I tell myself I keep it because I wouldn’t get much for it. The old lady who used to own it never did know much about anything she put a key into, and the engine’s hoarse in her memory. The duck tape on the torn cloth top; the old, nearly bald tires; the muffler that might as well not exist—selling it might cover a month’s rent or a fancy night on the City, but not much more.
That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
But I know the truth. I don’t keep it because selling it wouldn’t make enough; I keep it for days like this.
Every year, I think it’s going to be different. Every year, I write a little more about it, talk a little more about it, and every year I think it’s going to make some difference. Every year I believe I’ve processed it a little better, a little differently, learned to cope with it a little more.
Every year, I’m wrong again.
Every year, I think I might sleep a little later, and every year my body shocks me awake at almost exactly 8:45 am Eastern standard time. Every year I think I might just make it to my alarm, and every year I don’t. Every year I wake up confused and bewildered for a just a moment during which I don’t remember what day it is. And every year, I do, all over again. Every year, I get quiet and reticent.
Every year, I watch two videos. They are as traditional to me at this time of year as Twas the Night Before Christmas is traditional to December.
Unfortunately, WordPress, Comedy Central, and MTV don’t seem to play nice, so you’ll have to follow those links, but trust me, they’re worth it.
I just wanted to share them, because they are cathartic on a day on which I otherwise shut completely down. I tend to solidify like concrete, mute and rigid and immobile, and each of those videos seems to serve as tiny, persistent chisels, busting away all the defense mechanisms I’ve thrown up since the day I smelled that dust (some days I fear there are too many). And I figured, since I truly believe there is catharsis for all of us in sharing the memory of that day, I feel too that there is similar relief in sharing how we cope with it.
This year, I’ve had an epiphany, prompted by Making Light, a blog maintained by Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Making Light is intertwined with my memories of that day; there was a check-in post there, that day, and I remember I either posted there or to the well. Today, Making Light pretty much defiantly rejected commemoration of the terrorist attacks in favor of other anniversaries/memories:
I am sure that there will be many places to remember the dead, and to debate the lessons they can teach the living. I’m confident that the Making Light commentariat will have a lot to say on the subject.
This thread is not for that. This thread is for defiant normality. If the aim of terrorism is to produce terror, grief and anger, then let us laugh, and rejoice, and love.
And I both understand and acknowledge the value of such a sentiment.
Moreso, I say, I’m sorry, but grief, for me, is normality today. Today, I laughed at my students, and rejoiced in the fact that people read what I’ve written, but both come in utter defiance. That doesn’t necessarily mean that both are tainted, but still, I look around at where I am and what I’m doing and remember where I was and what I was doing. This year, I acknowledge it hurt, and I accept that it’s okay. In the past, I’ve felt at times like I don’t have a right to feel this way, because hey, I survived and that leaves me so much better off than so many other people, but this year I note:
I’m sorry. I’m not okay. I’m not even a little okay. I miss Manhattan more than I can express. I miss my friends and my crummy little apartment and riding the subway to work. I miss all the terrific people I worked with and all the wonderful friends I made. I miss the neon and the way the sidewalk sparkled under my feet. I miss blowing half my paycheck on bad CDs at HMV, and watching movies alone at Virgin.
But most of all, even though I may not be okay, I am grateful.
I don’t think I’ve said it lately, but thank you. Because a reader is not solely the single best thing any writer can have, but also, arguably, what makes a writer in the first place. In “Your Name on a Grain of Rice,” Roger Clyne wonders:
What good is my love song if you ain’t around to hear it?
Back when I lived in Manhattan, I worked as a freelance production assistant at Young & Rubicam New York, which I believe was then the third-largest ad agency in the world. I basically fell into the position, I remember: I registered with the temp agency, and I worked, one Thursday morning, at the New Yorker office in the Conde Nast building just off Times Square, organizing some guy’s rolodex. No, really; I spent that day stapling business cards to little rolodex-y cards and filing those in the little turn-y thingy.
I think it’s safe to say I was overqualified for the job, though not by a whole hell of a lot.
I received a call from my temp agency that Sunday (I worked for Force One Entertainment, and if they still exist, consider this a plug; they are one of the main reasons my experience in Manhattan was what it was, and for that I am forever grateful. An amazing staff, with great connections), and they offered me one of two positions: one in human resources, and the other in broadcast production.
Obviously, no contest.
So I started working with commercial producers. For huge clients: Sony, Dr Pepper, Jaguar. This was one of the spots we worked on:
So was this:
At Young & Rubicam, each assistant generally worked with no fewer than 7 or 8 producers. During my time there, I rotated to different desks, and I think I basically ended up working with the entire department in one way or another. Mostly I did the sort of grunt work one would associate with an entry-level freelance administrative position, but sometimes I got lucky. Once, I helped put together a video for the United Nations Millennium Summit. Sometimes I got to watch casting, or even directors’ reels. Never anything major, but certainly a lot of fun.
It was my first experience with production. Budgeting. Finding out how people made the images the rest of the world watched. For a while I had thought I might want to get into filmmaking, but I discovered there I didn’t, really. When I sit down to watch The Matrix, I want to see the Matrix, not the greenscreen and the wires. I like to watch magic more than I like to know how it works, and probably more than I’d like to perform it, unless, of course, it’s the real stuff.
(writing, to me, is the real stuff)
One of the producers for whom I worked was named September Reynolds. I don’t think that’s her name anymore; she got married not long after I left, I believe. September looked like a less skeletal version of Elizabeth Hurley, which meant she was a special kind of beautiful, and she was also one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. Gracious and charming and cheerful.
It was because of her, and others like her, that I never felt like a temp when I worked there. I felt like part of the gang.
I think about all that every year around this time. It rarely gets any easier. I had always loved fall, and still do for all the reasons it’s wonderful, but the end of summer and the beginning of autumn always remind me of what was a difficult time in my life. Every year around this time I start thinking more and more about September 11th. I start wondering how my life would have, could have, been different. I start to consider how it’s not, and I remember to be grateful it’s still mine to do with as I so please.
I’m not sure I remembered that for a while. I think, for a while, the relief of survival made me selfish, in a way. In fact, not just for a while: for several years. For a few years there, I tried to play safe, tried to build security, perhaps because for a moment there, I was no longer certain I’d ever have either again.
In our commercial and consumerist culture, October 31st is now, popularly, a day of pint-sized ghouls and ghosts and too much candy rushing through bloodstreams rush from door to door to beg for more. Being by heritage Scotch/Welsh, however, it is, for me, an end; October 31st is not Halloween but the Samhain, basically the equivalent of New Year’s Eve. This time of year always makes me reflective about what has come before, and, moreso, it reminds me of those years, and specifically that one. In some ways I feel like I might have survived that day, but in a very real way, a life ended. By that Halloween, I had moved back in with my family.
Five years passed before I left once again.
I doubt I’ll ever separate the extraordinarily mixed feelings I have regarding both that day and that time in my life. Because they were extraordinary years, full of hope and pride but also some anxiety about being young and trying to make my way. I remember the mornings on the PATH and the midnights in the bars. I remember Paisley, who worked on Nickelodeon and was a complete sweetheart, and who had an anthrax scare in the month following the attacks. I remember Marybeth, who always called me dude (so I always called her dudette), who lost several members of her family during the rescue efforts at Ground Zero. I remember Madeline, the music producer, who was a germophobe but gave me a hug, anyway, the day I left, and who once told me, in reference to my writing, “You’ve got it,” and with whom I watched the World Trade Center 7 fall from the center bench on the Hoboken ferry.
And I remember September, the greeting of whom inspired me to write a poem the year before, which was cliched and trite, and which I have since lost to time and moving. September, whose wedding song was “The Girl from Ipanema”–
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, each one she passes goes – ah
. . .
but I watch her so sadly
How can I tell her I love her?
Yes, I would give my heart gladly,
But each day, when she walks to the sea,
She looks straight ahead, not at me.
. . .
And when she passes, I smile – but she doesn’t see (doesn’t see)
(she just doesn’t see, she never sees me…)
So good morning, September. Another year come and gone, but every time you come around I realize how much I missed you and wonder what we could have had if only I’d stuck around. I know you’ll be gone again before I know it, but in the meantime, well, it’s gonna be magic, just like always.
I just finished watching Cloverfield. For anyone unfamiliar, it’s a J.J. Abrams (he of Lost fame) movie that came out in January and begins with a going away party at a SoHo apartment. Before long, there’s a tremor, which causes a brief black-out, after which all the partygoers decide to go to the roof. From there, we see an explosion near the harbor, and then some panic as a bunch of people run down the steps.
By this point, I was already having some problems; after what appeared to be a pretty major earthquage (which, for the sake of this post, we’re going to define as any ground shaking of suitable strength it shuts lights off, however briefly), whose first thought it is to go to the roof? Especially in Manhattan, where the buildings are so many multiple stories tall?
What I liked was that the whole movie wasn’t exactly like that. Sure, some of the characters make some questionable decisions, but amid chaos like that, a lot of decisions are going to come flying, and no one can decide them all well. A lot of times you do the best you can with the information you’ve got; a lot of time, the best you can do isn’t much (or could even be nothing at all), while the information you’ve got is limited (or, again, nothing). After you’ve seen a military stand-off between a handful of soldiers and . . . something big as a skyscraper, retreating to the subway tunnels in favor of being caught out in the open isn’t that bad a decision. Also, constant movement in the best direction possible, when possible, is good; otherwise, cover is your friend. The characters maintain a pretty consistent balance between the two.
I like to think I’m good in emergency situations. I grew up in scouts (Be Prepared), and if I never encounter a situation as uncertain as being in Manhattan on September 11th, I’ll be a happy man. As I watched the movie, I kept thinking of what I would have done. First, no going to the roof. Second, on first sight to the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty, get my friends who were just at my party together, walk back up into my apartment, quickly grab some supplies, and start walking. Away from the damage. Considering said monster was in midtown, I’m not crossing the bridge to Brooklyn; I’m starting north, toward Harlem and the Bronx.
Along the way, I’m stopping to make sure the women in my party can get more sensible shoes and clothing than the trendy/pretty clothes they wore to my going-away. I’m also making sure everyone is carrying at least one bottle of water, which I’d continue to make sure they were drinking, rather than rationing, stopping to refill as possible/necessary.
Also, and I think somewhat important, I’m not trying to keep control. Not that I’m running with the chaos, but I think the most important thing in any such situation is flexibility to adaptation. I’m starting north because I think that’s the best option, but if better ones present themselves, I’ll take them. I’m with my friends, at least, and if I can keep a group together, safety in numbers.
Most important, of course, is not panicking.
My father got me into Boy Scouts when I was a kid. He was an Eagle, too, and he was my cubmaster and then my scoutmaster and then committe chairperson–he was very often more than just a father to me, and his influence did a lot to shape who I’ve become. When I was 16 or 17, he handed down to me his old stereo system, in which I found some old clippings, one of which was a copy of “If,” I think by Rudyard Kipling, which included the line, “If you can keep your head about you, while those around you are losing theirs,” and I think I can.
Which is probably why I liked the movie. I didn’t love it, and I could have done just fine without seeing the big monster thing, and, honestly, (MAJOR SPOILER, SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW, SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH BREAK), I wish even one of the characters had survived, but it certainly wasn’t bad.